Tired of The Rings – The Fellowship of Influencers
I didn’t think I’d come back to this topic so soon, but since I posted my last piece, things have happened. And not good things, either. I’ve tried my best to lay out my ramblings in as coherent a way as I possibly can and apologise for length and disorganisation in advance. It is not possible for me to edit something as long as this around the more pressing aspects of my life and it may come off as a bit rough around the edges. My apologies again.
I have continued with the spiral that has so powerfully sucked me into video after video of YouTubers damning Amazon for their efforts with Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth, and more and more am I experience abject disappointment with everything I hear. This may sound like an exaggeration but unfortunately it is not.
The Lord of The Rings Difference
I have spent the last few years gradually starting to dislike all that I used to enjoy, purely for the reason that it had been exploited, beaten and churned out for all its worth, or as Bilbo himself would describe it, like butter spread over too much bread. Thin. But Lord of the Rings remained as it had been ever since I started to love it. There had been a trilogy of films (often called the greatest trilogy of all time and certainly my favourite but not without its flaws) with a few questionable video games along the way that did little harm. Warner Bros. tried to take the stories of Tolkien in their own direction, but at the end of the day it was just some silly changes that no-one took canonically. Everyone who played it knew what it was. Just a game. They made Shelob into a sexy female humanoid for Christ’s sake.
I have been aware of the discussions that surround diversity in TV, film, comics, etc. for quite some time and have in the past decided to not share my opinion in a way that I am now. Some people would ask why, and my answer to that is quite simple: because it’s The Lord of The Rings. Let me explain this.
I like The Lord of The Rings more than most other things like that I enjoy, whether it be Star Wars, Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda, etc. and therefore have a much stronger affinity towards it and desire to protect it for what it is. I am sure that creates some bias, but it is what it is. And there is a reason for that when you compare these highly successful franchises with LOTR. I’ve heard from many people of how their beloved franchises have been so abused by corporate greed and political agenda that they have grown to hate what they once loved. It happened with Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Terminator, Harry Potter to name a few and LOTR is (was?) a rarity in that it did not seem to be going the way of these other franchises that were owned and regulated by great powers in the entertainment industry.
All that one would find is posthumously published works edited by the late great (and staunch defender of his father’s work) Christopher Tolkien, which kept Middle-earth in its purest form. Yes, there would be special editions of LOTR and other texts released every so often, but they were purely collectibles and did not change the text or the story in any way. You didn’t have to buy them to enjoy it for what it is. On that note, something that really disappoints the fans is that it feels like Amazon were just waiting for Christopher to pop his clogs before they burst through the door and prised his father’s words from his dead hands.
No-one really talked about LOTR and it very much kept its head down and stayed well away from the same abuse these other franchises have suffered. You could say it is the hobbit of the entertainment world. Sure it is massively popular and famous; there are so few people who don’t know it, but when they think of it they will focus primarily on the books themselves or Peter Jackson’s highly lauded movie trilogy. There are small groups of people who have issue with it that have expressed their opinions on issues of racism and the like, but to me this is very much a non-argument. Was Tolkien a racist? How the hell are we really able to answer that question? And if somehow someone was able to find concrete evidence that he was, surely the popularity would just naturally drop and we’d be done with it. I should point out there there is no evidence that he was a racist and only the opposite is true.
The Shadow Can Only Mock, It Cannot Make
There are a multitude of concerns with Amazon’s purchase of LOTR that have been very well expressed on various online fora, whether YouTube, Twitter, and I am sure on many Middle-earth online boards of which I am not a member.
Amazon seems primed to make LOTR everything that it is not and put it on a path like other well-loved franchises, most documented of all, Star Wars. The big difference this time round is, the fans are being a lot more vocal about it. As much as Amazon tries to hide the fans’ dislike of what they’re doing, there are enough YouTubers out there who are exposing this dislike and increase discord on this topic.
