I Regret to Say I Really Disliked Season 1 of The Rings of Power

I Didn't Like Season One of The Rings of Power

Though I had no initial plans to watch The Rings of Power, I ended up viewing season one with a friend. I went in with an open mind, knowing that most of the material would be created solely for the show and not based directly on Tolkien’s stories. Even so, I found myself uninterested in most of the characters, bored by the slow pacing, and confused by the gaps in logic and plot. That such a big show would have such poor writing truly baffled me. The main concern of the showrunners seemed to be to tease viewers with potential characters who might be Sauron in disguise–to the detriment of developed character and and story building. Below are my thoughts about various aspects of the show, in more detail.

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Poor Character Building

I had difficulty connecting with RoP from the start because I simply did not care for any of the characters. Because the show chooses to follow several different narratives (that will presumably converge, eventually), most of the characters, when first introduced do not receive enough screen time for viewers to understand who they are, what makes them tick, or why we should root for them. Bronwyn and Arondir, for instance, are reduced to a couple who awkwardly lock eyes from time to time. But I have no idea what Bronwyn’s station in the village is (some sort of healer who makes enough money to wear blue dye when no one else in the Southlands does?), how she met Arondir, or why she cares for him. I still remain uncertain how she ended up the leader of the village when she did not seem to have any standing among her people before the orcs arrived. I really didn’t care if she and Arondir lived or died, and my opinion did not change as the season progressed because viewers only ever receive a few snippets of background information on the two. Yawn. The Southlands portions of the show were some of the most boring.

The Harfoots, meanwhile, have their own character inconsistencies. The show sets them up to be rugged and loyal, chanting, “Nobody goes off trail! Nobody walks alone.” And then they read the book of the dead–all the Harfoots they left behind because they could not be bothered to lend a hand to their friends and neighbors. Why they all tear up at this is unclear. Are they weeping for their own cruelty? Apparently not because when Nori’s father Largo has trouble walking, the Harfoots leave not only him but also his entire family to perish in the wastelands, with never a second thought. But wait! That’s not good enough! The Brandyfoots are viewed as a danger to the group, so some decide that even allowing the group to attempt to migrate is folly. There are calls to take their cart wheels away so they are forced to be left behind and presumably starve or be eaten by wolves. All this makes it really weird for Largo to end the season with a rousing speech about how loyalty and support is what makes Harfoots Harfoots. They have no loyalty, Largo! They wanted to kill you!

And let us not forget the sudden change of heart the Harfoots need to have to welcome and appreciate the Stranger, before lovingly waving good-bye to him and Nori as they set off together. The whole season showed that the Harfoots only care about the Stranger when he helps them, and are willing to turn on him as soon as he makes a mistake. And then his being tangentially involved in Sadoc’s death and the near deaths of three other Harfoots is what makes all the Harfoots appreciate him in the end? I would think they would be chasing him away with sticks and cursing his name (if he had one). I am left wondering if the showrunners are trying to make me admire the Harfoots for their ruggedness, or feel horror and disgust at their callousness.

But while the Harfoots are a perplexing group, I truly did not know what to think about Galadriel. Her introduction shows the famed Commander of the North leading a ragtag band into the freezing cold past their strength and past their orders. She’s fully prepared for them all to die so she can get revenge. Why is she a leader, again? She has zero leadership qualities! Which is exemplified again when she visits Numenor and, instead of politely introducing herself to the court, she insults the whole country before demanding they form an army to follow her into Middle-earth. Please keep in mind that, at this point, they have no evidence that orcs are stirring in the Southlands and not the faintest idea of where Sauron is, so there’s no real tangible enemy she can even ask them to fight. But why all the rudeness? Galadriel may be hot-headed, but she is from a noble family, she is part of Gil-galad’s court, and she is supposed to be a leader of an army–and she has no concept of diplomacy. This makes her later speech about the need for humility all the more bizarre. She doesn’t have any. I kind of hated her, which is not, I think, what the showrunners were hoping for, since she was marketed as the main protagonist.

And why is the show so invested in suggesting that Galadriel is morally gray and could turn evil at any moment, with the right nudge? Is it for drama? Is it because modern audiences are assumed to find actually good characters unrealistic? What am I supposed to think of Galadriel when she spends seven episodes seeking Sauron and then, when she finds him, she lets him go to save her own reputation? I suspect I am supposed to find it all thrilling because one just never knows what Galadriel will do next! Maybe she will even have a little romance with Halbrand! (Ewwwww.) But having a character flail all around the place is not how one makes a character realistically three-dimensional.

Who were some of the only bearable characters? Elrond, Durin, and Disa–not only because their camaraderie is endearing, but because, tonally, they make the most sense. Their characters do not bounce all around, with the showrunners trying to make me like them at some points, and then having them “touch the darkness” randomly just to keep things interesting. If they were going for the vibe that, “Everyone in this show is morally gray and complex!” they failed. A mess is not complexity.

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Illogical Politics

I have no idea what is supposed to happening with the politics in this show, but I have a feeling I’m not supposed to care. I’m supposed to just go along with the spectacle. For example, how did Bronwyn become a leader for her village? Why did Adar just let Arondir go instead of coming up with a plan actually worthy of a villainous mastermind? Why did Numenor decide to go to war in Middle-earth when Galadriel cannot promise them they will even find an enemy there? Seriously, she finds a symbol that references (in the vaguest possible way) a place on a map and a whole island nation that allegedly hates Elves decides it is a good use of public funds to follow a random Elf, sail there, and see what is up? And who is Pharazon? I know who he is in the books, and I know the show finally indicated he is the Queen Regent’s cousin, but why is he running all over the island making speeches? What is his actual job? I don’t know, but he’s probably not good at it since he decided a bunch of strangers should be allowed to sit alone in the dying king’s bedroom and draw him. And is he the one who left all the military ships unguarded, to be blown up by a teenage discontent with no actual skill in espionage? Numenor needs to get it together.

