Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Rings of Power, Season One

Galadriel and Celebrimbor

One of the three sorceresses in white cloaks. Reminded me of the devil in The Passion of the Christ.


True creation requires sacrifice. — Celebrimbor in The Rings of Power (Season One)

From the Shadow you came. To the Shadow I bid you return!The Stranger in The Rings of Power (Season One)

We are but ripples in a long, long stream. Our paths set by the passing seasons. Nobody goes off trail and nobody walks alone. We have each other. We're safe. That is how we survive. Marigold Brandyfoot in The Rings of Power (Season One)

[Warning: Spoilers] Sadly, it is over. The first season of The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime was only eight episodes, each of which I watched twice, and no doubt will watch again many times until Season Two premiers in 2023. It will be a long wait. I do understand why some people did not like TROP or refused to watch it at all. There are many shows that I feel that way about. I hated Coppola's Marie-Antoinette film and will probably hate the new 2022 Marie-Antoinette miniseries. And I hated Netflix's The Empress. Tolkien's books are so revered that the idea of Amazon fiddling around with his characters has been horrifying to many. But I decided to give it a chance and was pleasantly surprised.

By the end of the second episode, I was enchanted. The essential magic of Faerie is captured even better than in Peter Jackson's films. There is more of a reverent approach to the mystery of Elvenhome, and to things unseen, hidden and ancient. It reminded me of when I first read The Fellowship of the Ring as a child, and when I first saw the first Jackson film in my late thirties. New encounters with the stories of Tolkien are for me a re-connection with a myth that has helped me to face many life adversities as well as more deeply appreciate life's joys. Most of all, Tolkien's work, and the works based upon his work, have helped me to fathom my Catholic faith on a deeper level. In weaving a story that can be followed by everyone, including those who have never read the books, the Amazon people had to simplify a story which is more complex than that of the Wars of the Roses. It is no small task but they were able to do it without trashy sex scenes or overt gore. And the dark-skinned characters do not bother me at all, since it is a fairy-tale, although I understand why others object to it as "woke." 

I particularly love the depiction of the Harfoots, the primitive ancestors of hobbits, who really remind me of the mythical brownies and sprites who people Celtic and Germanic fairy tales. As for the dwarves of the future Moria, they are a hoot. And I find Morfydd Clark's Galadriel to be ladylike and graceful. Although she is a bit of the mythical Amazon as Tolkien himself described her, leading quests and having adventures, her bearing is modest, regal and feminine. Elrond is courtly and princely; all the elves have beautiful manners, as do the Harfoots, for that matter. What struck me most was the authority wielded by the father figures. It was wonderful to see strong patriarchal characters. There is much that is good and beautiful in this production; people should not just dismiss the entire series as "woke." The supernatural plays a role since they mention the "gods" or the Valar quite a lot in The Rings of Power. They even mention The One, Iluvatar. There is a strong sense of a divine will, and the role of The Faithful. They even mention use the term 'The Faithful."

From Spectator World:

When Amazon bought the rights to part of Tolkien’s world back in 2018, I warned that the showrunners, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, “must capture not just the mythos but the ethos of Tolkien’s world.” Everything else — art design, casting, music — is simply cosmetic. Ethos is even more important for The Rings of Power than for The Lord of the Rings. Religious undertones were present in Peter Jackson’s films, but it was easy to avoid explicit talk of Middle-earth’s vast quasi-Christian mythology because it seldom affected the storyline in obvious ways. Since The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, in a period where supernatural beings walked more openly, it must tackle the religious worldviews of the characters.

This is a difficult moral and artistic challenge: how does one represent spiritual things gracefully and obliquely, without the awkwardness of outright allegory? (Tolkien considered the explicit allegorizing of his friend C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to be an artistic failure.) Tolkien referred to his work as “fundamentally religious and Catholic,” but faith is not addressed explicitly. As one perceptive fan wrote, “some sort of faith seems to be everywhere” in Middle-earth, but “without a visible source, like light from an invisible lamp.”