I can’t say that I necessarily agree with some of the language and phrasing that some of the YouTubers adopt, but the message is very clear and I don’t find myself disagreeing with them in many cases. What it really boils down to is: the fans feel that Amazon is disrespecting Tolkien, his work and the fans that have loved it and invested in it for decades.
If you take a well-loved franchise such as LOTR and inject with modern-day politics and separate yourself from the source materials while damning the fans that know so much more about than your average viewer, you risk alienating the very people that made it popular in the first place and creating a well-deserved backlash. It cannot be avoided and the reaction to it is so important. To me, if Amazon were upfront about it and clearly explained that they were creating something apart from the original text that would likely not fit with everyone’s expectations of the show, I would have a modicum of respect for them. What they have done, however, is make it out to be LOTR, when realistically it is only an over-budgeted fan fiction with an ostensible connection to the source material.
And how could it not be anything else? Although they have the rights to LOTR (which includes its appendices) and The Hobbit, they can only ‘create the story that Tolkien never wrote’ and go gung-ho with three pages of text that outlines the general timeline of the Second Age that they intend to stretch across five seasons. The general events of that age are known, in as much as we know that Sauron deceived the Numenoreons in taking on the Valar and thus ultimately being destroyed due to what effectively is a rebellion against the gods. It’s a good plot, but there’s so little source material to work with that nearly everything that Amazon creates will be fan fiction.
I can’t believe I didn’t see this massive red flag poking out of Tolkien’s grave in the first place. In an interview with Tom Shippey back in 2019 (which you can read here), he stated that although Amazon have the rights to LOTR and The Hobbit, they are restricted with setting their story within the Second Age only, which Shippey quite rightly pointed out ‘creates a lot of problems’. Great start. The revelation of this information is purported to be the reason as to his very worrying departure from the project a few years back, as he broke some NDA. Well done, Tom! This does admittedly put Amazon in a very tricky situation, but one then has to ask…
What’s The Point?
So far we’ve established that:
- Amazon has the rights to LOTR but can only write about the Second Age.
- They’ve changed beloved characters.
- They’ve introduced new characters (not a bad thing but unwelcome).
- They’ve gone directly against Tolkien’s writing.
Why Amazon would spend so much money on something but not be able to make anything close to Tolkien’s main work is beyond baffling. The more I think about, the less and less I understand, but I do now have a better understanding of why Amazon’s driving question was ‘Can we come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote…?’ which I previously criticised them for. Well, they have little other choice as that’s the task that they’ve been handed.
Is this a trap? Have the Tolkien estate purposefully set Amazon up to fail? I highly doubt that, but a tiny, tiny part of me would enjoy the schadenfreude if the show is a failure. I cannot get the idea out of my mind that Amazon have just seen an opportunity to make loads of money by essentially abusing Tolkien’s works, which relates to another concern I have that I will discuss later on.
It’s funny. When War of the Rohirrim was announced by Warner Brothers last year, I was genuinely worried but still hopeful at the prospect of Amazon creating a series that would beat all others and truly create something in Tolkien’s image. Oh, how those tables have turned. Merely a few days after Amazon released that very poor teaser trailer that garnered so much derision from fans, WB release some concept art of their animated film that totally changed my mind on how this film might be. I’m still sceptical (for good reason) but whatever confidence I had in the future of The Lord of The Rings has defected and made camp in WB’s studios. At this point I am merely choosing between two evils; I’ve said it before, but I would rather neither of them touched it and left it alone but I realise that is an impossibility and a rather selfish opinion of my own. Tthe handling of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy only leads me to believe that the magic of his LOTR trilogy is just not achievable in the current climate.
The Fellowship of Influencers
My hopes for Amazon’s show certainly waned upon the release of the teaser trailer, but nothing prepared me for that absolute pile of oliphaunt dung that followed in the form of the absolute cringe-fest that is their so-called ‘superfan’ reaction video. In this video, we meet a delectable array of people who refer to themselves as ‘The Fellowship of Influencers’. Instant red flag. What follows is 12 minutes of these so-called ‘superfans’ dribbling about diversity, inclusion, etc. that Amazon now so obviously isn’t even trying to hide, with barely a reference to the story of The Lord of the Rings at all. The video was very (very) quickly unlisted as the fans performed a unified pile-on, expressing their dismay at what they were subjected to. It would be unfair to criticise each panellist individually and I am really hold my tongue (or fingers) here, particularly when it’s so obvious that they were just doing the job that they were paid for.