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Cringe-Worthy Dialogue

This show has some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. The awkward, meant-to-be-inspirational bits are bad enough, like the constant calls that, “The sea is always right!” (Worst catchphrase ever.) Or Finrod’s memorably sage advice that, “Rocks look downward.” (No, they don’t.) But then we have gems like, “Give me the meat, and give it to me raw!” (I don’t know. This sounds nasty?)

The writing also often fails to work tonally or in context. For instance, when Theo asks his mother to say what he used to tell her when he had bad dreams, she answers, “In the end, the shadow is but a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Find the light and the shadow will not find you.” Apparently, the need to reference Sam’s words in LotR overcame the need for a mother to give a realistic answer like, “Shh. It’s okay. I’m here.” Which is what one might suppose a mother would say to a child with a nightmare!

And then there is the big reveal when Halbrand asks what drives Galadriel to seek Sauron when all others have given up. This was the moment when it was all supposed to come together, when viewers really started to understand Galadriel and her quest. The answer? “I cannot stop.” It almost felt like the writers didn’t know what to say, so they went with vagueness.

I can say definitely that the cringey dialogue is one of the worst aspects of the show. The writers so clearly thought they were channeling their inner Tolkien to write catchy snippets that would inspire and sound deep and, like many who reach for the heights, they fell unusually low.

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Awkward Pacing

Some have indicated to me that the show is a “slow burn” and it’s worth it to wait and have it all start to come together in the end. I find that strategy odd because I was so bored and uninterested by the first two episodes, I wanted to stop watching altogether. I only managed to get through the season because of pressure from a friend. I had zero interest in the characters, since there were too many of them to be developed adequately at the start and, when I tried to sum up the episodes, I was left with random assortments like, “Galadriel floats a boat. The Harfoots walk around. Elrond smashes a rock with an axe.” Good stuff.

The focus on the show seems to be not on plot or character development, but with teasing viewers about character identities and withholding information just for the sake of creating mystery. For instance, the driving force of season one seems to be the questions, “Who is the Stranger?” and, “Which character is Sauron?” and the creators play that up, with characters periodically accusing one another of being Sauron only to be told they are wrong. These puzzles take up more energy than actually developing the characters or the logic of the plotline.

Other random information is also withheld, seemingly just for the purpose of making viewers wonder about it so the showrunners can triumphantly pull out the answers later. This is presumably why we still have no clue about what happened to Theo’s father or why Galadriel randomly announces several episodes in that she has been married this entire time, but her husband is missing and presumed dead. Viewers know Celeborn isn’t dead. They’re just supposed to wonder when he’ll pop up.

Though it has its moments of suspense, Tolkien’s writing is very straightforward, and he never spends time trying to trick readers into thinking characters are not who they thought, or leaving out information just so people can speculate about it. Deliberately misleading viewers just to shock them is admittedly a valid strategy, especially in the age of the internet, when fans can immediately go online to try to puzzle out the mysteries together. It is, however, arguably not Tolkien-esque. Perhaps more importantly, however, the question, “Which character is really Sauron?” does not seem pressing enough to spend an entire season on, to the detriment of actual character and plot development.

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Uninspired Allusions to Peter Jackson’s Trilogy

I am not entirely sure what viewers are supposed to get from the numerous, indeed, overwhelming, numbers of allusions to Peter Jackson’s LotR. They do not often seem to be thematically important. For instance, why should I particularly think of Arwen riding to the Ford of Bruinen when Galadriel is riding a horse? Should the Numenorean charge recall Rohan’s charge? It would make more sense to tie them to Gondor, no? I found the allusions tiresome, as I do not want to play “spot the reference” when trying to immerse myself in a secondary world.

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Thematic Inconsistencies

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the show, for fans of Tolkien at least, will undoubtedly be the decision to make the Elves’ immortal souls fade away unless they can bathe in the light of mithril (said, in the show, to contain the light of one of the Silmarils). This plot point has a lot of logical problems, of course. How did the light of a Silmaril imbue a bunch of random ore? How does that work, precisely? And how much mithril is needed to save everyone? (Answer: three rings’ worth will do because handwavy magic??) If the Elves need the light of a Silmaril, why can’t they just stand outside when Earendil passes by in the night sky? He has one in his ship, after all! And why is this even happening in the first place? How on earth did the trees of Lindon decide to die and indicate the “rise of evil” when, at that point, Sauron is apparently still stuck in the middle of the ocean and maybe/maybe not considering a simple life as a peasant blacksmith? Maybe the leaves should have decided to die at a more pressing time like, I don’t know, when Morgoth was taking over Middle-earth?

The real problem with this plot point is, of course, that no power that is not Eru (the One) should be able to kill an immortal soul. And the power of the Valar should not be able to save a soul. (The Silmarils contain the light of the Trees of Valinor, which were made by the Valar.) It simply is not consistent with Tolkien’s worldview to suggest that a soul can be made or unmade by anyone who is not the God of that world. Honestly, I found the suggestion to be shocking, considering how the showrunners were assuring everyone that they are huge Tolkien fans, and considering how many Tolkien scholars were gathered before the show’s release to Tweet out their approval of this new vision of Tolkien’s world.

