If someone were to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in the same manner as Amazon is adapting his appendices it would go something like this:
Rather than opening on the Shire and Bilbo’s party and a visit by Gandalf, and rather than tell the tale of Frodo and his companions’ fraught departure from their homeland, we would get instead four separate stories in the opening half hour.
In Story #1, a fierce Hobbit baker woman would encounter an orc and smack it to death with her rolling-pin. Then she’d gather the rest of the Shire to make for a nearby ruined Hobbit castle, where she’d rally the Hobbits to war against the nearby ditch-digging orcs led by an evil Hobbit with a striking resemblance to Lucius Malfoy.
In Story #2, Aragorn and a crack team of Gondor Rangers (go go Gondor Rangers!) would head for Mordor where they’d soon be captured, but Aragorn would be set free to take a message back to his people: Submit to Sauron or face extinction! Sauron is building a realm where evil will not merely survive, but prosper, after all. But Sauron would allow Aragorn to keep his weapons and armor.
In Story #3, Galadriel would set out from Lothlorien bedecked in full plate armor (as elves do) and head to Rohan where she’d make quick work of Wormtongue and rally the Riders of Rohan to war! She would be sure to show the warriors of Rohan how to swordfight while she was at it, and impress everyone with both her fighting skills and her people skills.
In Story #4, Elrond would send Legolas to the Lonely Mountain to enlist the aid of the dwarves, but in reality he’d have a secret plan even Legolas wasn’t aware of to trick the dwarves into giving them some precious jewels that would act as, uh, like an EMP grenade against Nazguls or something.
Each of these stories would be filled with mystery boxes: Aragorn would find a mysterious crown that wasn’t actually a crown. What is it actually?
The Hobbit baker lady would encounter a mysterious stranger who may or may not be a good guy or a bad guy, but is almost certainly a guy (maybe?)
Whatever, soon the Hobbits will be at war! That’s the important thing! War! “I know I’m not the king you had in mind, dear Hobbits, but will you stand by me and fight!?” the baker Hobbit would inexplicably ask her unwarlike people, who have no reason to follow her.
From here, rather than establish an adventure—or a fellowship of adventurers—the adaptation would double down on these branching storylines, making each as big and epic as possible right from the get-go, so that rather than bother to craft interesting or compelling characters or stories, it becomes a narrative arms race, constantly upping the ante.
Galadriel’s adventure would take her first to the ocean for a long swim, then to the jungles of the Even Further Southlands, then to the North Pole where she would scornfully refuse advice from Santa Claus (who turns out to be a servant of Sauron and has enslaved worker elves in his diabolical factories).
Finally, she’d make it to Rohan along with her new friend Balhrand (the king of the Even Further South Southlands, we soon discover, and a roguish rogue who may or may not be a good guy or a bad guy but is definitely a guy).
In Rohan, we’d get lots of examples of what incompetent simps the Rohirrim are. Éowyn and Éomer would argue constantly. Éomer and his best friends would have an ongoing dispute because he tried to get kicked out of the Rohan Cavalry Brigade (The Plains Are Always Right!) and accidentally got his buddy kicked out, too, for reasons (Éomer is a total loser in this version by the way, and everyone hates and abuses him). His friend is actually Boromir in this version, too, because why not? They argue a lot. Gosh do they argue. But Boromir is able to get a nick on Galadriel in their ballet sword fight so now he’s a General and can abuse his friend even more.
At the Lonely Mountain, Gimli and Legolas would form an odd but endearing friendship marred by the absolutely gob-smacking ridiculousness of Elrond’s bizarre plan to trick the dwarves and neither would spend any time fighting orcs because don’t worry boys: Hobbit baker lady and Galadriel got this, yaaasssss girrrll.
Aragorn would eventually show up in the Shire and fall in love with the Hobbit baker lady, inciting a love triangle melodrama between her, Aragorn and Arwen with lots of ensuing cattiness. If it’s not obvious, Aragorn represents the patriarchy and is symbolic of how it turns women against one another through literally no fault of their own whatsoever. (In the end they both ditch him).
We discover—after Gimli convinces the elves to transport a giant stone chair all the way from Rivendell to the Lonely Mountain—that the jewels Elrond has sent Legolas to find are actually the Silmarils because—get this!—they weren’t actually lost or destroyed, they were kept hidden in the Lonely Mountain this whole time! WHAT? MIND BLOWN!
And Smaug was actually a good guy, guarding them for thousands of years until those greedy dwarves showed up! Wait, really? Wow! Yeah, for real, because he knew that after the One Ring was forged the dwarves could no longer be trusted, so he protected the Silmarils and didn’t even let the elves know. Also, uh, something about how Tom Bombadil was actually a dragon rider at one point and that’s how Smaug was turned from evil. (Okay, the Adventures Of Tom Bombadil and Smaug has a nice ring to it, I’ll admit).
Anyways, now Elrond and the dwarves can build a suit of armor made out of Silmarils and Galadriel can wear it when she single-handedly smacks down Sauron in a final duel to the death! Wait, not single-handedly because . . .
