If you have already begun the adventure of watching and discussing the Amazon Prime show titled The Rings of Power, hello fellow traveler! Isn’t this exciting? If you are on the fence, having second thoughts, or even not giving it any second thoughts, keep reading. It is my mission to nudge you out the door, down the road, and get you swept up into Middle-Earth in the Second Age.
Those of you who picked up the Gandalf reference above have probably already seen the major motion pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. The challenges of creating a show like this come firstly from the existence of those movies and, secondly, from all the lore that Tolkien provides in books that aren’t The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit. Not only that, but the Tolkien fandom is massive and well-educated, and it will be quick to point out errors, inconsistencies, and any un-Tolkienish elements. Knowing this, let us all take a deep breath. The Rings of Power is not a book report. Those of us who are purists must expand our imaginations and tolerance to let in the inevitable creative liberties that will be present in this TV series.
Nostalgia is also a powerful filter through which we view media, new or old. When my college friends learned that I had never seen the Disney Channel movie Camp Rock, they were flabbergasted and proceeded to help me right this wrong immediately. I watched the whole thing, which was more than fair because it was terrible. But they loved and were loyal to it because it held a special place in their childhood. It would be easy to let nostalgia be the driving force of our arguments when comparing The Rings of Power to The Lord of the Rings films (not so much the Hobbit films, I think we all concur).
I admit that I am guilty of all of the above. I was cynical and skeptical of the show ever since I was aware of its inception. I thought, “They’re going to mess it all up: they’re not going to do their research, it’s going to be too flashy and modern, and it will never compare to the movies!” From the first announcement to the trailers’ release, I never relented in my opinion that I would disapprove.
Friends, I am far more than pleasantly surprised.
My original surmisings were, in part, the fault of the trailers, which were so different from the actual show. The trailers and previews are indeed flashy, modern, and totally misleading. Throw out any opinions you have of the show based on them; they are not reliable sources. I recommend that you first dive into the primary source and then form your opinions accordingly. Until then, allow me to give you a taste of what’s to come if you choose to take the plunge.
My first impression was of the sets. We’ve come so far with CGI, and here it shows, but in the best way possible. Sure, some scenes seem a little too dreamlike, but the shots of the forest of Lindon, the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm, and the fabled Númenór are nothing short of visual nectar. The beauty of New Zealand combined with the digital talents of those behind the scenes have created masterpieces. It is especially moving for those who have only seen Khazad-dûm in ruins and the fading city of Gondor that is only a tired shadow of Númenór. Seeing how alive these places were at one time put the setting of The Lord of the Rings in perspective—a land in danger of being overcome by the growing evil in Mordor. Compared to that, Middle-Earth in The Rings of Power is young and glorious, despite the evil that will soon appear.
My second impression was of the script. It is by no means perfect, but they manage to keep a Tolkienish essence that feels as familiar, intentional, and powerful as even the original film trilogy. Of course, anything with a Tolkien flair is going to be flowery, dense, and dramatic at times. But that’s the point. Additionally, I can confirm that the writers did in fact do their research. For those who don’t know, the show takes place between the events of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit. While I have not read the appendices from which The Rings of Power content comes, I have read and studied The Silmarillion. Let me tell you, I became so excited when I saw the Two Trees of Valinor that, by the second episode, I had laid out all my notes, maps, and Elven family trees on the floor while watching to see how many Silmarillion references I could catch. There are quite a few.
There are some familiar characters in this story, which is always a risk. Galadriel and Elrond are large shoes to fill, but if you ask me, Morfyyd Clark and Robert Aramayo fit them well. One thing both actors really accomplish is preserving the characters’ personalities in such a way that you can see their potential to eventually mature into who they are in The Lord of the Rings films. I don’t know where they found Morfyyd Clark, but she gets young Galadriel right on the money. Other than those two, we have a host of new faces who are fast becoming near and dear to my heart. At the top of the list is Nori Brandyfoot, a curious Harfoot who is convinced that simply helping someone in need is an important role to play in a story much bigger than her. Closely followed by her are Durin IV, heir to the throne of Khazad-dûm, and his wife Disa, whose singing is as powerful as her words are sharp. Their friendship with Elrond has been my favorite relationship to see unfold, providing many laughs and many more sweet moments.
One more underlying detail I noticed about the show is in the soundtrack. There are clear themes and styles of music that change depending on the setting: the natural percussion and rhythms of the Harfoots; the ethereal voices of the Elves; the low, resonant choir in Khazad-dûm; the somber Celtic strings of the Southlands; and the epic harmonies and progressions of Númenór. After going back and watching season one a second time (it’s that good), I even noticed some musical easter eggs that give hints to future revelations in the story. Yet another exhibition of the clear intentionality and care that the creators have put into this show. Every facet has been delicately planned and thought out, which shows that, if anything, these people know their audience.
For all of you purists whose minds are still not swayed, I do empathize with you. However, my empathy is not without pity. It’s a shame to think that we let our standards, set by the great artists of the past, hinder us from experiencing the great art of today because we don’t think it will measure up. To sit stubbornly in our chairs saying, “All of the great adventures have been claimed and collected. No point in going out there to find a new one when the best stories already rest on my bookshelves.” Perhaps you are content reading your old faithfuls by the fire, safe in your home without risk. Yet there is another adventure out there to be had, and a large party has already left to have it. If you have any inkling to join us, it’s not too late! Grab your coat and walking stick, forget your handkerchiefs stitched with familiar patterns, and catch up! We’ve still got a long way ahead, and the more, the merrier.