TV & Movies
The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Isn’t Based On A Book, Exactly
The Lord of the Rings prequel series features some familiar faces, but it has an unexpected origin.
Ever since Amazon first announced in 2017 that they’d purchased the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings universe, fans have been desperate to find out more details. For years, Amazon carefully kept their plans under wraps, only saying that they planned to make a multi-season prequel series; eventually, they revealed that the show would take place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, and feature younger versions of the elf queen Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) and elf lord Elrond (Robert Aramayo), along with dozens of other characters.
Now, after years of build-up, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power finally debuts on Amazon Prime on September 2. Fans of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy will immediately feel back at home in this version of Middle-earth, which features familiar, if slightly different, elven dwellings, dwarf beards, and hobbit (or, as they’re called in the show, “harfoot”) feet. But viewers who are experts in Tolkien lore won’t recognize many of characters and plot lines in The Rings of Power, and there’s a simple reason for that: The Rings of Power isn’t based on a single book. As a result, the show is a combination of recognizable Tolkien lore and new inventions — a combination that Amazon, is betting will resonate with viewers across the globe. (Season 1 alone cost $465 million to produce.)
To find out more about the source material for The Rings of Power, read below.
What book is The Rings of Power based on?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s best-known works today are The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), but his vision of Middle-earth stretched far beyond those texts: The author saw it as a fully fleshed-out world, with history, culture, and languages of its own. Tolkien’s fiction-writing was heavily influenced by his academic career as a professor of English at Oxford, where he taught and studied Old Norse, and Old and Middle English. (He was such a skilled linguist, in fact, that he invented two full Elvish languages.)
While he was writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien didn’t limit himself to the stories of Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn. He had plenty of ideas for stories about the earlier history of Middle-earth, including the world’s origins, legends about an evil being who was a precursor to Sauron, and fables about star-crossed lovers. As Tolkien scholar Robin Anne Reid explains, Tolkien wanted the American version of The Lord of the Rings to include four volumes, one of which would be entirely comprised of myths and “history.” This book would later be published as The Silmarillion, a beloved cult classic for fantasy fans. But Unwin and Allen, his American publisher, understandably weren’t enthusiastic about adding a volume of lore to the more traditional, exciting Lord of the Rings. Instead, Reid writes, Unwin and Allen agreed to include a series of Appendices at the end of The Return of the King. These appendices were so important to Tolkien, Vanity Fair explains, that he actually delayed the publication of The Return of the King to finish writing them. Ultimately, the Appendices would include genealogies; information on the origins and history of the cultures of Gondor, Rohan, and the dwarves; incredibly detailed timelines; and more. In a letter in 1961, Tolkien explained, “They play a major part in producing the total effect, producing the compelling sense of historical reality.”
Tolkien’s estate declined to sell the rights to The Silmarillion, which includes the more expansive mythic history Tolkien first envisioned. Instead, they sold Amazon the rights to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the Appendices — so it’s the Appendices that will provide the primary basis for The Rings of Power.
What are the Lord of the Rings’ Appendices About?
The Appendices offer information about what Tolkien called the Second Age of Middle-earth — the era that proceeds the Third Age, during which the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy take place. (For more on the three ages of Middle-earth, see here.)
Though the Appendices are packed full of information and over a hundred pages long, they hardly provide enough narrative material for five seasons of television. So rather than base their show solely on Tolkein’s text, The Rings of Power showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay are taking a more flexible approach, which involves making up characters, plots, and conflicts, while drawing on Tolkien’s historical backdrop. “There’s a version of everything we need for the Second Age in the books we have the rights to,” McKay told Vanity Fair. “As long as we’re painting within those lines and not egregiously contradicting something we don’t have the rights to, there’s a lot of leeway and room to dramatize and tell some of the best stories that [Tolkien] ever came up with.”