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LOTR series: a view of the Two Trees


Ser Scot A Ellison
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2 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

The people objecting to dark skinned elves and dwarves on OneRing.net… really?

Why does that surprise you? Wasn't there an uproar a couple of years ago when a dark-skinned girl was cast to play Hermione in some play a couple? Or when Idris Elba was cast to play Heimdall? I'm sure things wouldn't be much different if Caucasian actor was cast as next Black Panther.

People have their perception of characters and some can't take seeing someone else imagining them differently. I must say that I too have always imagined elves as light-skinned, blue-eyed and blond (though some are clearly described as having black hair), but thinking that there is no other way to imagine them is arrogant beyond measure.

Let's be honest, we'd all love it if the greatest objection we have after seeing this show is "I didn't imagine Elves like that".

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4 hours ago, The hairy bear said:

I'm afraid this show has the potential to sink the prestige of everyone involved: Amazon, the writers, and the Tolkien Estate.

If they're doing such a time compression, butcher the story that much, and can't use much outside Appendices because of rights, yet the Tolkien Estate was still ok with the plan because they greedily expected $$$, then the Estate really to have his prestige utterly annihilated.

3 hours ago, Ran said:

Or like The Great, which has done a fine job of color-blind casting.

Are we sure Russians are happy with this?

2 hours ago, Corvinus85 said:

I would very much like to see some good Haradrim in the show, which would echo Faramir's pondering (was it Sam in the book?) about that one dead Haradrim after the rangers' ambush.

If you want diversity, it's a golden opportunity, possibly the best you'll ever have with Middle-Earth. Most if not all Haradrim weren't evil or in league with Sauron during the Second Age. From their point of view, Numenorean colonizers were the bad guys.

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8 minutes ago, Clueless Northman said:

Are we sure Russians are happy with this?

Interesting question. The Great does air on several Russian streaming platforms, like IVI. Translating the seven reviews, most are disgusted with the mockery of Russian history, one specifically calls out the color-blind casting as a negative, but there are a couple of positive reviews as well which seem to take it all in stride and accepts it for what it is.

 

 

Edited by Ran
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I'm clearly an outlier here. I (mostly) liked the Vanity Fair write-up.

A few points...

  • The use of the map of Numenor (and Ras Morthil), never mind the detailed depiction of Tirion and the rumoured Helcaraxe... that suggests the show has licensed at least some material from Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. I think Vanity Fair is in error here. Showing the Downfall would be barely viable without the Akallabeth.
  • I'm fine with Elrond being ambitious. Is it fanfiction? Sure. But I don't mind his younger self being defined by something other than his mere lineage. He'll evolve into Wise Old Loremaster eventually, but earlier on? Let him make mistakes. Let him have crazy dreams. Galadriel had her share of those too.
  • I actually like the time compression too. 1700 years separate the Forging from the Downfall - more time than between our own time and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Developing new human characters every season, only for them to age and die every few episodes, might be interesting in terms of "Elvish psychology", but from a storytelling viewpoint you want your viewers to get immersed with the humans as well as the Elves. Time-compression means we get to see the Forging properly, without it being shunted into the Prologue.
  • I'm happy enough with short-haired Elves, though I was imagining Jenny Dolfen Maedhros, rather than a buzzcut. I'm fine with the length of Elrond's hair (albeit it should be dark), but I think Arondir's hair is a bit too modernish.

My biggest objection? I think they're going a bit too far to reassure people this will not be another Game of Thrones. The Second Age was Dark. Very Dark. Quite different thematically from the Third Age.  

Edited by The Marquis de Leech
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13 hours ago, SpaceChampion said:

By the way, did anyone see the latest South Park?  LOTR content there.

Just saw it.  The Token/Tolkien bit was funny but the episode was typically meh overall.  I liked how Cartman just didn't know how to spell Tolkien.

8 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

I actually like the time compression too. 1700 years separate the Forging from the Downfall - more time than between our own time and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Developing new human characters every season, only for them to age and die every few episodes, might be interesting in terms of "Elvish psychology", but from a storytelling viewpoint you want your viewers to get immersed with the humans as well as the Elves. Time-compression means we get to see the Forging properly, without it being shunted into the Prologue.

I think time compression is a good idea in general but the article made it sound like they over did it ("single point in time"), making the fix worse than the problem.

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11 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:
  • I'm fine with Elrond being ambitious. Is it fanfiction? Sure. But I don't mind his younger self being defined by something other than his mere lineage. He'll evolve into Wise Old Loremaster eventually, but earlier on? Let him make mistakes. Let him have crazy dreams. Galadriel had her share of those too.

