Amazon have recently acquired global TV rights to The Lord of the Rings and they have agreed to create a multi-season series and possibly some spin-off ones as well.
In a rights deal said to be worth $250 million, the online retailer and increasingly powerful TV show creator has struck a deal that will see them work with Tolkien Estate and Trust; HarperCollins; and New Line Cinema to bring stories set before The Fellowship of the Ring to the small screen.
However, it’s not yet clear what that might involve in terms of the characters or even the epoch being featured. When Warner Bros. Entertainment’s division New Line Cinema acquired the movie rights they did so from Saul Zaentz, who’d bought them in the 1970s. Those rights were only for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and the events described in its appendices and not Tolkien’s other works.
What Amazon’s statement does say is that it’s a multi-season comitment and that it will involve new storylines set in Middle Earth. The Midde Earth part might rule out some of the older stories that are detailed in The Silmarillion as they don’t take place in Midde Earth, but perhaps that’s just a detail.
We take a look at the ages of Arda, Tolkien’s name for Earth or The World, and its many stories both familiar and strange.
If you have not read the books or don’t want to know the various stories then stop reading now!
The Lord of the Rings and its Appendices
The First Age
This is mostly covered in Tolkien’s collection of stories known as The Silmarillion, but there is an outline of the events in The Lord of the Rings. Some of these take place outside Middle Earth (Endor) and involve biblical struggles between the god-like Valar, their less powerful kin the Maiar, the high elves, the first men and Sauron’s master Morgoth, who is a fallen Valar.
It also cover the creation of the universe and features characters like Shelob’s ancestor Ungoliant, and amazingly, also familiar ones like Galadriel, who by the time of the The Lord of the Rings had been alive for at least 8000 years and possibly far longer. She was born in a time when the world was lit by two trees and there was no sun or moon to measure time in the way we do.
It doesen’t seem that likely from the vague press release that this will feature in any series but if it did there could be some amazing tales, see The Silmarillion heading further down for more on this age.
The Second Age
The second age started with the first men reaching the island of Numenor and the construction of the Grey Havens by the high elves. It ended with the overthrow of Sauron and the taking of his One Ring, this age spans a time period of over three thousand four hundred years.
After the deafeat of Morgoth and the breaking of the world, the first men (known as the Edain) were gifted the island of Numenor, which was between Middle Earth and elven home of Valinor.
They were also given long life and were free from sickness, though they did eventually die. They had a lot of contact with the elves on Valinor and that divine place could be seen from the highest peak on the island, but they were not allowed to set foot on that tantalising paradise.
The start of the age also saw the dwarves flock to Moria and its rich seams as they left their homes in the west, which were close to where the land was shattered into the sea in the previous age. Within about 500 years Sauron began to take shape again and he decided to make his home in Mordor, fortifying it against the threat he saw coming from the increasingly powerful Numenoreans.
The men of Numenor were great mariners and it was not long before they started exploring Middle Earth again, setting up ports and building cities. Though this led them to be seen as a big threat by Sauron and he plotted their downfall.
It is worth remembering at this time Sauron could still assume a fair form and so was not a hideous sight or just an eye in the mind of those who could sense him. He decided the try and seduce the elven smiths who’d settled the area to the west of Moria, just to the south of the shire.
It was here that the forging skills of the elves of old lived on and where rings of power were created. Sauron befriended some of the elves, instructed them on forging rings and then in secret forged the One Ring to bind and dominate all the others.
This led to a great war and the land was ravaged as the elves waged war against Sauron and his betrayal but they were overcome and their land destroyed with the remnants fleeing to Rivendell.
Numenor was the island home gifted to the first men, known as the Edain, as reward for their help in the battle against Morgoth. There they thrived for a thousand years and when the elves were defeated by Sauron, the Numenoreans sent a vast navy and Sauron is defeated in battle.
He then concentrates on the eastern lands and around 500 years later the ring wraiths first appear, kings of men bound to the rings gifted them by Sauron.
The next big event happens abour 1000 years after this when Numenor captures Sauron and takes him back as a prison. This proves a fatal mistake as he is cunning and soon sows descent between both within Numenor and between them and the elves. He stirs their lust for immortality and eventually they decide to invade Aman (The Undying Lands) and take the “gift of the eldar” for themselves.
At this point the elves lay down their arms and call upon god to intervene, he makes the seas bend and removes the Undying Lands from Arda (Earth). Numenor itself is destoyed by a huge wave and only a fleet led by Elendil, who is loyal to the elves and was against the invasion, survive.
Elendil and his sons make their home in Middle Earth and form the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, using all the skills of Numenor to create spectacular cities and fortresses.
Together with his son and in an alliance with the elves led by Gil-galad, Elendil defeats Sauron in battle. Though he, his son Anarion and Gil-galad all die in the process, with his other son Isildur taking the One Ring from Sauron.
Sauron is defeated and becomes a shadow, his power drained for now.
The Third Age
This is the period between the defeat of Sauron when the One Ring was taken and the end of the War of the Ring when Sauron was defeated again and the One Ring destroyed in the fires where it was forged, on Mount Doom.
It spans over three thousand years of time and includes the arrival of the so-called wizards in Middle Earth (including Gandalf) and a troubled period as the peoples tried to recover from the last great war and Sauron quietly grew his power again.
The North Kingdoms and the Witch-king of Angmar
After the death of Elendil and his son Isildur, Arnor, the northerly sister state of Gondor began to wane a little. in particular when the three sons of king Earendur decided to split the kingdom into three it was the beginning of the end. Arnor remained the most powerful but Rhudaur and Cardolan were weaker and they often fought over borders and strategic fortresses like Amon Sul (Weathertop).
