Back Off, Trolls

In September of this year, Amazon plans to release a TV show based off the Lord of the Rings books: The Rings of Power. Personally, I can’t wait. I love all Tolkien spinoffs, and from what I’ve seen The Rings of Power looks like an excellent example: lavish, sumptuous, with exciting plotlines, heroic quests through epic landscapes, and an elven princess coming of age alongside a hot elven prince. What’s not to like?

But my opinion isn’t the only one. Indeed, if you look on certain sites, you might think I was very much in the minority.

The teaser trailer on YouTube is still beset with angry comments about how this series destroys Tolkien’s legacy and the sanctity of the Peter Jackson movies. There are dozens of videos about how awful this series is even before it airs, filled with profanities and blistering invective. It’s the Star Wars sequels debacle all over again, only this time the toxic fans aren’t even waiting to see the damn movie.

And do these fans object to Amazon’s questionable labor practices? Do they think such an expensive project is a waste of time and money in our age of pandemic and climate change? No! What people object to, apparently, is that The Rings of Power features elves with short hair and dark skin, along with dwarves and proto-Hobbits who aren’t white, and Galadriel as an uncertain teenager as opposed to a sexy, omniscient elf queen.

Oh, the horror! A show set in Middle Earth that not only features characters of color, but gives them agency as well! Elves changing their hairstyles! Galadriel wasn’t always a sex symbol! The show is introducing original characters! Sauron’s Eye is on the move!

I can understand if people think Amazon’s new show looks like a flop and a disappointment. It’s perfectly possible that’s exactly what it will be. I’m also worried it will be guilty of tokenism: one Black dwarf, one Black elf, etc. But what fans say they object to is that The Rings of Power rejects Tolkien’s “legacy”. What exactly is Tolkien’s “legacy”, then? White supremacy? Women as sex symbols? Nothing ever changing, ever? No new art? No new interpretations? Because that’s basically what they’re saying they want: nothing new in Middle Earth, ever.

What confuses me is that all these fans keep referring back to the Peter Jackson movies as the epitome of Tolkien’s universe, rather than Tolkien’s works themselves. They say they hate change, but the Peter Jackson movies made a lot of changes to Middle Earth. Many characters, such a Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights, are removed altogether; Frodo is much younger in the movies than he is in the books; and Arwen plays a larger, more active role. The movies also remove a lot of the songs that are found in the book (and thank God for that). Saruman meets a different fate, and so does Samwise Gamgee. Peter Jackson made a lot of changes, in a brilliant and necessary way that resulted in a wonderful work of art. So why shouldn’t Amazon do the same?

Toxic fandom itself is completely contrary to Tolkien’s legacy. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a man who valued courtesy so highly that he refused to comment on Frank Herbert’s Dune in a private letter to a friend because he disliked the book intensely and to give an honest review would be to disrespect a fellow author. He’d be completely horrified by the furious debate swirling around the franchise. (Of course, Tolkien would be completely horrified that there’s a franchise at all. Yes, Amazon is commercializing Middle Earth—but, frankly, that ship sailed a long time ago.)

Perhaps my spleen is being colored by my intense dislike of toxic fandom. I freely admit that rude YouTube videos of people spraying swearwords at a show that hasn’t even aired yet drive me up the wall. Actually, I hate all forms of toxic fandom. I hate that it’s destroyed all chance of honest, thoughtful discussion of popular culture and art online. I hate that it gives nerds a bad name. I hate that it scares authors and artists into silence, that I have to be grateful I’m writing under a pen name in this blog post. Half the blame for the wreckage of The Rise of Skywalker goes to toxic fandom—the other half, of course, going to Disney for being so spineless as to listen to the trolls.

Fortunately, however, Amazon does not seem to be repeating that mistake. I’ve heard they’ve already planned out the entire show, down to the last shot, and are forging ahead. And there are other reviewers out there, who have seen what the new show has to offer, and have given it positive reviews, or at least fair-minded ones. There’s more to fandom than racist trolls.

So let’s give Amazon a chance. Or, at least, let’s all watch the first episode before we start tearing it apart.