Why I’m enjoying The Rings of Power more than House of the Dragon

It’s an interesting time for fantasy fans, with two major series airing at the same time. There have been a lot of comparisons between them, and speculation on which would “win”. Of course, there’s no particular reason to see these shows as competitors since a lot of people, like me, will watch both. They’re similar in that they’re both prequels to popular franchises: Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

But there are differences. And as I noted in the post title, I find myself enjoying The Rings of Power more than House of the Dragon, leading me to wonder why.

It’s isn’t because Rings leans into the battle between good and evil while House is grittier with everyone shades of grey on the ethical scale. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do prefer Tolkien’s more Manichean take, while others prefer the grimdark one. I’m a fan of both types of stories, and enjoyed Game of Thrones a great deal, and see its moral complexity as more realistic than the simple good vs evil duality.

Some of it might be that the stakes seem higher in Rings. House looks like it’s just going to be about who gets to sit on the Iron Thrown, while in Rings the fate of the world hangs in the balance. House tries to tap into those broader stakes a little bit with the reference to the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy, but it really just calls attention to the fact that we’ve already seen that song, and this isn’t it.

A big part of might be the scope of the tale and the diversity of the characters. In House we’re seeing royalty and a bunch of nobles, while in Rings we’re also seeing royalty, but of many different kingdoms and races (species?), along with a mix of more regular people, particularly with the proto-Hobbits, Silvan elf soldiers, and southland humans.

It also helps that there are characters moving around in Rings, giving us glimpses of the wider world. Of course, the world of Second Age Middle Earth is different enough from the Third Age version to make that enticing, one of the benefits of having your prequel be millenia earlier rather than only a couple of centuries as in House. Maybe House will eventually contrive storylines that show us the broader world, but right now it feels a bit claustrophobic to me with the focus almost exclusively on King’s Landing, with occasional scenes in Dragonstone and the relatively brief battle sequence in the third episode.

There are also plenty of enticing mysteries in Rings. Who and what is the meteor guy? Who is Halbrand? Who is Adar? Are any of them Sauron? And if not, where is Sauron? In what form is he going to show up in the story? (Readers of the source material, the appendices at the back of the Return of the Ring and The Silmarillion, have an idea of what to look for, but the show so far has managed to keep even hardcore Tolkien fans guessing.)

A final big difference is that I’m finding plenty of characters in Rings to sympathize with. Seeing Galadriel in a warrior phase is a lot of fun, and it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Arondir and his compatriots. While in House, I feel some sympathy for Alicent, I really don’t care who among the others succeed or fail, at least not yet. I was primed to give Daemon some sympathy because Matt Smith, but the show seems to go out of its way to show his self entitled jerkiness.

Overall House of the Dragon seems like Dynasty in a feaux medieval setting with dragons. The dragons help, but honestly I’m getting bored.

I might be an outlier. House seems to be getting better reviews than Rings. Although a large part of the discrepancy may be due to the review bombing taking place against Rings.

Some of the bombers seem genuinely upset about the discrepancies between the show and the source material. Although a lot of those discrepancies are inevitable. The source for Rings was meant to be a background history, so it has events spread out over millenia. Similar to the Foundation TV show, it seems like adjustments had to made to tell an engaging story, at least unless it was going to be told only from the elves’ point of view.

But that’s not what seems to be upsetting most of the bombers. The bigger issue is, horror of horrors, the show cast non-white people as dwarves, elves, and humans. The argument being that’s not what Tolkien had in mind. And maybe it isn’t. Tolkien was writing his tales in early to mid twentieth century England.

Given that Middle Earth is meant to be a lost age long before the ethnic geography we’re familiar with, I think a mix of skin colors is a totally legitimate interpretation. But white supremacists have to make sure we all know they’re upset. And it’s not like House doesn’t also have black characters mixed in as well. But in that case, we still have the author alive to verify he’s onboard with it.

Anyway, I plan to continue watching both, although there’s a danger I could lose interest in House if it doesn’t make the story more interesting.

Are you watching either of the shows? If so, what do you think of them?

29 thoughts on “Why I’m enjoying The Rings of Power more than House of the Dragon

  1. I’ve been reading the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft recently, and I think there’s a useful contrast to be made between Tolkien and Lovecraft. Tolkien threw around words like white and black, fair and dark, and so forth, in ways that seem a little problematic today. Lovecraft, meanwhile, was far more overtly racist in his writing, whenever the subject of race came up in his stories. You could say both writers were merely a product of their time, but I think it’s clear that Tolkien’s writing was, at worst, accidentally racist. Lovecraft, meanwhile, was deliberate and purposeful about it.

