Tolkien to Film: What Could Come Next?
It has now been roughly six months since The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and twelve years since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The two film trilogies were ground-breaking with their use of motion capture technology, bringing life to Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). While the Lord of the Rings trilogy was critically acclaimed and won countless Academy Awards, The Hobbit trilogy, however, felt different. Sure, visually it was just as stunning as Lord of the Rings, the cinematography was still as good and absolutely nothing wrong with the acting. But it was the over-use of CGI that gave it a less authentic feel to it and the fact that it was stretched from two films into three, at the request of Peter Jackson. It was clear that The Hobbit films were made merely to make money as opposed to it being an artistic decision. But as everyone knows, if Hollywood has a prize cow, they will milk it for all its worth.
But these are not the only two tales that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, of course, and this begs the question, could Hollywood get their hands on these stories and which one(s) would they attempt to make? The Tolkien Estate (unofficially headed by Christopher Tolkien) owns the rights to other Tolkien properties, such as The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales and it is unlikely that anything from these books will be adapted any time soon, but it is enjoyable to speculate. Fans and critics alike have been speculating for years as to which story they would like adapted. Although we have had student films like Born of Hope, a very well made film in its own right with Aragon’s father Arathorn in the lead role, there would perhaps be nothing like a well-adapted story from The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. Here are three stories that could realistically be adapted to the big-screen. There will spoilers from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales ahead.
Feanor and the Silmarils
This may be the toughest of the tales to adapt with it also being one of the larger and more important stories. Feanor is one of the big names in the wide world of Tolkien’s legendarium and he was the one who harvested the light of the Two Trees, that gave light to Arda when the world was still young, into the three jewels, known as the Silmarils. To give some sort of perspective on the power the Silmarils held, there is a theory that the Arkenstone that Thorin, Bilbo et al. tried to retrieve in The Hobbit is in fact a Silmaril. Although I personally do not agree with this theory, it is not entirely out of the question considering how much the Arkenstone drove Thorin mad. Whatever the case, these jewels had a hold over anyone who saw them and Feanor grew incredibly protective of them, allowing only his seven sons and father permission to see them.
Among those who coveted the Silmarils was a Valar known as Melkor. An incredibly powerful being and original Dark Lord (he was in command of Sauron before his initial demise) and he first tried to persuade Feanor to hand him over the Silmarils willingly, which Feanor did not agree to. After this Melkor made an alliance with the spirit Ungoliant, whose form was a great spider and was an ancestor of Shelob, destroyed the Two Trees and in the ensuing darkness, stole the Silmarils for themselves. During all of this Melkor killed Feanor’s father, Finwe, as well and Feanor blamed both the Valar and Melkor, whom Feanor gave the name of Morgoth henceforth. From this moment on an oath was made by Feanor, to be carried out by him and his seven sons that hatred and darkness would fall on those who withheld a Silmaril from his family.
At this point Morgoth had travelled with the Silmarils to Middle-earth, residing in his fortress Angband and had the Silmarils encrusted on a crown. Feanor managed to gather a large force of Noldor elves to follow him to Middle-earth. What would happen next is one of the saddest events to happen in Tolkien’s mythology, the Kinslaying at Aloquonde. To travel to Middle-earth Feanor and is host needed the ships of the Teleri elves, but the Teleri did not agree to this. The Noldor drew their swords, the Teleri drew back their bow strings and the first Elf on Elf killings took place. Considering how much the Elves admire their own race, this was an incredibly depressing event that only happened because of the hold the Silmarils had on Feanor.
Admittedly it is unclear as to where this tale would end on film as the Silmarils are entwined with the entire First-Age. A specific ending that does come to mind would be the death of Feanor, as he blindly fights his way toward Angband. He manages to kill several Balrogs before being slain by the greatest Balrog, Gothmog.
It would also be difficult to try and introduce Eru Illuvatar (the being who created the entire world) and the Valar, of which Melkor/Morgoth is one. This tale brings an extensive look into the history of Tolkien’s work, which may be just too hard to put on film. If they were not willing to put Tom Bombadil into The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then it would seem unlikely that they would put in a character like Illuvatar.
As an array of characters, though, this story has one of the best with the degradation of Feanor’s mental state, his arrogance and hot-headed attitude; this could potentially even be a fantasy film that pays special focus to mental illness. There is also, of course, Melkor/Morgoth, who could potentially become one of the greatest film villains of all time. He is quite simply the most evil character to be written in Tolkien’s world and with good reason; every evil creature that lives is under his command and he was even the one to create the race of Orcs after the prolonged torture of imprisoned Elves.
It could be said that a film studio wouldn’t want to introduce a whole new range of characters to a franchise and would perhaps go in the direction of a spin-off, however the Lady Galadriel was alive during this time and some small appearance from her would be a very nice way to connect to The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
What is so great about so many of Tolkien’s stories, from a narrative point, is that the protagonist is not always a good person or traditionally heroic and they do not always end up being victorious. There is an abundance of tragic tales in the legendarium that could be adapted to the screen and several do, of course, have Morgoth as the central force of evil.
Narn I Chin Hurin aka The Children of Hurin
Although Morgoth does not play the role of the primary antagonist in The Children of Hurin he is the one who sets it all in motion when he captures Hurin at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears otherwise known as Nirnaeth Arnoediad. An epic battle of several armies of Elves, Men and Dwarves that went to confront Morgoth and his forces but were all defeated and retreated to safety. In this battle the primary antagonist of the story is introduced, Glaurung, The Great Worm, a wingless, fire-breathing dragon; a creature much larger than Smaug, with immense power and the main weapon of Morgoth.
The are many great moments in this battle such as a host of Dwarves battling Glaurung and carrying their fallen king from the battlefield and when Hurin, now the only person continuing the fight, slays a plethora of Orcs and fights with the Lord of Balrogs, Gothmog. Each time Hurin hits Gothmog he shouts “Aure entuluva!” – “Day shall come again!” – Before he is taken captive by the forces of Morgoth. And there in Angband he is magically bound by Morgoth and is forced to watch the cursed lives of his children.
Hurin has three children, but only two he can see through the black magic of Morgoth. Lalaith is the second child of Hurin, her name meaning “laughter” but it is sadly ironic that she dies as a young child and is the first of Hurin’s children to feel the curse put upon them by Morgoth.
Nienor is the third child of Hurin and the only child that Hurin is unable to see as she was born after his imprisonment. She has an incredibly tough childhood only knowing one member of her family, her mother, Morwen. Her story is perhaps the saddest of the three children. When her and her mother travelled to find Hurin’s first-born, Turin, they are confronted by Glaurung who managed to withhold her memories from her and when he releases her from his psychic grip she is described to run off like a deer and Nienor is not mentioned by that name again until the near end of the story.
Finally there is Turin Turambar, who acts as the main protagonist of the story and his life is the perhaps the most tragic.Turin is forced to leave his home at a young age for his own safety, but years later, after he is thought to have murdered an elf, he flees his adoptive home and joins a group of outlaws. These events along with the unintentional murder of his best friend Beleg are not even the tip of the iceberg.
During a time when Turin is going by the name of Turambar, he finds a naked maiden on the grave of his love, Finduilas. Turin takes her back to where he is living (Brethil) and names her Niniel, meaning “tear-maiden”. Somewhat of a love triangle ensues between a man named Brandir, Niniel and Turin, but it is the latter two that wed and Niniel soon becomes pregnant.
It is around this time when Glaurung is ordered to attack Brethil and in doing so, he draws out Turin Turambar. The two eventually get the fight the tale deserves and Turin mortally wounds Glaurung, but he is put into a short, but deep sleep after the dragon’s blood touches him. Niniel then comes to the place of the battle and Glaurung reveals to her that she is in fact Nienor, Turin’s sister. Glaurung then dies from his wounds, Nienor/Niniel jumps from a waterfall after the revelation. Turin awakes and with nothing left to live for, he impales himself on the black sword, Gurthang, the sword that Turin used to murder his friend, Beleg.
In terms of content The Children of Hurin would perhaps be the easiest to adapt, with versions written in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales and it even had a book published of its own accord that was edited by Christopher Tolkien (and wonderfully illustrated, as all the books are, by Alan Lee). The Nirnaeth Arnoediad and Turin’s childhood could also act as a prologue, a device that has become somewhat of a motif in Peter Jackson’s films, with only The Battle of Five Armies not including one. There is also the chance that we could see the character of Galadriel in this story too as she spent some time in the Kingdom of Doriath while Turin was living there, although this tragic tale would not need to incorporate any familiar character that heavily, if at all. But familiar items, such as the Palantiri could be used with a Palantir being the way Hurin watches the fate of his children.
That is not to say there wouldn’t be any problems with adapting this story. First the money and effort used to make a CGI or motion capture dragon that is much bigger than Smaug and from a story-telling point of view the revelation that Turin is blind seems a little too far-fetched. There is also the complication with Nienor’s character; what would otherwise be a very clever twist and revelation of her being Turin’s sister is not so secretive in the book(s) and if we are to view this film from Hurin’s trapped perspective we would not see the life of Nienor at all. This would leave a tough film-making decision for the director. Do they include Glaurung’s enchantment of Nienor and therefore make the audience aware of whom Niniel is or should that be left out and act as a surprise to the audience later on in the film. That would be a tough decision and there is no easy answer. If done right though, the tragic tale of The Children of Hurin could be a wonderful filmic experience.
