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Is 'The Rings of Power' Actually Canon?

Image credit: Prime Video

Amazon's new show 'The Rings of Power' has already amassed record-breaking viewership with over 25 million viewers upon its release.

The series is an original story, based upon the works of J.R.R Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings.' Its popularity, therefore, is not surprising considering the mass admiration of both Tolkien's books and Peter Jackson's film adaptations. Regarding this new interpretation of the events of Middle-Earth, the question people are asking is should the series be considered canon in the LOTR universe?

The simplest view is The Rings of Power cannot be canon. The show is based on a story that was not written by its original creator J.R.R Tolkien. When creating the series, Amazon bought the rights to the entirety of Tolkien's principle works. Including 'The Fellowship of the Ring', 'The Two Towers', 'The Return of the King', 'The Appendices', and 'The Hobbit.' However, they did not purchase any of Tolkien's continuing publications, including 'The Silmarillion', 'Unfinished Tales', and 'The History of Middle-earth.' Which are still owned by the Tolkien estate. These later works focused mostly on the events of the First and Second Age, which is also the setting for Amazon's original series.

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Although the story has drawn inspiration largely from 'The Appendices', published as part of 'The Return of the King'. There is much that the show can not legally reference from other material they lack the approval to use. For the Rings of Power, this means much of the story's lore will have to be heavily invented, and in some cases changed.

To many fans, this means the show can be anything but canon. How can such a new narrative be added to the universe without the input or acceptance of its creator? But maybe the definition isn't quite as clear as we initially think. There are many examples of ongoing franchises which have been bought or continued by institutions other than the original author. For example, the new Star Wars movies and series are considered canon even though they no longer have the input of George Lucas himself. And even if Tolkien is no longer present to give his verdict, his estate is. And Amazon reportedly paid a colossal amount of $250 million for the rights to make the series at all. Does that not allow them the opportunity to produce an addition to the mythology if they choose? Who is to say?

What we do know for certain is, in the end, it is the fans who ultimately determine what is canon and what is not. Interpretations of Middle-Earth, its characters, and its story, will impact the LOTR universe and its ongoing fanbase. And continuing works will either ignore the events of The Rings of Power or accept them as a continuation of Tolkien's original creation. But from this point on they exist all the same.

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