The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power

The Behind-The-Scenes video of how they made this clip can be seen here.

Maybe you’re like me and you didn’t know (or forgot?) that Amazon is filming a prequel to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels. Today the title for this series was announced from Valhalla with quite a few Wagnerian effects: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.’

“This is a title that we imagine could live on the spine of a book next to J.R.R. Tolkien’s other classics,” showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay said in a statement. “The Rings of Power unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.”

They added: “Until now, audiences have only seen on-screen the story of the One Ring – but before there was one, there were many… and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.”

In the title video, various shots of Middle-earth are seen as molten metal is poured into a forge and cooled to create the series’ title in silver, its lettering in Elven script. Over this, a female voiceover – a young Galadriel perhaps? – recites Tolkien’s epigraph to Lord of the Rings

Still feeling a bit lost? I sure was. Here’s back-story from Wikipedia:

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is an upcoming American television series based on stories by J. R. R. Tolkien. Developed by J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay for the streaming service Prime Video, the series is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth before the events of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels. It is produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, with Payne and McKay serving as showrunners.

Amazon bought the television rights for The Lord of the Rings for US$250 million in November 2017, making a five-season production commitment worth at least US$1 billion. This would make it the most expensive television series ever made. Payne and McKay were hired to develop the series in July 2018, with the rest of the creative team confirmed a year later. The large ensemble cast includes actors from around the world. Filming for the first season took place in New Zealand, where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies were made, from February 2020 to August 2021, with a production break of several months during that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first eight-episode season is scheduled to premiere on Prime Video on September 2, 2022. A second season was formally ordered in November 2019. Amazon announced in August 2021 that filming for future seasons would take place in the United Kingdom.

I think the take-away here is the date ‘November 2017.’ Christopher Tolkien, third son of J. R. R. Tolkien and appointed literary executor, had been head of the Tolkien Estate and Trust until August 2017. The Tolkien Estate and Trust, insomuch as it was the sock-puppet of Christopher Tolkien, despised the movie adaptations of Lord of the Rings and sued the film makers repeatedly and successfully for breach of contract. I discussed this in a 2013 post, ‘The Tolkien Estate and the Movies: Why We Should Care.’ If you doubt Christopher Tolkien “despised” the movies, here is a direct quote from the man:

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”

The current project — and it’s $250 million advance with a likely $1 billion payday — was only possible when Christopher Tolkien not only turned his “head away” from the desecration of his father’s work, but also removed himself as the obstacle to this great profit taking. I write about this here for three reasons:

(1) Many of readers here at Hogwarts Professor — and at least two of our writers — are great fans of Tolkien’s work and more than familiar with the Jackson adaptations. News of this latest adaptation, I assume from material in The Silmarillionconsequently, merits a post.

(2) Rowling has retained the rights to all of her work post Harry Potter. Adaptations of Casual Vacancy and of four Cormoran Strike mysteries have been made by her own production company, Bronte Studios, over which, of course, she has total control. I have written before — and maintain because I have heard no cogent argument contrary to my speculation — that I think The Presence has taken this position because she was profoundly disappointed in the Warner Brothers’ “fitting the woman to the dress,” which is to say, their creating a story experience and meaning quite alien from the imaginative one to be had in the books.

The ancillary assertion is that she only agreed to participate in the Fantastic Beasts movies (a) because she had signed over the rights to the text-book and the studio planned some kind of ‘Indiana Jones meets King Kong’ series, (b) to protect the integrity of her Wizarding World property by being part of the creative team (she hoped to be a key force beyond drafting the story which appears to have been a failed hope), and (c) to maximize her share in the profit-taking and fan-servicing exercise that this series is start to finish. From the little that can be gleaned from the ‘Original Screenplay’ books of the two films thus far, little more than transcripts from the released movie, and from leaked conversations and actual film shot from Rowling’s version of the story, is that David Yates and David Heyman have butchered her writing to make it ‘work’ according to blockbuster film formula.

(3) It is my great hope that the advent of Rowling’s Bronte Studios means that, after the Fantastic Beasts films have all been released, that no more of her work will be “adapted” for other media — screen, stage, or television — without the author’s complete control and veto powers. Christopher Tolkien was right about the film adaptations of his father’s Middle Earth stories, if, sadly, being correct meant little to the next generation of Tolkiens and their capacity to resist the Siren Song of Hollywood’s lucre. Rowling is positioned — and I assume this was by her conscious decision and design — never to be subject to such forces as the Tolkiens are once the books whose rights Christopher Little sold have been filmed.