    It’s also worth mentioning that many of Tolkien’s stories show people of different races (humans, elves, dwarves, etc) overcoming their prejudices toward each other and working together against a common foe. And groups that are xenophobically mono-racial (like the goblins) are generally portrayed as villains. So if he were alive today, I think Tolkien would wholeheartedly approve of a more diverse (in terms of skin color) portrayal of Middle Earth.

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    1. I’d heard that about Lovecraft. I’m not into horror, which his stuff seems to falls into. (At least the couple stories I read.) He was one of the “big three” for Weird Tales in the 1920s and 30s. The others were Robert Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve actually read some Smith lately, which is very dark, bordering on horror, if not outright crossing over in places. But as far as I know, neither Howard nor Smith were explicitly racist in their stuff. Howard brushes up against it in some of his stories, but not in the cringeworthy way I’ve heard Lovecraft does.

      I’m with you on Tolkien. I don’t find anything in his stuff that’s explicitly racist. And you’re right, the modern reader does have to consider the context of the way he uses words like “black”. Although I think his treatment of the orcs is troubling. I know the backstory, that they were descendants of elves bred to be evil. But that to me makes them more like Gollum, beings to be pitied, rather than deserving the unqualified animosity all the characters in LOTR show toward them. And his description of them is a little too Mongolian for comfort. But it’s the overall idea of an entire race that is evil, just because they’re that race, that’s the troubling aspect.

      But overall I agree Tolkien wouldn’t have an issue with variations in skin color.

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      1. Supposedly Tolkien believed the orcs were redeemable. He wrote about that possibility in some of his letters. They’re evil now, but they started off as something good, and so they are capable of returning to goodness. Tolkien just never got around to depicting that in any actual story.

        I hadn’t heard anything about Lovecraft’s racism prior to reading his stories, so I was totally unprepared for it when it came up. It’s a shame, because everything else about his writing is amazing.

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    2. Tolkien’s races or species? Is there evidence that the various species interbred? Dwelves? Hubbits? Glorks? (Real life Elbits: Evangeline Lilly & Billy Boyd) I know the Orukai (sp?) are some abomination of some species combinations — but they were fabricated, not elective.
      All this to say that, species may not be races. Still, I like the thought that, in LOTR, even disparate species can get along.

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      1. I feel like Tolkien was a little wibbly-wobbly about the distinction between races and species. We’d probably call them different species today.

        However, there is a story called “The Tale of Tinuviel” in which an elf princess falls in love with a human, marries him, and they produce children. If I remember correctly, Aragorn descends from that family and still has some elf blood in him.

        Additionally, Aragorn married Arwin, another elf princess, and they produced children as well.

        So again, I feel like Tolkien was a little wibbly-wobbly about whether these were different races or different species.

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        1. The mythology behind this is kind of interesting. In The Silmarillion, the elves are referred to as the first born, or elder. Whereas men are referred to as the second born. (Tolkien doesn’t use the word “human” so it’s not clear whether he would have considered elves, dwarves, or hobbits human or not. He does consider them “people” though.) Both elves and men are regarded as the Children of Illuvator, basically God in this mythology.

          But the dwarves are different. They were originally constructed by Aule, the Vala (archangel) of crafts (such as forging), because he was impatient waiting for the Children to show up. Illuvator basically called him out, pointing out that his creations had no free will. But then Illuvator gave them free will, essentially ensouled them, with the proviso that they not wake up until after the firstborn had.

          The origins of the hobbits, much less a lot of other beings such as Ents, aren’t addressed anywhere that I’ve seen.

          Also interestingly, if an elf marries a mortal, they become mortal. At least for female elves. (It’s not hard to imagine a mechanism for this, but Tolkien was too Victorian to ever make it explicit.)

          Anyway, I have no idea to what extent Tolkien ever cared about the biology of all this.

