Adapt That is thrilled to welcome back guest writer Anna from Between Horizons for today’s post. Anna has been a longtime student of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and spends her free time dancing and writing about farm life in the countryside of her native Vermont.
I woke up this morning to news I have wondered at for a while but quite wishful-thinkingly wanted never to see. Christopher Tolkien has resigned from his position as director of the Tolkien Estate. TheOneRing.net published a thoughtful post discussing the news, what Christopher Tolkien has done for his father’s legacy, and what this may mean for the future of the Tolkien Estate and Middle-earth.
People of all sorts have criticized Christopher Tolkien for keeping such a tight hold of his father’s work – including myself, at times. Yet Christopher’s stewardship of Middle-earth has been overwhelmingly great, and without his dedication and care, so much of what we have of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work would still likely be unpublished – from The Silmarillion itself to The Fall of Arthur and Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf. From my early childhood and first discovery of the vast legendarium behind The Lord of the Rings, Christopher has been an integral part of my understanding and imagining of Middle-earth – not just because of his later work in ordering and publishing his father’s manuscripts, but also because he himself, as a child, featured in so many of his father’s letters and obviously had such a deep understanding of and bond with J. R. R. Tolkien and his creations. I can’t imagine a Middle-earth without Christopher Tolkien in it, watching over it. He is Ilúvatar.
Without the guardianship of Christopher Tolkien in the role of director of the Estate, Middle-earth is now open to all the things he worked to protect it from. As TORn’s blog post so neatly explains, everything is going to change. This is not inherently a bad or good thing, I think – there are certainly both positives and negatives to this freedom. There is now a higher likelihood that other artists will be able to acquire rights and permissions to explore areas of Middle-earth in their own personal medium (most notably, at the moment, the medium of film and television, though I hope that other forms of art and media will step up to do their own explorations too). That’s really exciting – I love watching other sub-creators take hold of their imaginations and expand the world J. R. R. Tolkien invested so much of his life into creating. But it’s more than that – it’s also rather alarming.
I would love to see more Middle-earth on screen. I would love to see new pieces of Tolkien’s legendarium explored in new ways. But I am not sure that we are able, at this point in time and in this social and political season to approach that exploration with unbiased reverence. Currently, there are so many social controversies, political upheavals, and polarized opinions on Life, The Universe, And Everything floating in the air that they bleed into everything we produce as a society. This is not wrong – and there is not much to be done about it either way – but Middle-earth is not a place for a human political or social agenda, and it is not a place for many of the things put into film and television now to attract viewers or boost shock value. It can’t stand up to those things, and under them, Middle-earth will be twisted and diminished, and not through any fault of its own.
I’m just not sure the world is ready for more Middle-earth yet. The announcement that Amazon will be producing a “Lord of the Rings” television series is exciting – but it also comes with a sound like the footsteps of approaching doom (what’s this about a spin-off series?). As both an avid fan and avid scholar of Tolkien’s works, I do not want to see Middle-earth turned into another Westeros. I am not interested in Hollywoodisation, or seeing the political agendas of today played out in Middle-earth. I am interested in a reverent delving into the vastness of J. R. R. Tolkien’s imagination, that looks and honors and seeks to understand, but does not carve out new pathways without first taking the lie of the land into account first. Gimli says this well, speaking of the Caverns of Helm’s Deep:
“No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap – a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day – so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock” (535).
I am afraid that without careful stewardship by someone with personal ties to and a personal love for J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, Middle-earth’s groves of blossoming trees will be cut for firewood, or worse, cut and left to rot. Christopher Tolkien has devoted so much of his life to the cautious tapping that has opened to us the new ways and far chambers of Middle-earth (and of his father’s scholarship as well – something we must not forget). I fear that one family of busy producers with film and script might mar more than they made, to borrow from Legolas’ line of reasoning.
However, I’m not one to give up hope so fast, and I am certainly not one to criticize Christopher Tolkien for his decision to step down. He has spent long years in the honorable service of his father’s legacy, and he is fully deserving of a chance to rest – and I don’t believe for a moment that he would leave the Tolkien Estate in incompetent or irreverent hands. I only hope for another caretaker such as himself to step forward, who will approach J. R. R. Tolkien’s legacy with the gentle respect and stewardship of a parent before the money-minded sense of a businessman, impractical though that may, at times, seem to be. I am saddened by the news of Christopher Tolkien’s resignation – it is the ending of an era that has been full of wonder, beauty, and fruitfulness, and his presence in the direction of the Tolkien Estate will, I am certain, be deeply missed. Yet, as we well know, not all tears are an evil. I look forward to the broadening of Middle-earth’s horizons with tepid enthusiasm.
MORE MIDDLE EARTH!
“Amazon to Adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s Globally Renowned Fantasy Novels, The Lord of the Rings, for Television with a Multi Season Production Commitment.” Business Wire, 13 Nov. 2017.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Single volume edition. Boston: Mariner Books, 2002.
https://www.tolkiensociety.org/2016/10/christopher-tolkien-awarded-bodley-medal/; François Deladerrière / © The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
All copyright New Line Cinema.