Illustration by Ben Beechener

A long expected party…

Rumors have flown as deep as the Anduin river since Amazon and the Tolkien Estate announced their new visual collaboration. Early reports were that the story of young Aragorn would be explored – a strategy that shifted after the showrunners and writing team were assembled. With speculation on plot, characters, landscape and more, this new series is a thrilling new time for Tolkien fans, as seen by Amazon’s statement:

“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,”.

“I wisely started with a map,” J.R.R. Tolkien once said of his fictional world, and now so has Amazon Prime Video, which paid a reported $250 million for the rights to produce a Lord of the Rings TV series. Amazon released a teaser map announcing the Second Age of Middle-earth, 1000s of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Numenor, heretofore unmentioned in film adaptations, would clearly be a central location for the series.

It’s been a long and winding road for the production of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings, which was originally announced in 2017. Like most upcoming Hollywood television shows, production on Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series was halted in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The closure came one month after the series started filming, and after New Zealand instituted protective immigration measures to protect the country from the coronavirus, including 14 days of compulsory self-isolation for citizens and visitors entering the country. Production on the show resumed in late 2020, and has relocated from the iconic New Zealand location setting to the UK for two of it’s five seasons.

The road so far…

The Lord of the Rings series is based on author J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novel series of the same name. A sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 novel The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings consists of three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring(published in July 1954), “The Two Towers” (published in November 1954), and The Return of the King (published in October 1955).

The Hobbit is a children’s fantasy story set in the mythical past in which a wizard persuades Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit — one of a race of diminutive, humanoid, creatures who don’t like adventures — to leave his comfortable home to be the burglar for a group of thirteen dwarves seeking to reclaim their faraway mountain kingdom from a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon.

During their journey of many perils (including one in which Bilbo finds a magic ring, which serves as the MacGuffin in The Lord of the Rings), Bilbo grows in confidence and eventually must confront the growing greed in the dwarves’ leader, Thorin Oakenshield.

Following this, The Lord of the Rings volumes follows the ring’s path through Middle Earth. Telling the story of the War of the Ring in the fictional world of Middle-earth, the long novel centers around the magical One Ring, which was discovered by Bilbo Baggins and is now in the hands of Frodo Baggins. The finale of the story finishes with peace restored to Middle Earth and a new reign of men under Aragorn son of Arathorn.

A conspiracy unmasked – what will this series’ story be?

Showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay are likely interested in telling stories across a vast swath of Middle-earth’s ages, connected by the history of the 20 Rings of Power, much as the Silmaril jewels connect the various stories of the First Age in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion

The Rings of Power were twenty magical rings forged in the Second Age, intended by Sauron to seduce the rulers of Middle-earth to evil. Disguised as a benevolent entity called Annatar, Sauron taught the elven-smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor, how to craft the rings. Nineteen of these rings were made: three rings for the Elves, seven rings for the Dwarves, and nine rings for Men. One additional ring, the One Ring, was forged by Sauron himself at Mount Doom. The nineteen lesser Rings were linked somehow to the power of the One, and were dependent on it. Their wearers could be controlled by the wearer of the One, and if the One was destroyed, their own powers would fade with the power of the Rings under the One…

Theories ranged drastically online. The most popular, and one I followed quite closely, was the early life of Aragorn. Based on Aragorn’s adventures as a young  man; in particular when he went by the alias of Thorongil. He fought for  both Thengel, father of Théoden, and Ecthelion, father of Denethor II,  under that guise. It seems to me that this portion of Tolkien’s vast narrative is not greatly expounded upon, and so would give Amazon the 

greatest freedom to create their own show without being constrained by or butchering the original text.

Others argued it could be the hunt for Gollum, whereby Gandalf entreats Aragorn to find the creature within the Lord of the Rings time-frame. This has been recreated online, which you can watch here!

But what about the Elves? Most of Reddit passionately wanted more focus on Elves, especially Elrond of Rivendell and Arwen’s story before meeting Aragorn. Elladan and Elrohir are the twin sons of Elrond the Half-elven and Celebrían of Rivendell, and were noted for their close friendship and  cooperation with the Dúnedain of the North, Rangers of the North and Men in general, and for their deeds during the War of the Ring. This therefore could spin well into the story line of Aragorn and his life as a Dúnedain, linking well to the first popular theory of a focus on Aragorn’s narrative.

