“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Needs More Crows

SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AHEAD!

I like the Six Of Crows duology more than the original Grisha trilogy. I know, I know, real original, right? But as someone who infinitely prefers reading an action-packed heist adventure with a diverse crew of antiheroes to wading through endless chapters of Alina and Mal bickering over literally everything, I’m going to stick with my boring Grishaverse opinion. And thus, it’s no surprise that the first trailer for Netflix’s adaptation of Shadow And Bone didn’t really pique my interest fully, because…there’s a lot of Alina, and a lot of Mal, and while I believe actors Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux are probably going to put in the work to try and make their characters engaging and relatable…I’m still not convinced that’s possible yet.

Shadow And Bone
Alina And The Darkling | deadline.com

To give credit where credit is due, the Grisha trilogy (the first of multiple series’ by Leigh Bardugo set in the Grishaverse, where magic runs rampant in a gritty late 19th-Century-inspired fantasy world) does incorporate one of my all-time favorite tropes: palace intrigue and political scheming. And the first season of Shadow And Bone, which will adapt the first book in the bestselling trilogy alongside some wholly original stories featuring the Six Of Crows cast, seems to feature just as much palace intrigue as the books – if not more. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, Alina Starkov (played by Jessie Mei Li in the Netflix adaptation) starts out a humble orphaned mapmaker before discovering her magical ability to conjure sunlight: a gift that comes in handy when your kingdom is split in half by a demon-infested ocean of inky, uncharted darkness, hindering trade and leaving those trapped behind “The Shadow Fold” struggling. Alina gets recruited into the Grisha, a small army of sorcerers who operate at the upper echelons of high society, all while maneuvering political and religious crises, and a love-triangle involving her best friend Mal and her Grisha partner: the infamous Darkling.

The love-triangle is fairly unpopular in the fandom, with both of Alina’s potential love-interests being widely hated-on for various reasons (the Darkling is a backstabbing tyrant, Mal is…Mal), and it doesn’t feature too heavily in the first trailer for Shadow And Bone, which wisely focuses attention on the series’ spectacular CGI budget and action sequences, some of which seem to be infused with a dose of horror. The catalyst for Shadow And Bone‘s events, Alina’s attempted crossing of the Shadow Fold and the reveal of her powers, is getting a perfect page-to-screen adaptation, by the looks of it – the dreadful silence inside the Fold, the rush of wings as volcra demons amass in the darkness, the suspense, and then the reveal of one monster about to bite a man’s head off from behind: good stuff. Don’t be fooled by the books’ YA rating: the Grisha trilogy and particularly the Six Of Crows duology get really dark (and not just because the Darkling can literally conjure up shadows).

Shadow And Bone
Six (well, three) Of Crows | syfy.com

Unfortunately, the trailer just barely squeezes in individual shots of the three main Six Of Crows characters who will be introduced in season one, implying that they and their subplots will not be a primary focus until season two at least. That saddens me greatly, because I already think I’m going to love them: Freddy Carter has won me over with his portrayal of crime lord Kaz Brekker, just from the intensity of his glare and the confidence with which he swings his cane; Kit Young looks radiant and fun as chaotic bisexual sharpshooter Jesper Fahey; and Amita Suman as assassin Inej Ghafa appears to be taking the lethal energy she displayed in her first-look image, and applying it brilliantly to her physical acting. Of the three Crows, she stands out the most – ironically, since her whole storyline revolves around being undetectable. I want her to have epic fight sequences, Netflix! Don’t force me to sit through hours of “Malina” content when I could be watching Inej brutally knife people!

With the series’ in-universe timeline still a confusing mystery and plot details for the Crows’ subplot a secret, I still don’t understand how the two vastly different storylines will intertwine organically – though the showrunners insist there’s a connection. But with the characters of Nina and Mathias still completely absent from the conversation (except for an embarrassingly bad first-look image that conveyed nothing whatsoever of their characters’ rich and unique backstories or personalities), and Wylan Van Eck not appearing in season one, don’t expect any tease of the actual Six Of Crows plot until the season finale, at least.

I feel like Shadow And Bone fans will collectively raise their eyebrows at me if I don’t talk about the Darkling at all, especially given that he’s the series’ main selling-point, but honestly – what is there to say? He’s got fantastic hair, the kind of luscious mane that practically requires a soft breeze to be rippling through it at all times. But Ben Barnes, despite looking and sounding the part, isn’t really radiating the kind of palpable seductive charisma I had anticipated from arguably the only truly iconic character in the Grisha trilogy. I’m willing to believe this is the fault of Netflix’s marketing, though, as it seems reluctant to reveal the Darkling as the series’ main villain.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling And Alina | tvinsider.com

So while the rest of you are busy digging your trenches in the endless Darklina vs Malina shipping war, I’ll be over here minding my own business (I always preferred Alina’s dynamic with Nikolai anyway, and he won’t be in season one), and happily stanning my Six (well, three, for right now) of Crows.

Trailer Rating: 6.5/10

Middle-earth Explained: Eregion And The Rings Of Power

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Eregion
Eregion in ruins | aminoapps.com

Eregion, however, has a rare distinction in that, although it’s glimpsed in both the books (the Fellowship of the Ring passes through its ruins on their journey south from Rivendell), and the movies (in fact, it’s the very first location you see in Jackson’s trilogy, while Cate Blanchett is narrating the history of the One Ring), its most prominent exposure to date is in the deeply flawed Middle-earth video games, Shadow Of Mordor and Shadow Of War. These games break Tolkien lore in ways that are frankly appalling (Shelob is a shape-shifting sorceress, Isildur is a Nazgûl, and Celebrimbor’s ghost becomes one half of Sauron’s fiery eye). But they did at least give players a basic rundown of the history of Celebrimbor, Eregion, and the forging of the Rings of Power in the Second Age – events that will be pivotal to Amazon’s series, set in the same time-frame. That being said, the non-canonical and hyperbolic nature of the games makes them a faulty source for accurate information…which is my long-winded way of saying “trust me instead”.

I recounted some of the ancient history of the Elves in Middle-earth while discussing Lindon and the Grey Havens, so what immediately follows may be familiar to some of my readers. But while the paths of Lindon and Eregion diverged early in the Second Age, they have a common root in the First Age, during a mythical, peaceful era before the creation of the sun and moon and thus beyond the margins of recorded history. During this time-before-time, Middle-earth was only one half of a flat, disc-shaped world – its other half being the paradisiacal continent known as Valinor, where a pantheon of benevolent gods named Valar presided over a flourishing community of Elves well-versed in all the arts and sciences available to them: and even some beyond our modern capabilities. In the absence of a sun, Valinor’s primary light source was a duo of glowing trees, which is a random important detail.

The most creative-minded Elves in Valinor were the Noldor Elves, and the greatest among them was Fëanor, an inventor who had foresight as well as unparalleled skill and an indomitable ego. He’s a bit of a divisive figure in-universe: everyone had mad respect for his accomplishments, and he did create a trinity of magical gems called Silmarils to house the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, because he accurately predicted that the evil Morgoth would kill the Trees and plunge Valinor into darkness…he just didn’t foresee the bit where Morgoth also stole the Silmarils. Fëanor’s backup plan for his backup plan involved leading most of the Noldor on a wild-goose chase to Middle-earth to try and find Morgoth, killing any Elves who stood in their way: all of this, mind you, against the orders of the Valar, who forbade any of them to return to Valinor after what they had done. And then Fëanor got himself killed roughly ten minutes into the expedition (yes, minutes: while the Noldor were freaking out, the Valar had gone and fixed the whole light-source problem by creating the sun, adding insult to injury), leaving his followers leaderless and stranded in Middle-earth with Morgoth, and saddling his descendants with an unbreakable oath to recover the Silmarils or die trying.

Only Tolkien could take this comedic gold and write it as an epic tragedy.

Eregion
Celebrimbor | aminoapps.com

Needless to say, the Noldor were really angry and really confused about their life-choices by the time the First Age ended and the Valar finally arrived to set things straight, casting Morgoth into the void. The Valar offered them all a choice to return to Valinor and repent for their crimes, but most of the Noldor refused out of pride, bitterness, or a desire to prove they could be self-sufficient. For some, it was all three – plus an almost subliminal urge to build Middle-earth into a mirror image of Valinor and rival the glory of the gods. Never a good idea, especially when the gods are real and prone to violence. But the main proponent of this philosophy was Fëanor’s grandson, Celebrimbor, so…yeah, not surprising at all.

Celebrimbor lived in Lindon under King Gil-galad during the early years of the Second Age, but eventually grew bored and struck off on his own. Charismatic like his grandfather, he attracted a large following – and was soon able to build his own kingdom in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, which he called Eregion. Celebrimbor was actually a decent leader. He was on good terms with the neighboring Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, with whom he traded knowledge and precious mithril steel (also, him and Narvi the Dwarf were totally doing the whole “forbidden love” thing centuries before Tauriel and Kili, or Legolas and Gimli). He promoted the arts, set up a guild of crafts-people, and began work on his agenda to make heaven a place on Middle-earth. Eregion even attracted guests like Galadriel and Celeborn, who lived there for a time.