Although it was obvious from the start, it later turned out that this ‘reaction’ video to the Rings of Power trailer was all orchestrated. None of the reactions to the trailer appeared at all genuine, and the YouTube detectives dived very deep into the background of each of the panellists to find that none of them had ever made any reference to Tolkien on any of their platforms, and judging by the discussions in this round table, they knew very little about LOTR at all. This was later compounded with the revelation that the exact same formula was used in other countries and apparently they even edited out one of the panellists in the UK version for currently unknown reasons. It’s thought that it was because he said some negative things about the trailer, but that’s all conjecture.
Should you subject yourself to this video, you can find it here. (Make sure to leave a dislike.)
Representation in Middle-earth
I am all for the notion that ‘Tolkien is for everyone’, that Lindsey Weber (executive producer of this train wreck) so rightfully stated in the recent Vanity Fair interview, but hers and my understanding of this seem to be quite different. I agree. The Lord of The Rings is for everyone; 70 years of history, the most translations and highest sales of any book in history quite clearly show this. Why is it now a problem that there aren’t any black characters in it? Why is it now an issue that in Peter Jackson’s movies, the only main three female characters don’t talk to each other, despite being thousands of miles apart? Why should it matter that a story set in a mythological ancient Europe with very few references to romantic love at all that was written by a devout Catholic, doesn’t have LGBTQ representation? None of it matters. The only thing that matters is, if you’re going to take a piece of work which is loved by millions of people, that thing that those people love should be respected and the fans that have spent so much of their time invested into it should be so as well. (I’m less concerned about the latter, but it does bare some importance.)
It is saddening that so many people who share this view are seen as racists, misogynists, homophobic and the like, but I cannot stress enough how that just isn’t the case. I can only truly talk about myself on this as it would be impossible for me to explain this on other people’s behalves, but my thinking is thus. One does not need to be represented in a TV show or movie to enjoy it and sympathise or see themselves in a character. If people feel that they can only enjoy something if they see a like-for-like representation of themselves in a show then that shows a distinct lack of respect, understanding and appreciation for that which is different, which I feel ironically is what many social activists purport to support. This all ties in with the myth that there are no strong female characters in entertainment, which I will not discuss in detail here.
Stripping down a character to purely their skin colour and sex is a very odd way of identifying with them. I share very, very little with any character in LOTR (or actually any character in any book or film) and am yet somehow still able to enjoy it. The female characters in LOTR are very well-loved and recognised by fans of the books. The fact that they may not be in the thick of a lot of the ‘action’ of LOTR is inconsequential.
There are plenty of books, films, comics, video games etc. that have female characters at the forefront and that’s great. (And yes, there could be more!) Representation does not have to be shoe horned into everything otherwise it becomes the opposite of what it is. It becomes meaningless. It can be argued that Tolkien could have elaborated more on the female characters in his book, and I would agree with that. He could have, but he didn’t and it doesn’t affect the story in any way. It is still an enjoyable high fantasy novel that fulfilled Tolkien’s aim to create a ‘really stupendously long narrative and to see whether [he] had sufficient art cunning or material to make a really long narrative which would hold the average reader right through’. Well, you certainly achieved that.
I have read a number of articles, watched YouTubers discuss this topic to death and kept a keen eye on many of the comments on said videos. It is of course natural that most people who watch those videos already agree with what is being said and therefore the comments are favourable to their point of view, but a lot of what is said makes absolute sense. Many people of the ‘under represented’ ethnicities (black, Asia, Hispanic, etc.) love The Lord of the Rings for exactly what it is: a story set in a mythological ancient Europe that is different to their own world and one that is inhabited by white people who would have lived in those areas at the time if you compare it to the real world. There is a real sense of verisimilitude that can be felt in Middle-earth that people love and for which LOTR has received high praise for. Amazon has chosen to completely disregard this.
