However, we do have this new bit of Lord Of The Rings casting – plus two possible character name reveals for actors already attached to the series. And just like old times, I’ll break it all down for you, as well as give you my thoughts on the situation.
It appears that English actor Anson Boon has joined the project – though his role is still unclear. Redanian Intelligence notes that he easily be playing an elf due to his very defined, somewhat “ethereal” features. I agree with that assessment: Boon’s resume is still small and mostly limited to British TV and stage performances (outside of an appearance in Sam Mendes’ war drama 1917, a breakout hit with critics), so I don’t have much to work with when trying to determine who he could be playing, but I’ll take a guess anyway – let’s mark him down as a possibility for Glorfindel. This character, an Elf from the books and left out of all of Peter Jackson’s movies, plays a significant role in the Second Age of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, when this series is supposed to be set – thousands of years before the events of Lord Of The Rings – depending on which version of Tolkien’s canon you prefer to regard as definitive. As Glorfindel is depicted in the books, “his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music”. It’s a fairly vague description, but it’s enough for me to go on – and I just really want to see Glorfindel in this series, so forgive me if I grasp at straws.
Next up, we have Ben Fransham, a New Zealand actor who, like many of the country’s citizens, worked on Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – Fransham played an elf in the first trilogy, as well as orcs in both. His casting makes him the first actor from Jackson’s films to cross over into Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the Middle-earth saga, but his role will likely be fairly small. Additionally, he is now a stunt performer, which may be another reason why he has joined Amazon’s series. If I had to take a guess, I’d wager he will once again be wearing orc prosthetics when we see him onscreen.
So those are the castings, but Redanian Intelligence didn’t stop there – they also informed us that both Simon Merrells and Megan Richards, both of whom were cast in The Lord Of The Rings earlier this year, have character names added to their official actor CV’s. Redanian Intelligence cites this as reason to believe they may be official character names, and they may well be, but I’m wary to come to that conclusion – possibly because I’m wary of the names themselves. Merrells is listed as “Trevyn”, and Richards as “May”, and neither name seems to fit particularly well in Tolkien’s extensive network of languages. May, in particular, feels much too modern for the ancient setting – and it has a hobbit-y sound to it that makes me very nervous, considering that hobbits are among the characters I have no desire to see in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings.
What do you think of these casting announcements, and the names revealed? Do they encourage you, or not? For me, personally, I’m a little nervous about those names in particular, but I’m also keeping an open mind. Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ONWARD…AND THE LETTER FOR THE KING…AHEAD
Onward was never really on my radar – when the trailers came out, I thought they were weak, and I never even got to see the film in theaters due to the coronavirus. But now that I have seen it, I can’t stop thinking about this strangely endearing story, which so many other critics have said is merely okay: an enjoyable, but easily forgettable, offering from a studio that has produced instant classics. That may be true for some, but I’m not ashamed to say that Onward is quickly becoming one of my favorite Pixar films.
I’m thankfully not alone in this opinion. But my opinion on the film has grown stronger and stronger with each passing day (and rewatch). And I have a few theories on why this film speaks so much to me, and why I think it has already become one of Pixar’s most underrated offerings: a story that deserves to be exalted, and is instead being bullied for its simplicity, so-so worldbuilding, and subversion of tropes – which has itself become something of a trope, though I maintain that Onward does it in the best way possible, and that’s because it borrows the inspiration (just the inspiration, mind you, everything else about it is different) for its most crucial subversive element from The Lord Of The Rings.
Now, Onward borrows a lot of stuff from J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, it’s true. There are little details hidden all over the richly-detailed fantasy world, and, unsurprisingly, many of them harp back to the man who is described as the father of modern fantasy. Fast-food restaurants serving second breakfast, soft drinks named Mountain Doom (with “explosive caffeine!”), an image of what I believe to be Gandalf versus The Balrog in the back of Barley’s van…basically, all the usual stuff that would make me slightly biased in this film’s favor. But no, I don’t love it solely because of that. Nor do I love it solely because everyone in the film is an LGBTQ+ icon (though, if you’re interested, feel free to check out my non-existent TED talk about how Laurel and The Manticore are absolutely canon, the pawn shop owner radiates big boss lesbian energy, and Barley is a chaotic gay cinnamon roll). Sure, those things contribute to the film’s overall appeal – but what I love most about it is how it finally clarifies that Samwise Gamgee was the true hero of The Lord Of The Rings.
If you don’t already know, let me explain: in the Tolkien fandom, there has always been a war between “stans” of Frodo, and “stans” of Samwise Gamgee – a “stan” being a person who devotes themselves, wholly and unconditionally, to one specific person, fictional character, or thing. I’m not a big fan of stanning anyone or anything, simply because stans often become so passionate about whatever they’re stanning that they refuse to see its faults, and instead become toxic and hyper-aggressive when they see a threat to their idol. In the case of The Lord Of The Rings, it’s either really sad or really unsurprising that a story about unconditional love and loyalty would attract so many stans – who often divide themselves into either Frodo stans or Samwise stans. However, all you toxic Samwise stans are off the hook today, because I’m not coming for you – I’m coming for the toxic Frodo stans, and their idea of what makes a true hero.
J.R.R. Tolkien described Samwise Gamgee as the true hero of his story. Needless to say, Frodo stans have never liked this tidbit of trivia, and typically disregard it, either choosing to scream “DEATH OF THE AUTHOR!,” as loudly as possible, or snobbily remarking that “well, Tolkien didn’t write it that way”. Well, actually, he did – though, admittedly, everyone has differing opinions, and I respect that. But Onward uses the same formula for its hero and protagonist and makes it even less disputable.
In my opinion, what Frodo stans often overlook is that a story’s hero isn’t always its protagonist, nor vice versa. It’s rare to find, indeed, though I can actually name at least one other story this year that has done it…in a way. I say “in a way” because, while Netflix’s The Letter For The King turns the tables on its main character and reveals that one of his supporting cast, a young woman, is actually the hero of prophecy, and destined to defeat the villain, she never actually becomes the hero of the story. She’s a central plot-point, but that’s all she is: she’s just there to fight the big bad. In trying to create a surprise hero reveal, Netflix accidentally made their surprise hero the surprise protagonist of the series, while the character who was both hero and protagonist up until that point became solely the hero.
Because here’s the thing, which I’ve found is true across several different mediums: a hero doesn’t have to be the character whose name is in the title, or who gets to fight all the big sword-battles, or wield all the cool magic powers. From my experience, a story’s hero is often the overlooked beating heart of the story, the character around whom the entire story revolves without us ever noticing, usually until the very end. Sam, for instance, is the hero of The Lord Of The Rings – he represents everything the good guys are fighting for, and, without him, the story falls apart: not only because without him Frodo would have died several times before ever reaching Mordor, but because without him, The Lord Of The Rings isn’t the story of unconditional love, unbreakable friendship and unquenchable hope that we know it to be. Without him, in fact, it’s a pretty dark tale. So Sam is the true hero of that story because he is its core, the rock upon which the story is built, and Frodo is the protagonist: the character at the center of the plot – and he’s important too, because he teaches us about the importance of mercy and forgiveness, and how power corrupts. But when Frodo lies, maimed and spiritually exhausted on the slopes of Mount Doom, who is there beside him at the end of all things? Sam, that’s who. And it’s Sam’s presence there that reminds us what the story is all about: hope enduring even in darkness, and love defeating evil. For me, this is what defines a hero versus a protagonist, and shows how both can exist in one story without necessarily being the same person – a story’s true hero is the character who best personifies the themes and moral of the story, if there is one, while the protagonist is the most important character in the plot.
And that brings us back to Onward, and the case of Barley and Ian. For most of the film’s duration, it seems clear who is both hero and protagonist: Ian Lightfoot. He’s our POV character the entire time; he’s the one who initiates the quest when he finds out he’s the only character who can use magic; he’s the character who fights all the big fights, overcomes all the hardest obstacles, and has the big third-act battle against the fire-breathing dragon. But that doesn’t make him the hero – as it turns out, Ian is the protagonist, while his overlooked and underestimated older brother Barley Lightfoot is the story’s true hero.
It might sound unthinkable. But Onward isn’t just the story of two boys trying to meet their father – it’s a celebration of parents and parental figures in general. That’s why the father is the elusive end-goal of the movie’s plot. That’s why Laurel, the boys’ mother, follows them on their quest and has a key role in the final battle. That’s why there’s a subplot with the boys’ stepfather, whom they initially dislike but learn to accept. That’s why the big revelation at the end of the movie is that Barley Lightfoot has always been Ian’s own father figure growing up, and that Ian always did know his father, through Barley. And that’s why, in a moving act of gratitude, Ian returns the favor by giving Barley, and Barley alone, the chance to reunite with the ghost of their father in the film’s epic conclusion. That’s not entirely by choice – there’s a large dragon headed their way, and one of them has to stop it before it kills them all – but that makes it more powerful: because by that point, Ian’s character arc has concluded. He’s already figured out what and who the story is all about. But Barley still hasn’t: in a noble act of self-sacrifice, he offers to go hold off the dragon and give Ian the chance to meet their dad. But Ian stops him, telling him that now, Barley deserves what Ian always had: a chance to share his life, even for a moment, with his own father figure. Suddenly, Barley Lightfoot is the true heart, soul and hero of the story, and he best represents what the film is all about.
Now, a celebration of unconventional parental figures and older siblings isn’t anything new – the Frozen series and Lilo & Stitch are two other animated movies that give older siblings all the respect they deserve, and in fact Barley Lightfoot shares a couple characteristics with Elsa in particular (make them both gay, you cowards!) – but Pixar’s spin on the material gives it a truly unique twist. And in so doing, whether intentionally or not, they have paid homage to the father of modern fantasy.
And there you have it. At this point I’ve likely angered a fair number of Frodo stans (but don’t worry, I still love allmostsome a few of you), and I’ve rambled on for far too long. Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Oh, and one last thing. My initial rating for Onward was too low, so allow me to do something I almost never do, and revise it:
The past few days, we’ve been through all the basics: what Amazon Prime needs to do in their upcoming The Lord Of The Rings adaptation; what they should do; and, of course, what they should never do. So with that in mind…how many more “Top 10” lists can I think of? The answer is: at least one more, because today we’ll be looking at the ten characters I’m most hyped to see in The Lord Of The Rings.
As always, let me throw out a quick reminder to all of my readers who haven’t been following along (though, if you haven’t been at least following this series of posts, then why are you here now?): Amazon Prime’s series is not a straight-up adaptation of the best-selling novel by J.R.R. Tolkien – instead, it’s set at least three-thousand years prior to the events of that story, during a time period known as the Second Age. Thus, most of the characters you know and love won’t show up in the series, except a handful of immortals such as Galadriel, Elrond, Thranduil, and Sauron. All of these characters, however, will be either significantly younger, or just very different with regards to personalities, appearances, motivations, etc.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my list, shall we?
10: Thranduil. Firstly, let me apologize for a glaring factual error in one of my previous posts, where I referred to Thranduil and his father Oropher, both Sindarin Elves of great prestige, as Silvan Elves. In fact, it’s partially because of this error that I realized Thranduil belongs on this list – the King of the Elves of Mirkwood (called Greenwood in the Second Age, and ruled from the hilltop city of Amon Lanc, which would later fall into ruin and be renamed Dol Guldur) was a Sindarin Elf who nonetheless looked out for his Silvan citizens and treated them with respect and benevolence, seemingly even adopting their “rustic” customs – at least in The Hobbit, where he’s most commonly found feasting in the woods, hunting wild animals or merrymaking. This is the Thranduil I want to see: he should still have some of Lee Pace’s steely, ice-cold hostility, but in private, I’d love for the King of the Woodland Elves to open up to his citizens, to share in their traditions, and to come across as a powerful leader and a guardian for his people.
9: Ar-Pharazôn. Whereas Thranduil was actually a decent guy, Ar-Pharazôn, the twenty-fifth and final king of Númenor, only gets worse when you learn more about him. On the surface, he doesn’t seem too bad: he was just a particularly strong-willed, stubborn and slightly dim-witted military commander who happened to get tricked by Sauron into declaring war on the gods and invading paradise, right? But how did he become King of Númenor in the first place? Well, by unlawfully marrying his cousin against her will, of course. The Dark Lord Sauron, ostensibly the King’s prisoner, flattered Ar-Pharazôn with lies until he was at last given freedom to come and go as he pleased in Númenor. It wasn’t long before Ar-Pharazôn had consented to worshiping the ancient evil Morgoth, and the ritual sacrifice of political prisoners. He burned the White Tree of the Elves, severing that link between the two peoples. And, yeah, he did also doom his country (not to mention untold numbers of his own citizens) to a horrific, watery end – all because he thought he could live forever if he bested the gods in open warfare. Still, I can’t wait to see this villainous puppet of Sauron’s get pulled apart in real-time.
8: Elrond. We’ve seen Elrond Half-Elven, master of the Last Homely House of Rivendell and bearer of the Ring of Air, a couple of times on the big screen before – but always as a stern, proud scholar with a particularly melancholy attitude towards life and humans in general (not entirely surprising: considering that most of the problems of the Second Age resulted from his brother’s decision to become a human Man instead of an Elf). The Elrond that we’ll meet in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings is going to be very young by Elven standards: so when I consider what his personality might be like, I imagine him as a generally optimistic and light-hearted individual who hasn’t yet been weathered and worn down by centuries of pain and sorrow. He hasn’t probably even met his future wife, Celebrían (who will eventually be tortured by Orcs until she can no longer bear to live in Middle-earth), and he has no idea he’ll one day be called upon to bear the weight of one of the Three Rings (which I’m sure King Gil-galad will give to him shortly before his brutal death at the hands of Sauron). Let’s just say: he’s in for a ride.
7: Glorfindel. This guy is one of the coolest in all of Middle-earth’s history – and when I say all of it, I mean all of it, because he’s been around for just as long as characters like Galadriel and Círdan, and been to Valinor, Middle-earth, the Halls of Mandos and everywhere in between. Originally an Elf of Gondolin who sacrificed his life to save fleeing refugees in the First Age, Glorfindel was judged to be so pure and good that he was almost immediately reincarnated and sent back to Middle-earth to help out the Elves during their war with Sauron in the Second Age. Not only that, but he was given semi-magical powers that put him almost on the level of Maiar like Gandalf. Throughout the Second Age, he fought alongside the Elves, rarely using his powers in war, and continued on into the Third Age as a great warrior and hero of legend, challenging the Witch-King, leading armies and rescuing Frodo Baggins. Remind me again why Legolas was chosen to represent the Elves on Frodo’s quest and not Glorfindel? Oh right, becauseGlorfindel was so powerful that Sauron would have sensed him coming from miles away, that’s why. Yet despite this, we’ve never seen him onscreen. Even if they do nothing else right, I will be forever grateful to Amazon if they make Glorfindel a major player in the series.
6: Erendis. In The Lord Of The Rings, there are far fewer women characters than men, and even some of the most prominent, like Galadriel and Arwen, are still only in a couple of chapters. But that’s not the case in the Second Age and Middle-earth’s ancient histories, where strong and complex women populate the legends – and one of the most interesting is Erendis. This Númenórean noblewoman put up with a lot; from her husband, her family, and her patriarchal society. But she wasn’t afraid to make enemies (she even publicly declared herself to be the personal nemesis of the divine Maia, Uinen, one of Númenor’s patron goddesses), and she stood her ground when attacked for her beliefs – which were radical for her time, as she counseled her daughter never to submit to the will of men. She’s loud, she’s persistent, and she’s exactly the type of character I want to see in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings.
5: Tar-Ancalimë. Erendis’ daughter was no less interesting: neglected by her absent father and raised only by her mother and the women of their sheep-farm, Ancalimë almost never encounters men before suddenly becoming the first ruling Queen of Númenor. This scenario screams to be depicted onscreen: in my mind, I picture it playing out much like the film Elizabeth (in which The Lord Of The Rings‘ very own Cate Blanchett starred in the lead role), but with the newly-crowned Tar-Ancalimë having no one to turn to for counsel but herself and the advice of her mother. We don’t know much about the Queen’s reign, save that it was one of the longest in Númenórean history, and, in an act of revenge against her father, she withheld aid from her father’s ally, Gil-galad, during his war against Sauron. With so much blank space, there’s plenty of room to write new material.
4: Celebrimbor. Though only briefly mentioned in The Lord Of The Rings proper, Celebrimbor is one of the few Second Age characters that general audiences might know, thanks to the incredible popularity of the Shadow Of Mordor video games – the games themselves are not a very accurate adaptation of Middle-earth (as should have been obvious when they had Celebrimbor’s ghost team up with a Gondorian Ringwraith, a human version of Shelob, and Gollum to forge his own Ring and take down Sauron), but they did at least introduce a bunch of people to the character of Celebrimbor, and his identity as the craftsman behind the Rings of Power. Last of the line of Fëanor, Celebrimbor inherited much of his grandfather’s rebellious attitude, though he is generally viewed in a more positive light than his violent ancestors. Most of his faults were either exacerbated by or derived from Sauron, who deceived Celebrimbor into trusting him. Sadly, that was to be Celebrimbor’s fatal mistake, and he was killed after months of exhausting torture, refusing to disclose the locations of the other Rings of Power that he had forged. The Elf’s mangled body soon became one of Sauron’s favorite military souvenirs and hung from a banner when the Dark Lord marched into battle.
3: The Witch-King. Very little is known about any of the nine mortal men doomed to die, all of whom willingly bound their lives to the fate of Sauron and his One Ring in a bid for…what, exactly? Did they desire immortality? Magic? Power? We don’t know. Tolkien wrote that at least three of them were Númenóreans – likely imperialist military officers dispatched to Middle-earth to safeguard the empire’s colonies, who fell under the Dark Lord’s sway while there. Some of them may have been sorcerers. The only named member of the Nine was Khamûl, and he was an Easterling. But who was the enigmatic Witch-King, whom prophecy foretold would never be slain by any man? There’s no hint as to his true name, personality, or motivation for accepting one of the Nine Rings – which means Amazon Prime can do whatever they want with the character.