But Celebrimbor’s frantic urge to outdo the Valar made him the perfect target for Sauron, a fallen angel who had served Morgoth, and who now rose to fill the power-vacuum left in his wake. A tyrannical perfectionist, Sauron’s ultimate goal was similar to Celebrimbor’s – he too wanted to elevate Middle-earth above and beyond its mortal limitations, but he was uniquely hindered by his inability to create real beauty. Nonetheless, wearing the beautiful disguise of an Elven emissary from Valinor named Annatar, he was able to infiltrate Eregion and seduce the Noldor with his repeated assurances that the Valar wished for them to redesign Middle-earth in the image of paradise. Thus, Sauron was able to harness the skill of the Elves for his own purposes.

Together, each learning from the other, Celebrimbor and Annatar forged sixteen Rings of Power. These were not distributed immediately to Men and Dwarves, as the movies indicate (Tolkien toyed with the notion that Celebrimbor only gave away one in his lifetime: to Durin III, King of Khazad-dûm, as a token of friendship). Celebrimbor had designed these Rings to be worn by Elves, to help and heal Middle-earth; and it was Sauron’s secret hope that he could control the Elves through their Rings, into which he had poured dark magic of his own. In Second Age 1600, having sufficiently mastered the art of Ring-making and confident that the Noldor would wear the Rings he had helped make for them, Sauron left Eregion and returned to his own land, in foul Mordor. But he underestimated the perfectionism he had instilled in his followers: the Noldor he had left behind continued work on three more Rings of their own, far greater than the sixteen.

In Mordor, Sauron secretly forged One Ring – a Master Ring with the power to ensnare all others and their wearers. But as soon as he put it on, Celebrimbor became aware of his treachery, and demanded that the newly-finished Three Rings be distributed swiftly to the greatest leaders of the Elven people, Gil-galad, Galadriel, and Círdan, and hidden from Sauron forever. They were not made by Sauron, so he could not control them from afar, but they were made with knowledge learned from him; and were thus tied to his fate, and that of the One Ring.

Eregion
Sauron Forges The One Ring | rainbowdark.com

Sauron nonetheless perceived that Eregion was his greatest threat, and threw all his force against the Elven kingdom. With the help of orc-armies, he ransacked and destroyed the forges of the Noldor, and captured Celebrimbor. The king was ruthlessly tortured until he revealed the locations of the sixteen Rings (or fifteen, assuming Durin III already had one), which Sauron quickly recovered. But he would say nothing of the Three Rings, and Sauron eventually had him killed, thus ending the line of Fëanor. His brutally-mangled body was hung on a pole and used by Sauron’s armies as a banner in their war against the Elves.

With Eregion destroyed, no new Rings would ever be forged, nor would Celebrimbor’s purpose for them be achieved. Middle-earth sank further into darkness and despair as Sauron begrudgingly distributed his stolen Rings among Dwarves and Men, since his plan to control the Elves had backfired. Men were easily corruptible, but the Dwarves proved resistant, and their rings became the foundations of great treasure-hoards under the earth. The Three Rings were not used during the Second Age.

The survivors from Eregion dispersed across Middle-earth, mainly to Lindon and the refuge of Rivendell, but many became disheartened, sailing back to the Undying Lands in Valinor. By the end of the Third Age, Eregion was a tumbled heap of ruins, and even the stones on which its foundations had been built had long since forgotten the Elves, their Rings of Power, and all their dreams of paradise. Now that’s tragic.

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Look Images Highlight Fan-Favorites

The crown jewel in Netflix’s treasure-chest of fantasy properties is undeniably The Witcher. Even in its temporary absence, they’ve filled the fantasy void with…well, news of other Witcher spinoffs, for the most part. But as much as we all love the grimdark franchise and want to keep tossing our coins to Geralt of Rivia, let’s be real for a moment: Shadow And Bone is right there. Just a few months out from release, and Netflix has barely even begun marketing the upcoming fantasy series based on Leigh Bardugo’s bestselling novels and starring Ben Barnes. An aesthetically-pleasing but light-on-substance teaser trailer debuted in December, and accumulated over a million views on YouTube: proving there’s an audience for this series. So where’s the promo, Netflix?

Shadow And Bone
Jesper Fahey, Inej Ghafa, and Kaz Brekker | sea.ign.com

On its way, I guess. Today’s drop of first-look images (shared exclusively with Entertainment Weekly) and character posters (which I won’t talk about as much in this post, because although they feature better costumes overall than the images, they don’t shed much light about plot details) certainly gives the impression that Netflix is going to bless us with a real trailer in the coming days or weeks, and not wait until a month before the series premiere to start their marketing campaign, as has been customary for them with their more niche originals. Shadow And Bone has the potential to appeal to many demographics, including fantasy fans still waiting for all those Witcher spinoffs and prequels to materialize, and I’m glad the streaming service recognizes that.

The big question about the series – which the new images and accompanying interview with EW do not adequately answer, in my opinion – is how much of a balancing act it will be, as Netflix tries to intertwine two of Bardugo’s Grishaverse stories into one cohesive whole. On the one hand, we have the saga of Alina Starkov and The Darkling, which plays out in Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy (the first installment of which is also titled Shadow And Bone). It’s trope-filled, but still enjoyable, and The Darkling’s controversial popularity should make any and all discourse about the series…lively, to say the least. On the other hand, there’s the more uniquely compelling Six Of Crows duology, which takes place several decades after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and follows a group of young criminals plotting and carrying out an epic heist. With the two stories distanced by time and space, and sharing very few elements besides Grisha magicians, there’s no word yet on how they’ll be narratively or thematically connected…though showrunner Eric Heisserer teased a “very exciting” link.

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | yahoo.com

I was under the impression that, while Alina’s story would be the overwhelming focus of season one, we would also be introduced to the various future members of the Six Of Crows gang during their formative years, and only see them properly team up in the finale: since it seems that the main events of Six Of Crows won’t be covered until Shadow And Bone‘s second season at the earliest. But one of the new images (the best of the bunch, to be honest) reveals Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, and Jesper Fahey already working as a trio…so who knows how this will all work out. I suppose they’ll have a completely original subplot in this season, which both alarms and intrigues me.

Out of all the Crows, only Inej Ghafa gets her own character-specific image – promising a larger role for the fascinating anti-heroine, and a breakout performance from Nepalese actress Amita Suman. Just based on Suman’s quiet confidence and lethal poise, it looks like Inej, one of my favorite characters in the Grishaverse, is receiving the kind of faithful page-to-screen adaptation that fans of other book series’ would kill for – and speaking of killing, Inej comes armed with at least 14 knives, and gymnastic agility. Dubbed “The Wraith”, she’s perfect at moving undetected through the grungy streets of Ketterdam, hunting Kaz Brekker’s enemies with terrifying efficiency.

Shadow And Bone
Inej Ghafa | thegeekiary.com

Alongside Suman’s Inej, I’m afraid Freddy Carter’s Kaz Brekker doesn’t stand out nearly as much as he should. That could be attributed to his dark and dull attire, and the fact that neither his sleek black gloves nor weaponized cane are visible in the image, but it’s an underwhelming first look at such a commanding and stylish character from the books (Kaz’s poster does slightly better in this regard, but still doesn’t quite capture the antihero’s essence, in my opinion). I have a similar nitpick with Kit Young’s Jesper Fahey, whom I would have liked to see introduced in a more characteristically colorful outfit and haphazardly wielding his twin pistols. And don’t even get me started on Nina Zenik, whose barely visible behind her boyfriend Matthias Helvar, bundled up in a nondescript shawl.

Even Mal, Alina’s on-and-off love interest and one of the most widely hated characters in the Grishaverse fandom, has a more stylistically and visually interesting first-look image than Nina. There is no universe, real or fictional, in which that should be possible (but actor Archie Renaux nonetheless deserves credit for pulling it off).

Jessie Mei Li looks like a great Alina, and hopefully brings enough charisma to the role to make the character interesting. But I’m afraid she’ll be both literally and figuratively overshadowed by The Darkling, her nemesis, occasional love interest, and the series’ big bad, at least for now. Ben Barnes’ Darkling has the palpable seductive qualities one would would expect from a man who can manipulate shadows, and he’s the series’ star power – like Henry Cavill’s Geralt in The Witcher, Barnes will be front and center in all of Shadow And Bone‘s marketing, whenever that gets off the ground: possibly to the detriment of his less well-known costars.

Shadow And Bone
The Darkling | ew.com

So what do you think of the new images for Shadow And Bone? If you’re a Grishaverse reader as well as potential viewer, which character are you most excited to see in live-action? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Jodie Turner-Smith Will Lead “The Witcher: Blood Origin”

Although I initially had my reservations about Netflix’s fast-paced attempts to expand a single season of The Witcher into a multi-medium franchise with prequels and spinoffs before the second season had even started filming (in fact, it still hasn’t wrapped), I have since changed my mind for two reasons. Firstly, because The Witcher has proven to be my go-to rewatchable comfort show during quarantine, and I’ve plunged deeper into the grimdark fantasy’s extensive lore (both book-canon and video game-canon, mind you) with each successive rewatch. I appreciate the series more now than ever before, and I’m itching to return to The Continent and explore more of its monster-infested forests, bogs, and mountains.

