When you are someone who discovered J.R.R. Tolkien at age 13, sat down with a notepad and pencil to keep track of everything happening in The Silmarillion, aced an entrance test writing about the sociological significance of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, been (rightly) sceptical about The Hobbit being turned into three movies, the idea of going back to Middle-earth on screen is both exciting and daunting. Especially when the show is based on 150 pages of bullet-pointed notes that came as appendices to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King book, and not on any fleshed out Tolkien story.
I’ll be honest. I sat down to watch the first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime Video prepared to be really disappointed. I ended up wishing we could watch the episodes on the big screen. Because not even a 48-inch television can do justice to the magnificence and grandeur of the show. It is majestic, with sweeping shots across landscapes, storms in the sea, mythical forests and imposing mines. Yes, it doesn’t always feel as authentic as Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, probably because of the expansive use of CGI, but it spares no expense with detailed sets, costumes and props. The dialogues sometimes feel clunky and very simplistic, missing the depth of writing that came from having an original text to draw from. But the two episodes, released on Friday morning, are a perfect vehicle to sail back into the world of Elves, Orcs, Men and Dwarves.
The most exciting part of it, at least for a Tolkien geek like me, were the various connections I could make to the books I grew up reading and the films whose magic hasn’t waned despite the number of re-watches. Here are some of the things that eagle-eyed fans will have noticed, and what newcomers to Middle-earth might find helpful to make sense of a show set between the time of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The familiar prologue
Just like the voice of Galadriel set us off on the journey to Middle-earth in The Fellowship of the Ring with a rundown on events that led to the adventures of Frodo Baggins, in The Rings of Power, too, it is Galadriel who contextualises the show by telling us, in brief, about Valinor, the rise of the first Dark Lord Morgoth, his lieutenant Sauron, the War of Wrath and the aftermath. We see Finrod dead with a mark on his body, believed to be made by Sauron, and Galadriel taking up his task of flushing out and ending Sauron.
Good to know:
Morgoth, earlier known as Melkor, was the most mighty among the Ainur before he defied his creator Eru Illuvatar.
War of Wrath was fought for 40 years between Morgoth and his army and an alliance of Elves, Men and Valar, which ended the First Age of Middle-earth and the rule of Morgoth.
Sauron, earlier known as Marion, was a Maia who joined Morgoth and became his most trusted lieutenant.
Finrod is mentioned in The Silmarillion and helps Beren and Luthien recover one of the three Silmarils (precious stones) that Morgoth had stolen.
The Rings of Power spans multiple locations telling the stories of Elves, Men, Dwarves and Harfoots and each is cut using a map, just like in the LOTR movie trilogy. From the Elves in Lindon to the evil creeping into the world of Men in the Southlands to the Dwarves in Khazad-dum to Rhovanion, home to the roving Harfoots, ancestors of the Hobbits we’ve come to love.
The Shepherds of the Trees
Remember Treebeard? Harfoot Nori’s mum mentions how the trees have to guard their soil, probably referring to Ents who protect forests. The presence of the Ents in the Second Age of Middle-earth is confirmed in a shot where we see a meteorite hurtling to Middle-earth and we can’t wait to see more.
The Forbidden Love
Arwen and Aragorn were the forbidden pair in LOTR. And there was the mortal man Beren and the immortal Luthien in The Silmarillion. In The Rings of Power, we get Arondir the Elf and Bronwyn, a human healer. They are not part of the canon, but we are already invested in them though we are not sure whether the story will go the way of the LOTR pair or The Silmarillion one.
He can do magic, he doesn’t remember his name or language or food… is he a Maiar? Is he the wisest of the Maiars? I mean, is he Gandalf? Though, as per canon, Gandalf isn’t sent to Middle-earth till the Third Age, The Stranger does look a lot like him. Then he whisper-speaks to fireflies, just like Gandalf speaks to a moth in The Fellowship of the Ring. Or maybe he is another Istari (wizard) and all wizards have animal whispering skills.
We have heard the name Durin again and again. Not the least, Durin’s Bane (which the trailers say we will probably meet). We meet Prince Durin and his wife (I thought female dwarves have beards, but she didn’t!) and a friendship with the Elf, Elrond and via him a possible connection with Celebrimbor, the greatest elven craftsman on Middle-earth. Remember the Doors of Durin in LOTR? “Speak friend and enter”? That was created by Celebrimbor and the Dwarf Navi.
These are just a few connections among many, many smaller, blink-and-you-miss ones that are part of the first two episodes and it is exciting. I can’t wait to see where this show takes us.