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You ready for some updates on Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings series? Amazon recently revealed its behind-the-scenes "Fellowship," including retired professor of Middle and Old English literature Tom Shippey, who was listed as a "Tolkien Scholar." He's helping to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's work for the prequel series, and he just shared some tidbits in a new interview.
Tom Shippey told Deutsche Tolkien he didn't know too much, but that's not how it came across in his interview. He shared a lot of great intel, although it's early enough that things could change during production.
For one, it sounds like Amazon gave the first season of the Lord of the Rings show a huge episode count. But it also sounds like the writers are still mapping out how it will go. Tom Shippey dropped that info when talking about potential filming locations:
The exact locations are of course uncertain and it could well be several. The shooting itself does not take place chronologically, but is oriented towards the locations. Logically, you try to bundle all the scenes that take place in one location and film them so that you have it done and don’t have to return to that place several times. But this also implies that everything has to be clear at the start of filming, you have to know the end. There’s supposed to be 20 episodes for the first season. So until they’ve decided what the end is going to be, they can’t start filming.
Twenty episodes is huge for a streamer. Netflix made 13 a standard for a while, but more shows have been cutting back to 10 or 8 rather than adding more. Twenty is more in line with a network TV show.
The Tolkien scholar also said, as far as he knew, The Powers That Be meant to start airing the show in 2021, so he didn't think production would start this year -- but he wasn't sure.
It's exciting to think of a 20-episode season of Lord of the Rings. This is meant to be Amazon's own Game of Thrones, and it's going to be expensive and ambitious. It's a good idea to plan out as much as they can in advance, and it does sound like they have a pretty specific framework -- the show must cover the Second Age, and the deal with the Tolkien Estate was reportedly for five seasons and a potential spinoff.
Speaking of the Tolkien Estate, Tom Shippey said the estate does have veto power over everything that concerns Tolkien's work. The estate is quite strict about the Lord of the Rings series sticking to the Second Age -- so nothing can be shown from the Third Age, which was covered in Peter Jackson's films.
Here are the basics of what the Amazon series will cover, per Tom Shippey:
Amazon has a relatively free hand when it comes to adding something, since, as I said, very few details are known about this time span. The Tolkien Estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered. Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenorean expedition, is returns to Númenor. There he corrupts the Númenoreans and seduces them to break the ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same.
However, as he noted, new characters can be added, and the Lord of the Rings prequel series can ask and potentially answer a lot of intriguing questions.
What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created, it is necessary to remain 'tolkienian.'
So I imagine that's part of Tom Shippey's job, to be a resource for Tolkien history but also to help keep things on track and not break canon. But the Second Age lasted for 3,441 years, so there's certainly a lot to cover in that time, and a lot of wiggle room for interpretation of the big events.
But in terms of big events, the Second Age ended when Sauron was defeated by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men -- as Galadriel narrated at the start of the Lord of the Rings movies:
Australian actress Markella Kavenagh was also announced as the first star for this series. She'll play Tyra, and we're waiting to hear more about her, and about the other stars of the series. Don't expect Orlando Bloom's Legolas to be involved, or Andy Serkis. Will Peter Jackson have any kind of role behind-the-scenes? Is there any chance of, say, Cate Blanchett returning as Galadriel?
Stay tuned for more updates on Amazon's Lord of the Rings series. Are you hoping Amazon does stick to that 20-episode Season 1 count, per the Tolkien scholar?