The Witcher
Jodie Turner-Smith | finance.yahoo.com

Secondly, because Jodie Turner-Smith joining The Witcher‘s prequel spinoff in a lead role is the kind of casting that immediately sets this prequel, titled Blood Origin, apart from a crowd of fantasy stories that will soon flood every streaming service imaginable. Turner-Smith’s filmography is still relatively sparse, but her breakout role in 2019’s Queen & Slim is finally paying off – with Turner-Smith having just recently landed the role of Tudor queen Anne Boleyn in a psychological drama based on her life and execution, and now joining Netflix’s Blood Origin in a lead role that has the potential to elevate her to a whole new level of success.

From the brief description we’ve been given by Deadline, Turner-Smith’s role already sounds intriguing – she will play a character named Éile, “an elite warrior blessed with the voice of a goddess, who has left her clan and position as Queen’s guardian to follow her heart as a nomadic musician.” But “A grand reckoning on the continent will force her to return to the way of the blade in her quest for vengeance and redemption”. What Deadline doesn’t note is that The Illuminerdi broke exclusive details about the casting call for Éile’s character back in November, which additionally confirm that she comes “from a Clan of Elves that use knives as their primary weapon”. At the time, Netflix was interested in actresses with a history of dance and stunt work, suggesting that Jodie Turner-Smith’s part will be strongly action-oriented.

The Witcher
Fringilla Vigo | looper.com

Black heroines in the fantasy genre are rare, but Black action heroines (in any genre) are rarer still. The Witcher has thus far mostly excelled at portraying complex women with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, from endearingly brutish queens like Calinthe to politically-savvy sorceresses like Yennefer. The exceptions to the rule, unfortunately, were characters like Eithné and Fringilla Vigo, both Black women, and both suffering from cardboard-thin characterizations. Fringilla in particular deserved better writing. Her pivotal part in the season finale should have been thrilling, but ultimately disappointed because she wasn’t morally complex enough to sympathize with, nor evil enough to actually hate. With Éile having to balance being a heaven-sent singer and a knife-wielding warrior, I imagine her character will be far more compelling.

Blood Origin will follow her journey during or shortly after The Conjunction Of The Spheres, an era of chaos in The Continent’s prehistory, when worlds and dimensions collided violently, scattering their inhabitants far and wide. With Humans and Elves forced to live in close proximity with an assortment of abhorrent monsters and bloodthirsty demons, powerful sorcerers began construction on the first Witchers – elite mutant assassins capable of hunting and killing the great beasts roaming in the wilderness. Blood Origin was originally believed to follow the first Witcher’s journey (and rumors swirled that he would be played by Jason Momoa), but I hope for Jodie Turner-Smith’s sake that she’s either the actual protagonist, or at least doesn’t get overshadowed in her role.

The Witcher
The Witcher | pcgamer.com

But what do you think of Jodie Turner-Smith’s casting? And tell me, honestly, how many times have you rewatched The Witcher during quarantine? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Middle-earth Explained: Lindon And The Elves Of The Second Age

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Lindon
“The Grey Havens” by The Brothers Hildebrandt | baltimoresun.com

Lindon is by no means a name familiar to most Tolkien fans, so it’s understandable if you need a reminder about where it is in Middle-earth – though, in fact, both The Lord Of The Rings books and films did very briefly enter Lindon in the saga’s emotional climax. Described in Amazon’s synopsis as an “elf-capital” with “majestic forests”, Lindon is more recognizable as the Elven land west of the Shire where the Grey Havens were located…and from which Frodo and Bilbo set sail at the end of the Third Age, seeking out spiritual healing in the Uttermost West. This bit tends to be confusing for many first-time Tolkien fans, particularly movie-goers; the films don’t set it up as well as they should, and it never gets explained, leading to the entire sequence often being mistakenly interpreted as an allegory for Frodo dying.

But if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the Bagginses after they sail into the sunset at the end of The Return Of The King, then this is the post for you – and in the process, you’ll also learn everything you need to know about Lindon and its people before Amazon brings them to life on the small screen.

Amazon’s Middle-earth series, while still titled The Lord Of The Rings, is set thousands of years before the events of the trilogy, in the Second Age of Middle-earth during a time of mighty empires and epic heroes…but our story begins even further back, in the First Age. The world was flat like a tabletop, and still newly formed, and there were really only two continents: the westernmost of the two being Valinor, the land of the gods (or Valar, as they’re called in Tolkien’s myths), and the easternmost being…well, Middle-earth. The race of Elves originated in the uncharted forests of Middle-earth early in the First Age, predating the creation of the sun and moon by at least a millennia or two and explaining their collective fascination with stars, the only real source of light during their formative years as a species. The Valar had foreseen their coming, and what with the Elves being the subject of a whole bunch of prophecies, and a particularly nasty Dark Lord named Morgoth roaming through Middle-earth at the time, it was in everyone’s best interests for the Valar to herd the Elves westward, and over the sea into Valinor. Along the way, some Elves got fed up and went home, or got lost, or found other places to settle down…to keep things simple, I’m referring to those stragglers as Silvan Elves, though the proper blanket term for them is the Nandor. Anyway, remember them: they show up again later.

Of the Elves who made it all the way to Valinor and flourished there under the benevolent influence of the Valar, the most prominent and promising were always the skilled, hotheaded people known as the Noldor. But just three stolen gemstones and two dead trees later, Valinor had been plunged into chaos, and most of the Noldor recklessly took off for Middle-earth, pursuing Morgoth, the culprit, with an unholy vengeance in their hearts – all while openly rebelling against the Valar, who had insisted they stay put in Valinor while the gods dealt with Morgoth themselves. The Noldor established countries and civilizations of their own in Middle-earth, most of which toppled to ruin at the end of the First Age: when the Valar finally defeated Morgoth in battle, trampling mountains into the sea and flooding the entire region known as Beleriand until only a sliver of it remained; that sliver being Lindon, a coastal landmass just barely big enough to contain the entire suddenly displaced population of Beleriand – and not just the Elves, but the Men and Dwarves too.

Lindon
Elves “At Lake Cuivienen” by Ted Nasmith | pinterest.com

The Second Age opens with the Valar offering all of the exiled Noldor a chance to repent for their crimes and return to Valinor. Many Elves agreed to do so, but many more did not – instead choosing to stay in Middle-earth. Nonetheless, the option to sail back to Valinor was still available to all Elves at any time, and only made more accessible when Círdan the Shipwright completed building his Grey Havens in Lindon in the first year of the Second Age. But while Círdan presided over the Havens, he was never called a king – that title belonged to his adopted son, Gil-galad, who had become High King of the Noldor at a young age, and was by this point acknowledged as the highest-ranking Elven King in all of Middle-earth. Gil-galad stayed in Lindon even while many of his people migrated further eastward, settling new lands in Eregion and beyond.

Amazon’s description of Lindon as an “elf-capital” is both misleading (the closest thing to a city was the Grey Havens) and accurate, in a way: Lindon was a rural melting-pot populated by both Noldor and Silvan Elves, the latter of whom had lived there long before Gil-galad’s arrival. Tolkien hinted at the notion of a deep divide between the Elves from Valinor and those of Middle-earth, which I expect to see explored further in Amazon’s series; as the two peoples clash after their long estrangement, in a cultural and societal conflict. Meanwhile, Dwarves lived in the Blue Mountains that encircled Lindon – though their underground mansions of Nogrod and Belegost were both at least partially-destroyed by the turmoil of Morgoth’s fall.

Midway through the Second Age, Gil-galad warded off an attempt by the Dark Lord Sauron to infiltrate Lindon disguised as an emissary of the Valar named Annatar. Though Gil-galad could not guess at Annatar’s true identity, he sent warnings to his Elven kinsfolk across Middle-earth about the mysterious stranger – warnings that were ignored in Eregion, where Annatar was allowed to become a powerful and influential figure, overseeing the construction of all but three of the great Rings of Power. Those remaining three were secretly given to Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel for safekeeping after Annatar betrayed the Elves of Eregion (*pretends to be shocked*), forging the One Ring to control them all.

Sauron’s brutality in Middle-earth drove many Elves back under the protective aegis of Gil-galad, whose power was still too great for Sauron to challenge – but some, out of fear and grief, fled across the sea to Valinor, never to return. Gil-galad brought in aid from Númenor to help conquer Sauron, unintentionally sparking a grudge-match between Sauron and the island kingdom of Men that eventually resulted in Númenor and most of its population being dragged into the ocean abyss; Valinor being removed from the Circles of the World by divine intervention (though still accessible via the “Straight Road” open only to Elven ships); and the earth being made round. Lindon lost many of its beaches, but otherwise scraped by.

In the final years of the Second Age, Lindon’s Elven armies played a pivotal part in bringing about the defeat of Sauron (albeit a temporary defeat). The last Númenórean refugees led by Elendil joined forces with Gil-galad’s Noldor and Silvan Elves in what became known as the Last Alliance, and together they pursued Sauron south across Middle-earth, into the mountains and volcanic wastelands of Mordor. There, on the slopes of Mount Doom, Gil-galad was burned to death by Sauron’s fiery hand: and with him died the kingship of the Noldor. His Ring of Power, Vilya, was saved by his young herald, Elrond, who later used it to heal Middle-earth’s hurts from his dwelling in the refuge of Rivendell. Lindon, meanwhile, faded in significance in the absence of its noble King, becoming little more than a rest stop on the one-way trip to paradise for world-weary Elves and occasional Ringbearers.