I understand the show is almost entirely fan fiction since the rights to the material concerning the Second Ages are limited. I was not expecting the show to be the work of a Tolkien purist. But this whole idea seems rather wild, even for an adaptation. Even if we go with a vaguer explanation about the need to reclaim the light of Valinor to stop the Elves diminishing, I cannot see how implying that an external source can change one’s internal state would ever be thematically consistent with Tolkien’s vision of good and evil. Is it supposed to be like a reverse of the One Ring? As the One Ring tempts one with power until one is corrupted and chooses evil, the Silmaril light inspires one until they start following the Valar again? Maybe? But I think the show needs to develop this further since the entire Silmarillion is about how the light of the Silmarils tempted Sauron to invade Valinor and then lead the Elves to centuries of warfare as they attempted to reclaim the jewels, and turned on their own kin in order to possess them. Clearly just being in the presence of a Silmaril does not inspire one solely to goodness.

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General Inconsistencies

If we really want to get into the nitty gritty of the show, there was plenty to baffle and annoy me. One thing that really struck me was the inconsistency of how Elves experience time. Tolkien wrote that an Elf year is 144 sun years. The show references the idea that time passes differently for Elves when Durin chastises Elrond for not visiting in 20 years, even if that seems like nothing to an Elf. At other times, however, the show forgets this and has Arondir speaking of 70-some years in the Southlands as a long time, when really that would probably seem like six months or so to him. He also speaks of his youth 200 years ago like that’s a long time.

Then there are the strange moments that make no sense. Galadriel, Commander of the Army of the North, chases an enemy to retrieve a powerful object–only to give it away to a random Elf without looking at it or asking questions. The orcs release Arondir for no reason, after killing a bunch of Elves over a tree, as if the showrunners were not sure how to have him escape. Pharazon lets strangers sit in the king’s bedroom without supervision, even though previously no one was allowed to see the king at all for any reason. Miriel reverses her entire worldview in about ten seconds because some leaves fall off a tree–and the anti-Elf sentiment in Numenor that literally caused the removal of the previous ruler immediately vanishes as they all agree to go fight in a foreign land for people they have never seen and know nothing about. A sword is a key that turns a rock that breaks a dam that causes a volcano? (Sorry, I got lost there.) Internal logic in a story is important to me, but I saw very little of it here.

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A Few Things I Liked

As many have said, the CGI looks great. I also enjoyed Elrond, Durin, and Disa. Nori is a fun character, even if the Harfoots seem cruel. And I thought it was a fair choice to make the Elves seem more supernatural/superhuman with some of the fighting skills shown by Galadriel and Ardonir. I also liked the attempt to make the orcs seem more nuanced, with Adar’s insistence that they have souls and deserve a home. (I’m not sure where the show is going with this, though, since it’s hard for viewers to sympathize with orcs creating a home by killing everyone in the Southlands and literally forming Mordor. Expansion on this point is needed.) I also thought pretty much all the actors did an excellent job, even when the material given to them was poor.

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Conclusion

Rings of Power fails for me, not as a Tolkien adaptation, but as a show. I understood going in that the creators only had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and would be making up almost the entirety of the show. I was not expecting a purist adaptation of Tolkien. However, the lack of character backstories, the flip-flopping of characters from good to evil, the slow pacing, and the logical inconsistencies and baffling politics, would make me rate any show poorly–even if it had nothing to do with Tolkien. I did not enjoy watching Rings of Power, and the show sadly is unlikely to be part of a new beloved fandom for me.

Questions I Still Have about the Themes in “The Rings of Power” after the Season 1 Finale

Themes in Season 1 of Rings of Power

If you’ve been following my blog or my tweets, you’ll know I’ve been somewhat on the fence about The Rings of Power throughout season 1. It has some amazing moments . . . and then a lot of weird or confusing ones. I plan to do one final review of episode 8/the season as a whole, but in this post, I want to focus on what might be the longest contributing factor to my disappointment with the series: the confusion the writers seem to have over the themes they are trying to convey. Here are some inconsistencies I noticed and questions I still have (in no particular order).

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1. What is up with the flip flopping of Elendil’s faith?

Viewers agreed that the writers pretending Isildur died in episode 7 when anyone who knows anything about Tolkien must be aware he’s not dead was a bizarre choice. The explanation everyone came up with to make it make sense was that it’s for character development: it’s the catalyst that moves Elendil from being a staunch supporter of Galadriel/the Elves and aiding Middle-earth to questioning the role of Númenor and demanding his people just go home.

So it’s bizarre that in episode 8 that Elendil and Miriel have an entire conversation about how being one of the Faithful is hard and sometimes high prices must be paid to do the right thing. And Elendil recommits to his decision to aid Galadriel and Middle-earth. Whatever doubt he had seems to have lasted about two minutes of screen time. So what are his beliefs? And why are the writers still pretending Isildur is dead? (I hope, if nothing else, Isildur has something important he’s doing alone in Middle-earth in season 2!)

2. And is helping Galadriel the correct thing to do or not?

Elendil recommits to the idea that he made the moral decision when he chose to pull Galadriel out of the sea instead of leaving her there to die. Helping the Elves is the right thing. Following Galadriel is the right thing.

Yet the point of the entirety of season 1 boils down to: Galadriel has good intentions, but her decisions lead directly to Sauron’s coming back into power. If Elendil had let Galadriel (and Halbrand, obviously) die in the water, season 1 wouldn’t have happened. Even if Halbrand had survived or been reincarnated, but he hadn’t been with Galadriel, he might not have regained power, as he directly credits Galadriel with allowing him to believe in himself to pursue his ambitions and giving him access to specific resources, like the Elves of Eregion.

3. But Galadriel has already rejected evil and dominion over Middle-earth?

So this all comes to a head when Galadriel realizes Halbrand is Sauron and confronts him, and he gets into her head and proposes. (I’m so confused the writers doubled down on this Galadriel/Sauron romance, but here we are.) And because the Rings of Power writers love callbacks to Peter Jackson’s works, they write a whole scene mirroring Galadriel’s rejection of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Sauron gives her the option of having dominion over Middle-earth, being terrible as the sea, etc. And she says no.

