The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are here, and they are nothing short of spectacular. However, contrary to what the title would suggest, the story of this series is not, in fact, that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. You’ll find no Frodo, no Gandalf, and no Fellowship. You also won’t find that most devilish piece of jewelry, the One Ring… at least, not yet.
The Rings of Power doesn’t re-adapt The Lord of the Rings. Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay actually pull from a variety of Tolkien’s work, like The Silmarillion and the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings, to create something new. As with any adaptation, The Rings of Power makes several changes between page and screen. However, its changes — including creating entire characters from scratch — are on a much bigger scale. Because of this, I won’t be examining the most granular book-to-show differences. We’d be here all week! Instead, I’ll be looking at these massive structural changes, why Payne and McKay may have made them, and whether or not they work.
Here are the three biggest ways The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is different from Tolkien’s work.
The Rings of Power doesn’t follow any one book
The Rings of Power takes place during the Second Age of Middle-earth. Quite a bit happens during this age, including the rise and fall of the kingdom of Númenor and the Forging of the Great Rings. However, not a lot of it is written out in detail — you can find a condensed timeline of these events in Appendix B of The Lord of the Rings, also known as the “Tale of Years.”
McKay and Payne are primarily drawing from the “Tale of Years” and the other Appendices in The Rings of Power. This allows them to flesh out the key milestones of Middle-earth in a way that Tolkien couldn’t with just a timeline. Don’t expect the show to adhere strictly to the timeline presented in Appendix B — it’s certain that The Rings of Power will play with time in order to bring certain characters and events together.
According to an interview in Vulture, McKay and Payne also scoured Tolkien’s other books for hints about what may have happened during the Second Age. They found some of these hints in songs characters sing and tales they tell each other, which just goes to show how deeply connected Tolkien’s entire mythology is. Viewers will also catch references to The Silmarillion, which charts Middle-earth’s creation and the events of the First Age.
However, the fourth part of The Silmarillion, Akallabêth, takes place in the Second Age, and we will definitely be seeing a version of it in the show. Without spoiling anything, Akallabêth centers on the human kingdom of Númenor. It’s extremely important to Tolkien’s mythos, and based on the trailers, it will play a big role in The Rings of Power. Whether we’ll see the events of Akallabêth in this season or a later one remains to be seen. Just know it’s out there!
The Rings of Power introduces new characters to Middle-earth
I can hear the hand-wringing now. “New characters? But what about the canon! Think of the canon!” To which I say: Do not worry. The new characters introduced in The Rings of Power fit right in to Middle-earth.
Among the new characters are Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), a Harfoot with a taste for adventure; Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi), an elf and a human who fall in love; and Halbrand (Charlie Vickers), a shipwrecked sailor. Just because these characters are new to The Rings of Power doesn’t mean they’re without precedent in Tolkien’s canon.
For example, Nori is a Harfoot, an ancestor of the hobbits. Harfoots are only briefly mentioned in the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, but McKay and Payne have expanded on that brief mention to imagine what Harfoot life would have been like during the Second Age. Hobbits don’t come into play in major Middle-earth events until Bilbo and Frodo hit the scene, so the inclusion of Nori and her family still gives us hobbit-like characters to latch onto. As McKay told Vanity Fair, “really, does it feel like Middle-earth if you don’t have hobbits or something like hobbits in it?”
Then take Arondir and Bronwyn. Their characters — and romantic relationship — are both creations for the show, but human-elf love stories have a firm spot in Tolkien’s work. Arwen and Aragorn’s love in The Lord of the Rings is the most prominent example. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn tells Frodo of another key human-elf relationship: that between Beren, a human man, and Lúthien, an elven woman. Their tale appears in The Silmarillion as well as the 2017 compilation of Tolkien’s writings about them, aptly titled Beren and Lúthien. Both these stories delve into the complexities of a love story between someone who is immortal and someone who will pass away. The story of Arondir and Bronwyn will likely examine this as well, although that is certainly not its only purpose.
All this is to say that these characters didn’t just spring out of nowhere. Nori, Arondir, Bronwyn, and the many other newcomers to Middle-earth are still grounded in Tolkien’s work. They help fill in the blanks in Tolkien’s timeline and add some fun surprises to a cast that includes some already-familiar faces.
The Rings of Power features entirely new storylines
With new characters come new — or altered — storylines. The most prominent change is the centering of Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and her quest to destroy Sauron once and for all. The Rings of Power makes Galadriel the main character in a way she hasn’t been before, examining her role as a commander and leader before becoming the Lady of Lórien. It’s an exciting change, one that presents a new origin story for a character we’ve already seen. The Rings of Power‘s Galadriel feels consistent with that of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also different enough that it’s clear she has room to grow. On top of all that, her tenacity in her hunt against evil fits right in with the heroics and bravery of Tolkien’s other great leads.
New stories also allow us to travel to new places in Middle-earth that we haven’t seen on-screen yet. Bronwyn and Arondir’s plot brings us to the Southlands, Nori’s takes us to Rhovanion, and the plot involving Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) transports us to the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm at the height of its power. If The Rings of Power has to shift canon so we can explore these locations and so these characters can meet up, I don’t mind. A divergence from the source material that deepens our understanding of Tolkien’s expansive world is far more exciting than a desire to play it safe.
Adaptation is more than just getting every plot point exactly right. It’s about translating and preserving the meaning and spirit of a work from one medium to another. The Rings of Power keeps this core truth in mind, even as it takes big swings and diverges from its source material. Its new characters and storylines present thoughtful additions to Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age, and they fill in the blanks of the “Tale of Years” in ways that are simultaneously unexpected yet completely earned. In the end, The Rings of Power is both a tribute to Tolkien’s work and an exercise in mythmaking, using works like the “Tale of Years” as a starting point. Tolkien, a master mythmaker himself, would surely understand.
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