J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga (comprising The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and other unfinished works) is inarguably the pinnacle of modern fantasy writing. It also has a certain seminal quality that’s all encompassing as far as epic fantasy is concerned. And whether one looks at J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, it is easy to spot the Tolkien influence.
For the uninitiated, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are all set in the Third Age. The Silmarillion and other unfinished works, on the other hand, basically tell the story of what all preceded the Third Age. Given that we have already had a total of 6 feature length films by Peter Jackson (3 covering the events of The Lord of the Rings and 3 covering the events of The Hobbit), it’s quite obvious that the new Amazon series ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings or Power’ focuses on the First Age as well as the Second Age.
Now, The Silmarillion tells of Eä, a fictional universe that includes the Blessed Realm of Valinor, the once-great region of Beleriand, the sunken island of Númenor, and the continent of Middle-earth, where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien was asked to come up with a sequel and so he offered a draft of the stories that would later become The Silmarillion. But when the proposal got rejected, Tolkien began working on a new story that eventually became The Lord of the Rings.
The Rings of Power (so far only two episodes are out) begins in the First Age with the ageless Elves living in a seemingly perfect world without any fear of death as we meet a young Galadriel and her elder brother Finrod. But it all changes with the emergence of an evil dark lord named Melkor, popularly known as Morgoth. While Tolkien explains Morgoth’s origins in detail in The Silmarillion, the Amazon series eschews it, perhaps because the makers don’t have the rights to The Silmarillion and so a lot of what the show offers is actually in a speculative space even though it’s vetted by the Tolkien scholars. Also, there is great secrecy about what will make it to the series and what will be left out. We are basically looking at 5 seasons of epic fantasy content from showrunners, JD Payne and Patrick McKay, and executive producer and director, JA Bayona, commissioned by none other than Jeff Bezos who is a self-confessed Tolkien enthusiast.
When their home of Valinior, along with the beautiful tree which is the source of light in the pre-sun world, is destroyed by Morgoth, the Elves resist and go on an all out war. The action shifts to Middle-earth which witnesses a Peter Jackson-esque LOTR-like battle sequence featuring Eagles, Nazgûl, Elves, and Orcs. Finrod fights valiantly but ultimately succumbs as Middle-earth is left in ruin. But, Morgoth is eventually defeated. However, his Orcs spread over Middle-earth, led by Sauron himself who started off as Morgoth’s general only to take his place as the dreaded Dark Lord of Middle-earth, following his master’s defeat at the hands of Elves.
Now, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that most of Amazon series would be about Sauron’s rise in Middle-earth with the forging of the Great Rings including the One Ring all the way to his epic defeat against the united armies of Elves and Men when Elendil’s son Isildur would prove to be his unexpected bane. Sauron who makes his first appearance on the show in the first episode itself looks quite intimidating as we get to witness his gigantic silhouette against a sunset surrounded by his monstrous orcs.
For the uninitiated, Sauron is a master manipulator who is endowed with many gifts and powers. Most importantly, he can take different forms. In the Second Age, he famously takes his fair form in order to deceive the Elf smiths of Eregion, including Celebrimbor, and counseled them in arts and magic. Not all the Elves trusted him, particularly Galadriel, Elrond, and Gil-galad, High King of the Ñoldor. To the Elves who listened, Sauron gave knowledge and encouragement in forging the Rings of Power, while he forged the One Ring in secret, to rule the Elvish rings. Upon that ring Sauron wrote in Tengwar the much dreaded and forbidden inscription which translates to: One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
While the first two episodes rely a lot on exposition to tell the story of the Middle-earth long before the times of Bilbo and Frodo, they do a good job of establishing the world and the characters: be it the Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs, or Harfoots, the predecessors to the Hobbits. We have already been introduced to the great Elf characters such as Elrond, Gil-galad, Celebrimbor, and Galadriel.
We also come across the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm (the background music for this segment is simply mind-blowing) which is ruled by King Durin III whose son Prince Durin IV happens to be Elrond’s estranged friend. It’s an absolute treat to watch the two former friends engage in unique duel after Elrond invokes the Rite of Sigin-tarâg, a Dwarven test of endurance, in the second episode. Elrond’s meeting with Prince Durin IV’s wife Disa makes for another memorable moment. Not to mention the young Harfoots, Nori and Poppy, and their strange encounter with a giant referred to as The Stranger. And last but definitely not the least, Theo and her mother’s blood curdling encounter with an Orc (remember, in the Second Age, Orcs aren’t yet evolved enough to withstand the daylight).
The production quality here is so high and use of CGI and VFX is so superlative that it makes the visuals of House of the Dragon look somewhat amateurish. The first two episodes have set the ball rolling for what promises to be a truly epic prequel series to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Here, they have evidently brought together the best of Tolkien and Peter Jackson to create new streaming records for the platform. But this marriage is certainly not going to be a smooth ride, for the habitually nitpicking Tolkien enthusiasts as well as the highly demanding LOTR fandom will not settle for anything less than the very best.