It’s important here to distinguish between LOTR and Middle-earth, as they are two different things that often get bundled together. LOTR, i.e. the story of a very small part of the history of Middle-earth, focusses on the actions of a very small number of characters in Tolkien’s legendarium in their fight against Sauron. There are so many things happening before, during and after that are mentioned but not emphasised or expanded on. Amazon could have included other ethnicities in the show by exploring stories in some of the parts of Middle-earth that Tolkien did not truly elaborate on. The Haradrim, for example, could have been primarily made up of black actors. For sure, they are the enemy in LOTR story who fight with Sauron, but that is not to say that they did not have their reasons, which could have been explored in this show. This would have been a great way to add something new to the story without having to change anything or take anything away. I understand that many people would quickly shoot down the prospect of having what effectively would become a ‘white vs black’ story, but it’s just that, a story. It isn’t real and it could be told in such a way that avoids the topic of racism and focus more on the human nature of war, which is an unfortunate reality in life as well.
Instead of doing something creative and believable, they took the lazy route and threw in coloured actors randomly which totally destroys the immersion and any believability in this fictional world. The argument that it’s ‘only fantasy’ is irrelevant, especially when the argument for including coloured actors seemingly randomly is to ‘reflect what the (our) world actually looks like.’ Put simply, it does not achieve this goal.
I’ll admit that this is probably a very complicated matter that I can add very little to the discussion and it would likely take a wealth of research to truly understand the crux of these issues, but I wanted to share my opinion. It is not only in LOTR that this is seen and I think a bit my frustration comes from the apparent double standard in the discussion that, although it is perfectly acceptable to race swop characters from white (generally male) to anything else, the reverse is unacceptable in the common discourse. This is another whole discussion in itself.
It’s Not All About Race
While I have dedicated a sizeable portion of this article on the topic of race, it is genuinely a very small concern of my own but one that is often discussed and I felt needed highlighting and provided with as best an explanation as I can give from my perspective.
If you haven’t realised by now, I am a bit concerned about Amazon’s acquisition of LOTR. As I grow older and as things change around me, my opinion of commercialism and consumerism has changed significantly along with my appreciation of things for what they are, even if they are potentially controversial. I have seen large corporations’ attempts at taking something popular and squeezing as much out of it in pursuit of profit and I just wish they would stop. Things in life are much more precious than their commercial value and become meaningless when overused, saturating the very culture they’re purportedly acting for.
The biggest issue I see with treating franchises in this way is that if you do so, it always has to bigger, flashier, and in many cases this can lessen the impact and importance of certain key events or characters in the original work. Without wanting to go off the topic of LOTR, this is rampant in Star Wars. All of the key characters (with the exception of Princess Leia – no surprise there) are changed so totally that they barely resemble the heroes that they once were, and the new characters such as Rey, shit all over them without any consorted effort whatsoever.
Another more recent example of this is the treatment of Boba Fett. I haven’t watched the show, but my understanding is that they have taken a character that was a bounty hunter that appeared in all of but a few minutes of footage across the original trilogy, had created a following that surrounded his mysticism, creating endless theories, fan fictions, etc. that creates much enjoyment for the fans, and made a very lacklustre origin story whereby he barely even wants to be a bounty hunter, much to the chagrin of not only the fans, but the actor himself. This is what happens when someone else takes liberty with another’s creation. I want to focus on LOTR for now so I will leave that there, but it isn’t difficult to see what Kathleen Kennedy was doing with the films’ characters based on their sex, which we see hints of in ROP.