That’s right. Here, in the Second Age, Galadriel says no to Sauron and the exact type of power she would get from Sauron’s Ring in the Third Age. Her rejection of Sauron’s work has already happened. So why must she reject it again in the Third Age and say that then she has passed the test?

I suppose one could argue she doesn’t pass the test entirely because she still goes ahead with the forging of the three Elven Rings, which was largely Sauron’s idea, but . . . meh. I think the writers got too excited paralleling Peter Jackson and undermined their own message here.

4. Are the three Elven rings actually slightly evil???

And this leads me to the question of whether the Elven rings are actually evil, at least a little. Obviously, Sauron has a hand aiding Celebrimbor in the book, but Rings of Power suggests that the power used to create the rings might be a forbidden one. Adar, Sauron, and Celebrimbor talks about having a power over flesh and powers of the Unseen World. Those phrases by themselves don’t necessarily have to imply the power is evil, but the show certainly wants me to think they are, by associating them specifically with Sauron and then showing images of Elves who were tortured and mutilated in the pursuit of this power. I think the show went too far with suggesting that whatever was used to create the rings is itself bad; it’s not just that Sauron can corrupt the rings depending on whether or not he’s personally involved in their creation.

5. What exactly is causing the decay of the trees in Lindon?

This is still unclear to me. Gil-galad implies it’s some vague sense of evil in the world, especially as the decay is happening faster now that Mount Doom has been woken up. But, um, why? This is as wishy-washy as Peter Jackson’s version of Arwen fading as the One Ring becomes more powerful. It just makes no sense.

6. If the Elves don’t need mithril anymore, how are the Dwarves getting their redemption arc?

I, along with many viewers, was disappointed in episode 7 when it turned out that the plot line that Elves need mithril not to fade was not, in fact, a lie made up by Sauron but actually true.

But then I, and other fans, pivoted again and said, “Ok, well the mithril thing helps the characterization of the Dwarves because now they will mine for mithril to help the Elves, not out of pure greed, so they will be compassionate and not a one-dimensional race simply obsessed with treasure.”

This theory no longer works if the Elves don’t need mithril, so are the Dwarves just going back to digging out of ambition and greed?

7. What is Gandalf’s purpose in the Second Age?

I called early on that the Stranger is Gandalf, and I kind of like his character (plus the actor is great), but I have no idea what he is doing in this show. Gandalf is not mentioned as being involved in the matters of the Second Age at all in Tolkien’s work. So the writers are going to have to get clever to create a plot line where 1) Gandalf is actually important, since Nori keeps highlighting that he’s super important and it was clearly her destiny to help him achieve this awesome thing and 2) he’s not actually involved with the main plot of the show. I have no idea how this is going to work.

So what did you think?

Briana

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (A Review Upon Rereading)

The Silmarillion paperback

Information

Goodreads: The Silmarillion
Series: pre-Lord of the Rings
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: 1977

Official Summary

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.

Review

I read The Silmarillion once several years ago, but I decided that now was the perfect time for a reread, since Amazon’s The Rings of Power is being released. Amazon, of course, does not actually have the rights to anything in The Silmarillion, so none of the plot of the show is related to The Silmarillion (and most of the The Silmarillion is about the First Age, not the Second Age anyway). However, there have been references to events in The Silmarillion in the show, like references to the War of Wrath, Elrond’s family, the Valar, etc., so rereading it does help one appreciate the show at least a little. But enough about The Rings of Power. (You can read Krysta’s guide to the Second Age here.)

Reviewing The Silmarillion seems a daunting task to me. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? How can I adequately convey how amazing it is? It’s a fantasy classic, even if not as popularly read as The Lord of the Rings, so saying it’s “good” or “bad” seems a bit silly when people will read it no matter what I say. (For the record, I think it’s good.)

Even though it covers an extremely long time period for the First Age, it’s am immersive experience, and I loved seeing the beginning of Arda and then the trials of the Elves. The Elves, for the record, are much more chaotic here. While in The Lord of the Rings, Elves are nearly always associated with goodness, so much that evil things will not pass through areas where Elves once lived, they’re a mixed bag in The Silmarillion. They kill each other, they lust after the titular Silmarils, they betray one another, they ignore the plights of those who need help. They’re still delightfully Other, but they’re not a monolith of wisdom and virtue, and it is fascinating.

It’s also a bit darker than The Lord of the Rings in many ways. While I think the theme of hope still permeates the story, there are things one wouldn’t necessarily except to see in LotR, like Elves killing Elves and some (accidental) incest. It’s a different time in Middle-earth, and Tolkien (and editor Christopher Tolkien!) does an excellent job of making it feel so.

I know many readers find The Silmarillion confusing, but I don’t think it is. Some of the characters have annoyingly similar names, but I didn’t have an issue with that. I actually think I was most confused by the geography; next time I read, I might pull out my Atlas of Middle-earth. Or if anyone has any good guides about the geography, I’d love to know about them! (You can get a free guide to The Silmarillion in general from Tea with Tolkien.)

This is a five star read for me, and I recommend it to any Tolkien fan! I can’t wait to read it again sometime!

Briana
5 stars

My Thoughts on Episode 7 of “The Rings of Power”

After watching six episodes of The Rings of Power and being generally unmoved by what is clearly meant to be an epic and sweeping tale, I believe I am finally invested in this show and its characters. While the majority of viewers seem to have been amazed by episode 6 and felt episode 7 fell flat, I feel exactly the opposite: the focus on friendship and hope in this installment has truly drawn me in. I can at last say I actually like The Rings of Power.