Thanks to the timeline compression, this is not "earlier on". The show takes place at the end of the 2nd Age and consequently Elrons would already be thousands of years old.

Quote
  • I actually like the time compression too. 1700 years separate the Forging from the Downfall - more time than between our own time and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Developing new human characters every season, only for them to age and die every few episodes, might be interesting in terms of "Elvish psychology", but from a storytelling viewpoint you want your viewers to get immersed with the humans as well as the Elves. Time-compression means we get to see the Forging properly, without it being shunted into the Prologue.

Considering this

Quote

Their series will juggle 22 stars and multiple story lines, from deep within the dwarf mines of the Misty Mountains to the high politics of the elven kingdom of Lindon and the humans’ powerful, Atlantis-like island, Númenor. All this will center, eventually, around the incident that gives the trilogy its name. “The forging of the rings,” says McKay. “Rings for the elves, rings for dwarves, rings for men, and then the one ring Sauron used to deceive them all. It’s the story of the creation of all those powers, where they came from, and what they did to each of those races.” The driving question behind the production, he adds, was this: “Can we come up with the novel Tolkien never wrote and do it as the mega-event series that could only happen now?”

It appears that the will go with the "Rings for everybody" version instead of the canon version and with timeline compression you can not really accurately portray the events in their right order or capture the motivations for the characters nor can you portray the slow descent of Numenor.

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I think trying to take out the implicit and explicit racism which is prevalent in Tolkien's work certainly twists the works as such.

Tolkien's works - especially the Lord of the Rings - are ethnic at heart. It is important how people look and that they embody their racial traits think of the various clans of the Elves, Hobbits, Men, etc. - they all embody and express certain physical and psychological traits.

If you decide to make the world more inclusive, more diverse you do not necessarily change the plot, but you change the meaning. You turn an ethnic work into a non-ethnic work. And an ethnically homogenous fantasy world into one that is far more inclusive and diverse ... which Tolkien's world definitely is not. It is so homogenous that the idea that Gríma Wormtongue is dark-haired is actually utter nonsense. The guy is as fair-haired as the rest of the Rohirrim.

Fans or readers objecting to this kind of thing are not racist themselves, in my opinion, unless they actually do object to them for racist reasons (i.e. they do not want to see more non-white people on screen in general). The reason that some people want their Corlys Velaryon as white as an Valyrian incest-prick in Martinworld or their Feanor as a pale-faced guy with dark hair is because they are emotionally invested in the characters as described (or at least in the general looks of certain inbred family and their close cousins).

We can question ourselves why it is that we fell in love with Eurocentric fantasy novels ... but that we are doesn't necessarily make us (particularly) racist when we want an accurate depiction of characters and fictional world. Because it is the honest thing to actually keep this kind of thing in a work if you want to adapt it.

I'd also say that there is an obvious and clear distinction between the overall setting of a fantasy world - the ethnic world-building there - and how, say, pupils in a book series set in contemporary Britain look like. A dark-skinned Hermione Granger or Harry Potter is less of an issue than black of Asian Númenóreans, dark-skinned Elves, etc. ... because the former is easily conceivable in our world whereas the latter is something that's very much impossible in Tolkien's world.

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My general sense of the news from VF is that most of it is kind of okay - even Tolkien called Galadriel in her youth an "Amazon" who actually did get up close and personal in combat, or at least "athletic feats" - except for the massive time compression. I think that's a major mistake and them talking about having to recast the show is disingenuous. You can easily split the show into two time periods (the Forging/War of Sauron and Elves, then the Surrender/Downfall/Last Alliance) separated by a time gap and restrain yourself to a single change of human cast. You can easily compress the 90-ish and 120-ish years those two periods cover into a few years apiece, and that's more in keeping with the compression in the Jackson movies. In fact, they pulled the seven-year Siege of Barad-dur even in the films, with Isildur taking the Ring in 3434 of the Second Age rather than 3441.

Also, Galadriel took part in Eregion's "defence against Sauron," was called "High Lady of Eriador," and looked upon the dwarves of Khazad-dum "with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the orcs." She also initially took part in the Kinslaying at Alqualonde, until Tolkien rowed back on that a bit, implying she may have only been present and refused to take part, and later led part of her people over Helcaraxe. Calling her a commander in the elven armies is not out of keeping with Tolkien's commentary or depiction of her (which he did tend to change every five minutes anyway).