The Hobbit baker lady, resplendent in her yoga workout clothes, and Arwen in full plate armor, finally team up for some girl power with Galadriel and Éowyn in the final fight, while Aragorn and Éomer cheer from the sidelines, because it turns out that Sauron is just an extended metaphor for toxic masculinity.
In the final scene, Galadriel stabs Sauron through his cold black heart with her badass sword that she reforged at Mount Doom, and kicks him into the lava. Then she takes the Ring which she’s had this whole time and tosses it in after him. “If you like it so much, Sauron,” she says, while things explode behind her, “Why don’t you put a ring on it?”
This Lord of the Rings adaptation would cut between these various, largely unconnected storylines that have virtually nothing to do with the original books at a rapid pace. Rather than spend time developing any of these characters or establishing a sense of adventure or camaraderie, the script would ensure that they all bicker endlessly with one another, mistrust each other, and trick and deceive at every opportunity, all to be edgy and grimdark, because let’s face it: Nothing says ‘Tolkien’ like edgy and grimdark.
Mostly, Littlefinger’s Magical Teleportation Ring would get them all from one place to the next without bothering with such antiquated notions as ‘travel’ (baby, we’re in the 21st century now, we fast travel).
Thankfully, it would all be dressed up in pretty costumes and a rousing score and would imitate the aesthetics of Peter Jackson’s original film adaptations enough that we could describe the whole thing as ‘Tolkienesque’ and call it a day.
And somehow, I’d wager, there would be a massive pop culture war over whether or not this was an okay adaptation, whether the real problem was having some black Hobbits in it, and why anyone complaining was just a toxic fan who cares about “the lore.”
I’ve written at length about the many problems with The Rings Of Power, from its insufferable central protagonist to its abysmal writing, and I have other pieces in the works about specific issues I have with the show. (My review of Episode 5 is here).
But I wanted to point out here just how un-Tolkien-like the storytelling itself is. I have done so with humor and exaggeration but I hope you take my meaning. The Lord Of The Rings builds slowly around a small group of characters. It takes its time and carefully establishes its world and people. Much of its earlier chapters are spent on various charming friendships, or encounters with ethereal elves who sing into the night. Only much later are the characters separated or do we hear the drums of war. In adapting appendices there’s clearly more work to be done getting from notes to narrative, as it were, but this doesn’t even feel like Tolkien fan-fiction.
It’s not so much that Amazon has fiddled with the lore, it’s that the show’s writers and creators have told a story that simply wears the trappings of Middle-earth without understanding its thematic core, let alone even attempting to take a crack at Tolkien’s storytelling style. Peter Jackson’s films were not perfect and lord knows I had my issues with them when they came out, but at least it was obvious that he was trying to adapt Tolkien’s works as faithfully as possible (the same cannot be said for The Hobbit). Changes had to be made, for better or worse, but Jackson still did a mostly excellent job at translating page to screen.
What we have now with The Rings Of Power barely even resembles Middle-earth. It’s just a generic Hollywood fantasy created by people who badly misunderstands its source material and don’t seem to give a damn. Maybe that’s what’s begun irking me so badly. The show isn’t just straying from Tolkien’s lore; rather, its creators seem to think they know better, that they can do whatever they please with the source material, or that by ignoring it they can improve upon it somehow. There’s a certain degree of arrogance at play in the liberties they’ve taken that I find both insulting and unearned.
But even as generic fantasy, utterly divorced from any whiff of Middle-earth, this is not good. Even if you stripped Tolkien and his characters and world from this entirely and called Galadriel by a new name and made up a new villain entirely, this would be badly paced, unpleasant gobbledygook with few characters to care about or root for and a plot that feels rushed and slow at the same time. (Since no mention of Rings has been made yet, it would actually be quite easy to just insert new character and place names and turn this into a generic fantasy, and it would still be pretty awful).
It lacks the bones of a good story, for one thing. What is the spark that motivates our heroes to action? In The Lord Of The Rings, Gandalf shows up with dire news of the Ring, and Frodo is forced to leave the Shire—something he does just in the nick of time, as the Ring Wraiths have arrived, sniffing about for Baggins. Is there anything similar at all in The Rings Of Power?
Galadriel finds a symbol on her dead brother that she finds again in an icy ruins and so she thinks maybe Sauron is still around? That’s the catalyst for her grand adventure? At least the Harfoots have the mystery man falling from the sky, but then nothing has really happened since except more mystery. Elrond setting off on a diplomatic mission to the dwarves is hardly as interesting as Bilbo changing his mind and running after Thorin’s company.
And while it seemed Bronwyn and Arondir might be off on their own grand adventure after the frightening appearance of a single, scary orc, what we’ve gotten instead is a sorry excuse for a Helm’s Deep knockoff, as a group of unpleasant villagers sits around waiting for an army of orcs to attack. (And don’t even get me started on how this massive army of orcs has gone unnoticed this whole time, despite Galadriel relentlessly pursuing Sauron for centuries—when she could have simply gone to the Hall of Law in Númenor and used their Reverse Image Search tool to find out everything she needed to know!)
I’ve spilled enough ink for today on this subject. I’m just frustrated and disappointed to once again be reminded that you simply can’t throw good money after bad. Even if you’re Jeff Bezos.