Happy to return to Middle Earth
September 8, 2022
I grew up in Middle Earth.
Granted, my first journey there was when I was five, and Gollum in the animated 1977 “Hobbit” film scared me so bad I couldn’t watch anything remotely strange or fantastic for a few years. But the rest of my family loved the first two “The Lord of the Rings” films that had come out in the early 2000s, so I eventually got pulled in. I watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers,” and, at the risk of being cliche, they changed my life.
I got my hands on the books as soon as I could and, as a nine-year-old, I read through all three thick volumes of Tolkien’s poetic words. When I was 10 I stood in line outside the theater in the Wyoming December weather for the premier of “The Return of the King.” For several years after that I collected action figures and merchandise, re-read the books every year, and watched the films (extended editions, of course) countless times.
So much of my childhood and teenage years were shaped and influenced by Tolkien’s works. While I can’t quite keep up with that same level of enthusiasm anymore, my love for Middle Earth has never changed, and the books and films remain my favorite now and forever.
I was thrilled to return to Middle Earth about a decade ago when “The Hobbit” films released. I remember how much I cried as the credits rolled during “The Battle of the Five Armies,” thinking I’d seen Middle Earth on the big screen for the last time. And, on the big screen at least, I may have.
But now, through Amazon Prime’s “The Rings of Power” series, I can visit Middle Earth again.
The story is set in the second age of Middle Earth, serving as a prequel to both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” It will tell the story of Sauron and the forging of the great rings.
The series released its first two episodes simultaneously last Thursday, and will release a new episode each Friday for the next few weeks. I was excited about the series when it was first announced, and optimistic from the first trailer. Seeing the first two episodes, I remain excited and optimistic for the rest.
I believe the filming and writing for “Rings of Power” accurately and respectfully capture the feel of Middle Earth. The sweeping New Zealand landscapes and gorgeous visual effects (which Amazon spent a record amount of money on) create a familiar world while showing us new sides of it. We get to see places we know in a new light, like Khazad-Dum in its glory, as well as places we’ve heard of but never seen, like Valinor. We also get to know familiar characters in a different period of their lives, like Galadriel and Elrond, while meeting new characters, like Arondir and Nori Brandyfoot.
I can see the effort that went into making “Rings of Power” feel like it fits within the already-established cinematic world of Middle Earth, from the dialogue to the story structure to the camera angles. The series clearly pays homage to Peter Jackson’s films. At the same time, it’s willing to be its own creation and do things its own way, which I also appreciate.
With something as beloved as “The Lord of the Rings,” many people feel a connection to the story, characters, and world. Sometimes, however, this connection leads people to be overly protective and overly critical.
I’m sure Peter Jackson’s original trilogy was criticized by fans of the books when it came out, although I was too young to pay attention at that point. As a fan of the books myself at the time, I wasn’t happy with all the changes that were made, but I understood them and still appreciated the films.
When “The Hobbit” films came out, I was very aware of the criticism, and I defended the decision to turn one small book into three films, pointing people to Tolkien’s appendices and other writings the filmmakers were drawing from.
With “Rings of Power,” however, the criticism has reached new (and I believe absurd) heights. Before the show even premiered, people took to the internet to criticize everything from small details (like dwarf women needing to have beards) to the entire premise of the show (claiming it’s a “woke” series pushing a political agenda).
While I believe most of the critiques are actually grounded in racism, sexism, and general hatred and political ideology and should be dismissed, I’m willing to engage with actual intelligent criticism of the series. However, I also believe people need to be open to changes.
Unlike “The Lord of the Rings,” which was based on the finished books, “The Rings of Power” is based on and inspired by Tolkien’s appendices, which were essentially his story notes compiled by his son. These notes were never a completed work, so there is no strict canon for that time period in Middle Earth’s history. Therefore, “Rings of Power” has more freedom to change the story than any other adaptation has so far.
Even Peter Jackson’s beloved trilogy made massive changes to the source material. However, it captured the heart of the books, the feel and the messages and the power of the world Tolkien created. That is what any truly great adaptation does, regardless of changes to details. I believe “Rings of Power” is on track to do the same, and I am excited for the chance to return to Middle Earth again.