A little over a week ago, Amazon Prime debuted their multi-million wild swing of a project, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” a ridiculously expensive television show set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Middle-Earth.
Rather than retelling the story, already canonized on film by Peter Jackson’s popular and award-winning trilogy, of “The Lord of the Rings,” this new show is a prequel, telling us the story of a different group of men, elves and hobbits thousands of years before Bilbo Baggins ever found a ring while wandering in the dark under the Misty Mountains.
It’s a gorgeous endeavor, nearly on par with the film trilogy insofar as visuals and production values go. The story is harder to judge, being only a few hours into a saga meant to last several seasons, but I’m cautiously optimistic so far.
Not everyone is as pleased. Some of the Tolkien diehards are incensed by various changes to the canon — some necessitated by what parts of the Tolkien mythos the show does and does not have legal rights to, others simply the sorts of changes any creative undertaking must make in adapting a work from one medium to another.
Listen, I already accepted I won’t enjoy every adaptation choice back in 2001, when Jackson shuffled the timeline of “Fellowship of the Ring” to cut to the chase in his shot at the saga. The show’s changes are acceptable enough in my book.
There’s another contingent of naysayers with a different complaint that have caught the skeptical attention of a weary internet audience. You see, the showrunners of “The Rings of Power” have, in the usual push for diversity, cast multiple brown and Black actors as various elves, dwarves and hobbits (or Harfoots, as these halflings prefer to be called at this point in history).
Was this ever intended by Tolkien? Hard to say. The same man who never saw a tree he couldn’t spend half a page describing in vivid detail was always a bit skimpy on character details.
Sure, Middle-Earth is essentially fantasy Europe, but if you think actual medieval Europe was lily white, you haven’t heard of things like trade routes, the Silk Road and the like. Yet these reactionaries act as if the new show is an affront to the legacy of Tolkien’s work just by casting a black guy as an elf.
There’s a word for that sort of reaction, and it rhymes with “racist.”
Oh, wait, that is the word.
We’ll never know Tolkien’s reaction to this show. Probably not terribly positive — he was a perfectionist with strict ideas of what’s acceptable in fantasy, to the point he despised “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” of all things. But we can judge the show for ourselves, and we can also judge those who can only accept it on white supremacist terms.
Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe.