Why it’s time to be excited about Amazon’s Tolkien show

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel show is shaping into something special. With the latest reveal, most of my fears have gone out the window and I want to share with you why. Keep reading and find out why you should be pumped for what Amazon has in store for us.

If you’re anything like me, then your reaction to the late-2017 announcement that Amazon had won a bid for a Lord of the Rings-related show was mixed at best.

Now, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings / Tolkien fan, so any announcement of this nature is bound to get me excited, no details necessary. For the most part, I was, but I was also quite skeptical. After all, it was only a few short years ago that Hollywood gave us the shit spectacle that was The Battle of the Five Armies.

So on a surface level, I had worries that we would get another unfortunate disaster that would do more harm than good to Tolkien’s legacy. However, embedded in Amazon’s original press release (found here), there was a very tantalizing nugget of information: “The upcoming Amazon Prime Original will be produced by Amazon Studios in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust…” I struggled over those words when I first read them, finding them difficult to believe, but when my eyes glazed over the ink for the hundredth time and convinced me I wasn’t imagining things, I about lost my shit. In order to understand the magnitude of this particular detail, its worth a brief history lesson.

In 1969, Tolkien sold the rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to United Artists (UA). Those rights have undergone a whole lot of Hollywood nonsense and changed hands over the years, to the point now where it seems to be a minefield for anyone trying to produce Tolkien-related material without stepping out of bounds. By the time of his death, J.R.R. Tolkien had certainly left his mark on the world. After all, everything we have gotten to experience over the last fifty years about Middle-earth has been adapted from those two pieces of fiction. Except for books.

You see, Tolkien was a much more prolific writer than he was an author. He wrote an incredible amount of material that went unpublished until after his death. His son, Christopher, collected, edited, and released many wonderful pieces of writing that his father left behind, including his Magnum Opus, The Silmarillion.

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Unlike his father, Christopher Tolkien held all of these posthumous works close to his chest and absolutely refused to sell the rights for any amount of money. It is quite clear that Christopher treasured his father’s work and thought that any material representation outside of print would degrade his father’s legacy. In a 2012 interview with Le Monde, Christopher went on record regarding his thoughts about Peter Jackson’s beloved and critically acclaimed trilogy, saying:

“They eviscerated the book, making it an action movie for 15-25 year olds…
and it seems The Hobbit will be the same …Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his popularity and absorbed in the absurdity of the time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly, “the gap between the beauty, the seriousness of the work, and what it is. has become, all this is beyond me. This degree of commercialization reduces to nothing the aesthetic and philosophical scope of this creation. I have only one solution left: turn my head.”

It is no understatement that so long as Christopher Tolkien was in control of the Tolkien Estate and Trust, there would be no chance of seeing any of this posthumous work adapted to the screen. So how, then, does Amazon get to make their upcoming series “…in cooperation with the Tolkien Estate and Trust?” The answer boils down to two things:

  1. Christopher Tolkien stepped down as director of the Tolkien Estate and Trust on August 31, 2017. This wasn’t public knowledge until the announcement was made on November 15, 2017, two days after Amazon’s show announcement.
  2. Dump trucks worth of money. About $250 million, actually.

It appears that once Christopher was no longer in charge, the new body of leadership for the Tolkien Estate and Trust gave in the overwhelming weight of wealth being offered, and now here we are. I always respected Christopher’s protectiveness of his father’s legacy so part of me mourns for this turn of events. The other part of me is excited for what this means – the greater extent of Tolkien’s legendarium is now accessible, for better or for worse, and Amazon will be the first to deliver this new source material to a wider audience than ever before.

Now the main question that lingers on my mind is: will it be any good? Early rumors that the show would be “The Young Adventures of Aragorn” bothered me, but they turned out to be false. Very recently Amazon made a new announcement:

This is the news that carried my fears away and why we should all be very excited for what Amazon is putting together for us. The roughly 3400-year period of time that makes up the 2nd Age of Middle-earth has previously been untouched by film or television. It’s a veritable playground for a high quality production team to work in, because while there is an outline of events that take place during that time, the details are largely unwritten.

The 2nd Age, to put it simply, encompasses the first rise and fall of Sauron as the principal threat to Middle-earth. As the 2nd Age starts, Sauron cloaks himself in an entirely beautiful form that alludes nothing to his inherently evil nature. He tricks the elves into making the Rings of Power and enslaves nine leaders of men, turning them into the Nazgul. He then tricks the men of Numenor, leading to their downfall and the destruction of their entire island. The only survivors are Aragorn’s ancestors and those loyal to them. Gondor is founded, as well as the great northern kingdom that mirrored it. Sauron’s power grows and the Battle of the Last Alliance ends the 2nd Age as The One Ring is cut from Sauron’s finger.