Furthermore, you can have the two timeframes occurring simultaneously and flipping between them using Galadriel and Elrond as your anchor characters present in both timelines (like Yellowjackets is doing now, splendidly), or a more obvious Lost-ish flashback structure. There are multiple solutions that would work other than, "Fuck it, all of these events happened in twenty years." I mean, do the Faithful build Minas Anor in three weeks?

My main hope here is that, at the very least, they take advantage of the ~200 year lifespan of the Numenoreans and have the events happening over 150-200 years rather than 10 or 20.

19 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

What did Amazon buy if not the rights to “Unfinished Tales”?

Apparently when Tolkien sold the screen rights to United Artists in 1968, they included the rights for live-action and animated films, and live-action television seasons more than eight episodes long, based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, and then his Estate, retained the right to licence a LotR/Hobbit TV show that was eight episodes or less per season (which sounds completely bizarre to me, but there we go, the sixties was very weird for these kind of deals).

It appears that in 2017 the Tolkien Estate hit on this idea of licencing a story based on the Second Age using that loophole and Amazon, Netflix and HBO showed up to bid. Only Amazon were willing to give them the floor rate they wanted (Netflix and HBO were kind of interested but not really, as they had their own, cheaper fantasy irons in the fire).

Now it is beyond crystal clear that they also have certain limited rights to Unfinished Tales - they literally can't use the Numenor map without it - but it just possible that they could away with not having much more. The Two Trees are mentioned in the LotR appendices, but incredibly vaguely, and it's questionable if you can render that image of Tirion upon Tuna and the Pass of Light and the Two Trees without The Silmarillion. My guess is that they do have very limited rights to The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, and when they say they do not, they mean they do not have the rights to adapt The Silmarillion and UT and the HoME, but they can use certain elements from them. They just didn't want people to get excited about a possible Silmarillion series.

Edited by Werthead
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21 hours ago, ASOIAFrelatedusername said:

Thanks to the timeline compression, this is not "earlier on". The show takes place at the end of the 2nd Age and consequently Elrons would already be thousands of years old.

Considering this

It appears that the will go with the "Rings for everybody" version instead of the canon version and with timeline compression you can not really accurately portray the events in their right order or capture the motivations for the characters nor can you portray the slow descent of Numenor.

Elrond is described as young in the Vanity Fair article. Which means they're playing around with the length of the Second Age.

As for the Rings for Everybody... the Dwarves always thought they got the Ring of Durin direct from Celebrimbor and not from Sauron. The Nazgul would have to get their Rings from Sauron. Honestly, it sounds no more dodgy at this point than Jackson's Prologue.

We know from leaks that Numenor is already anti-Elvish. Presumably the timeline merging means that the Battle of the Gwathlo results in Sauron being taken to Numenor, and causing his chaos there. Not a massive issue.

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19 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I think trying to take out the implicit and explicit racism which is prevalent in Tolkien's work certainly twists the works as such.

Tolkien's works - especially the Lord of the Rings - are ethnic at heart. It is important how people look and that they embody their racial traits think of the various clans of the Elves, Hobbits, Men, etc. - they all embody and express certain physical and psychological traits.

I'd suggest that the culture-centrism of Tolkien's work comes across as quite distinct from what we would conventionally think of as genetic-based racism (itself a product of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rather than the older material Tolkien was drawing upon).

Personally, I take the view that the distinction between Elves and Men is in the relationship of their fear to their hroar. Not the appearance of their hroar. Dark-skinned Men exist - I have no particular objection to dark-skinned Elves in an adaptation, and honestly, anyone getting fixated on the matter has issues a bit bigger than fidelity to Tolkien.

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21 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I think trying to take out the implicit and explicit racism which is prevalent in Tolkien's work certainly twists the works as such.

racism in Tolkien?

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2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

I'd suggest that the culture-centrism of Tolkien's work comes across as quite distinct from what we would conventionally think of as genetic-based racism (itself a product of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rather than the older material Tolkien was drawing upon).

I'd say Tolkien's entire legendarium is ethnic in nature - distinct groups of people and sub-groups within those people have very distinct characteristics. And there we do not just talk about natural characteristics like skin tone or size but characteristics that shape and influence the societies they live in (i.e. that there are distinct ruling classes among the Hobbits, Elves, Númenóreans; that individuals are mostly defined by their ethnic traits and/or are examples of the positive or negative traits of their race rather than being presented as individuals who just happen to be Dúnedain or Noldor).

It is not 'scientific racism' of the 19th and 20th century but just because nobody talks about a racial hierarchy in scientific terms that doesn't mean it isn't there (e.g. Faramir's speech about the Dúnedain compared to the Rohirrim, or the clear hierarchy in culture and power you see among the Eldar: the Vanyar are *better* than the Noldor and the Noldor are *better* than the Teleri, etc.).

