When an author tells a story they invite you, without prejudice, to share in their imagination. And when Tolkien shared his, the world had not yet seen an imagination quite like it.
Modern fantasy owes its very existence to Tolkien’s generous and eloquent invitation. For his stories boasted a true depth built from knowledge, passion and long hours of labour. Languages that feel earthy and real. A long history that feels lived-in and organic, tens-of-thousands of years deep.
Every name has a meaning. And if you care to dive into the depths of the lore, as many do, you will find it. Like the most intricately crafted treasure hunt. Layers upon layers of meaning, half hidden amidst a tapestry of places and people, all stitched together to make, arguably, the first ever fantasy world.
Or “The same world, but in a different stage of imagination” as the Professor would describe it. And, when adapting his works, it is of the utmost importance that that is respected. Anything less is nothing but a gross misunderstanding or deliberate subversion of his intention.
Whenever I open the books or watch the trilogy I am invited into a world so vast and so detailed that it staggers the mind that someone, one man, could create such a thing.
Most fantasy is escapist, and when the escape is done… off you go back to the weary, grey world exactly as it was before the escape.
But not with Tolkien, who manages to thread magic into the mundane and nourishes the ordinary with great reverence and meaning. Good food. A high hill. An old tree. A full pipe.
It stays with you. The enchantment bleeds into reality, so much so, that you could believe that his stories were remembered, deciphered, translated and retold rather than conjured into existence by imagination alone.
But now that world is under siege.
Amazon’s The Rings of Power premiered on their streaming service on the 2nd of September. And it is terrible. Utterly, utterly terrible.
In their hubris, the showrunners boasted that they were writing ‘The novel Tolkien never wrote’, but four episodes in and it is made abundantly clear why he never wrote it. It is mediocre, cliche-ridden fantasy, at best. And at worst; an utterly sacrilegious subversion of a much beloved world.
I attempted to remove my ‘Tolkien-cap’ for the viewing; knowing that most viewers would not be watching through the lens of the deep lore detailed in The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales and others.
So ignoring the various gut-punches to Tolkien’s Legendarium, I still found myself feeling an odd combination of bored, nonplused and amused, for all the wrong reasons.
They have spent $500,000,000 on the first series alone, along with another $250,000,000 on securing the rights from the Tolkien Estate (or a small portion of the rights at least).
I feel I can say with some authority (what with my long history of not having much of it) that that is a LOT of money. But for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what that money was spent on. It certainly wasn’t on costumes, established actors or decent writers.
I was initially going to write a formal review. A scene by scene breakdown going over what it is they did right and what missed the mark. But it seems the showrunners: JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the self-proclaimed ‘writers’ weren’t actually aiming for any mark.
Apparently thinking “Fuck the mark. Let’s not even TRY to aim at the mark. The mark is for pussies. And is probably rife with systemic racism and regressive patriarchal prejudice. After all, why does it have to be a ‘Mark’ huh? Why not a Margret?”
So I will be focussing, instead, on some choice morsels from the first four episodes, with the intention of writing and recording more in-depth breakdowns in the future.
Episode One opens with a fifteen minute prologue. Showing us little loner Galadriel getting bullied by mean boy-elves.
Because, apparently, elves in their infinite wisdom and insight, frolicking in the endless wonders of their undying lands… still bully each other. For no given reason.
This is eerily reminiscent of the cringey flashback to Spock’s childhood in the dismal Star Trek reboot.
But her elder brother Finrod calms her down and gifts her some pearls of elven wisdom lifted straight from some open source ‘fantasy prose generator’—
“Do you know why a ship floats and a stone cannot? Because the stone sees only downward. The darkness of the water is vast and irresistible. The ship feels the darkness as well, striving moment by moment to master her and pull her under. But the ship has a secret. For unlike the stone, her gaze is not downward but up. Fixed upon the light that guides her, whispering of grander things than darkness ever knew.”
If you don’t think that means anything, you’re absolutely right. It is utterly meaningless. The first spoken lines of the show, and I found myself having to pause it and have a little moment to myself.
The metaphor itself doesn’t work, and as such you can replace the objects with ANYTHING and still contrive to make the same ‘point’ (for lack of a better word.)
