Enter the World of the Rings

Express News Service

The Lord of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy by Peter Jackson was undoubtedly a seminal work in world cinema. Apart from satisfying the fans of the book by JRR Tolkien, the film also went on to create its own legion of fans. Almost twenty years later, with The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video is set to take us on a journey back to the world of LOTR, albeit a few thousands of years before the happenings of the original franchise. 

JD Payne, who has created the show along with his long-time associate Patrick McKay, calls themselves the biggest fans of Tolkien. “These aren’t just stories to us. They are integrated with our hearts and souls so much that when my father passed away I referred to Tolkien in his eulogy, and I wrote my son’s birth announcement in Elvish.” While The Rings of Power is definitely a passion project for Payne and McKay, it is undoubtedly a pressure project too for the duo.

However, Payne adds that the pressure surrounding the series was mostly internal. “Since we are huge fans of Tolkien, we pushed ourselves to the maximum to get everything right. For starters, we began our writing sessions every day by reading one of Tolkien’s quotes, and kept going back to the thousands of pages he has written about middle earth.”

Unlike the Peter Jackson series, which was a direct adaptation of The Lord of The Rings book, Rings of Power didn’t have solid source material. They only had an abstract idea of the Second Age, and its characters. Though Tolkien had written a lot about the period, the creators had to develop the characters and story arcs to form a singular, engaging narrative. Payne shares that they were so into the world of Tolkien that after a point, they started thinking like him.

“Our biggest pointer while writing Rings of Power was ‘Would Tolkien do it?’. It was quite a task to compress 1000s of years of a story into one script. We always ran our ideas through Tolkien Estate, Tolkien’s grandson Simon Tolkien, and a couple of world-renowned Tolkienian scholars to ensure that we were on the right track.”

While the allegiance to Tolkien and his world is clear, one can’t help but wonder if it would similarly appeal to outsiders of the Tolkienian world. “Absolutely, it will work. While the superfans will get excited on seeing the minute details we have included in every frame, the ones who have no clue about The Lord of The Rings or Tolkien will still have an interesting tale of emotions to be invested in.”

Interestingly, the makers reportedly had a private screening with ardent fans of Tolkien to check if The Rings of Power met their expectations, and the previews turned out to be a major success. “The audience will be getting to see the visuals of worlds like Númenor for the first time and we had to build not just one but six worlds, just for the first season. Our team had to customise everything on the frame, even the simplest things like a leaf to match the visual the fans of the book have in their mind. It was quite an exciting challenge.”

Payne feels that there couldn’t have been a better time to make The Rings of Power. “Our project wouldn’t have been possible 10 or 15 years back. Making The Rings of Power as a web series helps us get the best of both worlds. Now we have the production value of a blockbuster film, and the space to explore long-format storytelling. Tolkien’s tales require both these elements to satisfy the audience.” He adds that the viewers will be more invested with the characters when they spend long hours with them. “I am positive that everyone will start rooting for the lead characters as they will be spending close to 50 hours with them.”

Choosing to go with a fantasy period setting is an impressive choice for creators of fiction, who might generally be tempted to write characters and plotlines set in a contemporary world. However, Payne feels the opposite. “Tolkien didn’t want to build anything allegorical. He didn’t want people to compare the characters with politicians or kingdoms of a particular society. He felt it limits his creation. We also wanted our creation to be timeless and applicable to everyone. The core of Tolkien’s stories is the battle between good and evil, and the corrupting nature of power. These themes will continue to resonate across generations.”

Incidentally, Payne equates taking up the responsibility of The Rings of Power to marriage as a significant part of his life will be dedicated to this series. He explains that the desire to explore bigger horizons inspires him and McKay to keep running forward. “When we enter a fantasy world, our guard goes down, cynicism disappears and the fictional characters begin to inspire us. We live for such experiences. We often compare ourselves to Frodo Baggins, who was given responsibility beyond his experience and capabilities. And this gave us the fuel to make The Rings of Power.”