Of Beren and Luthien
On the gravestone of J.R.R Tolkien and his wife, the names of Beren and Luthien are engraved to signify the love the two had for each other. This in and of itself already shows the importance this tale has to the Tolkien family and fan base. This story is the big one, a tale that is the focal story in The Silmarillion and Tolkien’s work in general and this could well put off film studios from adapting it.
This story is the first that depicts a relationship between a man (Beren) and an elf (Luthien) and the two titular characters fall in love very early on in the story. However, Thingol, Luthien’s father and King of Doriath, was not pleased with the idea that a man like Beren would wed his daughter, so he proposed to Beren that if he completes a task he may wed his daughter. This task was to retrieve a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. Although seemingly impossible, Beren accepted and left for Angband. Sometime later Luthien would even follow after Beren.
Beren and his company never made it to Angband, however. They were instead captured by a captain of Morgoths and a foe that fans of Peter Jackson’s films will be very familiar with. Sauron. In captivity most of Beren’s host were killed by a werewolf, until the elf Finrod killed it himself, although it resulted in his own death, too.
As Luthien advanced on her journey she was captured by some sons of Feanor, but the great hound Huan defied his masters and freed Luthien. Huan is a magical hound who was permitted to speak three times in his life and it was prophesied that he would one day be killed by the greatest wolf there ever was.
With the help of Huan, Luthien then went to Beren’s aid and Huan managed to defeat many werewolves and Sauron himself in the form of a wolf. Luthien then forced Sauron give up his hold on his fortress, which he did and he fled in the form of a vampire. After this Beren and Luthien continued on their quest.
Although confronted by the sons of Feanor again they managed to finally enter Angaband disguised as the bat Thuringwethil and Drauglin the great werewolf, whom Huan defeated earlier. In their disguises they entered Angband easily and Luthien managed to put Morgoth and his court asleep with a song. Beren then successfully removed a Silmaril from Morgoths crown, but the power of the Silmarils took hold of him and he attempted to get the others out. But his knife splintered and woke the slumbering Morgoth.
As they tried to escape, the two lovers were confronted by the greatest wolf of all, Carcharoth. The great wolf then bit off the hand of Beren which concealed a Silmaril, but the light of the jewel pained Carcharoth so much he ran off in agony. It is also said, that in true Tolkien deus ex machina style the eagles helped the two escape.
Beren and Luthien would wed not long after, even without the Silmaril, but Beren was still to complete his task and with Huan, he went to hunt for Carcharoth. The wolf was killed and the Silmaril recovered but both Huan and Beren died as a result of their fight. Luthien became stricken with grief and then soon after, she died too.
However, in the after world Luthien sang to Mandos (a Valar) who, after speaking with more powerful Valar and Illuvatar, granted her and Beren to live again. This life would be mortal for them both, even so, they found somewhere to live happily until the day they died. This story holds great significance with other Half-elven relationships as other Half-elvens after them would be given the same choice of mortality. Their lineage is also wrought with Half-elven pairings. Their grand-daughter, Elwing, married the elf Earendil, one of their sons was Elrond the Half-elven, whose daughter was, of course, Arwen and who eventually wed Aragorn.
Aragorn actually sings the Lay of Luthien to the hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring both in the book and on film (although at differing times and places). The scene in the film was actually not used in the cinematic release of the film, but was included in the extended editions. This scene, or one like it, could be used as a way into the beginning of this tale and it would seem fitting if Aragorn, Arwen or even Elrond were the ones telling the story or singing the Lay.
The one potential problem with this tale is that there is no clear primary antagonist. There are arguably four: Morgoth, Sauron, Carcharoth and to an extent, the sons of Feanor. It is potentially an idea that characters could be combined to form a more cohesive narrative structure, a composite of Sauron and Carcharoth, for example, may indeed make sense. But on the other hand the many antagonists could act as a way of going against conventions and trying something slightly different. But as I said earlier, the shere magnitude of this story may work against it.
This story is loved by fans and it is one that was obviously close to Tolkien’s heart and his family and so if, by the of chance, Christopher Tolkien allowed a studio to film something from The Silmarillion he would perhaps do so on a proviso that this tale not be it. The love that this story holds over people may well put fear into a film studio, that should they fail it may end any ambition for any more Tolkien-verse films.
If there is one thing that should happen if another Tolkien film is made, it should be that Peter Jackson not direct it. Although he did an astounding job on The Lord of the Rings and while The Hobbit trilogy still has many qualities, it should be time for a new director. It would be nice if Fran Walsh and/or Phillipa Boyens worked on these films as sole directors or as a team; their work on the previous two trilogies has gone somewhat unnoticed and it could be put on them to take Tolkien’s work into a new direction.
