By Amelia Hughes
The Rings of Power, Amazon Primes’s newest original, seems to be the marmite of fantasy, despite its record-breaking budget. Stylistically, the show isn’t ground-breaking. The Rings of Power features beautiful landscapes, a wistful soundtrack and complex world building, fitting neatly into the fantasy framework. Great care is taken to flesh out the context to this story, with its opening monologue giving the SparkNotes-style run through of Middle-earth history, providing an easy watch for those unfamiliar with Tolkien. For some, however, the series has proven to be a well of disappointment.
Of the critique of this kind, much has been focused on our series heroine, the not-so-familiar Galadriel. Unlike her older counterpart in The Lord of the Rings, she is vengeful and simmering with rage when we first meet her. Her desire to avenge the death of her family and her desperate fight to be listened to about Sauron’s return is as engaging as it is frustrating to watch. Galadriel abandons her opportunity to live in peace, refusing to put down her sword. Her life has been so consumed by pain at this point that she has forgotten what it means to live outside of anger.
Despite this, some have described Galadriel as arrogant, brash, and simply unwatchable. The critique and at times venomous hate of Galadriel is undoubtedly charged with misogyny, whether known or not. Considering her qualities are typical of a fantasy protagonist, and her faults are no more extreme than her fictional male counterparts, this observation feels harsh. She is the titular straight-faced, stone-cold warrior needed in a story such as The Rings of Power.
Critics have chosen to discredit her place as a central lead, labelling her a ‘Mary Sue,’ despite her heroics being no less believable than any other. Admittedly, some elements of Galadriel’s origin story have been embellished, for one, she doesn’t remain in Middle-Earth to avenge her brother’s death. Yet demeaning her status as a legendary warrior challenges how Tolkien himself painted her, as she was considered one of Sauron’s greatest foes.
The decision to portray Galadriel in a more humanised and rebellious light adds a greater dimension to her character. Beneath her steel mask lies great pain, of which is tangible on the screen. Her driving force is not some warrior’s conquest or ego trip, but grief solidified into one goal.
A decided shift has taken place between The Lord of the Rings trilogy and this series, that being the stark contrast of its female characters. Gone are the days of Eowyn of Rohan holding the weight of an entire gender on her shoulders. Instead, The Rings of Power has succeeded in providing a raw and soulful portrayal of women in Middle-Earth. The likes of Nori, Disa and Miriel feel grounded within the story; their doubts, motivations and presence are entirely their own. These women are more than a cardboard cut-out placed in frame as a sounding board for male characters, as we’ve seen time and time again.
As sickening as it is to note: The Rings of Power lacks one, seemingly compulsory, quality to female storytelling in fantasy. Women here are yet to be abused, dehumanised, or beaten into submission by the patriarchal structures encasing them. Here they don’t seem to be punished for their own womanhood, which feels like a breath of fresh air to be enveloped by a story untainted by sexist threats.