Note: The following is an opinion piece written by volunteer staff member Kellie, also known as “Kili” from the YouTube series Happy Hobbit.
In an effort to clear up some misconceptions, I want to tell you my story.
On February 13th, I was invited to participate in a livestream hosted by both TheOneRing.net and Amazon Prime Video to watch and analyze the very first teaser trailer for Amazon’s new series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It was my sister’s birthday, so while I was excited for the end of the “Middle-earth dearth,” I only committed to participating for an hour, and I was relieved I had an excuse to slip away after said time, for the initial teaser trailer failed to impress. In fact, it was even worse; it left me confused, worried, and underwhelmed. The visuals were dazzling, but I felt no connection to the imagery on the screen. I was far from alone.
Like many, I feared Amazon was producing the most expensive TV show in history (allegedly around 1 billion) because they saw Tolkien’s work as a cash cow and were going to milk it for all they could.
I am a fiction author (under my pen name K.M. Rice) and a screenwriter with a Master of Fine Arts, so workshopping creative material is second nature, as is finding ways to express what is not working in an articulate manner. “I am not getting the mythic tone I look for in Tolkien,” I remember saying (which is a paraphrase).
A few months later in May, I was invited by Prime Video to a special press event in London, England, as the representative for my sister and my webshow, Happy Hobbit (which strives to bring a dose of Middle-earth to our viewers’ daily lives), and as the co-author ofMiddle-earth from Script to Screen: Building the World of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, which I helped write with Daniel Falconer at Weta Workshop in New Zealand. My fellow Tolkien content creators and I, along with traditional press, were taken on a field trip to Oxford University where we had the pleasure of wandering Tolkien’s old stomping grounds both as a student and as a professor. You can check out what we did and saw by watching the video here.
The following day, we were treated to footage and costumes from Rings of Power (ROP) and a Q&A with the showrunners, John Howe (concept artist), Leith McPherson (dialect coach), and Ramsey Avery (production designer), along with the showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, and producer Lindsey Weber.
I once more was not impressed with the footage I saw, for while there was nothing wrong with it, there was no context. I had no idea what had just happened before the scene we were shown, where in the story it fell, and in fact, what the story was at all. It looked and sounded lovely, but there was no beating heart. My own heart sank as I realized I was going to have to just accept that this show wasn’t going to fulfill my expectations.
Once the showrunners spoke, however, I was left with the juxtaposition of hearing from two people intensely passionate about Tolkien (to the point that they opened every day of shooting with a Tolkien quote and discussion) and the marketing that didn’t convey that love and respect.
What I saw in London didn’t raise my excitement level, but hearing from the showrunners and knowing that such a capable team was producing the series did leave me with a sense of cautious optimism.
To reiterate, none of us Tolkien content creators have seen the show. We were not paid or bribed in any way, but rather have been treated as “Tolkien press.” We have no idea if ROP will be good, bad, or somewhere in between. Our opinions are our own, as they should be, and this is just my story.
While attending San Diego Comic-Con International at the end of July to speak on one of TheOneRing.net’s two panels, Prime Video invited me to a luncheon with many of the cast members from ROP. Before sitting down to eat, we were treated to viewing the first official trailer, which finally had some heart and showed a hint of the plot. I am no Tolkien lore expert, but many in the room with me were. They could name things on screen that I couldn’t, nevertheless, I felt excited. In fact, I shed a few tears and I don’t cry easily, especially in public. But being in that room and feeling so much unbridled excitement and joy was deeply moving, especially after having missed that human connection and communitas for so long during the pandemic. When we came out to meet the cast after, I felt a level of energy and anticipation that many of us had not yet felt over the show.
Everyone we met at the lunch was incredibly kind, down-to-earth, and passionate about Tolkien and storytelling. No one had an ego that prevented them from addressing gritty topics with strangers they had just met, and several of our conversations grew deep quickly. I later had an opportunity to converse with Patrick McKay, one of the two showrunners, who shared that they were given complete creative freedom. As such, whether the show does well or poorly, he feels he and his fellow showrunner are to blame. Talk about accountability!
I have a healthy skepticism about Amazon and most major corporations. I am not here to defend a company or TV show that I have yet to see, but I am here to share what I have learned:
Amazon never approached the Tolkien Estate to ask for the rights to make the show. Rather, the Tolkien Estate approached both Amazon and Netflix (and possibly other streaming platforms, as well), asking them if they would be interested. Amazon was.
