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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Middle-earth TV Series Discussion:
Prequel pitfalls

The Shire

Jun 11, 8:17am

Post #1 of 5 (654 views)
Prequel pitfalls Can't Post

Part of the charm of well-designed imaginary worlds is the impression they give one of a history and geography (or cosmography) much greater than what is depicted in a single story. One danger of prequels is demystifying the legendary past. Fortunately, most Tolkien fans don't need to worry about that, as The Silmarillion, which begins at the beginning, was published a few years after Tolkien's death. I don't know what the fans thought of it at the time, but for most of us it's a fait accompli. However, I'm old enough to remember when the Clone Wars were surrounded by mystery. LIke the Star Wars prequels before 1999, the Second Age exists today only in a broad outline form (at least, outside of the Amazon writers circle). Informed by my experience with Star Wars, I have a few concerns:

Surprises. Genuine surprises are possible, of course, but some things can't be surprises because we already know how they'll turn out. Every avid Star Wars fan knew who Senator Palpatine really was, and that he, Anakin, Obi-wan, Yoda, Bail Organa, Owen and Beru Lars would all live through the prequels and for another 18 years at least. Likewise, avid Tolkien fans know who Annatar really is, and that he, Galadriel, Celeborn, Thranduil, Cirdan, Elrond, and Gil-Galad will all live at least till the end of the Second Age, and nearly all of them until the end of the Third Age. We also know, more or less, what becomes of the various rings of power, and that nine leaders of men (one of whose names we know) will become Ringwraiths. Will the writers try to surprise us with some of the people who become Ringwraiths (given that we don't really know their identities in most cases), or will they stick to foreshadowing and dramatic irony, as with the Star Wars prequels?

Continuity. At the other end from surprise is continuity, which is an important ingredient of the wilful suspension of disbelief. I'm not sure I see any issues at this point, but I have no doubt the writers will smack right into them if they're careless enough. Then we'll have the Middle-earth equivalent of Leia pretending to remember her mother who died in childbirth, or the Federation forgetting its early encounters with the Ferengi, the Borg, and Romulan cloaking devices.

Consistency. Despite Lord of the Rings and The Empire Strikes Back, it's not all that common for a sequel to match the success of the original, and this is at least as true of prequels as it is of sequels. (I'm not counting The Silmarillion as a prequel, because it isn't really, and yet it's arguably at least less popular than its "sequels".) And that's with the original author/director still running the show. In the case of the Second Age, we have a sketchy outline and a few stories by the original author, but everything else needs to be filled in by writers who, however talented, are not J.R.R. Tolkien. At least the Amazon writers don't have to write Tolkienesque narration, just dialogue. However, I am somewhat concerned about names. Although I think PJ did a good job overall, I was not convinced by his use of Brego as a horse's name, or Hasufel for a chestnut horse. However, I see nothing wrong with Tauriel, at least as a name for a female Elf. However, with a TV series based in the Second Age, I think the writers are going to need to come up with more original characters, which means more original character names that Tolkien himself may not have come up with. And probably in more languages than just Sindarin. That could be problematic. Unless the Amazon team has people who are familiar with Sindarin, Adûnaic, Quenya, and perhaps some other languages, who are tasked with coming up with proper names when needed, I'm concerned that many of the names will end up not sounding right. Most fantasy authors don't bother to create consistent phonologies for their proper names, let alone grammars. With Star Wars I was less impressed by the names from the prequels than the names from the original trilogy. Although that impression is largely subjective, and I know of no claim that George Lucas created his names in the same way that Tolkien did, I did feel that Lucas was a bit lazier with the prequels than with the original trilogy: Lott Dod, Nute Gunray, Edcel Bar Gane, Dexter Jettster, etc. (Not that "Han", "Luke", or "Greedo" were ever terribly original.)

What other pitfalls does the Amazon team need to watch out for?


