The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power showrunners recently posited a question about how they can turn Isildur’s heroic arc tragic, something that J.R.R. Tolkien already did.
While promoting the upcoming Prime Video show to Entertainment Weekly, showrunner JD Payne discussed Isildur saying, “He’s one of the characters most ripe for deepening because everyone knows him.”
Payne then added, “He’s most defined by his final, fatal decision to keep the Ring, when he has the chance to throw the Ring into Mount Doom and destroy Sauron forever, and he chooses incorrectly. We sort of said, ‘How do we make that a tragic turn in an otherwise very human, relatable, and heroic arc?'”
On top of Payne’s remarks about Isildur, Entertainment Weekly also revealed that in The Rings of Power Isildur is “just a young sailor, following in his father Elendil’s footsteps.”
The question echoes what fellow showrunner Patrick McKay told Vanity Fair back in February, “Can we come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote and do it as the mega-event series that could only happen now?”
If Payne is asking how they turn Isildur’s story tragic in an otherwise very human, relatable, and heroic arc, it definitely seems they are going to eschew what Tolkien actually wrote about Isildur. Because Tolkien did indeed write quite a bit about Isildur that shows exactly why his choice to keep the Ring is a tragic turn in his story.
Tolkien wrote extensively about Isildur in The Silmarillion during the reckoning of Númenor, the land where Men who rejected Morgoth and the darkness settled when they fled West.
When the King of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, came under the sway of Sauron and began to worship Melkor or Morgoth, his councillor, Amandil, and his son, Elendil, alongside his grandsons Isildur and Anárion refused to do.
Amandil would eventually be dismissed at the behest of Sauron, and would withdraw his family to Rómenna.
It’s while in Rómenna, Isildur would perform his first legendary action, the theft of a piece of fruit from the White Tree, Nimloth the Fair, that was a “memorial of the Eldar and of the light of Valinor. Sauron had been attempting to convince Ar-Pharazôn to chop it down.
And while Ar-Pharazôn did indeed chop it down, before the deed was done Isildur snuck into the city of Armenelos and stole a fruit from the tree. After acquiring the fruit, he would be assailed by a number of Sauron’s guards and received many wounds. However, he would fight his way out of the city and eventually return to Rómenna, where the fruit was planted in secret and blessed by Amandil. When the new tree’s first leaf opened, Isildur was cured of his wounds he suffered in acquiring it.
Isildur would eventually escort the scion of Nimloth the Fair out of Númenor and he alongside his father and brother would flee to the shores of Middle-earth. There they founded four kingdoms.
Isildur and his brother Anárion eventually travelled up the Great River Anduin and founded Gondor. Isildur would specifically settle in Minas Ithil, where he planted the scion of Nimloth the Fair. He would rule the kingdom of Gondor jointly alongside his brother who settled in Minas Anor.
The White Tree of Isildur and Minas Ithil would eventually be destroyed by Sauron and his forces. But Isildur would escape with a seedling and flee with his wife and sons down the river.
Isildur would eventually join the Last Alliance led by his father Elendil and Gil-galad. When Sauron eventually joined the battle, he would cast down Elendil and Gil-galad, but with the shards of Elendil’s sword, Narsil, Isildur would cut the Ruling Ring from Sauron’s hand and take it as his own.
Isildur would refuse to destroy the Ruling Ring, instead keeping it for himself. He would eventually be assailed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait for him in the Misty Mountains as he headed south toward Eriador to take up his father’s realm. He would try to flee by using the Ruling Ring, which made him invisible, but the Orcs hunted him down and the Ring eventually betrayed him, slipping off his finger as he fled into the river. The Orcs then shot him full of arrows, killing him.
Clearly, Isildur’s story of heroism and bravery and defiance against Sauron turned tragic when his lust for power and the evil of the Ruling Ring corrupted him, leading to his demise at the hands of a band of Orcs.
JD Payne’s question about Isildur has already been answered by J.R.R Tolkien who spent significant portions of The Silmarillion detailing his heroism and bravery and his eventual tragic fall and death.
Given Payne’s question about Isildur on top of the description provided to Entertainment Weekly about his character in The Rings of Power television show, it definitely appears that Payne and McKay outright lied to fans or significantly misled them when McKay told Vanity Fair, “As long as we’re painting within those lines and not egregiously contradicting something we don’t have the rights to, there’s a lot of leeway and room to dramatize and tell some of the best stories that [Tolkien] ever came up with.”
The lines they have to paint in are “The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the appendices, and The Hobbit. And that is it. We do not have the rights to The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, or any of those other books.”
What do you make of Payne’s question regarding Isildur and the description of him provided to Entertainment Weekly?