The Rings of Power

Okay so I guess we’re talking about this.

There is a new piece of the Lord of the Rings saga being adapted for the screen. After the functionally-impossible-to-top trilogy of the early 2000s and the well-meaning prequel trilogy of the twenty-teens, Amazon Prime Video has stepped in and forked out a few hundred million bucks to make a TV series of a prequel to that.

“Evil is not capable of creating anything new, it can only distort and destroy what has been invented or made by the forces of good.” – apparently the only thing anyone is allowed to say about the trailer.

So, because it’s 2022 and we’re not allowed to have TV shows without culture war drama, there have been Opinions about this new show. In fact, let’s just say it straight-out: never has the YouTuber phrase “trailer breakdown” been more accurate on more levels.

There’s no way I will be able to take an original un-swung swing at this, no way my take will be anything but room-temperature, but let’s list some facts about Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

Fact the first: They have cast new, younger actors in the roles of Elrond and Galadriel.

Fact the second: They have cast some people of colour in the show, including what seems to be an Elf male and a Dwarf female[1].

Fact the third: There looks like there’s some action in it, including a sword-slinging Galadriel and some explosions.

Fact the fourth: In the Second Age, basically everything was made of C4 and being a blacksmith was really really dangerous.

Anyway, the show appears to be set in the distant past and deals with the setup of – well, it’s in the name. It’s about Annatar (spoilers: Sauron) and the nine rings of the Men, the three rings of the Elves, and the seven rings for the Dwarves.

I’m not super jazzed by the whole show, mainly because I’m way more interested in seeing the First Age or some of the more exciting stuff from the Silmarillion. If you’re going to throw half a billion dollars at a show, why not have a fuck-off enormous spider eating the Two Trees, and an army of motherfucking Balrogs?

My vague feelings of meh have been pushed over into French Foreign Legion grade ennui, however, by the now-traditional fandom division surrounding the whole thing. Some of the complaints I have seen so far include:

  • Elves don’t have short hair!
  • Dwarf females have beards!
  • Galadriel isn’t an action hero!
  • Galadriel and Elrond were already ancient in the Second Age, they would not have changed between this show and The Fellowship of the Ring!
  • Progressive diversity casting is pandering to woke!

There’s probably more, but I’m so tired.

Okay, so let’s carry on with the room temperature take here: the complaints aren’t wrong. Not exactly.

Yes. The Elves we’ve seen are all very classical and spectral, all big sleeves and long silky hair with the temple parts looped back all fancy-like.

You know the sort.

There’s something to be said for this look being essentially timeless – Elves aren’t known for their embrace of change, and even in battle the Elves of Lothlórien[2] were otherworldly like this. Legolas kicked arse, took names, and rode shields like skateboards while his golden hair hung like a shimmering curtain. That doesn’t preclude the idea that a grittier Gil-galadesque Last Alliance-type Elf might exist, and have a haircut. Still, sure, it’s visually jarring (also he’s not white; don’t worry we’ll get to that).

Yes. There is some evidence for Dwarves being secretive and their females only appearing before other races in guises indistinguishable from males. They could have put in some effort on a fierce and glorious bearded Dwarven Queen. Some fucking idiots might have then cried about woke trans agenda something or other, but who honestly cares? So, sure, that’s an unexpected aesthetic choice too (also she’s not white; don’t worry we’ll get to that).

Ye – ehhh, okay, you can argue that she was powerful and politically ambitious rather than an actual fighter, if you take a deep dive into her role in the Sundering of the Ñoldor. Imma disagree with you though. This was a more brutal time for the Elves and they butchered each other to get to Middle Earth where they could be big fish in a small pond (and Galadriel stayed to the bitter end rather than accept forgiveness and return to the Undying Lands, basically giving the Valar the finger and saying “I didn’t do shit”), so there’s as much justification for her being a badass … but okay, call it another artistic / storytelling decision. You know, to put in a female character with some agency, because Tolkien didn’t have too many of them[3].

Yes. Technically the Elves should not have changed and they should have cast Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving again because Galadriel and Elrond would not look any younger in the Second Age. We all know why they didn’t do that though, right? It’s because Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving are actually human beings (or “Men”), they are mortal and have in fact aged in the real world. So it would be the weird of Orlando Bloom in the Hobbit movies, compounded by Blanchett and Weaving being older than Bloom to start with and another ten years having gone by in the meantime. But sure. Technically true. Recasting takes some getting used to. But from here, we get into practical issues rather than canonical ones.

