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Bored of the rings

Adam Coates finds Amazon’s fantasy epic fails to deliver.

Amazon’s take on Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, ended its first series this month. With each episode costing an oliphaunt sized £51 million, it is the most expensive television show in history – and that’s not including the £220 million paid to the Tolkien estate for the rights to the appendices in The Lord of the Rings from which the series takes its inspiration.

Why should Catholics care? Tolkien was, of course, a devout Catholic. While avoiding the allegorical methods of his friend CS Lewis, his works are, in his own words, ‘fundamentally religious and Catholic’, referencing eternal life, the light of God, the victory of humility and smallness over pride and worldly power, the Eucharist, the Resurrection, and Divine Providence.

Three characters in the Lord of the Rings serve as types of Christ. Tolkien’s novels are rightly considered as one of the finest English language Catholic literary exports, laying the foundations for fantasy novels since.

It was my fear, watching Rings of the elven princess portrayed by the Welsh actress Morfydd Clark as the younger version of the character played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s 2000s trilogy, could broadly be described as the series’ protagonist.

We follow her journey through Middle-earth and Númenor as she seeks out her ancient enemy, Sauron, the one responsible for her brother’s death. The doubts began to set in when our heroine is informed by her sagacious brother that we can only know light (i.e. goodness) once we have ‘touched the darkness’.

Innocuous surely, until one realises Tolkien’s obsessiveness in constructing a metaphysic for his world where there is a total separation of light from darkness, of good from evil, and which strenuously avoids dualism – darkness and light do not exist as equal and opposing forces, darkness exists only as a privation of the light.

Truly the fruit of a man whose bookcase was adorned by St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae.

In The Rings of Power’s defence, it could have been worse, and, to my pleasant surprise, Galadriel comforts a young man who has lost his home with the assurance that it is all part of a plan guided by Providence.

Other hints and references rein- force this world- view, though it is only surface level. So, what’s the problem? The Rings of Power, to put it bluntly, is boring.

Each episode, lasting an hour, seems to drag for a Middle-Earth length age. With its luxurious location shots and grandiose musical score, one is given the distinct impression that rather a lot is happening.

At the end of each episode, however, conflicted and confused feelings brew. You’ve been told that the story is advancing at a rate of knots, but the reality is that the various plot points have crawled at a pace that even an ent might find slow – curious when a thousand years of lore has been condensed into a story taking place over the space of a few months.

Headed by writers JD Payne and Patrick McKay, whose experience is uncredited roles in a Star Trek film, they were a surprise choice for this project.

Their script is largely composed of cliched and melodramatic dialogue, accompanied by a stream of waffling exposition. While a skilful writer explains a plot’s context by naturally weaving it into the characters’ con- versation, Payne and McKay deliver exposition in one case by having a character instruct another to recount a legend they both already know.

On other occasions, characters simply monologue about lore. Faux wisdom such as the toe-curling proverb that a stone sinks because it ‘looks down’ while a ship floats because it ‘looks up to the stars’ are endemic and representative of a show that takes itself far too seriously while bereft of the literary substance that characterises Tolkien’s works.

Eucatastrophe, a word coined by Tolkien, is a key feature of his works, explaining a turn of events in a story where a protagonist is unexpectedly delivered from impending doom. Frodo, the hero of The Lord of the Rings, is saved from inevitable death by Middle-Earth’s great eagles.

Unless things drastically change at Amazon Studios, this production has no hope of salvation from a doom of stale mediocrity. 

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