There are a ton of wonderful opportunities here. I, for one, would love to see a well-done adaptation that covers the downfall of Numenor. If I could place a bet on it, I think that’s precisely what Amazon will end up doing, unless they choose to show the drama surrounding the creation of the rings.

No matter what material they choose to cover it’s of the utmost importance that its done well and done right. In this regard, I am confident we will get both. I don’t hold this view out of any trust in Amazon or any sense of blind optimism. I hold this view because money talks and Amazon is a stunningly successful business.

I mentioned earlier that Amazon paid $250-million for the rights to this 2nd Age material. That’s an absolute butt-ton of money and only for the RIGHTS – on top of that amount comes all the cost of actually producing the show: advertising, writers, actors, directors, crew, and anything else you can think of. Let’s put this into perspective by laying out some other notable book-to-film rights purchases:

Granted these are movies and Amazon’s Tolkien series will be, well, a series, but it still illustrates the astronomical difference between some of the biggest money-making movies in film history and the amount paid for their adaptation rights. (Note: The Da Vinci Code’s $6-million price tag is the most amount publicly known to have been paid for book-to-movie adaptation rights).

Multiple sources (here , here, and here for example) indicate that it is common practice to pay about 2-4% of a project’s overall budget for the rights. Amazon is throwing this entire concept out the window though, as they expect a budget of about $750-million for a 5-season run and an approximate overall cost of about $1-billion. This is set to make it the most expensive television production in history.

So yeah, we have a project in the works for a first-of-its-kind Tolkien adaptation, the rights for which were purchased by the richest guy in the world, for the most amount ever paid for adaption rights, in order to create the most expensive TV-series ever created. If there’s one thing Amazon is good at, its making money and the only way you can make a profit on something that costs more than anything of its kind that come before it is to make that material better than everything that’s come before it.

I think we’re in for a treat.

Top Favorite Quotes from Stephen King’s “On Writing”

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Several months back I read Stephen King’s “On Writing”, a memoir the literary giant wrote in the late 90’s and published in 2000, a year after a motor vehicle accident that landed him in the hospital. It was that near-fatal incident that pushed him to open his drawer, finish “On Writing”, and deliver it to the masses.

While labeled as a memoir, it is at least half as much a guide to writing. Undeniably one of the most successful fiction writers of the 20th century, Mr. King has a wealth of knowledge to share with us scrubs trying to figure the craft out. In “On Writing”, he took a rare break from fiction to detail some the trials, tribulations, and successes of his writing career. Written in a tone of sincerity and transparency, he lays his thoughts bare so we can learn from the deep pool of his experience. He never crams it down our throats, nor does he say ‘it’s my way or the highway’ – instead, he remains humble yet straight forward in his delivery. This style, combined with writing tips and personalized anecdotes about King’s life, make the book not only a worthy read, but also a distinctly educational and entertaining one.

As I was reading, I highlighted some of the parts that really hit home. May they inspire you as they did me.


On Rejection: “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”


On Word Choice: “The adverb is not your friend… I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.”


On Structure: ““I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing—the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words.”


On Dedication: “Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”


On Sincerity: “Let me say it again: You must not come lightly to the blank page.”


On Support: “Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.


On Purpose: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.


On Adversity: “I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”


On Integrity of Self: “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”


On Perspective: “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

Have you read “On Writing”? Do you have a favorite passage or quote that inspired or pushed you as a writer? Share here or on social media, and thanks for reading!

The Hobbit and the Fox – A Lord of the Rings Essay

I’m a Tolkien nerd. For over twenty years, since first reading The Hobbit, I haven’t been able to get enough of Middle Earth. I’m proud of this. Tolkien’s work has molded and shaped who I am today, in all the best ways.

I could fill twenty blogs with posts about Middle Earth every day for a year and still have

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stuff to talk about, but for my first foray into Tolkien blogging I’m going to write about one my favorite parts from The Lord of the Rings – the fox passage.

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with holy trilogy, or for those who have only seen the movies, there are a couple things to cover before diving into the exact piece I want to talk about – this will help to understand why the fox passage is unique and interesting.

It’s important to recognize that J.R.R. Tolkien was very heavily influenced by folklore and mythology. He, in fact, began his approach to creating Middle Earth with the intent to create a sort of ‘Mythology for England’.