2: Galadriel. She’s always been my favorite character in the Tolkien legendarium, and not just because she was masterfully portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. In Tolkien’s published works, you only see a tiny fraction of this heroine’s long and eventful life in Middle-earth: it’s only when you begin to find mentions of her in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales that you realize she is fascinating, nuanced, and, honestly, more complex than most of Tolkien’s male heroes. She started out as a woman of great physical strength, who participated in a variety of sports in her homeland of Valinor and was described as being an Amazon. She openly defied the Valar and chose to leave Valinor to pursue fortune and glory in Middle-earth, and when called upon to repent for that “crime” at the end of the First Age, she refused. She was an open-minded and intelligent leader: she fostered a close friendship with the Dwarves when other Elves shunned them, and she viewed them with the keen eye of a commander, helping them to ready their armies against Sauron’s onslaughts in the Second Age. She and her husband traveled all over Middle-earth, searching for allies in the coming war, settling in several different locations. She presumably led troops into battle on many occasions. In the Third Age, she gave magical aid to heroes such as Eorl and Frodo Baggins, and she entered Dol Guldur and drove back the darkness that hung over Mirkwood. And these are just the highlights of her life! If she’s not also my favorite character in the Amazon Prime series, I’d be very surprised.
1: Sauron. The only character I could see possibly vying with Galadriel for my undivided affection in the Second Age is…Sauron, base master of treachery, shape-shifting dark wizard and sadistic fallen angel. But that’s because Sauron, while he is indeed a villain, is still a villain with a purpose – and a good one, too. Originally a divine Maia whose chief virtue was supposedly perfectionism, Sauron was allured by the demonic deity Morgoth, whose visionary ideas of reformation appealed to him. Sauron, however, disagreed with Morgoth on many issues: in particular, he had no desire to see the world destroyed, instead hoping for a future in which he could be Middle-earth’s sole leader, and build a perfect utopia for himself and all his loyal subjects. Upon Morgoth’s fall, Sauron decided to make this a reality: he refused to repent for his crimes against the Valar, instead taking a beautiful human form and going among the Elves, offering them a chance to rebuild the world alongside him. At this point, Tolkien was explicit in saying that he was not fully evil. He did, in fact, want to make the world a better place – but because he could not be content with any imperfection in his plan, and because he had turned away from the teachings of Eru, the True God, and so could only mimic Morgoth’s flawed designs, he failed in his purpose and slipped into a feral rage, becoming tyrannical and too ambitious to be contained. That’s a great villain arc right there: all too often I hear people say that Sauron is a one-dimensional floating eye in the sky (I mean, it’s hard to even find an image for this post that isn’t of him as a floating eye!), and all I have to say to those people is that they’re wrong, and I will not tolerate your foolish arguments…and yes, I realize I just sounded like Sauron, so what?
Do you like my list? Would you add a couple more characters to it, or remove some? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.
With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.
10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.
9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.
8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.
7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.
6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.
5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.
4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.
3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.
2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)
1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.
So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Yesterday, I laid out ten defining moments from the Second Age of Middle-earth that will probably comprise the backbone of the Amazon Prime The Lord Of The Rings series coming to streaming in the near future: the misleading title would have you believe that Amazon is simply adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic and beloved novels (and I’m sure Amazon is fine with that, if it lures you into watching their series), but this is anything but a retelling of the author’s most popular work. Instead, Amazon is going to be telling some of the less well-known stories from the depths of Middle-earth’s extensive history, specifically the Second Age.
But because J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so little about the Second Age, and so much of what he did write was only published posthumously by his son, many people don’t have a very clear idea of what to expect from the series, which is why, today, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that I want to see in The Lord Of The Rings. These aren’t necessarily things that will happen, but I feel that each one is a necessary element that would add whole new layers to our understanding of Middle-earth.
10: The Ent And The Entwife. While it would obviously be a non-canonical answer to an age-old question, it’s about time we finally saw what happened to the mysterious Entwives after Sauron swept through their gardens with a destructive slash-and-burn policy, near the end of the Second Age. By the time of Frodo Baggins’s quest, these gardens had been deserted for so long they were only known as the Brown Lands: but in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, we have a chance to see a flourishing Entish culture, maybe even some of the elusive Ent children that were so rare in later days. The Entwives passed on their agricultural knowledge to humans during the Second Age, giving them a narrative purpose (remember that one of the rumored main characters is said to be a farmer). As for what happens to them after Sauron attacks, well, that’s up to Amazon to decide: if they want to be really controversial, they could have them escape to the Land of Rhûn, backing up the claims of a recently uncovered map.
9: The Blue Wizards. This is a complicated subject. The two Blue Wizards are usually believed to have arrived on the shores of Middle-earth at the same time as their more well-known brethren – characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast – and to have failed in their purpose, becoming servants of Sauron or founding mystic cults in lands like Harad and Rhûn. But one version of the story, written later in Tolkien’s life (and thus, by the generally-accepted laws of determining canon, the more accurate version), outlines a scenario where the Blue Wizards, individually named Alatar and Pallando (or Morinehtar and Rómestámo), entered Middle-earth during the Second Age, and journeyed far into the East and South, helping to disrupt Sauron’s plans and playing a crucial part in his defeat, both in the Second and Third Ages. In this version, they enter Middle-earth at about the same time as Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf of Gondolin sent back from death to aid in Elrond and Gil-galad’s defense of the citadel of Imladris (Rivendell). This is the version I want to see: while one of the two Wizards could potentially be corrupted by Sauron or otherwise fall from their higher purpose in the series, I’d like to see them depicted in a more heroic light – and since they’ll be journeying into lands more akin to the Middle East and Central Asia than Western Europe, I’d want to see them played by actors of color: specifically women of color, if that’s possible.
8: The Haradrim. In all of Tolkien’s legendarium, only two Haradrim are mentioned by name – and both come from the Second Age. Herumor and Fuinur were both Black Númenórean lords of Harad who fought alongside Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance. In the Amazon Prime series, we should see storylines – entire story arcs – set in the desert country, providing a welcome change from the more familiar lands of Eriador and Mordor, and giving us more racial diversity in Middle-earth. Helped by the subtle efforts of the Blue Wizards, we could see heroic Haradrim characters rise up against their villainous kings and resist Sauron’s influences.
7: Galadriel And Celeborn. Even Tolkien himself never came to a conclusion on how Galadriel and Celeborn met, what they did in the First Age, how they came to Middle-earth, or what they did when they got there. In the scraps of his unfinished tales, the two characters are constantly changing: at one point, they’re the parents of a son and daughter, but later they only had a daughter; sometimes Celeborn was a Telerin Elf, other times Sindarin; in some versions Galadriel rebelled against the Elf, but in others she left Valinor for different reasons. Amazon can’t adapt every variation on the same story. My suggestion is that, rather than try to stick to just one version of the tale, they’ll take all the best parts from many different versions and piece them together into one cohesive whole. Just so long as we see the Galadriel who was obsessed with Dwarves and the Celeborn who stayed behind in Eregion with Sauron rather than travel through the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm, I’m good.
6: Valinor And Valar. Amazon will be limited by the restrictions placed upon them by the Tolkien Estate, but if they want to fully flesh out the ancient history of Middle-earth in a way it never has been before, they’d be wise to make it clear that a number of gods, demigods and angels inhabit the world of Arda. Even Peter Jackson hinted at this, during Gandalf’s rebirth. With the Númenóreans constantly praising Maiar like Uinen and Ossë, the Elves worshiping Varda, and the eagle messengers of Manwë showing up to forewarn people of impending doom, there are many opportunities to slip in references to these deities. As for Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, there’s no way to tell the story of the Fall of Númenór without seeing that far green country at least once, through the eyes of the would-be conqueror Ar-Pharazôn, just before he and his army get crushed under a mountain.
5: Different Elves.In previous adaptations of the Tolkien mythos, there haven’t been many obvious distinctions drawn between the different Elven cultures, but in the Second Age, such a distinction will be necessary with so many characters sharing the screen. The High Elves or Eldar are the ones we’ll probably be following most closely: after being forced to migrate en masse from their ruined homelands in Beleriand, the High Elves settle down in the vast lands of Middle-earth, often uprooting the defenseless Silvan Elves from their own homes.Silvan Elves whom we might see include Amroth, the Prince of Lórien; Nimrodel, a notable Lórien resident and inventor of the flet treehouse; and a young Thranduil then living in Amon Lanc (which would later be overrun by Sauron’s forces and turned into Dol Guldur) with his father, the proud king Oropher. Though the simmering resentment the Silvan Elves feel toward the High Elves never boils over into aggression in Tolkien’s works, there’s certainly room for Amazon to go there with their story: not only to give the Elves some interesting dynamics, but to parallel the similar situation between the Númenóreans and the Men of Middle-earth.
