I suppose it is canon when I tell you how I have loved the works of Tolkien since I was a child. The works of Rowling matched that fervour in the late nineties. But then I saw The World This Week with Pranoy Roy, where they gave the world a glimpse of The Fellowship of the Ring. I already was well aware that Gandalf would be played by Sir Ian McKellen. He was one of my earlier icons from theatre, he had come out as gay and was a role model. He became even more of a beacon of light for this boy growing up in the suburbs of Mumbai.
I won’t get into the absolute delight of watching Peter Jackson’s trilogy as they released over the beginning of this century. They will forever be a bench mark in the history of cinema. The Hobbit trilogy that followed a decade later was not lovelier than the first trilogy. I always wondered whether the Silmarillion would be touched.
You see, I believe that The Silmarillion is chock full of brilliant mythology. The stories have a lot of death and destruction, but they also have love and light. I am of the belief that The Silmarillion has more cinematic appeal than the Lord of the Rings and that is indeed saying much. The characters are epic, because they deal directly with a scope that extends into the realms of the gods – literally.
So I will not gloze on how wonderfully happy I was when the rights to the Second Age was bought over by Amazon, in November, 2017. I wondered why they didn’t take in the rights to the First. But I would suppose it is because the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit will always be the go-to for Tolkien’s work on film. So, the depiction of the Second Age and a known villain like Sauron would have a far greater appeal in terms of quicker understanding for the vox populi.
So, then I waited, almost in the gloom of Gollum’s cave.
The Tolkien Estate sold the rights to the highest bidder who turned out to be Jeff Bezos of Amazon. The rights were sold for USD 250,000,000 and his plan of making an epic series greater than The Game of Thrones began its reality. The budget was supposed to be USD 150,000,000 per season, but the first season is now estimated to exceed USD 1,000,000,000.
The COVID pandemic fucked up a lot of production and I won’t get into what happened to millions of personal lives. But the making of the series always brought me one of the few hopes that I cling onto. You know, how when things get dark and you wonder if there are things to look forward to in life? Well, this series was one of those things. I am a man of small desires – food to eat, clothes to wear, people to love and books and movies to watch.
Director Bayona completed shooting of the first two episodes of season one by December, 2020. 2021 was the year where they brought out the day of release for the series. They were calling it The Lord of the Rings series, itself – and it seemed right, since the main antagonist of the series, after all, would be Sauron. The teasers released, pictures and video. Hope increased.
Then I waited through the entire night for the release at 6:30AM on 1st September, 2022. Let me tell you right at the beginning that I have not been disappointed in the least. Far from it.
It begins with a prologue. Galadriel narrates. The salute to The Lord of the Rings movies is unmistakable. The prologue here doesn’t speak of the Second and Third Age – it speaks of the First. There are some spectacular glimpses of the Two Trees. The Darkening of Valinor and then the sinking of Beleriand. I wondered then if the series would be understood by those who have never read the books or seen the movies – much less read The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle-earth.
There could have been more explanations to Morgoth, before showing us the glimpse of Sauron. Hopefully, the people who are not in the know, picked up on the quick segue from fallen Valar to fallen Maiar.
Morfydd Clark as Galadriel does not disappoint. She lacks the charisma of Cate Blanchett. But this is a different Galadriel than the one you see later in the Third Age of the World.
This Galadriel is the forerunner of the show. She is its heroine. Here, you are presented with the Elf who becomes the Dark Queen of Lórien when presented with the ring. This is a younger Galadriel, who is steeped with ideas of ambition and vengeance. She is the Galadriel who has lost her family in the tumult of the First Age. She is the one who wants to hunt down Sauron who she believes is not dead or lost. She is the one who wishes to take the Ring from Frodo, much later, because she has not given up the idea of bringing peace to the realm by any means necessary. This is the Galadriel who gives up Valinor because she believes without her no one will attempt to set things right in Middle-earth. Her character is not Light and it is not Dark. It is grey.
I love the way she is represented. She is the Lady of Light seen in Caras Galadhon in the end of the Third Age. She is here more vocal about her desire. She has not yet become the politician that she accuses Elrond of being. One of the best scenes of the first episode, in my opinion, is when she is on the ship sailing to Valinor. The spectacle of the scene is a culmination of the representation of places we have never seen on screen before.
Lindon, Khazad-dûm, Eregion, the South Lands – utterly beautiful depictions – and the special effects team has just done its job so very well. And Númenor – oh my gosh. It is said that concept artist John Howe (I love his work!) filled 40 sketchbooks with drawings for the project! He stated that the biggest different between the films and the series was that the series visited new locations!
Payne, McKay and Avery, the writers, wanted a lot more focus on the beauty of Númenor, because it had never been conceptualised before on screen. Tolkien had mentioned that the city was like Venice, because of its connection to water. The Elven works have given way to work grounded by the reign of Men… and as with mankind, there are grandiose depictions of stone sculptures – of Men. But I digress.
