Earlier this week, Middle Earth fans worldwide were shocked when Amazon announced that they had purchased the rights to make a television series based on Tolkien’s hugely popular universe, reportedly for a whopping $250 million. Now, an even bigger story has emerged: Christopher Tolkien has resigned as director of the Tolkien estate.
Some of you may be asking ‘who?’ or ‘why should I care?’ Well, ask yourself this: Why does Harry Potter have its own shops and theme parks, yet Lord of the Rings, a far more popular set of books and films, does not? Well, it’s because of Christopher Tolkien. Christopher is the son of Middle Earth author JRR Tolkien, and since the death of his father in 1973 he has had the ultimate control of the usage of the fictional universe in all other forms. While the film rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were sold a long time ago, Christopher Tolkien held onto the rights for literally everything else. This is why there is no Children of Hurin miniseries, or The Silmarillion movie.
So why has he refused to sell them, when he could quite clearly make enormous amounts of cash? Well, Christopher Tolkien takes his father’s works very seriously. He has gone through his father’s enormous piles of notes and writings, slowly releasing them piece by piece and helping to turn them into narratives, like the popular Children of Hurin and Beren and Luthien, released earlier this year. He has struggled to keep Middle Earth true to his father’s vision throughout his entire life. As a result, he despised Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, so much that he reportedly disowned his son due to a disagreement over them. The man lives and breathes Middle Earth, and is very protective over it, which is very admirable in many ways.
So with the news that he has resigned as head of the Tolkien Estate at the ripe old age of 92, all of this could change. We do not know yet who is taking over from him, so we won’t know if his successor will be as determined to keep hold of the rights to Middle Earth properties. Having sold the television rights to Amazon earlier this week, it may be a sign of some softening of opinion from the Tolkien Estate. If so, we will no doubt see various film and television studios scrambling to purchase the rights to Tolkien’s work for ridiculous amounts of money. After all, The Lord of the Rings film series is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful series of all time, so the possibility of making more Middle Earth properties must be tempting.
So is this good news for us consumers? At this early stage, it’s hard to say. While I think some of Tolkien’s work could serve to be the basis for some amazing television shows and films, I worry that some of the trappings of modern cinema could spoil the charm somewhat. I dread to think what a Middle Earth cinematic universe could be like. Do we really want to see a team of plucky hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Numenoreans learning to work as a team so they can thwart a new Dark Lord’s plot to destroy Eriador with a big blue laser beam? And then have that same plot repeated every damn year?
Of course, at this early stage that is just paranoid speculation on my part. Maybe this is the first sign that we will see some really incredible work down with Tolkien’s already amazing work. I just have one niggling thought: Peter Jackson, a man incredibly passionate about Tolkien’s legendarium, failed to make the same Middle Earth magic work a second time around when he made The Hobbit. Can anyone else really make it work a third time?
Well, we will just have to hope so.