Making ‘Second Age’ Hobbits Work: Amazon Series Speculation

Time for a good old-fashioned fandom furore. The Tolkien fandom hasn’t had a proper one of those since the Great Nudity Scandal of October 2020… so it clearly must be time to pontificate from on-high about a television series we still know vanishingly little about.

This time the subject matter is Lenny Henry and his merry band of proto-hobbits. Now, I wasn’t initially intending to comment on this development, for two reasons: (1) Henry is a comedian by trade. Shit-stirring for amusement is the man’s profession, and (2) given the way certain sections of the fan community have been reacting, I didn’t want to get dragged into what amounts to a glorified Culture War. Such things strike me as simultaneously dull and unhelpful, emitting more heat than light.

But here I am nonetheless, stirred from my slumber by a new Fellowship of Fans YouTube video:

The video raises some solid (and non-Culture War) objections to proto-hobbits in a Second Age series. The argument goes that there is very little source material to work with, and, besides, after Jackson we’ve arguably reached hobbit saturation. Can’t the Second Age just be the Second Age without the mundane tentacles of the Third Age interfering with our Epic storyline? Time spent on invented Harfoot drama takes away from Celebrimbor and Company, and all because Amazon wants to appeal to a viewing public who think Middle-earth is all about short people with hairy feet.

It’s a fair enough argument, of course. But allow me to engage in some harebrained speculation here. Speculation that involves constructing a role for proto-hobbits that makes sense in a Second Age narrative.

What if these proto-hobbits were partially representational of the Men of Middle-earth?

I’m not suggesting that the proto-hobbits replace all non-Númenorean Men. One can keep the Easterlings, the Haradrim, the ancestors of the Rohirrim, and so on. Merely that these proto-hobbits be established as residing in Middle-earth when the Númenorean ships turn up… with all the fun of First Contact.

Now, the primary role of hobbits in Tolkien’s work is as an audience surrogate – people reading or viewing the material will identify with the little bastards, because they are culturally more similar to us than anybody else in the setting. We are psychologically programmed to like them. As such, when the Númenoreans (initially) treat them well, we will appreciate the Númenoreans’ kindness and benevolence (though maybe not the habitat destruction). And when the Númenoreans subsequently turn to Imperialism and tyranny…

I think you can grasp what I am getting at here. By having hobbits – rather than just Men – on the receiving end of Númenor’s slide into Darkness, the series would amplify the horror. Bring it much closer to home, so to speak, because these aren’t just faceless barbarians getting terrorised by the Men of the Sea, but the very audience surrogates themselves.

Better yet, it squares a particular thematic circle. As I have noted previously, the Second Age of Middle-earth is the era of Catastrophe, not Eucatastrophe. Its two major plot threads concern Falls (both literal and figurative). How can we make proto-hobbits Fall? We can’t. Not easily anyway. They’re too small and humble. But we can tie them in with someone else’s Fall. The Elves of Eregion would be a poor fit, but the Númenoreans at the height of their Empire-building? That’s a powerful thematic statement and no mistake.

3 thoughts on “Making ‘Second Age’ Hobbits Work: Amazon Series Speculation

  1. Hobbits as viewpoint characters is a great speculation Dan. I just hope it’s true. Better anything than obsessional fan themes.

    I’m totally heartened by Sir Lenny’s revelations. It (the West Midlands) isn’t called the Black Country for nothing! My great-great-grandfather Thomas Miles, a joiner, was a Shropshire man who removed to Bilston, then Wolverhampton. I have the colouring of the region – dark. There is a strain in Wales called Iberian — small, dark, fine-boned. Many Roman legionaries were from Syria and Africa. Some British-based Roman cavalry, the Iazyges, were from Central Asia as per the film “King Arthur” which has a basis in fact.

    “It is clear that Hobbits had in fact, lived, quietly in Middle-earth for many long years before other folk became even aware of them” – Prologue. Yay Lenny!

    But… won’t there be some stock-Hollywood anti-imperialist um, material, involving Men, based off ‘Tal-Elmar’ (POME i.e. HOME 12)? We can but await

    Liked by 1 person

    • Additionally, it is widely believed that the first people to settle Britain, the ancestors of the Britons, the proto-Britons, had dark to black skin. Their skin became more pale over time, over thousands of years, possibly with the advent of farming – a change in diet from fish to crops meaning less vitamin D, pale skin absorbing more sunlight, and mixing with other groups. With this in mind, it feels totally in keeping that one of the groups that would later become Third Age hobbits, a surrogate for British people, would be black.

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  2. „I am doubtful myself about the undertaking. Part of the attraction of the L. R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. Also many of the older legends are purely ‘mythological’, and 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, except in apassing mention; for his time of importance did not begin until the Third Age.”

    I see no room for adding Hobbits that didn’t even do anything, so this will inevtiably mean a giant fanfiction to make them relevant, shame I am not interested in someone’s fanfiction (for that I can read it online) I am more interested in seeing Tolkien’s artistic vision of Second Age on screen, this makes my interest in the show fall down. To me it’s in the end ridiculous (and of course just a ‘forced diversity’ hire), in the end the Hobbits came from the East, not the south so why would they appear African? They haven’t lived anywhere in Harad as far as we know, also they may range into whole thing with the Pygmies, funny thing is that in the early drafts of Earendil journeys: “Voronwë and Eärendcl set sail in Wingilot. Driven south. Dark regions. Fire mountains. Tree-men. Pygmies. Sarqindi or cannibal- ogres.”. You can have brown ‘middle-eastern’ hobbits that would make sense due to geographic location of their migrations, the thing about Harfoots “browner of skin” seems to indicate gradation, brownER in the end means something.

    “Indeed it is probable that only at Bree and in the Shire did any communities of Hobbits survive at that time west of the Misty Mountains. Nothing is known of the situation in lands further east, from which the Hobbits must have migrated in unrecorded ages.”

    HoMe 12, The Atani and their Languages, Note 58

    It would make more sense if Lenny Henry played some positive Haradrim character (at least it would be compliant with the world and it’s inner consistency, Harad features in context of doings of Numenoreans which are one of hte prime movers and shakers of events so there would be narrative reasons to include native peoples), there is more than enough chances for that, what with Numenorean colonies in the south, Umbar, but everything depends on context, the Amazon needs to make up it’s damn mind and choose what stories and what plots they want to tell. For if they would want to tell a story about forging the rings and War of the Elves and Sauron, then there’s no reason to go anywhere south, as all events happen in the North in Eriador, as Tolkien said:

    The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. … If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 375-376 (#294)

    Also no offense Lenny Henry sir, but you don’t seem to know what a tribe is, tribe is even smaller unit than a culture, and defnitely smaller than a race so less likely to be multiracial/multicultural. Like Akan are a general ethnicity, a larger group sharing the language, but within them there are numerous subgroups of that culture, like Agona, Ashanti etc. they in turn are divided into numerous clans like Oyoko, Bretuo, Agona, Asona, Asenie, Aduana, Ekuona, and Asakyiri and so on. Also Leny Henry seems clueless about the lore, there was no Shire in SA so it can’t be ‘about early days’; of it unless again there will be giant retcons, this again smacks me of the Hobbit films which decided to make giant overwrites just for the sake of it. This is one of the things that Amazon seems to not grasp at all about this tv show project, the material they chose for making it is vastly different than The Hobbit and Lotr, it’s no longer a continuous narrative story, an adventure story or a quest or journey, it’s no longer a tale of everyman characters, of the audience surrogate little down to earth guys, it’s an epic drama, tales of great lords, heroes, great political figures, it’s darker and has different tone, you can’t expect to make it in similar feel to Hobbit or Lotr films, it’s just too different.

    Liked by 1 person

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