*Spoiler Alert*: This post contains plot references to the first two episodes (and beyond) of the new Amazon Prime series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
It’s the most expensive television program in history, and it shows. The Rings of Power features beautifully dreamlike cinematography with terrific acting, writing, and music. So far, at least, it seems to be “of a piece” not only with Tolkien’s oeuvre but also with Jackson’s six films. And yet one of the biggest villains here is not Morgoth or Sauron but prudery. How is it that such a gloriously developed fantasy world has to be so tightly textile-bound?
I’ve written before, on this site, about the idea of “stolen nudity” – when a visual adaptation of a classic work of literature robs the nudity from the original, with ostensible motives such as viewership and advertising profits and religion (examples include Frankenstein, Huckleberry Finn, Tarzan, The Jungle Book and many more, including the Bible). Regarding Tolkien adaptations, there is indeed a scene of “stolen nudity” left out of The Fellowship of the Rings film (mentioned at the end of this post). In the case of The Rings of Power, the writers have had to build from Tolkien’s appendices and other peripheral writings, so it is perhaps not quite the same as a visual misrepresentation of literary nudity. However, in just two episodes of the program so far, there are already two instances in which there was no need, in the world of the story, to avoid what would have most naturally been a nude scene. Sadly, the only “need” is capitulation to insidiously pervasive societal misgivings about nudity, as we naturists already know so well.
[spoilers] Instance #1: Rather than return to Valinor, Galadriel jumps ship and swims back to Middle Earth. It’s a long way to swim, yet she stays dressed in the shift (dress? robe?) she was wearing underneath her armor on the way to Valinor. Anyone trying to survive such an ordeal in the open ocean would very quickly realize that wearing such a petticoat (shroud?) is no help and would in fact be a huge hindrance. Galadriel, our heroine, is very smart, brave, unconventional, rebellious, a take-no-prisoners “girlboss” who, in my understanding, would have zero problem losing the nightgown. She is definitely not the kind of person who would say ‘I’d rather die than let anyone see me naked.’ There is no explanation given for her insistence on wearing this tarp (such as using magical elf powers to stay afloat – we don’t see this happening), but soon enough she meets some human shipwreck victims, all dressed in rags, and perhaps it’s easier for her to fit in since she is also textile-adorned. Yet a man pulls her hair back to reveal her pointy elf ears, and that detail is what upsets the human crew, even though they have a much larger problem to face.
Instance #2: A celestial object crashes into the earth near where a group of nomadic harfoots (hobbit ancestors) are camped. Young Nori and Poppy–something like female versions of Frodo and Sam–investigate and find a survivor in the burning ruins, someone who seems to have been inside the meteor. It appears to be a middle-aged man, bearded, lying in a fetal position in the middle of the crash site. At first he appears to be nude, but in a moment when he rises up to react to Nori prodding him, we see he is clothed in some sort of ragged loincloth (adult diaper?), or maybe he is just suffering from pixelated loins under the pretense of, ‘hey, this fire doesn’t burn Nori but still does have thick smoke wafting over chosen locations.’ Why would this angel, wizard, god or whomever he is need to be clothed like that? No reason whatsoever. Except, you know, people’s “sensibilities” getting all offended. Or whatever.
Tolkien’s world is a classic example (for many, THE classic example) of the fantasy genre. Perhaps it is literally more “fantastic” that someone would stay dressed in a tent (probably the best word for it) while attempting to swim the ocean, or that some man would be wearing a ragged miniskirt (ha!) when climbing out of the wreckage of a flaming object from space. To be fair, the Meteor Man’s covering (dirty underwear?) is almost invisible the way they filmed the quick scene. Also, to be fair, Galadriel’s covering is close to the color of her skin, such that in some of her swimming scenes you could think she’s nude – but certainly not while she’s aboard the raft, which is a long sequence for an actor to remain nude, but if necessary she could make a covering from a rent sail at that point and basically look exactly the same. Both instances seem to want to imply nudity without being able to show it. But for me, those moments pull me out of the story much more quickly and forcefully than any magic ring or fire-breathing dragon. How sad is it to have to keep wearing our “modesty,” even in our dreams and fantasies?
I absolutely love this program so far. It’s outstanding. I can’t wait to see more of The Rings of Power, even though I am prepared to be disappointed by the inevitable prudery. A final example: I was extremely excited by Princess Disa’s description of “resonating,” a process in which dwarves sing in a cave, or to a rockface, to determine its history and layout, to determine what if anything it can yield. This is exactly the kind of nude bodily interface with the landscape that I’ve written about in Aglow, Skinners, and in this post. At the end of the second episode, a short preview of the rest of Season One does indeed show Princess Disa singing in a cavern. Of course… ><sigh><… she is clothed…