4: Númenórean Imperialism. Tolkien himself went on the record as being anti-British Empire, and in his stories, imperialism is never viewed in a positive light: the Númenórean desire to rule over the “lesser” Men of Middle-earth during what was already the heyday of their power led them to ever bloodier, more brutal conquests that in turn led them straight to a watery end. To stay true to Tolkien, depicting the Númenóreans faithfully will require Amazon Prime to turn the initial heroes of the story into the villains, as the once peaceful culture devolves into an ambitious, power-hungry assortment of misguided kings and warmongering military leaders. It’s not going to be pretty.
3: The Refusal Of The Gift. One of the darkest – but most crucial – elements that Amazon will have to nail down in their series is the Númenórean society’s fear of death. In the beginning of the Second Age, the Men of Númenor are long-lived, surviving for hundreds of years and being given the ability to basically die whenever they feel like it, thus “giving up the gift” – that being the gift of death that was given to them by Eru, Middle-earth’s ultimate deity. But as the Second Age wanes and Númenor tries to extend its reach around the world, killing and pillaging in the process, these Men begin to grow jealous of the immortal Elves, and they become more obsessed with their own inevitable mortality than the years they have left to live. This is the volatile situation that Sauron the Deceiver will enter and masterfully manipulate to his own advantage – it’s critical that we understand why the Númenóreans would be so willing to listen to his lies.
2: Aldarion And Erendis. There’s absolutely no better place to begin foreshadowing Númenor’s downfall than in the story of Aldarion and Erendis. One of the only complete stories from the Second Age that Tolkien ever wrote, this tragedy tells the complicated tale of a long-lived Númenórean Prince named Aldarion who falls in love with a woman, Erendis, whose lifespan is far shorter than his own. Aldarion disappears on voyages to Middle-earth that last for years, sometimes even decades, as he establishes colonies, starts wars, and fells entire forests for timber, caring little for his duties back at home. Erendis, meanwhile, after openly declaring herself to be hateful of the Sea and a foe of the Maia Uinen, is forced to watch and wait for her sea-faring husband, while precious time slips through her fingers, robbing her of the best years of her life. Not only does it shed light on the interesting gender dynamics of the Second Age, but, with just a little tinkering, it could become an effective prelude to all of Númenor’s later troubles, with Aldarion and Erendis representing both the imperialistic tendencies and the fear of death that would combine to bring about the empire’s downfall.
1: The Lord Of The Rings. Confused? Well, don’t be, because what you might never have considered is that the title of the novel, which refers – obviously – to Sauron, is perhaps still just as fitting a title for the Amazon Prime series. After all, Sauron is going to be the prime antagonist of the show, and Amazon will give us an opportunity to finally see his true power. Throughout The Lord Of The Rings (the novel, not the series: I can see why using that title would be confusing), we’re told that Sauron reclaiming his One Ring would cause a second darkness, and give the Maia almost unlimited power – but in the Second Age, when Sauron did have the Ring and was still busy causing his first darkness, he was defeated (albeit temporarily) by one lucky guy with a broken sword. Amazon has a chance to show us, for the first time, what the Ring is actually capable of doing when bound around its dread master’s finger. I’m not saying I want to see the Lord of the Rings summon whirlwinds of fire or rain ruinous lightning down on his foes or anything…but no, actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
So what do you think? Would you care to see any of these ten things, or does it not matter to you what ends up in the series, so long as it’s good? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
With the coronavirus currently raging around the world and no end to the health crisis in sight, expect to see an increase in these sort of hypothetical think-pieces from my blog.
This is something I feel like I should have written about ages ago. But now, while we wait for production on Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings streaming series to resume, we have to wonder: what will the series actually be about? Hint: it’s not The Lord Of The Rings – or, rather, it is, but not quite in the way you were probably expecting, if you haven’t been following along with every tidbit of news about the series.
You see, while Amazon Prime does have the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s most well-known and influential novel, that’s not what they’re choosing to adapt in their billion-dollar, five-season production. Instead, they’re rummaging around in the depths of Tolkien lore, in a little-known and oft-overlooked period of Middle-earth history: a time period known as the Second Age. The average audience member introduced to the Tolkien fandom through Peter Jackson’s movies probably doesn’t know this term, but they do know two major events that happened in the Second Age – namely, the forging of the One Ring, and the first defeat of Sauron the Dark Lord. Both events happened in rapid succession in the prologue to The Fellowship Of The Ring, but in Tolkien’s timeline there are more than a thousand years between those two things.
That’s why today we’ll be looking at ten events that shaped the Second Age and will likely define the series.
10: Rebuilding After The First Age. Amazon Prime does not have the rights to adapt material from J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion, meaning they probably won’t be addressing too many events from the First Age of Middle-earth’s history, at least not in great detail. But they don’t really need to: the Second Age picks up right where the First left off, with all of Arda (basically, the entire world, of which Middle-earth is actually only a small piece) in ruins following the fall of Morgoth the Accursed and the destruction visited upon the earth’s surface by the trampling feet of the host of the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods). Continents get pushed around, coastlines change, mountains crumble – just an average day in Arda. Assuming the series starts roughly around the beginning of the Second Age, it’ll have to cover several events that happen here: the migrations of Elves, Men and Dwarves across Middle-earth, the foundations of new cities and strongholds, and the establishment of empires such as Númenor, a star-shaped island kingdom given as a gift to Mankind by the Valar; Lindon, which becomes the chief dwelling-place of the High Elves under the rule of King Gil-galad; and Eregion, a small but hugely influential kingdom settled by Celebrimbor, last of the crafty Fëanorian Elves. Even if the series starts later in the Second Age, these events will still probably be covered in flashbacks.
9: The Heyday Of Elves And Men. This is the time period during which we can probably expect a large part of the series to take place. Basically, what you need to remember about the Elves we’ll see living in Second Age in Middle-earth is that they chose to stay there. After the First Age, when the world was remade and Morgoth was undone, the Elves were offered a choice by the Valar: to repent for all their sins (which included killing some of their brethren and defying the will of the Valar) and return to the Blessed Realm of Valinor across the Western Sea, or to remain in Middle-earth. Some chose to head back home, but a lot decided to stay: the ones who stayed grew arrogant, and tried to prove to the Valar, in a way, that they could make Middle-earth just as blissful and peaceful as Valinor. This motivated Celebrimbor to welcome a stranger who came among his people claiming to be an emissary from the Valar who had taken pity on the Elves of Middle-earth. This stranger, going by the name of Annatar, Giver of Gifts, was welcomed into the kingdom of Eregion and quickly rose to power there. Meanwhile, in Númenor, human Men began to sail far and wide across the seas of Arda, settling in colonies along the coasts of Middle-earth and venturing even to the edge of the world. Something else to remember, for future reference: at this point in the timeline, the earth is flat. A flat, roughly circular disc just floating in the cosmos, minding its own business. So when I say the Númenóreans ventured to the edge of the world….I mean that literally.
8: The Rings Of Power. Remember that stranger who showed up in Eregion? Yeah, well, it’s at this point in the timeline that he basically comes out and says what every Elf in Middle-earth has already been feeling: it’s time to radically redesign the balance of power in Arda. He and Celebrimbor work together to forge a set of Rings, each of which is imbued with terrible power. These Rings are given out to all the major players in Middle-earth: King Gil-galad gets one, Círdan the Shipwright gets one, the Lady Galadriel gets one; seven Dwarf-lord get one each; nine of the most powerful human sorcerers, kings and warriors get one each. But in secret, Annatar, Giver of Gifts, has been stealing Celebrimbor’s secrets to forge his own Ring – a master Ring, a Ring that will rule all the other Rings and bind them to his will. Oh wait, did I forget to mention that Annatar is actually Sauron the Dark Lord in disguise? Yeah, he totally is, and he’s intent on getting vengeance on the Valar for what they did to Morgoth, his master and mentor in the First Age. But when he puts on his One Ring and declares himself to be the Lord of the Rings, Celebrimbor senses his true purpose and hides all the other Rings, buying himself a little time.
7: The War Of The Elves And Sauron. Unfortunately for Celebrimbor, his quick action meant that the Three Rings given to the Elves were saved – but he himself was captured by Sauron during an attack on Eregion, tortured for that information until he died of exhaustion, and then was tied to a flagpole and carried like a banner into battle by Sauron’s armies of orcs. In the end, Celebrimbor only disclosed to Sauron the locations of the Seven and Nine Rings they had made, and Sauron took most of those at this point. For a long time afterwards, Sauron was at war with the Elves of Middle-earth, and this is where the series will be able to fit in some awesome battles: Gil-galad and his herald, Elrond, lead the main assault against Sauron, but they are joined by several others, including Círdan with his fleets of Elven ships; Galadriel and Celeborn, leading joint efforts from both sides of the Misty Mountains; the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm; and Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf from the First Age who is sent back to Middle-earth by the Valar to aid in the Elven Wars. But even with all of this aid, the Elves still would likely have been defeated, had not Númenor arrived just in time.
