This Sunday, something amazing happened: the world was treated to the first official trailer to Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power! And everything seems to be in order, based on the information that we have. Glimpses of the extended cast, the amazing setting, and even some of the special effects for some action (that troll was looking pretty good, I must say). All in all it was an amazing trailer. But you and I both know we can’t have nice things.
As I’ve mentioned, the trailer looks great. Amazon seems to be pulling out all the stops, sparing no expense for what some are calling “the next Game of Thrones”. So what’s the problem? It would be easier to show you:
I wish I was joking or, perhaps, that there was a deeper complexity at play here. But as far as I and many others can tell, the reason many fans are upset about the new trailer—and thus, the new show—is because it features people of color. And I have to say, I expected better. I expected better from fantasy fans, and I expected better from people in general.
We could talk about Tokenism, or Woke vs. Anti-Woke culture—but that’s not something I consider myself qualified to discuss. Instead, I wish to focus on the fantasy genre as a whole. Fantasy, by its very nature, is unreal. One of the biggest tropes is the story taking place in a world consisting of a single continent whose only season is Spring. Meanwhile, there are all manner of impossible creatures running about that could never exist in the real world.
In moments like these, I think back to Dungeons and Dragons. For decades this game has enabled people of all sorts to quite literally be who or whatever they could ever want—in whatever place they could ever think of. It is for this reason many people of color, as well as those of underrepresented sexualities and gender expressions love to play this game.
If someone female-presenting wanted to be a seven-foot-tall, ultra-masculine Orc warrior, no one would bat an eye. This is the sort of thing that makes fantasy a great genre; it, by its very nature allows people enter a world not bound by the rules of our own world. So who’s to say elves and dwarves can’t be black?
The only argument I could conceive of with even a sliver of merit is: “This isn’t Tolkien’s original vision”. To that, I must concede. Tolkien’s original vision modeled the people of Middle-Earth (specifically hobbits) after the typical Englishman. The Ring-Wraiths bringing the War of the Ring to the Shire was World War I threatening the Englishman’s way of life; Mordor’s destruction of everything was, of course, also World War I. There are many, many more themes and inspirations, but this is the one that ends up standing out.
So, if Tolkien modeled his world after a specific race and/or culture, shouldn’t that be reflected in all adaptations of his works?
The answer is, I don’t know. I just wrote an article about the author’s vision being the most important thing in all of literature; and now it seems I’m about to invalidate it all on the grounds of racial representation. But the truth is, I don’t have an adequate answer. Thankfully, The Rings of Power doesn’t actually make us answer this question because it is inspired by Tolkien’s work—not a direct adaptation of it.
Rings Of Power is set a full one-thousand years before the events of The Fellowship Of The Ring. This time period, the Second Age of Middle-Earth, is only really documented in The Silmarillion. And, as I’ve discussed in a previous article, that book is moreso a compilation of myths, legends, and poems than a coherent narrative. Thus, Rings of Power is completely open to bring in as many original characters as it wants. Whether those characters are white, black, male, female, gay, straight; it’s fiction. More than that, it’s fantasy. Anything’s possible.