Billionaire investor Peter Thiel is, among many things, a huge Lord of the Rings fan. At least five of his companies have names inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series. Many tech company names rarely make sense, and since Thiel’s firms draw on mystical armor, fantasy destinations, and elvish foods, you might think the same about them. But delve into the details, and a cryptic logic emerges:
Founded in 2004, this analytics company scans data to find connections that humans might miss. Big with governments, the firm—valued at up to $20 billion—counts the US Army and the Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans police departments among its clients. In Middle-earth, palantírs are seeing-stones that help users communicate with others, as well as see past or far-away events. See what he did there? Mind you, in Return of the King the reckless Pippin endangers his world’s safety by using a palantír irresponsibly. Meanwhile, Thiel’s sight-enhancing tool has raised ethical concerns of its own.
According to Middle-earth mythology, the Valar are powerful spirits that developed and shaped the world. Likewise, the early-stage venture capital firm swoops down from on high to grow startups. What’s more, Valar was registered in New Zealand in 2009, putting it close to director Peter Jackson’s hallowed filming grounds for the movies based on the books. (Thiel also acquired New Zealand citizenship himself last year.)
This growth-stage venture firm is named after the material that Bilbo and Frodo Baggins use as armor in Tolkien’s universe. Ajay Royan, a managing partner and self-described Lord of the Rings fan, explained that the title emphasized the metal’s ability to both “protect” and be “transformative” at the same time. Founded in 2012, the firm’s status as a limited liability holding company means it can function as a sort of chainmail, allowing flexibility while limiting risk.
Thiel used this holding company to sell of a big portion of his Facebook shares back in 2016. In Tolkien’s universe, Rivendell is the name of the elven outpost where the Fellowship of the Ring forms before launching their expedition to Mount Doom. Accordingly, the LLC does not do much by itself, but acts as a gathering place for funds before they are tasked with exciting missions elsewhere.
The 2016 SEC filing that exposed Rivendell One also revealed the existence of Lembas LLC. It’s named after the surprisingly satiating elvish bread that sustains Frodo and Sam on their travels. Lembas, like Rivendell One, was used to trade Facebook shares, providing sustenance to Thiel’s hungry bank account.
It’s hard to identify an overarching logic that ties all of these names together. Thiel often shows a fondness for elves and mostly sides against Sauron, but the names also suggest solidarity with soldiers, hairy-footed hobbits, and even all-powerful spirits. If anything, taken together the names work like the technology at the heart of Theil’s businesses: in isolation their specific purpose is clear, but in combination they work, like magic, in ways we can’t imagine.
Correction: This post has been corrected to feature five companies with Lord of the Rings-inspired names. A sixth company highlighted in a previous version of this post, Anduril Industries, should not be considered a Thiel company. Founders Fund, where Thiel is a partner, has invested in Anduril Industries, but the deal was led by partner Brian Singerman. Anduril is not currently in the weapons-making business; it makes fortified autonomous firefighting vehicles and AI-enabled motion detection systems.