As you can see, there are multiple theories that ardent readers and watchers of Tolkien posted online. And there are many, many stories to choose from… 

Of the beginning of the Days…

Further insight into what the story could follow was suddenly flung into disrepair as the platform released a new screen image. 

The light source in the far background that one might have initially mistaken for the sun is, in fact, the piercing illumination of two giant trees, the Two Trees of Valinor. Thus, it appears that the frequently-referenced but never-seen locale of Valinor, a.k.a. the Undying Lands (the mystical place to which Frodo, Gandalf and Bilbo sailed off into the sunset for a special retirement,) has finally manifested in live-action form.

Contextually, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary lore, the island of Valinor, is where the Valar settled down after the music of deity Eru Ilúvatar broke an incalculable period of silence and shapelessness in existence to construct the universe. Tellingly, the mere presence of the trees—created by the Valar to light the planet of Arda—dates the era of the image. This can be deduced as taking place during the planet’s primordial period, since said trees would not be long for the burgeoning world. This could also mean that the mysterious cloaked figure—overlooking what appears to be primary city Valmar—is one of the Valar, perhaps Manwë, the oldest and most powerful of the Ainur (holy spirit beings).

This then suggests we are spanning multiple ages of Middle Earth with extensive plot lines, characters, landscapes and more.

“As Bilbo says, ‘Now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.’ Living and breathing Middle-earth these many months has been the adventure of a lifetime. We cannot wait for fans to have the chance to do so as well,” said Payne and McKay.

The point is: there are possibly hundreds of potential plot lines available both original and new.

The trees of Valinor and the tale of the Rings define the Second Age through the downfall of the kingdom for daring to challenge the Valar. Alongside the formation of the Last Alliance between the remaining Númenóreans, led by Elendil (father of Isildur, who took the One Ring for himself), and the Elven king Gil-galad.

Books beloved by Man and Hobbit

The appeal of LOTR is the way Tolkien develops the characters and immerses the reader in the incredible world he has created. The Hobbit really only scratches the surface, LOTR takes us deeper into this mythical world that Tolkien has dreamed up. 

Tolkien recognised that to create a believable world, he had to fill it with its own geography, history, languages, genealogies, calendars, and peoples. Creating this all-encompassing and consistent world, he used the word “subcreation”. He was the subcreator – creating a secondary world that was thorough, impressive and immersive. The mythological underpinning to Middle-earth was called Tolkien’s “legendarium”, which he filled with a thorough history going back to the creation of the world, an entirely new continent of Middle-earth in which to base the stories, and the races of Elves, Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, Wizards, Orcs, Ents, Trolls and the like who all have distinct cultures. And, to cap it all, Tolkien invented his own languages to go with them, and then his own alphabets in which to write those languages.

It is this depth to Tolkien’s worldbuilding that creates a seductively immersive world in which readers can visit. The maps in the books help to make that world a little more “tangible”, as do the usage of Elvish languages and frequent references to other tales. As you read more Tolkien you begin to appreciate just how thoughtful these tales are. Casual references in The Lord of the Rings to characters such as Eärendil, Lúthien and Túrin turn out to be whole tales in their own right.

Reading more Tolkien only makes the reader more hungry for more, and more astonished at the author’s ability. Balin and Bilbo feature in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Galadriel and Sauron feature in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, whilst Gandalf and Elrond appear in all three stories. At first it may seem that Tolkien has created a superficial fantasy story, but in fact he has created a fully-imagined world. This fully-imagined world with depth of thought enchants the reader in a web of stories that is as profoundly captivating as it is impressively mind-blowing. It is no wonder, then, that Tolkien is amazingly popular.

Tolkien filled his world with many humanoid races – good and evil – across the peoples, places and cultures of Middle-earth. The characters Tolkien created each demonstrate different aspects of the human condition, and as such they are all relatable. This is one of the key foundations of Tolkien’s popularity and one reason as to why there is such extensive excitement for all new content. Hopefully, this content will respect and pay its dues to the books.

Homeward bound

The TV series will follow the rise and fall of kingdoms and the adventures of unfamiliar heroes. Most importantly, it’ll follow the story of the titular Lord of the Rings himself, Sauron. Some of the locations confirmed within the series are the elven capital of Lindon, the island of Numenor and the depths of the Misty Mountains. Fans of Tolkien eagerly await the release of further teasers and information.