On Saturday, Amazon introduced us to its “Fellowship” of creators via Twitter in a short video. These are the writers and other key subcreators at the helm of their ambitious new show-to-be, which now even more clearly takes place (at least in part) in the Second Age of Middle-earth. Which in turn almost certainly confirms that Amazon has secured the rights to Unfinished Tales, if not necessarily the larger Silmarillion text. That was the theory so far.
So much is at stake, but at this point I’m still more than happy to remain optimistic and excited. Wanna talk about who’ve they’ve got?
First, here’s their video.
Meet our Fellowship. pic.twitter.com/Npouu6ZlRt
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) July 27, 2019
The immediate standout to me is Tom Shippey, sagacious professor of Middle and Old English literature, but more importantly a Tolkien scholar and consultant even on Peter Jackson’s first film trilogy. That means there’s at least one person in the writers room who totally understands Tolkien and should, at least in theory, be able to raise a hand if someone crosses a line. This is huge. I only wish we could see Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, in there, too. But Shippey is a promising start, truly. If his interview on Deutsche Tolkien is to be believed, “the Tolkien Estate keeps a very careful eye on everything and is quite capable of saying no. They retain a veto over everything that concerns Tolkien.” It gives me some hope—estel, even—that the spirit of Tolkien’s work will be observed.
Also on board is artist John Howe, who was also involved in Jackon’s Rings. This is great news, although I can think of a few other artists I’d love to see roped in somehow.
For a year now we’ve known that Patrick McKay and John D. Payne have been named as showrunners. Still relative newcomers, with writing credits on Star Trek Beyond and a recommendation from J.J. Abrams, but there’s little else for us to go on. Still, I’d rather new blood than the long experienced with the wrong genres. They’ve said, “The rich world that J.R.R. Tolkien created is filled with majesty and heart, wisdom and complexity.”
We’ve also previously been given the name of the first director attached. J.A. Bayona, who directed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, will lead the first two episodes in the series—so if the first storyline involves Men of the Second Age and an ill-advised attempt to organize a dragon-themed park off the coast of Númenor (involving, say, the ancestors of Scatha the Long-worm or maybe Smaug himself), we’re in good hands! But Spanish-born Bayona also directed 2007’s chillingly excellent The Orphanage and the fairytale-esque A Monster Calls, and that portends well.
All right, so who else have they named?
The executive producers—Belén Atienza, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly, Lindsey Weber—are not all cut from the same cloth, but they lean toward the fantastically scientific in The Orphanage (again yay), Westworld, The Leftovers, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Game of Thrones, Star Trek Beyond, etc.
The writers seem like a creatively mixed bag, since some worked on Stranger Things and Toy Story 4 and Fringe, while others contributed to Game of Thrones and Hannibal and The Sopranos. A spectrum of dramatic and brutal and curious and heartwarming seems like a good thing, since Middle-earth is anything but lukewarm or lacking nuance.
Costume, production design, and visual effects people (Kate Hawley, Rich Heinrichs, and Jason Smith, respectively) come from some other visually compelling projects, like Crimson Peak, Sleepy Hollow, The Avengers, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Even the naysayers of the newer Star Wars films or those not sold on the Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t deny their stunning cinematography. And Sleepy Hollow? C’mon, what’s not to love there?
For now, all this tells us is where these people come from, but it still says very little about where they’re going. So until the next time they drop another teaser in our laps, all we can really do is speculate, speculate, speculate. Like…the video does show that Second Age header from the Appendices (woefully brief, though that section is), flashes over to Eregion (where all the Rings of Power were made except the One!) back when that Elf-realm was the mellon and neighbor of Khazad-dûm, then we see Númenor. So whether we’re getting any Akallabêth treatment, or just being shown where the Faithful of the Númenóreans came from, we’re not really sure yet. Remember, it is those remnants of Númenor who survived its downfall who found Gondor and Anor and team up with the Elves of the Second Age agains Sauron the first time.
Anyway, let’s keep at it! What do you think?
Jeff LaSala, who worked up The Silmarillion Primer. will be happy to keep chattering away about the upcoming Amazon series, whether in grumbles or praise. Tolkien geekdom aside, Jeff wrote a Scribe Award–nominated D&D novel, produced some cyberpunk stories, and now works for Tor Books. He sometimes sputters about on Twitter.