The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has divided Tolkien fans. Considering we’ve seen precisely one minute of footage in an action-packed teaser trailer, I find it surprising that people have such strong opinions on the show already. But then again, the mere existence of people of colour gets some people riled up these days (get over it, by the way).
If you’re not a racist, it’s likely you’re feeling anticipation, nerves, and possibly some excitement. I remain firmly on the fence: I’m cautiously excited to see a new side of Tolkien’s magical world, but I haven’t seen anywhere near enough to understand whether The Rings of Power will pull it off successfully or not. I’m also of the opinion that adaptations of Tolkien don’t impact the canon or affect how I read the books, which some fans seem to struggle with. If the Rings of Power is bad – which it might be – it will not make me frown at The Silmarillion the next time I pick it up. I don’t particularly enjoy the Jackson/Walsh/Boyens trilogy’s depiction of elves as emotionless Vulcan-lite creatures rather than happy, hippy, forest spirits, but it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the characters when I read the books.
However, Amazon Studios clearly sensed there was some ill-will around the series (they should check my Twitter DMs if they want to know what racists really think), so they gathered a group of esteemed Tolkien critics to sit down with the showrunners, who would field their questions.
Among the biggest names involved were Shaun Gunner, the chair of the Tolkien Society, and Corey Olsen ‘The Tolkien Professor’ along with his podcasting colleague Dr. Maggie Parke. Representatives from the Fellowship of Fans and TheOneRing.net fan communities were present, as well as TikTokers Don Marshall and Silmaremily, The Prancing Pony podcast, and more. What I’m saying is, this was a diverse mix of Tolkien creatives, thinkers, and fans, and most of them came away from the event impressed.
The group signed watertight NDAs, of course, but we know they saw a new series of clips from The Rings of Power in addition to their interviews with its creators. Tolkien scholar John Garth was also present to give the group a talk, although a tweet from the man himself suggests he doesn’t have any further involvement in the show beyond this PR exercise.
I was particularly interested in Kaitlyn Facista’s (of the Tea With Tolkien blog) thoughts, because she hadn’t really enjoyed the initial teaser trailer. She was more impressed by the extended clip that this group was shown, however.
“As I watched the footage, I began to feel immersed in Middle-earth in a way that I hadn’t when watching the teaser trailer released earlier this year,” she writes. “There were moments of breathtaking high beauty, exhilarating heroism, and beautifully captured humanity which evoked many of the same feelings I experienced when reading Tolkien for the first time.”
It’s the “beautifully captured humanity” that speaks strongest to me. I’m sure Amazon Studios will make the show look beautiful with its eye watering budget (although avoiding an overly-CGI experience in favour of practical effects like the initial title reveal would be preferable) and I think we all expected the heroics of battle in a modern blockbuster, whether we wanted it or not. But the tender moments and the stories of regular people in Middle-earth are what makes Tolkien’s work so engaging as a reader, and hopefully that extends to the Rings of Power.
Facista also notes that she was, “actually very impressed by their [the showrunners] knowledge of the Legendarium and Tolkien’s letters particularly." This is something that Corey Olsen and Dr. Maggie Parke also talk about in their two hour breakdown of the event – again specifically mentioning the letters by name, with Olsen even mentioning that the showrunners cited some of the more obscure letters rather than the ones we all know.
The biggest takeaway from every single invitee, however, was the passion of the showrunners. “[They] know and ‘get’ Tolkien and are completely passionate about it,” says Olsen on Twitter. “I met them, talked to them, and asked them questions. Their answers surpassed my wildest expectations of their fandom.” Olsen did, however, criticise that the attendees were shown another montage of scenes spliced together rather than a whole episode or extended sequence from the show, which made it hard to judge.
Enthusiasm is a word mentioned by nearly every single person who attended the event, along with passion. Many, like Olsen, explicitly praise the showrunners’ knowledge of Tolkien's canon, and most feel like the show is in good hands. A good TV series needs a lot more than just enthusiasm, but a vast well of Tolkien knowledge should begin to assuage the ill-feelings of any Tolkienists that were worried about huge departures from the lore.
The Rings of Power will introduce characters and events to Middle-earth that Tolkien never wrote about; that’s the nature of filling in the gaps of the most threadbare era of Tolkien’s fantasy timeline. But, if this group of esteemed Tolkien influencers trust the showrunners with those additions, then it seems at this stage that there shouldn’t be any egregious conflicts with Tolkien’s lore.
Some detractors will maintain that these critics have been ‘bought off’ or are ‘paid shills’ because they attended an event run by Amazon Studios. But if you actually sit down and read anything that these people have written, or listen to anything they’ve said, you’ll be able to trust their abilities to critically evaluate any events and acknowledge when something is PR spiel and when passion is genuine. I’ve been to enough events to know the difference, and I’m sure they have to, and to be completely honest it’s an insult to their intelligence to suggest otherwise.
We still don’t know whether The Rings of Power will be good or not, but if this group of critics trusts that the showrunners know their Tolkien and can deliver an accurate adaptation, that seems like a good start.
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