John R. Fultz
Ten Things I Love About Amazon's RINGS OF POWER
Updated: May 1
First off, let me say I've been a Tolkien fan since 1977, not long after I first learned to read. THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS were my gateways to the larger Fantasy genre. Following close behind in '78 came Robert E. Howard's work, thanks to CONAN THE BARBARIAN comics/stories, and later Edgar Rice Burroughs' JOHN CARTER series with the amazing Michael Whelan covers. I discovered Lin Carter's YEARS BEST FANTASY when I was ten years old, and read Moorcock's ELRIC saga in high school. So I'm pretty widely read when it comes to classic fantasy, but for me it all began with J. R. R. Tolkien.
My favorite Tolkien book is THE SILMARILLION, which tells you exactly how big a Middle-Earth nerd I really am. (Colossal.) I remember first attempting to read it in fourth grade--it had just been published in paperback for the first time (1978). I couldn't make it through the first time mainly because my 8-year-old mind wasn't ready for such a massive work.
THE SILMARILLION isn't a novel at all--it's a massive book of lore covering millennia of fictional history, legend, and mythology. It was never meant to be read in one setting. It served as the "invisible background" for the novels Tolkien wrote set in Middle Earth. I came back to it in my teens and did complete a full read-through, but I've gone back to it again and again over the years, dipping into the space/time continuum of Tolkien's secondary reality. Mining for jewels in the Misty Mountains and walking the dragon's trail with Túrin Turambar.
I've often said that the contents of THE SILMARILLION could birth a dozen movie franchises akin to Peter Jackson's LOTR adaptation. There is so much content there...it practically demands further exploration. So I was very glad to hear that Amazon was not only doing a series set in Middle-Earth, but that it was going to be the most expensive thing ever made in that medium. I waited years for the series, and now the first two eps of season one have arrived. The wait for RINGS OF POWER was well worth it.
Yes, some people are going to hate it--some will hate it on principle--after all, even Tolkien's son Christopher (who assembled and edited the contents of THE SILMARILLION) was firmly against any cinematic adaptations of his father's work. And some people just love to hate on whatever other people love, so you're not going to appease a rock troll with a seven course dinner. Instead of going into a huge argument about why the haters are all wrong, I thought I would simply list the Top Ten reasons why I think RINGS OF POWER is an amazing show.
It's a great time to be a Tolkien fan if you love the Middle Earth mythos and like to see it transcend the print medium every now and then.
So here they are--the Top Ten Things I Love About RINGS OF POWER...
1) The two-handed swords. The first ep gives us plenty of flashbacks to the apocalyptic wars of the First Age--vast armies of elves versus Morgoth's hordes of orcs and monsters. The elven blades carried in ep one by Galadriel and company are designed with a faithful attention to elvish style and aesthetics--which can be said for the armor, helms, shields, and every single piece of gorgeous elven architecture. It's absolutely spectacular world-building with a stunning attention to detail. Even though the show takes place in an earlier age than Jackson's LOTR and HOBBIT adaptations, it remains faithful to the look and feel that's been established for the cinematic Tolkien "universe." Yet it also brings a certain freshness to the material, evoking the baroque beauty of a more savage age.
2) The music. This you have to hear for yourself. The score is exceptional and moving. I especially loved the use of deep basso tones when we reach the Dwarven kingdoms. The RoP soundtrack at times takes me right back to the 1977 Rankin Bass cartoon THE HOBBIT (my gateway drug to Tolkien), with its dirge-singing goblins: "Down, down, to Goblin Town." RINGS OF POWER makes clever nods to all of the Middle Earth incarnations that have come before it, but this is definitely not a children's cartoon. It's an attempt at a faithful exploration of Tolkien's immensely powerful spirit of imagination. The visuals and the music both succeed at capturing the spirit--not the letter--of what Tolkien's work is all about.
3) The diversity. I love that the producers are filling the cast with people of color and making Tolkien's cinematic universe reflect the variety and complexity of humakind--as well as elvenkind. Mostly I love that racists will completely hate the show just for this fact alone. Yes, racists will hate the diversity on display in RINGS OF POWER, and that makes me happy. Fantasy should welcome everyone into the tent, and the more people who see themselves in this show, the more people will watch and enjoy it.
I also love how the various "races" in the show--most specifically Elves, Dwarves, and Humans--behave in ways that serve as allegories for actual human racism and discrimination. Not everybody gets along as well as Legolas and Gimli. Physical characteristics aside, all of the characters in Middle Earth are basically human. They have to be that way, in order to provide the stark contrast with the creatures of Morgoth, who are completely inhuman, evil, and dedicated to annihilating all beauty and life. And that is the central conflict underlying every tale of Middle Earth. Good versus Evil. High Fantasy is back, baby.