We see that hobbits will make an appearance because the producers couldn’t see anything Middle-earth without them. This thinking is, of course, flawed, but let’s see what implication this has on the story of LOTR. The hobbits make no notable impact on Middle-earth until the Third Age. Some will say that there weren’t even any hobbits in the Second Age and therefore shouldn’t be in this show at all. I don’t necessarily agree with this, as it states in the book itself that the Harfoots (a division of the hobbit that appears in the ROP) dealt mainly with the dwarves ‘in ancient times’. It is unclear exactly when this is, but it could be interpreted basically at any point in Middle-earth’s history. This isn’t my main issue, which is what they may do with them.
The hobbits are very special to The Hobbit and LOTR in that until that moment they hadn’t really done all that much and were finally known properly in Middle-earth. In essence, LOTR is their story, not men or elves. If Amazon decides to make hobbits big players in the happenings in the Second Age, this subverts their impact in Third Age. And if Gandalf makes an appearance in this show as is rumoured and works with the hobbits in this show, it creates a horrible origin story for Gandalf which is not only wrong, but offensive. I loathe origin stories; I can’t say I’ve seen a single one that I enjoy. Whether it’s Gandalf or a new character created as a stand-in, it will still subvert the character and only highlight their disrespect for the source material.
On origin stories, we can now look at Galadriel and Elrond. It would be difficult to not create an origin story for these characters as they are canonically present in Middle-earth in the Second Age. This creates a bit of a conundrum for me. I like both characters but am not interested in seeing their past. While Tolkien was very particular about timelines and did create a backstory for many of his characters, he did not elaborate on them at all and understood the power of mystery, which ROP will likely ruin. In LOTR, elves are mysterious beings that exist in a changing world in which they feel they no longer belong. Galadriel is a very powerful and magical elf, which ROP seems to want to subvert and change into a hot-headed action heroine, fitting in with the modern forced portrayal of female characters that have to kick butt to be relevant. I have nothing against action heroines, but this just isn’t what Galadriel is. And the notion of her being full of ‘piss and vinegar’ as she was described as in a more recent Vanity Fair article is disheartening. They really do want to go with the teenage angst which is not fitting with her character at all. If there is a single scene in which she is derided for being a woman with some cheesy rebuttal, I will instantly switch off (assuming I even watch the show). At no point is Galadriel anything but revered or even feared in LOTR and other writings.
Next we have two new characters: a human single mother by the name of Bronwyn, and Arondir, a Silven elf. The issue I have with these two characters is that they follow the storyline of a forbidden love between an elf and a human. This story exists three times in Tolkien’s works and is explicitly stated that they are the only ones. You could argue that is specifically refers to a particular type of elf that Arondir is not, but however you look at it, it cheapens the canonical relationships and is just an unoriginal storyline in the world of LOTR.
I Wish None of This Had Ever Happened
I am saddened that I felt the need to write 9 pages on this topic, but hey, at least it’s given me something to write about. I would much rather be writing something positive about this show, but at this moment there is literally nothing I am looking forward to, along with many other people. If that’s the case, surely it’s accurate to say that Amazon are going the wrong way about this. It’s a rinse and repeat of the treatment to other franchises that makes me lose all confidence in this show and I hate being so negative.
I’ll admit that so far we have only been given the character reveals and 1-minute of poorly edited rubbish, but all the red flags surrounding this show are enough for me to confidently say that I will not enjoy this show and I just wish they hadn’t bothered. Of course it would be inaccurate for me to say that my opinion cannot change, but I feel the likelihood of that happening is extremely low.
To finish it all off and add that cherry to the top of the cake, the show will debut on September 2 2022, which coincides with the 49th anniversary of Tolkien’s death. Excuse the language, but what the actual fuck. September 2nd will not only mark the anniversary of his death, but potentially the death of his work as well.
Something Positive To End On
I don’t like to end too much on a downer and reading through this again I am conscious of the fact that I must sound very negative and I don’t want people to think that I hate all media. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few things that I have enjoyed recently that I’d highly recommend! There are still good things out there, you just have to do a bit of digging!
Giri / Haji
To anyone who actually made it to the end, I thank you. I’d be interested to hear any opinions on this topic and would gladly discuss anything with anyone!