The following is a guest review from TORn Discord Ringer Amandawrites:
Sharing your joys with loved ones isn’t always easy. My husband, Eric, is a New York Mets fanatic.
When we started dating, I thought baseball was only marginally more interesting than the proverbial drying paint. But because he watches every game he can, and listens when he can’t watch (and checks game updates on his phone when he can’t listen), I soon found that spending time with him between April and October meant learning to appreciate, if not love, baseball (and particularly the Mets). Twenty-odd years later, I’ve come to appreciate the game and even enjoy it (sometimes). But love? Well, let’s just say I have other priorities.
As baseball is to Eric, Tolkien is to me.
Shortly before we were planning to leave for the theater the evening Return of the King opened, I accidentally drove an electric drill bit into my palm. (Unhandy people like me really ought not attempt carpentry projects, especially minutes before going somewhere important.) Eric sensibly suggested we go to the ER, but it was Return of the frickin’ King—for me, the fantasy equivalent of a Subway World Series—so seeing the film took priority. I bear the ensuing scar as proof of my love of LOTR. Yet Eric views Tolkien as I view baseball—it’s something he has come to appreciate and sometimes even enjoys—but love? He had other priorities.
September 2: Rings of Power or the Mets?
Our separate loves came in conflict on Friday, September 2, when I insisted we watch the premier episode of The Rings of Power while the Mets were playing. My husband, in an expression of love for me, acquiesced with only a little grumbling. He knew I’d been itching to watch the episode for months and granted me the boon foregoing his joy in favor of mine. (There’s a reason we’ve been married for two decades.) Incidentally, my daughter loves LOTR, although she might prioritize the ER over the theater if she had a puncture wound in her hand. So last Friday night, we all sat down together to watch ROP, me with fingers crossed and palms sweating in hopes that the show wouldn’t end up RIP in our family viewing line up.
A family fit: of kin and kindred
It was fitting to watch as a family, since family is the cornerstone of the series. Galadriel’s mission to find the missing Dark Lord Sauron is driven by her love for her elder brother Finrod, whom Sauron killed. Nearly everyone else we meet — harfoot, human, dwarf, or elf — has a family to protect and care for, or aspires to forming those bonds. I love that the series has begun on this footing, centering motivations on kin and kindred rather than the standard-issue Great Evil That Will End All Things.
The lesser evil of playground bullies
The show also rapidly establishes the little evils that get in the way of defeating the big ones—a regular theme throughout all of Tolkien’s work. This was one of my favorite things about the first two episodes. In the opening voiceover narration, Galadriel tells us “nothing was evil in the beginning,” but she’s lying to us and herself. Right away, before we see any evidence of a Great Evil, we see the ignorance and casual cruelty of Galadriel’s own people. This lesser evil of playground bullies foreshadows the conflicts and motivations that will drive Galadriel for the rest of her life (and the series).
Underestimated, undervalued, and undermined
Before she can confront Sauron, she must contend with peers who doubt and foil her, friends who betray her, and a king who pushes her out of the way. She may be Commander of the Northern Armies, but she is still underestimated, undervalued, and undermined. It’s easy to read this as a feminist take on Tolkien, where a brilliant woman is hindered by the petty jealousies and hubris of a bunch of men who think they know better and want her to sit down and shut up (and think getting her to stand down is for her own good). But whether you love or hate the feminist angle, it’s entirely consistent with all of Tolkien’s work.
Family roadblocks and bad@$$ sisters
From the Sackville-Bagginses to Denethor to Fëanor, who started the whole mess that led Galadriel’s people out of Valinor in the first place, Tolkien always dwells on the roadblocks put up by the hero’s friends and family as much or more than the threat posed by the Great Evil Enemy. And Galadriel certainly isn’t the only heroine in his work to succeed where men fail. From Melian to Lúthien, Haleth to Eowyn, there’s a long list of badass sisters doing it for themselves in Tolkien’s work.
Another favorite thing is the dialogue, which I thought brilliantly crafted (despite a few awkward expository moments). Every word carried its narrative weight, especially when Galadriel was speaking. There were plenty of Easter eggs for Tolkien nuts, but not so much Deep Lore that the more casual viewers in my house were lost.
There were questions, of course, like why hobbits are called harfoots, and why there is no mention of the family Galadriel is leaving behind when she’s shipped off by the king. The first question was easily answered with a look at my trusty Complete Guide to Middle-earth, but the second has me wondering if showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay have dispensed with Celeborn or delayed Galadriel’s relationship with him. I hope he’s somewhere in the wings, and Payne and McKay are sticking to the established genealogy. It would tick me off if Elrond doesn’t marry Galadriel’s daughter, Celebrían, the mother of Arwen in the books
I’m also not entirely thrilled with the implication that Finrod died in battle rather than in Sauron’s prison (while helping Beren with his quest for the Silmarils), but I understand that film requires some narrative streamlining, and what’s important is the end result: Sauron killed Galadriel’s brother, and that’s what drives her now. In fact, I love that the series is founded on this classic narrative trope. It’s not just about saving the world for Galadriel, it’s personal. Very personal.
We’re in for the season!
Time constraints and other obligations had us watching only the first episode Friday and the second on Sunday night. All in all, the show got a big thumbs up from the family and will be on the viewing roster for the next 7 weeks. And if I somehow injure myself minutes before we plan to watch? Don’t worry — I have my priorities straight.