The Silvan Elves are a bit more interesting. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) and his companions are a colonizing force, occupying the Southlands. They express views often common among colonizing powers, believing they have conquered these people for their own good, that they are inherently better than the Men they rule, and so on. Arondir is directly referred to as a soldier, and he has a uniform, a commanding officer, and talks about being “stationed” there, so that all in all these Elves give off more of an earthy, Ancient Roman vibe than we’re used to seeing from these usually ethereal creatures. It’s a refreshing change and opens up some really interesting story possibilities, especially since Arondir is in love with the Human woman.
The Dwarves that we meet in episode 2 are much more similar to the Dwarves we know from the later stories, but here we get to see their great kingdom of Khazad-dûm – later known as Moria – at its height. We are introduced to some new Dwarf rituals, and it’s exciting to see what we’ve only known as deserted halls at the height of their power (and surprisingly green!). The reveal of exactly why Durin (Owain Arthur) is so cross with Elrond is also a nice touch. Elrond, who has actively chosen to live as an Elf (his brother chose to live and die as a mortal) didn’t think about how long 20 years is for a Dwarf, so he missed Durin’s wedding and the birth of his children, and that is what’s upset him. It’s unexpected and rather touching, and a reminder of the differences between these different peoples and cultures.
The least familiar group are, of course, the Harfoots, as although we’re familiar with their later descendants the Hobbits, we’ve never actually met Harfoots before. The design of these people is very clever, as it echoes the more fairy-like qualities of Harfoots and Hobbits that Tolkien wrote about. They can disappear quickly, and humans don’t usually see them; they walk barefoot and are very quiet. They have a quality of old British folklore about them, encompassing aspects of elves and fairies and spirits not covered by Tolkien’s High Elves.
The Harfoots we meet in The Rings of Power have some significant differences from Tolkien’s Hobbits and their various relatives. Rather than being fond of comfort and luxury, they are wandering nomads. We see them disappearing into holes in trees and rocks that are a long way removed from the clean, warm, comfortable Bag End. And so the series has designed them to look like fairies. They have rougher clothing, and their hair is full of bits of tree and plant so they can camouflage themselves quickly. They are almost reminiscent of Ewoks, or of a children’s cartoon gnome. They manage to stay just the right side of twee, though, and the costumes are just natural and down to earth enough to feel “real.”
It’s lovely to see more female Harfoots and Dwarves in this series, since both were almost entirely absent from the novels and the films that adapted them. Prince Durin and his wife Disa’s relationship brings some very welcome humor to the story. Following two young female Harfoots, rather than four young male ones, also helps to further separate their story from that of the later Hobbits we know so well.
Episode 2 has more action than episode 1, with the sea serpent and Orc attack sequences kicking off the adventure part of the story, even while we are still getting to know this world through the Dwarves. The sea serpent attack is a great example of the sort of thing that, while the scene is invented for the series, feels like something that would happen in Tolkien’s stories (and as different as the world of Narnia is, the fact that there’s a well-known sea serpent passage in his friend C.S. Lewis’ books doesn’t hurt!). It doesn’t contradict anything, it makes sense within that world.