How The Rings of Power is changing The Lord of the Rings mythology


The other week, Amazon revealed the title of its upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel series: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Then it released a bevy of posters. And there’s a teaser coming this Sunday during the Super Bowl. After years of radio silence, Amazon is clearly ready to talk about this ambitious project.

And the first to really listen is Vanity Fair, which has a huge article all about the series. Let’s parse through all the new information.

What is The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power about?

The Rings of Power is set during the Second Age of Middle-earth. We’re talking thousands of years before Frodo and Sam were even born, back after the fall of the dark god Morgoth and his apprentice Sauron, who would go on to imitate his master and bring a new age of darkness to Middle-earth.

We’ve known that for a while, but there haven’t been many specifics. However the lucky hobbitses over at Vanity Fair have seen the first three episodes, and they describe the series like this:

"The show is a lavish, compelling mix of palace intrigue, magic, warfare, and mythology—and there are enough mysteries to power a thousand podcasts. Some characters will be familiar, and they will be the initial attraction as viewers watch their legendary fates unfurl. But the entirely new faces may ultimately become even more involving, since their destinies are literally unwritten."

According to Adam McKay, who serves as showrunner alongside JD Payne, the central story of the show will be “The forging of the rings. Rings for the elves, rings for dwarves, rings for men, and then the one ring Sauron used to deceive them all. It’s the story of the creation of all those powers, where they came from, and what they did to each of those races.”

To tell this tale, Amazon has hired a very large cast, and now we finally know who people are playing. Morfydd Clark plays a young Galadriel, who was so memorably played by Cate Blanchett is Peter Jackson’s movies. Robert Aramayo, who played young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, is Elrond, played by Hugo Weaving in those movies. Vanity Fair describes him as “a canny young elven architect and politician named Elrond (Robert Aramayo) will rise to prominence in the mystical capital of Lindon.” Maxim Baldry will play Isildur, a human who hails from the mighty kingdom of Númenor, which will play a key role in this story.

There are plenty of new characters, too. Ismael Cruz Córdova plays a silvan elf named Arondir who gets involved with Bronwyn, a human village healer played by Nazanin Boniadi. Sophia Nomvete plays a dwarven princess named Disa. Megan Richards and Markella Kavenagh play a pair of harfoots (another name for hobbits, essentially) who encounter a mysterious lost man. There are a lot of faces here.

Incidentally, Córdova and Nomvete are the first people of color to play an elf and a dwarf respectively. Back when the cast was announced, there was some backlash over the very idea of bringing people of color into Middle-earth, which has always looked pretty white. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” said executive producer Lindsey Weber. “Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together.”

Tolkien scholar Mariana Rios Maldonado also weighed in: “Obviously there was going to be push and backlash, but the question is from whom?” she said. “Who are these people that feel so threatened or disgusted by the idea that an elf is Black or Latino or Asian?”

Will The Lord of the: The Rings of Power be like Game of Thrones?

As for the structure of the show, we’re in Game of Thrones territory, by which I mean there will be separate stories running parallel to each other. That said, the tone of the show will be very different; don’t expect any gratuitous sex or violence here. According to McKay, the goal was “to make a show for everyone, for kids who are 11, 12, and 13, even though sometimes they might have to pull the blanket up over their eyes if it’s a little too scary.”

"We talked about the tone in Tolkien’s books. This is material that is sometimes scary—and sometimes very intense, sometimes quite political, sometimes quite sophisticated—but it’s also heartwarming and life-affirming and optimistic. It’s about friendship and it’s about brotherhood and underdogs overcoming great darkness."

McKay and Payne have worked in Hollywood for over a decade, but The Rings of Power will be their first IMDb credit. “We’ve worked on so many projects with so many awesome and exciting people that never got made or worked on things that did get made and we didn’t get credit,” McKay said. “We were a little bit of a dark horse. And Amazon talked to absolutely everybody—whoever had any idea for Lord of the Rings.”