“Do you know why it is that doors can open and walls cannot? Because walls are rooted in the past. Sedentary in the dark they stay fixed in place. The door stays in place also, seeming like the wall when closed. But the door has a secret, unlike the walls, he oils his hinges in fonts of wisdom, and swings towards the hopeful light of the future.”
“Do you know why camels can walk, and screwdrivers cannot? Because screwdrivers content themselves within the darkness of a toolbox. The camel feels this temptation also, striving day by day to squeeze herself inside. But the camel has a secret, for unlike the screwdriver, she can’t fit inside a toolbox, and instead walks in the light of the sun, on sands of hope and promise.”
It is a lazy, grade-school attempt at creative writing, that demonstrates that they have no idea how metaphors or analogies work.
This line set the bar incredibly low in terms of my expectations. And while I can truthfully say it doesn’t get much worse, I’m sad to say it doesn’t get much better.
Some choice examples:
- “We will sweep the enemy from these lands like salt from a table.”
- “It is said that the wine of victory is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented.”
- “If but a whisper of a rumour of the threat you perceive is true…”
- “The sea is always right!”
- “We stay true to each other, with our hearts even bigger than our feet.”
There are some nice visuals, I will give them that. For example, a sweeping shot of the two trees of Valinor; Laurelin and Telperion, with a brief glimpse of the shadow of Morgoth.
However it is lacking in vital context. Morgoth is akin to Lucifer. When the Valar (The gods) sang the universe into existence, Morgoth’s voice was the only discordance. And from that discord much of the evil of the world was born into existence.
Ridding the story of that context is incredibly jarring, as it forms the backbone of all the conflict that comes after.
It would be like adapting Gone with the Wind but not having the rights to the words ‘Civil War’, ‘Confederacy’ and ‘Union’, having to vaguely allude to them in passing with a throwaway line at the beginning that says: “During this time there was a nation wide conflict that was really stirring up a lot of trouble. And then proceeding to never mention it again.
Morgoth as depicted in the Rings of Power is just, apparently, quite mean and doesn’t care for trees that much.
There are then flashes of dragons and eagles, crashing to the ground in fiery torrents, intermingled with shots of elves and orcs crowding near each other, doing a bit of screaming and ineffectually waving their weapons above their heads.
And that is that. That is all of the First Age that we’re treated to. Save for a few ‘memberberries’ brought up later on, with little reverence and less context.
Tolkien’s lore now reduced to what are essentially ‘Easter eggs’ for people that seem to conflate ‘entertainment’ with ‘names they recognise’.
Remember Mithril from the movies? Here’s them naming it.
Remember Helms Deep? This bit is a bit like that bit.
Elrond and Durin are kinda like Legolas and Gimli, and you love Legolas and Gimili, right!?
Remember this? Remember that? Remember when? The show hides behind a mask of nostalgia, just hoping no one realises that there’s no face beneath it. It’s empty.
They claim that they’re distancing themselves from the Jackson movies, yet simultaneously leech off its iconography and world-building; because without it they lack anything of substance.
In the show we are led to believe that Galadriel’s brother, Finrod, was killed by Sauron, spurring Galadriel into a single-minded vengeance crusade that, apparently, spans centuries. But gone is any sense of distance, be it through space or time.
As a reader I know that thousands of years pass between these events. 500+ years of the first age, and then 3000+ years in the second. While in The Rings of Power, 3500 years can pass and you wouldn’t even know it. There’s nothing to even suggest it.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, they manage to portray the tragic and slow passage of time with nothing but the vocal richness of Cate Blanchett and writers who knew what they were doing.
“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.”
That is how to establish this world. It is steeped in myth. Where story and history are blurred into one, with only the oldest, wisest beings on Middle Earth being able to decipher one from the other.
It seems that while Tolkien ingrained magic into the mundane, Amazon has seen fit to sow mundanity into the magical, and rob Middle-Earth of its weight; of its soul.
The depictions of their Elves is by far the most regrettable choice. Elves, the fairest and wisest of all beings, now just act like men. They’re politically motivated and two-faced, in a grim attempt to steep the story in some courtly intrigue akin to Game of Thrones.
Gone is their poetry-steeped culture, one that celebrates art and beauty above power and influence. Gone is their ethereal, illuminating beauty. Gone is their foresight and otherworldly wisdom.
