Every adaptation is a reinterpretation so ignore the enemies

Amazon Prime’s Billion-Dollar Production The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been the target of a flood of racist and misogynistic abuse online.

Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays Queen Regent Míriel. (First video)

Amazon has disabled reviews for shows due to “review bombardment” – when online users seek to overwhelm reviews based on political agendas. Online commenters criticized both the casting of people of color and the way the story focuses on powerful women.

Literature scholar Craig Franson has researched culture wars and neo-fascist politics in Tolkien studies. In a podcast he hosts with historian Dani Holtz, an expert on American conservatism, they discuss how online fascists use mass media “to exploit successful cultural productions,” as in the reaction of extreme right against Amazon. rings of power series.

As a literary scholar who has studied Tolkien’s fiction and scholarly writings, I encourage discussion of adaptations to better understand how they respond to Tolkien’s works and the world we live in today.

But far-right commentators tried to shut down any discussion of a new narrative they didn’t like. A better understanding of Tolkien’s works and the nature of the adaptations will combat some of the misinformation and harassment campaign online.

Official trailer for ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’.

“Faithful” adaptation?

Long before the first episode aired on September 1, some commentators condemned the series because they assumed it would not be “faithful” to “the tradition”, that is, to the texts written by Tolkien.

There is no “faithful” adaptation in every detail. As literary scholar Linda Hutcheon has pointed out, each adaptation is a reinterpretation of the source material.

Far-right commentators use “Tolkien” as an image of the world they want to have: an all-white, male-dominated society, and they attack any other interpretation. Legitimate literary discussion is therefore threatened with being overwhelmed by intimidation and misinformation.

This way they can influence even fans new to Tolkien or ideas about the adaptation. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular misconceptions floating around right now.

There is a lot to invent

The purpose of an adaptation may be to pay homage to the source or to criticize it, but either way it will say something new as a retelling of a story.

Producing an adaptation in a new medium like a TV show requires a different way of telling a story compared to a print version.

For rings of power, much remains to be invented. With the approval of Tolkien’s estate, Amazon has purchased the rights to tell a story of the Second Age of Middle-earth based on the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings.

In these appendices, Tolkien described only briefly what happened in Middle-earth before the events related in The Lord of the Rings.

Did Tolkien “hate adaptations”?

JRR Tolkien seen in 1967. (AP Photo)

Far-right commentators like to argue that they know Tolkien’s mind, and that he would frown upon Amazon’s adaptation because it doesn’t depict an all-white cast of male heroes. But we just can’t know what Tolkien would have thought of this current adaptation.

Another frequent claim is that Tolkien hated all adaptations. But Tolkien’s criteria for approval can be summed up in his own words: “Art or money”. In a letter to his son Christopher, Tolkien said he and his editor Stanley Unwin had agreed on a policy of approving adaptations if the author had a veto over objectionable features – or if they were very profitable.

Whether or not Tolkien wanted Amazon’s adaptation, his stories opened up a vast mythology already adapted for decades by filmmakers, artists, game designers, musicians, cosplayers, fiction writers, and others. .

Intentional narrative

One of the repeated assertions of far-right white supremacy is that Tolkien represented the European Middle Ages and therefore his characters should be white. But the Middle Ages in Europe included people of color, as reviews of historical evidence have pointed out.

Helen Young, a literary scholar who examines race and whiteness in popular culture, explores how popular Western fantasy writers and readers assumed the “good” characters were white.

Others point out details like the hobbit Sam described as having “brown hands” or the Harfoot hobbits to be a “skin tanner” as a sign that audiences don’t need to imagine hobbits as white. Creators can elaborate on such clues in Tolkien’s work, but they can also imagine this fantasy world in any way they choose.

The elder hobbit Sadoc Burrows is played by Lenny Henry in “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power”.

Tolkien: Complex Attitudes Towards Race

Tolkien’s attitudes towards race and racism were complex, as literary scholar Dimitra Fimi explains.

Although Tolkien made statements against racism and anti-Semitism in his letters, he based his work on racist hierarchies and medieval racial stereotypes.

Some adaptations might prefer to highlight how The Lord of the Rings depicts “races”, such as hobbits, elves, and dwarves, who bridge their differences to find common goals.

Ismael Cruz Córdova, a black Latino actor who plays the elf Arondir in the Amazon series, explained how important it is to “see ourselves, imagine ourselves and occupy the spaces that we rightly deserve”.

Ismael Cruz Córdova, center, as the elf Arondir. (Matt Grace/First video)

Too much emphasis on women?

Even before the first episode aired, some commentators repeatedly complained about the “Galadriel warrior” based on promotional photos. Many expected to see the ethereal woman from Peter Jackson’s films or simply hated her image as a military leader.

But this current adaptation portrays the young Galadriel that Tolkien alluded to in some versions – ambitious, athletic, and a fierce fighter.

Contrary to far-right expectations that an epic story should praise white male heroes, rings of power places women at the center of every story without eliminating male leaders and warriors.

Morfydd Clark plays Galadriel. (Matt Grace/First video)

Productive Questions

Tolkien is not above negative reviews. No adjustments either. We can ask productive questions about the purpose and methods of coping and the society funding it.

Tolkien readers have a wide range of views, and not all of them will agree when discussing the creative choices in this particular adaptation.

But prejudging it based on far-right discourse harms people, weakens our social democratic discourse, and will not lead to a better understanding of adaptation. We certainly need to draw a line under misinformation and racist and misogynistic abuse.

Anna Smol, Professor of English Literature, Mount Saint Vincent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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