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Modernist Hobbits in Amazon’s The Rings of Power
Happy Hobbit day to you, reader!
Today is the birthday of the Hobbit cousins, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yet those familiar with Hobbits may notice how very different the Hobbits (Harfoots) in Amazon’s The Rings of Power are, from the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. The new Harfoots are adorable, simple, tribal, and nomadic, with some savage practices. The Hobbits of The Lord of the Rings are also simple, but in contrast, they are afraid of ever leaving the Shire; and they are good, genteel, cultured, and holed up in their cozy Hobbit holes.
Why the difference? It may be because of the difference between the second age and the third age: Rings of Power is set in the second age. But according to canon, this does not explain the difference. Yes, it is true that during the second age, Sauron started constructing Barad Dur in the land of Mordor, and this ended up causing the migration of the Harfoots to the West. Then, the Fallohides and Harfoots interbred to give rise to the Hobbits of the third age.
But the migratory lifestyle of the Harfoots is not a change of nature for Hobbits, who tended to love dwelling in places cozy and small. To my knowledge, the Fallohides were not tribal or savage or nomadic, either. The migration during the second age was merely finding a new home, not a permanent nomadic lifestyle. Yet “nomadic” is how Harfoots are depicted in the The Rings of Power. So what accounts for the new Harfoots?
One of the most enduring myths of modernism is the “Noble savage,” or the primal energy of youth, which brings with it contact with “the new truth” for “the new age” via contact with a living spirit. This idea comes from several early modern sources. It imagines that savages were in some way the pristine state of humanity, and that civilization was some kind of fall from that beginning. The noble savage was thought to be innately good. Therefore, all of ethics was based on natural and innate feelings, rather than any kind of religion.
The myth of the noble savage seems to continue even to the present day among elites. For instance, there was a 9-hour traffic jam for a festival in the desert explicitly celebrating tribal life (called “Burning Man”). This festival is popular among employees of the major software companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, etc.). In addition, in elite culture, there is an obsession with the idea that tribal cultures can teach us a great deal about how we should live, similar to the thesis most recently espoused in Jared Diamond’s book The World Until Yesterday. And finally, in places like the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, WA, there has been a fashionable savagery in apparel, with street punks everywhere.
What does this have to do with Amazon’s Rings of Power? When I first watched The Rings of Power, I quipped to my wife, “It looks like they picked up actors from the streets of Capitol Hill,” since Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. It was a joke, but I wonder if there is something to the “savage” culture of Capitol Hill that has made it into the new Harfoots. Or perhaps it is the Burning Man culture which Amazon elites are familiar with.
In any case, somehow, the new Harfoots are viewed as ideal in the series, despite having many savage practices. Some of the savage practices that the new Harfoots take up include: leaving the handicapped or unpopular for dead, being obsessed with shamanistic practices based on astrology, and making references to indecent use of the marital act.
Some might say then that the myth of the noble savage has influenced the showrunners to such a degree that they preserved a kind of simplicity of the Hobbits, while re-interpreting their goodness along Modernist lines.
A number of fans of The Lord of the Rings are surprised that the new Harfoots are so savage, thinking that this is a detriment to the series. Indeed, I would agree. But if the showrunners were indeed strongly influenced by Modernism and the noble savage myth, then, from their perspective, the apparent savagery of the Modernist heroes is a compliment rather than an insult.
The new Harfoots show us the dangers of Modernism. Until we reclaim and protect Western civilization, made civilized by Christianity, we can anticipate the savagery depicted so positively by Amazon’s The Rings of Power to run rampant in our own society.