I’m of two minds when it comes to a TV series about the mythical worlds created by J. R. R. Tolkien, announced last week by Amazon.
One is I love his stories of Middle-earth, set in the years before men and women came to dominate this world.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are books (and movies by Peter Jackson) of great originality and story telling, tales of dragons and orcs, wizards, elves and dwarves, heroes and villains, Lonely and Misty Mountains, evil spirits, monsters of all description, trolls too. Women and men as well.
Even the characters have great names such as the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Wizard, Sauron the Enemy and servant of Morgoth, a Balrog, Saruman the White, Samwise Gamgee, Treebeard, Gimli the Dwarf, Legolas the Elf and Frodo Baggins.
The story is one of great adventure and bravery, of characters facing unspeakable danger and evil because no one else can or will.
Unfortunately, none of this story will be included in Amazon’s new TV series. It’s reportedly set thousands of years, in the Second Age of Middle-earth, before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (really, the same story) take place, which is near the very end of the Third Age.
So my first question is where does this story come from?
Tolkien wrote thousands of pages about Middle-earth that were never published in his lifetime, but were resurrected much later by his son Christopher. Some of it was good, some of it was not. Most of it has an unfinished feel to it.
This is not Tolkien’s fault. He lived a long life, until age 81, and wrote masterfully, if slowly. The Hobbit was published in 1937, The Lord of the Rings in 1954-1955.
Nor his son’s fault either, really. There was certainly demand for the Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, The Fall of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien, Letters From Father Christmas and, ironically enough, Unfinished Tales, which were all published after Tolkien’s death in 1973.
Where will this new TV series get its stories?
My guess and hope is that they will be based on Tolkien’s unfinished stories; he has many from the years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It could be much like director Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit - a trilogy that was approximately one movie too long (as The Lord of the Rings was about one movie short).
But how much of the new series will be Tolkien’s, and how much will be from new writers associated with this as-yet unnamed TV show which doesn’t hit our small screens until September, 2022?
Make no mistake…this series will face intense scrutiny. Tolkien’s books remain popular, his admirers are legion and they don’t take lightly to any tinkering with his legend.
Or his stories, his characters, etc.
So this new TV series had better not just be good, but exceptional.
We don’t know much about it, other than the first season’s shooting wrapped up in early August and it was filmed in New Zealand, where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were also shot.
Oh, and this from Amazon Studios.
‘(It) will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.’
OK, that sounds pretty good.
But this is the preface to The Lord of the Rings.
‘Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.’
Not much comparison there.
And how well will the TV show stack up against the barometer for Tolkien on screen, Jackson’s film The Lord of the Rings.
Three long movies, every year for three years, beginning in 2001. They gave us at least one great outing during the Christmas holidays.
My children were pretty young, but I dragged them along anyway and I don’t think they will ever forget the story.
I still remember my daughter digging her nails into my forearm the first time she heard the scream of the Nazgul, the Ringwraiths, the Black Riders, and my even younger son smiling at her fear.
It was a story I’d first read in my late teens, one which captured my imagination because Tolkien combined ancient myth and familiar characters one could identify with, yet each was exceptional in their own way.
So that’s what this new TV series is competing against, and why it had better be good, really good.
Just more than a year until we find out.
Bob Bruton covers city council for BarrieToday.