I was not planning to watch The Rings of Power. One reason is that I am a bit of a snob who overly trusts the reviews of others when it comes to television shows. Sadly, The Rings of Power was rated a dismal average audience score of 35% on rotten tomatoes.
The second reason: I was scared. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (yes the movies, sorry book fans!) has been a “precious” one for me and my family growing up and now for me and my husband as well. When the world feels quite dark, the battle with sin bleak, and the influence of evil in my own heart and the hearts of loved ones obvious, one of my favourite gospel ointments is curling up to begin The Fellowship of the Ring (thus setting myself on the inevitable 9-hour journey to Mordor and back with dear Frodo and Sam). This new series was, of course, unknown, and I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want anything to “tarnish” my love for Tolkien’s world as depicted in Peter Jackson’s film series.
I happened across a blurb on Instagram from World magazine that convinced me to give it a try (along with my sister’s constant prodding that I HAD to see it!). So, despite my reservations, my husband and I took a deep breath and dove into the Second Age of Middle Earth one Sunday evening.
From the first scene, we were utterly captivated. We remained so throughout the season (and even now as we wait with bated breath for season 2)! I do not exaggerate in saying that there were more “amen” moments in the series than in the movie trilogy, something I would not have thought possible. Saying nothing of the excellent cinematography, picturesque settings, and brilliant casting, I would love to share three themes presented in this series that provided deep refreshment for my soul.
The first scene opens with Galadriel’s narration of Tolkien’s line, “Nothing is evil in the beginning” spoken against an idyllic backdrop of light and beauty. From this first line our hearts were deeply stirred for the world of light we were created for. This quote sums up much of the thematic material in the series in that, while it depicts darkness as being both powerful and real, evil is shown as being unequivocally subservient to goodness. It is also displayed not as a power in its own right, but as a lack, an absence of what it means to be really and truly alive. Goodness, beauty, and truth constitute the original makeup of our world, and evil is incapable of creation. It merely twists what was originally pure. As believers enjoying this show, we see our origin story, a time when “nothing was evil.” Eternity is stirred once again in our hearts as we long to return to the beauty we were made for but have not yet tasted in its fullness.
The complexity of the heart of man
In speaking of the current state of Middle Earth, Elrond speaks to his friend, Galadriel, assuring her, “It is over. The evil is gone.” To which Galadriel immediately flings her hand to heart crying, “Then why is it not gone from in here?” The Rings of Power recognises that evil is not just “out there,” but it is in the heart of every creature. It executes an intricate study in the complexity of man (and elves, dwarfs, wizards, etc). I will avoid spoilers here, but it is safe to say that these characters are extremely well developed and showcase both beauty and brokenness, courage and depravity, selflessness and destructive hatred.
As those called saints who still know the sting of sin too well, we relate with the clarity shown in that the negative heart impulses and actions are not the sole property of the “bad guys” in this series. While we see that even “Sauron was not evil in the beginning,” (again going with the previous theme that evil is unoriginal), we are also struck by Galadriel’s presentation of her own heart. As believers we feel the death blow with every character in their moment of succumbing to temptation. We also feel the joy brought by a spark of courage shared among friends united in conviction. We feel the tension of living in what theologians call the “already/not yet” of redemption. We see vestiges of goodness in the worst of men because they are still men made in God’s image. And we see remaining darkness in our own hearts that have mercifully been saved from themselves.
The power of hope
“Hope is never mere, even when it is meagre. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.” King Gil-galad’s poignant words to Elrond in episode 5 are the perfect summation of my favourite theme in both The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Rings of Power series, that being the power of hope. Throughout the series, the characters are stirred powerfully by this power. The least likely warrior joins in the battle. Those pillaged by war and grief wake up and take the next step forward. The outnumbered army comes together in a powerful display of life altering unity, their bond being the hope of goodness and light. The characters in The Rings of Power face a powerful and real darkness that affects them daily.
We also know such a darkness as followers of Christ, as we daily wage war against the world, Satan, and the most despicable member, our own sinfulness. How do we press on with such powerful enemies outside and within? We press on because we hope. And we know our hope will not disappoint us, because he is a living Person, the God-man who has already won the war against the enemies we continue to battle. We fight from rest in the one who has conquered. We fight knowing the victory is ours in him. We fight for our sure and certain hope that we will one day behold him and be like him. And just as in the beginning, nothing will be evil on that day.
I am so thankful for the longings this series stirred in my heart through the wonder of beautiful storytelling. I am more grateful to know the Story to which Tolkien’s world and all its subsequent projects point us toward. I would encourage you to take some time to immerse yourself in Middle Earth in the coming weeks and to derive joy for the daily battles in our own world, a battle that will one day cease as we reign with the Son in everlasting light.