What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film (2023)

What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film (1)

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ByJeremy Mathai/

Warriors have their swords, wizards have their walking sticks, and harfoots have their, well, hairy feet. But for those of us on the outside looking in at fantastical shows like "The Lord of the Rings:The Rings of Power," we may have nothing but questions about how exactly this sprawling story in season 1 came together to begin with. The endless handwringingover fidelity to authorJ.R.R. Tolkien's work and whether this story truly "feels like Tolkien" enough have driven plenty of headlines, but there may remain some confusion over just what source material "The Rings of Power" is adapting in the first place and how exactly this new story is meant to fit into the vast legendarium.

The short answer? Unlike Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" (or even other fantasy contemporaries, likethe ongoing "House of the Dragon"), series creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay didn't have the benefit of any single text to draw upon in order to build out their scripts.More to the point,this show technically exists in a separate continuity altogether from Jackson's acclaimed trilogy of movies — alegal obstacle that makes many of the shared characters, locations, and even designs between "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Rings of Power" that much more complicated. The long answer, then? Well, that would require clearing up the muddied water surrounding most discussions of this fascinating and relatively complicated take on Middle-earth.

So for those who may not know their "Silmarillion" from Sauron — and even for those who do — consider this a handy explainer rounding up all the information we know about "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," the specific Tolkien writing it's adapting, and how it conquered its toughest foe yet: those pesky rights issues.

What did Amazon buy anyway?

What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film (2)

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It's the million-dollar question — $250 million, actually. When AmazonStudios first purchased the television rights to create what would eventually become "The Rings ofPower," the news inspired hot takes, kneejerk reactions, and no shortage of eyebrow-raising questions.

Hesitant fans immediately wondered what material this show could even adapt in the first place. Such skepticism came from the knowledge that the Tolkien Estate — the notoriously hard-to-please legal entity considered to be custodians and caretakers of Tolkien's legacy — jealously guard the rights to "The Silmarillion" under lock and key, preventing it from being adapted in any form after the Tolkien family felt jilted by the liberties Peter Jackson took with his film trilogy. This meant that the author's golden goose, a veritable treasure trove of epic poems and tales depicting events taking place long before "The Lord of the Rings," remains strictly off-limits.

Instead, Amazon's deal clearly defined the parameters of what could and couldn't be translated to the small screen. To do this, Payne and McKay had to turn to alternative sources.As the showrunners once explained:

"We have the rights solely to 'The Fellowship of the Ring,' 'The Two Towers,' 'The Return of the King,' the appendices, and 'The Hobbit.' And that is it. We do not have the rights to 'The Silmarillion,' 'Unfinished Tales,' 'The History of Middle-earth,' or any of those other books."

So the writers resorted to loopholes: adapting "The Lord of the Rings" chapters where characters reference historical events that took place in the First and Second Ages and, more than anything else, the lengthy appendices included at the end of "The Return of the King" that went into greater detail and provided the basis for "The Rings of Power."

Wait, so The Rings of Power isn't a prequel to the movies?

What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film (3)

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When is a prequel not actually a prequel? When the complicated ins and outs of Tolkien rights come into play.

Despite common misconceptions that "The Rings of Power" and Peter Jackson's groundbreaking "The Lord of the Rings" movies are canonical with one another — understandably so, give several shared characters, many of the same locations, and even certain examples of creature design — "The Rings of Power" is prohibited from existing within the same exact continuity. Unable to contradict or add to anything that Jackson did with his films (which explains why Amazon abruptly backed away from bringing the director on board as a consultant in any capacity whatsoever), the series instead must stand on its own two feet rather than function as a traditional prequel.

Admittedly, this doesn't really affect the viewing experience of "The Rings of Power" all that much since both properties are rooted in the same source material, which means there are ample opportunities for clever retconning.

Familiar characters like Elrond and Galadriel, portrayed by Robert Aramayo and Morfyyd Clark respectively, are known quantities to those who watched Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett play different (and much older) versions of those characters in "The Lord of the Rings." The fact that they aren't literallythe same heroes we saw before, however, shouldn't make much of a difference to anyone except the biggest lore obsessives. Their characterizations still draw upon how Tolkien originally envisioned them, which means it's fair game to compare their younger selves in the show with how the movies interpreted them much later on in their lives.

The showrunners addressedthisas well, citing a mandate of "different but familiar" in taking inspiration from Jackson's Middle-earth without staying beholden to it.

Bending the rules

What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film (4)

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After all this talk about how ironclad and constricting this rights situation is for "The Rings of Power," however, it's worth noting that not all aspects of this Amazon deal seem to be as intractable and nigh indestructible as the One Ring itself.

Consider the very glaring fact that, despite taking place in a separate continuity entirely, certain aspects of "The Rings of Power" appear to be pulled straight from Jackson's "TheLord of the Rings" movies. For one thing, the Amazon series brought back artists such as composer Howard Shore, concept artist John Howe,and others who were involved with the original movies, adding more confusion to the proceedings through this shared DNA. But much more noticeably, several character and creature designs — from the look of Sauron himself (as glimpsed briefly early in the premiere) to the fiery balrogto even invoking certain "Silmarillion"-exclusive lore (as noted by Collider) — are exactly as they appear in material outside of Amazon's purview.

How to explain the studio'sapparent flouting of their own deal?

