For millions of people across the world, The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the single greatest fantasy story ever told.
Whether someone is a hardcore fan who’s read all the books, or a more casual viewer of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, there is something about Middle-earth that has captured the hearts and imaginations of people for decades.
But what exactly is it? The answer, simply put, is its creator – Professor J. R. R. Tolkien. Since I can already hear the groans of irritation at yet another article claiming the author has some kind of omnipotent power over their text, I’ll get straight to the point.
Although Tolkien was a remarkably clever and creative man, neither of these are reasons for the continuing success of his books. Instead, we need to get a little more theoretical (bear with me) and consider the end result; what does the text tell us?
By that, I don’t mean the stereotypical ‘good triumphs over evil’ trope that seems rather mockingly attached to Tolkien’s work. While evil does fail and good does win, it’s not so clear-cut. Some villains – Wormtongue and Gollum, for example – play an integral part in the destruction of themselves and other wrong-doers. Some heroes – Boromir, Denethor and Frodo are corrupted to evil (even if temporarily).
What this pattern of subverted expectations demonstrates is that, far from being a black-and-white morality story, The Lord of the Rings and its author are more concerned with the fundamentals of human nature, of our ability to be both heroes and villains. And it is this moral grey zone that is crucially lacking from Amazon’s The Rings of Power. The show’s characters, old and new, suffer from a distinct lack of development, with the showrunners instead favouring visual spectacle over genuine and heartfelt story.
Galadriel’s entire persona is explained in a minute clip about the death of her brother, and her promise to avenge him. Gandalf is like a giant, bearded baby who, apparently, learns to talk from the ancestors of Hobbits – all of whom, for some reason, have Irish accents. And Isildur, the future King of Gondor, Lord of the White City, is a glorified fisherman.
This not only goes against everything that Tolkien stood for, but it misses the whole point of his legendarium. Elves may be cool fighters, Dwarves may be funny, Hobbits may be small – but the single greatest fantasy story ever written is about so much more.
It’s about humanity. It’s about people. It’s about us.