This isn’t to say the episode was perfect. I am disappointed the thing about mithril being able to heal the Elves seems not to be a fabrication from Annatar, as many fans were hoping (or, there’s at least some truth to it, considering the mithril healed the diseased leaf from Lindon). This entire plot line is bizarre, from the implication there’s a Silmaril involved to the timeline that the Elves are going to fade by spring. The only interesting facet is that it opens the door to portray the Dwarves as selfless rather than greedy; they won’t dig for the mithril because they’re treasure-obsessed but because they want to help the Elves.

Implying Isildur is dead was also an interesting choice, since pretty much everyone must know he’s not. I assume this is for character development, such as moving Elendil from being in favor of aiding Middle-earth to regretting the mission. And I guess something interesting will happen to Isildur while he’s missing from the main narrative, but it was a little hard to feel *too* bad for Elendil since we all know Isildur is not dead!

However, the character development in general in this episode really helped win over my heart. I like Theo more. I can even believe he’d hug Arondir, when I’m not sure I would have been sold on that before. The Harfoots became more interesting, as well. I loved seeing some of them rally and realize perhaps they should help the Stranger, who tried so hard to help them even when things didn’t turn out the way he intended. Sadoc, of course, has some of the best lines. Elrond and Disa and Durin continue to be stars, and the scenes between Durin and his father (also Durin lol) were fabulous. Galadriel is still a bit of a miss for me because I don’t think she’s coming across as fearsome or awe-inspiring. (So it fell flat for me when Theo joked about being unable to imagine her dancing because I have no issue imagining that at all.)

Annoyingly, I am also beginning to see why people think Halbrand is Sauron, though I’ve been hoping the entire time he is not and that Sauron has actually been off screen.

So sign me up for episode 8 (and the rest of the seasons) because I’m finally truly excited!

Briana

Thoughts on Episode 3 of “The Rings of Power”

Spoilers

The third episode of The Rings of Power picks up some threads of mystery that watchers have been avidly discussing since the first two installments, and I was interested to see exactly how much was answered. There are still people convinced, for instance, that Halbrand is Sauron, even though the show says pretty plainly he’s some disinherited king of the Southlands, which was my theory. He’s clearly being set up as some sort of parallel to Aragorn, though I also like the theory he’ll end up as one of the Nazgul. Maybe he’ll take one of the Rings to try to save his people, but it backfires, etc. I don’t buy the running theories that Sauron is actually more than one person, so presumably Adar AND Halbrand? (Or Celebrimbor, according to some people, which I find delightfully hilarious.)

But beyond getting some answers, did I like this episode? The answer is a resounding yes! I missed some of the characters from the first two (like Elrond, Celebrimbor, Durin, and Disa), but I liked Arondir much more than I have previously. He shows more range, and you can see that he cared for the other Elves he had been working with in the Watchtower, which was not a sense I’d actually gotten before in the show. too bad they’re dead now. It would have been even more gut-wrenching if their relationship had been build up previously.

This episode also crushed my vision of the Harfoots, however. We see them chanting, “No one goes off path, and nobody walks alone.” But apparently this is not a promise they will stick by one another. It’s a threat that they won’t! If you’re slow, you get left behind. Cue a ceremony remembering all those left behind i past migrations, only some for legitimate reasons, and then the decision to basically ditch the Brandyfoots rather than have someone help pull the cart. It’s dark.

Numenor was definitely a highlight of the show. It’s gorgeous. We get to meat Elendil and Isildur and see hints of what’s to come. Miriel is aggravating but seems to know more than she is letting on. I’m not sure I love that Galadriel is here. So much of her plot seems to be the showrunners trying to make other stuff happen that she’s just the vehicle for. Here it’s getting more information about Sauron and Halbrand from the Hall of Lore. I hope her plot gets better as the show goes on.

I’ve said that episode 3 would be the real test of how much I liked the show and whether I’d be willing to pay for a month of Prime to finish the season, and I think the answer is yes. I don’t love it as much as the movies, and there are choices I certainly find odd, but it’s growing on me and I want to see what happens next.

Briana

A Quick Guide to the Second Age of Middle-Earth Before You Watch The Rings of Power

A Quick Guide to the Second Age of Middle-Earth

Interested in watching The Rings of Power, but not sure what the show is about? Intimidated by the vast lore of Middle-earth? Wanting a quick guide to give you just enough background to understand the show, without having to delve into thousands of years of Middle-earth history? Below we have compiled some questions you might have about the show and the events it might cover.

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Which of Tolkien’s writings does the show have access to?

Although the events of the show are covered most extensively in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-Earth, the showrunners do not have rights to these books. (For those unfamiliar with these works, Unfinished Tales and the multi-volume History of Middle-Earth series contain J. R. R. Tolkien’s drafts on Middle-earth and its development. The Silmarillion was Tolkien’s son Christopher’s attempt to form these manuscripts into a cohesive story.)

The showrunners have rights to The Lord of the Rings (including the appendices) and The Hobbit, so they are arguably somewhat limited in what they can cover. However, they can pull from references made to past events (things like Bilbo’s song about Eärendil), as well as from the historical summaries and timelines given in the LotR appendices.

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What events does the show cover?

The show is supposed to cover the Second Age of Middle-earth. For context, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in the Third Age.

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Give me a brief summary of the Ages of Middle-Earth?

Pre-History

Eru/Ilúvatar (basically God) creates the Valar. These are supernatural beings who function as gods/angels under Ilúvatar. The Valar help Ilúvatar sing Arda (the world) into being. One of the Valar, Melkor/Morgoth, goes rogue and introduces evil into creation. Morgoth later enters Arda and attempts to claim it as his own.

Other of the Valar also choose to enter Arda. They choose Manwë as their king and spend years fighting Morgoth to prepare the world for the coming of Elves and Men, the Children of Ilúvatar.

