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Can the British Museum learn from The Lord of the Rings?

2 September 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

While your roving correspondent may be waiting impatiently for the new season of exhibitions and art fairs to begin in earnest (and how nice it is to be able to say this), current televisual attractions are not passing us by. Although Rakewell is not sure that any programme – actually, make that anything – should cost close to $1bn to make, like Mount Everest The Rings of Power are there or, rather, here and we may as well stake our claim to being the Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing of the sofa for a little longer. At time of writing, Rakewell has not yet caught the first two episodes, but we look forward to finding out if the most expensive series of all time is any good.

The British Museum decked out for The Rings of Power launch party on 31 August 2022.

The British Museum decked out for The Rings of Power launch party on 30 August 2022. Photo: © Andrew Timms/Prime Video

In the meantime, we are rather tickled that the Amazon Prime Video after-party, following the world premiere of The Rings of Power in Leicester Square, was held in the British Museum of all places. For what are J.R.R. Tolkien’s works about if not the thorny problems posed by rival claims to artefacts and the importance of agreeing on a framework for restitution? One might even say that the mythology of Middle Earth hinges on two major conferences regarding cultural property: the disagreement about what to do with the One Ring after the first fall of Sauron (on the slopes of Mount Doom) and the debate about what to do with it when everyone realises it has not been lost (at Rivendell).

Although we are not suggesting that contested cultural heritage should be flung into a volcano so that no one can have it (the Parthenon marbles are too precious, my precious), we do think some more drama – and real dialogue – could be injected into debates that have gone on for decades and require resolution.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.