Yesterday morning (Feb. 10), the magazine Vanity Fair published an article that provides a preview of the upcoming Amazon Prime show, The Rings of Power. It features an interview with showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne and gives a very vague synopsis of the overarching plot, as well as providing some character information– primarily dealing with characters created for the show, but also some insight into characters whose stories are foundational to J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, such as Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) or Elrond (Robert Aramayo). The article was followed later in the day by a live Twitter Q&A (which I didn’t see, given that I am not on Twitter) that answered a lot of background questions such as, “Which of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books does Amazon have rights to?” The answer to that is The Lord of the Rings and its appendices and The Hobbit. No one has rights to The Silmarillion or the grand History of Middle-earth set, though much of the story of the Second Age is told in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, though with less detail than in The Silmarillion.
But there is still plenty of information to work with, as well as plenty of space for McKay and Payne to build upon the foundation laid out in the appendices. For example, we will meet a Silvan Elf named Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) the Dwarven princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete), and Dain IV, a dwarf prince of Khazad-dûm (Owain Arthur). A young human woman named Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and a human man named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers) rounds out the known cast of non-canonical characters. I, for one, as intrigued to meet these characters and to see how McKay and Payne weave these stories into the grand events of the Second Age of Middle-earth.
I’ll be interested, too, to see how they deal with compressing the events of the second half of the age into a single timeline, which is the compromise they had to make to prevent the human characters from being replaced every season, as they have such short lifespans as compared to the immortal elves. From the time that Celebrimbor and the Elven smiths begin forging the rings of power in 1540 SA to the final battle of the Last Alliance in 3441 SA, nearly two thousand years have passed. How do you compress that much time into a single series of events? How do you express the timelessness of Elves like Galadriel, who is already thousands of years old when the events of The Rings of Power are set to begin? I’m curious to find out.
I was relieved to be reassured once again that the showrunners haven’t set out to make a Game of Thrones-style adaptation with excessive sex and violence. The Rings of Power is rated TV-14, and McKay clearly stated that he wanted “to make a show for everyone, for kids who are 11, 12, and 13, even though sometimes they might have to pull the blanket up over their eyes if it’s a little too scary”. And certainly, Tolkien’s tales can be frightening, but they are never explicit in their violence. There is no fighting for the sake of fighting. I appreciate that McKay and Payne are aware of this. It would have been easy for them to get wrapped up in the grimdark fad, but it would have tainted the spirit of Tolkien’s work to do it.
I’m generally easygoing when it comes to adaptations. I don’t usually mind if something changes from page to screen, as books and movies (or TV shows) are radically different media. When you’re adapting a story for the screen, things have to change. In the case of Tolkien’s legendarium, there will be major changes and not because the various directors think that Tolkien got something wrong, but because they aren’t making the show specifically for Tolkien nerds like me. They’re making it for the average fan who, I’m pretty sure, wouldn’t be able to tell you the events of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. I’ve discussed some of the primary changes from book to screen for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films in previous posts (find them here: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), and I’ll likely discuss the changes made from The Tale of Years to Prime’s Rings of Power. But unless something truly egregious happens or if the show is just average, I will probably be fine with the changes- especially if they make what can be some pretty dense material and make it interesting to the general public. Because remember, these adaptations are made for everyone, including Jeff and Phyllis from Fargo.
Screen captures from lotronprime’s Instagram page provided a first look at The Rings of Power characters Galadriel, Disa, and Arondir
Now, not everyone is excited about this adaptation. Some ‘fans’ are upset by the fact that actors of color have been cast. Their argument is that casting actors with brown or black skin is somehow “historically inaccurate”. Y’all, we left historical accuracy far behind when Elves, orcs, and dragons showed up on the page. And at any rate, the “historical accuracy” argument is moot, as the European population was not entirely white before the twentieth century. There were plenty of people of color living all over the continent, engaging in trade, traveling, and otherwise just going about their day-to-day lives, in Europe, while having dark skin. This is not some “woke” or revolutionary concept. It’s how history was.
And if you want to try to point to a textual reference in Tolkien’s legendarium, well . . . Good luck. The Rohirrim are referred to as “pale faces” or “strawheads” by the orcs, but Tolkien rarely describes skin-tones in his stories, save for saying that, say, the harfoots (progenitors of Third Age Hobbits) had darker skin, and the fallowhides (also progenitors of Third Age Hobbits_ were fairer of face. Tolkien describes hair color the most. It’s not even known for sure if Elves had pointed ears or not. There’s a vague reference to ‘leaf-shaped’ ears, but that’s all. The people of Middle-earth can be whatever we make of them. It’s fantasy.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Tolkien snobs who aren’t satisfied by anything. For example, there was an Instagram account I followed where, after the Vanity Fair article was posted, I went to expecting to find someone I could happily geek out with. Instead, I found a dozen or more stories where they complained that they already hated this version of Elrond (based solely on the way his face looks), and that because of certain tiny details, the showrunners had entirely missed the spirit of Tolkien, and so the show was going to be awful because of it.
Look. I, too, know full-well why Galadriel would not wear the Fëanorian star on her armor but is the show going to be a disaster because it may or may not be there? No. If the show is a disaster, it will be because of bigger things than a misplaced etching.
As of today, February 11, 2022, the public has yet to see a single second of footage from The Rings of Power. We have a set of photographs, an extremely vague outline of what it’s all about and who will be in it, and a bit of casting news. That’s it. That’s no basis on which to judge an entire show.
For myself, I’m getting more and more excited with every piece of news that comes out. I’m sure I’ll be ridiculously giddy on Sunday night when the trailer drops, and I’ll be wanting to squee about it to everyone unfortunate to come within range after that (it’s probably good for the people who know me that I live alone, and no one is hosting a Super Bowl party this year). Fortunately, I am part of a private Discord server dedicated to Tolkien and his work, and the people there are also enthusiastic and optimistic about the upcoming series. I’ll just have to remember to stay away from most social media after the trailer premiers. I don’t want my excitement to be spoiled by naysayers on either end.
Because you see, someone is making more of what I love, and from the limited things I have seen about it, it looks like it could be amazing. So I am going to be excited about The Rings of Power right up to the premiere on September 2nd. Only then will I judge its quality. If it ends up being only mediocre (or, heaven forfend, bad…), then at the very least we will have some lovely production stills and more of Howard Shore’s music of Middle-earth.
Until then, though, I’m going to be excited about this show, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me.