Gil-Galad, High King of the Noldor Elves is now a duplicitous, moronic coward. Who short-sightedly forces Galadriel into an early retirement, back to Valinor. Which is apparently something the he can do, despite the Noldor elves being exiled. But seeing as we’re never given any dates or timespan, there’s no way of knowing when this is all taking place.
So again, if you’re a book reader, best rid yourself of any expectations that the lore will be even slightly respected.
Elrond is now just a downcast career politician who resentfully writes the King’s speeches. Badly. For example…
“These soldiers have swept across crag and crevice, washing away the last remnants of our enemy like a spring rain over the bones of a spoilt carcass.”
…He even has the audacity to look pleased with himself when he hears it out loud.
Elrond is sad because he is apparently not deemed ‘noble enough’ to sit at the big boy’s table, despite coming from a royal lineage that boasts, without exaggeration, literal divine ascension, as well as a brother that founded the Kingdom of Númenor; the greatest civilisation ever known.
But nah, try harder, Elrond. You commoner.
Celebrimbor, Lord of Eregion, creator of the Rings of Power™, is now a befuddled old barrister, sporting a rather dashing valour dressing gown.
He is meant to be of an age with Galadriel, but looks about three times that, despite elves not tending to age.
But by far the most bizarre and bewildering decision is how they chose to depict Galadriel.
In the books she is a gifted scholar with angelic insight and grace. She is drawn to Middle-Earth because she yearns to rule her own realm. She does this arm in arm with her husband; Celeborn and daughter Celebrian.
She is a respected loremaster, revered elven royalty and much beloved by all.
In The Rings of Power she is clumsily transfigured into a ‘Commander of the Northern Armies’ (Armies which, from what I saw, consist of a dozen angsty elves who all hate her.)
She now wields a ten-handed sword, ‘broken because she’s killed so many orcs’, wears full-plastic armour, and is ‘full of piss and vinegar’ as the two lead ‘writers’ describe.
Her husband and daughter are not mentioned. She is neither graceful nor insightful. She is brash and unlikeable from the start.
She treats everyone she talks to with a thinly veiled contempt. Númenorean royalty? Contentious and abrasive. The man who just saved her life? Snide and threatening. Her closest friend of two-thousand years? Dismissive and resentful.
Whinging and whining at everyone she comes into contact with like an obstreperous teenager who’s just had their iPhone confiscated.
If the writer’s consider this behaviour as ‘strong’ and ‘commanding’, that is incredibly telling in and of itself.
It feels wrong to even call her ‘Galadriel’, for after you’ve changed her lineage, her past, her motivations, her family and friends, the places she went, the people she met and even the time in which all these things are meant to take place— how is she in anyway the same character?
They turned one of the most powerful, otherworldly and compassionate fantasy figures into an unlikeable, selfish brat. Who cares about nothing save her incredibly narrow-minded vengeance quest.
She is written by two idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Then there are the show’s original characters. The Harfoots. Hobbits, in truth, but without that pesky licensing issue. Who are presented now as nomadic, unwashed travellers sporting a wide variety of appalling Irish(?) accents.
A small, though incredibly diverse, travelling community. Where accents and skin colour are seemingly just dished out at random. And man, are they quirky. They eat snails. They’re clumsy. They talk like simpletons.
…and they are cold-heartedly brutal.
Yes, in this small, neighbourly community, anyone who falls behind, is left behind. Forever. Without leniency or exception.
They celebrate this with a creepy Wicker Man-esque ceremony, where Lenny Henry leads a peculiar procession of children in odd outfits; all the while chanting “Nobody goes off trail, and nobody walks alone.”
This is followed by a candlelit vigil held for all the souls they’ve callously abandoned in the past.
They talk of love and community and how they must band together to survive, but are happy to exile anyone who breaks their abstract and archaic rules.
Their attempt at lightheartedness is jarring, and comes across as cult-like and unsettling, with all the charm of a bad acid trip at a farmer’s market. It is a complete tonal shift, one that does not work. They do not act in the least bit like hobbits.
And, I know it’s a nitpick, but they make constant references to how big their feet are. Despite them having no frame of reference. They ALL have big feet. They’re just ‘their feet’ to them.
It would be like writing dialogue for two neanderthals, and thinking the line “We stay true to each other, with our hearts even more opposable than our thumbs” was suitably poignant and steeped in culture.
