The Washington Post ran a review of the new Tolkien prequel — financed by the newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, or at least by his company — today.
It was headlined, “‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ is beautiful, banal boredom.”
Which, frankly, was about what I expected. I think if Tolkien thought what had happened (in his imagination, not Tommy Westphall’s) in Middle Earth 3,000 years earlier was as compelling as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, he’d have written the stories out, rather than summing them up in an appendix.
Coincidentally, the Jesuit magazine America ran something related today, headlined “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings: Telling Stories to Save Lives.”
It concentrates on those Oxford writers as besieged Christians taking comfort from their friendship — and their work — in a time and place of growing indifference and even hostility to faith, and it’s worth reading. You can probably do so without subscribing as I have — as I recall, America still uses the model in which you can read two or three pieces before the pay wall goes up.
Frankly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I saw it as a warning against the isolationism that was so dominant in Britain and this country before the Second World War. (The writing of the work started in 1937 and continued until several years after the war.) I tended to see Sauron as Hitler, Saruman and Wormtongue as the quislings who were undermining Europe — I mean, Middle Earth — ahead of the orc blitzkrieg, and Gandalf as the sort of Churchill/Roosevelt figure who ran about trying to wake everyone up before it was too late.
But yes, Tolkien’s mind was working on deeper levels as well, as the piece in America notes:
Everyone loves an underdog, of course, but these tales feel more meaningful than a standard superhero film because their authors had their eyes on a deeper set of truths. Sin and corruption are real, but salvation is still available. They knew, as Tolkien explained to Lewis in the early years of their friendship, that the Christian story is the truest story, of which all others are echoes. When all appears to be lost, we always have recourse to the deep magic from the dawn of time.
Recently, I drew your attention (or tried to, anyway) to a homily by Bishop Barron in which he used the experiences of Bilbo Baggins as an example of what God expects of us — that we’re supposed to get out and encounter the world and have a great adventure, not sit comfortably in our hobbit holes smoking choice Shire pipeweed, and enjoying the copious food and drink of our larders.
Anyway, however you interpret it, it helps for your story to have a point, and consist of more than breathtaking CGI scenery and battle sequences. Those can leave you feeling rather empty…