Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this special edition of AVQ&A, the announcement of the Lord Of The Rings show coming to Amazon Prime Video has us thinking about what we want to see from a TV version of Middle-earth.
Take The Silmarillion and turn it into a never-ending anthology series. This massive five-part tome is a hugely expansive work that is rarely enjoyable to read. In it, Tolkien describes the whole history of the universe in which The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings take place, going beyond the land of Middle-earth to describe the lands of Valinor, Beleriand, and Númenor. The book reads more like a long timeline of names, dates, and epic events than anything close to a story. That’s why it’s perfect to be adapted into an anthology series that goes on as long as The Silmarillion seems to. The ideas are virtually never-ending; Tolkien created an enormous amount of material that’s been sitting around for decades waiting to be turned into something more enjoyable to consume. One season can focus on the royal family of Noldor, which would make for a great Hamlet-esque family drama. Then we can jump forward to when Sauron enters the picture, spending a season on his backstory. And hey, remember the long prologue in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship Of The Ring? We see Isildur, son of the king, take up his father’s sword to slice the great ring off Sauron’s finger. Well, guess who else has a big ol’ backstory in The Silmarillion? That king that dies, Elendil. He and his people only end up in Middle-earth because of the downfall of Númenor. That’s another season that plays out like a Greek tragedy. [Note: This might all be moot.—ed.]
Two words: Tom Bombadil. Both the most whimsical and the most mysterious character in The Lord Of The Rings, the jolly, rhyming, Dr. Seuss-ian arch-nemesis of Old Man Wilow and immortal keeper of the Old Forest appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s poetry before being written into his magnum opus. Always a polarizing subject for fans, Bombadil was cut out of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship Of The Ring. But the character—largely oblivious to the main Rings narrative, but locked in his own eternal battle of good and evil—is important to understanding the cyclical world of Middle-earth, in which struggles between opposing forces are going on all the time on different scales. Plus, it would be good to restore some of the core whimsy of Tolkien’s work, which seems to have been lost on Jackson’s subsequent adaptations of The Hobbit.
Just don’t prequel-ize it. Give us characters and stories that fill in some of the larger Middle-earth outlines that Tolkien left behind, but don’t let them be solely defined by how they do or don’t feed into the larger Lord Of The Rings story. And don’t take half-measures with this stuff, either: Do The Young Aragorn Chronicles, or introduce a whole new cast of hobbits and dwarves and orcs and ents, but don’t place the focus on new characters and then put them on cutesy, dramatic irony collision courses with relatives of fellowship members or a less-gray Gandalf or a Sauron who’s just getting his first, intoxicating taste of power. Star Wars, Fantastic Beasts, and the Hobbit trilogy provide some big-screen do’s and don’t’s here, but on TV, the map is less-defined, outside of superhero-shows-without-the-superheroes Smallville and Gotham. (Prior to the Lord Of The Rings show, Syfy will take a shot at something along these lines with Krypton.) And this goes without saying, but: If there’s any, midi-chlorian-style attempt to explain the magical properties of the Rings of Power, I’m out.
Honestly, I don’t really want anything. I never got more than 30 pages into The Lord Of The Rings, on multiple tries. I saw each film with my dad as part of an annual Christmas tradition, but I easily could have bailed after the first (and I fell asleep for most of the last). Beyond merely feeling indifferent toward Tolkien, I’m about as fantasy-averse as they come. That said, I learned to love Game Of Thrones after about three seasons, when I finally got past my hang-ups about the genre to appreciate what is simply a well-told story with a lot of rich characters, whatever the trappings. I’d be interested to see a Lord Of The Rings series that similarly reaches across the bookstore aisle to people like me who tend to toss any paperback that first asks you to study a map and a list of lineages. And I’d be game for a show that finally finds a way to give us some appreciation for this world that’s always felt so impenetrably, exhaustingly dense with mythology. Some dumbed-down, yet still prestige TV-friendly crumbs for us fantasy idiots, please.
I hope the hobbits fuck.