There are also two new characters introduced, along with a whole new region, that is not present in the source material. The region of Tirharad, in “the southlands”, which seems to be Mordor before its Mordor.
We are shown a small village, consisting of a sparse but highly diverse collection of human villagers, half a dozen nameless white elves and one named “Elf of Colour” (his phrase, not mine).
Arondir, complete with the freshest of fades, is actually a breath of fresh air; as at least he is attempting to give a performance.
The actor, despite the material he’s reciting, actually does a (semi) decent job conveying the Elven stoicism and mysticism…well, when compared to Galadriel, Elrond, Celebrimbor and Gil-Galad, anyway.
However, he plays opposite a human female named Bronwyn, and their whole characterisation centres around a secret, forbidden romance. So forbidden and so secretive that even the audience is left guessing as to who these people are, how they know each other, and what’s going on.
There is no chemistry whatsoever. There is no scene establishing their compassion or love for one another. It’s just your bog-standard Hollywood interpretation of love— or ‘luuuuurve’, that doesn’t require the two ‘lovers’ to have anything in common or even share an ounce of genuine attachment to the other.
How do we know they’re in love? We’re told.
Like we’re told how powerful Galadriel is. And we’re told how evil Sauron is. And we’re told that the dwarves are being secretive.
We’re told everything, and shown nothing.
Bronwyn and Arondir find one of her neighbouring villages burnt to the ground, its people nowhere to be seen. It’s only a few hours away; they presumably come here sometimes and know these people. And yet they both placidly stroll through the rubble with all the concern and curiosity of a young couple leisurely looking for their car in a busy car park.
They then find a fairly mundane tunnel, and Bronwyn observes that “No man did this.” I’d like to know how she’s so sure of that. Men can dig tunnels. My immediate thought was, “You’re right, no human being would dig holes like this.”
This is proceeded by perhaps the cringiest line of dialogue in the show (thus far).
While Arondir and Bronwyn are investigating this hole in the ground, Bronwyn says: “You can’t go. You don’t know what’s down there.” To which Arondir dramatically responds: “That is why I must go.”
The elf in his infinite wisdom MUST do something because he doesn’t KNOW something. His days must be full of hundreds of mindless detours and distractions. Opening every box he finds. Climbing every tree. Going through everyone’s pockets. Breaking into their houses.
He does not KNOW; you see, so he MUST find out.
He does not consider that it could be a trap, or that he might get caught.
It is, by the way. And he does
In episode two Lord Elrond and Lord Celegrandma, wearing his trademark dressing gown, are discussing their legacies.
There is a throw away reference to Feanor and the Silmarils, before talks shift to the building of a ‘master forge’, one that Celelbrimbor intends to further the glory of all Elvendom.
Seeing as they’re elves, they have an eternity to see it built, but Celebrimbor imposes an arbitrary deadline, saying that it must be completed before the spring. Why? Unclear. And Elrond doesn’t feel the need to ask any follow up questions. Merely suggesting that they seek help from the dwarves of Khazad-Dûm.
So off they go.
…And then there they are. At least a hundred miles away. Just Elrond and Celebrimbor on a leisurely stroll. No retainers. No horses. No supplies. Wearing the same clothes they were wearing in the previous scene, as though it were literally right next door.
The dwarves do not expect them, they apparently haven’t sent word ahead. They are elven lords on a diplomatic mission, but no one acts as though this is the case.
Celebrimbor, Lord of Eregion, is instructed to just turn around and go back the way he came; and he’s just cool with it. While Elrond is invited in due to invoking some old (Completely made up for the series) dwarven rite.
This involves smashing rocks with hammers. ‘Cos… dwarves.
This, and the proceeding scenes, raise many questions. Such as: is this meant to be funny? Is it meant to be wholesome? Why are they breaking so many rocks? What is this? Why is this happening?
None of which are answered to any satisfaction.
By episode four we learn that Elrond’s diplomatic mission is a success (this happens offscreen), and work has begun on this forge (also offscreen). We also learn that all of this must have happened inside a week, because while the Dwarves and the Elves have done what seems like months of travelling, trading and construction, all the other storylines have only progressed a few days.
Moria looks okay; they have kept the square-edged symmetrical aesthetic that the movies established and the actors playing Durin and Disa are actually giving a performance, which is refreshing.
