I like The Lord of the Rings. I really do. Granted, I haven’t actually read the trilogy since the early 2000s, and I only re-read The Hobbit back in 2017, but I do own the DVDs, which I recently ripped to our Plex media server so I can watch them whenever I want, and I listen to the soundtracks frequently. I own the books written by Tolkien and many other books besides, as well as books like The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and Defending Middle Earth. Every now and then I pick up The Atlas of Middle Earth and browse through it delightedly.
So when I learned that Amazon will be airing a new series based on the history of Middle Earth, I was… sort of excited? I mean, it’s a great setting, great epic fantasy, and there’s so much about Middle Earth’s history — the Second Age, the coming of Man, and so on — to explore. And while J. R. R. Tolkien may not have written much of his lore for popular reading, his son Christopher certainly did. I watched the teaser trailer for Amazon’s series, and enjoyed the look of the show. I’ve included the teaser below for you to watch.
But today I learned that while Amazon owns the production rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they don’t actually own any of the rights to anything beyond that. They do not own the rights to The Silmarillion or The Histories of Middle Earth and so on. So their vision of the Second Age of Middle Earth, the time period where The Rings of Power takes place, is based purely on their own imagination and wee gleanings from the books the Tolkien did write. So, it’s all up to whoever writes the series, and I’m so skeptical of anything that comes out of massive media empires these days that I’m just not sure I’m going to enjoy this.
But what really bothers me, actually, has little to do with The Lord of the Rings and the One Ring and Middle Earth. It has to do with the fact that there is so much good material out there to work with to make sprawling epic fantasies. Yes, N. K. Jemisin is writing the screenplays for her genre-defying Broken Earth series, which is a good thing, but other fantasy and science fiction worlds exist that can be made into movies. There’s racial diversity in The Rings of Power, it looks like, which I’m happy to see (there was precious little in Peter Jackson’s films), but still… Let’s see some diversity in storytelling, in settings, in characters.
And yes, I’m well aware that there are some good non-Tolkien-inspired films and TV shows out there.
Maybe, though, I’m just Old. I don’t get that excited about superhero films (the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vast that I’m tired just thinking about where to start, and DC’s Batman films are getting progressively darker and darker, and frankly I haven’t really enjoyed a superhero film since 1980’s Superman II). I don’t go on and on about how movies were “better back in the day” because many of them weren’t, and I know this objectively.
The world’s a big place, and the actuality of what we have in the way of storytelling is much vaster than anything Tolkien conceived of. Let’s see some more of it.