Thoughts on the Amazon LOTR TV Series Synopsis
TheOneRing.Net has got its paws on the official synopsis of the upcoming Amazon Tolkien TV series. It’s a development that brings to mind the line about Sauron deliberately releasing Gollum from the dungeons of Barad-dûr. Amazon knew exactly what they were doing here, in terms of drumming up publicity:
To my mind, this is mostly a fairly predictable Second Age synopsis – well, mostly predictable. We will get to that. For now, I am shaking my head at the amount of virtual ink that has been spilled over the “greatest villain” line. For example:
For goodness sake, people. It’s a series set in the Second Age. The Dark Years of Middle-earth, when Sauron was at the peak of his power, and when Morgoth was languishing in the Void. Of course it’s Sauron the line refers to, not Morgoth. “Greatest villain” does not necessarily mean “most powerful villain,” nor even “most consequential in-universe villain”. It can also refer to the “best” villain, or at least the one most commonly associated with Tolkien in popular imagination… Sauron. The Lord of the Ring. A villain who was also far cannier and shrewder – and intellectually more interesting – than his old master. Enough said, really.
No, the parts of the synopsis that leapt out at me were:
- Unlikely heroes.
- Hope hangs by the finest of threads.
- The depths of the Misty Mountains.
Now, I fully understand the need on the part of the Amazon writers to fill in the gaps. The Second Age is not the most documented era in Tolkien – the Dark Years designation works on multiple levels. But these three elements are the odd-ones out of the wider synopsis. They actually sound much more Third Age (or even First Age) than Second.
“Unlikely heroes”? There are no hobbits in the Second Age. No audience surrogates. Rather one encounters the more classical hero, in the sense of a traditional epic. These characters are larger than life, not even an ordinary bloke like Beren, who stumbles into something much bigger. And they tend to be much more morally questionable over the course of their careers. We may cheer Isildur as he rescues the fruit of Nimloth… but we all know what he will do at Orodruin later on. We may cheer Celebrimbor’s warm cooperation with the dwarves… but we all know about the Rings of Power. And so on.
Indeed, rather than “hope hanging by a thread”, after the manner of the Third Age, the Second Age is characterised by an on-going theme of the Fall, both literal and figurative. The two major plot-strands of this time period, the Rings of Power and Númenor, are both studies in failure, of good becoming corrupted. This is partly through Sauron’s influence, but it is also through the innate desires lurking in the hearts of Elves and Men. Even a more domestic drama like Aldarion and Erendis is not about hope, but rather a study of two morally grey characters in conflict. And recall that whereas the Third Age gives us the unalloyed heroism of Gondor and Rohan holding out against Mordor and Isengard, the Second Age gives us Mordor versus Númenor – a Great Power rivalry of competing slave Empires. Not a lot of hope in that source material, and even the Last Alliance defeating Sauron ultimately proves deceptively hollow. The Second Age is the age of catastrophe, not of eucatastrope.
The final interesting element is the reference to the “darkest depths” of the Misty Mountains. Now, it’s not impossible that the writers might bring the Balrog’s destruction of Moria forward a few thousand years… but what other story elements could justify venturing into the depths of the Mountains? The relationship between Khazad-dûm and Eregion is the only one that springs to mind. But if this is a reference to that, referring to “darkest depths” feels unnecessarily foreboding. Khazad-dûm at its height was full of light, not darkness, and beyond the aforementioned friendship, the dwarves did not play a massive role in the events of the Second Age. In short, I feel that this reference might signal an invented story-line. Not that I am complaining, since it may be a very good story-line, but I think it worth speculating about.
That concludes my thoughts on the leaked synopsis. I do feel that the greatest villain thing is a bit of a red herring, since it can only be Sauron (not Morgoth), but at the risk of jumping the gun a bit, it looks like the series – rightly or wrongly – will be inserting some Third Age themes into a Second Age story.