But the tone is off, they play the entirety of the dwarven storyline as though it were an odd fantasy sitcom. Making an odder decision to have important scenes take place offscreen.
In episode four a mine collapses, and some dwarves are trapped inside; this leads to a falling-out between Durin and his father, the King of Khazad-Dum. But we neither see the miners being rescued nor the fight between father and son. We just hear about it.
Why? Obviously it’s to make room for the arbitrary use of slow motion for scenes that don’t call for it.
We are then treated to Númenor, the greatest civilisation ever known. Where we are gifted a sudden injection of allegory and thinly veiled political commentary.
In the source material, due to the culture stagnating and falling to corruption and decadence, Númenor begins to envy the elves’ immortality; resenting their long life, fearing death and turning their backs on the Valar. On God, ultimately.
It is the tragedy of a post-nietzsche society, reeling from the damnation and abandonment of their faith. Which sounds altogether too familiar.
None of this features in the series, however. Now it is a one-to-one racial allegory. (Because, famously, Tolkien LOVED allegory)
The ‘mean’ Númenoreans are racist against elves, while the ‘nice’ Númenoreans think elves are just swell. The mean ones want to ‘make Númenor great again’, believe the elves are ‘taking their trades’ and are, predominately, white. Led by a man who might as well be called: ‘Donaldir of Son of Trümpdir’.
Get the subtle messaging yet? Racism is bad! Populism is bad! Vote Biden!
This brings us round to the question of the show’s “politics” and “diversity”, and the so-called “racist backlash” it received.
From the early days the show used its “diversity” as a marketing ploy, encouraging fans to rejoice at their “elf of colour” and the “the first female dwarf shown on screen”, only to then claim “toxic fans” were being “racist” for not appreciating the changes.
To be clear, not one criticism of the show that I have seen has been based solely on the “diversity” of the characters. The show is laughably bad in almost every aspect, and many people have said so.
But even if the criticism was aimed at the diversity, that doesn’t make it inherently racist (and I’d argue such flagrant and frequent use of the word only serves to cheapen it, and thus rob it of meaning).
If Denzel Washington was cast as Henry VIII, it would not be racist to suggest ‘he doesn’t look right for the part’. No more or less racist than if you cast Tom Holland as Gandhi or Jessica Chastain as Muhammad Ali.
Tolkien created his secondary world as a ‘mythology for England’, as he lamented the loss of our own native myths and legends.
Celtic folklore was decimated by the Anglo-Saxons. Then the Anglo-Saxon’s mythologies were almost completely erased in the wake of the Norman invasion. He hungered for something deeply English, taking inspiration from the various folklores of the surrounding areas. Scandinavian, Germanic, Irish and Welsh.
Would anyone argue that Norse folklore needs updating to better reflect the modern world? No. Of course not. Because the beauty and appeal of old Norse sagas is how firmly they’re rooted in the past; and, not by accident, Tolkien emulated this with Middle-Earth’s spiritual philosophy.
Does Homer’s Iliad need a rewrite? Not a single woman on Odysseus’s crew, after all.
Does Robin Hood? Of course! Merry MEN!? That’s just a symptom of those regressive middle-ages for you.
Do the great Chinese Classics, the four much beloved stories written in the 14th century, need updating for better worldwide appeal?
Or perhaps the Indian epic: Mahabharata?
Should Bollywood be held to account for having almost exclusively Indian actors in their movies?
Should Squid Game be scrutinised for having only the one westerner in the cast? Of course not.
The writers and producers claim to have “diversified” middle earth in order to better reflect the real world, but all they’ve done, as far as I can tell, is diversify to better reflect California.
Which I understand, IS the whole world as far as most Californians are concerned. But it’s not, and I think they need to be reminded of that occasionally.
But if diversity and inclusion was the main goal, it could have been achieved in a less tokenesque and far more creative way.
If by studio edict you HAD to have Harfoots in the series, why not make them all dark skinned? Tolkien does say they are ‘browner of skin’ than the others breeds of Hobbit. So interpret that as you will.
Why not make the creative, aesthetic decision that while Harfoots lived in the south and east, before they settled in the Shire, they were outdoors much more and their skin developed melanin to protect itself.
Thousands of years later, as they settled in less arid places, their skin got lighter as it no longer needed to protect itself from the sun?
