Should Amazon’s “The Lord Of The Rings” Have Hobbits?

Amazon Prime Studios has gone to great lengths to prevent any and all secrets from the set of The Lord Of The Rings from slipping out, and the little marketing they’ve done for the epic fantasy series thus far has been vague and at times misleading. So I have a hard time believing that Sir Lenny Henry, one of the series’ most prestigious stars, was supposed to disclose any information about his role in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, much less the fact that he’s playing a hobbit.

The Lord Of The Rings
Hobbits | theporteport.com

As you can imagine, the news spread rapidly throughout Tolkien fan-circles. This is the first official confirmation of TheOneRing.net’s exclusive reporting from July that hobbits would be featured in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, and that Henry would be playing one. If Amazon’s series were a straightforward adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, it would go without saying that hobbits should be present…but it’s not, and that’s why this reveal is causing something of a stir on social media.

Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings takes place between six-thousand to three-thousand years before The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, during the legendary Second Age of Middle-earth. I’ve written extensively about the Second Age in a series of posts detailing the ancient history of the Elven kingdoms of Lindon and Eregion, the Dwarven mansions of Khazad-dûm, and the Mannish empire of Númenor – but as you’ll find if you look back through those posts, I make no mention of hobbits. And that’s because the diminutive heroes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books only make their first appearance in the canonical timeline a thousand years after the end of the Second Age.

In the prologue to The Fellowship Of The Ring, Tolkien is intentionally but tantalizingly vague about hobbit prehistory, giving us armchair anthropologists – and the writers for Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings – extremely little to go on:

“Their earliest tales seem to glimpse a time when they dwelt in the upper vales of Anduin, between the eaves of Greenwood the Great and the Misty Mountains. Why they later undertook the hard and perilous crossing of the mountains into Eriador is no longer certain. Their own accounts speak of the multiplying of Men in the land, and of a shadow that fell on the forest, so that it became darkened and its new name was Mirkwood.”

Thanks to The Tale Of Years in the appendices to The Return Of The King, we can be certain that this “shadow” was in fact the malicious spirit of Sauron, which first settled in Greenwood around Third Age (T.A.) 1050. At this point, hobbits began to migrate steadily westward, and it wasn’t until T.A. 1601 that they crossed the Brandywine River and settled down in what later became known as the Shire. That’s when the hobbits finally began keeping written records of their history, much too late to be very helpful for those of us trying to look back into their distant past.

Even so, it seems clear that hobbits did exist in some form or another during the Second Age. They must have lived in the Anduin river-valley for some time, long enough at least to have become divided into three distinctly separate groups, Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides, who crossed the Misty Mountains at intervals between roughly T.A. 1050 and T.A. 1150. Sir Lenny Henry very specifically pointed out that he would be playing a Harfoot hobbit – which is quite interesting, given that Harfoots were the first hobbits to migrate westward. Still nowhere near as early as Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings is set, but earlier than the Stoors and Fallohides.

Little else is known about these prehistoric Harfoots, except that like all hobbits they originally lived in holes in the ground (a custom which predated the tradition of building large and elaborate hobbit-holes in the Shire), and that they “had much to do with Dwarves in ancient times”. In contrast, the Stoors were “less shy of Men” than other hobbits, and the Fallohides “were more friendly with Elves”. Details such as these could be played up in the series: a Harfoot hobbit being invited into the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm at the height of its glory would be a moving parallel to Samwise Gamgee’s awe and wonder at that same kingdom’s ruins in The Lord Of The Rings.

But the presence of hobbits in Amazon’s series introduces a couple of complications that definitely can’t be ignored (although there are workarounds). For one thing, there’s a very good narrative and thematic reason for why hobbits don’t start popping up in the legends of Middle-earth until nearer the end of the Third Age. With the exception of people like Gandalf, almost nobody is supposed to know about them.

The Lord Of The Rings
Sir Lenny Henry | eurogamer.net

In The Hobbit, Thorin’s plan to reclaim Erebor only succeeds because the dragon Smaug is unfamiliar with the scent of hobbits. And the entire plot of The Lord Of The Rings hinges on the fact that the dark lord Sauron does not, must not, be aware of hobbits. For they’ve given him no reason to notice them: they’re a small and seemingly harmless people tucked away in a quiet corner of the world, minding their own business and generally not being a bother to anybody. Sauron, seeing only the mighty kingdoms of Men and Elves as his true threats, overlooks the hobbits – allowing them to slip through the cracks in his defenses, undermine his strategies, and eventually defeat him.

So the glaring problem with hobbits in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings is that they really can’t do anything of note, certainly nothing that would put them on Sauron’s radar, unless it’s handled very delicately – in the same way that The Clone Wars had to find increasingly complex ways to avoid having Anakin Skywalker and General Grievous ever meet so as to maintain continuity with a single line of dialogue in Revenge Of The Sith.

Thematically, it would also be hard to justify a whole bunch of hobbits going on epic quests to save Middle-earth thousands of years before Bilbo and Frodo’s time. In the prologue to Fellowship, Tolkien does mention that “In olden days they had, of course, been often obliged to fight to maintain themselves in a hard world”, which could provide Amazon’s writing team with an excuse to write about hobbit wars, but the reason hobbits are the heroes of Tolkien’s works is because they’re a peace-loving people put to the test by extraordinary circumstances, not that they were all secretly warriors once upon a time.

If hobbits are a major part of Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, then I hope their storyline is more of a survival-genre adventure detailing their trek across the Misty Mountains and Eriador, with their arrival in the Shire moved forward a thousand years or so into the Second Age to give their subplot a clear and satisfying endpoint – preferably marked by the long-expected return of Howard Shore’s Shire theme. Canonically, it’s King Argeleb II of Arnor who grants the hobbits permission to settle there, but it could just as easily be Elendil or Isildur, Aragorn’s distant ancestors.

Would it be fanservice? A little. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and it’s nothing compared to the idea that came to me as I was writing my notes for this post that involves the hobbits helping another enigmatic nature-loving race of people, the Entwives, escape the destruction of their gardens by Sauron and finding a new home for them in the Shire – where Samwise Gamgee’s cousin would one day see a giant elm tree walking across the north moors. Now that’s fanservice, and to be honest I’m not totally opposed to it, either.

Anyway, Amazon obviously has their reasons for including hobbits in The Lord Of The Rings, and I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that hobbits are arguably J.R.R. Tolkien’s most iconic characters, and their absence in his tales of the First and Second Ages is often cited as the main reason why those tales are less widely-known and universally-beloved. But there is some sense in that reasoning. Amidst all the wizards and warriors of Middle-earth, it’s the firmly grounded hobbits whose humility, empathy, and love of nature keeps Tolkien’s epic tales from ever straying into the glorification of war and violence that so much fantasy espouses.

That’s why I don’t necessarily have a problem with hobbits in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings. If they have a purpose in the story beyond being instantly recognizable to general audiences, one that doesn’t introduce too many plot-holes but instead uses the hobbits to counterbalance the stories of heroes like Galadriel, Elrond, and Gil-galad, then their inclusion could be quite effective. Ending the series with them finally reaching the Shire after several seasons of hardship, providing a hopeful and optimistic end to Amazon’s story that would offset the tragedies of the Second Age while segueing beautifully into the stories we know, would be very much in the spirit of Tolkien.

The Lord Of The Rings
Hobbiton | yourmoneygeek.com

And before I end this, I have to address one other thing about Henry’s remarks that isn’t and shouldn’t be a problem – though of course it’s being made into one by bigots. According to Henry, Amazon’s Harfoot hobbits will be a multicultural group including Black actors like Henry himself and Maori actors from New Zealand (making it all the more confusing why Amazon would shift production to the United Kingdom for season two). I’d have supported this casting decision regardless of whether or not Harfoot hobbits were canonically described as being “browner of skin” than other hobbits (which they are, by the way).

So what hobbit-centric storylines would you like to see in The Lord Of The Rings, and how big a role do you think they’ll play in the series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Lord Of The Rings” Enlists Howard Shore To Craft A New Musical Identity For Middle-earth

Twenty years ago, as J.R.R. Tolkien book purists waged an online war with folks excited for Peter Jackson’s then-upcoming adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, who would have guessed that someday Jackson’s movies would have purists of their own? Sadly, with the recent revamp of Tolkien fan-forums like TheOneRing.com, it’s rather difficult these days to find exact discussions and posts from, say, September 19th, 2001, but I can assure you that the arguments on those fan-forums back then played out much like the arguments happening nowadays over the contents of Amazon’s new series.

The Lord Of The Rings
Howard Shore | variety.com

But the tables have turned. Amazon hasn’t done much marketing for The Lord Of The Rings just yet, but what little they have done has been designed to appeal to fans of Tolkien’s books…specifically his lesser-known, posthumously-published books. That screenshot they posted last month had all of Silmarillion twitter freaking out and urgently debating the light-source in the image (long story). But I can imagine it left some hardcore fans of Peter Jackson’s movies who haven’t necessarily read The Lord Of The Rings, much less The Silmarillion, a little confused or even underwhelmed.

I definitely don’t think Amazon helped remedy this problem by announcing that The Lord Of The Rings would be moving production on season two to the United Kingdom shortly thereafter. For fans of Peter Jackson’s movies (specifically fans who haven’t read the books, but also kind of everyone), that was another blow. New Zealand and Middle-earth have become intertwined in the public consciousness to the point where they’re nearly synonymous, for better or worse. Fans introduced to Tolkien’s vibrant fantasy world through the movies were disappointed, and it’s understandable why, even though there are upsides to filming in the UK (one being that it was Tolkien’s home-country).

All of that brings us to today’s news, which fell upon my ears like the echo of all the joys I’d ever known (bonus points if you know which chapter of The Lord Of The Rings I’m paraphrasing there). Howard Shore, the composer for both of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth trilogies, is in talks to return to the world he helped define through his phenomenal music. It hasn’t been finalized just yet, according to Deadline, but the odds seem pretty good that Shore will get to craft new soundscapes, themes, and iconic leitmotifs for the Second Age of Middle-earth.

The Lord Of The Rings
Minas Tirith | time.com

It’s the kind of news that makes everyone happy, or at least nearly everyone. Howard Shore is a genius, and his Oscar-winning score for The Lord Of The Rings is widely regarded as one of the greatest in film history. If he boards Amazon’s series, we can be certain that the kingdoms of Númenor, Lindon, Eregion, and Khazad-dûm at its height will each have their own rich and distinctive sound, and that Shore will choose from among the most unique vocal talents of our time to back up his work with original songs (I’m just gonna namedrop Tolkien-inspired singer/songwriter Oonagh here and hope that someone at Amazon reads my blog-posts).

But best of all (at least from a business perspective), this news makes fans of Peter Jackson’s movies happy. And getting them onboard with the series is going to be crucial for Amazon if they want to have a hit. I’m not advocating for Howard Shore to simply copy-and-paste his Fellowship and Shire themes into the soundtrack for Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings (although I’d love to hear echoes of those and other themes at appropriate moments), but I think Peter Jackson fans want a sense of continuity between the movies and the series, and this is a great way to achieve that.

And what’s even more interesting about all of this is that according to Fellowship Of Fans, Howard Shore will be joined on the series by another great composer – Bear McCreary. McCreary’s name might be less well-known to some folks, but the Emmy Award and BAFTA Award winning composer has established his own very unique style over the past decade or so, working across several different mediums and genres, on TV shows like Black Sails, Outlander, The Walking Dead, and my own personal favorite, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., dozens of films including the Cloverfield sci-fi/horror franchise, and the two most recent God Of War video games inspired by Norse mythology.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Shire | cntraveler.com

Assuming that all of this comes to pass, I foresee a lot of Emmy Awards in Howard Shore and Bear McCreary’s futures, and I can’t wait to hear some of their work soon. Who knows? Maybe…just maybe…a first trailer or teaser is already being edited together, and Amazon wants Shore’s music to really sell it for general audiences. I know that would sell it for me.

What do you think? Which composer’s work are you most excited to hear in The Lord Of The Rings? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Do We Want Live-Action “She-Ra”?

Okay, so it’s not exactly the animated She-Ra movie that we all wanted and continuously asked for, but…it’s something. It’s something, all right. News broke today that Amazon Prime is currently in early development of a live-action series centered around the iconic character of She-Ra, and it caused quite the commotion on social media once it became known that the series would be a straightforward reboot or sequel to the original 1980’s animated series, and would have nothing to do with the popular Netflix reboot – She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power – that concluded its five-season run last year.

She-Ra
1980’s She-Ra | dallasweekly.com

Now to be fair, any connection between the two would likely be impossible given that this new live-action series is coming from a rival streaming service, and as a fan of Netflix’s She-Ra, I think I can speak for much of the fandom when I say I wouldn’t be too keen on the idea of a live-action version of that highly stylized series (although it still might be preferable to live-action versions of the original character designs…yikes). But as a fan, I can also guess why a lot of people are unhappy about this announcement. It feels like a step back.

When Noelle Stevenson rebooted She-Ra for modern audiences, they did so with the understanding that certain aspects of the original series didn’t work, and needed to be tweaked or played around with to keep the franchise alive and healthy, but also to ensure that the fandom could keep growing. Stevenson’s She-Ra honored the spirit of the original without being beholden to it, and anyone – whether they had watched the original series or not – could jump into the Netflix reboot and get caught up in a really awesome story that hinged on a groundbreaking depiction of queer love.

The significance of She-Ra‘s LGBTQ+ representation cannot be understated, but part of the reason why it works so well is because this story was already queer-coded, intentionally or not. Sorry not sorry to all the homophobes and transphobes out there, but everything about the premise of the original She-Ra (and for that matter its sibling series He-Man) makes ten times more sense when viewed through a queer and/or trans lens. This isn’t even a recent interpretation of either series. So Noelle Stevenson’s decision to make She-Ra queer wasn’t random: it built off the character’s established struggle with her secret identity and double life in such a way that it felt completely organic and thematically cohesive.

She-Ra
Catra and Adora | ew.com

But of course, this decision didn’t go over well with a whole bunch of people, mostly adult men who like to call themselves fans of the original She-Ra even though they seem primarily interested in the lead heroine’s physical attributes (and we all had to hear about how modern She-Ra wasn’t sexualized enough for them). These are the same folks who feel the need to justify the fact that they still enjoy He-Man by pretending that it was really dark, edgy, and aggressively straight – despite literally all the evidence to the contrary – because they need to make some point about how women and LGBTQ+ folks are ruining their childhood.

And when the fandom splits down the middle like this, we get things like Masters Of The Universe: Revelations trying to reconcile this completely baseless perception of the original cartoons as some kind of edgelord fantasy with what new generations want from the franchise – and it’s unappealing to pretty much everybody. Until now, because there had only been the one attempt to reboot She-Ra in particular, we’d mostly been having this conversation about He-Man. Now the question on everybody’s lips is: who is this She-Ra live-action series going to be aimed at?

And I think now that we’re having the conversation about She-Ra specifically, our argument as fans of the Netflix reboot feels a lot clearer. Because He-Man, while linked to She-Ra, is technically a separate franchise with a much larger and more widely spread-out fandom, and the benefit of stronger name recognition. A lot of people are going to watch He-Man just because it’s He-Man, and they know that character. She-Ra, on the other hand, is as popular as it is today because of Noelle Stevenson’s series, and because of the fans of that series who still get She-Ra trending on Twitter every few months because of how much we want more of that version.

She-Ra
Netflix’s She-Ra | kotaku.com

I’m not even as mad about this news as some people are, because I’m open to Amazon blowing my mind with a great idea, but I do understand where that anger is coming from – and I am disappointed that Dreamworks and Mattel, who own the rights to She-Ra, seem to be pointedly ignoring the potential for a She-Ra movie building off the events of the Netflix reboot. Currently, without many details to go on besides the unquestionable fact that live-action Catra is probably going to be another Sonic the Hedgehog situation, all I can hope is that the renewed interest in this franchise will lead to more She-Ra content in the near future – including an animated movie.

So what do you think? Are you excited to see what Amazon has in store? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Lord Of The Rings” Is Coming Home In 2022

If nothing else, Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings has already done a great deal to expose the power and influence that Peter Jackson still wields, not so much over Tolkien fandom as a whole – although his mark is certainly felt there, and his The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is understandably an entry point for many fans – but over the general public’s view of the franchise. Imagery that originated in his trilogy has become indelibly associated with the story over the past twenty years, and some hardcore fans of his films display the kind of surprisingly strong and aggressive loyalty to Jackson that makes any attempt to supplant that iconic imagery…difficult, to say the least.

The Lord Of The Rings
Hobbiton | hgtv.com

Now, Jackson’s films are each cinematic masterpieces in their own right (I am of course deliberately ignoring The Hobbit trilogy), so it’s not totally surprising that they’ve still got legions of diehard supporters. I myself am a massive fan, and if you don’t believe I’ve got a few “10 out of 10” movie reviews for the trilogy on my blog that should dispel any doubt. They are my favorite movies. But that doesn’t make them perfect, and I’ve always been open to the idea of seeing something new and unique from Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings – especially since their show isn’t a remake of Jackson’s trilogy, something that a lot of people still don’t know and which complicates the discourse around it exponentially.

But one of many things that Jackson got right was his use of nature in the trilogy as more than just a setting, but as a main character in the story.

A deep-seated respect and admiration for nature is integral to all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, and therefore to any adaptation of said writings. And by choosing to shoot almost the entirety of The Lord Of The Rings in his home country of New Zealand, Peter Jackson imbued the films with a love of nature that was not only important to the story on a thematic level, but important to him on a personal level. He utilized stunningly beautiful landscapes around the North and South Island that at that time were mostly brand new to global audiences, thereby ensuring that, for many people, Middle-earth and The Lord Of The Rings are the only exposure they have to New Zealand.

And over the past two decades, New Zealand has slowly taken on the very identity of Middle-earth, to the detriment of its own Māori culture and history, and to a point where there’s legitimate cause for concern over how much the country relies on its tourism industry, which in turn relies on The Lord Of The Rings and other big movie franchises, which in turn leads to things like the infamous “Hobbit Law” – passed in 2010 as a little incentive for Warner Brothers to make its Hobbit trilogy in New Zealand – that prevents workers in New Zealand’s film industry from unionizing. The Hobbit Law has been subtly revised several times, but not repealed, and the dispute it caused even led to a feud between Jackson and The Lord Of The Rings actress Robyn Malcolm.

But while that’s the kind of thing you might think would entice Amazon to stick around (and that’s the very reason for the Law’s conception), neither the reprehensible Hobbit Law nor New Zealand’s location incentive program (which, if I’m reading the reports accurately, would have made Amazon eligible for an “uplift” of roughly $23.1 million dollars, if not more down the line), could ultimately keep the studio in the country. Amazon announced last night that the second season of The Lord Of The Rings will move production to the United Kingdom, marking the first time in the franchise’s history that it will be filmed entirely in the nation of its origin.

The Lord Of The Rings
Mount Ngauruhoe | trekearth.com

The reaction has been divided, nowhere more so than in New Zealand itself, where Amazon’s decision will have far-ranging economic and political effects. It doesn’t help that Amazon gave very little indication of why they made the move, although it’s worth noting that many of their upcoming series’ are being produced in the UK anyway, so it may just be a matter of practicality – especially since The Lord Of The Rings is also hiring quite a lot of British actors who had been stuck in New Zealand for several months during the country’s lockdown. With the nation only just signaling its intentions to reopen its borders beginning early next year, it may be simpler for Amazon to work in a slightly less restrictive nation for the time being…although filming in New Zealand certainly came with the benefit of not having to shut down production because of COVID-19 cases every thirty minutes, which is not a guarantee in the UK.

Another benefit that came with New Zealand were its stunning landscapes and vistas, which have become visually synonymous with the fantastical realms of Middle-earth: from the hilly patch of farmland in Matamata that quite literally is the village of Hobbiton, to the slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe where the Mount Doom sequences were filmed, to the forests around Paradise that served as home to the Elves of Lórien. As has often been noted, the diversity of environments in New Zealand gave Peter Jackson’s films the look and feel of being a globe-trotting adventure, but the fact that so many of his iconic filming locations are accessible in a single vacation made them excellent for tourists trying to escape into their favorite fantasy world.

The UK may not be blessed with nearly as many mountain ranges as New Zealand, but it still boasts a number of beautiful forests, coastlines, and craggy landscapes – particularly in Scotland where, what do you know, Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings was originally going to be filmed. As long as they continue to film on location in the UK, rather than assembling their landscapes in post-production using CGI to replicate the real deal, I don’t necessarily see an issue with this change. Maintaining visual continuity with season one is gonna be a hassle, but at this point Amazon has been filming for so long in New Zealand that they may be able to stitch reused footage into English or Scottish countrysides seamlessly. Maybe that’s what that fake production crew was actually doing this whole time…

I think one reason this decision has been met with such backlash is because it seems to confirm what’s becoming increasingly clear – that Amazon intends to cut ties with Jackson’s continuity, perhaps for good. I mean, we don’t know that for sure. They may end up returning to New Zealand for some reason. But this definitely suggests that Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings is going to establish its own visual style and aesthetic moving forward, and I can understand why that would make some fans upset. I know I’ll be extremely angry if the rich and unique landscapes of New Zealand are swapped out for lifeless greenscreens. We saw what that looked like in The Hobbit, and it was a travesty.

But hey! Maybe we’ll see some of the locations that inspired Tolkien himself in The Lord Of The Rings. That would be pretty darn awesome, and feels like too good an opportunity for Amazon to miss. I’m gonna miss New Zealand, I’ll be honest, but I’m hoping that, in this case, change doesn’t necessarily mean a change for the worse. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Lord Of The Rings
Scottish Highlands | elitetraveler.com

If you live in New Zealand, I’d be especially interested to learn more about how this move affects the country, and if you live in the UK, I’d love to hear what locations you think would make great settings for The Lord Of The Rings! Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!