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          1. I don’t consider myself a Tolkien scholar, but I do consider myself familiar. Where did you get the part that says elves marrying humans become mortal? My impression is that when there is a question, they pretty much get to choose.
            [doing some research]
            Yeah, I think I’m right about the choosing. Luthien was the first, I think, and chose mortality. Her son Dior was apparently just an elf. (Don’t know if he had a choice.) Tuor was a man, married an elf, sailed into the west and more or less became an elf (went to the place of the elves). Tuor’s son Earendil was consider man, married an elf, and also sailed to the place of the valar. There, he and his wife were given the choice, his wife chose elf, so he did too. Earendil’s sons were Elrond and Elros. They were given a choice, Elrond chose elf, Elros chose mortal. Arwen chose mortal, but not exactly clear when that choice was made.

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          2. I guess the question is, what are the mechanics of making that choice? I don’t recall Tolkien ever making it explicit. The appendix at the back of LOTR implies some communication with the Valar is involved. And Elrond does say in the LOTR appendix that any of his children (including Arwen) that don’t come with him into the west would effectively be mortal, so maybe the marriages are incidental. So Arwen made her choice when she didn’t leave with her father.

            Tolkien in his letters does make clear that merely getting to Valinor doesn’t make you immortal. He clarified, for instance, that Bilbo and Frodo eventually died, since the Valar didn’t have the authority to take their mortality away. It’s why the Numenorian attack is so pointless. Not sure how that works for Tuor and Earendil though, except that the language for Tuor is pretty squishy (it was sung in later days that he was numbered among the elves), and Earendil and his ship get turned into a star, which implies some very non-standard stuff going on.

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          3. I looked this stuff up in the Silmarillion. There is some internal contradiction, or as you say, squishyness. It pretty much says Tuor was feeling old so he sailed into the west and wasn’t seen again. “But in after days it was sung that Tuor alone of mortal Men was numbered among the elder race …”. So possibly the Valar arranged it. Earendil eventually sailed there too, and the Valar said he couldn’t go back, but gave him and his elven wife the choice. He was leaning mortal but his wife chose elven, so he did too. So Tuor wasn’t alone, but maybe Earendil doesn’t count cuz he was half elven to start?

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          4. I did some digging myself and found this from one of Tolkien’s letters.

            But in this story it is supposed that there may be certain rare exceptions or accommodations (legitimately supposed? there always seem to be exceptions); and so certain ‘mortals’, who have played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo); and as a unique exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and ‘servant’ of Galadriel.

            I have said nothing about it in this book, but the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their ‘kind’ cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary reward: a healing and redress of suffering. They cannot abide for ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and will ‘die’ – of free will, and leave the world.

            Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Letters Of J.r.r. Tolkien (pp. 198-199). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

            So Tuor may have fallen in this category, although as Tolkien notes, there are always exceptions. Good point that Earendil already being half elven, so he should have been able to choose free and clear. I suspect Tuor’s real exception is he’s the mortal hero in the first story Tolkien wrote: The Fall of Gondolin.

            It’s worth noting that Amandil, Elendil’s father (which it doesn’t appear the TV show is going to cover) also sailed into the west, seeking to replicate Earendil’s feat. He was also never heard from again, but no one assumes he lives with the elder race.

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        2. When I was researching my half-breed answer, I looked at the chapter on Bree in LOTR, and noticed that while hobbits and men both lived there, they pretty much lived separately, so apartheid, and Tolkien seemed to think that was the proper way to do it.

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          1. Tolkien was against apartheid and hated Hitler’s racism. Actually, from memory, I believe that in the books, Bree is held up as a place where Hobbits and Men lived together and got along, and this is an excellent arrangement… I just looked back on it, and it does say they live separately, but not by law… Both folks congregated in the Prancing Pony… I guess I’m commenting, because your comment could be read as “Tolkien seemed to think apartheid was proper.”, which may not be what you meant, and is not true…

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  2. For me, it has been more a matter of the quality of LOTR vs GOT (putting The Hobbit aside for the moment). With the film offerings I ignore issues like faithfulness to underlying written works. I insist upon seeing them as independent works of art, and they have to stand on their own aesthetically. LOTR succeeded amazingly in this, in my view. I read the source stuff decades ago and enjoyed it, even found it inspiring, but do not recall sufficient details to do an analytic comparison, nor would I want to. With GOT I never read the source material so this is not even a factor. The sheer number of pages involved in the author’s work makes it so there must be very compelling factors to cause me to read it, and there are none. The filmed version I quite liked and was intrigued by perhaps 60% through, then a kind of blase attitude overtook me… I started caring less. It seemed more arbitrarily crafted than LOTR, with some character arcs appearing ancillary and time-consuming. I know of the various debates accompanying the filmmaker’s adherance to gospel (even though the the gospel was not finished) but that is not the point. I simply was not attracted enough to invest time into watching Dragons.

