I had one overwhelming emotional reaction to watching the first three episodes of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:
My History With Middle Earth
I first became obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth in seventh grade. I read Lord of the Rings first, then The Hobbit. When the Silmarillion was published, I absorbed that as well, even though it’s more faux historical document than a full tale.
When I say obsessed, I mean stuff like memorizing the family trees of the Noldorian Elves. I also read the appendixes in Return of the King over and over until I could picture some of those moments in my head as well as those in the original story. I studied the different symbols for all the family trees of the Noldor, Eldar, and the Tribes of Men. I bought the guide to Middle Earth that was nothing but definitions of things from the books. I wandered the woods near my house and pretended I was headed to Rivendell. I made a staff from a tree branch and gave it a name.
My first finished story was a mash-up of Tolkein’s Elves and John Christopher’s Tripod series in which aliens invaded Earth. The point of view character was rescued when fleeing an alien city by an Elf named Evandil. I wrote it in longhand on notebook paper. (No, I don’t have it, unless my mother saved it.)
If there had been such a thing as the internet then, the world would have been treated to lots and lots of my fanfic, a dubious pleasure, I’m sure, because there would have been Gandalf/Galadriel (Gandrield? Galadalf?) shipping stories, as well as a tale of a long-lost Fëanor heir. Yes, I’m Team Fëanor but also Team “What the hell are you all doing, I’m staying home!” Finarfin.
Other things crowded out Tolkein eventually, like a job, husband, and then kids. I tried to get back into Middle Earth by reading the works edited by Christopher Tolkien but it wasn’t the same. They didn’t interest me with their half-finished stories, various different versions, and editorial commentary. Still, usually, once a year, I re-read the trilogy. I needed that trip to Middle Earth for my soul.
The movies eventually came out. The Fellowship of the Ring affected me deeply, as that film contains several of my favorite scenes. Rivendell’s revelation made my jaw drop. Gandalf versus the Balrog in Moria was exactly as I pictured it, as was Galadriel and her realm. I re-read the books again.
The last two movies were fine but didn’t bring back that feeling of being inside the story for me. Perhaps a little too Hollywood, not enough Tolkien, though Eowyn and Merry destroying the Witch-King was perfect.
But I cannot forgive the changing of Faramir’s character and the loss of Faramir and Eowyn’s romance. This is my LotR adaption hill that I die on. So much of Tolkien’s work is full of grief that never leaves but, nonetheless, does not prevent happiness. To me, losing Faramir/Eowyn was losing part of that.
The Hobbit movies eventually arrived. Eh.
The song of the Misty Mountains was lovely. But I disagreed that there needed to be sexy, hot dwarves, The visuals were inspired too much by video games, and, most of all, I thought the whimsical yet dangerous moments between Bilbo and Smaug were mostly lost. Not to mention the point of that last battle wasn’t to show a big-ass fight but to show the sad aftermath of such a thing. Meaning, that Bilbo lost his friends, Thorin, Fili, and Kili. He came home a different hobbit.
This was Hollywood. It wasn’t Tolkien.
I gave up on live-action stuff and consulted my books every once in a while.
Then the Amazon Prime series was announced.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
My first thought upon hearing about Rings of Power was that a series set in the Second Age could work. There’s a great deal of empty material, allowing writers to play in Tolkien’s world without contradicting it. There are many angles to be pursued, from Númenor to Elrond to, of course, Celembrimbor’s forging of the rings. (Yay, Celembrimbor is finally on-screen!)
Yet, I was cautious given what happened to The Hobbit. Based on Tolkien does not mean feels like Tolkien.
I stayed away from the hype, determined to judge the show by what was on-screen, not by casting or previews or what was being said online about the show. I had supremely low expectations, in that I expected to be indifferent at best and hate it, at worst.
The first episode is mostly set up, as the world, the people, and the plots were introduced. I know that some people have issues with the storytelling choices, and perhaps rightfully so.
I Don’t Care.
I’m not sure the moment that Rings of Power caught me. Perhaps Elrond composing a song? Perhaps Galadriel being unwilling to give up her fight. Maybe it was the Harfoots picking berries?
No, wait, I know: it was the opening, with young Galadriel in Valinor in conversation with her brother, Finrod.
Valinor. FINROD. MORIA. Númenor! The ships of Númenor! Harfoots being proto-Hobbits and allowing what was unique about Tolkien to enter the narrative.
And the narrative! Tolkien’s work always depicted that choices to be kind and compassionate were never futile, even if they ended poorly. We can see that theme most clearly with Dori and the Harfoots but compassion is also present with Durin and Disa and Elrond.
There is a lot of discussion online (and I’m part of it) about where the narrative is going, and who might be Sauron or Gandalf in disguise. I like geeking out to Tolkien again but, at the bottom of my soul, I’m hoping there isn’t a big shock reveal about any of these things.
I’m hoping the show, like its’ original creator, gains its’ narrative from the choices made by the characters. The Hobbit and LotR aren’t about big shocking deaths or hidden secrets sprung on the audience. (Yes, yes, I know Gandalf’s death and resurrection. But his death is foreshadowed.) Instead, the stories are about Bilbo choosing to go on an adventure; Bilbo choosing to try to avoid an unnecessary battle by taking the Arkenstone from Thorin; Frodo choosing to be the ring-bearer; Sam choosing to go with Frodo; the Lords of Gondor choosing to go on a suicide mission in order to turn Sauron’s attention to them; Frodo choosing to spare Gollum’s life, which saves everyone, in the end.
This is what I want from The Rings of Power. I want to watch Halbrand making a choice that cements his destiny, for good or ill. I want to see Nori and the Stranger confronting the evils of the world together, bonded by the friendship that Dori chooses to create. I want to see Celembrimbor’s awful moment when he begins to forge the rings.
I cannot wait. It’s rekindled my love of the books as well. I dived into the Appendixes again last week.
In short, I love Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Signed, a big Middle Earth nerd.