Christopher Tolkien (the Professor’s son) was in charge of the Estate at the time the deal was made in 2017. He passed away three years later in 2020 after production on the show had already begun, and the directorship was passed on to his son, Simon Tolkien.
What’s more, the production invited Simon Tolkien, the grandson of the late Professor who has a love of cinematic storytelling and is the current director of the Estate, to be involved. For context, no other production has ever given the Tolkien Estate a seat at the table.
Amazon, as a corporation, is also not strapped for cash, which means they could invest whatever was needed to bring the vision of the Second Age to life.
Jeff Bezos is a big Tolkien fan.
One thing that limited them was the rights. They could not touch The Silmarillion or The Unfinished Tales. The rights are only for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As such, the inclination is naturally to turn to the appendices of Return of the King, but even that is a gray area.
If a plotline smelled too much like it was getting into Silmarillion territory, the Estate didn’t permit it in a script. The production was then pushed into the difficult situation of having to originate their own material.
Knowing this, engage with me in a thought experiment for a moment:
Imagine you, as a Tolkien fan, just heard that this up-and-coming film studio out of New Zealand, the UK, or Colorado received a billion dollars to produce a Tolkien TV show set in the second age using partially original material and that to do so, they not only brought the Tolkien Estate on board, but hired showrunners, writers, and a cast that cared deeply for the source material to ensure fidelity. That sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?
In many ways, Amazon is fighting against the public image of its own brand. Remove the name “Amazon” from the equation and suddenly many are more forgiving. I know I am. That so many of us have knee-jerk reactions to corporations’ names is worth noting, but the subject of a different conversation.
It all comes down to trust, and anyone who wants to involve our fandom needs to earn it. Some of us are more open than others. Some of us love the Peter Jackson films, while others didn’t enjoy them at all. But remember this: no one is touching the books. They will always be there. Tolkien’s texts are sacred for many, and no one is here to dispute that. But a book is a book. A film is a film. A TV show is TV show. None of these forms of storytelling are the same. And the existence of one does not threaten the other. If anything, they can be a boon. I would never have read Tolkien if not for Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
No artist considers their art “finished.” There is always room to expand and change as the artist grows and ages as a person. Tolkien himself was a revisionist to the point that his heirs have gone to a great deal of trouble trying to decide which version of a story or piece of Arda’s history should be seen as “canon.” His Middle-earth writing often also contradicted itself. Importantly, he intentionally left bits open to interpretation.
When writing to publisher Wilton Waldman in 1951 about the scope of his literary aspirations to create a body of “more or less connected legend,” Tolkien shared:
I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.
J.R.R. Tolkien, 1951
The Professor’s dream has been fulfilled. His work has inspired artists of all genres and arguably established the Fantasy genre of literature.
Not only are other minds and hands interpreting his work, but adapting it and expanding upon it, thus fleshing out the ideas he left merely “sketched.” Tolkien did not want his life’s work to fade. He wanted it to live and breathe with the generations, even if that meant it arrived with a new twinkle or twist every now and again to suit the era, just as myths have done since the dawn of the human experience.
We have been through some trying times of late. A global pandemic, economic hardship, war, and loss, to say nothing of our more personal struggles. We look to tales like those told by Tolkien to make some sense of it all. I long to return to Middle-earth: a place where, even in the darkest of times, there is still a star shining. Love, hope, courage, and a love of the simple pleasures in life prevail in some form, as does the deep goodness that ties us all together. We don’t all have to agree and entertainment is highly subjective at the best of times, but even the most butchered adaptations cannot shake how at home I feel in the aged pages of my books, nor should they.
We all walk different roads on this Middle-earth, and in times of stress, it is easy to begrudge others their happiness. But life is short, opportunities are rare, and I for one am excited to revisit Tolkien’s world on screen.
Optimism is a choice, a more difficult one than pessimism, and I am choosing to go forth on this journey with an open heart and welcome any and all joy along the way. The same choice is also yours.