The crux of Galadriel’s conflict comes within the scene at Valinor’s portal. The rejection of her invite to return home. It is like the rejection of Fëanor, when he is told by the Valar to stay at home and not seek out Morgoth for revenge. But he does, and so does she. She abandons the ship bound for Valinor. She thinks her presence is indispensable. It is her own vanity that makes her dark, as she dives into the sea, instead of looking upward into the stars.
The writers of the show have dealt with the minds of the Valar and given them the cognizance of wisdom. As Galadriel reaches Valinor and the portal opens, a comet shoots out from the skies. Her replacement is sent forth. They do not mention who The Stranger is – but I would like to believe it is Gandalf the Grey. He is sent forth as a better replacement to Galadriel. For he is a Maiar – of fire – the follower of Manwë – and he has no intention to gain power. His purpose is only to help and guide. As is clearly shown by the end of the third episode.
Of course, I wouldn’t say that the purpose to help and guide was also shared by both Morgoth and Sauron. The former when he teaches the Vanyar how to build weapons and armour and the latter when he becomes Annatar and comes to Númenor. But those are analogies I won’t speak about further.
The scenes in Lindon are some of my favourite. Everything is so – yellow. But the carvings of the fallen on trees – superb. Has anyone noticed how Gil-Galad, Benjamin Walker, looks so similar to the actor who plays Gil-Galad in the movies, Mark Ferguson?
The creation of the Harfoots seems so in sync with the question of how the hobbits come into their own. I always wondered why their history was never mentioned very much. I like the idea of them being nomadic and filled with the idea of family. The character of Nori played by Markella Kavenagh is so – right. She fills easily into the shoes of both Merry and Pippin. The Stranger rockets right into their midst. Another reason why I feel he has to be Gandalf (apart from the fact that he can speak to fireflies like he did with a moth). Does Gandalf the Grey not share an old affinity with hobbits? It’s all so well-structured.
After the Elves and the Hobbits, I must speak of my favourite couple in the series. Prince Durin IV and Princess Disa. Khazad-dûm is a wonder. The way they have picked up the skeletal ruins seen in The Lord of the Rings and filled them with life and beauty is a joy to behold. Just amazing work of the digital team that has mastered about 9,500 visual effects shots within this one season! The acting of Durin and the chemistry between him and Disa is really lovely to behold – you can actually feel their love.
Finally, we come to the depiction of the Southlands. Another area of Middle-earth never before seen. There is a history there that hasn’t been spoken of – and once again there is light even in the darkness, presented as the love of Bronwyn for Arondir.
There were bigots who did not wish people of colour to play roles they thought should be played by white people. They spoke on behalf of Tolkien. What I know is this – Tolkien wrote about the free peoples of Middle-earth – and they all sat on the Council to decide Middle-earth’s fate. As such, I am sure he would be just as pleased with Ismael’s Arondir as most people who admire gravitas do. He is the Elven Aragorn.
Tolkien’s work is for everyone. I was a 12-year-old Indian boy, bullied because he was different, and reading about Frodo then did me a world of good. So I do not believe that I could not play that part just as well as Elijah, just because I am brown. (Pardon my immodesty – I do not beg pardon for my ethnicity!)
We have a lot of similarities between the Third Age and this one. We have a dark weapon that talks and corrupts, we have a dwarf and an elf friendship, we have a lost king of men, many dialogues that seemed to be picked up from the movies (she has passed out of my sight), another weapon forged by the elves that is a representation of an ancient warrior, and so much ambition floating about everywhere.
I have loved the series so far. I like the depiction of the characters. The script has its flaws here and there, but over all the writing is very good. The dialogue has been adapted to suit the difference in the ages of Middle-earth. For example, Elves speak mostly Quenya instead of Sindarin. There are different dialects and even poetic meters for some characters. It’s a lovely affair of sound. The writers have outdone themselves – and I can just imagine what a momentous task it happens to be.
It is necessary, I suppose, to leave cliff-hangers here and there. Like what exactly was in the box that King Durin opens up with his son. I think it could be a silmaril. Some think it could be mithril, upon the finding of which the dwarven kingdom began its downfall. They “delved too deep” – and ultimately released the Balrog.
For me, someone steeped in Tolkien’s mythos, the series has proved to be a sensation of many delights. I love seeing the different locations. Seeing characters that I have read about and always wanted to see on screen. I look forward to every Friday morning. And the wait fills me with pleasure. It is nice to look forward to things like this in life when most things seem to pale and fall away into desolate burdens of daily life. I do hope we get to see all five seasons of this – because I much prefer to see Middle-earth than Westeros. Romanticism over realism and love instead of cruelty.