The Lord of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy by Peter Jackson was undoubtedly a seminal work in world cinema. Apart from satisfying the fans of the book by JRR Tolkien, the film also went on to create its own legion of fans. Almost twenty years later, with The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video is set to take us on a journey back to the world of LOTR, albeit a few thousands of years before the happenings of the original franchise. 

JD Payne, who has created the show along with his long-time associate Patrick McKay, calls themselves the biggest fans of Tolkien. “These aren’t just stories to us. They are integrated with our hearts and souls so much that when my father passed away I referred to Tolkien in his eulogy, and I wrote my son’s birth announcement in Elvish.” While The Rings of Power is definitely a passion project for Payne and McKay, it is undoubtedly a pressure project too for the duo.

However, Payne adds that the pressure surrounding the series was mostly internal. “Since we are huge fans of Tolkien, we pushed ourselves to the maximum to get everything right. For starters, we began our writing sessions every day by reading one of Tolkien’s quotes, and kept going back to the thousands of pages he has written about middle earth.”

Unlike the Peter Jackson series, which was a direct adaptation of The Lord of The Rings book, Rings of Power didn’t have solid source material. They only had an abstract idea of the Second Age, and its characters. Though Tolkien had written a lot about the period, the creators had to develop the characters and story arcs to form a singular, engaging narrative. Payne shares that they were so into the world of Tolkien that after a point, they started thinking like him.

“Our biggest pointer while writing Rings of Power was ‘Would Tolkien do it?’. It was quite a task to compress 1000s of years of a story into one script. We always ran our ideas through Tolkien Estate, Tolkien’s grandson Simon Tolkien, and a couple of world-renowned Tolkienian scholars to ensure that we were on the right track.”

While the allegiance to Tolkien and his world is clear, one can’t help but wonder if it would similarly appeal to outsiders of the Tolkienian world. “Absolutely, it will work. While the superfans will get excited on seeing the minute details we have included in every frame, the ones who have no clue about The Lord of The Rings or Tolkien will still have an interesting tale of emotions to be invested in.”

Interestingly, the makers reportedly had a private screening with ardent fans of Tolkien to check if The Rings of Power met their expectations, and the previews turned out to be a major success. “The audience will be getting to see the visuals of worlds like Númenor for the first time and we had to build not just one but six worlds, just for the first season. Our team had to customise everything on the frame, even the simplest things like a leaf to match the visual the fans of the book have in their mind. It was quite an exciting challenge.”

Payne feels that there couldn’t have been a better time to make The Rings of Power. “Our project wouldn’t have been possible 10 or 15 years back. Making The Rings of Power as a web series helps us get the best of both worlds. Now we have the production value of a blockbuster film, and the space to explore long-format storytelling. Tolkien’s tales require both these elements to satisfy the audience.” He adds that the viewers will be more invested with the characters when they spend long hours with them. “I am positive that everyone will start rooting for the lead characters as they will be spending close to 50 hours with them.”

Choosing to go with a fantasy period setting is an impressive choice for creators of fiction, who might generally be tempted to write characters and plotlines set in a contemporary world. However, Payne feels the opposite. “Tolkien didn’t want to build anything allegorical. He didn’t want people to compare the characters with politicians or kingdoms of a particular society. He felt it limits his creation. We also wanted our creation to be timeless and applicable to everyone. The core of Tolkien’s stories is the battle between good and evil, and the corrupting nature of power. These themes will continue to resonate across generations.”

Incidentally, Payne equates taking up the responsibility of The Rings of Power to marriage as a significant part of his life will be dedicated to this series. He explains that the desire to explore bigger horizons inspires him and McKay to keep running forward. “When we enter a fantasy world, our guard goes down, cynicism disappears and the fictional characters begin to inspire us. We live for such experiences. We often compare ourselves to Frodo Baggins, who was given responsibility beyond his experience and capabilities. And this gave us the fuel to make The Rings of Power.”