Lindon
The Grey Havens | looper.com

So next time you read the books or watch the movies, and get to those heart-wrenching final scenes at the Grey Havens, spare a thought for what was once the greatest realm of the Elves between the Mountains and the Sea in the Second Age – and think ahead to Amazon’s series, which will allow us to finally witness Lindon in all its glory.

Tell me what place in Middle-earth you’re most excited to see, and be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Middle-earth Explained: Numenor And The Men Of The West

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Numenor
Numenor | io9.gizmodo.com

One such region is Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned by Amazon in their synopsis as one of the focal points of the series. “Breathtaking” is indeed an accurate descriptor: although the reign of the Númenóreans was relatively brief in the grand scale of Middle-earth’s history, they are incredibly significant to Tolkien’s saga – representing the very height of human vanity, and arguably one of the furthest falls from grace since the rebellion of Melkor in the First Age and the Kinslaying of the Elves in Valinor. In the Second Age, thousands of years before the time of Aragorn, his Númenórean ancestors built a vast empire spanning the oceans and unmapped coasts of Middle-earth…an empire that would ultimately collapse into ruinous calamity, at least partly because Tolkien had a lifelong obsession with the Atlantis myth and had to take it out on his fictional characters. And now Amazon’s Second Age series (which for some reason is still titled The Lord Of The Rings) will take us on an epic journey alongside the Númenóreans, through their heyday and their terrible fall.

To understand Númenor, we have to go back to the First Age of Middle-earth, and the frequent alliances between Men and Elves that forged a seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two races. The First Age ended in a glorious triumph of good over evil, with Middle-earth’s entire pantheon of gods, the Valar, arriving in a divine cavalcade to finally defeat the dark lord Morgoth and disperse or destroy his armies of orcs and dragons: but defeating a dark lord is hard work, and sometimes requires you to destroy large portions of the world to do so – and thus, there was a refugee crisis in Middle-earth as Men and Elves had to flee from their ancestral homelands, trying to get out ahead of the rapidly disintegrating coastlines and crumbling mountain ranges. Thankfully for Men, the Valar were feeling pretty generous and decided to simply lift an island out of the sea as a gift to humans and compensation for their countless sacrifices. This island, most commonly known as Númenor, had many names: but one – Andor – literally means “The Land of Gift”.

As if that wasn’t enough, the gods also decided to give significantly longer lives (around 200 years, on average) to the Númenórean people, so they could enjoy their Land of Gift even longer and reap the benefits they had earned. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t.

But throughout the early Second Age, the Númenóreans were content with what they had: their star-shaped island and its farms, forests, rivers, seashores, and single mountain. This mountain, named the Meneltarma, rose out of the center of the island and was crowned by a holy shrine and a nesting-place of many sacred eagles. But because Númenor was situated directly in between Middle-earth and the divine lands of the Valar in distant Valinor, and because the Meneltarma was so tall, a person standing at the mountain’s summit on a clear day could just about see the shores of paradise to the west (because the earth was canonically flat in the Second Age). Elves from Valinor sometimes even visited Númenórean shores and delighted Men with their company and rich gifts, which had no equal in Middle-earth. But the Valar strictly prohibited Númenóreans from returning the favor and sailing to Valinor.

The first king of Númenor was Elros, the long-lived twin brother of Elrond Half-elven, but Amazon’s Middle-earth series will likely begin sometime after his reign – during an era of “relative peace”, as their synopsis claims, and presumably not long before the forging of the One Ring in Second Age 1600. I suspect the series will open in the waning years of Tar-Meneldur’s reign, a blissful period of time depicted in The Mariner’s Wife, Tolkien’s only nearly complete tale of the Second Age. This would naturally segue into the story of Meneldur’s son, Tar-Aldarion: under whose reign the kingdom became an empire, with fleets of ships (often personally piloted by Aldarion) constantly departing to Middle-earth’s shores, setting up outposts and colonies there. His rule was not tyrannical or cruel, but his restlessness was an omen of worse to come. And after his death, his colonists became hostile to the indigenous peoples they encountered, and hurt the earth in their hunt for resources.

Numenor
The Druedain | theonering.net

Prior to Aldarion’s reign, a group of forest-dwelling Men known as the Drúedain had also lived in Númenor – but as the empire expanded and its people became more dissatisfied with the gifts they had been given, the Drúedain predicted the doom that would soon follow, and they abandoned the island over the next few centuries, returning to Middle-earth and disappearing from history for thousands of years: until the Third Age, when they would reappear as the Wild Men in Rohan and Gondor. In them, I see the perfect viewpoint characters for Amazon’s series, as they embody the down-to-earth, hobbit-like qualities of Tolkien’s most iconic heroes.

By this point, war was raging between the Elves and the dark lord Sauron on the mainland – though this would not have initially affected Númenor had its colonies in Middle-earth not become so crucial to the kingdom. Tar-Minastir and his successors sent forces across the sea to aid the Elves in battle, provoking Sauron to turn the full force of his hatred towards the island. He was able to bring at least three Númenórean lords into his service using Rings of Power, and they became terrible Ringwraiths. But even on the island itself, the shadow of Sauron inspired darkness in the hearts of Men: kings became as greedy for life as they were for power and wealth, and their fear of death led some to resent the immortal Elves or speak openly against them. Elven ships stopped coming from Valinor. Those who still held the Elves in reverence were called the Faithful.

Upon the death of Tar-Palantir, the last good and wise king, his daughter Tar-Míriel’s throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, a reckless and easily corruptible man named Ar-Pharazôn. He rejected the Elves and their help entirely, and concentrated his power solely on maintaining the empire he had stolen. In his arrogance, he sent a great armada to Middle-earth to capture Sauron, and the dark lord willingly surrendered himself up to the king, gaining free passage into Ar-Pharazôn’s court – and eventually an enviable position as his most trusted counsellor and right-hand man. Seduced by Sauron’s charismatic malice, Ar-Pharazôn ran his empire as the dark lord saw fit: inciting violence and panic among his citizens (remind you of anybody else?), and instituting a new religion based around the ancient evil of Morgoth, for whose temple Sauron demanded a steady flow of human sacrifices. These victims were often political prisoners from among the Faithful, Sauron’s chief enemies.

As Ar-Pharazôn’s life neared its natural end (and lifespans were steadily diminishing in Númenor, as the Valar slowly retracted their gifts), the king turned to Sauron in desperation, demanding a cure for death. Sauron, seizing his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, instructed him to build a fleet of ships capable of sailing into the west – breaking the ban of the Valar – and storming paradise: for only in the uttermost west of Valinor could deathlessness be obtained. Ar-Pharazôn was too far gone to see through his lies and immediately started building his fleet: but the Faithful, led by Elendil of Andúnië, built their own in secret, preparing for the inevitable catastrophe.

In Second Age 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s mighty fleet departed into the west, with the king himself joining his army on the perilous journey – while Sauron remained in his lofty temple, laughing at the ignorance of Men. Ar-Pharazôn reached Valinor and set foot in the undying lands of the gods, but the Valar, themselves afraid of the king’s power, prayed to the One Above All, Eru, to help them in that hour…and, well, they got more than they bargained for. Not only were Ar-Pharazôn and his army crushed beneath a mountain, but Númenor itself was unmade, and the island descended into the abyss. Most of the population died, and the few that survived were the Faithful, escaping in their own ships back to Middle-earth. Eru also took the extra measure of reshaping the earth into a globe so that mortals could never again reach Valinor, but would instead spend their days sailing west in a never-ending, self-destructive search for paradise.

Downfall of Numenor
Downfall of Numenor | silmarillionseries.com

And as for Sauron, who was caught up in the downfall…he died so hard that, even though his soul escaped intact, he was never again able to appear beautiful to Men or Elves. His greatest weapons, which had been seduction and deception, now became brute strength and violence. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Elendil and the Faithful back to Middle-earth and continuing the fight against their new “kingdoms in exile” all the way into the Third Age, when Aragorn – Elendil’s last legitimate heir – was instrumental in his ultimate defeat.

And there you have it. The moral of this story is that (a) imperialism is evil, obviously, and that (b) you should be content with what you have – because the gods can take it away, and they will likely do some planetary redecorating while they’re at it.

But what do you think? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

1st Synopsis For “The Lord Of The Rings” Revealed!

TheOneRing.net has long served a dual function as the largest online community of J.R.R. Tolkien fans and a base of fandom research into any and every adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings: in the late  1990’s and early 2000’s, a vast network of spies frequently wrote in to the site from the Peter Jackson trilogy’s set with spy reports that gave fans a first taste of what Jackson was concocting down in New Zealand, preparing them for many of the trilogy’s biggest and most controversial moments; both perfect page-to-screen translations and drastic (and often controversial) divergences from the text. TheOneRing.net developed a good reputation for their work, and eventually became a semi-official channel for New Line Cinema, tirelessly relaying new information to the fans while providing necessary feedback to the studio. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy undeniably benefited from that unprecedented level of communication between the filmmakers and their audiences.

