In my post on the title announcement to the new Middle-earth Prime series, The Rings of Power, I admitted to having a split mind and cautious hopefulness about the film serial. I wrote that:
“my confidence is not high that this studio, in this age, is able to create a rich experience for lovers of the literature. The Dune adaptation gives me hope of the possibility of a brilliant, world-evoking film series that extends, enhances, and fills out my reading experience.”
Superbowl night was fun this year not only because it was my first time out after a long period of COVID restriction measures–and not just because it was a good game–but because we got a one-minute trailer on The Rings of Power.
After an initial foray into the Interweb to see what folks were thinking about this new LOTR trailer, I stared at the screen in horror and then slowly backed away from my computer. Social media was lit on fire by people saying the vilest and most disturbing things to one another.
There are a lot of bridges in online Tolkien fandom, and under these bridges lurk a whole host of trolls.
No doubt, some of these trolls have been bred and marked by some tyranny or other, like the Uruk-hai of Peter Jackson’s invention.
And among even the most friendly Tolkienists are those with a kind of terrifying rigour that is intellectually admirable, but is not how I want to talk about Tolkien’s worlds.
What disturbed me most, however, was the entrenched smallmindedness driven by bigotries of two unequal kinds.
With the introduction of some Black and Brown actors, there is a digital groundswell of indignation. I have no doubt that the studio has encouraged an early response in how they have communicated–like the introduction of Finn to the Star Wars film universe. And I have no doubt that there is just a good deal of ignorance, White presumption, and full-on racism in these responses. During my research for my Master’s thesis on antisemitism, I saw how social media forums about music and horticulture and faith were used to groom young people into all sorts of evil conceptions of people not quite like “them.”
However, I was also disturbed by another response: people who I feel are closer to my tribe, but who reduce any question to the yes/no of racism–as if some of us walk in the world with a kind of pristine cultural view and a heart untainted by the prejudices of era and experience, while all others live their lives looking for pretenses to cloak their hate. Intellectual supremacy has not caused the damage that White supremacy has done, but it betrays the same impetus for a monochromatic worldview rather than one that is enriched by diversity. And, of course, there is still time.
So, in hesitatingly peeking back in on the digital Tolkienverse yesterday, I watched Corey Olsen‘s IGN interview and reaction to the trailer of The Rings of Power. Playing his role as @TolkienProf (more than, say, just President of Signum University), I like Corey’s approach to the analysis. He seems even more buoyant and hopeful than I am, and thus it buoys my hope.
I still don’t have much faith that this team of filmmakers can give us a precise rendering of Tolkien’s rich and complex world, which I love.
And I have been a little fearful about things that might get in the way in the making of this Middle-earth tale–things like Americanization, commercialization, political decisions about casting or location, big-budget choices on the wrong things but thrift in the details, today’s culture of reaction and rage…. Think of the Star Wars film Attack of the Clones or what happened to the Hobbit films, but in the 2020s.
But if a series can fill out my experience of Middle-earth even a little bit–like the original Peter Jackson LOTR films or the audiobook, visual art, and symphony interpretations of Tolkien’s writing have done, and like Tolkien’s letters or variant drafts of the stories often do–I am pleased for more. I am open to adaptation and know that it is something different than the book or poem it is adapting. So that filling-out experience is my best hope for The Rings of Power.
So, still cautious, but I am a little more hopeful with this trailer and Corey’s analysis.
But then there are the Youtube comments and responses on the @TolkienProf twitter feed. As a university teacher, and as someone who loves living in the land of popular culture, what I find more disturbing than the potential Disneyfication or Hollywoodization or CGIification of Middle-earth is the degree of anger and rudeness in the responses to Corey’s video. That the top comment is an unattributed Tolkien scribble with no comment is an indication of the cultural moment, I’m afraid.
The “beardless dwarves” comment is worth talking about, I think. I would love to read all of the History of Middle-earth volume, The War of the Jewels–or, at least, that section–and have the conversation–deeply, thoughtfully, with texts and minds open to the possibilities. I am up for conversations like that. Meanwhile, this is pretty good–and catches the hopeful possibilities I can see in the new film.
Update: When I said, “I’d like a smart conversation,” it turns out that Profs Corey Olsen and Maggie Parke are going to host just such a thing: