One of the directors for the upcoming Prime Video series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, made it abundantly clear he does not understand author J.R.R. Tolkien’s work while discussing the tone of the show and how it reflects the main story points of the show.
In a lengthy promotional article for the show with Entertainment Weekly, director Wayne Che Yip first detailed how breathtaking and gorgeous the set was explaining, “Being on set was just breathtaking. We were there for weeks, but every day I’d notice a new detail I’d never seen before, like graffiti etched into weathered stone, or a small shrine.”
He added, “There was a whole wall made out of oyster shells. Every corner you’d turn, there was just so much storytelling.”
However, when he wasn’t gushing about the show’s costly set, he did reveal what he believes are the main story points of the show as well as his view on the tone of the show.
He told the outlet, “Tonally, we wanted [Rings of Power] to reflect [Tolkien’s] main story points of friendship and good and evil. One of the ideas is: How far into the darkness are you willing to go to do the right thing?”
Now, clearly Tolkien explored the ideas of friendship and good and evil in his stories. However, Tolkien’s work runs counter to the question of “how far into the darkness are you willing to go to do the right thing?”
In letter 64 to his son, Christopher Tolkien, Tolkien clearly explained, “I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days — quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens!”
“And the products of it all will be mainly evil — historically considered,” he continued. “But the historical version is, of course, not the only one. All things and deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their ’causes’ and ‘effects’. No man can estiamte what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitaris. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success – in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.”
Tolkien then informed his son, “But there is still some hope that things may be better for us, even on the temporal plane, in the mercy of God. And though we need all our natural human courage and guts (the vast sum of human courage and endurance is stupendous, isn’t it?) and all our religious faith to face the evil that may befall us (as it befalls others, if God wills) still we we may pray and hope. I do.”
In another letter to Christopher Tolkien, letter 66, Tolkien did specifically discuss this idea of going into the darkness in order to the do the right thing by comparing his literary work to World War II.
He wrote, “However it is, humans being what they are, quite inevitable, and the only cure (short of universal Conversion) is not to have wars – nor planning, nor organization, nor regimentation. Your service is, of course, as anybody with any intelligence and ears and eyes knows, a very bad one, living on the repute of a few gallant men, and you are probably in a particularly bad corner of it. But all Big Things planned in a big way feel like that to the toad under the harrow, though on a general view they do function and do their job. An ultimately evil job.”
“For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed,” Tolkien elaborated. “But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side.”
He then added, “Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”
Tolkien would also rebuke the idea of committing evil or journeying into the darkness in order to do the right thing in a letter 81 to Christopher Tolkien.
He wrote, “There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?)”
“The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done,” he added.
A little later in the letter he made clear, “You can’t fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf’s wisdom seems long ago to have passed with him into the True West.”
In letter 131 to Milton Waldman, Tolkien does touch on the theme in The Lord of the Rings that evil can come from good intentions, a different concept than what Yip posits.
He explains to Waldman, “The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others — speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans — is a recurrent motive.”
Tolkien would explain later in the letter, “In the Silmarillion and Tales of the First Age Sauron was a being of Valinor perverted to the service of the Enemy and becoming his chief captain and servant. He repents in fear when the First Enemy is utterly defeated, but in the end does not do as was commanded, return to the judgment of the gods. He lingers in Middle-earth.”
“Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth, ‘neglected by the gods’, he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and thing lusting for Complete Power – and so consumed ever more fiercely with hate (especially of gods and Elves),” Tolkien detailed.
He then states, “All through the twilight of the Second Age the Shadow is growing in the East of Middle-earth, spreading its sway more and more over Men – who multiply as the Elves begin to fade. The three main themes are thus The Delaying Elves that lingered in Middle-earth, Sauron’s growth to a new Dark Lord, master and god of Men; and Numenor-Atlantis. They are dealt with annalistically, and in two Tales or Accounts, The Rings of Power and the Downfall of Numenor. Both are the essential background to The Hobbit and its sequel.”
Going into further detail about The Rings of Power, Tolkien wrote, “In the first we see a sort of second fall or at least ‘error’ of the Elves. There was nothing wrong essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with the mortal lands of their old heroic deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of ‘The West’, and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor.”
“They thus became obsessed with ‘fading’, the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art (shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming – even though they also retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts,” he wrote to Waldman.
Tolkien continued, “We hear of a lingering kingdom, in the extreme North-west more or less in what was left in the old lands of The Silmarillion, under Gilgalad; and of the other settlements, such as Imaldris (Rivendell) near Elron; and a great one at Eregion at the Western feet of the Misty Mountains, adjacent to the Mines of Moria, the major realm of the Dwarves in the Second Age. There arose a friendship between the usually hostile folk (of Elves and Dwarves) for the first and only time, and smithcraft reached its highest development. But many of the Elves listened to Sauron.”
“He was still fair in that early time, and his motives and those of the Elves seemed to go partly together: the healing of the desolate lands,” Tolkien wrote. “Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try and make a separate independent paradise.”
“Gilgalad repulsed such overtures, as also did Elrond. But at Eregion great work began — and the Elves came their nearest to falling to ‘magic’ and machinery. With the aid of Sauron’s lore they made Rings of Power (‘power’ is an ominous and sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods).
Tolkien would also discuss at length in letter 181 to Michael Straight how an evil action such as Gollum’s can actually lead to a “beneficial thing.” This discussion and explanation directly contradicts Yip’s assertion about Tolkien.
Tolkien explained, “But at this point the ‘salvation’ of the world and Frodo’s own ‘salvation’ is achieved by his previous pity and forgiveness of injury. At any point any prudent person would have told Frodo that Gollum would certainly betray him, and could rob him in the end. To ‘pity’ him, to forbear to kill him, was a piece of folly, or a mystical belief in the ultimate value-in-itself of pity and generosity even if disastrous in the world of time.”
“He did rob him and injure him in the end – but by a ‘grace’, that last betrayal was at a precise juncture when the final evil deed was the most beneficial thing any one could have done for Frodo! By a situation created by his ‘forgiveness’, he was saved himself, and relieved of his burden,” Tolkien noted.
Later in his letter, he also noted, “I am afraid, whatever our beliefs, we have to face the fact that there are persons who yield to temptation, reject their chances of nobility or salvation, and appear to be ‘damnable’. Their ‘damnability’ is not measurable in the terms of the macrocosm (where it may work good). But we who are all ‘in the same boat’ must not usurp the Judge.”
Using Smeagol he explained, “The domination of the Ring was much too strong for the mean soul of Smeagol. But he would never had to endure it if he had not became a mean son of thief before it crossed his path. Neeed it ever have crossed his path? Need anything dangerous ever cross any of our paths? A kind of answer could be found in trying to imagine Gollum overcoming temptation. The story would have been quite different!”
“By temporizing, not fixing the still not wholly corrupt Smeagol-will towards good in the debate in the slag hole, he weakened himself for the final chance when dawning love of Frodo was too easily withered by the jealousy of Sam before Shelob’s lair. After that he was lost,” he wrote.
This theme and tone that Yip claims is in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power runs contrary to Tolkien’s thoughts on the matter as well as his actual work.
What do you make of Yip’s revelation about The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power?