The Lord Of The Rings
empireonline.com

These days, TheOneRing.net (or TORN, for short) does not yet enjoy the privilege of being able to officially coordinate with Amazon Prime Studios regarding their upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – and thus, I’ve had to take many of their recent reports with a grain of salt. But last night, after a lot of hinting and teasing, TORN proved that they are indeed back in the game, having gotten their hands on the very first official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings series. IGN was later able to confirm its authenticity with their own sources, and I myself am fairly confident this is the real deal. It doesn’t read like a fake, which would likely have thrown in some hyperbolic details about what to expect, just to cause chaos and commotion in the fandom.

Rather, the synopsis merely goes over much of what we already knew about the series, adding a little bit of context for general audiences and some intriguing sentences that caught my eye. Let’s break it down:

“Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”

The Lord Of The Rings
denofgeek.com

Confirmation, if you needed it, that the series is in fact set in the Second Age of Middle-earth (which you can learn more about here on my blog), and that the title “The Lord Of The Rings” is still deliberately misleading. This period of time is bound to be darker and more brutal than the era of The Lord Of The Rings proper, though Amazon is setting the stage for a story with similar themes and characters. Some of the very same characters will, in fact, cross over…but more importantly, Amazon is promising us “unlikely heroes”, a character archetype that is pivotal to the enduring success of The Lord Of The Rings and sorely lacking from the myths of Middle-earth’s earlier history.

During TORN’s livestream, guest star Molly Knox Ostertag (the host of last year’s popular Tolkientober fan-art challenge) tackled this subject quite eloquently, explaining that the “little guy” is what makes Tolkien’s work so approachable even after so many decades: because we can all relate to small, ordinary people like Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, whose small, ordinary acts of kindness end up saving the world. Readers need to have an emotional investment in a character or a relationship in order to keep reading, and hobbits are so down-to-earth, so humble and so unassuming, that it’s hard not to get invested in them and their journeys through Middle-earth. The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s posthumously-published compendium of First Age myths, was initially unpopular with fans because it lacked hobbits or any hobbit analogues that could keep readers grounded amidst all the epic battles, tragic romances, and stories of somber heroes doomed to die gruesomely. The Second Age has that problem too, which is what Molly Ostertag noted: unless we have a “little guy” to get attached to, where’s the emotional investment? That’s why the mention of “unlikely heroes” makes me hopeful this issue will be remedied without having to bring in hobbits, who don’t really exist yet in the Second Age, at least not as we know them.

With the scope of this series sprawling across the entire map of Middle-earth and even beyond it, the presence of small characters and microcosmic stories is that much more essential. But speaking of what lies beyond the map, let’s touch on that for a moment – the synopsis does confirm that we’ll explore regions of Middle-earth that have never been glimpsed in any previous Tolkien adaptation, like Númenor and Lindon. The “furthest reaches of the map”, however, could very well refer to the mysterious lands east and south of Mordor. And who better to explore these lands and their unique cultures than the two Blue Wizards, who (according to Tolkien’s last writings on the subject) arrived in Middle-earth’s uncharted east during the Second Age, and there proved to be pivotal in the war against Sauron? When this topic came up on the livestream, Molly Ostertag suggested that the Blue Wizards should be depicted as a lesbian couple – yes, yes to all of that. I’ve long felt that one or both of the Blue Wizards should be a woman of color, and the thought of two queer women of color using magic in Middle-earth is indescribably empowering.

The synopsis ends by talking about “legacies” that will live on long after our main characters are dead and gone, implying to me that some of the main cast might revolve periodically throughout the course of the series. This wouldn’t surprise me: the Second Age spans over three-thousand years, and even the longest-lived humans of that era couldn’t survive that long if they tried (and trust me, they did). But while it could be an interesting and shocking gimmick for a few seasons, it could also prevent audiences from ever becoming attached to any season’s human cast – as the immortal Elves would likely be the only constants from one season to another in that case. Compressing the timeline into a few hundred years isn’t ideal either, though, so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what Amazon has in mind.

The Lord Of The Rings
The War Of The Last Alliance | winteriscoming.net

That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis, but there is one last thing I want to add. Near the end of TORN’s livestream last night, host Justin posed a thought-provoking question to each of the guests: what they wanted to see or hear next from the series? There were a lot of good answers, but I knew right away what my answer would have been, if I were asked.

I want TheOneRing.net to be as intimately involved with the Amazon series’ production as they were with Jackson’s trilogy. Although the level of coordination between TORN and New Line Cinema was unprecedented, it was beautiful because of how it allowed our fandom a firsthand experience of the adaptation of our favorite story and the ability to observe the filmmaking process up close, and gave the studio a trusted outlet through which to speak directly to fans. On that fateful night that Return Of The King pulled off a clean sweep in thirteen Oscars categories, Peter Jackson and his crew even opted out of the New Line Oscar Party and attended TORN’s fan-event instead. These days, it’s traditional for studios to give all their biggest scoops and press releases to the major Hollywood trades, allowing news to spread more quickly to a wider audience, but taking a step back from fans in so doing. The creation of a link between Amazon and TORN would go a long way to making all fans feel a lot more welcome…while allowing Amazon a window into the Tolkien community that can help them gage what fans want to see.

So what do you think? Does The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis pique your interest, or leave you underwhelmed? Do you want to see Amazon honor those old bonds of fellowship with TORN? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

What Brought The Tolkien Community Joy In 2020

2020 was nothing if not a hellish year that tested us in ways we hadn’t even thought possible back in 2019. But now, with the year finally ending and a new one about to begin, I thought it would be nice to look back and find some things that brought us in the Tolkien community just a little bit of joy and normality amidst all the chaos and confusion. Whether it was casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon series, or familiar faces reuniting for a good cause, Tolkien fans found a respite from the year’s awfulness in small, simple, pleasures that gave us each a smile and a laugh, and/or kept us at least partially sane throughout 2020.

Tolkien
insider.com

I’ve tried to be comprehensive, but it’s been a long year, and I have forgotten much that I thought I knew. So if I’ve missed something important, be sure to tell me and I’ll happily correct my error! As I am just one Tolkien fan in a very big and very diverse fandom, these are merely my personal experiences. With that out of the way, let’s revisit some of the year’s few joyous Tolkienesque highlights.

As soon as lockdown orders went into place around the world, many of us immediately took the opportunity to crack open our old copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, with the intention of returning to Middle-earth for some much-needed comfort. But actor and director Andy Serkis went further than the rest of us would or even could, reading the entirety of The Hobbit aloud in a hyped-up livestream event with the full permission of HarperCollins (for whom he then recorded a new audiobook of The Hobbit). The 12-hour long livestream was hugely successful – raising more than £283,000 for charity – and hugely satisfying for Tolkien fans, as Serkis was able to trot out his iconic Gollum voice during the character’s single, memorable sequence in the book. I myself have read The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, The Silmarillion, and assorted bits of Unfinished Tales aloud to family members even prior to this quarantine, and can confirm that, while taxing on the vocal cords, it’s a truly delightful experience to partake in (I personally like to do different voices and accents for all the characters, not just the ones I’m especially good at, but, well, I’m not claiming to be a better reader-alouder than Andy Serkis…or am I?)

Tolkien
Andy Serkis as Gollum | lotr.fandom.com

The rest of us social distancing stay-at-homes, unable to monetize our reading experience in quite the same way, took to social media to share the joys of Middle-earth for free with people we don’t know and who probably don’t want to have their timelines continually clogged by abnormally long Twitter threads documenting our reactions to literally every single thing in each of the books and movies. Some of us did monetize our experiences, and were forced to distort Howard Shore’s beautiful score to avoid copyright infringement. There were too many of these to count, but a few I particularly enjoyed included a first-time viewer’s twelve-part reaction to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, artist and animator Noelle Stevenson live-tweeting the movies while enjoying a lembas bread snack, and a live-tweet of Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic The Lord Of The Rings adaptation that is perfect viewing once you hit that stage of quarantine where days are blurring together and nothing makes sense anymore, least of all reality, so you might as well just roll with the fact that, yes, Aragorn is rocking that mini-skirt.

Not wanting to let Andy Serkis have all the fun, almost the entire main cast of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings reunited for a livestreamed event hosted by actor and comedian Josh Gad, and attended by Jackson himself as well as the trilogy’s lead screenwriter, Philippa Boyens. It was, as they say in The Shire, a party of special magnificence: gathering on their individual computer screens, the Fellowship and more teamed up for trivia, re-enactments of famous scenes, and fond reminiscences. It was all too brief, but by that point we were growing used to brief and fleeting joys, and it felt refreshingly fun. Hearing Sean Astin recite his empowering speech from the end of The Two Towers also provided us with an excuse for a good old-fashioned ugly cry, which was sweet of him.

Tolkien
Lord Of The Rings On Prime cast | newshub.co.nz

But even as the old cast was re-assembling, a new cast was coming together in New Zealand – the one corner of the world that was, for the most part, unaffected by COVID-19. Two huge casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon Prime adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work bookended this strange year; the first in January, prior to the pandemic, and the second earlier this very month. We welcomed a number of diverse and exciting actors to Middle-earth, such as Nazanin Boniadi, Sophia Nomvete, Morfydd Clark, Peter Mullan, and Lenny Henry, and we debated endlessly about who they could be playing, here on this very blog and on fan-forums everywhere (speaking of which, the homepage of TheOneRing.com is active again as of this month, after several years). Almost a year into production on the first season, and we still don’t actually know! We’re not even sure if this is the full cast yet, or if more are still to come.

