The first-ever reveal of Amazon’s TV series The Lord of the Rings – The Rings of Power via Vanity Fair last week ignited anew the flame of passion for discussing Tolkien’s works, now being adapted for a new medium and in a new format; more so because the showrunners have set out to “come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote“.
For the Second Age of Middle-earth covers a vast period of time spanning over a thousand years, yet Tolkien himself, one might say, for all his numerous writings, both published and unpublished, almost neglected this period of Arda’s history in comparison to the detailed stories he wrote concerning the events and characters from the First and Third Ages of Arda, and indeed even those ages that preceded the First Age, reaching far back in time to the very creation of the World before Time itself began.
Bold yet befitting of this sprawling legendarium is the title of the show, concerning which showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay say, “This a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics.“
Amazon’s ambition to embark upon crafting such an original story – one that compliments Tolkien’s writings, stays true to the essence of his works, and will be judged critically by millions of hardcore fans, scholars, artists, and the industry itself – must certainly be applauded.
Behind the corporate logo that we are all familiar with are a group of passionate artists – showrunners, writers, production crew, and of course, the cast – many themselves Tolkien fans, who have been working for the past few years, and will continue to do so for the better part of this decade, to bring to life beloved characters and stories that so far have existed only in word.
The weight of responsibility to both honour Tolkien and please his legions of fans must be tremendous… and the initial wave of reactions to Vanity Fair’s first reveal is telling of the enormity of this responsibility.
We finally saw many of the leading cast as the characters they were chosen to portray. While most of the cast, such as Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel, Owain Arthur’s Prince Durin IV, and Robert Aramayo’s Elrond were generally enthusiastically well-received, the reactions to the rest of the diverse cast was rather dismaying, shocking even, and even those might be understatements.
We got to see Sofia Nomvete as the Dwarven Princess Disa standing in her regal garb at the entrance of Khazad-dûm (possessing, in my personal opinion, a rather awe-inspiring bearing), but rather than geek out over the fact we will get to see this fabled Dwarven realm when it was still full of light, food, and music, what many chose to focus on was the colour of her skin.
Ismael Cruz Córdova’s Arondir was likewise ill-received for his ethnicity, skin colour, and hair; rather than through an open-mind for his portrayal of a Silvan Elf, a group of Elves who Tolkien describes in the chapter “Flies and Spiders” in The Hobbit as “not wicked folk. If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers. Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary. They differed from the High Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise. For most of them (together with their scattered relations in the hills and mountains) were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to Faerie in the West.”
The character Bronwyn played by Nazanin Boniadi (shown below) and the Harfoot-elder, a Hobbit, played by Sir Lenny Henry (whom we haven’t fully seen yet) have similarly received criticism for no other reason than simply being people of colour.
Having been part of the Tolkien community and TheOneRing.net for more than 20 years, helping moderate discussion forums and social media platforms, I have witnessed the attacks of racists, bigots, and trolls on TORn’s many social platforms, and being a person of colour and finding myself at the receiving end occasionally, I have grown accustomed to ignore, and accept, and move on.
Yet the avalanche of unveiled, blatant, shameless racism that hit our social platforms like a massive wave last week shook me.
According to the Vanity Fair article, Tolkien scholar Mariana Rios Maldonado says, “Obviously there was going to be push and backlash, but the question is from whom? Who are these people that feel so threatened or disgusted by the idea that an elf is Black or Latino or Asian?”
I wondered about this myself… who really are these self-appointed gatekeepers of Tolkien’s works, and what conceit leads them to believe they possess this automatic authority?
For Tolkien’s writings have been translated in numerous languages and read by people of vastly different cultures and backgrounds; and surely their imaginations of the characters and stories are informed and influenced by their background, upbringing, culture, and surroundings?
Here at TORn, I can attest with complete honesty, and without bias, that we have supported a diverse membership for over 20 years. Across our platforms – from the old IRC Chatrooms and our enduring Discussion Forums, to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and most recently on Discord, our volunteer staff have striven to consistently maintain respectful spaces where people of all backgrounds and affiliations can gather together to share our love of Tolkien.
It must also be said that we have never refrained from objectively debating the adaptations of Tolkien’s works, and despite having great relationships with many of the people who worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, we have never shied away from being critical in our reviews of these films.
Debate, discussion, and interpretation has always been welcomed at TORn – it is what has kept us going for two decades – but racism, bigotry, and intolerance simply have NO place in our discourse.
So to all those Tolkien fans out there who may be feeling sidelined, belittled, marginalized, or discriminated against for various reasons (not just your race), please know that TORn is your haven. Our staffers are committed to working round the clock, covering most time zones, on all our platforms, to ensure you can feel not just safe but also empowered to join us and others on this new journey back to Arda.
And to the folks at Amazon – we will of course be objectively critical of the show – but we fully support your casting choices, and we can’t wait to see how this ensemble cast you’ve assembled will bring our beloved characters (and then some!) to life.
Bring on Disa, Arondir, Bronwyn, and the Harfoots (or is it Harfeet?)