I’ve been struggling to identify what it is that makes Amazon’s “Rings of Power” so uniquely and spectacularly awful. I’m sure there has already been a good deal of commentary on the “wokeness” of the production, but I was ready for that, and was prepared to look past it. No, what lifts “Rings” to the heights of thundering mediocrity is something else entirely.
It’s challenging to find examples that adequately illustrate this “something else”. Yes, there is dialogue that lands like cold slop in every episode (“Why do you keep fighting?” “Because I cannot stop!”), yes the Harfeet are more noxious than the orcs (I found myself begging, at the beginning of each episode, that I might be spared their appearance. Just this once…), but none of this captures the – truly epic, in this case – failure of this enterprise.
And then I realized why: Because what is most wrong with this show is not anything that is in it. It is what’s missing.
Every once in a while, in “Rings”, a character will utter a phrase that sounds as if Tolkien himself might have written it. The experience is so jarring that it makes suddenly real the fact that, for the most part, the writing sounds nothing at all like Tolkien. It is like listening to a tinny replication of a grand orchestral production, hammered out on a mechanical toy.
“Rings” is a spectacle that includes all of the outward manifestations of Tolkien’s work: Elves, dwarves, Hobbits, wizards, and lots of battles and fighting. But nothing at all of what made that work so special and so compelling.
A necessary feature of great literature is that it comes from the hearts and souls of individuals. Each individual writer has his or her own perspective on the world, his or her own point of view. Great literature, almost by definition, is not “inclusive.” Indeed, it is just the opposite – it is the expression of the vision of a single individual, of what he or she sees with their unique heart and soul. The folks who put together “Rings of Power” have absolutely no appreciation of this simple fact.
What is so marvelous about Tolkien’s writing is this: He starts with something as brutal and soulless as war, and, working his own unique magic, he weaves a story about this darkest of subjects that touches our hearts – we resonate with parts of this story, and that is how we know there is truth in them.
He also shows us a new way of perceiving the subject – this abomination we call war. He shows us that brute force is not the only power in the world, and he gives us examples of ways that ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) humans can defeat the power of brute force. His message is the antithesis of what is spewed out by the vast majority of action movies – and was completely missed by the producers of “Rings of Power.”
Charles Eisenstein – a self-confessed “Tolkien nerd” – touches on this:
“While war drives much of the drama in the Tolkien books and especially the film adaptations, it is not always force of arms that decides their great events. Sauron’s armies, for example, are an instrument and expression of his will; when the one ring is destroyed and Sauron perishes, his armies panic and flee, unable to fight. Their crushing advantage in numbers turns to dust.”
“Tolkien portrays [Galadriel] as extremely powerful, marveled at, feared and revered. It is she who maintains the ancient magical realm of Lothlorien, she who leveled Sauron’s second fortress of Dol Goldur. Yet there is no hint that she possesses any martial skill. Neither her power nor her status have anything to do with her ability to wield a sword. That is not how she defends her realm.”
We, peaceful, ordinary, people, are more powerful than we know. That is Tolkien’s message, and it is one we would do well to remember.
THE FAILED COLONIZATION OF TOLKIEN’S WORLD:
The creators of “Rings of Power” set out to colonize Tolkien’s world. This project was generated, not by an appreciation for Tolkien’s genius, for work that came directly from his heart and soul, but by a political and social agenda. And that is why it has failed.
Those who want to “even everything out”, who want to increase “representation” for women and minorities in literature, film and television, are not acting in service to great literature, or great art of any kind, but to its antithesis. Their characters are hollow “types”, not unique individuals. And while Tolkien created elaborate and believable cultures and ethnicities, his stories were emphatically about individuals.
It’s as if “Rings” was written by AI, or at the very least by people who wholeheartedly embrace the mechanistic view of humanity. It has all of the external trappings of the world that Tolkien created, but without any of the essence that animates it.
Whoever wrote this, they seem to have no grasp of what it is they have missed. These are people who do not appreciate the difference between Tolkien and J.J. Abrams, who really seem to think that Tolkien was writing about elves and dwarves and great battles and magical powers, when in fact he was writing about the eternal battle between light and dark, good and evil, organic life vs. the forces of death and violence.
…AND OF OUR OWN:
One might easily draw a parallel between Amazon’s production of “Rings of Power” and the world we are living in, including the forces that are working very hard to colonize us, and our cultures.
This parallel is a very helpful one. Because the spectacular failure of this TV show tells us something important. It gives us a hint as to where our world is headed. Just as a representation of Tolkien’s work that leaves out the soul is doomed to failure, so is a worldview that fails to take into account the human soul.
An ideology that insists that what is important about people, what is at the heart of their “identity”, is their racial makeup, the color of their skin, their gender, or “gender identity” – the ideology that insists these are the things that make us who we are makes for bad television.
This is not because it replaces characters with “underrepresented” ethnic minorities, or turns male characters into female ones. It is because none of this was generated from a place in anyone’s soul. All of it is the product of political aims rather than artistic ones, and that is its ruin. Propaganda cannot replace what comes from the soul.
The human soul is the one thing Tolkien concerned himself with above all else. It was the subject and the source of his writing. It was precisely what made his writing resonate with us. It is what gave his work its power. A belief system that says we are nothing but our chemical and biological makeup is no more sustainable than is a TV series filled with beautiful costumes and set decoration, but with hollow words and cookie-cutter types for characters. That worldview is doomed.
This colonization will not succeed – how can it, when it has nothing of the power of the original? Ultimately, Tolkien’s work will be remembered and cherished for generations to come, while hollow attempts to reshape his world to fit someone else’s agenda will quickly fall by the wayside and be forgotten.
I understand feeling offended or outraged by what Amazon’s “Rings of Power” has attempted to do, by the crass “colonization” of Tolkien’s world. But there is no need to be. Because “Rings” has no power. Not of the kind that Tolkien’s books had. Not of the kind that moves hearts and minds. And neither, ultimately, does the ideology that birthed it.
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