6: The Decline Of Númenor. While the Elves are busy fighting Sauron in Middle-earth for centuries, the Men of Númenor are feeling the Dark Lord’s shadow from afar. At the height of their power, the Númenóreans were a naturally long-lived people, but as time went on their longevity began to wear away, even as they clung to it. In their heyday, they had welcomed Elves to their island paradise: even Elves who came from Valinor with gifts and wise advice. But now, they’re starting to wonder why only Elves were “blessed” with immortality, and their jealousy of Valinor grows until it becomes a disease. Amazon will need to get this exactly right: we need to feel that desperation that will drive the Númenóreans to madness and acts of blatant aggression; we need to see the terror in the eyes of their Kings, holding onto life even as they slip away; we need to smell the decay that creeps through their culture, foreshadowing what’s to come.
5: Sauron In Númenor. When the Númenórean army arrives in Middle-earth, bringing an end to the war between Sauron and the Elves, Sauron realizes at once that he is outnumbered. But Sauron is cunning: pretending to be defeated, he willingly surrenders to the Númenórean king and commander, Ar-Pharazôn, and is subsequently taken back to Númenor to be a prisoner. Here, he pulls the same trick he used against the Elves: he promises Ar-Pharazôn his greatest desire – in this case, everlasting life. This, he claims, can only be won if Ar-Pharazôn musters the courage and the army to invade Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar. Ar-Pharazôn, not known for being the brightest Edain in Arda, finally succumbs to his prisoner’s seduction, and allows Sauron to counsel him in every matter: when Sauron begins the building of his army, the King agrees to it; when Sauron builds a temple to Morgoth and starts practicing bloody human sacrifices there, the King agrees to it; when Sauron sends him off to his death, the King agrees to it, ignoring all the warnings of doomsday that the Valar send his way. He and his army do make it to Valinor, and they even set foot on the Blessed Realm’s shores – and then, in the greatest act of comeuppance ever, the Valar kill him and almost everyone else in Númenor by sending the island hurtling into the ocean abyss and burying Ar-Pharazôn under a mountain. Sauron is temporarily killed in the cataclysmic disaster, and he loses his ability to ever again take a human form.
4: Gondor And Arnor. At this time, the world is remade again by the Valar, and becomes a globe. Oddly, the only effect this has on the Middle-earth map, aside from the complete disappearance of Númenor, is changing one island in the Bay of Belfalas. Coincidentally, it’s in this bay that the next chapter of the Second Age begins, as this is where one small group of battered ships arrives after a long and arduous journey by sea, manned by the Númenórean prince, Isildur, and his brother. Their father, Elendil, gets washed ashore in the far north of Middle-earth. At these two points on the map, these men set up two kingdoms: Gondor in the south, and Arnor in the north. These kingdoms become one vast empire in these last few years of the Second Age, and are united in opposing Sauron. Isildur builds the city of Minas Anor (later changed to Minas Tirith), and plants the sapling of the White Tree of Gondor there. The seven seeing stones, or palantíri, are placed in secure locations around Middle-earth. The tower of Orthanc in Isengard is built. With callbacks like these, who needs hobbits?
3: The War Of The Last Alliance. Needless to say, Sauron isn’t done haranguing our heroes just yet. Gathering his forces for a final push, he leads his armies of corrupted Ringwraithes, orcs, and foul creatures into battle against the fledgling force of Gondor. But in this dark hour, Mankind does not stand alone. Elendil, King of Arnor, goes to Gil-galad and Elrond and requests their aid: they form a Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and lead their armies together into the south, relieving the siege of Gondor and eventually entering Mordor, Sauron’s dreadful realm. As they approach Mordor, they are joined by Elves out of Lórien and Greenwood, Dwarves from the Misty Mountains, and even Ents out of Fangorn Forest. There are several battles along the way, most notably on the plain of Dagorlad that would later become bogged down and renamed the Dead Marshes. In Mordor, the Last Alliance besieges Sauron’s fortress of Barad-dûr, which lasts for several years.
2: The Fall Of Sauron. At last, Sauron breaks the siege, though not before many have died, including Isildur’s brother Anárion and Oropher, king of the Elves of Greenwood. The Dark Lord arrives on the battlefield wearing the One Ring he created, making him almost invulnerable – he drives the attacking armies back to the slopes of Mount Doom, and there, with the fiery heat of his hand, he kills Gil-galad and Elendil. But Isildur, Elendil’s son, takes up the hilt-shard of his father’s broken sword and deals the fatal blow to Sauron, cutting the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s finger. Sauron is vanquished, and his evil spirit flees, incorporeal and weakened. His armies are easily defeated. His Ringwraithes vanish from history. And the war is won. But Isildur refuses to listen to the counsel of Elrond and Círdan, who both advise him to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Instead, Isildur finds himself unable to get rid of the Ring, and holds onto it as a souvenir of his victory.
1: The Disaster Of The Gladden Fields. This one is entirely up to the showrunners: it’s possible they’ll want to end the series on a more hopeful note, with the survivors of the war picking up the threads of their broken lives and moving on, and all that. And certainly there should be some happy endings – but at the same time, it would be deliciously exciting to end the entire series with the disaster of the Gladden Fields, something that was glimpsed briefly in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Isildur, returning home from the war, is attacked by a rogue band of orcs and killed – and the One Ring slips from his finger as he falls and drops into the River Anduin. Imagine it: Howard Shore’s familiar, eerie score closing out the final episode of the final season, as we watch the Ring settle into the mud at the river-bed, there to lie in wait for the next two and a half thousand years…
So what do you think of these ten events from the Second Age timeline? Will they define the series, or do you think the showrunners will focus their adaptation on a singular moment from the chronology, rather than trying to fit three-thousand years worth of story into just five seasons? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Considering that I went into The Letter For The King expecting to be bored out of my mind, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with what I got: which, indeed, is mostly a blend of various tired fantasy tropes and scenes or even entire characters plucked straight from other, better, works of art, but also has just enough new – or mostly new – content to distance itself from the pack.
Based on an obscure Dutch fantasy novel from the 1960’s, The Letter For The King simply doesn’t have the name recognition that would enable it to jump into the midst of Netflix’s crowded schedule with a built-in fanbase. In English-speaking countries, there wasn’t even a proper translation of the novel until a few years ago. So it’s unsurprising that the six-part series has to look for inspiration elsewhere: almost the entire plot is comprised of original content, and almost all of that original content is…shall we say, lifted, from fantasy books, films and TV series as wide-ranging as The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, The Witcher, The Chronicles Of Prydain and Starlight. The latter two, with their largely simplistic worlds, basic magic systems, and archetypal characters, are by far the most obvious source material – even with Lord Of The Rings trilogy production designer Ra Vincent working behind the scenes, The Letter For The King still looks and feels like a small-scale children’s fable (and that’s not a criticism of Prydain or Starlight, by the way: both are fabulous) that might have attracted more attention if it had been released fifteen years ago, when studios were trying desperately to replicate the success of The Lord Of The Rings by using as little money and effort as possible. These days, as the hunt for the next Game Of Thrones heats up, The Letter For The King, with its antiquated fairytale style and low stakes, has little chance of being an underdog champion like its protagonist, Tiuri (alternately pronounced “Tiuri” or “Churri” – I doubt it was intentional, but the constantly changing pronunciations of his name often reminded me of a similar problem in Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic TheLord Of The Rings, where the villain Saruman’s name was changed halfway through production to “Aruman”, leading to a perplexing continuity error).
Oftentimes, adaptations of fantasy and sci-fi literature fail because they try to excessively build their worlds rather than doing the same with their characters or plot: cramming detail and deep lore into every inch of your expansive world is certainly much more fun than patching up plot-holes or charting character arcs, but if done incorrectly, it can bog down a film or TV series within minutes, as the audience struggles to catch up with a constant flow of place names, history lessons and nonsensical exposition dumps. The Letter For The King somehow does the exact opposite and still runs into a problem: because it does the bare minimum to flesh out its world (for example, the world actually has no name: its simply referred to as “three kingdoms”), it ends up looking like any of a thousand generic fantasy worlds – a sprinkling of vague magic, Medieval European societies dotting a map, and an obligatory Chosen One prophecy.
But once it becomes apparent that this is a problem (about five minutes in, I think?), the show starts hurling things at you that give the impression of depth: specifically, actors from other fantasy franchises. David Wenham, who portrayed Faramir, the young, idealistic son of a stern and demanding father, in The Lord Of The Rings, has here been upgraded to playing the stern and demanding father of a young, idealistic son (and make no mistake: he does a fantastic job of it). Andy Serkis, whose revolutionary motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum earned him worldwide renown, here delights in a brief cameo as an actual human being: something of a mix between the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit and Capricorn, the villain of Inkheart (who, coincidentally, was also portrayed by Serkis in the film adaptation of that novel). Serkis’ daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis also shares the screen with him, playing his character’s daughter Lavinia, and then goes on to become the female lead of the series – her acting career is off to a good start, judging by the strength of her performance here. And in a very smart move, Kim Bodnia plays the sword-fighting abbot of the monastery at the edge of the world: Bodnia will portray the Witcher Vesemir in The Witcher‘s second season, and this is a tantalizing first look at what he could do in that role – Witcher fans would be smart to check out his fighting and acting skills here, and simultaneously give The Letter To The King some much-needed views.
