Get a Room Already: The Parable of Sauron and Galadriel

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Galadriel and Sauron, Rings of Power

Quick, what do the first season of Amazon’s Rings of Power and the Swedish black metal band Reverorum Ib Malacht have in common? If your first impulse was some variation on “Uh, nothing?” then you’re absolutely right. There is, however, a Deeper Answer. That answer is, “Well, nothing yet, but. . .”

You see, black metal has always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Professor Tolkien’s work. Pick any ten of these bands and nine of them will be explicitly Satanic—take, for example, the Dutch band Sauron and their 1999 EP “Death...Tyranny...War...Blasphemy”—and yet, at least two or three of those ten will probably also be named after people or places from Middle Earth. This is kind of funny, because Tolkien himself was extremely—well—Catholic.

The members of Reverorum Ib Malacht were once duly devoted followers of the Dark Lord. Too devoted for their own good (er, evil), as it turns out: their desire to create ever more insightful and accurate blasphemy eventually led them to dive into the ancient scholarship and mysticism of Roman Catholic theology. Maybe someone should have reminded them of Elrond’s remark about Saruman and the Palantir—“It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the Enemy, for good or ill”—because what happened was, they ended up converting.

So what does all this have to do with Rings of Power’s ambitiously haywire first season? Well, it comes down to who and what the characters of Sauron and Galadriel represented in the mind of their creator. The former isn’t too hard to guess; back before he was a giant flaming eyeball, he was Middle Earth’s version of an archangel who betrayed Middle Earth’s version of God. But not everyone seems to realize that Galadriel was, if not an exact analogue for the Blessed Virgin Mary, nonetheless heavily influenced by Tolkien’s profound devotion to Our Lady.

Conversely, almost everyone seems to realize that the hunky devil and the bitchy elf are pouring on the sexual tension. And, of course, the trope of Satan seducing the Virgin is an old and powerful one, responsible for an entire pornographic sub-genre (nunsploitation), as well as an extremely blasphemous one. But there’s just one small problem with Amazon’s approach:

You can’t blaspheme if you don’t believe.

You can try, sure. You can say irreverent things and make sacrilegious images till the cows come home. But, somehow, it doesn’t work. There’s nothing in it. Art pours from deep emotion, and you cannot whip yourself into a brilliant, tortured passion about your hatred for the Easter bunny. A shallow conviction simply won’t support a towering vision. You can like or leave Rings of Power—it’s arguably not bad popcorn fare, if you can disconnect it from the source material—but artistically, there’s just nothing there. If Amazon wants to create something truly shocking and powerful, they need to hire writers who believe what Tolkien believed, even if they’re on the other side. They need writers for whom the Satanic gospel of black metal (whether they’re fighting for it or against it) is not a gimmick but a Truth.

But remember the cautionary tale of the “Roman Catholic Black Metal” band Reverorum Ib Malacht. Just as the pious vampire slayer is the first to get bitten and turned, the agent of Gargamel who infiltrates the Smurf Village is the most likely to be overwhelmed and converted by all that happiness and love. Only one thing is absolutely certain: if you take the safe road, avoiding every risk and pitfall, then your art will never rise above mediocrity. Somebody tell Jeff Bezos—when he’s ready for a real writer on his team, my name is Rivka Crowbourne.