So what made Bezos go with these two? “We were passionate about the material and had a take that matched Amazon’s appetites and ambition,” Payne said. (Also, apparently J.J. Abrams sang their praises after working with them on a Star Trek movie that didn’t end up moving forward.)

With Amazon looking to spend over a billion dollars on this show over the course of its life, these two have a big hill to climb. “We felt like hobbits,” Payne said. “We felt like two very small people in a very big world who had just been entrusted with something that meant so much to so many different people.” As huge genre fans, their hearts are in the right place, and they know how much pressure they’re under to turn in something worth watching. “We know what it’s like to be anticipating something and to be terrified that it won’t be what you hope,” McKay said. “We’ve been those guys many times over.” The duo can officially settle some concerns.

The Rings of Power is based on the appendices to The Lord of the Rings

Going back to that billion-dollar figure, The Rings of Power has raised a lot of eyebrows over its cost. Amazon’s other big fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, costs around $80 million a season. The Rings of Power will dwarf that. Amazon famously spent $250 million on the rights alone, beating out Netflix in a bidding war. Now, Vanity Fair reveals what exactly it bought the rights to.

J.R.R. Tolkien loved writing about the history of his fantasy world. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings both take place towards the end of the Third Age, but the First and Second Ages are just as important; Tolkien detailed them in a book called The Silmarillion.

But as it ends up, Amazon didn’t buy the rights to The Silmarillion; rather, it bought the rights to the appendices at the end of the The Lord of the Rings books. These appendices detail what happened over the course of the Second Age in bullet point form, so McKay and Payne will still be filling in a lot of details. “Can we come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote and do it as the mega-event series that could only happen now?” McKay asked.

All of that costs money, but when your boss is Jeff Bezos that’s not that big of an issue. “He is personally a huge fan of Tolkien and incredibly passionate about all of it and very well-versed,” said Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios. “His desire to be ambitious—​and for us to be ambitious with our content—has always been clear from the moment I got here. This fit perfectly with that big ambition, to take on something that would require the whole company working together to execute.”

The changes made for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Like I said, the appendices to Lord of the Rings only sketch out the events of the Second Age, which means the show will have to fill out a lot of details. And changes will be made, new stories invented. For instance, Vanity Fair details a scene in Episode 2 where Galadriel is set adrift on the Sundering Seas on a raft with a mortal castaway named Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a character invented for the show. That definitely isn’t described anywhere in the books, but the show will be forging its own path.

It sounds like the show has an interesting take on Galadriel, who will be less serene than she is in The Lord of the Rings, though just as clever. She senses that there’s a great evil on the rise before others do, which sounds like it will land her in some hot water. “I think this is all about the repercussions of war,” said J. A. Bayona, who directed the first two episodes. “There is an idea that feels very faithful to Tolkien, which is intuition. Galadriel has an intuition that things are not fixed, and there is still something lurking.”

All that said, the biggest change is how the show will collapse Tolkien’s timeline. In the books, he establishes the Second Age as taking place over thousands of years, but McKay and Payne have compressed events into a single point in time. “We talked with the Tolkien estate,” Payne said. “If you are true to the exact letter of the law, you are going to be telling a story in which your human characters are dying off every season because you’re jumping 200 years in time, and then you’re not meeting really big, important canon characters until season 4. Look, there might be some fans who want us to do a documentary of Middle-earth, but we’re going to tell one story that unites all these things.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power release date

I get why telling a story over the course of thousands of years would make TV producers nervous, but I also get why taking this approach will make fans nervous. “We think the work will eventually speak for itself,” Payne said. “Before an orchestra starts, audiences will talk to each other, but then as soon as the music begins, you’re in and you’re listening to that music.”

I’ll hope for the best.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres on Amazon Prime Video on September 2.

Next. The Lord of the Rings fanfic that’s over 10 times longer than the books. dark

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