Rings of Power and the Persistence of Evil

Robert Rivera

It began with the filming of the great movies. Three were made for The Lord of the Rings, cherished and beloved by all. Three lesser films for The Hobbit, stretched out unnecessarily. Within these films was found the spirit of Tolkien’s themes. But they were all of them surprised, for a television series was also made. In the studios of Amazon, on the service of Prime Video, Jeff Bezos forged in secret The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. And into this show he poured his wealth and his desire to dominate the streaming wars.

Five rumored Rings of Power seasons to be viewed by all.

In 2017, the announcement that Amazon acquired the rights to make a Lord of the Rings series sent seismic waves through the Tolkien fandom. The show would focus on fan favorites like Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and Elrond (Robert Aramayo), alongside a diverse set of non-canonical characters: the elf Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova, who is Afro-Latino, with Puerto Rican roots); Sadoc the harfoot (Lenny Henry, who is of Jamaican descent); and Disa the dwarf (Sophia Nomvete, who has African-Iranian heritage). When the series finally released last month, I found it satisfying, like a serving of elven waybread. Can it sustain me for five seasons? To paraphrase Gandalf, my heart tells me that it will have some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.

Although it is distinct from director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, the series draws us back to that universe with a theme song from Rings composer Howard Shore and sweeping aerial shots of New Zealand. Episode 1 also opens with a prologue, not unlike Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Galadriel recounts the fall of the evil Morgoth and the rise of the plotting Sauron in Morgoth’s place. She pledges to hunt down Sauron, even though the rest of the world sees him as a diminished threat.

Even Elrond believes her quest to be overkill, telling her, “It is over. The evil is gone.” But Galadriel has seen too much to abandon her goal. Holding back the fire that burns deep in her eyes, she tells him, “You have not seen what I have seen. Evil does not sleep, Elrond. It waits. And in the moment of our complacency, it blinds us.”

Indeed, Sauron is crafty. It is Middle-earth’s complacency that allows him to lurk undetected. Detailed set pieces showcase the series’ robust budget and hint at the rising threat. A meteor zips across the sky, crashing near the nomadic harfoots (predecessors to hobbits) and revealing a stranger with mysterious powers. Poisoned trees drive the elvish High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) to seek an alliance with the dwarvish Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) in hopes of preserving their people. Morgoth’s shadow lingers in the dank and dingy Southlands, where the men who once allied with Morgoth now live in poverty. A dark elf called Adar (Joseph Mawle) rallies the remnant of Morgoth sympathizers to join his army of orcs for some secret purpose. Even beyond Middle-earth, in the royal land of Númenor, where towering statues stand among a pristine white city adorned with blue and gold, evil tidings haunt the dreams of Queen Regent Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Yet only Galadriel sees these events as birth pangs of Sauron’s return. While the signs distract the world, Sauron creeps into it unnoticed.

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Sauron’s tactics serve as a warning for the complacent Christian. Such complacency was on the mind of the Apostle Peter as he penned his first epistle: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Like the evil in Middle-earth, Satan does not sleep. He waits. He strikes fear and doubt into our minds, often concealing his presence. The Apostle Paul reminded us that Satan even masquerades as an angel of light.

The alert viewer of The Rings of Power can see the signs of evil. In the opening credits, grains of beige sand move to the rhythm of Shore’s music, representing the creation of the world. Then a line of black sand invades the design, while a dark strain of dissonance can be heard in the score, evoking the seeds of Sauron’s corruption. In one of the episodes, a volcanic eruption blots out the Southlands’ sun, giving birth to Mount Doom and Mordor. A foreshadowed eye of Sauron seeps through the melted alloy of the crafted elven rings in the final episode, recalling a key image from Jackson’s films. The signs are present, but only Sauron’s eye is watchful.

There is an old adage that says, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” If evil is only waiting for the opportune moment, we cannot afford to be unprepared. Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge records similar thoughts in her book The Battle for Middle-earth: “There is no conclusive victory in this world. There is no lasting rest this side of the Kingdom of God. There is no point at which we can say ‘Mission accomplished.’ That is why Christ admonished his disciples to watch and be alert (Matthew 25:13; Mark 14:38; Luke 21:36) for as soon as we let down our guard the Enemy slips back into the very heart of the place we thought was most impregnable.”

Our preparation is in devotion. Think of Christ. Satan’s attack on Jesus in the wilderness may have seemed strategic except for one thing: Jesus was prepared. His preparation was evident by his fasting and quoting Scripture. The moment we remove ourselves from private devotion or Christ-centered community is the moment that Satan will pounce.

I find Jonathan McReynolds song, “Cycles,” helpful. He sings, “See the devil, he learns from your mistakes, even if you don't.” The enemy does not sleep. He waits. But if we are devoted and discerning, we can stand victorious on the promise that the devil will flee.

Topics: TV