If we imagine Tolkien's works adapted in a manner where those distinctions no longer exist we take away very crucial aspects of those works - you can do that, but I'd actually say that this is like toning down or taking the antisemitism out of Jud Süß.

If I were Mongolian and my first glance at Tolkien's work were whatever inclusive and diverse thing the amazon series is going to be ... and then I later read the books where only white people are good (or show up as characters) and continue to the letters where I finally learn that the author envisioned the Orcs to look like 'degenerate' folks of my own people then I might feel fooled or deceived by this deliberate attempt to mislead me about the nature of the work.

You cannot (and should not) take the Eurocentrism out of those works, either.

2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Personally, I take the view that the distinction between Elves and Men is in the relationship of their fear to their hroar. Not the appearance of their hroar. Dark-skinned Men exist - I have no particular objection to dark-skinned Elves in an adaptation, and honestly, anyone getting fixated on the matter has issues a bit bigger than fidelity to Tolkien.

While we have dark-skinned people as primitives and villains in the books, there in no indication that we should imagine the Elves or Dwarves as having different skin colors. No dark-skinned Elves are ever described, so we should not just assume they exist.

1 hour ago, Darryk said:

racism in Tolkien?

The most explicit racism can be seen in the descriptions of Dunlendings, I think, the way the good guys talk about the Orcs, and the way the narrator describes the Haradrim during the Battle of the Pelennor.

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42 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

the clear hierarchy in culture and power you see among the Eldar: the Vanyar are *better* than the Noldor and the Noldor are *better* than the Teleri, etc.

I've never thought of the hierarchy within the Eldar - or even between the Eldar and the Avari - as ethnically based.  The ordering is based on which clans were the first to make the journey to Aman.  In that way I've always took the hierarchy as derived from proximity to, basically, god(s).  So for a real-world analogue I'd say this is much more of a religious hierarchy than an ethnic or racial one.  While I've always understood the Vanyar as "better" than the Noldor in this way, it definitely isn't because the former's hair is lighter than the latter's - or any other differences in physical characteristics.

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Faramir's reference to Men of Darkness, et cetera, is Gondorian propaganda, of course (Peoples of Middle-earth).

Meanwhile, the notion that the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri are ethnic groups in a conventional sense is a stretch. We're talking the descendants of hand-picked clans, where the pickers in question favoured particular attributes. It's closer to the Harry Potter sorting hat than real-world ethnicism.

(Meanwhile, I am sure that Feanor would have some choice words for anyone suggesting that the Noldor were inferior to the Vanyar on pretty much anything). 

Edited by The Marquis de Leech
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5 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Elrond is described as young in the Vanity Fair article. Which means they're playing around with the length of the Second Age.

Then the Second Age ceases to be an age and becomes more of an intermission.

5 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

 

As for the Rings for Everybody... the Dwarves always thought they got the Ring of Durin direct from Celebrimbor and not from Sauron. The Nazgul would have to get their Rings from Sauron. Honestly, it sounds no more dodgy at this point than Jackson's Prologue.

Peter Jackson's prologue was dotchy, but he crammed in a whole lot of backstory into less than 10 minutes. The series on the other hand puts the forging at the center. The creators do not have the excuse of "I need to get to the real story" that Jackson did.

Even if Durin got his Ring directly from Celebrimbor, the rest of the Six and all of the Nine were given out later by Sauron as his plans B & C.

5 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

We know from leaks that Numenor is already anti-Elvish. Presumably the timeline merging means that the Battle of the Gwathlo results in Sauron being taken to Numenor, and causing his chaos there. Not a massive issue.

It is because we do not see the gradual (and perhaps inevitable) descent of Numenor. Tolkien had his reasons when he let events unfold on this large scales.

 

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2 hours ago, DMC said:

I've never thought of the hierarchy within the Eldar - or even between the Eldar and the Avari - as ethnically based. The ordering is based on which clans were the first to make the journey to Aman.  In that way I've always took the hierarchy as derived from proximity to, basically, god(s).  So for a real-world analogue I'd say this is much more of a religious hierarchy than an ethnic or racial one.  While I've always understood the Vanyar as "better" than the Noldor in this way, it definitely isn't because the former's hair is lighter than the latter's - or any other differences in physical characteristics.

