‘The Lord of the Rings’: JRR Tolkien’s Estate Let Amazon Create Its Series On 1 Strict Condition

Amazon Prime Video is trying to make the next Game of Thrones with its Lord of the Rings TV series. The series, which is finally filming in New Zealand following coronavirus (COVID-19) delays, already got a five-season order from Amazon and each season will be packed with 20 episodes. But if you’re expecting to see Frodo and Sam again, adjust your expectations.

The only way the Amazon series was green lit was by following a very specific condition from J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate. Because of this condition, nothing created in the Peter Jackson LOTR and The Hobbit franchises can be messed with.

Gandalf in Lord of the Rings
Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood | New Line/WireImage

Amazon ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series has already started filming

This new installment of The Lord of the Rings on the small screen will not be directed by Jackson like the original films. The director told Metro U.K. he would be willing to lend some assistance, since he’s spent so much of his career translating Tolkien’s novels from page to screen, but the executive producers and showrunners for the new series are J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay.

The show had been filming for one month earlier this year when it was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hope was to resume filming in September, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, filming has indeed commenced. On Dec. 3, the show announced 20 new cast members, although details of their characters are being kept under tight lock and key.

The head of Amazon studios, Jennifer Salke, told The Hollywood Reporter that the “hope” is for the series to debut in 2021.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers | WingNut Films

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JRR Tolkien’s estate had strict instructions for Amazon’s ‘LOTR’ series

Because of Tolkien’s estate, McKay and Payne’s show will not be allowed to touch any of the time period in which Jackson’s films take place, aka the Third Age of Middle-earth. The streaming service was given the rights to Tolkien’s work as long as the show was only set in Middle-earth’s Second Age, and so, that’s what fans are going to see.

In Tolkien’s writing, the ages of Middle-earth span thousands of years. The Second Age alone lasted 3,441 years, and it was during that time that Sauron was originally in power and then destroyed (his spirit lived on, however, as it was linked to the One Ring, which Frodo Baggins ventured to destroy in the Third Age).

The tricky part about the Second Age is that Tolkien’s books were set in the Third. While there are appendices and the Unfinished Tales about the Second Age from Tolkien available, they aren’t nearly as detailed as The Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit. That is both good and tricky for Amazon’s series.

Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey is working with the show. He told German LOTR fan site Deutsche Tolkien that the author’s estate isn’t letting the series cover anything outside of the Second Age. Because of that, the show “has a relatively free hand,” but admitted it’s “a bit of a minefield – you have to tread very carefully.”

“You can add new characters and ask a lot of questions,” Shippey said. “Like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created. It is necessary to remain ‘Tolkienian.'”

With five guaranteed seasons at 20 episodes each, plus a reportedly $1 billion budget, the show has a lot of time and resources to make the series as detailed as possible. There is certainly a lot of pressure from fans to do Tolkien’s writing justice.