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'The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power' creatives tease new stories and Tolkien treasure hunts
"This will be the first time people get to watch the middle of the story without knowing what happens next."
The executive producers and writers behind the Prime Video series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power want Tolkien fans to know their series (which drops on the streamer Sept. 2) is going to give even the most well-read and devoted Peter Jackson movie lovers something new to see and enjoy. At today's Television Critics Association virtual Prime Video panel for the series, executive producers JD Payne, Patrick McKay, and Lindsey Weber told reporters (including SYFY WIRE) that outside of the few familiar characters like Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo), there's a wealth of new characters and storylines that will finally get to surprise even the most jaded Middle-earth stan. "This will be the first time people get to watch a Middle-earth story without knowing what happens next," Webber said. "So hopefully, it's a lot of fun."
As to how they crafted this Tolkien based, bespoke series, showrunner Payne said, "It's based on the appendices which come at the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then also, poems and songs and stories and half whispered rumors and histories that are found scattered throughout the text. Tolkien is sort of a treasure hunt where there are some places where he'll give little summaries and you'll get bits, but often it's a whispered thing that someone will say and a little nugget there, and a little nugget there."
Payne said their job in the writers' room was to "excavate" all those materials and make the story connections. "Part of Tolkien's allure is that he created a world that is always bleeding out beyond the pages, where he hints at something, but doesn't give you all of it. And that's part of what makes it so intriguing and makes you always want to lean in and learn more. Our job is to take you back to a time set many 1000s of years before the stories that you know, before Frodo, before the ring, and Sauron. We're going back to the time in which the Rings of Power were forged, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the story of Tolkien's Númenor which is sort of his Atlantis, and then finally The Last Alliance of Elves and Men. These are stories that audiences have seen hinted at before, and that readers have been tantalized by little details. We take those and really try to take the little clues that Tolkien gave us and build them out into entire storylines or characters."
Co-showunner McKay added that it was a "privilege and joy" to assemble the jigsaw puzzle of new story pieces into a series worth watching. "We felt from the very beginning as producers, all of us, that we weren't interested in a show that was a nostalgia play or a retread, or a reboot or a sequel in a lot of the traditional ways we felt we were getting as viewers. We felt that the show had to earn its place on the stage and stand on its own two feet and hopefully, rise or fall on its own merits. In that respect, the stories are different stories than you've seen before on screen from Tolkien. But his themes and his ideas that he wrote about are throughout the show. His language is throughout the show, his world and his characters. But audiences are going to be going on a new experience than they've had before. There will be twists and turns and surprises along the way. Sometimes it'll be intense. Sometimes it'll be hopefully very funny and heartwarming. But it's not going to be the expected. We've strived to do that over and over again."
Payne also reiterated that despite The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power storylines including recognizable themes of classism, racism and political hubris, the series was constructed to purposefully not lean into anything happening in actual human current events. "Tolkien was very vocal in his writings about issuing allegory. He didn't want to make something where you could look at an obviously political character, or this place represents that country. It makes the work smaller a little bit, because once you've drawn the parallel, that's sort of all there is to do. Tolkien wanted to make things that would be timeless and would be for all all of the ages, so we sought to do the same thing."
He continued, "We actually worked overtime if there were stories that happened to resemble anything that was going on and we would try to give them a little more complexity so you couldn't say, 'Oh, well, clearly these people represent this branch of whatever, or these people represent that.' We would mix it up a little bit so that you wouldn't very easily be able to draw those kinds of parallels and the story would probably be something that could speak to the concerns of the challenges and the stresses and the difficulties of this time, because they've been legion. From the time we started working on the show until we finished shooting Season 1, there's been a global pandemic, there have been various economic and political and social upheavals. And so we felt more than ever that the world needed that unique, special kind of hope that Tolkien can bring to it. If there was anything timely, it was the urgency and the need for what Middle-earth gives to people, to be able to come and bring it to our world right now."
McKay added that "applicable" is a word Tolkien used often in reference to his text. "He wanted to create a mythos that was applicable to people, wherever they are, and whenever they are. We've all aspired to craft the show in the same way. The dream would be if 20 years from now, the show is just as applicable then as it is now and doesn't feel dated. We certainly aspire to that special, timeless thing that Tolkien seem to be able to do effortlessly. But that's where our efforts have all gone."
The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power debuts Sept. 2 on Prime Video.
Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.