Being a non-Tolkien fan, I personally didn’t care whether Rings of Power was accurate to the lore or not (though I could appreciate, and even agreed with, many of the arguments leveled against the show’s alterations).
Despite that, I sat down without reservations or any extreme judgements. I don’t like Lord of the Rings (there, I said it), so I was actually hoping for just a decent fantasy show.
Sadly, much of Rings of Power was plagued by an abundance of plot problems and inexplicable scripting, not to mention some truly awful casting / acting.
But, despite it’s flaws, there were parts of Rings of Power I genuinely adored. And the parts that I loved I loved infinitely more than anything in the original Lord of the Rings.
And at the top of this list of new loves was, undoubtedly, the Harfoots.
I’ve had this blog post in my head for a long time (since last year), so buckle up for a very long (and possibly offensive, if you’re an extreme Lord of the Rings fan) ramble.
RANDOM THINGS I LOVED ABOUT THE HARFOOT STORYLINE.
The colors: one of the many things I don’t like about the original Lord of the Rings film is how gray everything is. Every time I see a scene from it, I recoil. “Ugh, everything is so GRAY!” It’s as if a dull filter has been applied to the screen and all color has been squeezed out of the film.
The Harfoots are awash with color: rich greens, smoky blues, glowing reds, deep browns, sunny and wheaty yellows. I had to rewind at several points just to stare at the texture on the Harfoot clothing, or the mossy hangings on their carts, or the gorgeous, rain-washed backgrounds. It’s is gorgeously, beautifully saturated with one of the richest palettes I’ve ever seen in film.
I loved how “creaturely” the Harfoots were.The Hobbits felt more like cute little English people with big feet.
The Harfoots truly felt un-human: from their movement (the actors had a coach that instructed them to move like toddlers), to the way they blend into the background at the drop of a hat like a small animal, to the way they are adorned with acorns and brush and twigs. Their unique gestures they use to say hello or goodbye, and their charming vernacular (“wait just a sun-sliver!”) add a fully-realized vibe to their world. Even the strange, Mummer-like festivals lend them an otherworldly quality that the Hobbits don’t have.
My favorite stories are the ones that aren’t narrated by humans (you might have noticed that nearly all of my published books have non-human narrators: either fairies, goblins, or monsters). There is something about stepping into that outside perspective that allows us to understand humanity in a deeper way—and it’s something the Harfoots encapsulate beautifully.
I loved that they were Irish. There are many things about the English culture that rub me the wrong way, and some of those aspects are front and center in Hobbits (pillaging your neighbor’s house after he leaves town and then not giving a hang when he returns stems from an exceedingly English attitude: I’ve seen English people themselves admit they don’t like their neighbors and they secretly rejoice when their best friends suffer hardship and resent it when they experience success).
The Harfoots, by contrast, truly do care about each other. By the end of the season, when they’ve recognized that they were wrong to leave people behind, they are truly sorry to see Nori leave. Unlike Bilbo tearing past utterly disinterested individuals on his way out of Hobbitan, Nori gets goodbye hugs from every single Harfoot. They wave and wish her well and we are assured that Nori will be deeply missed. Here, at last, we see the truth: every individual adds something to a group, and when you take them away, the group is missing something. The Harfoots, unlike the Hobbits, acknowledge it and mourn it, even as they celebrate Nori’s new chapter. And you know, right down to your bones that, unlike Frodo and Company, Nori will be welcomed back with joy and festivities. And, unlike Bilbo, her spot, her place, her belongings, will be kept safe, sacred, and whole.
I repeat . . . they are IRISH. Are those accents amazing, or what?
The child and their monster storyline. The child and their monster storyline is one of my favorite storylines of all time. Whether it’s Lilo and Stitch or Nori and the Stranger, I would literally run across a soccer field to inhale this story—and I never run if I can help it. I can’t get enough of this trope—it’s one of my favorites of all time. And Rings of Power knocked this particularly trope out of the ballpark. I could watch Nori and the Stranger every day without tiring of it: their chemistry is off the charts and their relationship is one of the most touching things I’ve seen in years.
Gandalf’s backstory. Ringers can pooh-pooh the changes Rings of Power made to this aspect of Lord of the Rings lore all they want—it won’t diminish my enjoyment of this backstory one bit. I absolutely loved the idea of a “newborn” Gandalf being found, rescued and “raised,” in a way, by hobbit prototypes. It made his future affinity and fondness and closeness to the hobbits that much richer and sweeter. It actually reminded me of a scene in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when a pack of lowly mice chew away the cords binding the dead Aslan to the stone table. Consequently, their kind and noble-hearted deed is rewarded and ever-after Aslan seems to hold a special place in his heart for mice—particularly Reepicheep, the one character in Narnia who made it to Aslan’s country by sheer will power. The Stranger falling in amongst Harfoots (literally) reminded me of this.
I’ve always adored the concept the idea of a higher being who is humble enough to receive love from a lower being—lower beings who, by loving the higher being, become more holy.
Sound familiar? The spiritual themes are there for those able to see.
The music: I think even people that hate Rings of Power can agree that This Wandering Day is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I was not prepared to that song. The moment that sequence started playing, I began to sob. It took well over a dozen viewings before I could finally watch that scene without sobbing. I can’t even describe what this song means to me. It captures the essence of life—of being. The sorrow, the joy, the prize, the cost, the happiness, the melancholy, the journey, the waystations, the chaos, the calm. All of it, wrapped up in one beautiful, heart-melting, soul-healing song.
The family dynamics. It is so rare for me to see a family in books or film that is like mine: siblings and parents that actually love one another. You can imagine how overjoyed I was to finally see my family represented in the form of the Brandybuck family. Marigold, Largo, Nori, and Dilly are the most loving family. They are constantly affectionate: kissing, hugging, holding hands. They are loyal and protective. They don’t resent helping one another or the fact that they are needed. They might disagree, might even get angry, but they “stay true to each other.”
They defend one another without hesitation. Whether they are leaping to defend one another from witches or from their own leaders, the Brandyfoots are quick to circle around the weakest member. As communal as the Harfoots might be, the Brandybucks are family first. When Nori is getting bawled out by the tribunal, Largo and Marigold interfere. They agree in the belief that Nori was wrong, but they don’t like outsiders talking to their daughter that way or deciding her punishment. As they should. They are a marvelous representation of what a healthy family should look like.
The female friendships. Hollywood (and books, to be honest) suffer from a dearth of really good and realistic female friendships. I’m sick to death of Hallmark type friendships featuring two girls who do nothing but talk about cute guys in a never-ending string of Minnie Mouse giggles. It’s unrealistic and nothing like true female friendships. True—deep—female friendships have heart, grit, and humor. Poppy and Nori are iconic, and one of the best and most honest portrayals of female friendships that I’ve ever seen. They are an absolute delight.
STABBING WITCHES AND KILLING TROPES.
One of the most gratifying moments in Rings of Power for me is when Sadoc, the leader of the Harfoots, pops out from under a bush and gives a witch something to think about with the sharp end of his dagger.
The dichotomy of the warlike action from this gentle worrier compelled me to laugh with surprise and delight.
Sadoc was the last person I expected to do such a thing, and yet it fit perfectly. It’s merely one example of how the Harfoot storyline challenges tropes at every turn. Here are but a few examples.
I was stunned when I first watched Marigold.
For once, a stepmother who isn’t evil! What is this madness? Marigold represents good stepmothers everywhere who, I’m sure, are tired of stereotypes. Marigold is just as loving, just as present, just as good as Nori’s first mom.
Nori doesn’t insist on calling her by her given name (she lovingly and respectfully addresses her as mother) and she doesn’t launch into any hackneyed meltdowns featuring the tearful declaration of: “You’re not my real mom!”
Marigold IS Nori’s real mom, and the show never once implies otherwise.
I was relieved to the point of tears when I first watched Largo.
Because Largo is actually a strong father.
Hollywood is proliferated with the dad character who is essentially a joke. Always checked out, never fully aware, perpetually ineffectual. His awkward attempts to insert himself into his family’s daily lives are rebuffed. Mom is the real brains, though she lets her husband believe he is needed with a condescending smile and plenty of hints on how he ought to respond to every single scenario.
Largo directs his family at every step: his naturally happy-go-lucky personality is sobered by the responsibility he feels to those in his care. He is constantly leading by example by urging his family to stay strong, have hope, and do the next thing.
There are many days when I despair of ever truly seeing a good female lead. Galadriel in the Rings of Power is the perfect example of the typical fare we are saddled with in female characters—and it’s truly awful. “Will we?” I often wonder, “EVER see a good female character, who is realistic as well as likeable? Will writers ever stop their endless condescension towards female audiences with their endless conveyor belt of Mary Sues and/or useless/weak love interests?”
I tell you, I nearly cried for joy when I was introduced to Nori. Here, at last, was an amazing female character—someone who is an actual role model!
She’s actually ordinary! At long last, a female “little guy” that we can root for! For females, this is as rare as Sasquatch sightings.
Most female characters we are offered nowadays beg us to believe from chapter one that they are “ordinary” while than proceeding to discover that they have unbelievable magic abilities, serious fighting chops, and are so wildly attractive to men that they have multiple love interests.
Oh yes – so ordinary.
The other extreme is the narcistic Mary Sue who smirkingly assures us from chapter one that she is “not like other girls” . . . and she also proceeds to discover unbelievable magic abilities, serious fighting chops, and be so wildly attractive to men that she has multiple love interests.
A girl character that freely admits she’s not special and who then isn’t subsequently treated as a special little snowflake by the script writers?
She is original. Nori’s counter-cultural behavior, for once, does not spring from rebellion, but from a genuine instinct that something is severely wrong. I’m sick to death of characters who are rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious. Nori, at last, has important—and even selfless—reasons for pushing the envelope, and it is incredibly refreshing.
She is dutiful. Audiences sometimes—erroneously—believe that dutiful is synonymous with being a doormat. Not so. Nori pushes back against her society, and even debates with her parents over the right course of action. She is always there to help her family: more to the point she WANTS to. Nori might be frustrated with how ordinary her life is, but she doesn’t resent her family.
She’s an extrovert. As an extrovert myself, I’m tired of the constant villainization of this stereotype and the way that introverts are (typically) taking the lead in fiction. Nori shows that there is such a thing as an extrovert who is not also the “manic pixie girl.”
She’s responsible. Unlike the appalling Galadriel, who spreads wholesale chaos everywhere she goes, Nori is forever cognizant of her responsibility. In her very first scene, we see her taking care of her small sister and her little pals. In the scene immediately after that, we see her doing her chores with the best of attitudes.
She’s unselfish. In the opening scene, when Nori is sneaking off to a semi-dangerous abandoned farm to raid blackberry bushes, she isn’t going solo—she has an entire group with her. She shares in the bounty. Admit it, most modern books and movies always show the heroine alone in her opening scene. “Thank God, I’m finally rid of all those other annoying ordinary people and can just BE MYSELF in my special treehouse or astride my HORSE.”
The inciting incident for Nori isn’t finally “having enough” of her oppressive family or culture and then running away and abandoning everyone and everything to just “be herself.” No, Nori’s inciting incident is having a Stranger drop into her backyard and feeling compelled to help him—just as she helps the rest of the Harfoots. Yes, Nori feels drawn to the mystery and adventure, but her core motivation is that there is a need, and she is the only one who can meet it. And she does so generously.
She is humble: This is a trait I love in female characters but hardly ever seen. Nori freely acknowledges that she is an NPC, but her humility does not take away one whit of her strength, it adds to it.
Her appearance: this is the least important aspect of any character, but I did appreciate it. Nori LOOKS like a normal girl: her teeth aren’t perfect, she has chubby cheeks, she spends most of the shoe looking completely disheveled. In addition, this actress, refreshingly, isn’t subconsciously obsessed with the need to look good in every shot. She wiggles her nose like a little animal, she mugs for the camera, she contorts herself into toddler like positions—she fully embodies a Harfoot and her role of “otherness” without the kind of instinctive posing that holds other actresses’ captive.
And now, at long last, we come to the meat of the meal. How the Harfoots restored my hope.
(everything above was just a warm-up session. Stick with me!)
I’ve never thought of Middle Earth as a hopeful place. Consequently, I was deeply moved when The Rings of Power filled me with overwhelming hope.
I have seen many people criticize the Harfoot storyline as being contradictory. “They say nobody gets left behind but they’ll leave you in a ditch at the drop of a hat!”
These critiques are strange to me because 1). They are ignoring the fact that the Harfoots experience a character arc and 2) these critics are oblivious to the fact that this is how humans behave.
Isn’t that exactly what our own culture does? Urging one another to be safe—but at the cruelest cost. Insisting all is for the greater good, but brutally stigmatizing, and even destroying, the individual.
That’s what the cult of safety looks like—unwavering and oblivious hypocrisy. The “common good” is all that matters. It’s a form of communism, hidden behind the golden guise of “for your safety.”
The Harfoots similarity to certain groups in our own world shocked me. It was reminiscent of our recent history, when an entire nation was seized by a kind of mass hypnosis seemingly so widespread, that I despaired of humanity.
“They’re acting just like us,” I thought dismally as I watched the Harfoots obliviously “de-caravan” a family for the sake of “everyone’s safety.”
But then the show surprised me with an explosion of hope.
Can you remember the last time a movie or show filled you with overwhelming hope? It’s rare—but the Rings of Power did it for me.
Because the Rings of Power shows these unthinking followers getting rocked to their core, repenting of their ways, and then changing.
We have seen many stories of an individual living in darkness and then having their eyes opened: but I can’t recall the last time I saw MASS change—an entire society reborn. It’s reminiscent of revival.
This is what the Harfoots undergo and, once again, it mirrors our own society with uncanny familiarity.
I look around now and see people waking up. Individuals who some might think would never see the truth are now some of truth’s fiercest warriors!
People – and Harfoots – are making an about face.
The suffocating nightmare of “safety at all cost” is fading: and people and Harfoots are finally realizing that to simply survive is not enough.
There is a grand and lofty freedom in living on the edge, of accepting that life is but a tenuous footstep away from death—a footstep that we ultimately do not control.
It is only when the Harfoots come to grips with that they make a freeing discovery.
Everyone dies: and no good comes of trying to avoid it. In fact, there is beauty and freedom in embracing this fact.
Unlike other Lord of the Rings offerings, where characters are sometimes killed off arbitrarily, Sadoc’s death, though sad, had purpose.
It reminded us of the truth: that life is not pointless, death is not purposeless. Every season and cycle is there for a reason and has the ability to push us towards something good.
If Sadoc had not died, Malva would not have had something positive to do with her leadership skills, instead of having those skills mired up in gossiping and interfering. If Sadoc hadn’t died, Poppy wouldn’t have become trail finder, and found a haven of purpose in the midst of the sorrow of her friend leaving. If Sadoc hadn’t died, the inspirational Largo would have stayed on the sidelines, keeping his gift for hope-filled exhortation largely in the dark.
I was pleased to see that the scene where a Harfoot finally dies—the thing this culture most fears—is not sad at all. Death, at last, has lost its awesome and terrifying grasp on the Harfoots. There is a kind of quiet gladness. Anticipation for heavenly reunions and gratification for the good ending is the predominate emotion.
They are finally free of the deceptive, destructive religion of safety at all costs. Sadly, it took a group of evil witches decimating everything the Harfoots had so carefully clung for them to finally realize that the safety they were forever chasing was never something they could depend on.
The illusion of safety is finally, forcibly, torn from them by oppressive and powerful figures—and the people startle awake. Who could have anticipated the Grove being destroyed by fire rock? Who could have anticipated three witches burning everything you own to the ground? Life has a way of rocking us to our core—so why waste your days in search of an imaginary security?
The Harfoots have come to a crossroads, and they make the right decision. They sacrifice their obsession with safety and, because of it, they finally discover freedom. The Harfoots remind me that just because we are sometimes deceived, it doesn’t mean we are beyond hope, or that we should hate ourselves or others for being deceived.
They were living in a delusion, but we were rooting for them, all the time, to come out of it, into freedom. We love them, even in the lie, and we love them even more when they have the courage and the clarity to change.
There was so much hope in the Harfoot storyline! Hope for everyone.
The most cautious Harfoot dies in battle as a fierce warrior. The most interfering busybody becomes a strong and useful leader. The happy-go-lucky guy who isn’t taken too seriously is finally looked to as the voice of peace and reason. The orphaned outsider with no clear role becomes indispensable as a tracker. The young girl who chaffed against the mold formed by an oppressive culture not only sees her culture reborn, but embarks on the adventure she was meant to have.
At last, all is as it should be. Reason has been restored, and with that the proper order of things. The Harfoots can finally shout: “Nobody gets left behind!” without any inauthenticity.
To paraphrase Largo Brandybuck: we were made for more than weeping.