Jun 11, 11:15am

Post #2 of 5 (620 views)
Language is a pit they're already in over their heads [In reply to] Can't Post

You've mentioned the problem of proper names, and I agree. To enlarge the problem, Jackson and his writers modernized and adapted Tolkien's characteristic mixes of high and low mid-century romantic style to make it more compatible with the format of a next-century film blockbuster. And they had entire books of dialogue and narration to work from, which they could evoke with references and quotes to cue the memories of viewers who'd read the books.

With this project, they'll have no books. The amount of narrative prose and dialogue for the Second Age is vanishingly small, and the number of hours of speech to be written far outweighs the dozen or so hours consumed by the six Third Age films. Everything will be original composition. What style should they adopt: a pastiche of Tolkien, which as fan fiction writers know is quite hard to pull off and may not resonate with the large part of the audience that doesn't know or recognize Tolkien by his language? Or follow the films into the 21st century and use modern style with occasional hackneyed throwbacks to Walter Scott or, at best, Tolkien?

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Jun 11, 4:04pm

Post #3 of 5 (576 views)
I guess its inconsistency that bugs me the most [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm all for *enlarging* on a topic/issue/characteristic and making it deeper and more developed. That's a cool thing a prequel can do. But a bad example is how the Star Wars movies took something mystical like The Force and turned it into particles in your body, which took all the fun out of it.

So one pitfall would be messing around with things that are canon. What if they decide that the One Ring is initially a force for good, and only by some industrial accident it becomes evil? PJ's team took that liberty with Faramir in the movies, deciding he couldn't start out good and noble like he did in the books, so they had to show him first as a brute who later becomes enlightened. That will always irk me--I like the movies, but I'll never forgive that decision, especially because Faramir's lofty sense of Dunadan goodness comes into the story at a time when Frodo & Sam are brushing up against Mordor's evil and Dunedain decline (Ithilien being deserted though once part of the heartland). His breath of fresh air is a reminder to Frodo, separated from the rest of the Fellowship, Lorien, and Rivendell, that there are still lofty big-picture people in the world, so it's quite motivating.

Who else will get some unnecessary (IMO) character arc? Will Elrond start out a drunken fool who only gradually sees the need to be a responsible leader of the resistance--maybe it will take Gil-Galad's death to shake him out of his stoner persona? Is Gandalf a reluctant hero (a cliche that Hollywood is addicted to) who makes fireworks and says, "Fight evil? I'm too old for that sort of thing."?

Though I'll have to admit as a Tolkien fan that he had his own semi-problem with consistency when it comes to the Elves--they are pretty darn angelic in LOTR but can be mean, petty, and brutal to good people in the First Age. That has never seemed like a deliberate arc to me but more of a need to roughen up the principal actors in the story to generate some conflict. A story of people always doing the right thing is dull.

You did raise an interesting point--what about the stories of the Men who took the Nine? That could be really fascinating to see them initially take the Rings with good intentions and doing magical works of wonder, then each following an individual path to corruption. Maybe audiences would get tired of 9 stories telling essentially the same thing, but it would all be in the writing. One could summarize each episode of The Walking Dead as "people have problems and fight zombies and each other and die," but that template has led to 130+ episodes so far, so I think 9 would not be overkill. Then they could do stories on all the other Rings of Power and their holders. Throw in some Numenor asides, and you could have a series lasting years.

Registered User

Jun 11, 6:23pm

Post #4 of 5 (546 views)
Source material [In reply to] Can't Post

The main problem with the show is that we still don't know enough specifics, but with the multitude of material from Tolkien the show could remain it's unique thing and still be recognizable for more casual Lotr fans providing enough connection with the main Lotr story as it is. The main example of how the prequels can go wrong would be...the Hobbit films. They actually made too much of the references towards Lotr, and trying to merge the tone of book Hobbit with Lotr feel, that they forgot to give Hobbit it's own feel is one of the pitfalls PJ's team fell in.