But with production on the season’s two-part pilot apparently complete and director J.A. Bayona having just departed New Zealand, it does appear that production is now underway on the rest of the season after a number of delays due to COVID that forced the entire series to halt filming throughout the spring and summer. Amazon Prime has been keeping this whole project unusually secretive, so much so that we still don’t even have an official title (which, let me tell you, is getting on my nerves). We know it takes place in the Second Age, we know a little bit about the behind-the-scenes crew, and…that’s it, mostly. In the absence of concrete information, rumors have spread like wildfire and driven some pretty controversial fandom discourse (though it gave me a chance to share my knowledge of The Mariner’s Wife with the world, so I’m not entirely unhappy about that). Thankfully, a new YouTube channel named Fellowship Of Fans has been keeping us up to date with consistently reliable news from the set, and I highly recommend you subscribe now so you don’t miss a thing.

One can hope, however, that we’ll learn more official details sooner rather than later – especially with the Tolkien Estate having announced earlier this year that a new collection of previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien is coming in 2021, which will provide new insight into a wide variety of subjects, including the Second Age of Middle-earth, something they wryly note will be “Of particular note, given the impending Amazon series”. How much of what’s in this book, titled The Nature Of Middle-earth, will actually be new is up for debate, but I’m extremely excited for it nonetheless.

Tolkien
Tolkientober artwork by me

But the greatest Tolkien-related joy of 2020 (and the one in which I participated the most eagerly) has to have been the Tolkientober event: a month-long art challenge organized by Noelle Stevenson’s wife, artist and animator Molly Knox Ostertag – who, incidentally, was also recently awarded a Forbes 30 Under 30 honor. Tolkientober brought us together through the inclusive power of art, and allowed us a sneak peek of some of the next generation’s great Tolkien artists. I don’t claim to be one of those, but I did have a lot of fun sharing my works with the Tolkien community on Twitter, and it helped me rediscover my passion for drawing and sketching: something I had put aside pre-pandemic to focus on writing. Tolkientober, a casual, judgement-free, noncompetitive event aimed at spreading good vibes around the internet, taught me how to balance my talents better and renewed my confidence in my art, and for that I will always be thankful.

But enough about me. What I want to know is what your favorite moments were: so if my list is any way incomplete, share your own thoughts in the comments below and tell me about your experience as a Tolkien fan in 2020 – see you all in the new year!

A Last Goodbye To Tolkien Creatives We Lost In 2020

It’s done. Whether you’re a Tolkien fan or not, I think we can all breath a sigh of relief now that 2020 is finally over, bringing an end to 366 straight days of what felt like never-ending chaos. Sadly, the first dawn of 2021 won’t magically heal the pain and hardship we’ve all endured, nor will it bring back the many close friends, family members, and loved ones we’ve lost. But it can start us on a path towards a better future for all of us, and I hope and pray that, if 2020 was akin to the perilous wreck of Mount Doom, than 2021 will be at least a little closer to the Fields of Cormallen, when our war-hardened heroes “laughed and wept”, and a minstrel carried them through song and “sweet words” to “regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness”.

Tolkien
denofgeek.com

Although I mostly just cover movies on this blog, I wanted to use this special day to give back to the incredible fan community centered around the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, by commemorating some of the Tolkien community’s greatest figures who passed on in the last year, and the incredible, unforgettable legacies they’ve left behind. This brief list is by no means complete or comprehensive, but know that if I have forgotten any greatly significant name, it is an error of my own ignorance that I will happily correct.

Orson Bean: July 22, 1928 – February 7, 2020

Tolkien actor Orson Bean
Orson Bean | nytimes.com

The Tolkien fandom was blessed to have Orson Bean lend his vocal talents not once, but twice, to the world of Middle-earth – first voicing Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit, before later taking on the role of Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo Baggins, in the studio’s adaptation of The Return Of The King (a valiant, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to conclude the animated epic saga started in Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings, which only covered the first half of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel). Bean began his long career in Hollywood as a television comedian, hosting the Basin Street musical radio program in the early 50’s. His ambitions only momentarily halted by an attempt to blacklist him for dating a Communist Party member, Bean continued to appear in films, TV, and theatre well into his 80’s, with guest spots on some of the past decade’s biggest sitcoms and reality TV programs.

Ian Holm: 12 September, 1931 – 19 June, 2020

Tolkien actor Ian Holm
Sir Ian Holm | theguardian.com

Similarly to Bean, the great Sir Ian Holm will be recognized fondly by Tolkien fans for both his vocal performance as Frodo Baggins in the beloved 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, and for his iconic portrayal of Bilbo Baggins – a role he solidified in live-action throughout Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and in two brief but memorable appearances bookending Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. His Bilbo is widely regarded as the definitive Bilbo: manic, wild-haired, and charmingly quirky (much of that quirkiness deriving from Holm’s talent for improvisation) – but with a warmth and quiet dignity that Holm made sure to put front and center at all times. Bilbo was Holm’s final role as well as one of his most legendary, but the Tony and BAFTA-Award winning actor received just as much praise for his performances in Alien, Brazil, The Fifth Element, and Chariots Of Fire (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), as well as for his three separate takes on Napoleon Bonaparte – the best by far being in the 1981 cult classic Time Bandits.

Andrew Jack: 28 January, 1942 – 31 March, 2020

Tolkien dialect coach Andrew Jack
Sir Christopher Lee with Andrew Jack | reddit.com

Behind every great movie, there is an entire army of great crewmembers putting painstaking effort into every little detail that has to be seen or conveyed somehow onscreen. Andrew Jack, the dialect coach for Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, was one of those tireless soldiers, crafting the enchantingly unique accents of Middle-earth before passing on that talent (as well as an extensive knowledge of Elvish languages) to the actors themselves. That level of detail is part of what makes Jackson’s trilogy stand out, as one of the first fantasy adaptations to take the source material seriously and attempt to build something that was grounded in reality, rather than poking fun at itself and the entire genre. Jack continued working as a dialect coach, while also making a brief but notable onscreen appearance as the character of Caluan Ematt in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. He passed away due to COVID-19 while working on Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Barbara Remington: 23 June, 1929 – 23 January, 2020

Tolkien artist Barbara Remington
Barbara Remington | accessnepa.com

Tolkien fandom has always had a strong artistic component – ever since J.R.R. himself, who sketched and painted extensively. And American artist Barbara Remington deserves to be remembered alongside the greats such as Alan Lee, John Howe, and Ted Nasmith: her beautiful cover artwork for Ballantine Books’ first paperback editions of both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings quickly became notorious, largely because of how distanced it was from the source material. Remington’s swirling, brightly-colored designs included fantastical flora and fauna such as emus, lions, and a massive pink fruit tree. Tolkien himself was very confused by the art, but, as Remington herself later explained, the embarrassing blunder was due to her not being able to actually read the book before painting the artwork – once she did, she fell in love with the story and said that, not only would she have painted something entirely different if she could, but she might have felt too intimidated to even try due to the scope and significance of the books. Personally, I must admit I’ve warmed up to Remington’s characteristic psychedelic style, and am deeply sorry we may never see the collection of other unofficial artworks based on the books that she designed in her later life.

Christopher Tolkien: 21 November, 1924 – 16 January, 2020

Christopher Tolkien
Christopher Tolkien | cnn.com

If anyone on this earth lived and breathed Middle-earth, it was Christopher John Reul Tolkien, who dedicated almost his entire life to exploring the extent of his father’s fantasy world. Christopher grew up with the bedtime stories that would later blossom into The Hobbit, and spent much of his childhood and youth reading and critiquing his father’s manuscripts, assisting in the writing process of The Lord Of The Rings even while stationed in South Africa with the Royal Air Force during World War II. Many of the book’s most notable elements can be attributed to Christopher’s input: including the iconic surname of “Gamgee”, which J.R.R. himself wanted to change to the far less unique-sounding “Goodchild”. In 1973, upon being handed the reigns to his father’s literary legacy, Christopher determined to finally publish his father’s true masterwork, The Silmarillion: a collection of epic stories from the prehistory of Middle-earth that J.R.R. had left only partially-completed and hopelessly disorganized at the time of his death. The work took several years and exhaustive edits, but was completed for publication in 1977, and Christopher soon followed with an even longer and more ambitious series of books dedicated to recounting his father’s entire writing process: every scattered note, every rewrite, every idea scrapped and revisited. Unfinished Tales followed in 1980 and became an instant hit, allowing readers a chance to learn more about the Second Age of Middle-earth (which will be the setting for Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation). Christopher continued to publish books of this sort up until 2018, with the last of the three “Great Tales”. His harsh views on Jackson’s film trilogy caused quite a stir, but I feel he should be remembered most for his efforts to preserve and protect the legacy with which he was entrusted. For Christopher was a steward of Middle-earth who succeeded in his mission, and now that he has passed on, he has given us all the responsibility to follow in his footsteps and continue that stewardship as we move forward into a new era. And that may be an encouraging thought.

