Set thousands of years before The Hobbit, Prime Video’s new high fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power depicts major events in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. These are slated to include significant 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 includes startling parallels to an infamous piece of feline-themed musical theatre.
Warning: Spoilers for Rings of Power follow. Also, Cats.
In the first episode of Rings of Power, elven 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’s a great honour to be chosen for this journey, with many elves aspiring to be selected and none ever refusing the call.
It’s also a clear metaphor for dying, made even more blatant when the ship travelling to Valinor literally sails into a bright, golden light surrounded by billowing white clouds.
The entire process is portrayed as very noble, involving beautiful flowing robes, gold leaf crowns, and grand speeches delivered in a formal ceremony. These are the exact type of stately, elegant rituals you’d expect from J.R.R. 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 likely happier souls who are blessedly unfamiliar with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical Cats, allow me to enlighten you. Based on a collection of poetry by T. S. Eliot, this glorified furry convention concerns a group of felines whose main goal in life is to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. Basically, they all want to die. However, only a select few cats are offered this opportunity, as they must first be selected by head 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 guy in charge who gets to decide who goes.
Those who wish to delude themselves may argue that cats are reborn, but elves are not. After all, “The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball” does state that the chosen cat will be “reborn” and enter a new life.
Yet Cats never specifies what rebirth entails, and neither it nor Rings of Power offer any significant details regarding exactly what happens once someone crosses over. Depending upon your interpretation, Galadriel journeying to Valinor and relinquishing her concerns in Middle-earth could also be considered a rebirth and the beginning of a new life.
Thus, lacking further information, all available evidence supports the conclusion that the death and rebirth processes are functionally identical in Rings of Power and Cats. Both texts’ death rituals even involve singing, with the elven 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 pointed ears and excellent eyesight; are noted for their beauty, keen senses, and grace; and can be dangerous when provoked.
The only issue possibly in contention is whether the elves are Jellicle cats or the Jellicle cats are elves. While Cats‘ Broadway debut preceded Ring of Power by several decades, The Lord of the Rings was published earlier still, during the ’50s. Moreover, though Eliot wrote the abandoned scrap of poetry that inspired Cats‘ Heaviside Layer in 1936, the earliest records of Tolkien’s meticulously constructed world date back to 1914.
Even so, whatever view you hold is immaterial, because the verdict ultimately remains the same. Rings of Power can dress up its rites in fancy clothes and spout eloquent prose until Middle-earth enters the Fourth Age, but it cannot hide its true nature.
It may be upsetting. You probably wish to deny it.
But I know a Jellicle Ball when I see one.