A map of Middle Earth, drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien. Image taken from www.donsmaps.com

A map of Middle Earth, drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien. Image taken from www.donsmaps.com

Opinion: “Don’t go where I can’t follow!”

Where will Amazon go with newly acquired rights to Lord of the Rings?

Paul Rodgers

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

So begins chapter one of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, book one of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien; arguably the single-most important work of fantasy literature ever written. As Amazon has now secured the rights to said masterpiece with the plan to develop a multi-season TV series (hopefully of special significance) there is indeed much talk and excitement abounding.

Now, one does not simply buy the rights to the greatest work of fantasy of all time. Amazon reportedly paid the Tolkien Estate between $200 and $250 million for them, beating out giants Netflix and HBO.

Amazon Studios will be undertaking this lofty TV quest with the help of a fellowship comprised of Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line Cinema, who produced Peter Jackson’s monumentally successful film adaptation of LotR in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

The popularity of that film trilogy, with its combined running time of over eleven hours, 17 Oscar wins (including a Best Picture win for “The Return of the King”) and a global gross amount of almost $6 billion, is such that it’s still near and dear to the hearts and minds of its millions of fans. Though I’m not sure the same can be said of the more recent and — in mine and many other opinion’s — downright awful three-part Hobbit series. (They took one short book for children and turned into three ridiculous movies, it felt stretched, thin. Like… butter, scraped over too much bread … or something).

Because the LOTR trilogy is relatively new, and Amazon’s press release is so vague, it has left many wondering what exactly the upcoming TV series will be about.

According to Amazon’s press release, the show will be “set in Middle Earth” and will “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The deal includes a potential additional spin-off series.

So it may be that due to the freshness in the collective memory of the masses, they have decided that instead of just doing their own take on the original trilogy, they will take a crack at tackling some of Middle Earth’s prehistory. Does that mean a TV adaptation of “The Silmarillion”?

I’m a long time Tolkien fan. It’s sort of an archetypal thing for me actually — coded into my earliest memories, when my grandfather, who passed away when I was six, read me “The Hobbit” when I came to visit. I read the Lord of the Rings between the ages of eleven and twelve, right around the time the movies started to come out. I loved the films and have seen them, in all their extended glory, more times than I care to mention. They are … precious to me.

When I first heard that a TV adaptation was in the works I was felt a strange sense of excitement tinged with a morbid curiosity. It’s dangerous business, going out and trying to adapt one of the most loved stories of all time. After the travesty that was “The Hobbit” movies, and with my love of the books and movie trilogy, I had hoped that they would redo the original by dedicating one season to each book, and perhaps start with a prequel season in which they tackle the stories of “The Silmarillion”, the origin stories of Middle Earth. That would make room to explore stories and characters the movies altered or entirely neglected such as that trippy scene with Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights. It is, however, unknown if they have also acquired the rights to “The Silmarillion”, and because it’s written more as a history textbook than a novel, it would not be easy to adapt.

While it’s unclear what exactly they intend to do, it is obvious that Amazon has a deep respect for the literature itself. In their press release they point out that the books were named Amazon customers’ favourite book of the millennium in 1999 and that it is Britain’s best-loved novel of all time according to BBC’s The Big Read from 2003.

Tolkien is a mythmaker beyond compare. The world he created extends so far beyond what is contained in LotR that there is no doubt in my mind that Amazon, if they get the best writers, producers, directors and actors to share the load of creating this new series, has more than enough subject matter to create something worthwhile.

And as Tolkien himself said: “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”