Thursday, August 9, 2018

Not just the mythos but the ethos

For $250 million Amazon has purchased the television rights to The Lord of the Rings. Apparently the planned series will be set to take place before Fellowship of the Ring — a prequel series.  Hannah Long wonders "Can Amazon Maintain the Spirit of ‘The Lord of the Rings’?"
...[W]ithout the strong anchor of Tolkien’s worldview—the stories will be missing the strong elegiac resonance of Middle Earth.

Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy made this mistake. The bombastic, colorful blockbusters relied heavily on intertextual references to iconic Lord of the Rings moments, from a pointless subplot introducing a character with no relevance to the plot of The Hobbit (the Necromancer), to randomly name-dropping characters like Aragorn. The Hobbit knew the notes of Tolkien’s world but not the tune. As a result, the story turns Tolkien’s beloved children’s story into a clowning, brainless blockbuster. ....

By contrast, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy caught, though imperfectly, the broad strokes of Tolkien’s ideas. The ring’s ability to stave off mortality and dominate creation is well-established in the trilogy. The story’s bittersweet ending was diluted by the removal of the Scouring of the Shire scene, but remains in Frodo’s gradual withdrawing from Middle Earth (it’s why the many endings of Return of the King are justified).

Sam Gamgee’s speech in The Two Towers film describing his hope for this beaten-up, broken-down world echoes Tolkien’s own belief, drawn from a passage of Chesterton, that despite the sadness of the Earth, “when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.”

Or as Sam puts it, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Tolkien’s universe is full of opportunity for expansion, and he wasn’t opposed to the idea (in the same letter to his publisher, he spitballed about creating a myth so expansive that a whole culture could add to it). However, if Amazon wants to build an expanded universe, it will have to understand the universe it’s expanding.

With Amazon’s emphasis on new stories and addicting storylines, and with a successful but dumbed-down film franchise looming in audience’s memory, it could be easy to neglect the rich literary milieu to which it has gained the rights and just focus on crowd-pleasing spectacle. That would be a shame and a waste. For the story to ring true, Amazon must capture not just the mythos but the ethos of Tolkien’s world.