So far, the Rings of Power showrunners have wisely recognized that images and echoes — falling tree petals, birdsong and light — are far more effective and evocative than CGI cameos of superpowered titans. And they’ve avoided (with a few exceptions) the impulse to reduce Tolkien’s moral complexities into Manichaean platitudes about light and dark. Instead of “the Force” we get something far more purposeful, for behind everything is a person. Or persons. The characters seem totally comfortable referring to “the gods” while dancing around He who created the gods. The greatest flaws in The Rings of Power are those of craft — pacing and dialogue in particular....But the show has improved in these areas with each subsequent episode.


The introduction of Númenor, an island kingdom bedecked in silk and gold and luxury, does a lot to liven things up. It’s a decadent culture that evokes Rome, and there is a religious minority hidden within it, maintaining faith in the old ways. Perhaps Elendil (Lloyd Owen) shares some things in common with the Apostle Paul. Whether Queen-Regent Miriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) will be Constantine or Nero remains yet to be seen. Despite improvements in the main storyline, the plots that operate free of weighty mythological imperatives are still the best. The “harfoots,” prehistoric hobbits, feel like they’ve stepped out of an Edwardian fairytale crossed with Beatrix Potter and The Borrowers, hiding from the Big People under hedgerows and toadstools.

Nori (Markella Kavenagh), the harfoot protagonist, glows with earnest wanderlust, and her friend Poppy (Megan Richards), a more practical sort, adds the sort of down-home wisdom of a sidekick like Samwise Gamgee. These performances, utterly lacking in affectation or tongue-in-cheek humor, hit just the right note. (It’s hard to avoid self-aware hobbits now — contrast Elijah Wood’s sincere Frodo with Martin Freeman’s gawky mugging to the camera as Bilbo Baggins.) Similarly, the dwarves of Khazad-dûm, unconcerned with the weightier matters of the outside world, are engaging characters....It should be noted that The Rings of Power does justice to the aesthetics as well as the ethics of its world. It abounds in spectacle, which at times ascends to beauty. It is free of the popular tendency to privilege all that is ugly and transgressive over what is fair and pure.

My praise for the show’s ethos could be premature...I’m grateful that The Rings of Power eschews the sexual excess, hyperviolence and nihilism of Game of Thrones and that its ambitions are far more adult and earnest than the MCU popcorn thrillers. (Read more.)

 Season One begins with the elven princess Galadriel's search for her enemy Sauron, the servant of the great enemy Morgoth. Although the First Age and its wars are over, she believes Sauron to be still alive and at large in Middle-Earth, ready to stir up more trouble for the elves...and everyone else. Galadriel blames him for the death of her beloved brother Finrod Felagund. Those of us who have read Tolkien's The Silmarillion know that Galadriel had several brothers, including Orodreth, Angrod, and Aegnor, Finrod, the eldest, was king of the hidden elvish city of Nargothrond, and was killed trying to help the human hero, Beren. According to Collider:

 [Finrod's] death came about as a result of his ties with the family of Barahir, actually. Barahir’s son, Beren, came to Nargothrond on his Quest for the Silmaril. In recognition of the debt he owed to Barahir, he supported Beren, leaving behind his kingdom and traveling with Beren and a group of supporters. He used his powers of enchantment to disguise them as orcs, but they were discovered by Sauron, and a fierce duel followed between Sauron and Finrod, with Finrod eventually falling. The company was imprisoned by Sauron, and one by one were killed by werewolves as Sauron tried to discover their identities and purpose. When a wolf came at last for Beren himself, Finrod was able to break his chains and wrestle with the beast, killing it with his bare hands, but also dying himself in the process. Because of his sacrifice, Beren himself was eventually able to escape, but Finrod died in the prisons of Sauron. (Read more.)
In TROP, Galadriel is in service to her nephew High King Gil-galad of Lindon, son of her brother Orodreth, the last King of Nargothrond. She carries with her the dagger of her brother Finrod. Morfydd Clark portrays Galadriel magnificently, with amazonian agility combined with femininity, grace and dignity. Gil-galad, assuming that all enemies are vanquished, tells Galadriel that she must return to the land of the elves in the far West, where she was born. Galadriel takes ship but as she approaches the Undying Lands, she feels compelled to return to Middle Earth. She jumps off the ship and swims until she comes upon a raft with several hysterical survivors of a shipwreck. There comes upon them a sea monster and after a great deal of confusion and turmoil, Galadriel finds herself alone on the raft with a ragged stranger. The stranger calls himself Halbrand, an obvious scoundrel but the kind you want to trust even though you know you should not. Galadriel decides that he is the lost king of the Southlands because of a badge he carries with him. Meanwhile, Galadriel and Halbrand are rescued from the raft by Elendil. Yes, the Elendil. They are taken on his ship to Númenor, that is Westernesse, which is Tolkien's Atlantis. There Halbrand turns out to be a talented smith, although his violent and deceitful behavior land him temporarily in prison.

The scenes of Númenor are incredible; it is shown as a combination of Minoan culture with ancient Egypt and Greece. I was ready to move there, and live in the ancient library in the tower on the beach. Visiting that tower with Galadriel, riding horses on the shore with Elendil, is more fun than any lover of Tolkien fantasy should be allowed to have. There is even a mural of Elros and Elrond. Galadriel discovers that a sigil left by Sauron is really a map of the Southlands as well a plan to conquer them. 

By this point I was really wondering what had become of Celeborn, Galadriel's husband, whom she met and married in Doriath in the First Age. Eventually, Galadriel does mention Celeborn, who first saw her when she was dancing in a glade of flowers, although Doriath is not mentioned, possibly because at that point it no longer existed but was under the sea. (And I believe there are copyright issues.) In her recollection there are hints of Beren and Luthien, who also began their romance in Doriath, with Luthien likewise dancing in a glade of flowers. Anyway, in the show, it appears that Celeborn went away to war in the First Age and never returned, even after centuries. I wonder if the writers of TROP were borrowing a tale from Tolkien's The Children of Hurin, in which the elf Gwindor, the betrothed of the the princess Finduilas, is captured by Morgoth and kept as a slave for years and years, only to escape and return to his beloved a broken elf. I am guessing that Celeborn is being imprisoned by Sauron somewhere because what else but death would keep him returning to Galadriel. We know he is not dead, because he fathers Celebrian, who marries Elrond, and later plays a part in The Lord of the Rings.

Galadriel persuades the Queen Regent of Númenor to sail with a small army to help the people of the Southlands. Halbrand comes along, as well as Elendil and his son Isildur. There they encounter the characters who belong to one of the subplots, the healer Bronwyn, who is loved by the handsome elf warrior Arondir, and Bronwyn's son, Theo. The  Númenoreans defeat the orcs who are led by a weird creature named Adar. Halbrand is proclaimed King of the Southlands. Through a bizarre sequence of events the local volcano, which is none other than the famous Oroduin, explodes, turning the Southlands into a wasteland, which is renamed Mordor. Halbrand is mortally wounded and to save him from death, Galadriel decides to take him halfway across Middle-Earth to Lindon where he can be healed by the elves. By this time, there has been more than a flickering of attraction between Galadriel and Halbrand.

 Elrond, as Herald of the High King Gil-galad, is one of the main characters in the series. His half-elven status is possibly the reason he is in lowly service to the High Elves, even though he is a direct descendant of King Thingol through Luthien. Elrond's brother Elros was the first king of Númenor, as all Tolkien fans know. Galadriel and Elrond are close friends; she is much older than he is. By the final episode I realized that their relationship was more than pals but that of a mother and son, which makes sense because Elrond eventually does become Galadriel's son-in-law. The problem with elves living so long and staying young almost forever is that familial relationships are sometimes unclear to non-elves, since the adult elves look roughly the same age. But Galadriel is much older than both Elrond and Gil-galad, being the future mother-in-law of one and the aunt of the other. Celebrimbor is probably slightly younger than Galadriel, being the grandson of her uncle Fëanor, and therefore her first cousin once removed. 

