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 She-Ra Movie Needs To Happen – Here’s Why.

SPOILERS FOR SHE-RA SEASON 5 AHEAD!

She-Ra
She-Ra | latimes.com

The animated She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power series on Netflix ended a few months ago, bringing five seasons to a close with one epic, super emotional finale. It was, in my opinion, a great conclusion: the fifth season raised the stakes higher than I would have ever thought possible, but still kept audiences firmly rooted in the emotional core of the whole series – the suspenseful will-they-won’t-they romance between heroine Adora (better known by her alias She-Ra) and the antiheroine Catra, which eventually ended with the two characters confessing their love for each other while the world came crumbling down around them. The power of that love was enough to activate the Heart of Etheria and in turn save the entire planet from being decimated by Horde Prime’s alien hordes; and so at last Adora, Catra, and their squad of friends and allies got to enjoy what seemed to be a mostly happy ending for everybody involved (well, except Horde Prime).

But it didn’t take long before the She-Ra fandom rallied behind a new hashtag on Twitter, #SheRaMovie, which has consistently become a top trend on social media for the past several weeks. And while some might dismiss it as dissatisfied fans hungry for more content, the truth is that there are many good reasons for why a She-Ra movie could and should happen: not only because it’s a smart business move to tap into such a large and clearly motivated audience, but because (a) there’s never been a better time for fan-driven campaigns and LGBTQ+ representation in animation, and (b) there are plenty more stories left to tell in the She-Ra universe.

She-Ra
Scorpia & Catra | syfy.com

Fan-driven campaigns have often been seen as foolish or vain endeavors: there have been times where they’ve succeeded in changing the minds of studio executives (Sonic the Hedgehog’s redesign, for instance), but 2020 has really made the sky the limit in terms of what a fan-driven campaign can achieve, and that’s all thanks to Zack Snyder’s never-before-seen cut of Justice League. Fans asked for it for years, and insisted that it would be better than the disastrous box-office flop that actually got released in theaters back in 2017; they trended #ReleaseTheSnyderCut whenever they could; and most importantly, they never gave up. They kept the movement going, they got support from the film’s cast and crew, they made the simple hashtag become a household phrase – and this year, they were rewarded for their efforts with the news that Warner Brothers will indeed soon release Zack Snyder’s Justice League. #SheRaMovie is in part inspired by the success of that movement, and as long as fans continue to make it trend regularly and continue to receive support from insiders (She-Ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson never fails to express her admiration for the fan campaign, which in turn motivates the fans to keep up their efforts), they will attract attention from the higher-ups at Dreamworks Animation and Netflix, and could soon share in the happiness that Snyder Cut supporters are feeling.

The need to see more strong LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment media is likely going to be another important factor in greenlighting a She-Ra movie. She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power was one of several animated shows and films this year that made a place in the narrative for well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters (and Noelle Stevenson’s wife Molly Ostertag is in fact responsible for writing several episodes of another of those shows, Disney Channel’s The Owl House, which features Disney’s first bisexual lead character) which earned the series plenty of well-deserved praise, including from my blog. With so much progress happening so quickly, my question for Dreamworks is…why stop now? When you have an established LGBTQ+ friendly franchise like She-Ra already perfectly positioned to continue leading the charge for diversity in animation, why not utilize that advantage?

She-Ra
Adora & Catra | tor.com

And moving away from the business perspective for a minute, let’s take a look at in-universe reasons for why a She-Ra movie should happen: obviously, the movie needs to have a reason to exist. But luckily, She-Ra ends with plenty of set-up for an eventual spinoff – in fact, the very last scene features the entire main cast of characters already planning to embark on a new adventure to share their planet’s abundant magic with the rest of the galaxy. A spinoff movie could partly follow that plotline, which would take us to new locations and introduce us to new characters. Besides that, there are still several questions left unanswered after the finale, particularly questions about the First Ones and their forgotten technology, the origins of Horde Prime and of She-Ra herself, the universe outside Despondos, and the character of Madame Razz, who, despite not having and not needing a large role in season five, could be a major player in a She-Ra movie if her mysterious backstory ever gets explored in-depth.

