The latest trailer for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series gives us the best look yet at the mysterious, raggedy dude from the previous teasers. Guess what? That’s Gandalf. That’s Gandalf, ahead of schedule for once, coming to Middle-earth one Age early to hang out with hobbits while the rest of the cast is busy yelling, climbing ice cliffs, swinging swords, forging rings, and getting absolutely bamboozled by hot Sauron. And that’s why the show could be great.
We already know the showrunners are messing with the timeline in the interest of telling a story that works on TV. I’m fine with that; a foolish adherence to canon is the hobgoblin of small minds. We know the hobbit-looking folks in the teasers are harfoots: nomadic hobbit ancestors who, per Vanity Fair, “encounter a mysterious lost man whose origin promises to be one of the show’s most enticing enigmas.”
Okay, but it’s Gandalf, and in the version of the story I’m constructing in my head, he crashes to Middle-earth like a meteor, is pulled from the flaming crater by a harfoot, imprints on them like a baby duck, spends some formative years hanging out with them and absorbing their hobbity values while trying to remember who he is and what he’s supposed to be doing, leads them to the Shire, and spends the next several thousand years making sure they’re safe and happy in between trying to coordinate the forces of Middle-earth against Sauron and his minions.
Yes, in the official timeline (at least in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, which the show is based on), Gandalf and the other Wizards don’t show up until a thousand years into the Third Age — well after the forging of the rings, the destruction of Númenor, the Last Alliance of Elves and Man, and all that. Hobbits first appear in the (fictional) historical records around that time, too, while the Shire isn’t founded until TA 1600, with no official indication that Gandalf is involved.
But consider this: the hobbits — the regular people living at the margins of the big story —are the heroes and the whole point of The Lord of the Rings. Including the story of Gandalf and the harfoots is a good indication that the showrunners actually understand J.R.R. Tolkien. If it’s all just Galadriel and Gil-galad and Ar-Pharazôn and grand alliances and betrayals, then no matter how closely it follows Tolkien’s timeline, it’s not Lord of the Rings; it’s just Lord of the Rings-flavored.
I could be wrong, of course. Maybe that’s not Gandalf; maybe it’s some unrelated raggedy guy they find in a crater. Maybe it’s one of the Blue Wizards, or maybe it’s just some guy. But if it’s not Gandalf, why not?
The Rings of Power is the most expensive TV show of all time (so far, lol), and the teasers show lots of big stuff: action Galadriel, Durin III, young RBF Elrond, various large battles, intact Dwarven cities, parkour, elves and dwarves of color, surly Aragorn-looking dudes, and so forth. I’m looking forward to all of that. I read The Silmarillion in high school and The Lord of the Rings in elementary school. The movies came out when I was a teen, which is prime “this is my personality” territory. I spent a substantial amount of time writing things in Tengwar. This is candy to me. But as cool as it’ll be to see more of the big stories of Middle-earth, I’m more excited for the small ones.