It’s been a while since the last time a new series or movie had to work as hard just to justify its existence as “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”. Amazon’s adaptation of parts of JRR Tolkien’s writings not directly portrayed in “The Lord of the Rings” (preceding the events of the film by centuries, within the saga’s universe) has created a unique blend of excitement, curiosity and contempt since its announcement a few years ago. several years, and throughout its extensive publicity campaign.
For the naysayers – and for many onlookers – the predominant emotion in this period seems to have been fear: fear that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, even with all the millions at his disposal, would only lead to the downfall of another franchise in the name of modern entertainment. In this case specifically, there was a concern, amplified by ambiguous or sometimes downright sinister quotes from those involved in the production, that the intricate lore Tolkien invented would be discarded in favor of contemporary or – worse – cult topics woke. A quote attributed to Tolkien himself began to circulate in YouTube comments and forums: “Evil cannot create anything new, it can only corrupt or ruin what the forces of good have invented or built.”
Except that this is not, in fact, a quote from Tolkien: it is part of the library of pop culture “archetypes” created in internet discussion forums. Leaving aside the irony of the Puritans of mythology creating their own myths to express their concern about possible damage to the original, this fear was understandable (Tolkien, in fact, expressed versions of this idea throughout his work, and he believed in it himself). Modern pop culture is awash in progressivism; while Tolkien’s work is distinctly anti-modern in virtually every respect; thus, the fear that the former would beat the latter, as another studio sought to profit from available intellectual property, was rational. As someone who follows “curious”, I demonstrated a little of that.
It turns out that the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power”, which premiered earlier this week, do not address the most fears hyperbolic. What they’ve done instead is set the tests that the series itself will have to pass in order to succeed. You will have to prove to be reasonably faithful to your source material and, when you have to deviate, do so justifiably, or at the very least, in a way that does not desecrate the work. It will have to portray a Middle-earth that is both familiar to viewers and to the novel. And it will have to make the resurgence and defeat of an evil whose end is only temporary, however.
Much of the first two episodes of “The Rings of Power” is introductory material, establishing the main places, characters and stories. It begins with a narrated prologue focusing on the elf Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), one of the few immortal characters – played in this series by younger actors – who also appeared on screen in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It sets, broadly speaking, the backdrop of the series: elves, living in a paradise separate from Middle-earth, are violated by a great evil that they then leave their homeland to pursue in revenge, at great cost. Galadriel’s place in this drama, touched by grief, is the focus of the series. Other stories take place across Middle-earth and in different races: men, dwarves and “hairy feet”. All of this is portrayed generously, with the vast budget Amazon spent visible on each frame, and musical accompaniment by Bear McCreary, which doesn’t quite match – at least not yet – with the transcendence of the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack. by Howard Shore, but which still proves memorable in some cases and useful in most others.
While these first two episodes are largely introductory, it is possible to begin to assess the criteria presented for the show’s success. . Starting with faithfulness to Tolkien’s creation. The precise nature of this is not well understood by the general public, but “The Rings of Power” has serious stipulations about what events it can portray in what is known as the “Second Age” of Middle-earth. (Jackson’s trilogy showed the Third Age.) Some creativity and invention is therefore necessary if the series is to exist. And where this occurs, deviation is inevitable. Galadriel’s own character has changed considerably; the basic details are obtained, but “Rings of Power” actually followed Tolkien’s description of her as once having been of “Amazonian” disposition and made her the martial leader of a long-standing elven quest to destroy all traces of evil in the world. Middle Earth. Choosing to focus on it leads to inevitable changes. Are they intolerable? At this point, not yet. The test here is whether what happens to her character so radically betrays her nature as to make her unrecognizable. The same applies to the series’ relationship with Tolkien as a whole. If it does, it will appear soon and the show will be irretrievably ruined.
Let us now return to Middle-earth itself. This is a place where many of those who watch the show – myself included – have spent a lot of time. For “Rings of Power” to be successful, it will have to show this place as we know it and as we don’t know it. The events of this edition took place centuries before what is currently best known. Much, therefore, is different from how we remember it, even if the timelessness of the elements involved gives the scenario a certain constancy. We see, for example, the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-Dum – not as a tomb, as in the Fellowship of the Ring, but in all its splendor. And we see your people at the height of their power and skill. Durin (Owain Arthur) and Disa (Sophia Nomvete) are the highlights of the second episode. In other parts of Middle-earth, there are Men, Elves, and, most curiously, breaststrokes. These proto-hobbits are an absolute invention for the series; the hobbits we know do not yet exist. Overall, the first two episodes manage to establish the vastness of this familiar land in an unknown time and populate it with an interesting handful of life. What happens to the land and how its people intersect – to make them attractive are the tests that “The Rings of Power” must pass here.
The hardest test of all is that the all-encompassing struggle of the Rings of Power is significant. We already know that the great evil, against which the good in this series fights, survives at a later time. The challenge the series faces is that this struggle feels really important, that our interest in the characters and places involved is enough to accept their difficulties as our own. And whatever defeat evil faces will be of, if not final, at least a significant consequence to its own goals and its own power. There is scope for such a conflict in the material that The Rings of Power is likely to cover. But that is no guarantee of success. On the one hand, it will have to show both evil and good in ways that Tolkien himself would recognize, which is no easy task at a time when the culture has so completely confused these issues. It’s too early to say whether The Rings of Power has the moral core needed to do that. It could obviously fail at that. But it can also fail by persisting in ambiguity.
With these tests in place, I think there is, so far, a case to go on to see what The Rings of Power forges. As someone with a deep affection for folklore, I understand the purist’s preoccupation with this and the other issues that flow from fidelity to folklore (or lack thereof). But it is worth remembering that, in the medium and in the chosen form, total fidelity is impossible. Some degree of interpretation and deviation is inevitable. There was a lot of that in the Jackson trilogy, even with its many admirable qualities. At this point, hyperbolically complaining about the show is rejecting its existence – which is fine, but the easiest way to solve this problem is to not watch it. I intend to see if The Rings of Power does anything worthy of its inspiration – and if not, throw the show into the fiery abyss from which it came.