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Rings of Power: The Power of Optimism (and the Perils of Pessimism)

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Editor’s Note

This article includes spoilers for The Rings of Power, season 1.

Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, showing some LOTR characters in their younger years and introducing new characters to J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy history. Two characters who drive much of the story in the first season are Galadriel, an elf warrior (who viewers met as an elf queen in LOTR), and Elanor “Nori” Bradyfoot, a pint-sized Harfoot. Nori serves as a foil to the powerful elf warrior throughout season one, prompting viewers to consider their own propensities to see either the good or the bad in others. While Galadriel’s obsession for revenge creates and reveals her predisposition to see the bad in a person or situation, Nori’s predisposition allows her to view others with optimism.

Before discussing Nori’s optimism, we should note that Nori is not a Tolkien character. She was created for the Amazon Prime series, but as Shaun Gunner, chair of the Tolkien Society, explains, “Although the storylines are not exclusively Tolkien, the show has been created with a level of craftsmanship and attention-to-detail which is unparalleled, and which is a love letter to the Professor.” Despite not being a Tolkien original, Nori echoes Tolkien’s hobbits who we already know and love. Tolkien follows God’s logic of 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, making the smallest people the greatest heroes. Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck, and Pippin Took complete quests that far surpass any abilities their statures might suggest. Likewise, Nori rises to the level of hero in season 1, saving the giant Starman and putting him on the path of good.

In episode 2 Galadriel is fighting to get back to Middle Earth to find and defeat the Orcs; Nori has no great quest beyond participating in her Harfoot community. However, Galadriel’s power is reduced while Nori’s grows. When Galadriel meets Halbrand on the Sundering Seas, the two are suspicious and distrusting of each other. Galadriel suspects Halbrand has a questionable past and only helps him in ways that ultimately help her. However, when Nori first encounters the Starman, she is both curious and helpful. She hopes he is good and refuses to leave him to fend for himself, even though he is scary and twice her size.

Nori’s optimism enables her to flourish in community.

As these relationships grow, the pairs become somewhat more trusting of each other. The viewer hopes both relationships will build towards something good. In episode 6, after working together to defeat Adar, Galadriel encourages Halbrand to pursue the good, saying, “Whatever it was he did to you, and whatever it was you did, be free of it.” Halbrand responds, “I never believed I could be, until today.” Are the two recognizing that a life lived for goodness, free of the chains of revenge, is the better way? Could optimism overcome Galadriel’s bent towards pessimism?

With a heart full of trust, Nori convinces the Starman that he is good. In episode 5 when he realizes that killing the fireflies was evil, he tells Nori, “I am peril.” She responds, “No, no, you’re not.” She tells him the fireflies were an accident. “You’re not a peril,” she says, “You’re good.” “I’m good?” he asks. She nods and reiterates, “You’re good. Because you’re here to help.” Nori has no way of knowing why the Starman has come or if he really is there to help, but she sees the world through optimistic eyes. And in her small optimistic words, her small hopes, her small beliefs, there is great power.

Galadriel’s power to help Halbrand live a good life does not last. In episode 8, Galadriel discovers Halbrand’s true identity and hates him. He is a peril whom she must destroy regardless of what she previously said. He argues that he is her friend, that Morgoth was controlling him when he did the previous evil, that now at last he can feel “the light of The One again.” He wants to make up for the evil he has done, but Galadriel rejects the possibility that he can become good. While she resists a great temptation to rule at his side (as Anna Daub discusses in her article), she misses a great opportunity to teach Sauron the meaning of forgiveness in the light of The One.

We see Nori’s power to influence the Starman for good in episode 8 when the three witches tell the Starman that he is Lord Sauron. At first, he believes he is the evil person they say he is, but Nori sweeps in and explains to him, “Only you can show what you are. You choose by what you do. You’re here to help. I know it.” Immediately, the Starman takes away the power of the witches, bids them to return to the shadows from whence they came, and states in no uncertain terms, “I am good.” Nori believed in him, and her faith helped him choose the way of good.

Nori’s optimism enables her to flourish in community. She embraces others, confides in her friend, Poppy, and is strengthened and steadied by the counsel of her family. Conversely, Galadriel’s pessimism isolates her from others. She acts alone, not even confiding in her closest friend, Elrond. Galadriel is often alone, but Nori is seldom alone, embodying the spirit of Hebrews 10:24-25, as the Hobbits in the third age will do as well.

The divergent outlooks of these two characters prompt us to think of how we view the people around us. Are we suspicious or accepting? Distrusting or encouraging? Do we believe dreadful deeds can be forgiven? Do we see peril or good? We need not look at our size, our resources, or any characteristic by which people are measured — because God’s logic (especially 1 Corinthians logic) says those things don’t matter. God is on his throne and orchestrating his coming kingdom. We are his children, and our job, like Nori’s, is to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” A pessimistic outlook will never get us there. We must approach life with the optimism our hope in Christ—and in his ability to regenerate sinners—provides.

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Adrianne Miles

Adrianne Miles is an Assistant Professor of English and Linguistics at The College at Southeastern. Her research is in the intersection of literature and sociolinguistics. She lives in Wake Forest with her husband, Scott, and her two teenage boys. She is an active member of her church and community and has a passion to see all people experience the promise of John 10:10 -- the abundant life in Christ.

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