Also yes. The casting choices here are indicative of the real world in which this show is being made. You can call that cancel woke cuck pandering soyjak whatever, but for Amazon it’s a matter of practicality. They do not care about our progressive ideologies. They’re in it for the money. This drama generated huge buzz and endless clicks for them that they didn’t have to pay a cent for, but even that wasn’t the reason. The reason was, it is 2022 and we do more than just white people things now.

Now as far as the Lord of the Rings mythos goes, casting people of colour poses a challenge. I mean, it doesn’t really, because it’s an adaptation and they can cast anyone they want without it changing a single word in the books that – I cannot stress this enough – continue to exist.

However, in-adaptation continuity and the over-arching intent behind Tolkien’s work are considerations. There wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in the original Jackson trilogy. Tolkien’s writings were an intended origin / prehistory myth for the British Isles. It’s not Tolkien’s fault (well, mostly not his fault) that Britain has been so expansionist and colonisation-happy over the centuries that a celebration of their “culture” is going to by necessity include a whole ton of places where there are non-white people. It may not have been how things started out, but it’s the legacy of the Empire. Where did the Hobbits get their pipe weed from again? But I digress.

There is an argument that “forcing” people of colour into unsuitable parts of the history of Middle Earth is the same as forcing white actors into Asian or African stories. To which I say, have you seen movies? Dumb argument, quit while you’re ahead because whitey is well overdue to have some scales balanced on that one.

No, the easiest way they could have provided a diverse cast of characters and kept the non-racist Tolkien fans happy (I am not willing to agree that the Venn diagram of complainers here is a circle, but nor is it by any means two circles) would have been to Sackville-Baggins up and make an adaptation of some other part of the lore. It’s been said several times by online pundits but Mrs. Hatboy also wisely pointed this out, the Haradrim are right there. And they have a mostly-untold and fascinating story just ripe for reimagining. I mean, if Amazon really wanted to be woke, or even mildly interesting, then reframing the Dúnedain of Gondor (the Men from the Sea, anyone?) as oppressors would do nicely.

But we don’t have that. We don’t have anything new or even partly new. We don’t get Melkor tearing down the Two Lamps and destroying Almaren. We don’t get Ungoliant laying waste to Telperion and Laurelin.

We get what we’re given, because that’s how the commoditisation of art works. If this particular commoditisation allows a wider audience to enjoy it, however, then tish and pish to the moaning gatekeepers.

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”

– J R R Tolkien


[1] I am using the incel-soiled “male” and “female” terminology here because in Tolkien’s work, Men are a species. Saying “Elf man” would be inaccurate, unless I was talking about Elrond. And I’m not. Can we get on with this?

[2] In the movie version of Helm’s Deep. Not the book version, the Battle of the Hornburg. It’s important to note that an awful lot of these visual cues are the movies’ legacy, not the books’.

[3] He did have a few, but not in the stories the studios have decided it’s safe to make (we’ll get to that too). Which leaves us with Galadriel, Eowyn, and a ‘roided-up Arwen. By all means let’s smudge things a bit and fit some more in.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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4 Responses to The Rings of Power

  1. Hatboy says:

    I’m not super jazzed by the whole show, mainly because I’m way more interested in seeing the First Age or some of the more exciting stuff from the Silmarillion. If you’re going to throw half a billion dollars at a show, why not have a fuck-off enormous spider eating the Two Trees, and an army of motherfucking Balrogs?

    Fun additional fact about this. Amazon only holds the rights to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and some Appendices. So a lot of this more exciting stuff is simply out of their reach. Which, you’re paying hundreds of millions of dollars. You’re stupid. Go back to space, Bezos.

    • Hatboy says:

      Fun even more additional fact, if you play with the brightness and contrast on the Dwarf Queen it looks like she may actually have some facial hair, or at least some good mutton-chops, or else that there is just some head-hair that has wandered free of that epic ‘do.

      Never change, internet.

  2. Hatboy says:

  3. aaronthepatriot says:

    Thanks for doing this! I hope our email conversations were helpful. Ever get that annoying feeling that someone else has said everything you were thinking on an issue so you have nothing to add? Writers, I swear.

    Anyway! One other thing about Galladriel: she looks totally BADASS like that so I don’t care.

    OK one more other thing: We don’t know the extent of the fighting she’ll do in the show. She may just wear that kit to look badass. So let’s just all calm down. As per your general theme.

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