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The Rings of Power: Fantasy with Tolkienian roots, but not of Tolkien

Something essential is missing in the new Amazon series, and that something speaks to our times when choices are ambiguous.

(Images: Amazon Prime)

I’ve only viewed the trailer and two episodes of Amazon’s The Rings of Power. How can I say where it’s going? After all, I’ve seen characters out of J. R. R. Tolkien’s grand myth and some of them remind me, more or less, of the characters depicted in his works.

I told my wife that if Amazon had made a film that satisfied me, it would be a commercial disaster. I daresay that could be said of many Tolkien devotees.

Thus far, I’ve seen courage, fortitude, honor displayed by characters in the film, among other things that appeal to today’s viewer. And evil is recognized, no small thing.

We can enjoy The Rings of Power as a fantasy with Tolkienian roots, but not of Tolkien. Alas, it is entertainment without the law of the choice.

What do I mean? The premise that Galadriel pronounces early on is that Morgoth, Tolkien’s Satan—the Great Enemy, destroys the Tree of Light in the Blessed Realm and then flees to Middle Earth. Many noble elves pursue Morgoth, intending to make him pay for his wickedness. In the second episode, Fëanor and the Silmarils that master elf made are recalled when, centuries later, the elven maker of The Rings of Power explains why he desires to create something greater than he’s ever attempted.

But something essential is missing, and that something speaks to our times when choices are ambiguous. In Tolkien’s myth, Fëanor’s attachment to the Silmarils he made blinded him to the truth when Morgoth made off with them to Middle Earth, caused him to curse the angelic beings who ruled the Blessed Realm and who implored him to desist in pursuing Morgoth; caused him to subvert other elves, including Galadriel and other noble elves, to follow him in his misadventure; even caused him to murder kindred elves who would not give him their sailing ships Fëanor needed to cross over to Middle Earth.

In Amazon’s rendering, Galadriel describes the centuries-long war with Morgoth as a noble tragedy that wreaked havoc on the peoples of Middle Earth, when this war was doomed from the start because pride and wrath had motivated Fëanor and his sons.

As described in The Silmarillion:

Then, Fëanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches. They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar (that is, the Creator), calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë (the ruling angelic being) they named in witness, and Varda (Manwë’s angelic consort), and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the world Vala (angelic beings faithful to the Creator), Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth until the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.

Manwë responded. “Against the folly of Fëanor shall be set my counsel only. Go not forth! For the hour is evil (not noble, as Amazon’s Galadriel suggests), and your road leads to sorrow that ye do not foresee.”

In fact, after the elven kin slaying, many of the elves turned back and abandoned Fëanor.

In Tolkien’s prescient myth, the law of the choice—Fëanor’s choice and those who followed him—produced the grave consequences that Galadriel mourns early in Amazon’s depiction.

Perhaps we shall see these consequences in The Rings of Power. One can hope. In the meantime, I see it as a fantasy with Tolkienian roots, but not of Tolkien.

Related at CWR: “A new foray into Middle-Earth: The Rings of Power (August 31, 2022) by Steven D. Greydanus

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About Thomas M. Doran 82 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.

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