'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' to explore 'unseen history' of Tolkien's Middle-earth

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Forget everything you know about Middle-earth. Amazon's forthcoming Lord of the Rings series — officially subtitled The Rings of Power — plans to take even the most devoted Tolkien die-hards back to school with what concept artist John Howe calls the "unseen history" of the sprawling fantasy mythos.

"This isn't the Middle-earth you remember ... This is a world that's very vibrant," the illustrator, who worked on both of Peter Jackson's film trilogies set in this world, explained to Empire Magazine in the latest issue. "The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They're busy constructing kingdoms. The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Haven is not yet an abandoned city."

Hailing from co-showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, the show (hitting Prime Video this September) takes place thousands of years before Frodo and the Fellowship embarked on a perilous journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Of course, the trouble Sauron will one day cause is fomenting in the background of this era of supposed peace and prosperity. "There's a respect for Tolkien that's an integral part of the showrunners' approach," Howe said. "I appreciated their desire to take this material that's difficult to bring to the screen and do something new with it."

Before you squawk with indignation over this claim of deviation, rest assured that the fundamental building blocks of the beloved source material remain intact. "Tolkien's stories deal with self-sacrifice and situations in which we are smaller than [the threats] we face," the concept artist said. "That's one of the more poignant themes in The Rings of Power. The Rings of Power has that with added epic scope."

That expanding narrative purview will take excited viewers to the high seas of Middle-earth, which have never been explored onscreen before. They'll feel the proverbial salty spray on their faces via the exploits of a race of sailing elves, whom Howe characterizes as "daunting, enterprising, and are almost colonizing the world. They were a lot of fun to imagine. It's something neither [the] Lord of the Rings nor Hobbit movies went anywhere near."

Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman, and Sara Zwangobani comprise the ensemble cast.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power lands on Prime Video Friday, Sep. 2.

Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over for the next four months? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.

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