The announcement that Amazon would be creating a sort of prequel to the Lord of the Rings films was met with a fair bit of controversy. Some fans were skeptical that a mega corporation could do justice to a beloved work. Others feared the rumors that the show was to be a competitor to Game of Thrones, with the same level of violence and sex. I had many reservations of my own, and was largely determined to ignore the show if it turned out a disappointment–not really difficult since I don’t pay for Prime! However, as many early reviews seem promising, and as many Tolkien scholars seem to think the show attempts to capture the spirit of Tolkien’s work, I find myself getting more excited about the show–even though I still don’t have Prime. Why? Because The Rings of Power has the world talking about Tolkien again!
The Rings of Power admittedly does seem to me like it will be some sort of Tolkien fan fiction. Although the show is supposed to depict the Second Age of Middle-Earth, the showrunners do not have the rights to the books that contain the bulk of Tolkien’s writings on this time period–The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-Earth. Instead, they have to rely on the references and summaries contained in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both set in the Third Age of Middle-Earth. In other words, the showrunners have an outline and rather have to make up the rest. I have longed for a TV series adaptation of The Silmarillion for years, so it is a bit of a disappointment that not all the events and characters may able to be represented in detail as Tolkien described them. And yet–the show has people interested in the Second Age. It has new readers opening up The Silmarillion. It has reignited a fandom.
Of course, for many of us, the Tolkien fandom never did go away. But one has to admit that, typically, enthusing wildly about Tolkien in public may or may not garner an equally enthusiastic response. When acquaintances get to talking about books, I always say that Tolkien is my favorite author in a too-casual kind of way, to gauge their response. No point in scaring people off by waxing poetically about how Tolkien’s works changed my life, right? Not until they have signaled that they might feel the same. But things are different now. Everyone is talking about Tolkien again. Or, if they are not, bringing up this new show everyone seems to be interested in is a good place to get people started talking.
Indeed, several of my friends and acquaintances in the past week or so have brought up Rings of Power themselves, even though they are not Tolkien fans. Some of their descriptions of what they think happened in The Lord of the Rings and how they think this new show relates to The Lord of the Rings are delightfully absurd, in a way that suggests that they actually have little or no interest in Tolkien and probably could not distinguish his work from any other author’s. I think that’s great! They are not avid Tolkien fans yet. But they are dipping their toes in. They see something that interests them. If we are fortunate, the Tolkien fandom will grow!
But it is not only entirely new fans who are learning more about Tolkien. Many avid Tolkien fans for various reasons are familiar mostly with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Some Tolkien fans likely thought that was all Tolkien ever wrote. But The Rings of Power has created an enthusiasm for the Second Age. People are asking about how best to read The Silmarillion, and cracking it open for the first time. Reading groups and book discussions are being formed. Articles are being written to explain Tolkien’s legendarium. A part of Tolkien’s history that, for too long, was spoken of as inaccessible for the average reader is being made accessible.
So, of course, I’m excited for The Rings of Power–even though I have not watched it yet. The release marks a boom of interest in Tolkien. Articles. Discussions. Reviews. Merchandise–if we are lucky! The Tolkien fandom never went away. But it is always special to be able to share it with so many enthusiastic people at the same time. I will be using this moment to talk about Tolkien as much as I can.
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