Because despite being derivative, the series actually does have quite a lot of strong elements: especially if you’re into the more romanticized, outdated style of fantasy that was popular throughout the middle of the 20th Century. It has charm, for one thing – the series is TV-PG and family-friendly: a welcome break from The Witcher‘s gothic horror and Game Of Thrones‘ vicious brutality. And the core cast of characters are all fairly well developed: Tiuri, played by Amir Wilson, isn’t exactly a memorable hero, but he’s also not quite as dull as Starlight‘s Tristan or Prydain‘s Taran (what’s with all the T names, may I ask?). His character also has interesting things to say regarding the racial dynamics in his world – none of which ever actually get said, but still exist in subtext. Thaddea Graham’s hardened rogue Iona evolves into an Arya Stark prodigy (her final scene in the series actually seems to direct imitate one of Arya’s memorable scenes with The Hound from Game Of Thrones, season 8). Jussipo, initially one of the most annoying characters in the series, quickly shows his true colors as a delightfully smarmy, wickedly sarcastic bard. And along with gender and racial diversity, there’s even some surprising LGBTQ+ representation among the main cast – which, after all the recent queer-baiting from other studios, deserves a round of applause for how direct and straightforward it is.
Any good fantasy needs a good villain – a Cersei Lannister, a Smaug, a wicked old witch. The Letter For The King has an up-and-down relationship with its villain, Gijs Blom’s raven-haired goth necromancer Viridian: first it depicts him as a cartoonishly callous sadist without any moral complexity; then it tries to turn the tables on our heroes and reveal Viridian’s noble purpose, which actually works until said noble purpose turns out to be thinly-veiled racism; then it underutilizes him in its own finale before turning him into an overpowered Morgoth knock-off.
Speaking of which, we have to talk about the series’ poor use of action. Action, in a fantasy series, is something of a given: even if its special effects wizardry, you need some sort of action. The Letter For The King, being almost exclusively the story of Tiuri intercepting an incriminating letter from Viridian and trying to deliver it to a neighboring nation’s king, relies heavily on horseback fight and chase scenes. Now, these are easy to do right, with the help of a good cinematographer: in The Lord Of The Rings, Arwen and Frodo’s flight to the fords of Bruinen is a thrilling, suspenseful sequence where horses interlace between trees in a graceful, dangerous dance while Howard Shore’s score wails hauntingly in the background. Unfortunately, the thousands of horse chases in this series never once come close to paralleling that one epic scene, no matter how many times they pan over beautiful landscapes: the music accompanying these scenes is unmemorable, while the cinematography is questionable – mounting a camera on a horse’s head probably seemed like a good idea to make one chase scene more realistic, but did no one stop to consider that it takes the viewer out of the world completely?
It’s the same situation with the special effects budget. Most of the CGI seems to have been used up on Viridian’s finale transformation, meaning that throughout the rest of the series there’s just a bunch of patchy fire and smoke effects and one truly horrific CGI castle wall in the city of Unauwen – which was made doubly inexcusable because of how many times the city was made out to look like Game Of Thrones‘ Winterfell from afar, despite the fact that the one is a mess of bad special effects and the other was an almost entirely practical set.
So is The Letter For The King a must-see? Not by any means. But while we’re all self-quarantining, I don’t know if we’ve got any better options right now. And it’s actually not that bad. Pretty bad? Yeah, just a little. Game Of Thrones season 8 bad? No. Not even close.
Technically, I reported on this quite some time ago, back when Maxim Baldry’s name first came up in association with Amazon Prime’s long-awaited adaptation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, because, at the time, it seemed legit. However, as the months have crept by and we have begun to hear more information about the streaming series’ production and filming in New Zealand, Maxim Baldry’s name has been…let’s say, suspiciously absent from the conversation. To the point where it seemed like his casting had been a piece of misinformation (something that has plagued the Lord Of The Rings series since the beginning, with sites like TheOneRing.net often pushing hyperbolic and conjectural narratives about the series on their Twitter account).
Our fears were apparently confirmed when Baldry was left off an important cast list released by Amazon Prime themselves. A total of fifteen actors and actresses were officially cast and sent off to New Zealand to begin their strenuous physical training and start work on the series, including Robert Aramayo, Nazanin Boniadi, Markella Kavenagh, Morfydd Clark and others. But Baldry, whom, at the time, I and many other fans considered to be one of the main stars, was still nowhere to be seen. His social media gave no hint of any involvement (for comparison, most of the other confirmed stars have been using their social media to keep us up to date on their time in New Zealand, including sightseeing, hiking trips and visits to Lord Of The Rings trilogy locales such as the Hobbiton film set).
And then last night, out of the blue – Maxim Baldry is onboard the Amazon Prime series, according to Deadline (who also broke the original story of his joining the cast). They have now acknowledged that their initial report was only partially accurate: while he has been circling the project for some time, only recently has he worked out a deal with Amazon and settled into what Deadline are calling “a lead role” – not to be confused with the lead, who is believed to be played by Robert Aramayo. This matches up with what Amazon Co-head of TV Vernon Sanders said about the series: that there were still “a few key roles to cast”.
As for who Maxim Baldry is playing, that’s an open question as of right now. But the British actor, best known for his work on Years And Years, seems to have a very important place in the series. And that’s why I’m returning to what I think was my original assumption, and putting out a guess that he’s playing Annatar the Giver of Gifts, one of the many forms of the shape-shifting villain Sauron, who you might remember from Peter Jackson’s trilogy as being a giant eye in the sky. Baldry’s slender build, delicate features and long mane of dark hair lend themselves naturally to the Dark Lord, who often disguised himself as an Elf during the Second Age of Middle-earth, when this series is set. Annatar, Sauron’s most iconic alter ego, was an Elven lord who claimed to have been sent from the realm of the gods to bring a message of reconstruction and reform to Middle-earth, only to deceive his victims into enslaving themselves to his will. If not Sauron, then my other fan-cast for Maxim Baldry would be the young and peaceful Elven King Gil-galad, leader of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and one of Sauron’s chief rivals during the Second Age.
Who do you think Maxim Baldry is playing, and why do you think it took him so long to get onboard with the series? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Amazon Prime recently announced the main cast for their upcoming Lord Of The Rings prequel adaptation (a multi-talented fellowship of fifteen, all of whom seem like admirable and interesting people), but now, with their production start-date inching closer, it’s time for them to start casting the smaller roles: recurring characters, guest stars, that sort of thing. Simon Merrells is the first such actor to be cast, according to new reporting.
Merrells, best known for his work on the TV series Spartacus (and for his brief but hilarious role on another Amazon Prime series, Good Omens), will supposedly be joining the cast of the epic fantasy in a recurring role: unsurprisingly, we don’t have a character name to attach to his face just yet, nor do we know how many episodes he will appear in. But that’s never stopped me before, and it’s not enough to stop me now from taking a wild shot in the dark and throwing out a guess for who I think Merrells could portray in the first season of Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings.
The character who came to mind immediately, after taking a long, hard look at Merrells’ long, hard face, was Círdan the Shipwright. Círdan is by no means a pivotal figure in the histories of the Second Age of Middle-earth, when this series takes place, but he is still just important enough to warrant popping up from time to time: he was one of the three Elven Ringbearers, and throughout the Second Age he wore on his hand Narya, the Ring of Fire – a responsibility he doesn’t seem to have ever exploited, as there’s no record of him ever using the Ring (and as soon as the Third Age rolled around, he took the first chance he got and passed it off to Gandalf). In this Age, he mostly stayed put in the peaceful country of Lindon, where he was probably a close confidante of the Elven king Gil-galad. He also started construction on the Grey Havens, which would later serve as the Elven peoples’ last escape-route from Middle-earth in times of war and hardship. There, at the Havens, he was probably the guardian of one of the palantíri seeing stones (which technically was housed a couple miles away at Elostirion, but close enough to still conceivably be within his sphere of influence). He stood by Isildur and Elrond on the slopes of Mount Doom after the first defeat of Sauron, and presumably backed Elrond up when the latter tried to convince Isildur not to take the One Ring. He’s a character who stands on the margins of this world’s history, watching events unfold with a patient, foreseeing eye, but rarely getting involved in the action. In other words, he’s not going to be around often in the series, but when he does show up, it’ll probably be for big, dramatic moments.
And of course, Merrells matches his physical description well enough: Círdan is written to be an old Elf, still noble and majestic, but weathered and worn-down a little from the weight of his burdens and the pain he has seen. Merrells, with his gaunt features and deep-set eyes, looks almost exactly like the character – I say “almost”, because Círdan is supposed to have a long grizzled beard, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Merrells, who has grown a decent-sized beard before for multiple roles.
So that’s who I think Simon Merrells could play in the Amazon Prime series. Who do you think he’s playing, and what do you think of the casting? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Amazon Prime has officially announced the fifteen members of the main recurring cast for the first season of their The Lord Of The Rings, a massive fantasy series that will dive deep into the uncharted expanses of time and space between J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic creation-narrative The Silmarillion, and the events of his most well-known work, The Lord Of The Rings. In this mostly unknown and unexplored region of the Tolkien legendarium, there are three-thousand years of stories, subplots and character arcs that can absolutely be stitched together into the five-season series that Amazon is hoping to create: and now they have a cast to help them with that daunting task.
A cast that, for the time being, is just that: a bunch of names and random headshots that really doesn’t give us any clear picture of what’s going on in Middle-earth at this point in the fantasy world’s history – are most of these characters original, devised by the Amazon Prime writer’s room? Or are they Tolkien characters, and we just don’t know it yet? Who is playing who?
That’s why I’m here: to make extremely random and imaginative conjectures based on a handful of vague hints, and, hopefully, get something right. I’m likely wrong about most or all of these predictions and theories, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.
That being said, let’s start out with Robert Aramayo, first on the cast-list and the man presumed to be the series’ central protagonist. Aramayo’s real character name is unknown, but it is known that he replaced fellow Brit Will Poulter, who was supposed to play “Beldor”. While no character with that name exists in Tolkien’s canon, Poulter’s striking resemblance to Hugo Weaving – who portrayed Elrond Half-Elven in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – led many to believe that Poulter was playing a younger version of Weaving’s character, and that “Beldor” was merely a code-name. Aramayo doesn’t bear the same resemblance to Weaving, but he’s not entirely dissimilar, either. If Poulter was playing Elrond, then it seems certain that Aramayo is, as well.
There’s another (small) bit of evidence that points to Beldor being Elrond: in an unofficial character breakdown, a character named “Neldor” was mentioned as being very similar to Beldor. Frankly, Neldor makes the most sense as a code-name for Elrond, since it’s literally just the word Elrond with the letters scrambled, but I think Neldor is more likely to be Elrond’s canon twin brother, Elros – the first king of Númenor, and forefather of the Dúnedain. And who better to play Elros than the only other member of the cast (so far) who looks anything like Robert Aramayo: Welsh actor Owain Arthur? Arthur has similar facial features to Aramayo, but is also noticeably older, meaning he could convincingly portray the Half-Elf’s mortal brother, who chose to live and die as a human.
We don’t know who’s playing Elrond, but it looks like Welsh actress Morfydd Clark is almost certainly playing a younger version of the Elven heroine Galadriel, as was reported some time ago. Clark could easily pass as Cate Blanchett’s twin, and has an ethereal aura that would befit a character of Galadriel’s nobility and majesty.
Similarly, it seems definite that Australian actress Markella Kavenagh is playing the character of “Tyra”, an elf or non-human character with an optimistic, naive worldview and an eager curiosity. This has been reported since she was cast several months ago, and it hasn’t changed once. Kavenagh is playing Tyra: of that I’m certain. I’m not yet certain whether Tyra is a code-name, but I do think she’s an original character – my theory is that she’s a rustic Silvan elf, and I will not be swayed in that opinion until proven wrong. A lot of people want to believe she’s actually Celebrían, the future wife of Elrond and mother of Arwen Evenstar, but those people are wrong. Sorry.
If I had to guess who is playing Celebrían, it would be Ema Horvath, a young Slovak-American actress who was cast a while ago: she doesn’t look like the type of actress who could play “warm and maternal…Eira” or “self-sufficient single mother…Kari”, so I have to assume she’s playing another character, whom we haven’t seen yet in either character breakdowns or leaked audition tapes. Celebrían is as good a choice as any. though another possibility is Tar-Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor.
But let’s get back to that self-sufficient single mother for a moment, because I think Iranian-British actress Nazanin Boniadi is the perfect fit for the role of Kari, whose audition tapes revealed a conflicted character struggling with a dangerous secret that could turn her people against her. Either that or she’s Erendis, a proud, fiercely determined Númenórean noblewoman who has a prominent role in Middle-earth history, and was the subject of one of Tolkien’s most emotional, intimate dramas. Boniadi would kill it in either role. I’ve also seen suggestions that she could be a gender-bent Celebrimbor, and I would love that too.
The series needs a villain, and I think both Daniel Weyman and Joseph Mawle make strong cases for why they should play Sauron, better known in this age of Middle-earth as Annatar, the giver of gifts and deceiver of men. Both men have strong, harsh features and a gaunt, almost sinuous look – personally, I’d take Mawle as Sauron and Weyman as his right-hand man, the Witch-King of Angmar, but maybe that’s just me. Sauron is an important role, and has to be cast right: in fact, since the character is a notorious shape-shifter, I wouldn’t mind seeing a number of different actors (or actresses) take on the role over the duration of the series, just to keep us constantly on our toes about who to trust. That way, the heavy burden wouldn’t just be on one actor’s shoulders, but would be passed around from episode to episode, allowing for the demigod villain to have a certain incorporeal feeling.
The character of “Hamson” is as good as Sauron is evil – described in breakdowns and audition tapes as a kind, loving farmer trying to preserve his fading health long enough to see his family through the winter, I imagine Hamson to be a rugged, rustic middle-aged man: basically, actor Dylan Smith. Otherwise, I could see Smith taking on the role of Loda, “an earthy man” whose daughter is training to be an apprentice in her village community.
Which brings us to Megan Richards, who I think fits the role of Loda’s daughter perfectly. This character doesn’t yet have a name, but had an important role in Loda’s audition tape, which saw the father and daughter duo conversing about a stowaway living in their house. With her charming, expressive features, Richards would be a sturdy emotional core for the series: a simple character wound up in a number of extraordinary circumstances. Alternatively, she could be playing one of Tyra’s sisters.
Next up, we have the youngest member of the cast, Australian child actor Tyroe Muhafidin. This boy has elf-ears, no questions asked: his ears are about as pointed as a human being’s can be, and I think it would be a waste to cast him as a human child, or anyone other than an elf. But are there any elf-children running around in the Second Age of Middle-earth? There are a couple: in one version of Galadriel’s backstory, she was the mother of a son named Amroth, who went on to become a noble elf-lord and the subject of a tragic love-song. Or, with a little timeline-altering, Muhafidin could be playing one of Elrond’s twin sons, Elladan or Elrohir. Those are the only elf-children I can think of off the top of my head, but there are very few kids in the Second Age – most likely, Muhafidin is playing a young version of a character who will become important as an adult in future seasons of the show.
Charlie Vickers is my pick for the character of “Cole”, who is described simply as a “charismatic” young fellow with a heavy burden and a melancholy attitude. Even after much brain-wracking, I can’t quite decide who this character might be in the Tolkien canon: perhaps the gloomy, pessimistic Celeborn? Imagining a “charismatic” Celeborn is somewhat difficult, so perhaps Vickers is playing a human – I keep coming back to Aldarion, the world-weary adventurer who set sail from Númenor to explore the edges of the world and found himself halfway across Middle-earth, leaving his family far behind him and largely abandoning the cares of his kingdom.
Aldarion’s closest friend among the Elves was the last king of the Noldor, the immortal Gil-galad. This is a role I wouldn’t mind seeing race-bent, especially because Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova seems like such a good choice: not only does he have a curiously timeless look, but his eyes are almost as striking as Elijah Wood’s – reminiscent of the pale starlight that the Elves adore so much. I could picture Córdova’s Gil-galad as a solemn, mature young leader and a keen judge of character.
Sophia Nomvete, an Iranian-African actress, is an exciting casting choice, and I want to see her in an exciting role: this could be as a queen reigning over lands in Middle-earth, or even as one of the two Blue Wizards who visited the far east and helped rally the fight against Sauron from behind his front-lines, causing irreparable damage to his war effort. The fates of these two wizards are a long-running subject of debate in the Tolkien fandom, and we’ve never seen them onscreen – the closest we got was a throwaway reference to them in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Finally, we have to figure out who Australian actor Tom Budge is playing: no easy task, considering that most images of him show the actor sporting a large, downright Gallic mustache. But once you look past the facial hair, I think it’s easy to envision Budge as an elf: perhaps even the foolhardy Celebrimbor, who will probably have a large role in the show as the creator and craftsman behind the forging of the Rings of Power. But Budge could also be playing a villain – in particular, I could see him as one of the nine mortal men ensnared by Sauron and transformed into the horrible Ringwraithes.
So all fifteen have been accounted for, and where does that leave us? Well, technically, nowhere, since these are all just guesses. I’ve tried my best to check off all the many characters listed in the unofficial breakdowns and audition tapes, but even so, a couple are still missing: who’s playing the maternal “Eira”, or irascible “Brac”? Which of these is the charismatic but cunning “Aric”, who made such an impression on us several months ago?
I leave you to come up with your own guesses, and tell me what you think of mine: share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Actress Ema Horvath has joined the slowly assembling cast of Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the novels and unpublished writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, becoming only the fifth actor to do so – at the rate this is going, we should have a full cast sometime by the end of next year: but filming apparently begins in February, so the series’ casting directors might want to speed things up and stop searching relentlessly for hairy bikers and “wonderful noses”. All the wonderful noses in the world aren’t going to help a show that can’t pull together a main cast.