Y’know, like Europeans did.
We all descended from native Africans, and our skin colour adapted and changed as we migrated and settled in more temperate climates.
For Tirharad, why not make the indigenous population black? Why not decide various sects within Númenor were black?
There are whole nations and cultures mentioned yet barely elaborated by Tolkien – the Haradrim, the men of Rhun, and the Easterlings – who are all described as non-white.
In short, if the show wanted “diverse” characters in “diverse” cultures, the writers had numerous opportunities to add them, and in ways that would respect the lores, histories and established genealogies of the source material
They chose not to.
Instead they chose to force “diversity” in the least believable way, by peppering small isolated communities with a couple of token characters, or changing established ethnic and cultural rules.
Perhaps to set up a situation in which they can deflect and purposefully misconstrue any criticism?
Perhaps to use “controversy” as a marketing tactic?
Perhaps because they knew they made a bad show, knew there would be a backlash, and had to ensure they could dismiss it as a racist backlash?
Because that’s exactly what happened.
The Rings of Power is a failure. A disaster. And the root of that lies in its far more egregious mistakes than cheap tokenism.
There are countless serious issues, chiefly, but not limited to the aforementioned:
- Complete revision of all previously established lore.
- Poorly written characters and dialogue.
- The presence of modern political allegory.
- The innumerable contrivances required for the ‘plot’ to develop.
- The the overall cheapness of the production despite its $1billion investment.
Costumes are bizarre, lazy and cheap. There is a prevalence of plastic fabrics, Lycra under armour, ill-fitting plastic breastplates. They always look pristine and freshly laundered, some of the main characters seem to have only one costume that is worn for every weather and every occasion.
Background characters, whatever region they’re from, be it Númenor, the Harfoots or the southlanders; all dress the same in generic, vaguely medieval ‘peasant clothes’.
The dialogue is stilted and clumsy. Conversations often comprise of two characters espousing non sequiturs at each other in a tone that is at odds with the words they’re saying.
The characterisation is inconsistent, often scene to scene. Their motivations are completely unclear; and seemingly irrelevant to the broader story.
It all feels soullessly cobbled together by a clueless, corporate hive-mind, that is desperately trying to understand ‘why people like this fantasy stuff?’ And failing.
All of this in spite of how much the showrunners profess to ‘love Tolkien’, but ultimately words are wind, and you must judge JD and Patrick not by what they say, but what they do. And what they did, with the first four episodes alone, is, in my view, literary heresy.
But what they did in the wake of this particular disaster is even more telling, and vocal critics of The Rings of Power have been warning that something like this would happen. The same thing that has been happening since 2016 with that godawful all-female Ghostbusters reboot.
Yes, they resorted to false outrage and identity politics.
In the two weeks since the release countless accusations of ‘white supremacy’ and ‘bigotry’ have been hurled at those who dared express any opinion that was not unbridled praise.
And many of them came straight from the same international, multi-trillion dollar company whose success hangs in the balance. Who also froze reviews on their streaming platform, and vetoed any overly negative reviews on IMDB (Which Amazon owns coincidentally.) They even claimed that hateful, alt-right fans were review bombing the show in a conspiratorial effort to make it fail.
Y’know. The usual.
We’ve seen it all before. They put out a bad product, people complain, and the corporate media deflect any criticism by labelling the fans as any ‘ist’ or ‘phobe’ there is.
If you disliked Ghostbusters 2016– you’re sexist Trump supporter.
If you disliked Obi-Wan Kenobi— you’re a basement dwelling racist.
If you disliked She-Hulk— You’re a misogynist who hates strong women.
And now, if you disliked Rings of Power— You’re a racist, neckbeard incel.
Ousting fans from their own fandoms, replacing them with, and relying solely on the disposable income of the ever-fickle “average consumer”.
Not realising, or realising and not caring, that the average consumer is an apathetic, fragile patron… who, given time, will turn on anything and everything as the tides of ‘popular opinion’ ebb and flow.
I am aware, in being swept up on this particular controversy, that I may well be playing Amazon’s game… in reacting to the series at all, I’m giving them what they want.
For they hold, whole heartedly to the ethos “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” And they even take it a step further. “There’s no such thing as anything. Apart from publicity.”
