Following years of silence, apart from slight stirrings in the darker corners of the internet, the marketing machine for Amazon Prime Video’s billion-dollar Lord of the Rings prequel series, The Rings of Power, has fully awakened.
After teaser images showing the torsos of different characters were posted via the show’s Twitter account, Vanity Fair published an exclusive earlier this month that added faces and, most importantly, names to those characters. Then on Super Bowl Sunday, Amazon treated the Tolkien-obsessed (myself included) to the first trailer. With all these little teasers combined, there’s so much to be excited about.
All hail Galadriel, warrior leader of the west
While I had some guesses as to the identity of the slender feminine figure pictured in full armor and gripping one of the most beautiful daggers you’ve ever seen, the lady Galadriel wasn’t on that list. The appearance of a youthful Galadriel is exciting, as we’ve mostly seen or read of Galadriel’s acts only with her as a fully formed and endlessly wise adult.
This version of Galadriel, portrayed by Welsh actress Morfydd Clark, is more than a thousand years younger than the ethereal Elf portrayed by Cate Blanchett in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. She’s fresh from having her home destroyed and her view of the world shattered following a war against the first Dark Lord of Middle-earth, Morgoth, and his young apprentice, Sauron. It looks like we’re going to see Galadriel before she becomes the careful tactician and patient protector of her people, which if nothing else will look great on screen.
The dagger in the first image released by Amazon is probably the most interesting detail about Galadriel we’ve encountered so far. It’s a symbolic representation of the two trees of Valinor, the twin massive magical trees in the world of the Elves before they came to Middle-earth. These trees were destroyed by Morgoth, and the last fruit each bore became the Sun and the Moon as we know them on Middle-earth. In the trailer, we get to see her use this dagger in what looks like a harrowing effort to cross what’s called the Helcaraxë (the frozen waste between the place Elves come from and Middle-earth). Galadriel wielding a dagger like that is a fantastic symbol of the rage still inside her for those who destroyed her home, and it tells us a lot about the kind of character we’re likely to see in this series.
Finally, dwarves with swagger
The original teaser images from Amazon revealed two characters with gold dust on their fingers, one with a big red beard and a massive hammer and the other sporting hand-hewn golden triangles on a flowing garment. We now know these two to be Durin IV, lord of Moria, and Disa, a Dwarven princess. We don’t know much about Disa yet, as she’s one of many new characters created for this series, but the images shared of her and of Durin make it abundantly clear we’re going to see the Dwarven people with a lot more attitude and charisma than we’ve seen in the previous films.
The Dwarven people in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are a beaten, broken folk. Their greatest kingdoms had fallen to ruin, the royal bloodlines had all but disappeared, and their kin were not as united as they once were. These were proud, fierce people, but undeniably sullen compared with their heights in the Second Age of Middle-earth. The Dwarves we get to see in The Rings of Power are of the Second Age, before the Balrog of Morgoth had been awakened and destroyed Moria. They’re going to have massive shining halls with wealth and power the likes of which we’ve never seen captured on screen, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
As excited as I am to see Dwarves living it up, there are quite a few Tolkien-obsessed who see a significant flaw in this photo and the brief trailer spot of Disa so far. Tolkien described Dwarven women as being bearded in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, something Aragorn turns into a joke in the original film trilogy. First off, the photo of Disa above does, in fact, have facial hair. It’s faint, and does not cover her chin like a traditional beard, but it is there and more prominent than a human with similar features. Second, there’s a lot of artwork of Dwarven women in the last 50 years and many of them contain images of some Dwarven women with no beards or only elongated sideburns. While I personally feel it would be a disservice to have every Dwarven woman in Rings of Power to have facial hair as faint as Disa, a single woman without that feature is in line with the artwork collectively acknowledged as canon in the past.
Much more than The Silmarillion
If you thought this series was supposed to be an adaptation of Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion in the same way the movies were a retelling of the books, you’re in for a surprise. For starters, Amazon only has the legal rights to build a story based on the content within the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Those Appendices contain a lot of information from the Silmarillion, but it is not everything. Further, The Silmarillion is not a clear-cut beginning-to-end story like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. In fact, at one point, J.R.R. Tolkien pushed back on the very idea of publishing The Silmarillion because it wasn’t a single story. Tolkien himself describes the Second Age of Middle-earth as a dark age where not very much of its history needed telling.
In a letter to editor Milton Waldman, he explained that in The Silmarillion there were no characters to hold your hand through the massive events he’d envisioned. It wasn’t until after his passing that his son, Christopher Tolkien, took on the monumental task of assembling The Silmarillion into something a person could read and understand as more than just fragments of stories. You could fill a library with all the notes and ideas surrounding The Silmarillion, but it’s still not a single narrative adventure in the same way we understand the first two stories.
It’s important to keep that in mind when you read about the new characters that the Amazon Prime Series will introduce to Middle-earth. Galadriel’s human friend Halbrand, Dwarven princess Disa and Silvan Elf Arondir are all characters you won’t find in the many books of Tolkien lore which exist today, but that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in this telling of Middle-earth. This part of Tolkien’s massive world has a lot of gaps, and the writers of this story were given the Herculean task of filling those gaps with a compelling story. Time will tell if they’ve succeeded, but for the moment it’s not a bad thing that you’ve never heard or read some of these names before.
People of color in Middle-earth
We’ve seen several prominent characters revealed in these teasers who, it bears highlighting, aren’t white. Arondir, Disa and at least one of the nomadic hunters shown off so far beautifully display shades of skin that may be new to some Tolkien fans, but aren’t at all new to Middle-earth.
If your only experiences with the world of Middle-earth are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, books or movies, you may find yourself wondering why there are suddenly more people of color in Middle-earth. This isn’t an exercise in making Tolkien’s world seem more diverse without his permission, this world has always had more than just pale skinned people in it.
There are three different kinds of Hobbits, and one ancestral group, known as the Harfoots, are specifically described by Tolkien as having dark skin and being fairly nomadic. We know that half-Elves adopt the characteristics of their human genes, which is why Elrond is one of the only Elves with dark hair, so a darker-skinned Elf is completely plausible.
No detail is too small
The most incredible thing about the teasers we’ve seen so far is the weight of every tiny detail in every photo. There are Dwarven runes subtly sewn into the sleeves of one man’s outfit. We’ve already mentioned Galadriel’s incredible dagger. And the longer you look at Disa, the more spectacular her outfit becomes. The effort put into the armor everyone is wearing, the wicked twisting of an Elvish design to form the sword hilt Sauron is wielding — it all begs fans to keep looking for more details.
This level of detail is one of the things that made Game of Thrones so compelling to so many. You could casually watch the show and tweet along your thoughts as it happened, but you were also deeply rewarded for watching it on the biggest screen you could and giving the show all your attention. If these teasers tell me anything at all, it’s that Tolkien fans are really going to want to watch every episode more than once to catch every little thing. And, honestly, I’m here for it.