Most of the characters have room to grow post-season five, no matter what else happens. Adora and Catra finally got together, but now both young women need to keep working to maintain the bond of trust and understanding they established after basically rebooting their entire relationship. They’re starting over from scratch, which makes their dynamic all the more fascinating. Glimmer, still Queen of Bright Moon, is going to have to return there eventually and rule alongside her best friend/boyfriend Bow and her recently-returned father, Micah, who was King before he went missing (I love some political intrigue). Scorpia and Perfuma will be rebuilding the Fright Zone side-by-side. Mermista and Seahawk should be commanding their own pirate fleet by now. Entrapta will be trying to convince her friends to trust Hordak, which won’t be easy considering he (checks notes) plundered and pillaged all of Etheria, robbed Scorpia of her birthright and brainwashed her into thinking she never had one, destroyed Mermista’s entire kingdom, kidnapped Adora and Catra as babies, employed Shadow Weaver to emotionally abuse his soldiers, personally tortured Catra, started a decades-long war with the Princess Alliance, paved the way for Horde Prime’s takeover, and never apologized for any of it. And the shape-shifter Double Trouble will be living their best life on a theater stage, even though we still don’t know what happened to their last disguise, the prophetic Prince Peekablue – in fact, finding him could be another potential subplot.

She-Ra
flickeringmyth.com

My ideal She-Ra movie would tackle all of these storylines, but, since the ending of season five perfectly sets up a space-based adventure, that’s where I’d want the film to start out, with Adora, Catra, Glimmer, Bow, Entrapta and Hordak (and Wrong Hordak, just for fun) either just setting off on a quest across the stars or returning from one. Most of the film, however, could still be set on Etheria. As for the conflict, with Horde Prime and Shadow Weaver both dead and Hordak a good guy now, who’s left to challenge She-Ra? Easy: the First Ones. The technologically-advanced, semi-mythological figures who created She-Ra and programmed Etheria to be their own superweapon may have been defeated during Horde Prime’s war of conquest, but it’s not implausible that some survived – and if some did, they’d want nothing more than to finally deactivate She-Ra, their experiment gone wrong. And they probably wouldn’t be too keen on the notion of Etheria spreading its magical resources across the galaxy, come to think of it. While Adora and Horde Prime had a fairly impersonal conflict, it would be hard to get more personal than a fight between Adora and the First Ones, who literally designed her super-sized avatar (well, Adora fighting Catra would be more personal, technically, but we’ve been there, done that).

To conclude, my message to all of you is to keep pushing for a movie because it could very well happen – but only if Dreamworks and Netflix both see that the demand is there. Don’t let a week go by where the hashtag doesn’t trend. Don’t stop calling for better, stronger LGBTQ+ representation in all media, but especially in animation where it’s currently on a roll. If you’re active in the She-Ra fandom, you know all this already, but it’s important to reiterate. Let’s make this movie happen!

How do you feel about a She-Ra movie? Do you think it’s smart from a business perspective, and do you think it’s wise to continue the story? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Ranking The “She-Ra” Princesses Of Power!

SPOILERS FOR ALL FIVE SEASONS OF SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER AHEAD!

Now that Netflix’s hugely successful She-Ra reboot has closed out its five-season run with an incredible finale, I think it’s high time we looked back at the series’ cast of complex, nuanced characters, and so I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list ranking the eight Princesses of Power who make up most of the show’s core cast, and whose alliance against the evil Lord Hordak (and, later, Horde Prime) forms the main thrust of the plot. Even when united by the magical link between their runestones, these Etherian Princesses are also compelling characters individually, and their unique personalities, powers and story arcs are what will be factored into my rankings.

Though it might be considered controversial, I’ve made the choice not to include She-Ra herself on this list, as I felt that the other Princesses are already overshadowed by her enough throughout the series: even though She-Ra is, strictly speaking, a Princess of Power, she’s so far beyond most of the others in terms of power and character development, it felt unfair to put her alongside them.

8: Spinnerella

She-Ra Spinnerella
kotaku.com

Voiced by series showrunner Noelle Stevenson, Spinnerella seemed like a one-off cameo when she showed up in the first season of She-Ra, and it’s largely because of her small amount of screen time that she comes in last on my list: even though I think her character design is charming, Stevenson’s voice-work is excellent, and Spinnerella’s ability to control spiraling tornadoes is visually striking, she’s the one Princess who we still really don’t know that much about outside of her marriage to Princess Netossa (which is an event that happened offscreen, presumably before the first season opens, and thus isn’t ever touched upon except through mentions of a wedding anniversary in Season 5). Towards the end of the series, Spinnerella finally got a couple of awesome moments – but those were while she was an unwilling villain, mind-controlled by Horde Prime. With maybe a few more scenes to highlight her personality or explore her background (for instance: where does she come from? What is her Runestone?), I think she would probably have made a much bigger impression.

7: Frosta

She-Ra Frosta
aminoapps.com

I honestly don’t know if I’m in the minority with this opinion, but I was not overly fond of Princess Frosta. She was massively overhyped prior to her introduction towards the end of the first season, with Adora even drawing up military strategies for how to talk to her, and the Alliance determining that, if they could bring her to their side, they could win over all the remaining Princesses due to Frosta’s various connections. I enjoyed the reveal that she was actually a child (and a petulant, bratty one at that), but I felt like everything after that has been more and more wheel-spinning for her character. Even with the power to control ice, and a wickedly cool castle isolated in the mountains, Frosta has never been at the forefront of any stories since her debut: in season 2, she slowly earns Glimmer’s admiration and respect after initially coming off as clingy and obsessive; and in the final season, she and the recently returned Micah have some fun interactions as he prepares himself for his reunion with his own daughter – but for the most part, even more so than Princess Scorpia, Frosta has only ever been “the muscle”, who comes in handy when the teams needs to punch something with a spiky ice-fist.

6: Netossa

She-Ra Netossa
twitter.com

Introduced alongside Spinnerella as the air-borne Princess’ wife and constant companion, Netossa seemed, if anything, even more vague and unnecessary – her power to throw magical nets at things was random, and her character had barely any dialogue or interactions with anyone besides Spinnerella. But in the fifth season, Netossa suddenly became the Princess Alliance’s MVP with an unexpected and mind-blowing upgrade: she became the first character to lose someone to Horde Prime’s mind-control tactics, but she never once gave up hope that her wife would come back to her when confronted with her unconditional love, and her quest to win back her “Spinny”, carried out over multiple episodes, was written beautifully. Her fight-scenes with the brainwashed Spinnerella were a delight to watch (though also heartbreaking), and convinced me that magical net tossing is actually a legitimate skill-set and can be used in plenty of creative ways. Her can-do attitude and relentlessly romantic spirit made her relatable in ways she hadn’t been before. Voice actress Krystal Joy Brown deserves much of the credit for transforming Netossa from a peculiar background-character to one of the Princesses I’d most love to know more about.

5: Perfuma

She-Ra Perfuma
buzzfeed.com

Perfuma was a slow-burn, as she took a while to find her footing among the other Princesses – after all, when she was first introduced, she was written to be pushy, overly demanding, and grating. As Princess of the forested region of Plumeria, Perfuma’s interests are purely in the gardens, trees and plants she cultivates using the powers of the Heart Blossom Runestone, and she is a peace-loving character, so she didn’t jump into the Alliance straight away: but when she did, and once she stopped pestering everyone about meditation and drum-circles, it turned out there was a lot to love about her – she still suffers from all her old faults, but she’s also done her part to work past them and develop more patience for others: in season 4, a surprisingly transformative moment for her character was when she had to work with the cacti dwelling in the Crimson Waste, much to her dismay. In season 5, she grew very close to reformed Horde soldier Scorpia and used her skills to help the shyer, more sensitive Princess nurture her own talents. Her character design (especially in Season 5, which saw her take on a cool new undercover alias and a new outfit to go along with it), voice work by Genesis Rodriguez (who also played a similar character, Honey Lemon, in Big Hero 6), and unique connection with Etheria’s nature have made her a consistently fun Princess to follow on her travels.