Our friends at Weta Workshop were not at Comic-Con in San Diego last week, but that didn’t stop them from showing off some really cool stuff down in New Zealand, coinciding with the timing of SDCC. The items from the Collectibles Unleashed event ranged from their amazing Masters Collection series to those very fun Mini Epics. This year’s Masters Collection piece captures Frodo’s journey to destroy the Ring as he, Sam, and Gollum make it through the Dead Marshes. This stunning piece is a 25-inch tall multi-layer collectible that gives you a full view of what each character was going through during this moment. It is currently in low stock and I’m sure with only 550 pieces available it will be gone quite soon. Not due to ship until the first quarter of next year, fans have plenty of time to save up the $2599USD required; or you can use Weta’s awesome payment plans to help break it down.
This is a Prime Video event which they have invited TORn to host with them. The Eventbrite for this private gathering launched on Wednesday – and as we were about to post about it here, the tickets were already gone, in under five minutes! We were stunned but excited – it’s great to know that the fandom is alive and well!
Whilst we’ve had lots of messages from folks who are thrilled to be going, we know that many people were disappointed to miss out in the flurry to grab tickets. So we are very happy to let you know we were able to get hold of some more tickets for this exclusive event! (Thanks, Prime Video!)
To be in with a chance to claim one of these tickets, simply fill in the form at this link. You’ll need to give first and last name (as shown on ID you’ll bring to gain access to the party), and an email address. You’ll also have the option to fill in details for ONE other person.
The form will be open for a limited time, from 11am ET this morning. Once it closes, we will then pick at random from all the sign ups received, and add those folks to the Eventbrite. If you receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite, you’ll know you were one of the lucky ones!
Please note – there is no wait list for this event. ONLY people confirmed via Eventbrite will be admitted (with the appropriate ID and Covid information – see the Eventbrite for details on that). So please don’t be the half of the Shire who show up anyway; sadly, we won’t be able to let you in.
Anyone who signed up via the Eventbrite on Wednesday who used the same name for more than one ticket, please note – as per the information on the event, and in the emails sent out, those duplicates in the same name have been deleted. Each ticket must be in a different name! So, check carefully that you have the Eventbrite tickets you think you have! And if you’re signing up via this form today, you’re only on the party list if you later receive an Eventbrite confirmation email.
We wish we could hold a party of special magnificence for all of fandom! But we’re honoured that Prime Video have allowed us to join them at this event, and we can’t wait to see those of you who do get to join us there. Click here to be in with a chance to be added to that list!
SDCC is back! TheOneRing.net celebrates the past, present & future of LOTR with a look back at the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a look forward to the upcoming The Rings of Power from Prime Video. Here are all the panels, booths and events for Middle-earth fans going to SDCC 2022:
TheOneRing.net official Booth #1220
Panel 1 – TORn Updates on everything LOTR, Thursday 10:30am Room 6BCF
Hall H The Rings of Power, Friday 10:30am
TORn and Prime Video’s Middle-earth Moot, Friday 5pm
The Rings of Power off-site experience? – no confirmation of a LOTR experience, but there are persistent rumors. Be on the lookout for more news!
Meet Jed Brophy all weekend at TheOneRing.net booth 1220!
Excited to have the multi-talented actor in LOTR & Hobbit, direct from New Zealand for signings and greetings.
10:30am, Room 6BCF – Huge all-encompassing LORD OF THE RINGS panel will cover the 20th Anniversary Celebrations of the New Line films, their upcoming “The War of the Rohirrim,” Amazon Prime’s “The Rings of Power” TV show, new video games focused on Gollum & Dwarves, and new books from the Tolkien Estate. There are some very special exclusive things in store that attendees will not want to miss. Add this panel to your SDCC Official App schedule here.
That Same Afternoon – You’ll want to queue up for Hall H wristbands on Thursday to ensure entry to the next morning’s THE RINGS OF POWER panel. Here’s a good post at SDCC Blog on how Hall H wristbands work.
10:30am – 12noon, room Hall H – Prime Video presents THE RINGS OF POWER and the very first look at the billion-dollar TV series. Nearly 20 people are confirmed for the panel, including the secretive show runners, J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. A new exclusive trailer is nearly guaranteed, but would they dare show the FIRST full episode to fans, as The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance did a few years ago?
5pm – 8:30pm – Party Time! TheOneRing.net and Prime Video invite you to our Middle-earth Moot! This extraordinary party includes Cosplay contest with exclusive giveaways, themed decorations from The Rings of Power, with drinks and food provided. Exclusive TROP swag and other surprises are in store. Open to the public, no SDCC badge required, all ages, Cosplay encouraged (get creative!), space strictly limited! Details & sign up for your free ticket SOON.