The First Age

The Elves are the first Children of Ilúvatar to awaken. Many choose to leave the lands where the Dark Lord Morgoth is still at large, and remove to Valinor–the land where the Valar dwell.

In Valinor, the Elf Fëanor creates the Silmarils, wondrous jewels that contain the light of two blessed Trees made by the Valar. Morgoth covets the Silmarils, so he travels to Valinor, destroys the Trees and steals the jewels. Enraged and blaming the Valar for the loss of his creations, Fëanor leaves against the will of the Valar and takes an Oath with his sons to pursue Morgoth and the Silmarils.

Many Elves leave with Fëanor to make their own realms in Middle-Earth, and some kill other Elves in the attempt to get ships to depart. The Doom of Mandos is pronounced against those who participated in the Kinslaying, barring Valinor to the rebellious Elves. Galadriel and her brother Finrod also depart Valinor, though they did not participate in the Kinslaying. (One version of the story says Galadriel fought against the Kinslayers! See Unfinished Tales.)

The Elves in Middle-earth spend long years fighting Morgoth and trying to reclaim the Silmarils. Galadriel’s brother Finrod dies at the hands of Sauron, Morgoth’s lieutenant. Morgoth’s eventual defeat marks the end of the First Age.

The Second Age

At the start of the Second Age, Morgoth has been defeated, but his lieutenant Sauron escapes. The Valar gift the Men who helped in the fight against Morgoth an island. There they found the realm of Númenor. Númenor is close to Valinor, but the Númenoreans are forbidden to sail there (the Ban of the Valar). Eventually, Sauron will arrive in Númenor, and inflame the people’s jealousy of Elven immortality and their resentment against the Ban of the Valar. When the Númenoreans ultimately rebel against the Valar, and attempt to sail West, Númenor is destroyed and the shape of the world is changed, preventing Men from attempting to sail to Valinor ever again. Exiles from Númenor found the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor in Middle-earth.

Before Sauron’s arrival in Númenor, however, he has tricked some Elven-smiths into forging the Rings of Power. The Elves eventually perceives Sauron’s treachery when Sauron puts on the One Ring, meant to control the other rings. Celebrimbor has forged three rings without Sauron’s assistance. The Elves hide these.

The Second Age ends with the overthrow of Sauron and the taking of the One Ring by Isildur, an exile from Númenor.

The Third Age

The Third Age is the Age of the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It ends with the War of the Ring, the final overthrow of Sauron, and the passage of the Elf Elrond over the sea to the Undying Lands.

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What history do you need to know to understand the basic premise of The Rings of Power?

Basically, understand that Sauron (the villain of The Lord of the Rings) was once the mere lieutenant of a scarier Dark Lord named Morgoth. His master has been overthrown, but Sauron is still at large and poised to begin his own evil empire, and revenge himself on the Elves and Men who defeated Morgoth. If you want a fuller picture, you can read the brief descriptions of the First Age above.

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What are the Rings of Power?

During the Second Age, under the guise of friendship, Sauron instructs the Elf-smiths of Eregion in the forging of the Rings of Power. Celebrimbor, the grandson of Fëanor, is the greatest of the smiths. Sauron and the Elves forge 16 rings together. Celebrimbor forges three alone. Then Sauron forges the One Ring in secret in Mount Doom. The One Ring is bound to the rest, so Sauron can see and govern the thoughts of the other ring wearers. The Elves realize Sauron’s treachery when he puts on the One Ring, and they take off their rings. Sauron reclaims the original 16 and gives nine to Men and seven to the Dwarves, in an effort to rule and control them. Celebrimbor and the Elves hide his three rings. One goes to Galadriel, one to Gil-Galad, one to Círdan. The Elven rings are still bound to the One, however, and cannot be used openly. (See The Silmarillion for more details.)

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Why is Galadriel a warrior in this show?

There are many versions of Galadriel’s history and they often contradict each other. Some of them hint at a potential fighting background. One quote in Unfinished Tales mentions that, “She [Galadriel] was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.” Later, in a letter, J. R. R. Tolkien described Galadriel as having an “Amazon disposition” and binding her hair up when participating in athletics. This, coupled with various mentions of her will to rule a realm of her own in Middle-earth–and her departing from Valinor to do so against the will of the Valar–is presumably the basis to make Galadriel a headstrong warrior in the show.

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What happened to fan favorite characters such as Frodo and Aragorn?

Sorry, they won’t be born for another couple thousand years! Characters like Galadriel and Elrond are around because Elves have long lifespans and are essentially immortal, unless they die by some physical hurt such as in war.

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Why are there no Hobbits?

Tolkien’s writings indicate that Hobbits did little of historical note before the Third Age. And, really, The Silmarillion is the history of the world as told by (and concerning) the Elves. So, presumably, to give people familiar with the LotR movie more Hobbits, the showrunners turned to Harfoots, which are supposed to be the ancestors of the Hobbits. Hobbits, one might note, did not move into the Shire until the Third Age.

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Who is Gil-galad?

Gil-galad is the High King of the Noldor (one of various groupings of Elves) in Middle-earth. He rules over the realm of Lindon and will fight alongside Men to overthrow Sauron at the end of the Second Age. (Sam sings about Gil-galad and his final fight in The Lord of the Rings.)

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Check Out These Sources!

J. R. R. Tolkien never finished compiling the history of Middle-earth, so some accounts of histories and character backstories will differ depending on which manuscript or book you read! Below are the sources used in this post to try to summarize briefly (and broadly) the history of the First and Second Ages. Be aware, however, that many stories were never finalized. Galadriel’s history in particular was reworked many times!

