The world of Tolkien coming to the smallscreen

Unless you are hiding under a rock right now you may have heard that Amazon seems to have purchased the rights for the world of The Lord of the Rings. My understanding is that this deal does not cover The Silmarillion (unfortunate, but perhaps for the best as I’m not sure I’d want to see a dramatization of The Children of Hurin). So perhaps one can imagine a series about Aragorn’s earlier adventures in Gondor? If I had my pick though I’d set something during the time of Gil-galad. The Second Age hasn’t be explored in narrative, so it’s a relatively blank canvas, and like The Lord of the Rings it ends in an existential climax.

Why is this happening? Read the story I linked to above. But clearly it’s because of Game of Thrones. As some of you might know George R. R. Martin attempted to develop his works for film in the wake of Peter Jackson’s success. But A Song of Ice and Fire was too sprawling, or more concretely it’s budget would have been outlandish if one wanted to depict it accurately.

In one volume the three book in The Lord of the Rings comes in at a little over 1,000 pages. In contrast the completed books of A Song of Ice and Fire are already more than 4,000 pages.

But this is in some ways the weakness of an attempt to turn The Lord of the Rings into something equivalent to Game of Thrones: the characters are not nearly as well fleshed out in their humanity as those of A Song of Ice and Fire. Tolkien and Martin share similarities in world-building, with a punctilious attention to detail, and a de-emphasis on magic as a deus ex machina.

But when it comes to good and evil Martin’s distribution is more uniform while Tolkien’s is bimodal. The shades of grey found in A Song of Ice and Fire are great raw material for character arcs in episodic television which sprawls over a decade. In contrast, The Lord of the Rings was compressed into three films, so the relatively simple and stark characterizations were good fits in the context of the world-building and plot. I don’t envy the actor who has to play Viggo Mortensen’s role, nor do I want to imagine the abuse writers or show-runners who want to add moral complexity and ambiguity to Aragorn’s character are going to experience from the hardcore fans.

In other news, you can now get a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer. One of the greatest fantasists of our time, albeit he produces works which are Heavenly Father approved! (I don’t state this as a criticism, it’s just that the God of Sanderson’s universe couldn’t even conceive of a creature like Cersei Lannister, let alone create her)

Addendum: The Hobbit films that Peter Jackson produced in this decade are correctly described as bloated affairs. The book didn’t have enough source material to create a plot that extend across three films. But, also note that there isn’t much character development or difference in many of the characters who spanned both groups of films. Part of is that Gandolf is an immortal demigod, while elves such as Elrond and Galadriel are thousands of years old (Galadriel is one of the oldest beings in Middle Earth, she was born ~7,500 years before the events Jackson’s films). It’s hard to imagine a lot of character development over a few decades for such individuals, but one could imagine implications of having lived thousands of years and how it might drive you somewhat crazy (R. Scott Bakker explores this in detail in The Great Ordeal).