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Updating a Tolkien tale


WORLD Radio - Updating a Tolkien tale

Amazon Prime is releasing a series based on a prequel to The Lord of the Rings

This image released by Amazon Studios shows Nazanin Boniadi, from left, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Tyroe Muhafidin from "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." Amazon Studios via Associated Press

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, September 2nd, 2022. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The Lord of the Rings.

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings have eagerly awaited Amazon Studios’ new show set in Middle Earth—and have done so with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Here’s arts and media editor Collin Garbarino with his initial thoughts on the series.

COLLIN GARBARINO: Amazon Studios’ The Rings of Power has finally arrived. The first episodes debuted on Prime Video last night, and new episodes will follow each week in this eight-part series. Amazon allowed me to watch the first two episodes early, so keep in mind this review isn’t based on the entire season. But those first two episodes give a pretty good idea where things are going.

GALADRIEL: Nothing is evil in the beginning. And there was a time when the world was so young there had not yet been a sunrise, but even then, there was light.

The biggest fear fans had was that Amazon would turn Tolkien’s story into a Game of Thrones style series full of adult-oriented material. It looks like those fears were unfounded. Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is rated TV-14, mostly for some scary scenes. So far, the show’s maturity level seems similar to the Peter Jackson movies.

The series is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s based on Tolkien’s Simirillian and other tales. The show quickly lays out some of the history of Middle Earth in those long years before war of the ring brought about the end of the Third Age.

GALADRIEL: We had no word for death because we thought our joy would be unending.

The First Age saw the creation of the world as well as the creation of elves, men, and dwarves. The peace of that First Age was shattered by the dark lord Morgoth who made war against the young elves.

GALADRIEL: In the end, Morgoth would be defeated, but not before much sorrow. For his orcs had spread to every corner of Middle Earth, multiplying ever greater under the command of his most devoted servant, the cruel and cunning sorcerer. They called him Sauron.

This series takes place in the Second Age—thousands of years before Frodo cast the One Ring into Mount Doom. We’ll see the forging of the rings of power—when elves and men became proud and foolish, led astray by Sauron.

The central character is Galadriel. In Peter Jackson’s trilogy she was played by Cate Blanchett. Here she’s played with intensity by Morfydd Clark. Galadriel isn’t yet a stately elf queen. She’s a warrior maiden on a quest to eradicate evil from Middle Earth.

ELF: Commander Galadriel, this company has followed you to the very edge of the world, but none who have ever dared search for this lost stronghold has ever found anything. It’s been years since the last orc was sighted. Is it not possible the other commanders are right and our enemy is no more.

We also see a young Elrond, who though clever and political hasn’t yet achieved the wisdom for which he would become known.

ELROND: It is over. The evil is gone.

GALADRIEL: Then why is it not gone from in here.

ELROND: After all you have endured. It is only natural to feel conflicted.

GALADRIEL: Conflicted? I am grateful you have not known evil as I have. But you have not seen what I have seen. 

ELROND: I have seen my share.

GALADRIEL: You have not seen what I have seen. Evil does not sleep, Elrond. It waits until the moment of our complacency. It blinds us.

Amazon’s playing a little fast and loose with Tolkien’s chronology. And alongside Tolkien’s heroes, the studio created many original characters and storylines to fill out the series. There’s an elf soldier who confronts prejudice when he falls in love with a human woman. And we meet Nori, an unusually adventurous hobbit girl.

NORI: Have you ever wondered what else is out there? How far the river flows or where the sparrows learn the new songs they sing in spring. I can’t help but feel there’s wonders in this world beyond our wandering.

MARIGOLD: I’ve told you countless times. Elves have forests to protect. Dwarves their mines. Men their fields of grain. Even trees have to worry about the soil beneath their roots. But we harfoots are free from the worries of the wide world. We are but ripples in a long long stream. Our paths set by the passing seasons. Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone. We have each other. We’re safe. That is how we survive.

Tolkien purists might not like some of these changes meant to appeal to a contemporary audience whose only attachment to the story is through the movies. In the books, Hobbits don’t make an appearance in the Second Age. And the show has humans mock an elf for his pointy ears, which doesn’t sound like the books either—in fact, Tolkien never said elves have pointy ears.

Tolkien wrote an epic set firmly within the context of northern European myth, but the studio has attempted to update and expand that myth by including non-white actors in the cast. The multicultural series looks a little more like America, but it also makes it look a little less like Tolkien’s Norse-Anglo-Saxon inspiration.

SADOC: First the big people, and now the stars. Eyes open when they should be sleeping. Almost like… Like they’re watching for something.

NORI: Watching for what?

The new series is entertaining, so far, but I suspect it will flinch from Tolkien’s tragic vision. Jackson’s movies abandoned that vision, opting for a more triumphant tone. And in comments at the premier this week Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said he loved Tolkien’s optimism. But 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.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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