Still, Horvath’s casting is at least a welcome sign of life from the project, which seems to randomly tumble into our newsfeeds every month or two with a sudden, startling announcement that makes us all sit up for twenty minutes before settling back into the long dark of Moria. Perhaps, if Amazon Prime could release some plot details, character names, or even a few pieces of concept art, we might have cause to get really excited: but these little unofficial news-stories are becoming increasingly infuriating as we’re forced to wait in silence for weeks in between, contenting ourselves with reading frustrating articles about all the things that the show could do wrong or “has” to get right (naming no names, of course).
Horvath herself is not likely to heighten our excitement or give outsiders a reason to get hyped: she’s a relatively obscure actress, with a small resume. I’m not certain which character she could be portraying onscreen, but I hope we might get an indication soon, as the show moves into production. I’d love it if Amazon could surprise us all and suddenly put out a big, detailed press release or something that all of us theorists could obsess over for a couple of weeks. That would be nice.
What do you think of the casting? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
For what is rumored to be the biggest, most expensive streaming series ever made, Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord Of The Rings prequel, based largely on the posthumously published works of author J.R.R. Tolkien, is barely even on the radar for most people. The series’ official social media accounts post cryptic messages and then go silent for weeks, even months. No cast members have been officially confirmed, even with filming set to begin in February of next year. We, the hardcore Tolkien fans, have to satisfy ourselves with theorizing and speculating about the smallest of details while we wait for any big announcements to break. But in the past couple of days, we’ve gotten plenty of small details, and now, at last, we have another big one.
Just a few days ago, a bunch of character code names for the series were released, with a couple of accompanying character traits that were largely vague and unhelpful. But last night Redanian Intelligence, a site better known for its coverage of The Witcher on Netflix, published transcripts of several audition tapes for some of these new characters, giving us a clearer insight into some of the series’ ensemble cast – specifically, the ones that seem most likely to be wholly invented, original characters designed by the showrunners themselves. And yes, that means it’s time to go through each audition tape one by one, breaking down all the new details and hints.
Obviously, be aware that any and all dialogue in an audition tape may not be indicative of the series’ actual script, and some of the scenarios within may not even be real: though a couple of them are detailed enough that they seem likely to be slightly altered versions of actual scenes from the show’s first season.
The first two videos focus on the character of Brac. I had previously speculated that Brac, described as “irascible and cantankerous”, might be the Elven King Oropher, lord of the Wood Elves of Greenwood and best/only known for leading his troops in a reckless charge against the forces of Sauron and dying in the process. Turns out, I was far off the mark in this case: based on the clues provided in these two videos, it appears that Brac is a human man. In Tolkien’s mythos, there are many different kinds of humans inhabiting the earth during the Second Age when this series takes place – but for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to be focusing on two, in particular: the Men of the West, who lived on the island of Númenór, and the Drúedain, or “Wild Men”, who lived in Middle-earth but were permitted to travel whither they wished. And Brac is almost definitely one of the latter.
The first video revolves around Brac’s interactions with an unnamed second person who appears to have come from the royal court of Númenór to consult with him about some urgent, mysterious matter. It is clear from context that Brac is living or staying in Númenór, as a guest of the royalty: specifically, Brac references “your queen”, indicating that his storyline takes place during the reign of one of the three ruling queens of Númenór – most likely Tar-Ancalimë. In Tolkien’s writings, one of the most major events involving the Drúedain takes place during her reign: it was at that time that the Drúedain who lived in Númenór became afraid and began to return across the sea to Middle-earth, realizing in their hearts that doom was coming for the mighty island kingdom, and any who stayed there would be swallowed up in the bloodbath to come.
Brac appears to be a high-ranking member of Drúedain nobility, who is pondering whether to stay on the island or return home. He questions the queen’s messenger, demanding to know the real reason why a Númenórean queen, whose people colonized and “befouled” Brac’s homeland, would suddenly pretend to care about her subjects’ suffering. The messenger gives no clear answer. The scene ends with Brac reluctantly allowing the messenger to spend the night at his house.
In the next scene, it is made obvious that the setting is Númenór, as Brac comments angrily about how much he despises the night sky made bright as noon-day by the lights of the island’s cities. “The night should be a blanket,” he announces, before prophetically adding “I can’t ever quite escape the feeling that it’s all about to fall over.” He announces his intention to leave the island and return to his homeland the very next day, but the second person, here given the name Radagar, pleads with him to stay, even revealing the queen’s bidding: “our people will make amends for each yield of crop you lost during our wars”. Brac appears to contemplate his words, but the scene ends shortly thereafter with no conclusion reached. Until we actually see the episode in which this conversation may or may not happen, we can only speculate about what Brac eventually chooses to do – will he leave the island or stay to negotiate with the queen? We know from Tolkien’s writings that there were no Drúedain still living in Númenór by the time of the island’s eventual downfall and destruction, so Brac will presumably escape death by godly wrath.
The next two scenes give us our first look at Kari, the “village healer with a secret”. I had hoped that her character might be Erendis, the Númenórean queen who raised her daughter, the aforementioned Tar-Ancalimë, in the countryside far from royal interference and male meddling – but unfortunately, it appears I was wrong. Kari seems to be a human, one of the proto-Dunlendings who lived in the regions colonized by Númenór in the Second Age and later reclaimed by nature. She is like Brac in that she is keenly aware of the divide between the peoples of Middle-earth, but unlike Brac, she doesn’t seem to have any intention of leaving her homeland.
In her first scene, Kari speaks to her lover, a soldier named Everad. There’s clearly a divide between these two tormented souls: Everad fears and distrusts Kari’s “disloyal” people, who rose in rebellion in “ages past”. Kari argues on behalf of her kinsfolk, and asks him whether there is “[any] room in your peoples hearts for forgiveness”. It doesn’t seem implausible that the steely Everad is a Númenórean warrior: if that is the case, then both characters are possibly committing a crime against their cultures by being together – and who doesn’t love some forbidden love? Considering that there aren’t any elf/human pairings in the Second Age, this seems like a good fit for the story.
The second scene with Kari is more tense and powerful: she wakes in the early morning and finds Everad already preparing to leave her home, while soldiers search for him in the village outside. There are a whole bunch of weirdly vague hints in this scene: Kari speaks of a “rumor”, and says that “few could” sleep during the night. As Everad prepares to leave her, Kari stops him: “If what you say is true, and this is the last time we are to see each other, please say what you want to say.” The scene ends with Kari telling Everad to wait for her: whether that’s meant literally or not is unclear.
Next, we have Loda: I predicted that Loda would be a boring character, and I’m beginning to think I’m right in that assumption. He’s a father who loves his daughter but doesn’t get along well with his son, who, in Loda’s words, is wasting “the most important years of his life on aimless schemes”. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like it could refer to the character of Aric, whom we met in a previous audition tape: roguish, charming, devious, remember him? Loda, on the other hand, is much more conventional and traditional: the scene opens with him prepping his daughter for her “first day as an apprentice”, and ends with him revealing that he’s…taken in a stowaway? That’s the most interesting part about his character so far, and yet we don’t have any clues to go on about who his stowaway is, or why she’s stowing away. Until we have more to go on, I’m guessing that Loda, like the others in this new batch of audition tapes, is a human – probably proto-Dunlending like Kari, though it’s not out of the question that his character is Drúedain.
Finally, we come to Hamsom. He only has one scene, but it reveals a great deal about his character: initially described as a “loving family man with health issues”, Hamsom is here seen working on his farm, trying to work past those very health issues: his wife tends to him, but wonders aloud whether Hamsom will survive the bitter winter. Her husband promises her that he’ll be there for her, reminding her of the strength of his love for her. He’s already one of the most charming characters in Amazon Prime’s ensemble cast, and I can’t wait to see more of him, though I have no idea how he’ll fit into a story about the creation of the Rings of Power, the downfall of Númenór, and the wars of the Last Alliance. I also don’t know if he’ll even live through the first season, in the condition he’s in. One thing we can surmise is that he is also human. I can’t determine yet which geographical region of Middle-earth he might be from, but his demeanor, and his hobbity name, almost suggest he might be a Halfling – Halflings, at this point in Middle-earth’s history, could only have dwelt in Wilderland, between the Misty Mountains and Greenwood the Great. But since that’s a bit of a stretch, I’m assuming he and his family are of the Race of Man, probably living somewhere in the north of Middle-earth, where the winter season would be particularly harsh.
It’s notable that Amazon Prime might be diving deep into Tolkien’s incredible genealogies for the human species, since Peter Jackson’s films only briefly touched on the idea that there are different groups of Men in Middle-earth – here, Amazon Prime has the opportunity to explore these different groups and subgroups of people, each with their own distinct cultures, customs and characters, from the Easterlings to the Woses (and hopefully, someday, the elusive Lossoth). It could lead to some very interesting – and probably heated – discussions about what it means to be human in Middle-earth, and what responsibilities and burdens go along with that distinction.
So there you go: four more characters, six more audition tapes, infinite questions and few answers. What do you think of this group of characters, and do you think any of them might be from Tolkien’s books, or are all of them newly invented by the team over at Amazon Prime? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!