As book-to-film adaptations go, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest. So it should come as no surprise that Warner Bros. are planning on turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels into a TV series. Amazon Studios is the frontrunner to land a deal for the TV adaptation of Tolkien’s infamous books, though all negotiations are reportedly in the early stages.
However, it’s not too early to discuss what that TV series might look like in comparison to the movie franchise, especially now that it seems Warner Bros. and the Tolkien Estate are getting along again. It was only this July that the studio had settled a long-running lawsuit with the late author’s family and HarperCollins (the books’ publisher) over the use of Middle-earth characters in both video and gambling games. Now it seems all parties are getting along again to allow for The Lord of the Rings trilogy to be adapted into a TV series – and maybe this time around Christopher Tolkien will be happier with the final product.
The 92-year-old son of Tolkien, who is in charge of his father’s estate, criticised Jackson in 2012 for “[gutting] the book [and] making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds.” With the television series, maybe Christopher’s desire for a live-action adaptation to retain the “essence” of the work would be more of a possibility. It certainly wouldn’t feel as much of a race as the movies; despite each one running longer than three hours, there is obviously far more time in a season (or multiple seasons) to allow for more detailed plot delivery and pacing. Though the TV series wouldn’t want to fall into the same trap of The Hobbit trilogy, for which Jackson stretched around 300 pages into 452 minutes of film and was roundly criticised for.
The complete LOTR trilogy takes up 1178 pages (depending on the typeface and spacing) which meant Jackson and his team had to cut a lot from the narrative in order to streamline the three movies: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. A television series would create the opportunity to breathe new life into these previously ditched storylines and characters.
Tom Bombadil is probably the most famous complete omission from The Fellowship of the Ring; Jackson and his writing team felt that the early encounter would not propel the story forward and instead just make the film too long. Tom is the self-professed “Master of wood, water and hill” who appears in three chapters of the first book when he comes to the aid of Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Samwise during their confrontation with Old Man Willow in the Old Forest. Bombadil offers them shelter and hospitality for two nights and later aids them further when the hobbits are faced with the Barrow-wights in the chapter ‘Fog on the Barrow-downs.’ While Tolkien admitted that Tom wasn’t necessarily an important person in the books, he did say in a letter that “I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function.”
Like Tom Bombadil, the Old Forest also played a function in The Lord of the Rings novels and has existed since the First Age of the Children of Iluvatar. It is of course where Tom lives, and where the Old Man Willow lures the hobbits into his trap. The hobbits and the Old Forest have a tumultuous history which could certainly be referenced in a TV series, as well as Frodo and his friends encounter with it, especially if Warner Bros. are able to include elements of The Silmarillion.
Christopher Tolkien completed the collection of mythopoeic works after his father’s death and it details much of the history of Middle-earth, as well as that of Valinor, Beleriand and Númenor, all in the universe of Eä, where Tolkien’s Legendarium (all works relating to Middle-earth) takes place. The Silmarillion would be very difficult to adapt into a movie but for a TV series, elements and characters could be used to provide back stories and flashbacks to better understand the motivations and events in The Lord of the Rings narrative.
One character worthy of deeper exploration is Morgoth, the big bad predecessor of Sauron who battles Elves, Men and the Valar for the possession of magic jewels called Silmarils and basically wants to dominate and destroy the world. In the collection, Morgoth puts a curse on Hurin, a champion of Men and the lead hero in Christopher Tolkien’s spin-off The Children of Hurin. There’s also another Man-Elf love story between Beren and Luthien which Aragorn sings about in The Fellowship of the Ring that could be presented on the small screen too.
Clearly, there is a lot of material that Warner Bros. could work with – if they have the blessing of the Tolkien Estate – but one of the biggest differences between the movies and the TV show may be nothing to do with narrative, rather representation.
No people of color were found in the main cast of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movie franchises and in both the books and films, ethnic-racial signifiers were applied to the evil characters. The orcs are black with “slanted-eyes” and the wild men of the hills are also dark, while the heroes are all white-skinned. It’s really no surprise that Tolkien’s masterpiece has been accused of having racist undertones with his racial depiction of good and evil, but this could be combatted in a TV series by diversifying the cast.
After all, it is a work of fantasy fiction and therefore it shouldn’t be too much of an ask to have actors of Asian, Arab and African heritage playing Elves, Men, Hobbits and Dwarves as well as Orcs. And as Tolkien himself once said, “even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are,” so an explanation for the ethnic diversity within the different Middle-earth races in a The Lord of the Rings TV series could be a left an enigma too for the sake of better representation.
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