I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own … Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story… which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country.” – Letter #131, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

It is with this perspective in mind, that it should be understood: Middle Earth is written to be our earth.

I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. The name is the modern form (appearing in the 13th century and still in use) of midden-erd > middel-erd, an ancient name for the oikoumenē, the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven or Hell). The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time.” – Letter #183, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

So when you read The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings, they could be read as being works of ancient myth that Tolkien found and translated to English for us – think: Tolkien the Historian and Anthropologist vs. Tolkien the Fiction Writer.

When we discuss The Lord of the Rings, the ‘ancient text’ that Tolkien the Historian worked from is The Red Book of Westmarch. This is the book that Bilbo and Frodo (then later: Sam, Merry, and Pippin, and…others) wrote themselves. It is to be understood that Frodo is the principal author of The Lord of the Rings.

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That said, everything that was written in The Lord of the Rings follows a certain scheme: what was written was either the first-hand or second-hand account of someone that was actually present to experience the events of the story. It is written in a third person omniscient POV, but the perspective almost always follows one of the central protagonists.

Almost always.

This is where the fox passage comes in. Here it is in all it’s lustrous glory:

They set no watch; even Frodo feared no danger yet, for they were still in the heart of the Shire. A few creatures came and looked at them when the fire had died away. A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.

‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it. – The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3: Three Is Company

The first thing that sticks out when I read this passage is that we are suddenly experiencing the thoughts of a wild animal. It’s weird, it’s different. While The Hobbit has some more fantastical elements like this, the Lord of the Rings generally does not.

Then, thinking about it a little deeper, the oddity continues. This is the single point, in the entire trilogy, where we are suddenly seeing things from the perspective of a being that is an outsider to the parties directly involved in the story. Think about that and remember, we are reading something that supposedly was taken as first- or second-hand accounts, penned down by Frodo. Nobody interviewed the fox, the thing just disappears after this scene and is never brought up again. It fits with the third-person omniscient POV kinda, but definitely not with the concept of Tolkien the Historian. If The Lord of the Rings is an historical account of events, then the fox passage is the single piece of ‘fiction’ within that history.

So at what point was it added, and by who? There are a couple of possibilities for its existence, each having their own potential impacts and intentions for its inclusion. Everything I’ve written to this point I’ve tried to approach as factually as possible, but from here I get to speculate a little bit.

If Frodo is the perpetrator, what could his reasons be for adding this passage? In this case, the passage echos Frodo’s own thoughts as he was about to step into the unknown. I like to think that if Frodo wrote this passage, it’s as an homage to his uncle Bilbo, who definitely took such liberties when writing There and Back Again (The Hobbit). It would serve, in this case, as a passing of the torch. As Frodo and company leave the shire, he’s saying “we’re leaving the familiar and straying into something new”. The finality of that last sentence really nails this for me: “He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.” Indeed he didn’t, the rest of the book is not a place for him or any of his animal friends.

It’s also possible that someone added it later down the line, but before Tolkien the Historian got it. After Frodo finished his work on The Red Book, the idea is that it was passed down and transcribed many times. The first actual copy of the book was brought to Aragorn by Pippin later in his life – this is the copy that Tolkien the Historian found and translated for us. Once that copy was brought to Minis Tirith, quite a few hands touched it, likely adding and changing things along the way. One of these unknown scribes could have added the fox passage. I can’t imagine any reason they would have done this, unless for flight of fancy or to add their personal feelings about the oddness of Hobbits leaving the shire. An interesting side note about this possibility is that this ‘addition’ would have taken place many years after Frodo finished his work on the Red Book. This would imply that even then, so many years later, Hobbits sleeping under trees and traveling from home was still out of the ordinary. This is a comforting thought, as it also implies a continued peaceful seclusion for Hobbit-folk.

Lastly, if the fox passage wasn’t added by Frodo, another hobbit, or a man of Gondor, then it must have been added by Tolkien the Historian. Why would he do this? I have no idea, to be honest. He would have had no contemporaneous opinion of Hobbit behavior, so there wouldn’t be a whole lot of meaning to the addition. When everything else is translated so faithfully as scholarly material, it simply doesn’t add up that Tolkien the Historian would have added this piece.

Personally, I like to think that Frodo added it himself. The passage being his own work has a certain emotional value to it that isn’t present otherwise.

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No matter what, the fox passage is a very unique and interesting part of The Lord of the Rings. What do you think? Are there perspectives or implications that I have missed? Within the scope of The Red Book of Westmarch, who do you think is responsible for this bizarre, fun little passage? Let me know in the comments, thanks for reading!