Take comfort in the things that we as a community have gained this year (about which I may write a separate post, so stay tuned), and in the knowledge that those whom we have lost will not be forgotten, but that their legacies will live on. Again, I apologize if anyone has been left off of this list that should have been included, but I ask you to please share that information in the comments. Stay safe and read Tolkien. Until next year, my friends.

“Wonder Woman 1984” Review!

There’s a small but memorable scene in Wonder Woman 1984 in which the film’s major antagonist, Maxwell Lord (the irresistibly charming Pedro Pascal), having just worked his dark magic on the President of the United States and sparked an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union, tries to escape from an altercation at the White House only to find himself awkwardly handcuffed to Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Wonder Woman’s quick-thinking sidekick and lover. I bring this up because it’s representative of the film overall, which handcuffs itself to Pine’s Trevor and stubbornly sticks to him even as his very presence in the story demands that the entire plot revolve around him and not the lead character. The only way this metaphor could have been made even stronger would be if Wonder Woman herself were handcuffed to Trevor in this scene to reflect the film’s inability to give independence or agency to its female characters.

Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman | cnbc.com

Make no mistake, I loved Pine in the first film – and I adored the mature, elegant romance between him and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot): which was written in such a way that both characters could be strong and vulnerable with each other, and both had equal footing – with Diana clearly and effortlessly remaining the lead. Trevor’s death in Wonder Woman was a heartbreaking and powerful moment that allowed us all to see the good in humanity. And yet he’s back in Wonder Woman 1984, nearly a century after his death in World War I, doing pretty well for a guy whom we last saw get blown to bits in mid-air. Prior to the film’s release, I was as excited as anyone to see him return: in hindsight, I’m beginning to realize how foolish it was to ever attempt something that could so easily go so wrong…and did.

It’s blasphemous to even suggest, I know. The first film relied so heavily on that spark of chemistry between the two actors and their characters. But Wonder Woman 1984 had the means to substitute that timeless pairing for another one that could have been just as well-written and well-received, if director Patty Jenkins and her team of screenwriters hadn’t decided to resurrect Steve Trevor for one last lackluster hurrah: because let me tell you, everything that’s bad about this film’s flawed script, from the convoluted globe-trotting adventure to the random interlude with a Mayan shaman, feels to me like the inevitable side-effect of having to devise an excuse for how Steve was even able to come back at all.

And with the return of Steve Trevor, Diana herself gets sidelined in a story that seems almost uninterested in her as an individual. She’s got nowhere left to go and nothing new to learn, essentially. A vague theme about the importance of being true to yourself is woven throughout the film, but it’s not exactly an urgent message that Diana personally has to embrace, unlike the first film’s timely reminder to believe in the goodness of people. She was being true to herself anyway, before Steve randomly came back into her life and took over her entire storyline (oh, the parallels to Avengers: Endgame). I mean, it’s really a shame there was no way to weave this message more cleverly into the plot and romantic subplot by…oh I don’t know, making this a queer love story?

Just as DC preceded Marvel in the department of successful female-led superhero movies, many of us had hoped they’d be the first to give us a proudly and openly LGBTQ+ superheroine onscreen in the form of Diana Prince (Harley Quinn was vaguely bisexual in Birds Of Prey, and a supervillain anyway). We’ve known for some time that wouldn’t be the case, with Patty Jenkins confirming that wasn’t the story she wanted to tell. But what we get instead is a film that tiptoes around even the possibility of a same-sex romance as clumsily as Barbara Ann Minerva (Kristen Wiig) strides around the Smithsonian in high heels. Now, to be fair, most of the romantic tension between Diana and Barbara is more a result of the palpable chemistry between the two actresses (the quiet, ethereal Gadot and sparky, exuberant Wiig complimenting each other very nicely), rather than necessarily indicative of anything intentionally written into the script, but at the same time…come on. Both Diana and Barbara are canonically bisexual in DC Comics, and you’re telling me Patty Jenkins didn’t know what she was doing by casting a romantic filter over their awkwardly flirtatious lunch overlooking the Washington Monument, or having Barbara tumble into Diana’s arms in a subversion of a dated Hollywood romantic trope? It’s queerbaiting that only serves to underscore the fact that the rest of the movie is, in the words of one of my favorite reviewers, Valerie Complex; “aggressively heteronormative”.

Wonder Woman 1984
Cheetah | flickeringmyth.com

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the scenes that center women are the highlights of the film: from those early interactions between Diana and Barbara, to the epic prologue action sequence on the Amazonian isle of Themyscira, to a cheeky and delightful mid-credits scene. But none of these isolated scenes make up for the fact that the character arcs of both female leads in Wonder Woman 1984 (one of those female leads being a literal icon of feminism) revolve almost entirely around men. For Diana, that’s Chris Pine’s Steve, who returns with the help of an incredibly convenient plot device and plays fish-out-of-water for a while…a really long while, during an excruciating montage that exists solely to trot out every semi-nostalgic 80’s cultural trope you can imagine. Pine is still perfectly likable and has some laugh-out-loud line deliveries, but never truly recaptures what made his character so special – and thus feels like a burden the film must carry.

For Barbara Ann Minerva, it’s Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord – who is quite an interesting character, despite being surprisingly little like the young Donald Trump we all assumed he would be based on the promotional material. An oil tycoon with his eye on a legendary ancient wishing stone forged by the Gods, Lord seduces the world with his voice and power to make the impossible possible. He’s got Trumpian elements to his character, of course (among the more obvious examples: he yells “You’re hired!” at one point), but his motivations are relatable, and his charm genuine. Pascal also just oozes the kind of unshakably consistent charisma that can turn a silent, faceless gunslinger into a beloved icon, or make a dumpster fire of a movie like We Can Be Heroes shockingly entertaining.

Minerva herself does get to transform into the anthropomorphic Cheetah we know from the comics, and the CGI isn’t entirely awful as she flails about in her dimly-lit third-act duel with Diana (or perhaps Diana’s Golden Eagle armor is so distractingly awful I didn’t notice), but she deserved to be the major antagonist of this film, and not merely Maxwell’s loyal henchwoman. I’m also afraid that Wiig’s excellent dramatic performance and thrilling action sequences will be overshadowed in the larger fandom discourse.

Apart from Wiig’s notable fights (particularly her brutal takedown of a drunk man who continually harasses her on her jogging route), the action in Wonder Woman 1984 is fairly slight, with the only other standout being the prologue on Themyscira, where the Amazons compete for honor and glory in a series of challenges that test their physical abilities. If Jenkins is going to commit to having Diana only use her Lasso of Truth as a weapon (an idea I actually really like, as it reflects the character’s refusal to kill), she just has to find better ways to incorporate it into action scenes, because it can too easily come off as overly ridiculous.

Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman | cbr.com

Jenkins did make other “campy” elements from the character’s mythology work for Wonder Woman 1984, though, including Cheetah (doesn’t matter if she’s dressing up as a cat, or literally morphing into one: it’s still a hilariously campy concept), and the Invisible Jet – which comes about through a bizarre but acceptable deus ex machina. Unlike Shazam, this film isn’t trying to be goofy or funny: it still takes itself very seriously, and thus comes across as uniquely earnest for a superhero movie. In some ways, I’d say that’s one of several ways in which the movie evokes real 80’s adventure movies: both the good and the bad. The heightened sense of adventure, the not-so-great CGI you’re willing to excuse because everything happening onscreen is just so much fun, and the outdated perceptions of women and foreign nations that make us cringe deeply in our souls (we just need to collectively stop letting white American directors write North African and Middle Eastern nations into their scripts, because they’ve proven they’re not up to the task of handling those nations and their individual cultures at all well).

There’s still plenty of hope for the Wonder Woman franchise in the near future. We’re not dealing with another Crimes Of Grindelwald here (although the box-office reception would seem to disagree). But the divisive audience reactions and legitimate criticisms of Wonder Woman 1984 should hopefully alert Warner Brothers to the need to put this series back on track with better screenwriters and a stronger, more cohesive focus on women as individuals with their own storylines….even (and especially) if that means no more Steve Trevor.

Movie Rating: 6.5/10

“Shadow And Bone” 1st Trailer Hypes Up The Epic Dark Fantasy!

It’s been a long time since we got any news from the set of Shadow And Bone, one of the myriad of upcoming fantasy series’ in Netflix’s seemingly endless catalogue. The cast looked pretty good when they were revealed last year, and filming wrapped just prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, luckily, but in the months since then all we’ve really seen (or rather heard) was a snippet of the series’ melancholy, ominous score – which was admittedly quite beautiful. But now, to accompany the news that Shadow And Bone has been set for a fast-approaching April 2021 release date, Netflix has generously dropped a new teaser trailer.