Well, consider that the show's creatives worked closely with Tolkien Estate director and Tolkien's own grandson,Simon Tolkien, throughout the process. This unprecedented collaboration, previously unheard-of in the history of the Tolkien Estate and its tumultuous relationship with previous adaptations, almost certainly thawed the frost between both parties and allowed for a relaxing of the rules. This seems to have been alluded to in a recent Variety profile of Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, who remarked on Simon Tolkien's work on the series and that "...the estate was very open and encouraging for reinvention, but always in ways that stay true to Tolkien. We all have the same kind of vision for this property. There was never any disconnect there, which is probably why it worked out so well."

This partnership seems to have worked out so far on "The Rings ofPower," giving us a thrilling and unique fantasy story that — complicated rights issues and all — should provide even more excitement to come.


What Can The Rings Of Power Adapt? A Guide To The Lord Of The Rings' Rights Issues - /Film? ›

These rights also specifically relate to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit—giving Rings of Power access to names and events referenced in those works, so characters like Elrond, Galadriel, and more can appear—which means Rings of Power cannot directly adapt events that Tolkien specifically laid out in books like The ...

How does The Rings of Power relate to The Lord of the Rings? ›

The Rings Of Power takes place thousands of years before the events of The Lord Of The Rings—-before Sauron became the haunting and glowing eye, and when he actually was a human. This is the Second Age of Middle Earth.

What is rings of power adapting? ›

The Rings of Power doesn't re-adapt The Lord of the Rings. Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay actually pull from a variety of Tolkien's work, like The Silmarillion and the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings, to create something new.

What does The Rings of Power not have rights to? ›

As the showrunners once explained: "We have the rights solely to 'The Fellowship of the Ring,' 'The Two Towers,' 'The Return of the King,' the appendices, and 'The Hobbit. ' And that is it. We do not have the rights to 'The Silmarillion,' 'Unfinished Tales,' 'The History of Middle-earth,' or any of those other books."

Why does Rings of Power not have rights to Gandalf? ›

While the upcoming TV series does have the chance to bring several beloved Tolkien stories to life on-screen, none of them include Gandalf. That's because The Rings of Power will be set primarily in the Second Age of Middle-earth, and Gandalf doesn't come to the land until its Third Age.

What is the difference between The Rings of Power and The Lord of the Rings? ›

The Rings of Power makes it clear that something evil is coming to Middle-earth, and that Sauron is alive, but he is not the Dark Lord that we are all familiar with yet. In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is a Dark Lord, who has an army and base in Mordor.

Is Gandalf alive in Rings of Power? ›

As immortal beings born shortly after the beginning of time, all the wizards were definitely alive during the time period of The Rings of Power.

Is The Rings of Power a good adaptation? ›

Ultimately, 'The Rings of Power' is a good adaptation of Tolkien's works for several reasons that go beyond the writing and the cinematography.

Is Rings of Power connected to the movies? ›

Though the show seems to have aimed for a similar look to the films, it has a different creative team and is not officially tied to any previous interpretation of Middle-earth. Yet, as both are adapted from the same source material, the two stories fit together fairly well.

Is The Rings of Power a faithful adaptation? ›

Despite such changes sometimes ruffling feathers, they are appropriate and necessary updates, and The Rings of Power is better for them. Even though The Lord of the Rings and The Rings of Power don't tackle Tolkien's work with complete accuracy, diehard fans can still hope for a faithful adaptation in the future.

Why don t audiences like Rings of Power? ›

The primary reason for the dislike was due to lore-based decisions. LOTR fans take Tolkien's material very seriously, so when The Rings of Power started making changes to canon, it didn't sit well.

What is peoples problem with rings of power? ›

The problem is that the elves or the characters we have seen in Rings of Power do not represent the ones we have read about in the books. The show miserably fails every time when Galadriel speaks to another person or when we see an elf, dwarf, or a harfoot.

Why are rings of power criticized? ›

Some of the biggest criticisms came from the alterations to Tolkien's lore. With the showrunners not having access to The Silmarillion or the other works that chronicle the timeframe covered in The Rings of Power, some changes and liberties were expected. Some of them worked, such as Halbrand being Sauron.

Why was Rings of Power a failure? ›

When it came to the show's sprawling list of characters, most were unlikable and almost all were involved in some sort of manufactured conflict with one another. Whereas The Lord Of The Rings focused on friendship and camaraderie, Rings Of Power set up ridiculous, endless squabbling between most of its key characters.

Why is there no Hobbits in Rings of Power? ›

The simple answer is that the Harfoots in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are indeed Hobbits. They're one of three different early races alongside the Fellowhides and the Stoors, who originally resided in and around the Misty Mountains.

Why is there no wizard in Rings of Power? ›

According to Tolkien's writing, Gandalf and Saruman didn't arrive in Middle-earth until the Third Age. Since The Rings of Power is set in the Second Age, this would suggest that the Stranger is definitively not either of those wizards.

Should I watch Lord of the Rings before The Rings of Power? ›

Is it necessary to watch the Lord of the Rings movies or read the Lord of the Rings books to understand The Rings of Power series? Joking aside, no, it's clear that you don't need to have seen the Lord of the Rings movies (or read the books) to watch The Rings of Power.

Is Rings of Power in The Lord of the Rings Universe? ›

The Rings of Power is not in the same universe, and is a massive disappointment. The first episode was a dithering mess that proved that this was not Tolkien's universe at all, and no this has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with the COUNTLESS instances of lore breaking nonsense.

Are The Rings of Power related to Aragorn? ›

Aragorn is not in The Rings of Power.

That's because his ancestors, Elendil and Isildur, are both in the new Middle-earth TV series. Aragorn is descended from these two future-kings, so Aragorn fans (and who isn't an Aragorn fan?) still have plenty of Aragorn-related goodness to enjoy in The Rings of Power.

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