Amazon and their showrunners deliberately disregarded the established lore, knowing full well it would be a divisive move, they then deliberately stoke this division by painting one half of the divide as bigots and one side as virtuous.
Turning The Rings of Power into a sort of quasi-crusade and those eager to flash their proverbial, righteous tits waste no time in signing up, of course.
Meanwhile on the other side, those who feel attacked are going to respond in kind, with name calling and long frustrated rants about how “Elves could never be black because of x, y, z…” not seeing that, even if they’re right… it doesn’t matter.
The creators knew the controversy was coming. They welcomed it. It is part and parcel with their marketing campaign… people have to talk about it.
You could be excused for thinking that Amazon or the studio has “taken a side” – what with their politically charged marketing, the many vacuous Vanity Fair articles and the endless amounts of secrecy and name-calling.
But they don’t really care. Whether you’re an NPC conditioned to clap like a seal for “diversity”, or an outraged fan screaming a decade worth of frustration into a one-star IMDB review, Amazon holds equal amounts of contempt for both parties.
For all people, in fact. For any thread of magic found within the ordinary.
Good or bad. Right or wrong. True or false. Doesn’t matter. The main objective is relevance.
So long as its trending. So long as the comments are full of angry, lost, confused people flinging insults at one another, it is doing its job.
Not as a piece of art to be enjoyed, but as a product to be consumed, and a distraction to hold the public attention while the real world falls apart.
In the age of entertainment through subscription, there is no longer any precedent to create anything objectively good.
WandaVision, Loki, Falcon and the Winter Solider, The Book of Boba Fett, Hawkeye, Obi-Wan Kenobi, She-Hulk, Resident Evil, Halo, The Wheel of Time. Forgettable filler that says little and means less.
Everything is open ended, because an ending would mean stopping something… and that would be silly, especially if it’s received well. They’re just soap operas with a massive budgets.
The stakes and drama mean nothing, deaths and betrayals mean nothing, characterisation and consistency mean nothing. It’s just turgid, warmed over tripe with the occasional reference to when it used to be good.
The Eternals and Obi-Wan Kenobi only came out this year, but they have already fallen to the ranks of irrelevance. Now that they’re out, nobody cares.
Almost as though the self-labelled ‘controversies’ that surrounded their production were more important than the quality of the product itself.
Movies and TV Shows are no longer made to be lasting, they are just consumer fodder blasted out by content-factories, whose only real aim is to maintain some semblance of fleeting relevance.
All they need is the subscription. All they need are the views.
And quite frankly, they can make those up.
Amazon claimed that 25Million people ‘sampled’ the first episode, whatever that means. As it turns out that was a grotesque exaggeration. Samba TV says that the viewing figures were closer to 1.8Million. Dropping off to 1.3Mil for the second episode.
So, if all the backlash and all the pearl-clutching is engineered, if the viewing figures are exaggerated and the reviews can’t be trusted, if half the accounts on social media are shills, bots and fakes and the show they spent one billion dollars on is a soulless, shallow joke; why should any of us take this ludicrous, dystopian farce seriously?
It all amounts to the corporate equivalent of a mad man, naked, manically reciting Shakespeare in a dark alleyway, scurrying about playing the actors, the hecklers, and the audience all at once.
So sit back, grab some popcorn and watch as this insatiable ouroboros devours itself, clearing the way for better hands and brighter minds, wielding paint, music and drama.
Truthfully, the best way to combat the darkness of moral relativity and the prevalence of ‘message over matter’ is to simply be a discerning individual.
Call out hypocrisy and corruption and dishonesty whenever you see it. Tell it to keep its forked tongue behind its teeth. Don’t give it the satisfaction of taking it too seriously. And don’t let massive corporations dictate their fickle, vacuous morals to you.
Be honest. Be hopeful. And never settle for less. That so many fans are drawing a line in the sand on this is a major silver lining.
Before now I would have said that fan bases are jaded and traumatised, hurt and betrayed to such an extent that apathy had crept it. That no one really cared anymore.
But it has been incredibly heartening to see that, for many people, corporatising The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s works is, quite simply; a step too far.
Tolkien and his ‘secondary world’ remains sacrosanct.
Amazon’s offering has been rejected by the fans. Legality and rights and the Tolkien Estate’s blessings mean little and less… it is not welcome. No admittance. Not even on party business.
You. Cannot. Pass.