Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Concept Artist Teases A Very Different Middle-Earth

"Lord of the Rings" fans will get their long-awaited return to Middle-earth this fall, when the prequel to the beloved series arrives on Prime Video. "The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power" looks like an epic fantasy-adventure on scale with the Peter Jackson films themselves (the series is among the most expensive ever made), but its world also may look somewhat unfamiliar to fans of the original film trilogy. That's because the new show takes place thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien's book series, in a version of Middle-earth that is, apparently, thriving.

In the new issue of Empire Magazine (on shelves May 12, 2022), "The Rings of Power" concept artist John Howe shared some of the team's vision for this early version of the Tolkien-inspired world. "This isn't the Middle-earth you remember," he told Empire. "This is a world that's very vibrant. The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They're busy constructing kingdoms." Before Sauron's rule, the species that ended up building a safe haven in Rivendell was apparently expanding upon their own homeland.

The elves are thriving

"The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Havens is not yet an abandoned city," Howe continued, before adding, "I loved having the opportunity to explore that unseen history." Essentially, this sounds like a version of Middle-earth that's a lot more like the idyllic Shire in which the original trilogy starts, and less like the empty and war-torn landscapes the hobbits explore throughout the "Lord of the Rings" series. We'll get to see what that still-developing Middle-earth landscape looks like, and so far, it looks pretty great. In contrast, another upcoming "Lord of the Rings" project, the Warner Bros. animated film "The War Of The Rohirrim," will tell a more battle-centric story set in Helm's Deep.

Howe also promises that the new series will explore a part of Middle-earth neither Jackson's original trilogy nor the more recent "Hobbit" films have covered: The sea. How describes a crew of ocean-traveling elves as "daunting and enterprising and almost colonising the world." I don't love the colonization of it all, but this sounds like it could be the elven equivalent to pirates, which I'm sure audiences will love.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" was made in collaboration with the author's estate, and earlier this year showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne noted to Vanity Fair that the series has the rights to the "Rings" book trilogy, its appendices, and "The Hobbit." The story will have to sidestep anything mentioned in "The Silmarillion" or the author's unfinished texts, as those apparently weren't part of the adaptation deal.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" will premiere on Prime Video on September 2, 2022.