    ROP is nice so far, with pleasing characters. The meteor guy makes no sense to me whatsoever within Tolkien’s cosmos unless he turs out to be an early arrival of one of the Istari wizards. But the visuals are spectacular, and the breadth of the races and animal species and geography is stimulating… so I look forward to seeing the unfolding deceptiveness imagined concerning how Sauron tricks the world into forging the rings.

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    1. I read the first couple of books in A Song of Ice and Fire (the books behind Game of Thrones) and enjoyed them a lot. On balance, I enjoyed the third book, but it felt bloated. And it was years before the fourth came out, which broke the spell to a large extent, so I haven’t read any since then. I think Martin has let the story get out of hand, introducing too many characters and threads, to the point that he’s having trouble moving it forward, much less bringing it to completion. I hope he is able to complete it on his own terms, but I fear he’s running out of time.

      A lot of people are wondering if meteor man isn’t one of the Istari, or Gandalf himself. I think that would be a major departure from the source material, although it would explain Gandalf’s affinity for the Hobbits. I’ve also seen Tom Bombadil thrown around as a possibility, although that too would be a major departure from the character’s history described in the books. I also started wondering about Earendil after a remark by the head harfoot that he’s heard of people becoming stars (which would be Earendil) but not the opposite. And of course, a lot of people think he’s Sauron.

      But currently my money there is on Halbrand, particularly after the last episode. He showed an interest in and claimed expertise in forging (Sauron began as a servant of Aule, the Tolkien equivalent to Hephaestus, which is where his expertise for the rings probably comes from), and he basically wiped the floor with those bullies, responding in a vengeful way after the fight would have been over. There’s also the question of what he and his fellow survivors were doing that far out in the Sundering Sea. But it might all be misdirection by the show writers.

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      1. I think I agree with your diagnosis of Martin’s predicament. It puzzles me why he turned significant energy towards earlier prequel stuff considering the situation he is in with his ‘opus’. He is kind of in a no-win scenario now with the adaptation having already concluded.

        About the meteor dude, I think the chief deviation if it were Gandalf would be timeline. As I recall it, Tolkien placed the arrival of the wizards at about 1000 years into the 3rd age, but he leaves the manner of arrival and origins obscure enough that a meteoric delivery would sort of be okay. Maybe the writers will stretch this or posit earlier 2nd age wizards. The time discrepancy is at least 2000 years, more if current evets are early in the 2nd age.

        Not grasping your Halbrand remarks but I think it might be because you have watched 3rd episode already. So, maybe will get back to you on that.

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        1. It’s heavily implied that the Istari came in through the Grey Havens, which is when Cirdan would have surrendered his ring to Gandalf. But like a lot of Tolkien, it’s only implied. There’s room to work in other entrances. I’m sure the showrunners are familiar with every gap and loophole in the source material. And given that they’re already collapsing events from as early as SA 500 to as late as SA 3200, including ones from ~TA 1000 probably would fit right in.

          Most of my remarks about Halbrand definitely were in light of the third episode. Sorry, didn’t mean to dump any spoilers.

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  3. Maybe there’s something to the thought that we know these prequel LOTR characters. To learn their origin stories brings the story full cycle, Starwars Vader style.
    I never watched GOT, so can’t really speak to the constant family feuding, but, familial squabbles are a dime a dozen.

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    1. On characters, could be, although Galadriel is a minor character in LOTR, and most of the other characters are new. I wonder if someone who had only seen the movies even caught the introduction of Isildur in the last episode.

      Yeah, family squabbles are boring, even with dragons. GOT had a growing evil from the north that would plunge the world into a second darkness, which gave everything going on a flavor that’s missing from this series, at least so far.

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  4. The significant difference for me between the original stories and the new prequels is the story. Both LOTR and GOT have really good story arcs. You start out with a few characters in a reasonably mundane setting, and their individual stories develop in a really interesting way. The characters in LOTR develop from the humble to the grand, while the GOT characters just go spiraling off in weird, but compelling, directions. In both cases, the movie depictions we’re close enough to the books to capture the stories.

    I only watched the first episode of HotD, but I was not drawn in. I don’t see how the story can develop in a way that I care about. I’ll wait and see if later reports (from yourself, most likely) suggest I’m wrong.

