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.