Say the words “new Lord of the Rings TV series from Amazon” to me, and I immediately start salivating. As a geeky lad who grew up on Middle Earth, pretty much anything Tolkien-adjacent is thrilling to me, and the thought of seeing that marvellous fantasy world depicted on screen again – after the acclaimed LotR film trilogy and the less-acclaimed-but-I-still-liked-them Hobbit trilogy – fills me with joy.
But this is a joy tempered by a certain trepidation. Because Amazon’s adaptation of Tolkien’s works won’t be the familiar stories we’ve seen before. The new series will deal with the Second Age of Middle Earth, which, as I’m sure you know, begins with the banishment of Morgoth and ends with the first defeat of Sauron by the armies of Elves and Men. It spans over three thousand years, so there’s plenty of material to work with – that’s way longer than Breaking Bad, for example, lasted.
This is an area of Rings mythology that millions didn’t devour as kids or see in previous cinematic productions – to most of us, it’ll be new territory. Which in one way is a good thing – who doesn’t like something fresh? – but may not make for popular success.
One big plus of the new series is that the Tolkien estate has veto power over the whole thing, so we can be sure that there is – if you’ll pardon the imagery – an all-seeing eye watching over the production, ensuring nothing gets un-Tolkien-y. They’ve already dictated that the series cannot deviate from the narrative that old JRR laid down. But it’s a double-edged sword, because the estate has also specified that the show can’t include anything that has already been depicted in a movie.
That means no hobbits. No Aragorn. No Smaug. No connective tissue between TV and movie adaptations, in fact – Amazon won’t get to flash forward to the bits we all know in order to give context to the stuff we’re seeing.
Which, in purely artistic terms, is fine. Here we have a brand-new adventure, with brand new characters, and what could be better? And for hardcore Tolkienists, it’s heaven: delving into the lesser-known parts of the mythology and bringing to life the parts of Middle Earth history that only the True Fans were aware of up till now.
But for the producers, and for those of us who really want this show to be a hit, it’s a gamble, because there’s a huge constituency out there who will see “Lord of the Rings”, tune in, notice that Frodo is AWOL, and switch right off.
Or maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. Maybe there are more people willing to give LotR-but-not-as-you-know-it a chance. I hope so, because this show could be incredible, if done right. But if the people don’t get on board, we might not get enough seasons to squeeze those three thousand years in.