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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Middle-earth TV Series Discussion:
The multi-film narrative format and Middle Earth

Chen G.

Aug 4 2018, 10:00pm

Post #1 of 4 (1634 views)
The multi-film narrative format and Middle Earth Can't Post

With six films spanning 21 hours of cinema and an upcoming television series, I wanted to take this time to talk about the concept of a film series and how directors and producers can use it to craft a unified narrative across multiple entries. That to me is the best thing a film series can strive to be: not an attempt to rope audiences back to a familiar formula, but using each film to build upon the previous one and tell a story that one could not tell with any single film.

You'll notice I don't use the commonplace nomenclature of "Cinematic Universe." That's because I don't think that term applies very well a film series that tells a unified story, as I would say the Middle Earth films do. I think its much more fitting of anthologies. i.e. episodic film series.

Now, yes, the term has been used (albeit coloquially, for the most part) in conjunction with film series that at least feature certain narrative throughlines if not an outright unified story - like Star Wars. But I would argue that its not really fitting of those series, either, and brings with it concepts that end up doing a disservice to these series (case in point: Solo). Namely, trying to have one's cake and eat it too, by crafting a series that is both telling a single story and has episodic interludes.

So, what's the difference between a series of episodic stories, and a single story told across a series of episodes? In other words, what makes a story? What lends it cohesion?

The term "cinematic universe" would have you believe its just that: the universe of the film series. In a classic storytelling sense, however, the world is just the setting: its the stage upon which the story is being told. It can't be the actual focus of the story: it needs to be anchored in character stories.

Indeed, another school of thought would tell you its character stories which make the story of a film, and that - by extension - it is recurring characters or a recurring protagonist that make a unified story in a series. One of the best examples of why that isn't so is the Indiana Jones films: all feature the titular character as the protagonist. Would anyone contend that they form a cohesive, single story? No. They're episodic adventures.

Actually, the thing that makes a story is very simple: conflict. Therefore, what unifies a story across multiple entries is a shared, continuous conflic and constructed with a defined inciting incident, escalation and conclusion - all across multiple films and/or TV episodes.

The Middle Earth films have such a conflict: its between Saruon and the Free Peoples. Its hinted during An Unexpected Journey and the beginning of The Desolation of Smaug, and erupts two-thirds of the way into that film as Sauron's armies march out of Dol Guldur.

That's what doesn't work about Solo: while it features an important character from the film's respective series, it doesn't further our understanding of the central conflict of the series. In fact, it doesn't play into it at all - it just uses it as a backdrop.

And that's what keeps me optimistic about the prospect of a television series set around young Aragorn. While the decision to focus around Aragorn may have been based on the "Cinematic Universe" line-of-thought (i.e. having shared characters and locations as the throughline), it still inadvertently set its sights on a story that shares the same conflict as the six films. As Tolkien tells us, Aragorn "laboured in the cause against Sauron." It fits in the over-arching narrative of the series as a whole.


Aug 4 2018, 10:17pm

Post #2 of 4 (1620 views)
The Central Conflict of Middle-earth [In reply to] Can't Post

As I see it, the overall conflict of Middle-earth is the struggle of the Free Peoples against the Shadow and the corruption and entropy it represents. The Shadow is principally represented in the First Age by Morgoth. In the Second and Third Ages the Shadow is mainly Sauron. Tolkien tells us that in the Fourth Age there is no single physical manifestation of the Shadow. For most people the fights are the small ones of everyday life.

Btw, Tolkien did not write about 'Middle Earth'. The central lands occupied by the Free Peoples of Arda were called 'Middle-earth'. Don't drink the Kool-Aid of Amazon's PR department!

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Aug 4 2018, 10:18pm)

Chen G.

Aug 4 2018, 11:27pm

Post #3 of 4 (1608 views)
All true, I was simply talking as far as the established on-screen adaptations are concerned [In reply to] Can't Post

Since they all have to do with late second age and third age periods, as will this television series. In this case, the "Good vs. Evil" struggle takes the shape of the struggle between the Free People and Sauron, specifically, and takes place strictly within Middle Earth or rather, its north-western part. Although we may follow Aragorn deeper into Harad than before.

(This post was edited by Chen G. on Aug 4 2018, 11:27pm)


Aug 5 2018, 12:26am

Post #4 of 4 (1592 views)
Great Journeys [In reply to] Can't Post

If the series does stick with Aragorn's journeys and errantries I am interested in seeing exactly what that entails. Canonically, it seems that his lengthiest travels into the distant East and far South took place after 2980 and his errantries in Rohan and Gondor (according to "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" in Appendix A). That doesn't need to preclude some visits to Rhovanion or beyond, perhaps in the company of Gandalf. Tolkien only provides the roughest of timelines for the young Ranger in those years; and the show could take great liberties with the order of events and specific details.

My hope is that the showrunners will hold to a few of those details: Aragorn's birth in 2931; the subsequent death of his father and his fostering in Rivendell; meeting Arwen and departing Rivendell in 2951; befriending Gandalf in 2956; errantries in Rohan and Gondor ending in 2980 with the raid on Umbar; plighting his troth with Arwen in 2980 in Lothlórien. Canonically the death of Gilraen occurs in 3007, but that could be altered. Even Aragorn's first meeting with Gandalf (as an adult) could be moved up a little.

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered." - Harlan Ellison

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Aug 5 2018, 12:37am)


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