  • The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Unfinished Tales by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Christopher Tolkien

Have more questions about the characters or the Second Age? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer! (And undoubtedly other Tolkien fans will be able to help out, as well!)

My First Impressions of “The Rings of Power,” Episodes 1 and 2

No Spoilers in This Section!

A few days ago, I posted about why I was finally excited to watch Amazon’s adaptation of Middle-earth’s Second Age, The Rings of Power, after being skeptical for so long. But now that I have actually watched the first two episodes, I’m not really sure what I think. Definitely a lot of the plot and characters are made up, and at times it seems obvious (as in, it doesn’t feel like something Tolkien would have written). But I don’t hate the show either, and all the fears that the show would be some horrific affront to Tolkien and his work seem a little overblown. Mostly I feel neutral at this point, and that’s disappointing.

The first episode took a while to get going, and while it’s definitely pretty and most of the actors are great, this installment probably suffered from how much background information it had to get through and how many characters there are. I didn’t love the prologue, which seemed to want to cover a lot of The Silmarillion without actually getting into any details about The Silmarillion. I understand this is likely a combination of the studio not having the rights to discuss some events and of wanting to get through things on a basic level so people unfamiliar with the plot could follow, but I still felt underwhelmed by it. However, there was some decent imagery, and you can tell the writers are trying hard to work with what they have.

I decided to keep watching because, frankly, the first episode of a lot of shows leave something to be desired. I think the first episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender is a snooze fest, for instance, but the show as a whole is great! So I kept up my optimism for episode two.

It did deliver, a little. The second episode made me more invested in the characters, as I saw more of them, and I got more invested in the plot. To be fair, the general plot of the series *as a whole* still seems unclear besides “Galadriel thinks Sauron is coming back, and he probably is,” but I got invested in what some of the characters are doing in their own little plot lines, and the writers seem to have a thing for ending on cliffhangers to keep viewers hooked.

My only real issue is that I’m not feeling as if I’m sucked into Middle-earth. The show certainly looks like Middle-earth. The scenery is beautiful. I want to go live in Lindon now. But I don’t know about the story, even if I haven’t quite pinpointed why. Is it the dialogue? The plot? The places where the show deviates from Tolkien? I want to give the show more of a chance to see if it can grab me, but I’m disappointed my general feelings are, “This show is okay, but I don’t know if I would rewatch it for fun or go out of my way to recommend anyone else watch it.”

Spoilers!

Here are some random thoughts I have about some details in the show so far:

  • I don’t know that the Harfoots as a whole are doing anything in particular in the show (i.e. that they’re “necessary”), but I’ve decided I kind of love Poppy, who doesn’t want to be adventurous or take risks but does so for love of her friend. She wants to pretend she’s not a good person sometimes, but she is. And she has a hidden sense of wonder.
  • I think the Galadriel plot line is causing a lot of issues. Like with the writers having Gil-galad send her and the other Elves to Valinor. (Uh, why is this his decision?) And then the weird portrayal of the journey to Valinor itself. I thought it seemed like Valinor was already outside the circles of the earth due to the magical protective cloud wall and the light that seems to assume people into it, but I don’t know if that’s what the writers were going for.
  • Durin and Disa are very fun. I want to see more of them.
  • I don’t love Arondir as much as other people seem to. He comes across as rather stiff to me.
  • It’s so awkward everyone just calls Finrod Galadriel’s brother all the time, instead of his name.
  • Celebrimor seems promising as a character. I like his story about Morgoth and the Silmarils, even if it isn’t canon.
Briana

Why Did Aragorn Let Grima Wormtongue Go?

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting several days of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Today I answer a somewhat common question that has been Googled about The Lord of the Rings:

Why does Aragorn spare Wormtongue’s life after he is exposed as an agent of Saruman and cast out from Edoras?

In the Book

The first thing to note here is that Aragorn only saves Grima’s life in the movie adaptation. In the book, it is Theoden who spares Wormtongue, at Gandalf’s advice:

“See, Theoden, here is a snake! With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind. To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and did you service in its fashion. Give him a horse and left him go at once, wherever he chooses. By his choice you shall judge him.”

“Do you hear this, Wormtongue?” said Theoden. “This is your choice: to ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true; or to go now, whither you will. But then, if ever we meet again, I shall not be merciful.”

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

The theme of mercy runs throughout The Lord of the Rings, even as John pointed out in his guest post that capital punishment is still the norm in Gondor (and likely Rohan, too, since Eomer threatened in the past to kill Grima, and Gandalf suggests taking his life wouldn’t be entirely out of line).

Yet Gandalf’s general teaching is that lives should not be taken lightly. Early in the story, he defends Gollum and tells Frodo:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

He implies it is not the prerogative of humans (or Elves, Hobbits, Wizards, etc.) to take someone’s life because they “deserve” it, but rather that this is the job of a higher power (Ilúvatar).

There is also the running theme that offering such mercy pays off unexpectedly later. Readers see that sparing Gollum’s life is the reason the Ring is finally destroyed. And sparing Grima’s life is the reason Gandalf and company acquire the palantír that had been in Orthanc. Grima also ultimately rids Middle-earth of Saruman.

In the Movie

So why is it Aragorn who saves Grima’s life in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation?

In the film, King Theoden advances ominously on Wormtongue after he is thrown down the stairs of Edoras, raising his sword to smite Rima where he lies. Aragorn leaps from off-screen and catches Theoden’s sword with his own, saying, “No! No, my lord! Let him go. Enough blood has been spilt on his account.”

Watch the scene here.

In general, I would say the themes here are the same. Aragorn believes in mercy (very likely a quality he himself learned from Gandalf in the past, though Gandalf does not comment in this scene), and he makes a vague statement about how enough violence has been done, and Theoden shouldn’t perpetuate the cycle. There’s no discussion of how Grima might redeem himself if he chooses, as there is in the book, however. Grima simply spits on Aragorn’s offered hand and runs away.