4) The casting. A great set of actors bring solid scripts to life in the first two episodes. The decision to use (mostly) unknown actors puts the world and the core material above any celebrity attraction or distraction. Yes, there will be many long-term stars coming from this milestone production, but right now they're mostly new faces. The star of this show is Tolkien's world and its characters, rather than any particular lead actor.
5) Galadriel and Elrond get center-stage. Thanks to their immortal lives, we know both of these elvish lords from LORD OF THE RINGS. By that time (The Third Age) Elrond rules over Rivendell while Galadriel rules at Lothlorien--these were the latter years of their incredibly long lives. So it's great to see these two timeless characters in their younger years, out there battling the monsters of Morgoth and having adventures. It was a smart choice to take two classic beloved characters and focus on them, especially when you're trying to cover new ground story-wise, and a lot of what's included will naturally feel different than what has come before. Galadriel seems to be the lead, or at least the co-lead of the series for now, which is also great because it defies complaints that Tolkien's women are not strong characters. True fans always knew that was never the case.
6) The Dwarven Kingdom of Khazad-dûm. What a glorious paradise under the mountains! We get to see how enchanting and opulent and verdant Durin's kingdom really was a few centuries before it fell to the servants of darkness (namely Orcs and Balrogs). It's great seeing all of those rotting stone bridges and shattered columns from LOTR in their original splendor, a subterranean metropolis alive with waterfalls and grottoes. Moria lives!
7) The special effects and backgrounds. Perfection. You couldn't ask for a more beautifully rendered Middle Earth, with its elven cities, mountain kingdoms, and unspoiled wilderness. 'Nuff said.
8) The costumes. From the elven armor to the Harfoots' homespun britches, from the golden laurels of the High King at Lindon to the earth-burrowing horrors hungry for flesh, it all looks convincing and cleverly designed. As I mentioned before, the designers obviously chose to build on the style of previous Middle Earth films, which is exactly what needed to happen. It looks like Tolkien, and it looks great.
9) Deep story connections to THE SILMARILLION and Tolkien's mega-history. There is so much Middle Earth history to explore, and we've barely scratched the surface. LOTR and THE HOBBIT showed us the end of the Third Age, but little else of it. RINGS OF POWER is showing us the renewed conflict of the Second Age, when Sauron came to represent Morgoth upon the earth. Nobody has yet attempted to tackle the epic depths of the First Age with its massive Elf/Orc wars, when Morgoth himself roamed the earth spreading hate, darkness, and flame. That's some deep history.
Jackson's LOTR gave us a few brief glimpses into those times of legend, when Fëanor created the silmarils and divided the elvish nation even as they defied the wrath of Morgoth. The producers of RoP had to choose an "entry point" into the grand saga of Middle-Earth, and they chose well to set it during the Second Age--when the Rings of Power were forged--an act which turned the course of history toward its ultimate fate.
10) New characters. While we have two familiar characters in the lead, we also have some fresh ones livening up the scene. Arondir is already winning me over, and I think I know who The Stranger is--but I'm not one hundred percent sure yet. We also have some interesting new hobbits--well, Harfoots, as they were apparently called during the Second Age. More well-established elvish characters from Middle Earth history are being realized as well, such as Gil Galad and Isildur, as more of THE SILMARILLION's magic comes to life.
It warmed my heart to see Finrod Felagund on the screen, although I wish we'd gotten more of him. But this is his sister Galadriel's story, not his. One new character of interest is Bronwyn, another strong female and Arondir's human love interest. Their budding relationship is a mirror of others across Middle Earth history, specifically the elvish princess Luthien and her human lover Beren, and later Aragorn and his elvish lover Arwen. As such, it represents a theme that is well developed in Tolkien's work: the legacy of the half-elves as products of interracial love. The idea of mortal/immortal lovers is only one example of how RoP explores and extends Tolkien's original themes.
RINGS OF POWER comes very close to fulfilling a wish I made as a starry-eyed kid. I used to wish Tolkien had finished MORE novels of Middle Earth. It almost broke my young heart. All of the fragments and unfinished tales just didn't do it for me. I craved more adventures in this greatest of all fantasy worlds. Amazon Prime's loving investment in Tolkien's legacy is the closest we will ever get to more new material from the Master of Middle Earth. Yet Tolkien's world has taken on a life of its own, and apparently it is in good hands right now.
I'm also enjoying HBO's HOUSE OF THE DRAGON, but the Tolkien stuff has always been closer to my heart. Also, Middle Earth pre-dates G. R .R. Martin's creation by some seventy or eighty years. So I'm very much looking forward to the third episode of RINGS OF POWER.
My advice? Strap in and enjoy the ride.