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The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

TELEVISION | Amazon’s series is entertaining but plays a little fast and loose with Tolkien’s chronology

Matt Grace/Prime Video

<em>The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power</em>
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Rated TV-14
➤ Prime
➤ Some scary scenes

Amazon has a lot riding on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, its new series set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle Earth. The studio expects to spend a billion dollars on the series—a record for the most expensive TV show ever produced—but fans of Tolkien’s writings have awaited the show with both anticipation and dread.

The series is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s set thousands of years before Frodo cast the One Ring into Mount Doom at the end of the Third Age. It begins with a quick outline of the history of Middle Earth to get the audience up to speed since not everyone is an expert on Tolkien lore.

The First Age saw the creation of the world as well as the creation of elves, men, and dwarves. At first everything was good, but the peace of the First Age was shattered when the dark lord Morgoth made war against the young elves. The defeat of Morgoth and his crafty lieutenant Sauron ushered in the Second Age of Middle Earth. The Rings of Power concerns itself with this Second Age.

The central character is Galadriel (Morfydd Clark). She isn’t yet the stately elf queen we see in Peter Jackson’s movies. She’s a warrior maiden on a quest to eradicate evil from Middle Earth. She fears the defeated Sauron is still loose in the world, but other elves seem reluctant to believe her dire warnings. We also see a young Elrond (Robert Aramayo), who though clever and political hasn’t yet achieved the wisdom for which he would become known. The series will recount the forging of the rings of power and Sauron’s treachery that led the proud and foolish elves and men astray.

This show positions itself more as a prequel to Jackson’s movies than as a faithful adaptation of Tolkien’s legendarium, and Middle Earth purists might not like some of the changes meant to appeal to a contemporary audience whose only attachment to the story is through the movies.

Amazon plays a little fast and loose with Tolkien’s chronology, compressing the more than 3,000 years of the Second Age. Alongside Tolkien’s heroes, the studio created many original characters and story­lines to fill out the series. We meet Nori, an unusually adventurous hobbit girl, though in the books, hobbits don’t appear in the Second Age. There’s also an elf soldier who confronts prejudice when he falls in love with a human woman. The show also has humans mock him for his pointy ears, which doesn’t sound like the books either—in fact, Tolkien never said elves have pointy ears. Racial prejudice in Tolkien is usually tied to what people love and do rather than how they look.

The studio expects to spend a billion dollars on the series—a record for the most expensive TV show ever produced.

Tolkien wrote an epic set firmly within the context of Northern European myth, but the studio has attempted to alleviate the story of its Eurocentrism by including non-white actors in the cast. Perhaps this decision will give the series global appeal and make it look a little more like America, but some fans complain it makes it look less like Tolkien’s Norse-Anglo-Saxon inspiration.

The biggest fear fans had was Amazon would turn Tolkien’s story into a Game of Thrones–style series full of adult-oriented material. The first episodes indicate those fears were unfounded. The show is rated TV-14, mostly for scary scenes, and the studio wants the series to feel like it fits with Peter Jackson’s movies.

The new series is entertaining, so far, and even dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fans might be able to enjoy it as long as they stop worrying about deviations from the source material. It’s fun to see Númenor and Khazad-dûm in their heyday. But I’m most interested to see whether the series will flinch from Tolkien’s tragic vision like Peter Jackson did when he gave his movies a triumphant tone. In Tolkien’s world, each age might end in a victory of good over evil, but each age is also less good and less beautiful than the one before.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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