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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Middle-earth TV Series Discussion:
Numenore and diversity
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The Dude
Bree

Oct 26, 6:15pm

Post #26 of 42 (1056 views)
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Some good insights but you are overstretching things in certain places... [In reply to] Can't Post

Again, Iranians, under most definitions, quality as "Caucasian", so the term "non-Caucasian ethnicity" for Persians is somewhat misplaced here. Even the U.S. census lists Iranians as "white". This is not an argument for any outdated racial theory, but it strikes me as very myopically American to group together all non-European ethnic groups reductively as non-Caucasian, as if historically and genetically speaking, Persians have had a closer connections to Indonesians or Nigerians than to Greeks or literal Caucasians.

As has been pointed out by others before, the term "swarthy" in Tolkien's (and for that matter, in an historical) context does not so much refer to "brown" people but to anyone slightly "swarthier" than people of Anglo-Saxon stock. The term was most commonly used for the Irish and Welsh (also see the term "Black Irish"). Benjamin Franklin famously referred to the Swedes (!) as "swarthy".

Your argument about the Semitic flavor of Adúnaic oversimplifies Tolkien. Just because the Númenoreans spoke a quasi-Semitic language does not in any shape or form mean Tolkien intended them to be a stand-in for ancient Akkadians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, or Hebrews. Following that logic, the Grey Elves should all be played by Welsh people and the Noldor by Finns. Since Westron derives from Adúnaic, most inhabitants of Middle-earth in the Third Age would then have to be cast with Arab actors. And besides, last time I checked, Iranians speak an Indo-European language and not a Semitic one.

PS: The "religion" of the Númenoreans (and the elves, etc.), strictly speaking, is a mix of henotheism and monotheism, which does not necessarily align with the codified belief of the Israelites.

PPS: Most of Iran also lies at roughly the same latitude as Greece. Crete lies further south than Tehran.


(This post was edited by The Dude on Oct 26, 6:19pm)


Chen G.
Rohan

Oct 26, 6:55pm

Post #27 of 42 (1037 views)
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Kari, Kyrin and Cora [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The only 'odd-ones' out would appear to be Kari, Kyrin and Cora.


The general explanation is that some of the characters would be Gwathuirim, so that we get their side as well as the Numenorean one. Those characters seem to fit the bill.


Quote
the term "swarthy" in Tolkien's (and for that matter, in an historical) context does not so much refer to "brown" people but to anyone slightly "swarthier" than people of Anglo-Saxon stock.


Yes, that's the impression I always got reading the book. The use a Gladiator example, "Swarthy" is more Proximo than Juba.


Quote
Your argument about the Semitic flavor of Adúnaic oversimplifies Tolkien. Just because the Númenoreans spoke a quasi-Semitic language does not in any shape or form mean Tolkien intended them to be a stand-in for ancient Akkadians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, or Hebrews.


True: Khuzdul is also rooted in Semitic languages, and while the Dwarves have some of the shorthand associated with Ashkenazi Jews, they also draw on Norse Dwarves.

Besides, Persians aren't Semitic people, and their language isn't Semitic.

But that Amazon is diversifying Numenore, using actors from a Persian descend, seems quite obvious and inevitable; so this is all hypotheticals.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Oct 26, 6:59pm)


Felagund
Lorien


Oct 26, 7:05pm

Post #28 of 42 (1031 views)
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Egyptian references & miscellanea [In reply to] Can't Post

We had some fun with Egyptian references a while back, including Noirinan / "Valley of the Tombs" (Unfinished Tales), and at the time I threw in the Calmindon ("Light-tower") for good measure - the offshore wonder of the Númenórean city of Rómenna. The analogy with the Pharos of Ptolemaic Egypt nicely slots into the speculation.

I may have missed it but in all the talk of the Bëorian, Hadorian and Haladin descent of the Númenóreans, did we forget about the Drúedain of Númenor? They're certainly a distinct group in the population of island, and if they're featuring in the series, it'll be interesting to see whether the showrunners go for Ghân-buri-Ghân style 'noble savage' stereotype or opt for something else. Apologies if this has already been flagged!

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Felagund
Lorien


Oct 26, 8:13pm

Post #29 of 42 (1011 views)
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Just spotted your excellent reference to the Drúedain of Númenor! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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Althoun
Lorien

Oct 27, 10:46am

Post #30 of 42 (952 views)
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A few points of clarification .... [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Your argument about the Semitic flavor of Adúnaic oversimplifies Tolkien. Just because the Númenoreans spoke a quasi-Semitic language does not in any shape or form mean Tolkien intended them to be a stand-in for ancient Akkadians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, or Hebrews.


With respect, I feel you're taking me far too literally there and missing my underlying point, which is that Tolkien imbued heterogeneity into his depiction of Númenor and did not portray it as a cipher for "European".

Its a myth of a seed-bearing parent culture that is meant to have influenced many other later civilizations in our primary world, to have been the literal source of all higher knowledge and culture.

As such, I'm saying that Amazon have legitimate scope for depicting Numenoreans as non-Europeans, because the culture Tolkien describes for us is impossible to pin down to anything in the real world exactly.

Also, the ancient Israelites started out as henotheists. The Tanakh refers repeatedly to other gods (Elohim in Hebrew is plural) with Yahweh originally being the only God worshipped by the Hebrews, not that they didn't believe in a council of lower divinities (the Psalms refer constantly to El Elyon taking his seat amongst the other divine beings and judging them). You don't get stricter monotheism until Trito-Isaiah after the Babylonian Exile.

So the Eru Iluvatar / Valar pantheon is discernibly Hebraic and fits with Tolkien's very primitive past setting.

Tolkien would have known this, given that he was a translator of parts of the New Jerusalem Old Testament (Jonah) and an expert linguist.

Now as to Iranians, yes, they speak an Indo-European tongue but to most casual viewers, a Persian is a middle-easterner with a somewhat darker complexion - on average - than your typical Western European phenotype.

As such, viewers will look at Boniadi in her Egyptian or whatever style clothing and think, "exotic foreign, non-European beauty", which is I imagine the look they're going for with her as a kind of Queen of Sheba archetype if she is Numenorean nobility of royalty.


(This post was edited by Althoun on Oct 27, 10:48am)


The Dude
Bree

Oct 27, 1:42pm

Post #31 of 42 (919 views)
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What you describe about pre-Hellenistic Judaism, while not entirely unfounded,... [In reply to] Can't Post

...does not really align with the "religion" (or rather, partially ritualized belief system) of the Númenoreans; which again is not so much their "religion" specifically but the belief of all free peoples of Arda. The elves also believed in the One and the Valar.

On a similar note, the pantheon of Tolkien's legendarium is influenced by multiple religious and mythological traditions: Germanic/Norse and Greco-Roman paganism, ancient Judaism, and, of course, Catholicism.

"As such, I'm saying that Amazon have legitimate scope for depicting Numenoreans as non-Europeans, because the culture Tolkien describes for us is impossible to pin down to anything in the real world exactly."

That is just bad hermeneutics. Yes, you are right, Tolkien did not intend Númenorean "culture" to be a cipher for "European culture", whatever that might be in a mythical, ancient context. But "phenotypically" speaking, he certainly viewed them as a mythical, inherently quasi-"European" looking ancestor ethnicity of an ancient civilization (Realms in Exile) in a long-forgotten past of Europe. In Tolkien's understanding, the Númenoreans did not look identical to historical Englishmen, Frenchmen, or Spaniards; more like an atavistic blend of these ethnicities, i.e., not like modern Americans but simply different - taller, sterner, more ancient and more noble (not a snide at Americans).

Could it still, from a canonical perspective, be justified to portray some Númenoreans as "non-European" (again, this overtly broad term)? I doubt Tolkien intended anything along those lines, but it would not be implausible to think that some of the Númenoreans in the Second Age intermarried with local elites on the continent, that some of those elites hailed from "Arda's Middle East", and that some of the descendants of those unions ultimately ended up back on Númenor as nearly fully integrated Númenoreans. Their own descendants would have then fully blended into Númenorean culture, becoming virtually indistinguishable from the "pure" Númenoreans (excl. longevity).

Now I doubt this series will follow anything of a canonical approach, so it is entirely possible that we will get an Orientalist vision of Númenor that somewhat awkwardly blends Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian, and other MENA cultures to give off rather outdated "exotic" vibes.

Then again, the only Persian-looking (or for that matter, broadly Middle-Eastern looking) cast member we know so far is Ms Boniadi, and I cannot recall any specific casting rumors for Iranians or "Northeastern Middle-Eastern" looking extras. So this is still very much speculation.


(This post was edited by The Dude on Oct 27, 1:47pm)


Chen G.
Rohan

Oct 27, 11:01pm

Post #32 of 42 (873 views)
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Queen of Sheba it is [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
As such, viewers will look at Boniadi in her Egyptian or whatever style clothing and think, "exotic foreign, non-European beauty", which is I imagine the look they're going for with her as a kind of Queen of Sheba archetype if she is Numenorean nobility of royalty.


Yeah, I was thinking a Queen of Sheba type, as well.

But you also figure that - between Boniadi, Ismael Cruz Cordova and possibly Tyroe Muhafiddin and Sophia Novemete - if Amazon is going to give us a Persified Numenore, they're probably going to adjust the set design, costume design and shooting locations to suit. That's the only way I can really see it working: if its an overriding aesthetic. Having these guys walk around in places that look more like the Carolingian empire would make their skin-tone seem all too out-of-place.

The shooting locations seem to be taken care of: Like I said, most of the shooting locations that we can associate with Numenore (in that they feature the shoreline) are in the vicinity of Auckland, which has a subtropical look which most people will take as "exotic." Now there's the set design and costume design left.

I agree with The Dude that it isn't really in-line with Tolkien, but if it works, it works.


squire
Half-elven


Oct 28, 1:06am

Post #33 of 42 (865 views)
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"Well, if the chutes don't open, what's the point?" [In reply to] Can't Post

Apollo 13-inspired gut response to your "...it isn't really in-line with Tolkien, but if it works, it works."

I know this is a bit of dead-horse-abuse, but I continue to be struck by the sentiment that a ripping good TV series with Tolkien's name on it, that isn't particularly Tolkienian, is a good thing in of itself, and should proceed on course, Tolkien be darned.

I'm all for good TV, but why not just take Tolkien's name off it and write the good TV series as a dramatic fantasy-theme show that "works" and will attract the audience it's looking for all by itself?

Yes, I know the answer, but I continue to dislike it.



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The Dude
Bree

Oct 28, 4:15am

Post #34 of 42 (854 views)
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For the times they are a-changin' [In reply to] Can't Post

"(...) but why not just take Tolkien's name off it and write the good TV series as a dramatic fantasy-theme (...)"

Because they (most modern mainstream filmmakers) are incapable of doing so.

Tolkien might be a more challenging template to ape, to begin with, but this does not merely apply to his works.

In 2019, all of the Top 10 selling movies at the N.A. box office were adaptations of prominent pop-cultural IPs (6 were direct sequels).
in 2009, that number was 6 (4 direct sequels).
In 1999: 5/3
In 1989: 5/4
In 1979: 4/2

The simple fact of the matter is that, over the last 10-30 years (minimum estimate), Hollywood mainstream film (and by extension television) has adopted a commercially successful modus operandi of appropriating and exploiting any IP it can find which has some form of a fan base and/or pop-cultural legacy and turning it into a safe, decontextualized mix of nostalgic kitsch and audience-appeasing "updates" to the source material; thereby hoping to simultaneously fulfill the audience's wish to be trapped in an eternal adolescence/childhood and to banish anything that goes beyond the narrow confines of the consumer mind.

Through this process, past art becomes robbed of almost anything that made it worthy to engage with in the first place. Art, then, become something not to wrestle with as an individual, regardless of sex, age, or race, but something that must first and foremost be aligned with the hegemonic ideology of consumerism - in the interest of the economic interests of the producer, the feeble self-image of the viewer, and the status quo.

In all likelihood, the same will happen to Tolkien's legendarium with the upcoming series. And does this really stand in contradiction with what many fans want? Something that loosely evokes the visuals of Jackson's films, and provides a minimum quota of "nerdy lore facts" (character/place names, battles). Themes and motifs be damned. Yet what is the true purpose of art if not to "turn a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good".


(This post was edited by The Dude on Oct 28, 4:18am)


squire
Half-elven


Oct 28, 12:13pm

Post #35 of 42 (816 views)
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NIcely put. [In reply to] Can't Post

Some choice language there:

a safe, decontextualized mix of nostalgic kitsch and audience-appeasing "updates"

[art] must first and foremost be aligned with the hegemonic ideology of consumerism

the feeble self-image of the viewer

a minimum quota of "nerdy lore facts"

Thanks for the refreshing, edgy, and very sensible analysis of Hollywood's appropriative trend. My biggest quibble would be with the idea that the fan-based pop-culture being appropriated was itself some kind of high art before its adaptation to big-screen mass-market films. Tolkien, arguably so. Marvel and DC, for all the better books' virtues as well-crafted hero-myths for popular consumption, much less so.



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Chen G.
Rohan

Oct 28, 12:55pm

Post #36 of 42 (804 views)
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Sensible? [In reply to] Can't Post

I detest this elitistic disparaging of the "audience-appeasing" and of "consumerism."

To quote Sir Alfred Hitchcock:


Quote
Film belongs to the masses. It was the newest art of the 20th century. There's always that feeling that "commercial" or "box office" are dirty words. And it's nothing to do with it. It's to do with telling a story with the widest possible appeal - but still applying all the artistic techniques and manner of storytelling without degrading yourself [..]I think it's axiomatic that if you take into consideration the elements that interest wide audiences, then you can tell your story as imaginatively as you like. As long as you make it clear to them.


That's quite beside the fact that it is beyond me how having Persian Numenoreans affects the themes of the work, especially when the focus of the narrative isn't the Numenoreans at all: it is the Elves.

I'm not being beligerent here, I'm being frank.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Oct 28, 1:01pm)


The Dude
Bree

Oct 28, 1:00pm

Post #37 of 42 (793 views)
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Thanks, and... [In reply to] Can't Post

I am in full agreement with you there. There is a reason why superhero comics ultimately became such a successful source for blockbuster adaptations, and it's not one that reflects well on the source material. Tolkien's works are very much a different breed, but like them, they attracted a popular audience before the widespread dissemination of "fandom" as a consumerist identity; and as such, they have the potential to be exploited.

It would also be folly to say that there ever existed a time when mainstream films were, by and large, high art.

But when looking at many of those films now (e.g., the highest grossing film of each year in the 1970s), it is striking to see, regardless of their overall quality as art, that they still had something genuine to say about their times, often by accident, simply because they did not primarily rely on an unholy combination of nostalgia and crowd appeasement to sell a product that could then be discussed on Reddit and YouTube.


(This post was edited by The Dude on Oct 28, 1:03pm)


InTheChair
Lorien

Oct 30, 7:41pm

Post #38 of 42 (629 views)
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Lord of the rings maybe. The Rings of power though? [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Tolkien's works are very much a different breed, but like them, they attracted a popular audience before the widespread dissemination of "fandom" as a consumerist identity; and as such, they have the potential to be exploited.



Even with that, would Amazon have embarked on this without the Two movie trilogies and their fanbase? There's potential in Tolkiens books as there is potential in any work or art that achieve some measure of popularity. Maybe it would suit better on Bakshis and Jacksons endeavours, they both attempted the most widespread and famous of Tolkiens works, but what is Amazon gambling on? Are they after the name and recognition, while telling largely their own story, or are they truly interested in converting Tolkiens narrative of the Rings of power and the Second age, down to a serving that is digestible to a mass audience?

Or are they one and the same?



(This post was edited by InTheChair on Oct 30, 7:43pm)


squire
Half-elven


Oct 30, 8:55pm

Post #39 of 42 (613 views)
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It's impossible to conceive of this Amazon project had the New Line films not succeeded [In reply to] Can't Post

Good point about film adaptations from books with a popular audience. Tolkien's books certainly had a large existing audience, and so Jackson and the gang had at them. That is the obvious example of a popular work of art (or two) being exploited for its potential.

But Amazon is explicitly not adapting its story from Tolkien's books, except in outline form from a most obscure corner of the late author's posthumous ephemera. There was and is no popular audience for a Second Age series coming from his readers. This series is riding on the making of, and success of, the recent large-scale films of the two really well-known and read books by Tolkien.

Even The Hobbit films weren't really a product of the readership of The Hobbit demanding equal time for their book. As I remember from the run-up to the second film trilogy on this site, a very large proportion of LotR film fans, and fairly large proportion of LotR book fans, had not read or did not particularly care for The Hobbit book. But very many people wanted to see more of Jackson's Middle-earth and its LotR heroes.

I think the answer to your question about Amazon's gamble can only be "largely their own story, based on the name and recognition". They can't make "Tolkien's narrative of the Rings of Power and the Second age" digestible because that narrative as a written-out book doesn't exist even in indigestible form.



squire online:
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Chen G.
Rohan

Oct 30, 9:47pm

Post #40 of 42 (605 views)
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At the end of the day [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think the answer to your question about Amazon's gamble can only be "largely their own story, based on the name and recognition". They can't make "Tolkien's narrative of the Rings of Power and the Second age" digestible because that narrative as a written-out book doesn't exist even in indigestible form.


We do have a setting, a cast of characters, a narrative, some beats in the plot and arguably a couple of thematic underpinnings with the story of Of The Rings of Power. It may be a thinly-drawn story, but it still is drawn; to say otherwise would be to argue semantics.

That, in between all of that, the writers have large room to explore their creative instincts is actually a very good thing.

I personally see the tragedy of Celebrimbor as the dramatic centerpiece of the thing. Get that right, and I'm good.


(This post was edited by Chen G. on Oct 30, 10:01pm)


2ndBreffest
Lorien


Nov 1, 10:17pm

Post #41 of 42 (531 views)
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yes... [In reply to] Can't Post

this won't even truly qualify as an "adaption", as there is hardly anything for them to adapt. So much of this is going to be completely made up by Amazon's writers, and I really doubt they're going to come up with material worthy of Tolkien. At best this will be a reasonably decent fantasy tv series worthy of standing side by side with the PJ LotR movies. Those hoping for something more than that are really setting themselves up for a major letdown. But they're throwing a ton of money at this thing, so I'm sure they will do whatever necessary to turn a profit and most pop-culture enthusiasts will likely eat up whatever Amazons puts in front of them.


InTheChair
Lorien

Nov 2, 11:55am

Post #42 of 42 (474 views)
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The limited material available means they require good knowledge of the characters from other sources. [In reply to] Can't Post

They could maybe piece together some kind of framework by pulling material from different Tolkien sources, though it would really only contains a few leverages or turning points they'd have to hit. (Such as Celebrimbor making the rings, and giving them out to others, such as Gil-Galad rejecting the friendship of Annatar, and so on.) There wouldn't really be much for them to follow in between these events though, and that is where it would become their own story. (All this assuming they will even respect the turning points to begin with, and of course that they are including these characters at all in their main narrative.)

And what they are going to do with Numenoreans in this context is also very difficult to guess. To turn it back to the thread topic, I cannot guess any more than that they will make Numenor feel a very distinct culture from the Elves.

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