There was also unequal division of the palantir (seeing stones), with Arnor getting two and the others fighting over the remianing one on Weathertop. This meant that the three kingdoms could not use that effective means of communication to co-ordinate or even just talk directly over distance.
Soon evil began to grow on the borders of Arnor with orcs and evil men growing in number, all under the leadership of someone only known as the Witch-king who controlled the realm known as Angmar. It was only later that it was discovered that he was none other than the Lord of the Nazgul, the leader of the nine black riders and the most powerful of the kings of men to take a ring of power from Sauron.
Soon war swept across the north and the last king of Arnor fled to the far north but his ship perished in the ice and the palantir he held was lost to the watery depths. All that remained of the three kingdoms were ruins that men were afraid to explore and the barrow mounds on the borders of The Shire, where their dead rested uneasy in their stone tombs.
However, there was still hope and not all the Dunedain (Men of the West) perished in the war. There ancestors survived to become the rangers of the north, who travelled the wilds and found evil things in dark places with little thanks. Knowing only that one day one amongst them might rise and bring their people back from the shadows…but it was a long wait.
This could make a great tale and would have plenty of political intrigue, plus a few characters people would recognise.
Gondor in the South and the breaking of the line of Kings
Gondor had always been a more powerful state than Arnor and here the strength of the Dunedain remained formidable for thousands of years. But there was plenty of drama as they fought against neighbouring states in the south and defended themselves from the various evils that still lurked after the overthrow of Sauron by The Last Alliance. The biggest problem they faced was internal and eventually the last king died without an heir and the line of kings in the south was broken.
In replacement of the king stewards were appointed and ruled the city with the understanding they were looking after it until the king returned. Boromir and Faramir’s father was a steward, but by his time any dream of a king returning had turned from real hope into a story told to children at bedtime.
Like many of the human kingdoms in Midde Earth, those of the dwarves also faced many challenges in the thousands of years between the start and end of the Third Age, including the awakening or release of a balrog of Morgoth. This fire demon or spirit had fled the destruction of its master’s fortress in the First Age and lain hidden deep under the mountain. But as the dwarves delved deep for mithril silver they uncovered the balrog and it drove them out of their greatest realm, at great cost in lives and wealth.
Elsewhere their other kingdoms suffered as well, with the Lonely Mountain being taken as home by Smaug the dragon.
The Fellowship before The War of the Ring
The series could perhaps follow the members of the Fellowship of the Ring before they become embroiled in the mission to destroy the One Ring. So Boromir’s struggle to live up to his father’s expectation, Legolas helping his father deal with border problems and the others all handling thr rumors of war.
However, most of this was covered in the movies and extended version or in The Hobbit so its hard to see how there would be any new stories in this material. Even the likes of The White Council dealing with the “Necromancer” in Mirkwood’s Dol Guldur was shown in The Hobbit trilogy of films.
The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
This could fall under the first possibility but this story is fleshed out a bit more in the appendices of the book and although there are a few flashbacks in the movies showing them falling in love, it’s not covered in any detail. It is possible that Aragorn’s struggle to lead his scattered people and tough years in the wilds fighting Sauron’s minion could make a series.
Though again with the movies still quite fresh it might be hard to make this convincing and although there is some side stories like Arwen’s mother being captured by orcs, her side of the tale is a little thin on the ground.
There are also tales of the men of Rohan and numerous other stories that could be woven into a cohesive story of the Third Age of Middle Earth.
Tolkien also wrote extensively about the deeper history of Midde Earth and the broader world of Arda (Earth) and Ea (the universe). In The Silmarillion there are epic tales of bravery and tragedy in a struggle that puts the War of the Ring in the shade and involves powerful supernatural entities of whom the likes of Sauron was just a minion and Shelob a mere house spider.
Hosts of balrogs fought powerful elven kingdoms and dragons many times greater than Smaug were let loose upon the world. But there were also marvels beyond imagination and a skillful smith created the wonders of the age in the form of the Silmarils, wonderous jewels that were created by master elven smith Feanor and captured the light of the Two Trees in their crystalline. The Two Trees were the source of light before the Sun and the Moon, but their light was far more powerful and blissful. They were poisoned by Shelob’s ancestor Ungoliant, who together with Melkor (later called Morgoth) destroyed their light. As they died the trees produced once last leaf and fruit, these were used to make the Sun and Moon.
The jewels drive many of the characters in The Silmarillion and even the god-like Valar valued them. Eventually they are stolen by Morgoth and this results in their maker Feanor, his sons and many other elves swearing a terrible oath to get them back. This leads to huge battles and the death of tens of thousands.
Beren and Luthien
Some of the characters embroiled in all this include the lovers Beren and Luthien, a man and an elf who fall in love and manage to retrieve one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown. Their story is later mirrored by Aragorn and Arwen, where she gives up her immortiality to be with him for a short time on Middle Earth.
Turin was warrior who lived in the First Age during the time of the wars against Morgoth. His family had been cursed by Morgoth but he did everything he could to escape it, though this actually led him to leavea trail of destruction behind him. In a tragic twist he also ended up falling for his own sister who had lost her memory under a dragon’s spell.
Turin eventually defeats the dragon but is knocked out in the process, then with its dying breath the dragon removed the spell. His sister now learning the truth, kills herself and he follows soon after when he discovers what has happened. So a bit of a grim ending but his adventures would make for some amazing TV.
There are also countless other stories, battles, epic quests, fell deeds and tragic dramas that play out in this saga.
The Silmarillion might be a harder read than The Lord of the Rings and its narrative is a broken one, but it would still make for an amazing tale and series.
What do you think they will go for? Which stories or age would make for the best television?