By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
With recent news coming out about the Lord of the Rings show that takes place during the events of The Silmarillion, not The Lord of the Rings, there’s been a divide in fans. Some mark the addition of new characters given to black actors as the beginning of the end, others step up to defend such decisions while perhaps worse problems are allowed to slide under the radar. Yet, despite the fact that no one can step back for a minute and just jump on whatever bandwagon of clickbait words used, some legitimate concerns do rise to the surface. Again, while some already note the addition of new characters as a disservice to the lore Tolkien took years to create, other issues have only begun to rear their ugly heads. While yes, the notion that it’s acceptable to shoehorn in a black person into a series about English mythology sounds rather hypocritical when shoehorning white people into Asian stories is viewed as colonialistic, especially since no one wants to even touch the myriad of African and Indeginous fantasy available. But that’s an article for another time. Right now, the main issues deal with not just the divisive language being brought forth by the articles about the series, but also that there hasn’t been much news about the story overall.
In this day and age where you have to pick one side or another, all while being told there’s a spectrum of some kind, words must be chosen carefully. They must be chosen to convey the meaning we are trying to get across, chosen to get the desired effect, chosen to tell a story. That’s just one reason why Tolkien was so fascinated with words. He was also fascinated with the way they changed over the years, the ideas they conveyed, the connections and societies they built. He studied the Olde English whenever he could, he learned the code for flags for the war, and created his own after. There are many influences that led Tolkien to create the epic fantasy many have come to know and care for over the years, but it is always stated that the languages came first, and the world was built around them. This then, must be one of the tests we must put the series to, the languages. Both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies made use of the language Tolkien crafted, and a couple of actors were so impressed with it that they learned how to speak it naturally and used it whenever they could (mainly Viggo Mortensen, but Liv Tyler also enjoyed speaking it). Will they use the languages, will they hold to the grammar rules of each? Did they name the new characters the same way Tolkien named all of his? If they pass this test, then well done. But if they fail, they have already stepped further away from Tolkien’s spirit than any other adaptation before.
The next test is historical accuracy. This might already be showing as a failure due to the inaccuracies that threaten to imbed itself based on the shortening of the timeline. While it is an understandable change due to the fact that it is a series that can only show so much, there are a few stories that could lose their effects if not enough time is given. The fall of Numenor might not be as effective in a short amount of time as in comparison to a lengthier amount of time, and there ought to be a fair amount of time between the crafting of the rings and the rest of the history. Many of the stories in The Silmarillion are considered legends and ancient history by the time The Hobbit rolls around. Add to the fact that the Lady Galadriel is among the very last remnants of that era speaks to her age and wisdom, and the general agelessness of the Elves. This then, must be the next test. Does it work as a history for the six films that came before it? As legends? Will the genealogies line up? We live in a society where everything seems much faster than it used to be in the olden days. Will that show up in the series as well, or will it be allowed to take its time?
It is an almost irrefutable fact that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a means to cope with survivor’s guilt. It might not have been his original intent, but it certainly shows when many of the main characters who go off to war come back home. Call it a fanfiction, if you will, for the men in his unit who went on to perish in the war when he alone was sent home due to an injury. How does one deal with that, knowing that the men you served were never coming home? Men you got to know fairly well and considered among your friends? The death of a loved one always hits hard, but to think, to know, that those men could have had their whole lives before them only to have it snatched away in one of the worst wars in history? It had to have been very hard and this story was the only way he knew how to cope with that. Then, will the new series glorify war to the point that they will say violence is good, or will they show it like how Tolkien saw it, as a destructive tool that takes lives away and creates heartbreak for families and friends? True, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies showed war in a more positive light, but the effects of it still lingered as grief was to be found among those who lived. And for people like the hobbits, who had never seen war, it was devastating. True, they are able to use their newfound abilities in the book to free their people in the Scouring of the Shire, and Frodo’s wounds are accented by the fact that he had been under the influence of the Ring, pure malice itself, but the message is still the same: war is devastating. So, will this new show glorify war, or reinstate that it is a horrible way to work out our differences?
Music has been a big part of the Tolkien-verse, and quite possibly one of the most memorable parts of the movies. The world was created in The Silmarillion with a song, and evil showed itself by going against the song, by sowing discord and breaking harmony. This sets off the events towards The Lord of the Rings. But it shows that music is important, not just to the world of Middle-Earth, but to Tolkien as well. The fact that the music, especially in The Lord of the Rings, is so amazing, so memorable, simply attests to that and further cements that music is as entwined with the story as the languages that actually started the creation process. This, then, is another pretty big test for the series. How well does the music match the scene, the mood, the world? Will they use the songs Tolkien wrote, whether in a song that plays in the background, or as a song sung by the characters? How will music be incorporated into the overall story? How will the characters react to/partake in it?
The biggest and final test is mythos. Technically this could be part of historical accuracy, but ultimately this is about what is told. What stories are they actually telling from The Silmarillion? Why are those stories picked when Tolkien chose to tell all those stories for a reason? It’s like doing a series on The Odyssey or Journey to the West and taking out some parts of it and adding all new parts in when they should have just left it alone as is. True, those books have been around for ages and as such changes will be made as the years go on, but Tolkien’s work is still technically brand new for England and should be treated with a little more care and accuracy before such changes can be made to it. Speaking of, it is because of legends like The Odyssey and Beowulf that he wrote The Lord of the Rings for England. The main reason for the existence of this whole world is for it to be a myth, a legend. Trying to make it fit reality is a laugh and a slippery slope when that was never its purpose. It’s supposed to be an escape from reality, not to be a part of it. It’s why it’s such a classic, and has rightfully earned its place among the greats like The Odyssey, King Arthur, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Ramayana, Journey to the West, and Beowulf.
These tests, then, should be our focus when approaching this show. While looks are good, they are not everything, and the details will show us if the people heading the project actually care about Tolkien’s world, as both an epic fantasy and a mythos for England. If it passes these tests, then we have a show in the style of Tolkien that should be appreciated, enjoyed, and lauded for a job well done. But if not, then we must take it up with the people heading the show and convince them to actually take a look, a real, deep look, into the world of Tolkien and bring that care to the screen. But if they cannot, then the show must be canceled or the reins handed off to someone who actually cares about getting Tolkien right. Unfortunately, the two top men fighting for the accuracy of Middle-earth, Christopher Lee and Christopher Tolkien, have sadly left us. Now, it is up to us to fight for Tolkien’s legacy. We cannot let little things like who is playing which character distract us, we have to focus on the big things. And like Frodo with the Ring, we might never return the same.