Can Amazon finally give us the ‘Lord of the Rings’ that Tolkien would have wanted?
Maybe Amazon can finally do justice to what J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic Lord of the Rings was supposed to represent.
I was not a big fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy via Peter Jackson, who decided to stick very strictly to a plot performed by archetypical characters with an emphasis on the arduousness of an adventure to save a land.
What those movies get wrong (which Amazon Studios, who just bought the rights, might possibly get right) is that in Tolkien’s books, Middle Earth was more important than the characters. Not the other way around.
Tolkien studied many things, including linguistics, poetry, and history. But one of his biggest passions was mythology. In fact, his wish that England have a mythology if its own is generally thought to be the actual genesis of Middle Earth.
As he wrote in a letter, in his delicate, charming way:
I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil)… But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story… which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country.
To Tolkein, the thrust of everything in Middle Earth, from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and its Biblically-styled history The Silmarillion, was about creating a holistic mythology for Britain that could be embedded with “its tongue and soil.” It was not meant to be seen as just a good yarn, but rather along the same lines of Greek or Hindu mythology.
Yes, the Lord of the Rings was about Frodo and Sam and the Ring and the Fellowship and everything else. And it is a story beautifully told. But it is just as much about the land that they are saving and all the wonder that can spring from inhabiting it.
Jackson’s movies left out a great deal of these interstitial details in favor of more traditional cinematic storytelling. The barrow wights and dear Tom Bombadill where left out, and and a much more elaborate love story between Aaragorn and Arwan was inserted. Not to mention the extreme heightening of suspense, dramatic irony, and fake deaths that dotted the films.
Jackson’s movies dumbed it down to the level of a loud, suspenseful roller coaster, when it should have stood as a contemplation of humanity and a reinvigoration of imagination.
Tolkien thought all fantasy should be meant to elevate our perception and cause us to look at the world around us with renewed interest and awe.
“We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity – from possessiveness,” he wrote in the spectacular essay “On Fairy Stories.” “And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their setting.”
The characters were meant to be a part of Middle Earth, complement it, and the whole would rise above a lesser story where characters had things happen to them in a fantastical world.
Jackson’s trilogy dumbed Lord of the Rings down to the level of a loud, suspenseful roller coaster, when it should have stood as a contemplation of humanity and a reinvigoration of imagination. The epic, which popularized the entire fantasy genre and led to such things as Game of Thrones, deserves more.
In Amazon’s press release, it said that the studio would “explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring,” which might include the creation myths of The Silmarillion, or the origins of Gandalf the Grey, and would be a wonderful thing to explore, adding context to create a better Middle Earth. Or the studio could slap in a collage of unrelated stories like The Hobbit trilogy did, and continue making enemies out of the very people they are trying to charm.
Nothing has begun in regards to Amazon’s new venture; only the rights have been procured. Still, at this early stage, I hope that whomever they put in charge of the new television series looks closely not only at Tolkien’s stories, but also at his intent.