7 December, 2022

The Incredible Tolkien-ness of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

I had love expectations for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It is based mostly on the Second Age of Middle Earth, as depicted in the Appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Those stories are sketches, at best, of larger tales. Worse, the pivotal events of the Second Age take place over thousands of years.

JRR Tolkien

Adapting that into a television series is a creative task akin to leading the Fellowship through Moria. (And we all know the Fellowship did not survive Moria unscathed.)

Despite the obstacles, despite some changes to lore, the show has exceeded my expectations. I’m obsessed with it mostly because while it departs from the Appendices and adds original characters, emotionally, it feels like Tolkien.

Yes, that’s an entirely subjective judgment. All I can say is that, at its best, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power invokes its original creator in ways I’d not thought possible. It gives me the same feeling as when I first read these words:

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton

Note: Yes, I read LotR first, then The Hobbit.

Read on below for the greatest Tolkienesque moments from the show. I’ve tried to be vague, but there are naturally some spoilers, so be forewarned.

The Harfoots Wandering Song (Episode 5)

Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) is a member of the wandering proto-Hobbit group called the Harfoots. She launches into this song as the Harfoots migration through many dangers begins in earnest. It’s a beautiful song, in the tradition of Tolkien’s original songs for his world, but the kicker is the final two lines:

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No matter the sorrow, no matter the cost
That not all who wonder or wander are lost

“Not all those who wander are lost” are versus in the poem Bilbo Baggins wrote for Aragorn son of Arathorn, the future King Elessar. The Wandering Song is a beautiful echo of that poem.

The Elves Cry for the Trees (Episode 3)

Elves know of Ents and Ent-wives. They know trees have a life of their own.

Arondir, a soldier of Elven King Gil-galad assigned to the Southlands, is captured by Orcs and put to work digging tunnels and clearing the land. This includes destroying a great tree in their way. The Elves, who always have revered the land and the trees, refuse. It’s only after the Orcs murder one of his companions that Arondir takes an axe to the tree, tears in his eyes.

Elrond’s Defense of His Oath (Episode 5)

Elrond has been snooping at Durin’s secrets, only to discover the Dwarves have discovered mithril, a new precious mineral that is stronger, more beautiful, and more valuable than any uncovered previously. Durin makes Elrond swear an oath on the Mountain to never speak of what they will discuss. Elrond swears, invoking his father, Eärendil the Mariner, the savior of Elves and Men. Yet Gil-galad demands Elrond break this oath, as the Elves need mithril to survive. Elrond responds that he views breaking this oath as part of breaking his soul.

Oaths kept or broken play a great part in Tolkien’s lore, as the oath sworn by Feanor and his sons to take the Silmarils from anyone who may hold them eventually destroys them all. Perhaps the inspiration for this scene is Elrond’s words in Fellowship of the Ring, when he declines to make members of the Fellowship swear an oath: “it lay no oath or bond upon you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road.”

Disa Sings to the Mountain (Episode 4)

Durin, the son of the Dwarven King, and his wife, Disa (played by Sophia Nomvete), live in Khazad-dûm (Moria) at the height of its power. But mining is never a simple thing and a cave-in traps some of them. In a ceremony praying for the safe return of their fellows, Disa literally sings to the Mountain and it responds.

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Elrond’s jaw drops and no doubt that was echoed by the millions of viewers. It’s a haunting and beautiful moment and the best even moment involving Tolkien’s Dwarves to ever by portrayed on-screen.

Sailing Into Númenor (Episode 3)

The glory and splendor of Númenor, the isle that was gifted to the faithful men for their help in the war against Morgoth, is on full display as Galadriel and her companion, Halbrand, sail into its harbor.

This is an incredible visual, at once beautiful and intimidating. It’s a mighty city with statues many stories high. (Statues that echo those of Elendil and Isildur in LotR.) But the pride of the city is also on display, pride that will become its downfall in the end. Galadriel knows this, hence her words that the city has not improved.

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Other moments that caught my Tolkien-nerd self: the introduction of the Harfoots in episode one; Elrond’s tale of his father becoming a star; everything about the Dwarves in Moria; the beautiful sails of the ships of manner; and Gil-galad’s speech to Elrond about hope never being ‘mere.’

I’ve watched each of the first five episodes twice (or more) each week. For the first time in a long time, a television series is filling my soul.

The Climax of Episode 7

A huge spoiler in this last one: Mt. Doom erupts and Mordor is created. The mechanism for this is just that, a mechanism (combined with dark magic) that converts the dam bringing water for farmland into a weapon formed by the tunnels dug by the Orcs. These tunnels destroyed all in their path, including the trees, as mentioned above. Tolkien himself was wary of machinery and the modern world, perhaps due to his experiences in World War I. Saruman of The Lord of the Rings destroyed the land around him as well, fouling the water and hewing all the trees.