4: Mermista

She-Ra Mermista
tumblr.com

The Princess of Salineas has always been a mood: her sour attitude on life in general and her angsty, on-and-off relationship with the boisterous pirate captain Sea Hawk make her vastly dissimilar to the more positive Princesses of Power. But over the seasons, we’ve watched her develop and gain a number of character traits we couldn’t have seen coming – after all, who would have ever guessed she was an avid reader of mystery novels, or that her reading habits would ever help the team discover a traitor in their midst? Who would have suspected that she herself took up Sea Hawk’s pyromaniacal tendencies and tried her hand at burning boats? But her biggest opportunity for development was when the Horde, helped by rogue Princess Entrapta, invaded Salineas and took everything from her, including her throne, her Runestone, and her status. After spending a long time sulking in a bathtub (being able to turn into a mermaid is good for some things) and eating ice cream, Mermista got back on her feet and became a stronger fighter than ever – which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse, as she later became brainwashed by Horde Prime and briefly used her powers against the other Princesses. Once you add the magic touch from Vella Lovell’s voice acting, you get a well-rounded and complicated character who may be a bit of a disaster at times, but is still fun, competent and relatable.

3: Scorpia

She-Ra Scorpia
she-raandtheprincessesofpower.fandom.com

Scorpia had to embark on a long and difficult journey of self discovery before she could come into her own, and it’s no wonder – despite being the Princess of the Fright Zone, she had her connection to the magical Black Garnet severed while she was still very young, and the choice to relinquish the Fright Zone into the hands of Lord Hordak was made by her grandfather, thus abandoning Scorpia to a fate she had never asked for, as a soldier and later a Force Captain for the Horde. But Scorpia’s most defining character trait has always been her loyalty – without question, she did whatever the Horde asked her to do, which included turning on her fellow Princesses. It took her a long time before she had the courage to stand up to the Horde, and, in particular, Force Captain Catra, whom she had always considered her best friend. But when she did, and realized that she could still harness the electric powers of the Black Garnet, Scorpia never looked back: she is now defined not by the abuse and trauma she suffered, but by the action she took to make sure it would never happen again – not to herself, and not to anyone else. On top of all that, she’s also a great hugger and an amazing singer (and, of course, all the credit for that goes to voice actress Lauren Ash).

2: Glimmer

She-Ra Glimmer
tor.com

Glimmer has had the most screen time and development out of all the characters on this list, thanks to her unforeseen transition from princess to queen of Bright Moon, after her mother Angella’s death in season 3. That transition, though undeniably sad, was necessary to turn Glimmer from the reckless, impulsive character she had been up until that point into a more rational, strategical and calculating leader – though it wasn’t easy for her, as she proved when she fell victim to Shadow Weaver’s manipulations soon afterwards and chose to unleash the powers of the Heart of Etheria, even overriding The Beacon and invading the Fright Zone with Scorpia. Thankfully, in season 5, Glimmer had a chance to find her footing before she could be pulled any further down the dark path she had been walking – with the help of her friends and family, she was able to fix the damage she had caused. But even though she came back to the light with her morality intact, she did retain much of the knowledge she had learned from Shadow Weaver, including a talent for dark magic – a much-needed upgrade, since Glimmer had always been unique in that she had to recharge her own powers, derived from the Moonstone, in between battles. Ultimately, I’m putting Glimmer in second place because, while I love her character and Karen Fukuhara’s voice work, I still don’t think anyone compares to my favorite Princess of Power…

1: Entrapta

She-Ra Entrapta
aminoapps.com

I didn’t expect to like Entrapta at all: her debut episode in the series, early in the first season, felt like filler while I was watching it for the first time, and I had difficulty believing this geeky, purple-haired Princess, living in the mountains with an army of murderous robots and a squad of bakers specializing in miniature pastries, could be of any use to the Rebellion, or an interesting character in her own right. And for a few more episodes, I thought I was justified in thinking that – until the fateful moment when Entrapta made the choice to stay with the Horde because….they had cooler tech. By firmly moving her from one side of the conflict to the other in a way that was shocking but still felt completely logical (because Entrapta had already been established as someone who cared more about tech than anything else), the showrunners turned her into the series’ most fascinating character. Since then, Entrapta has battled her moral compass, she’s slowly learned how to develop friendships, she’s maybe even fallen in love with Hordak of all people – and through it all, she’s always been unabashedly herself. Even in season 5, she has to physically stop herself from joining Horde Prime because he has spaceships! Am I the only one who thinks that’s super cool? As voiced by Christine Woods, the nerdy, complicated Entrapta is far and away my favorite Princess of Power.

So there you have it: all eight of She-Ra‘s Princesses, ranked. What do you think of my list? Which rankings do you agree with? Who is your favorite Princess? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!