Set thousands of years earlier the hobbitPrime Video’s new high fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power shows key events in JRR Tolkien’s legendarium. These include major historical incidents such as the forging of the titular Rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
However, it also contains surprising parallels to an infamous cat-themed piece of musical theater.
Warning: Spoilers for Rings of Power follow. Also, cats.
In the first episode of Rings of PowerElven Commander Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) is chosen by High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) to sail across the sea and enter the Undying Lands of Valinor. It is a great honor to be chosen for this journey, with many elves striving to be selected and none ever turn down the call.
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It’s also an obvious metaphor for dying, made even more blatant when the ship traveling to Valinor literally sails in a bright, golden light, surrounded by billowing white clouds.
The whole process is portrayed as very noble, with beautiful flowing robes, gold leaf crowns and grand speeches delivered in a formal ceremony. These are exactly the kind of stately, elegant rituals you’d expect from JRR Tolkien’s graceful and refined elves.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. We all know what’s really going on here.
This, my friends, is a Jellicle Ball.
For those probably happier souls blessed with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical cats, allow me to inform you. Based on a collection of poetry by TS Eliot, this glorified furry convention is about a group of felines whose main goal in life is to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. In fact, they all want to die. However, only a select few cats are given this opportunity, as they must first be selected by main cat Old Deuteronomy at an event called the Jellicle Ball.
Everyone wants to be chosen for the journey. It’s a metaphor for dying. And there’s one big man in charge who gets to decide who goes.
A cat is not a dog and an elf is not a hobbit. But it seems that, from a certain point of view, an elf could be a Jellicle cat.
Those who want to fool themselves can argue that cats are reborn, but elves are not. After all, “The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball” says that the chosen cat will be “reborn” and enter a new life.
Yet cats never specifies what rebirth means, and it neither Rings of Power do not provide significant details about exactly what happens when someone crosses the road. Depending on your interpretation, Galadriel traveling to Valinor and giving up her cares in Middle-earth can also be considered a rebirth and the beginning of a new life.
Thus, in the absence of further information, all available evidence supports the conclusion that the processes of death and rebirth are functionally identical in Rings of Power and cats. The death rituals of both lyrics even include singing, with the eleven passengers on the ship to the Undying Lands bursting into song as they approach their destination.
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The parallels don’t end with the Valinor layer either. Both cats and elves have pointy ears and excellent eyesight; are known for their beauty, keen senses and grace; and can be dangerous if provoked.
The only possible point of contention is whether the elves are Jellicle cats or whether the Jellicle cats are elves. While catsBroadway Debut Preceded Ring of Power with several decades, Under the spell of the Ring was published even earlier, in the 1950s. Moreover, although Eliot wrote the abandoned piece of poetry that inspired… catsHeaviside Layer in 1936, the earliest records of Tolkien’s carefully constructed world date from 1914.
Still, it doesn’t matter what opinion you have, because the verdict remains the same in the end. Rings of Power may dress its rites in fine clothes and spout eloquent prose until Middle-earth enters the Fourth Age, but it cannot hide its true nature.
It can be disturbing. You probably want to deny it.
But I recognize a Jellicle Ball when I see one.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now available to stream on Prime Video, with new episodes added weekly. The 2019 filming of cats is available for rent on Apple TV.