My guess is that the writers were trying to incorporate the theme of mercy but also wanted to make this scene more “dramatic” somehow. Theoden and Aragorn’s crossing of swords certainly is more exciting than Gandalf’s and Theoden’s mild discussion of what might be done with Grima. The scene also really emphasizes the idea that Theoden was weak and under Grima’s spell and hasn’t quite recovered yet; his walk down the stairs towards Grima looks a bit crazed, as if some of the spell has yet to wear off. The scene basically highlights Aragorn’s nobility at the expense of Theoden’s.

There is also the awkwardness that the scene shows Aragorn disagreeing with Theoden’s judgement in his own kingdom, which the film attempts to compensate for by having Aragorn immediately cry, “Hail Theoden King!” and initiating everyone else’s kneeling to Theoden. One could argue it doesn’t entirely work as, later in the film, Theoden feels the need to explicitly tell Aragorn that Aragorn is not the king of Rohan and should keep some of his opinions to himself.

Conclusion

The fact that Grima’s life is spared is consistent with Tolkien’s theme of mercy and not dealing death in judgement that runs throughout his work. The choice to have Aragorn specifically save Wormtongue in the movie seems done for drama and to emphasize that Aragorn in particular is wise and merciful.

Briana

The Rohirrim Name Generator

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting several days of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Discover what your name would be in Rohan by following the directions below!

Format: [Name] of [Place]

What is the first letter of your first name?

A: Eorl
B: Morwen
C: Thengel
D: Théodwyn
E: Mildwyn
F: Guthlaf
G: Grimbold
H: Hama
I: Gamling
J: Erkenbrand
K: Ceorl
L: Eothain
M: Dunhere
N: Estmund
O: Merefled
P: Eowyn
Q: Cenric
R: Helm
S: Darwise
T: Eomer
U: Adgith
V: Theoden
W: Elflhem
X: Grima
Y: Wilrun
Z: Theodred

What is your favorite color?

(Of those listed. I know I can’t include every possible option!)

Red: Aldburg
Orange: Westemnet
Yellow: Edoras
Green: Eastfold
Blue: Fenmarch
Purple: Westfold
Pink: Eastemnet
Black: the Folde
Brown: the Wolde
White: West-March
Other: the White Mountains

Tell us your name in the comments!

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OTHER LORD OF THE RINGS/TOLKIEN QUIZZES

The Nature of Middle-Earth by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Carl F. Hostetter

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Nature of Middle-Earth

Information

Goodreads: The Nature of Middle-Earth
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Discover Tolkien’s writings on everything from the Elvish population growth to which characters he imagined as having beards to the flora and fauna of Númenor.

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Review

The Nature of Middle-Earth is not for the casual Tolkien fan, but rather for the reader who wants to know literally everything about Tolkien’s work, his process, and his musings. This collection is indeed more scholarly than otherwise, presenting multiple drafts of Tolkien working out his thoughts along with copious end notes, as well as a description of what each manuscript looks like–what kind of paper it was written on, with what kind of pen, in what kind of handwriting. The beginning of the book may likely bore many readers to tears. However, there are other selections that are more readable and perhaps of more interest to fans. A must-read for the Tolkien scholar or hardcore fan–but not for readers who are looking for a good story.

The Nature of Middle-Earth begins with copious drafts of Tolkien trying to work out the population growth of Elves–and that is a shame, because many readers might give up before they get to more readable fare. While this is the kind of attention to detail that makes Tolkien’s stories feel so immersive, it is also the kind of background information that provides an easy joke for reviewers. Do you really want to know the gestational period of Elves? Read this book! Jokes, aside, however, Tolkien’s commitment to working out the math, making charts, and then repeatedly trying to change his timelines to make it all fit is impressive. It’s just not what one would call a bit of light reading.

Other parts of the book are arguably more interesting, however, and many readers might find this work more enjoyable if they just skip around to the parts that seem intriguing to them. For instance, I enjoyed learning about which characters Tolkien envisioned as having beards (Elves & Númenoreans do not–so Faramir and Aragorn do not), the geography and wildlife of Númenor (Yes, Tolkien did consider what kinds of tools they used and what their agriculture might look like), and odd tidbits such as the Maia being detectable by their scent (which seems to be inspired by Tolkien’s Catholicism). But the thing that really drew me in? Tolkien’s preoccupation with trying to make Elvish reincarnation work.

That Elves can be reincarnated is well-known among Tolkien fans, though the fact never really seems to be brought up in the stories. So it was fascinating to see Tolkien work through the idea. First, he has Manwe ask Eru about the possibility because the killed and “houseless” Elves are not happy without their bodies (an interesting indication that the Children of Ilúvatar are meant to be a unity of body and soul). Then Manwe receives permission for the Valar to create a new house. But, first, Tolkien has to explore all the philosophical implications. Is this new body the same or different? What do same or different mean? And then he has to consider the practicalities. Does the reincarnated Elf remember their former life? Will they be given to new parents to raise? Is this fair to the parents or to the child? And what about marriage? Because Elves are monogamous and cannot remarry while another spouse lives. So . . . what if one’s spouse comes back to life? One begins to suspect that Tolkien did not have a parade of reincarnated Elves walking around Middle-earth because, ultimately, it raised too many questions that were too hard to answer.

Reading The Nature of Middle-Earth was a fun experience for me, one that gave me new trivia facts to share with my Tolkien-loving friends. I have to confess, however, that the book is not really a must-read except for the most hardcore fans, the ones who would devour every work from Tolkien’s pen, no matter how intricate, insignificant, or dull.

4 stars