Tolkien Scholar Reveals the Changes Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series Is Banned From Making

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey is working on the Amazon series and says the first season will run 20 episodes.
Sauron, "Lord of the Rings"
Sauron, "Lord of the Rings"
New Line Cinema

Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” television series is moving full steam ahead with director J.A. Bayona and showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay. As revealed by a teaser video announcing the series’ crew, one key behind-the-scenes supervisor will be J.R.R. Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey. In a recent interview after being confirmed for the series (via /Film), Shippey revealed “there’s supposed to be 20 episodes for the first season.” The number would make “The Lord of the Rings” the size of a broadcast drama, which often runs 22 episodes in a season. Shippey also explained some of the restrictions facing the new series.

Amazon confirmed in March that its “Lord of the Rings” series would take place during the Second Age of Middle Earth. The Second Age spans 3441 years and ends with the first downfall of Sauron. Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film trilogy large took place in Middle Earth’s Third Age, with the prologue to “The Fellowship of the Ring” set at the end of the Second Age explaining Sauron’s defeat. The Second Age setting means Amazon’s series will take place in the years where Sauron rises to power and shuts down rumors that characters like young Aragorn will be involved.

As for what Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” series can do in the Second Age, a lot of that depends on the Tolkien Estate. Shippey explained, “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, and 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.”

From the way Shippey talks about the series, it would appear the lost island of Númenor will be a primary setting of the show. Amazon teased as much when it debuted a map for the series that revealed Númenor was still in existence. The show will not be able to alter history as Tolkien wrote it, but it will have the freedom to populate history with new characters.

“You can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated?” Shippey said. “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.””

Shippey is a Tolkien scholar, so making sure the series stays within the history Tolkien wrote would appear to be one of his jobs on the show. The scholar also mentioned that the Amazon series is only allowed to show the Second Age, meaning the First and Third Ages are entirely “off-limits.”

“Events could be mentioned at the most if they explain the events of the Second Age. But if it is not described or mentioned in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ or in the appendices, they probably cannot use it,” Shippey said. “So the question is to what extent they may hint at events that took place, for example, in the First Age, but still continue to affect the Second Age.”

Shippey added the series’ writers have a bit of a “minefield” to explore when figuring out what can and can’t be used for the show. “You have to tread very carefully,” he concluded, “but at the same time there is quite a lot of scope for interpretation and free invention.”

Amazon has already committed to multiple seasons of “Lord of the Rings.” No release date has been set. Production is expected to begin in 2020.

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