Fair warning, although I’m not sure how anything in this post could possibly be considered a spoiler, just in case, proceed with caution.
At this point, I probably don’t need to reiterate that Tolkien (“John Ronald”, “Jonald” to his friends) is the greatest author of this or any age, in this or any tongue, or this or any world.
He says as he reiterates that very thing. Get it together, J.B. Norman…
So, of course, I binged the first two episodes as soon as they went live.
Now, this isn’t going to be a full, in-depth examination or recommendation, I’m mostly just going to spout off some thoughts and reactions off the top of my head.
But first, let’s deal with the oliphaunt in the room.
Is it like the books?
Fundamentally, that’s the wrong question.
In brief, Amazon has the rights of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and the Tolkien Estate has laid an interdict on any further screen adaptations of the Third Age (i.e. the stuff that’s actually in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit).
So, what we’re dealing with is Amazon adapting a Second Age story based on the Appendices at the back of Return of the King. In my copy of Return of the King, the entire Appendices are less than 200 pages long and not all of that is immediately relevant to the story of Rings of Power. The fully fleshed out history of the First and Second Ages are in The Silmarillion, which the Tolkien Estate has never given adaptation rights to.
The stuff that Amazon actually has the rights to adapt forms a fairly minimal account that’s written more like a history than a real narrative. It’s not quite as minimal as, say, annals — which, to quote the real Welsh Annals, play out something like: “537 — the strife as Camlann where Arthur and Mordred fell; there was disease in Britain and Ireland).
The Lord of the Rings Appendices do contain the history of the First and Second Ages, but mostly only as in-depth as “[Character] did [Thing], as a consequence [Dark Lord] forged One [Piece of Jewelry] to Rule Them All in the Fires of Mount [Doom].”
The details are all there, but really only the details.
It’s less that Amazon has a lot of space to work with in terms of creative liberties, so much as they have no choice but to rely on creative liberties, because otherwise there won’t be a story.
So, is it like the books?
Well, no. Because the books Amazon actually has the rights to don’t tell a fully-fleshed out story.
As for the show itself, Rings of Power is apparently the most expensive TV show ever produced.
And it shows.
The production values are immediately apparent and pretty mind-boggling. The show looks fantastic.
Now, I don’t want to turn this into a cheap shot at Marvel, so don’t take it that way, but I’ve been noticing a lot of the MCU’s recent shows and movies have had CGI that has seemed kinda dodgy to me. I haven’t really noticed any especially incongruous CGI in Rings of Power.
Though, full disclosure, this may simple be the result of me watching most Marvel stuff on my computer — I do most of my streaming on my PlayStation and the Disney Plus Playstation app kind sucks. The Amazon prime app, however, is perfectly functional, so I’ve watched Rings of Power on my TV, which may just help make it look better…
And it’s clear that a lot of that budget went into the prologue, which, much as was the case in the movies consists of Galadriel narrating history up to this point — which you’ll no doubt from circa fall 2001:
However, it’s clear that Amazon doesn’t have the rights to The Silmarillion, because Galadriel’s narration basically boils down to “Morgoth killed the Trees, so we fought him, and then Sauron killed my brother.” Said brother is also conspicuously unnamed, so I’m not entirely clear on whether or not if that’s a weird stylistic choice or a rights issue.
Similarly, the stuff we actually see on-screen evokes but is legally distinct from the well-known battles of the First Age. There’s a generically disastrous battle that’s either the Nirnaeth Arnoediad or the Dagor Bragollach, and then a scene of a bunch of wrecked buildings and dead people floating underwater, which I think is supposed to hearken to the fact that the War of Wrath broke off a chunk of Middle-earth and sank it into the ocean.
On the other hand, it was awesome to actually get a glimpse of Valinor and the Two Trees on-screen and Amazon did about as good a job as possible in representing a mythological, fantastical earthly paradise.
Nothing really happens in the first two episodes, though it’s clear that Amazon is winding us up for something big to go down, so I’m hooked to see what exactly that thing is going to be.
It’s a slow burn so far. Two episodes an, we’ve met most of the important Elves — both book characters and new characters created for the show — and the Harfoots (who eventually settle in the Shire and become the Hobbits). We haven’t gotten to Númenor yet and pretty much only seen an Orc — though his reveal gets the build-up of a Horror Movie monster and he’s got one of the more memorable scenes of these first two episodes.
We’ve also got the Meteor Guy literally out of the sky. Now, that’s definitely not in the books. If he is, in fact, Sauron, book Sauron was never a meteor. And if he’s Gandalf, book Gandalf came to Middle-earth by boat.
And most of the fanbase does seem to think he’s either Sauron (on account of his impact crater looking like a giant fiery eyeball; it seemed a little too on-the-nose to me…) or Gandalf (on account of hanging out with the proto-Hobbits).
Honestly, I’m fine with either of those.
I kind of like the idea of Sauron’s Fair Form (called Annatar in the books but potentially not one of the names Amazon has the rights to), used to deceive the Elves into forging the Rings being a grandfatherly old man is a welcome change to the whole Hot Elf angle that is ubiquitous in the fan art and might be enough to get one over on the fanbase who will be expecting Sauron to be a Hot Elf.
Now, Meteor Guy being Gandalf will get a lot of the fanbase very, very angry — you know, more so than everything else the show has done so far…
Admittedly, Gandalf didn’t arrive in Middle-earth in the Second Age and, again, didn’t arrive via meteor. On the other hand, the producers have admitted to their compressing of the timeline into basically a single human generation rather than a couple thousand years — incidentally, the movies also did this; Frodo has the Ring for about 17 years before leaving the Shire in the books and about five minutes in the movies.
Also, depending on how the rights issues are worked out, Amazon may not even be able to use the Blue Wizards (who did arrive in the Second Age), so they may have to use Gandalf as a stand-in for all the Wizards.
It’s inconsistent with the lore (that Amazon potentially can’t even adapt in the first place), but I acknowledge that adaptations always involve this kind of finagling with the finer details of the original story.
I also can’t find it in myself to be miserable about a mere TV show’s treatment of a fictional Wizard…
All in all, I’m not mad at Amazon for changing and adding to the source material. I know the story, so I’m just excited to be able to see that story play out on my TV with a billion-dollar budget.
But, seriously, the Last Alliance is going to be awesome.
Also, my advice is not to get too attached to anyone whose name you don’t recognise from the movies…
Now, I like talking about the things I like, so I may be posting more of my thoughts on Rings of Power as the series progresses. Seriously, I’m stoked.
In the meantime, consider following me so you never miss anything to do with Realmgard: