“What is this, famine cosplay?” asked Ed Power in the Irish Times after glimpsing the harfoots wandering around Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. In the weeks since then, he has been far from the only person to object to these “simpleton proto-hobbits”, who, Power wrote, were “rosy of cheek, slathered in muck, wearing twigs in their hair and speaking in stage-Irish accents that make the cast of Wild Mountain Thyme sound like Daniel Day-Lewis”.
Indeed, Amazon’s multimillion-dollar series has upset just about everybody since it debuted on the streaming platform. You have the Tolkien scholars who say it’s not Tolkien; the anti-Amazon folk who object to the company as a whole and the vast money spent on the series; and those who see the harfoots’ accents as, at worst, clumsy, tone-deaf cultural appropriation and a reinforcement of negative stereotypes. Far less legitimately and more malevolently, you have the uproar about actors of colour being cast in the series. But, considering Amazon’s commitment to that welcome diversification of Middle-earth, the fact that no one in production stopped to consider that Irish people might be upset by the harfoots is especially baffling.
Leith McPherson is the dialect coach on The Rings of Power, and has 25 years’ experience in the field, having worked on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy among many other films. In various interviews, she has spoken of the research and craft involved in coaching dialect on a project of this scale, and in an interview with Inverse.com she said that the aim was to “make sure an accent doesn’t take [audiences] to their nana’s down the road”. The harfoots, then, speak with “an Irish base to their accent” – but, she continued, they do not speak as if they are from a “particular cross street in Dublin”.
Perhaps it’s that geographic vagueness which forms a large part of the problem. The harfoots being leprechaun-esque nomadic travellers might be viewed less harshly if their accent had a sense of specific place. As it stands, they seem like a crudely drawn cartoon. Lenny Henry’s Dublin-via-Kingston twang aside, I think mainly of Alan Partridge’s audition for the Ireland tourism board every time one of them opens their mouth. “Dere’s more to Middle-earth dan dis,” perhaps? (We contacted McPherson for comment, but Amazon Studios intervened and refused the request.)