Yes and no. The proto-Elven peoples exist even before the Great Journey, so the ultimate origin is indeed clan-based - the new book makes it very clear but we had the gist of that already since the version of the Cuivienyarna from TWotJ. The closeness to the Valar and Manwe specifically is certainly also a later factor in the development of the three tribes - but they are presented as ethnically and culturally different. We do have a culture/people of poets who are all blond, a culture/people of artisans and craftsmen who are all dark-haired, and a culture/people of mariners and musicians who are predominantly silver-haired.

Tolkien could have made them look all different - then it could have been sold as merely a religious or cultural divide, say, by making it explicit that you could join the Vanyar if you felt like becoming a poet praising the Valar. But that's definitely not the case. You are born into those peoples and your very interests and profession is determined by your ethnicity and not by personal preferences.

I think I made it clear by writing *better* that the word is problematic but there are a number of ways in which there is a clear hierarchy there. For one, the Vanyar are morally superior to all the other Elven people. They made the right choice and never wavered, being beyond Melkor's temptation - which sets them above even some of the Maiar in a moral sense. And I think nobody should assume that it is an accident that they are all golden-haired.

The Noldor are clearly culturally superior to the Teleri if we go with a high culture setting - they are artists and craftsmen and scientists. But they are inferior to the Vanyar because they gave in to Melkor's temptation.

What makes the works ethnic is the fact that people are described as representing or exemplifying cultural or ethnic traits rather than them being individuals.

That goes all the way down to the Hobbits who exemplify the various traits of the Baggins and Took and Brandybuck bloodlines rather than being defined by their individual traits.

2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Faramir's reference to Men of Darkness, et cetera, is Gondorian propaganda, of course (Peoples of Middle-earth).

The racist slander therein might be propaganda - meaning the Rohirrim themselves would not refer to themselves as Men of Twilight, etc. - but the ethnic divide is an in-universe reality. We do have very distinct peoples with very distinct ethnic and cultural traits.

And the Dúnedain high culture and superiority is also a thing the narrator reinforces when he compares Théoden to Denethor, etc.

2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Meanwhile, the notion that the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri are ethnic groups in a conventional sense is a stretch. We're talking the descendants of hand-picked clans, where the pickers in question favoured particular attributes. It's closer to the Harry Potter sorting hat than real-world ethnicism.

It is just an example. You have the same thing with the three Hobbit tribes. And while the Elves started from very humble beginnings they did develop into distinct peoples - the exiled Noldor and the Sindar of Beleriand are two very distinct peoples as well. The same with the Númenóreans

2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

(Meanwhile, I am sure that Feanor would have some choice words for anyone suggesting that the Noldor were inferior to the Vanyar on pretty much anything). 

See above. Feanor himself is clearly morally inferior to all the Vanyar who never listened to Melkor. And while Feanor and the Noldor created great beauty I think it is pretty evident that 'the calling of the Vanyar' - which is akin to the angels closest to the lord, doing nothing but praising his glory all day - is much grander than that of the Noldor.

The Noldorin desire is open to temptation and corruption whereas the desire of the Vanyar is beyond reproach.

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6 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The most explicit racism can be seen in the descriptions of Dunlendings, I think, the way the good guys talk about the Orcs, and the way the narrator describes the Haradrim during the Battle of the Pelennor.

I very much doubt Tolkien was racist. He grew up during the Victorian / Edwardian era so like others of his generation he probably had somewhat of a colonial view of the world, but he was also quite progressive for his time.

He criticized the South African Apartheid government in a letter to his son, which was probably unusual thing to do for his time (I think a lot of English people at that time were unconcerned with what was going on here).

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2 minutes ago, Darryk said:

I very much doubt Tolkien was racist. He grew up during the Victorian / Edwardian era so like others of his generation he probably had somewhat of a colonial view of the world, but he was also quite progressive for his time.

He criticized the South African Apartheid government in a letter to his son, which was probably unusual thing to do for his time (I think a lot of English people at that time were unconcerned with what was going on here).

We talk two things here. Whether and in what way Tolkien himself was racist is separate from the racism in his work. His work is very much ethnic and there is explicit racism in the books - but certainly not directed against real world peoples/races but the fictional within in his fantasy world.

That there is racism there you can see easily if you take, for instance, Faramir's long speech about the Dúnedain and Rohirrim and exchange 'Dúnedain' for 'Englishmen' and 'Rohirrim' for 'Irishmen'. If anyone gave such a speech about real peoples the racism would be very obvious.

It is the same for the Elven people - let's say the Vanyar are German, the Noldor Italian and the Teleri Slavs - would the kind of cultural hierarchy we get there be something we would use in the real world to categorize people in a non-racist manner? I don't think so.

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