Remember that the Hobbit book was written previously and had it's own charm and uniqueness before the sequel came and that is the Lotr we know :). If they will adapt stories from The Unfinished Tales (the presence of maps of Numenor seem to indicate some rights to that material, plus the UT text Description of the Island of Numenor provides enough information for building a setting, even scenography and possible choices of landscapes and locations. New places will mean a fresh look and approach without need to recall the seen before spots (the main example once again Hobbit films which showed Weathertop for that reminder), also distance in time to the events of main story of Lotr and Hobbit means that many places and locations that were appearing in those two works would be vastly different in the past. While some visual continuity with PJ's films may seem desirable for wider audience it's not required, as the Amazon's team for that show will have chance to make their own designs and take on various things, here the problem is the creativity and how closely they will follow source material when it does give proper detail to base on. When it comes to languages and so names for original characters, this is difficult in itself, but within the works of Tolkien there are many names for characters that can be used (whether in adapting the story they appear in or re-using it for other characters).

Main thing they need to avoid though...they should NOT put in any Hobbits. They simply have no place in any story set in Second Age (unless they would be forcefully slammed in), even Tolkien notes that the stories of 'earlier ages' do not concern them:

"Nearly all are grim and tragic: a long account of the disasters that destroyed the beauty of the Ancient World, from the darkening of Valinor to the Downfall of Númenor and the flight of Elendil. And there are no hobbits. Nor does Gandalf appear."

Though any story involving forging of the Rings would mean lots of Elves, includin familiar characters like Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn, there could be also Dwarves (maybe seeing Moria in it's times of glory), maybe if the writers would be feeling generous, we could get a glimpse of Ents but more likely as a cameo, as the vast woodlands once covered Eriador. But Second Age is overall marked by it's dark years.

"A new religion, and worship of the Dark, with its temple under Sauron arises. The Faithful are persecuted and sacrificed. The Númenóreans carry their evil also to Middle-earth and there become cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and tormenting men; and the old legends are overlaid with dark tales of horror"

Unbelievably many things also depend on the licensing rights the Amazon has, whether it contains works such the Akallabeth, The Unfinished Tales, Of the Rings of Power and Third Age, various Tolkien letters as those contain lots of information that can be used. For example if the show would be concerned with events of the War of the Last Alliance, the account given in 'Of The Rings of Power..' would be required if we would like to see a Tolkien vision of that war, otherwise we will see only interpretation of the writers,...well we in any case WILL see only an interpretation of those things by show writers, but if they would have rights to use material from Tolkien writings it would be far better for us, the fans. Some things such as reference to Entwives gardens being burned down during War of the Last Alliance and becoming Brown Lands, as a form of scorched earth policy pursued by Sauron's forces is only something Tolkien mentioned in his letters, would the Amazon be allowed to show something like that?

Events such as sack of Eregion and War of the Elves and Sauron regarding the Sauron's assault after forging the Rings of Power is described in more detail in UT sections concerning Galadriel and Celeborn backstories (where even movements of troops and particular armies were given and many tragic, and action filled events). Having all that and also inventing new original stuff also required balancing, as Hobbit films showed inventing new stuff and adding it to the story is not always balanced hence the dwarf-elf romance with Tauriel and sort of love-triangle with Legolas, Thranduil weird deal and that Angmar unseen backstory and messed up White Council sequences, it didn't work well in my opinion. Amazon's show will still have lots of room for creative work, but if they have such material from Tolkien works then they can do things that will be similar enough, the UT contain lots of pieces of dialogue, many words said by various characters, even in Akallabeth, there are words spoken and many could be epic lines (like Ar-Pharazon's "the Lords of the West have plotted against, they strike first, the next blow shall be ours" which could be quite dramatic and amazing moment of tension if cleverly done).


Jun 11, 8:54pm

Post #5 of 5 (507 views)
They could probably make a whole season just about the forging of the rings & the war [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
Events such as sack of Eregion and War of the Elves and Sauron regarding the Sauron's assault after forging the Rings of Power is described in more detail in UT sections concerning Galadriel and Celeborn backstories (where even movements of troops and particular armies were given and many tragic, and action filled events).


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