Three cheers for this fore-sight and the courage and determination it has taken to follow-through on it. My one remaining wish is that Rowling publish her Fantastic Beasts stories as originally conceived after the maladaptations are done. Her readers, for whom I presume to speak, deserve as much and the producer and director of the ‘action versions’ of her stories deserve the rebuke.

Again, I wrote about this at greater length in 2013; see ‘Tolkien and the Movies: Why We Should Care‘ for much more on this subject. Muggeridge said that “Sex is the mysticism of the materialist.” I think it obvious, if one follows Muggeridge’s logic, that film is only art to the secular mind and sensible intelligence, one lacking true imagination — and that all ‘adaptations’ of great imaginative work into this sensible medium are by default desecrations to greater or lesser degree. Just as the physics or natural science of every age reflects its metaphysics, so too will its art and means of telling story; ours, because of the ontologically flat realm in which we live and think and strain for what is Real, is the at best banal and inevitably demeaning experience of ‘movies.’


  1. I’m pretty sure that this new production does not have any rights to The Silmarillion, which is why they are putting this narrative in a timeline between the two. Thus, this is going to establish a film canon of sorts, but ought not to be considered canon within Tolkien’s history of Middle Earth. I have very little interest in the films either, especially after the Hollywood atrocity that was still somehow allowed to be called “The Two Towers”. But as an aside I’ll add that Howard Shore’s film scores are an absolute masterpiece and a worthwhile standalone achievement.

  2. Thgank you for this clarification — I gladly defer to your knowledge of this subject!

    My only question is for what the film makers were paying the Tolkien Estate and Trust if not for rights to adapt a specific work? I guess just the rights to portray Middle-Earth and use the ‘Lord of the Rings’ titling would be enough. They have had a hard time with litigation against the Tolkiens.

    This, though, makes the payday seem even more like prostitution than an adaptation would be. The film makers now have carte blanche to do whatever they wantwhich generates eyes-on-screen. Scary, that.

  3. This interview will provide some insight:

    Tom Shippey explains that the Tolkien Estate is essentially reserving the right to make executive decisions on the storyline. Which is going to create an extremely narrow limit of time that they can use. The writers apparently have rights to neither The Silmarillion (First Age) nor The Hobbit/LotR books (Third Age), so they had to create a Second Age for this project to even be possible.

    So it’s just a glamorized fan fiction with the all-time largest budget of a series ever. Fun!

  4. Wayne Stauffer says

    And since Christopher Tolkien has passed, the estate curators are even less vested in (further removed from) maintaining the integrity of the literature. Sigh

  5. Fascinating! Thank you for the link to the Shippey interview; if there is a single voice of authority in Tolkien Studies, his is it.

  6. Hi,

    So I mostly enjoyed The Lord of the Rings movies. More importantly, to me, I don’t know if I’d be here (on this message board) without sometimes frustrating movie adaptations of really really wonderful books such as The Lord of the Rings as well as Harry Potter. So many movies or TV adaptations have either made me aware of a truly great book or given me the push I needed to read it.

    I was able to read each book in each in HP series and LOTR installment before seeing the movie, which I prefer. I’ve started The Wheel of Time on Amazon without reading the first book, not sure how that’s going to work out. (Any Wheel of Time fans?)

    Thank you for the link to the Shippey interview, that’s very interesting that Amazon only has the rights to the second age. I guess there’s some freedom there, although a lot of room for the project to go completely off the rails a la the Hobbit or Fantastic Beasts movies, in my humble opinion. (I’ll still watch them, though, to be honest.)

    It was weird to have the unconscious expectation of Howard Shore’s music or Cate Blanchett’s voice in what I would consider a teaser trailer and not hear that.

    I could definitely understand seeing his father’s work changed and commercialized being very distressing for Christopher Tolkien. And I worry very much and this and future generations ability to unplug at all to read a book, take a walk or just think.

  7. Howard Shore was confirmed for the score of Rings of Power, so at least we’ll have that to look forward to!

    I (born in 1992) was one who stubbornly refused to read the HP books growing up because I didn’t like the first 3 movies. Ironically – now that I’m a super-nerd about the books – the first 3 movies are the ones I enjoy the most – since they (mostly) stick to the books.

    My fear that Amazon is going to tantalize Rings of Power with nudity and sex (a la Game of Thrones) is mostly assuaged by the close involvement of the Tolkien Estate. It was confirmed TV-14 – at least for the first season.

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