Shadow And Bone
Six Of Crows | grimdarkmagazine.com

A mere forty seconds long, the teaser doesn’t provide any actual footage (and only a single line of dialogue), but instead sets up the series’ general atmosphere: dark, wintry, and mystical. Shadow And Bone will combine storylines from Leigh Bardugo’s two separate book series’ set in the Grishaverse world: the Grisha trilogy, which follows Alina Starkov as she becomes the prophesized Sun-Summoner and battles The Darkling for control of her homeland; and its more popular successor, the Six Of Crows duology, which takes place many years after the original trilogy and explores life in the criminal underworld of the city of Ketterdam, where a thief named Kaz Brekker and his gang of social outcasts stage a daring heist to win a fortune. The books are very good, and I highly recommend reading them, but suffice it to say that the Grishaverse is kind of like a gritty Narnia with overtones of The Witcher. It stands out from the crowd of young adult fantasy stories thanks to its mature themes and elegant writing style. I’m pretty typical/boring in that I prefer Six Of Crows to the Grisha trilogy, but I have a feeling Netflix might finally make me care about the characters of Alina Starkov and The Darkling (nothing they can do will ever get me to spare an ounce of interest in Alina’s love interest, Mal, one of the most detestable and annoying characters I’ve ever read).

Shadow And Bone
Alina Starkov | bookstr.com

The first season of the Netflix adaptation will tackle the events of the first Grisha trilogy book – itself titled Shadow And Bone – and, it seems, the backstories of most of the main characters in Six Of Crows. Whether or not these two story threads will interweave organically or not is still a mystery: in the books, there isn’t much crossover between the two until Six Of Crows‘ sequel, but that may change for the series. It’s possible we’ll follow two storylines unfolding in a non-linear fashion – but The Witcher just did that, and got criticized for confusing viewers. I suspect there’s a chance, then, that the events of the two series’ will occur simultaneously for the Netflix show’s purposes…despite the plot-holes that could case, if done sloppily. The clearest link between the two, which I hope Shadow And Bone will exploit, is the character of Nina, who (in the books) is a crucial member of Kaz Brekker’s gang, but hails from Alina Starkov’s home country of Ravka, where she was a young but powerful Grisha mage before being abducted.

Anyway. Elements from both series’ are incorporated into the imagery used in the teaser – from a crow (the emblem of Brekker’s gang) soaring past, to the white Morozova’s Stag whose intricate, frosted, antlers command attention before being transformed (via CGI wizardry) into a ball of radiant, fluid, sunlight clasped between two silhouetted hands. In the books, the mythical Stag’s antlers are similarly used to amplify Alina’s magic powers, which manifest as the ability to conjure and control light. I especially love how Alina’s hands fold against her chest, snuffing out the light as darkness encroaches around her. Before the title card is illuminated by one of her outbursts of magic, we hear from Alina’s nemesis and love interest, The Darkling himself, whose power to manipulate shadows pits the two against each other throughout the book series: in his gentle yet firm voice, he tells her that “You and I are going to change the world”. Fans have long been hyped to see Ben Barnes as The Darkling – it would have been nice to get a first look at his costume.

Shadow And Bone
Shadow And Bone cast | deadline.com

And of course, the whole visual masterpiece is complimented by the aforementioned theme, composed by Joseph Trapanese and well-suited to a dark fantasy epic like this. Although there’s not much to go on yet, the vibe I’m getting from the show is really good so far. And Netflix’s track-record when it comes to creating addictive content is pretty spotless: I unironically loved The Witcher, and I believe Shadow And Bone will probably be another bingeworthy hit for the streaming service.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Loki” Is Lost In Space And Time In 1st Trailer!

I’ve had a great many ideas about how I would love for each of the upcoming Marvel Disney+ shows to look and feel since long before we saw anything official from any of them: and Loki has become my second most hotly-anticipated of the entire batch (just behind WandaVision, which seems like a technical masterpiece as well as a wildly entertaining story) thanks to the elaborate image I had concocted in my head of how it should look, ideally: like a mix of gritty science-fiction, Terry Pratchett absurdity, and fantasy horror. So you can imagine my shock and awe when the first full trailer for Loki revealed that this show is everything I was hoping it would be, and much, much more.

Loki
Loki | denofgeek.com

The last time Loki graced our screens was…well, that’s a complex question. Technically that would be in 2018 when, both in our reality and in the main MCU timeline, he died pitifully attacking Thanos with a knife. But when the Avengers later staged their time heist and returned to the year 2012 to recover several Infinity Stones, they encountered the older, more feral and dangerous Loki that they had just battled and defeated in that year: and that Loki was able to escape with the Tesseract, opening a new rift in the Multiverse and ensuring that Captain America’s best efforts to preserve the sanctity of each timeline wouldn’t be entirely successful. The new series follows that Loki as he wanders throughout the Nine Realms, wreaking havoc and upsetting the natural order of things, while fighting characters and beings from the surreal side of Marvel comics.

That surrealism – already evident in the series – is precisely why I draw a comparison to Terry Pratchett: one of my favorite fantasy authors. By a complete coincidence, a trailer for the new BBC adaptation of Pratchett’s The Watch dropped yesterday before the Loki trailer reveal, and in my opinion did a horrible job of conveying the author’s characteristic brand of quirky, grammatical humor, or of capturing the colorful tone and style of his characters. This trailer (which has absolutely nothing to do with Pratchett) effortlessly achieves what any Pratchett adaptation should be aiming for – and if you don’t believe me, just check out the trailer thumbnail above: Loki, dressed in a ratty old coat and splendid emerald green waistcoat, a self-congratulatory campaign button pinned to his breast, grinning from ear to ear, donning his horned helmet, and gleefully teasing us with the line “Come on? What did you expect?”, all while standing in an abandoned arcade, surrounded by a group of absurdly-dressed misfits pointing spears and knives at him. It’s not just a brilliant adaptation of the Loki comics and a striking visual that will entice audiences: it’s a masterclass in absurd humor.

A large part of that has to do with Tom Hiddleston’s deliciously entertaining performance, which is just the right amount of camp; just the right amount of Shakespearean villain; and more quintessentially British than ever before. Hiddleston is, in fact, channeling a number of iconic characters from around the globe, including James Bond and Good Omens‘ Crowley (a creation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, by the way). He’s also stepping into the shoes of real-life historical figures – most notably the legendary “D.B. Cooper”.

Loki
Loki as “D.B. Cooper” | vulture.com

Those who love the thrill of trying to solve decades-old mysteries will enjoy this reference. D.B. Cooper, the unidentified man who somehow pulled off a mid-air robbery in 1971 before parachuting into a storm and disappearing from history makes an appearance in the Loki trailer: and the series finds a delightfully clever way of answering the questions surrounding Cooper’s true identity, by suggesting that Cooper was none other than the God of Mischief. As for how he escaped an FBI manhunt, well, that’s quite simple: he was snatched out of the sky by the Bifrost bridge of Asgard, of course! A few dollars drift out of Loki’s attaché case as he disappears, and are scorched by the heat of the Bifrost – the same dollars, it would seem, that an eight-year old boy would find by a riverbank years after the event, mysteriously burned. The attention to detail here is simply staggering…and honestly, it’s as good an explanation as any. Cooper’s identity is still unknown, and the FBI officially gave up the search in 2016.

It’s not the only unsolved mystery teased in the trailer. Near the end, a Polybius arcade game is also briefly visible in the background: a reference to the arcade game of the same name that sparked an urban legend in the early 2000’s when it supposedly appeared out of the blue, hypnotizing or even brainwashing players, and attracting the attention of men in black. A crucial part of the legend was that the game would sometimes teleport players to other dimensions, and I expect that it will be used in the same way in Loki.

But why all this talk of historical mysteries? Well, the trailer confirms what we’ve long known: which is that the Time Variance Authority (or TVA) will employ Loki as one of their agents during the course of the show, and assign him various missions fixing the timeline and making sure human history proceeds as it’s supposed to do. The TVA serves much the same function as the Commission in The Umbrella Academy, but with a much larger team of characters: including Mobius. M. Mobius, played by comedic actor Owen Wilson, and a severe-looking councilwoman with martial arts skills, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In the case of Loki, it’s unclear whether the TVA actually wanted him on their team, or were forced to recruit him because of the danger he poses as a rogue operative, wielding the Tesseract. The TVA may also need his help against a shadowy enemy we see in the trailer slaughtering their agents: a hooded figure who could be the time-traveler Kang, or an alternate, even more horrible, version of Loki.

Loki
Mobius M. Mobius and Loki | slashfilm.com

On the sidelines for now but sure to feature more prominently in time, there are hints of the Roxxon Energy Corporation – which, in the comics, tries to colonize space and harvest minerals on Mars. Interestingly, many theorists speculated that Roxxon would be the primary antagonist of Thor: Love And Thunder, with Christian Bale rumored to be playing the corporation’s tyrannical minotaur leader, Dario Agger. Bale has now been confirmed to be playing a different villain, Gorr the God-Butcher, but it seems Roxxon will still play a part in the Loki series at least. We see both its inconspicuous façade on earth, as a grocery store, and its more secretive side in the form of a deep quarry on an alien planet. A red-haired woman is clearly visible in one shot, and Twitter immediately started asking if it might be Natasha Romanoff: but although I initially thought the same thing, the different hairstyle and sword at her hip makes me think this is someone else entirely.

If any major MCU characters are going to show up, I would bet on Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and/or Idris Elba as Heimdall, since Loki’s disguise as D.B. Cooper appears to be part of an ingenious plan to get in contact with both of his fellow Asgardians, and the Bifrost bridge that sucked him up has to have been summoned by somebody. Hopefully something happens by the end of the series that will allow this version of Loki to interact with the current version of Thor.

Trailer Rating: 10/10