News from the Downingverse Center of Esoteric B.S.

This one is for Tolkien enthusiasts who are disappointed by The Rings of Power:

There’s Hope Yet!

            Amazon’s Rings of Power is just the right size for television or film.  It is far too small, though, for Tolkien enthusiasts.  The computer graphics and clever camera work are all exciting, perhaps even innovative.  I am no cinematographer and cannot judge that. Yet from its start, with its quick and skewed look at Tolkien’s First Age, I saw that it was just too small for anything except the names of characters and the geography of Tolkien’s world.  Then again, so was Jackson’s LoTR though it gave more than a passing nod to the books, which earned it some credibility.  The Hobbit, well, was about making money from the franchise, and that was my first thought about The Rings of Power, though I might have been wrong about that. See, I think that The Rings of Power has to deal with nearly insurmountable writing problems that will keep its focus small and seeming skewed to Tolkien fans, though offering them something new and delightful in its own way.

            The credits of RoP claim to use the “Appendices” of LoTR as the source for their story.  I read an article that said they plan some fifty hours of television in all the seasons, which forces them into difficulties, such as time compression.  One obvious example concerns Sauron’s activities in Middle Earth, which the chronologies show begins at about year 500 of the Second Age. The same source reveals that Sauron, though estranged from King Gil-galad and Elrond, wins the friendship of the elven smiths of Eregion in the year 1200 of the Second Age.  The three elven rings are not made until three hundred years later, 1500 in the Second Age, which serves as a daunting span of years when it comes to generating a plot around specific characters, such as Elrond, Galadriel, Durin VI, and Celebrimbor.

            Much of Tolkien’s information about such characters in that time frame would have enormous lapses of time in its plot, not to mention the addition of other story lines and characters. In the “Appendices,” Tolkien reveals more family ties that would over-complicate any story plot, such as Galadriel being married to Celeborn and settling in Lothlorien, as well as Elrond’s marriage with their daughter, Celebrian, mother to Elladan, Ellrohir, and Arwen. Fifty hours of television, a daunting risk and investment, I would reckon, is far too short a span of scenes to do justice to what Tolkien left us in his spacious history.

            Thus, the show runs into problems with a compressed timeline: the fall of Numinor in the year 3319 of the Second Age, while it depicts the journey of the Harfoot hobbits into Eriador, which the chronicles reveal took place in the year 1050 of the Third Age. To make a story out of it, the showrunners of RoP are forced to wrench events out of their original sequence in order to make the story, their focused plot, work with some measure of specific tension to sustain it, keep watchers coming back.  I do not reckon that good television will work if spans of years and events are played out as the Appendices has them. A series of compelling episodes for televised medium relies upon appealing characters working out conflicts as they come together in a climactic point and resolution. It would take far more than fifty hours of shows to reveal all that Tolkien did. Perhaps 500 hours? 5000?

            Without that kind of time, though, the RoP showrunners have hit upon one happy coincidence in the aforementioned arrival of the Harfoot tribe in Eriador with the coming of the Istari, the Wizards, Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, and the two Blue Wizards who wander away, conveniently, into the East. Now Tolkien never mentioned anything about them landing like meteors—which, I suppose, is better television than having them sail into the Grey Havens and be greeted by Cirdan, who has yet to show up [as I write this, I have only seen four episodes.]. However, the show’s depiction of wandering, rustic hobbits is rather charming. They are a relatively believable creation in RoP and are poised to bring delight to those who watch.  Hobbits have been the mainstay of filmic dabblers into Tolkien’s mythos, and might well be the best things, if the smallest, in this new venture.  They are bumbling, secretive, joyful, and—most of all—vulnerable, an absolute necessity in any story in which Sauron appears as the primary villain. After all, the only “Lord of the Rings” is Sauron. Hobbits’s joyful freedom is anathema to Sauron.

 Aside from the elven people, hobbits are the folk with whom Gandalf spends most of his time. His task, the very reason for his coming to Middle Earth, is to oppose the threat of Sauron.  As we learned in the books, Gandalf is the only one who has made any sort of study of hobbit lore, and he even admits that after a thousand years they can still surprise him.  Can they not still surprise us?  I think, perhaps, they can and offer this as hope.  I look forward to seeing how little Nori, who seems to have taken on Gandalf as a project, works out in this plot. The actress who plays her bears a striking likeness to Elijah Wood, the movie version of Frodo, I think, and has the curiosity of the most adventurous Took. There is the potential for greatness in her curiosity, cleverness, and joy.

            Yes, I will blanche and mumble at the ways the history has been jumbled about to make this new plot.  I remain dumbfounded about the imminent fall of Numenor without Sauron there to foment it. And, yes, I can take some delight in the relationship of an unknown elf, Arondir, with a human woman, Bronwyn, for that is a distinctive Tolkien trope. However, any plot that features hobbits is likely to be worth watching. These small, fragile people have great hearts, and I, for one, will hope to see more of Frodo’s greatness in his ancestors.  It may not be accurate to the details of Tolkien’s chronology, but if hobbits play a role in this series, we can hope that a little bit of Tolkien’s world comes to life on our televisions, which is why we tuned into it in the first place.   

            Yes, I would love to see the entirety of Tolkien’s history played out on the screen, though I would grumble about some of it anyway.  No one depicts the characters and events Tolkien gave us like I can—or you can.  There’s the rub.  No depiction will ever be totally satisfying to all Tolkien enthusiasts. I think, though, that Rings of Power will give us something about Frodo and Bilbo’s people, and that is worth seeing.  With half the first season under my belt, I remain hopeful for the hobbits!

M.J. Downing.


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