Anyway, Elrond, Gil-galad and Celebrimbor are trying to find a way to strengthen what remains of the elven realms of Middle-Earth. It brings Elrond to Khazad-dûm or the Dwarrowdelf, later known as  Moria, which is a vast dwarf kingdom under the Misty Mountains. Elrond's friend Prince Durin gives him a piece of mithril, a metal with magical properties, but Durin's father the Dwarf King refuses to allow it to be mined. Elrond gives the mithril to Celebrimbor, who with helpful suggestions from Halbrand, decides to forge three rings. 

Meanwhile, Galadriel discovers that Halbrand is not really the King of the Southlands, and in an anguished and emotional scene confronts him. The setting is exquisite: a blossom-laden river bank in one of the forests where the elves live, but in Galadriel's mind it mutates into Valinor where she was born and then into the raft where she met Halbrand. Halbrand reveals himself as Sauron, and wants Galadriel to rule Middle-Earth with him as his queen. She calls to mind all the people she loved who were killed by either Morgoth or Sauron and there is no question of her joining him although he knows how to prey upon her heart. What is ironic is that in disobeying King Gil-galad in returning to Middle-Earth to hunt Sauron, Galadriel ends up bringing Sauron into the very places where he will rebuild his power structure. There are many similar themes in TROP, where disobedience to a legitimate authority opens up a door to eventual destruction.

The other subplot in TROP involves the Harfoots, the ancestors of the hobbits, who one day in the Third Age with the Fallowhides and Stoors would cross the Anduin into The Shire. The diminutive nomads remind me of Arthur Rackham's illustrations of faeries from Peter Pan in Kensington Garden. They travel from place to place according to the seasons of the year, wearing the camouflage of dried grass, leaves, nuts and flowers so they can hide from trolls, wolves and the Big People. In TROP a meteor lands near one of their encampments, and the Harfoot-maid Nori with her friend Poppy discover a man in the place wear the meteor landed. He is naked and disoriented, can hardly speak and does not know his name. The Harfoots take care of The Stranger, bringing him food and something to wear and he eventually joins their band. He has powers over the elements which come in handy for the Harfoots on several occasions. He is, however, being stalked by three sorceresses, who are among the scariest characters in the series. After a series of adventures and mishaps, the sorceresses catch up to The Stranger and begin worshiping him as Sauron, but he refuses to cooperate, at which point they realize he is not Sauron but rather one of the Istari, the wizards. The three begin to torture him but he drives them away, with help from the Harfoots. In the end, The Stranger and Nori leave her band to travel East. There is debate among viewers as to the identity of The Stranger, as we all wonder which of the five wizards he might be. Gandalf does not arrive in Middle Earth until the Third Age, and he arrives by ship. Is The Stranger Saruman or Radagast? One of the Blue Wizards? We will find out in Season Two, I suppose.

The final episode ends with the forging of the Three Rings in Celebrimbor's workshop, which is perhaps one of the most spell-binding scenes of all, as the accoutrements of the elven smiths are quite elaborate yet we are allowed to watch the process. The concept of a material thing which will have spiritual power is explained. Galadriel sacrifices her beloved Finrod's dagger for the making of the rings since only the purest gold and silver can be used as an alloy to bind the mithril. Meanwhile, Sauron is seen hiking towards Orodruin with a red gleam in his eye. We know that the Mountain of Fire is where the One Ring will be forged.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

The temptation of Galadriel

NOTE: TROP is family-friendly, no sex scenes or nudity. Some violence but not too much gore.

Other posts about TROPHERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.


No comments: