Building a Tragedy: Musings on Befordor

Yet another clip out of The Rings of Power reveals the real location of TirHarad and the invented Arondir/Bronwyn storyline. It’s Mordor, before Sauron moved in. Or, as the Internet has affectionately nicknamed it, Befordor:

As ever, I was wrong with my previous speculation – I had been betting on Western proto-Gondor. But never mind… I think having a storyline set in Ancient Mordor of all places invites a quite unique opportunity. We know how Mordor will end up, of course, though contrary to Peter Jackson, the land is not purely a desert. It’s also got fertile areas, run by slave-labour, who follow the immortal God-King Sauron, either out of fear and force, or else out of terrified and fanatical loyalty. With that as the end point, the TirHarad storyline can only be considered a tragedy. We know how these people will end up, but they, of course, do not – they are going about their lives, unaware of impending catastrophe.

The premise is an invented one, but overall an excellent fit for the Second Age, the Age of Catastrophe, the Dark Years of Middle-earth… though whether these people are enslaved by Sauron directly, or whether they will be taken out via a volcanic eruption from Orodruin remains to be seen. Personally, I’m hoping for a combination of the two. I think having ordinary people enslaved by Sauron would communicate the idea that Sauron isn’t simply the organising force behind genocidal hordes of Orcs. He’s also a tyrant oppressing everyday people on an everyday basis. Meanwhile, seeing Mount Doom go full Vesuvius on a populated area would be both visually spectacular, and foreshadowing for a certain other event in a later season.

The other thing I like about the leaked clip is that it clearly grasps another great theme of Tolkien’s Second Age. This is not simply the Age of Catastrophe (though it is that). It is also the Age of Imperialism. Here, more than any other period in Tolkien’s invented history, we see particular cultures lording it over others in the name of conquest, eventually culminating in a titanic struggle between competing Imperialists. And no-one shows the slightest consideration for the damage they are doing. As Roman Historian Tacitus would put it, they make a desert and they call it peace. I am sure Treebeard – who is about to see his forests clear-felled for Númenorean shipbuilding – would heartily agree.

But we are not yet seeing the Imperial pissing contest of Pharazôn versus Sauron. No, here we are seeing Men of Middle-earth – who, as Easterlings, clearly backed Morgoth over the Host of the West – finding themselves politically dominated “for their own good.” To keep them from slipping back into their naughty ways. One might quibble that such domination is more Númenorean style than Elven… but since the Númenoreans are initially being shown as isolationist, using Elves as stand-in imperialists works, I think. The key, of course, is that this sort of domination is fundamentally counter-productive, and makes Sauron’s siren-song ever more attractive.

In short, we are likely seeing the seeds of what motivated the Easterlings and the Haradrim to side with Sauron against the West during the Third Age. You wouldn’t know it from Peter Jackson, of course, where they really are just faceless baddies, but Tolkien’s appendices offer a more nuanced perspective. Sometimes Imperialism can backfire.

Well and good. Thus far I have been singing this clip’s praises. Is there anything to be said against it? Well, yes. There is.

(1) I have no idea if the initial map introduction will be part of the show, but I don’t like it. It feels far too derivative of Game of Thrones, even if it does get across the idea of where TirHarad actually is.

(2) “Stand and fight” is the most generic militaristic nonsense imaginable. As I noted long ago (https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/on-war-tolkien-vs-jackson/), Peter Jackson’s movies are riddled with the sentiment, to their detriment. Tolkien’s handling of war is much more nuanced than a meat-headed “stand and fight” ethic, so I rather cringed on hearing it in the clip. But maybe it is just one of those faux-inspirational lines one hears in promotional material, rather than a sign of anything thematic. We shall see.

So yeah. Befordor. For a show-invented storyline, I think it grasps the underlying themes of Tolkien’s Second Age very well – it is fanfiction that is at least trying to put on screen themes that Tolkien alluded to, even if both plot and character are new, and the setting is one hitherto unexplored. So definite thumbs-up there. Fanfiction it might be, and it might still screw up multiple things – this is, after all, a brief promotional clip – but I am now definitely looking forward to this particular storyline.

3 thoughts on “Building a Tragedy: Musings on Befordor

  1. These kind of ideas, “Mordor before Sauron”, make me regret that they didn’t go for the system of two parallel timelines, like Westworld or The Witcher did. It seems to me a great lack of ambition (and underestimate the audience) of Amazon that they want to compress everything in a few centuries, when they could well have narrated “at the same time” one timeline for the Elves (the forging of Rings of Power) and another for Humans (the Akallabeth). It would have shown even better the… transformation of Mordor
    Anyway, about imperialism in the Second Age by the “good guys” (that is, not Ar-Pharazon, but the Elves and the “good old Númenor”), Tolkien didn’t go into much depth on this either, and that’s sad. There is no “good” or “gray” Easterling or Southern character in all the Legendarium, with name and face, that we can root for them, like Aravis or Emeth in the Chronicles of Narnia.
    Except, of course, House of Bór in the Nirnaeth, and they barely appear for two or three lines in the Silmarillion. True, there is Tal-Elmar, but it is a fairly late writing and to top it off, unfinished in a still very primary phase.

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  2. I could understand a map intro, as it would serve a similar purpose as with Game of Thrones: most people won’t have the map of Middle-earth memorized and won’t know where storylines are taking place relative to one another unless it is made explicit. This is not a problem in the Jackson films as you are never following more than 3-4 threads tops at any given time, but this show has a huge ensemble cast spread all over the place.

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    • Yeah I wasn’t going to say it, but spreading the action over such widely separated places as Numenor, Lindon, Khazad-dum/Eregion and “Befordor” seems a risk. Entailing practical issues such as communications and travel time. It would go against the so-called Dramatic Unities, one of which is Place.

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