    As for RoP, I’m still waiting to hear more (and don’t currently have easy access). The Silmarillion was a lot less popular because it did not have the story arcs involving individual characters. Instead, the story arc was about the whole world. So I’m waiting to hear if there is good development in the characters’ stories.

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    1. The Silmarillion did have character arcs, although most of them ended up being tragic. What it didn’t have were very many relatable characters. At first it’s all angelic beings, then immortal elves. By the time any men show up, a huge part of the story has passed. That plus the stories being told in a distant narrative summary fashion made them much less approachable. In some of the earlier versions, Tolkien played with a frame story, and considered having one with the Hobbits in later years, but apparently decided none of it would really help.

      But yeah, nobody reads The Silmarillion first on its own. We all read The Hobbit and LOTR, and then read The Silmarillion to satisfy a curiosity about the rich history revealed in those books. I imagine someone will eventually pay enough money to adapt it into something, but it will be one of the biggest challenges anyone could take on.

      Rings does have some interesting possibilities for character arcs. Galadriel is clearly not the person yet that we meet in LOTR, nor Elrond. Nori, Arondir, Bronwyn, and others also show possibilities. And they could take Durin in some interesting directions. The humans and harfoots also add some relatability into the mix. But we know from the source material that a lot of it will end up being tragic.

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  5. I wonder if anyone here has anything to say about the old animated versions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings? In 1979 my fifth grade teacher used to play The Hobbit in class from time to time, which must have been on one of those crappy school projectors. I suppose it was to get us interested in reading the actual book. As I recall there were lots of songs with a hippy theme that we’re all the same in the end. I loved it! And I believe I’ve seen Lord of the Rings once or twice from that era as well, perhaps all combined into a single film? Don’t remember anything from that beyond maybe Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom.

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    1. There were actually three films in the 1977-1980 period: The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Return of the King. I thought The Hobbit, made by Rankin/Bass, was outstanding. I remember watching it on TV and being amazed that a cartoon had that kind of story in it.

      The other two were kind of a mess. The LOTR one, made by an entirely different production company: Bakshi, only told half the story, stopping somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers. They never made a sequel.

      The Return of the King was also made by Rankin/Bass. When it came on TV, I thought it was a continuation of the LOTR movie, but since it only did the third book, a lot was missing. The characters, like Aragorn, looked so different from the Bakshi version that I couldn’t connect them. It was good as far as it went, and I mostly enjoyed it, even if I was confused.

      They were my first introduction to Tolkien and so were good on that front, particularly the first one. Apparently Rankin/Bass decided not to do the first two books because Rankin didn’t think audiences would sit for it. He later admitted that was a mistake. If they had done the entirely trilogy, one book at a time, it would have been an amazing series back then.

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      1. That sounds right to me Mike. Of course it’s generally bad to watch as an adult what you appreciated as a child. I just took a look at some of those old Hobbit clips on YouTube however. I must say that I do still appreciate a depth here that I perceived way back then. The best of it I think came with Bilbo in the goblin tunnels and riddle test with Gollum. For some reason the modern version seemed not to take that part as sufficiently important to do well.

        Just before I was married I recall seeing a trailer for Lord of the Rings and looking to my future wife like this could be incredible! Even then I figured LOTR was something that countless movie producers had considered, though dismissed as hallowed ground that they wouldn’t have the budget (or even the talent) to do right. Then fortunately Peter Jackson came along with the skills and money to get this job done. In any case my wife and I will be quite happy to return once again to Middle Earth!

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        1. I have both the Rankin / Bass movies on DVD somewhere. I think I bought them during the years when the Jackson movies were being released. I recall them holding up pretty well. It is a particular interpretation of Tolkien though. For example, the look of the elves is pretty strange in comparison to Tolkien’s description, not exactly the fair beings he envisioned. The Bakshi movie was more faithful in that regard, but it had a lot of other issues.

          I think LOTR live action movies had to wait until the right CGI technology existed. Jackson did them about as early as they could have been done. To get an idea of what an earlier live action attempt might have looked like, check out Willow done in 1988, which had George Lucas and Ron Howard involved, so pretty much the best that could be done at the time. (Which reminds me that there’s a Willow TV show coming later this year.)

          Anyway, I think Rings of Power captures the feel of the Jackson movies. I think you’ll like it.

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