TheOneRing.net official Booth #1220 – Trivia time EVERY HOUR! Courtesy of Warner Home Video, we have copies to give away of the epic 31-disc 4K box set Middle-earth Ultimate Edition, as well as amazing LOTR fabrics from OSCHA. Pick up a Con-exclusive shirt or just come and chat about what we all saw in Hall H.
1:30pm, room 6A – Join an all-star panel of Tolkien scholars and experts for a deep dive into the lore of LOTR and the Second Age. What did Tolkien actually write? What are the threads that Amazon can pull on? Learn the true intent of Tolkien’s lore expansion, and be informed enough to win all the internet debates coming soon. Be sure to add this panel to your SDCC Official App schedule here.
SDCC Exclusive Merch
We are excited to have incredible new T-shirts and pins available only at TheOneRing.net Booth #1220, not online, from some of our favorite artists!
Peabody Award-winning artist, author and director Molly Ostertag (@HobbitGay) designed BAG END SOCIAL CLUB which incorporates a direct quotation from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.
We also have more fun items including books from “Middle-earth: Script to Screen” co-author Kellie Rice, art from Eisner-nominated (2022) comic artist team Kempo Cornelius & Chris Northrop, and items from The Nerd of the Rings and Discord. Come by the booth #1220 to discover it all!
Get all your officially-licensed LOTR merch at Booth #1220 including Shire Post coins & wax seals & more!
Remember, TORN is not-for-profit and we are just trying to pay off the very expensive booth!
Other panels of interest to LOTR fans
Andy Serkis new comic panel, Thursday 5pm Room 32AB (he might be zooming in)
Billy & Dom’s Moriarty podcast panel, Thursday 12:15pm Room Indigo (in person, covid allowing)
Prime Video offsite – across the rail tracks from Hall A, Prime Video usually has a big free outdoor event space.
Dungeons & Dragons Tavern – corner of Sixth Avenue and Island Avenue
The Rings of Power press events – for those fans covering SDCC as Press, Prime Video is running a tight ship and things are invite-only for their press days. TheOneRing.net Middle-earth Moot party on Friday is a private fan event: there shall be no Press access or video cameras allowed! You shall not pass!
Our pals at WBHE are hooking you up with the ultimate 4K Boxed set of the COMPLETE Peter Jackson Middle-earth films: both LOTR and The Hobbit (technically two trilogies so does that make this a Hexology?!) There are multiple opportunities to win one through our trivia challenges all weekend long at Booth #1220.
Follow TheOneRing.net on our official Twitter & Instagram to keep up with all the Comic-Con excitement, and join our official partnered Discord to catch ALL the things as they break.
Last year during Comic-Con, our friends at Weta Workshop unveiled a pretty sick looking statue of the Cave Troll from the Mines of Moria sequence. Flash forward a few months later, it has arrived – and we’re going to take time to look over this awesome collectible. This thing is massive, detailed, and is a piece that folks will want to stop and look at in your collection. The folks at Weta absolutely nailed this one, and as a huge fan of that Moria sequence, I’m beyond happy to own this piece. As always, we hope you enjoy the review and the pictures of what will be a grail piece for fans of The Lord of the Rings.
If you’re a fan of the helm line then this Comic-Con was for you, as you got three new additions: two from The Hobbit Trilogy and one from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The two from The Hobbit represent helms we saw on the Ringwraiths during the Dol Guldur sequence. Fans can add the helm of the Ringwraiths Khand and Harad, with both pieces coming in at $79.99(US). The Lord of the Rings is being represented by the Uruk-hai Captain’s Helm, which also comes in at $79.99(US). The edition size of these three pieces will be set by the number of orders placed by August 5th.
This year’s premium statue is the Lord of the Rings himself, Sauron. This statue is a monster in size, and amazing in paint as well as detail. Fans who order him will get – for the first time ever – alternate weapons, with one of them being from a deleted scene! He also comes with a base which contains led lights, to give a glowing lava effect. Sauron comes in with a price tag of $999(US), and fans have time to save for this superb piece as he’s not shipping until 2nd quarter of next year. Like the helms, Sauron’s edition size is being set by orders received through August 5th.