Lord of the Rings tv series in the works

A couple of days ago, I came across a piece of entertainment news more interesting than most I’ve seen in a while. Variety reports that Warner Brothers have teamed up with Amazon to develop a television series of The Lord Of The Rings. They have apparently been in talks with the Tolkien estate about it for quite some time. Big Tolkien fan that I am, I’m not sure what to make of it: Peter Jackson’s film adaptations were marvellous, and I feel they found the right balance of affection for the books combined with the need for cinematic scope which pleased almost everyone. A tv adaptation might not be so diligent: what concerns me is that they will want to increasingly commercialise the Middle-Earth saga, and make it more palatable for tv audiences. Stripped of the scope of the cinema screen, I fear the changes they will have to make to the source material – cutting it into forty-five minute episodes, each with a beginning, middle and end, for starters – would be so radical that it would do a disservice to the books.

It’s also patently obvious that TV execs are now after a new blockbuster series along the same lines of Game of Thrones, and are looking to Tolkien for it. But audiences now know these stories due to the films, so I don’t really see how another small screen adaptation would fit in. Retelling a story already told in the cinema wouldn’t go down well; yet there is no other Tolkien material they could base a series on. The only other option for them would be to create new stories based in Middle-Earth, and I really can’t see that ending well. JRR Tolkien created a rich world full of fantastic races, with languages, cultures and stories. He was quite precise and exact about how Elves, Dwarves, Men and Hobbits behaved. While this may seeman enticing world to expand upon and play in, my fear is, as soon as some American tv writer starts to play with such characters and cultures, they would take it in entirely the wrong direction, motivated by the need to make mass entertainment. Tolkien was an Oxford linguistics professor, writing from a fairly specific, english, scholarly standpoint. An American tv writer, even one with the best of intentions, simply would not come from the same position, and would end up making a mockery of the whole thing.

I’ve felt this twinge of reticence before. I always do, whenever I come across a story like this. I then think of all the ways it could end badly, and frequently it ends up being great. Yet this time I worry that tv execs are about to do a series of books I love a great disservice. I suppose it remains to be seen though, so this is a story I’ll be keeping a very close eye on indeed.

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