When the casting for ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ was first announced, the Internet exploded with a disproportionate number of negative comments regarding race and gender. There have been excellent responses to this negativity offered by Andrew Blair at Den of Geek and Dimitra Fimi and Mariana Rios Maldonado at The Conversation, so I won’t get into that here. Instead, my initial thoughts contain a degree of displeasure for completely different reasons from those of the bigoted Internet trolls.
Pretty much no spoilers ahead…
My passion for Tolkien’s fantasy cosmos (I don’t want to use the expressions ‘world’ or ‘Middle Earth’ as they fail to encapsulate the sheer breadth of Tolkien’s mythical cosmology) runs deep. I feel invested in Tolkien’s stories, more than any other fiction oeuvre. I am not a Tolkien expert by any stretch, but I have more than an ‘armchair’ interest in his work.
We’re only two episodes in, but my primary issue is this: source material. In other words, there isn’t much use of Tolkien’s actual narrative. This is not to say that I am closed to a Tolkien-inspired production (this is how I’d label these first two episodes) and the ‘in-the-know’ references (‘Aulë’s beard!’, for instance) satisfy some of my Tolkien-nerd needs. But my biggest disappointment at this stage has to do with the fact that I find Tolkien’s body of work so rich in storytelling that I feel as if there is more than enough material with which to work without inventing new storylines and characters, especially major characters.
Looking back, there were many major differences between the source material and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, but I felt as if those (yes, even the overegged Hobbit trilogy…) stayed true to most of the significant aspects of Tolkien’s narrative.
I admit that any attempt to explore Tolkien’s fantasy cosmos beyond the film series I have just mentioned is going to be more convoluted due to the fact that all of Tolkien’s other fantasy cosmos material has been published after his death and consists primarily of fragments (which include sometimes contradictory narratives due to the evolution of Tolkien’s ideas over the years).
With that expressed, I still have petty grievances. For instance, many of the major characters (and so far, to my knowledge, most of the major events) in ‘The Rings of Power’ are ‘non-canonical’ in that they are not featured in any Tolkien literature. I appreciate that the series takes place in the Second Age and I was glad to see a brief summary of some of the events at the closing of the First Age, but there are many elements which are completely foreign to Tolkien’s work. Here are but a few examples: Finrod’s death is misleading (there’s no reference to his sacrifice for Beren and somehow he bears ‘the mark of Sauron’). Additionally, while I love the focus on Galadriel, when did she lead an expedition to Forodwaith? In the literature, her invitation to Valinor came as the result of her innocence in the Kinslaying and not because Gil-galad was making some shrewd political move (though I admire the attempt to ground Gil-galad and his herald Elrond in this political mire). Also, Elrond’s early presence in Eregion and his visit to Kazad-dûm seem to me to be completely incompatible with Tolkien’s narrative (perhaps the version of the story in ‘The Rings of Power’ is an attempt to explain the beginnings of what would become the long-standing friendly relations between Eregion and Kazad-dûm – though, given the timeline in what they are trying to do with the show, probably not).
In the show, there are many establishing shots pertaining to the humans in the Southlands and the Harfoots in Rhovanion (both groups exist within Tolkien’s work, though neither are of any great significance), but I would have loved to see more of Lindon and Eregion (the only shots within these great elven realms made them feel very small and parochial, clearly within a studio). What gives?
We are in the early days of ‘The Rings of Power’, but for a Tolkien afficionado, I am left wanting, and not necessarily in a bated-breath sort of way. To be clear, I must return to my earlier comment: I have no problem with a Tolkien-inspired production, one that might not adhere to a rigid depiction of Tolkien’s cosmos (but come on, why can’t Gil-galad have silver hair?). I shall leave my moaning there for now as there are still many opportunities for my prejudices to be pacified (let’s see how Númenor is depicted) and I will be sure to watch every episode of ‘The Rings of Power’ as they are released. I am also sure I’ll be able to suspend my nerdy obsession for long enough to enjoy whatever the creators of the show—who, no doubt, are massive lovers of Tolkien—wish to share.