One thing that is said about The Hobbit trilogy specifically, is that it is somewhat similar to the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Both are set before the original trilogies, both once again have a figurehead in charge of the franchise that was also in charge of the original trilogies and both sets of prequels use significantly more CGI. It is hard to disagree that The Hobbit trilogy fits into the same mould as the Star Wars prequel films and with George Lucas now having passed the Star Wars torch onto JJ Abrams, it should be in the minds of film studios to give a younger director a chance with any potential, new Tolkien film and to keep Jackson on as nothing more than perhaps an executive producer.
Although a new directorial perspective is perhaps needed, the one thing that The Hobbit trilogy was criticised for will need to be kept in tact. The CGI was a huge disappointment in the three Hobbit films, more so considering how brilliantly Jackson and his crew exploited it in The Lord of the Rings. The introduced motion capture technology to the masses with Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagol, which they took to the next level with Smaug in Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of Five Armies. But there was still something off with the CGI in the latter trilogy. There was an overuse of the technology in The Hobbit trilogy compared to Rings. Set shoots were used more than on-location shots and CGI and green screen was used so much that it famously made Sir Ian McKellen cry while trying to film a scene.
Now with the potential of huge wingless dragons larger than Smaug, great spiders and even werewolves, CGI will need to be used to some extent. It is not the use of CGI that will ever be in question, but how it is used and how much is used. It has to be done so that it does not affect the authenticity of the film, or rather so that whatever is CGI does not look out of place. This might sound little ridiculous when a fantasy world like Tolkiens is being discussed, but the authenticity relates to this world not our own.
Although it is the CGI that gets a lot of stick, the three Hobbit films add unnecessary filler storylines that are just unwarranted. While the scenes with The White Council and their confrontation with Sauron were some of the better scenes, with five or six incredible actors playing off each other, it takes away from the mystery of Gandalfs departure that was in the book. Gandalf is traditionally mysterious on screen and on paper, so to show most of Ganaldf’s adventure takes away from what his character is all about, especially when compared to his absence from The Prancing Pony, before his surprise return at Rivendell and his death and rebirth into Gandalf the White. We know none of this until Gandalf himself tells us about it, something that was stripped of his character in The Hobbit films.
Another addition to the storyline was a purely invented one, with no source from Tolkien to go on. While inventing a completely new character is not itself a problem it was the direction the character of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) took after her introduction that was poorly handled. Her love story with Aiden Turner’s Kili felt incredibly forced to an extent that it felt like Jackson wanted another big Elf-Dwarf relationship ala Legolas and Gimli. But this was a romantic kind of love and the two races of Elves and Dwarves are traditionally antagonistic towards each other, especially in the context of the Dwarves from Erebor and the Elves of Mirkwood. This can only have been introduced because there is no love story in the original Tolkien novel and it seems Hollywood cannot permit a film if there is no aspect of heterosexual love, making this decision another one purely to attract more of a general audience and therefore to make more money.
These additional storylines take away from what should be Bilbo and Thorin’s narrative and it stunted the growth of their relationship, regardless of the brilliantly written dualogues these two characters had together. Thorin’s film death is a key example of his character arc feeling manufactured to Hollywood demands. As Richard Armitage’s character fights Manu Bennett’s Azog there is always the feeling that Thorin will receive some sort of agency and will kill Azog, something that he is denied in the book (although Azog is a different character in the book). In the book Thorin is mortally wounded by the goblin leader at the Battle of Five Armies and is carried off the battlefield, with Beorn dealing the killer blow to the goblin. Thorin’s agency in the novel is his reconciliation with Bilbo on his deathbed. The deviation to introduce an actual physical opposition to Thorin in Azog means that Thorin cannot have the same type of agency in the film as he did in the books, perhaps because it makes for a better film (or rather, a more conventional film) and it would lead one think whether something similar could happen if there wasn’t a director with a huge knowledge and respect for Tolkien for any potentially new films.
Even so, there are so many stories that could be adapted from Tolkien’s works and so many should get a mention, but wouldn’t work as films just because there isn’t much written on it, such as the Dagor Dagoroth (The Battle of Battles) in which Morgoth comes back into being and the fate of Arda is at play. But even if the Dagor Dagoroth was to be adapted there a still several conflicting prophecies of it (there is only a short prophecy to go on, no full chapters of any sort). There is then something like The Mariners Wife, which is another tragic love story between a King of Numenor and a woman from Middle-earth, this tale perhaps doesn’t have enough legs to go on to be made into a film of its own right. It would also be interesting to see someone adapt something that has little or no source to go on, such as the journey of Alatar and Pallando, the Blue Wizards, into the East.
So as for what could realistically be adapted into a full feature-length film(s) probably fall on Feanor and the Silmarils, The Children of Hurin and Of Beren and Luthien. Three tales that have a lot of material to go off of, with an interesting array of characters and even some lingering connections with the films that have already been released. Right now this is only a dream and is not going to happen in the near future, but Hollywood never quite seems done with a cow that still has milk to give.
What do you think? Leave a comment.