What if Lord of the Rings were a TV series?
In my piece examining the possibility of more films set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, I acknowledged some executives would want to remake The Lord of the Rings, which I deemed a bad idea, and that the only worthwhile way to film the book again would be to adapt it for television. The expanded running time television can provide would spoil filmmakers for choice with the amount of storylines and characters they would not have to fret about omitting. A successful LOTR TV series has precedence thanks to Game of Thrones, ironic given that series would not have been filmed were it not for the LOTR movies.
When adapting The Fellowship of the Ring for film, writers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens had to focus on Frodo Baggins’ story, minimising the time spent on other storylines. Of the many different narratives given at the Council of Elrond, they only partly dramatised two of them, namely how Saruman “delayed” Gandalf’s reunion with Frodo, and Boromir’s decision to go to Rivendell (which was only shown in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers). A TV series could explore these fully, introducing the Rohirrim earlier and explain why Legolas and Gimli came to the Council of Elrond between Frodo’s adventures with Tom Bombadil.
Introducing Legolas and Gimli at home would also give good reason to depict the attacks on Thranduil’s kingdom and Dale, which Tolkien tells us in the Appendices happened concurrently with the Battle of Minas Tirith. Tolkien himself suggested a way to save money to tell these stories: by writing out the Battle of Helm’s Deep. He deemed it the most expendable action sequence and that he would rather cut it instead of the Ent attack on Isengard, explaining the Battle of Minas Tirith made it redundant.
Deleting Helm’s Deep would allow the TV series to avoid more comparisons with the films — after all, if you cannot top their most atmospheric battle scene then why bother? Having Saruman’s defeat take place sooner would allow him to flee and establish the Scouring of the Shire — a chapter that was always anti-climatic for a screenplay, but hopefully not for a TV series — earlier than the book.
Cutting back to the Shire during the book’s events allows more characters whose roles were cut or minimised in the films to gain prominence. Ponder Glorfindel, the Sons of Elrond and the Grey Company witnessing what’s happening to the Shire before making the choice to head south to aid Aragorn instead (yes, Glorfindel doesn’t join them in the book, just brainstorming ideas for the benefit of whoever’s cast as him). Many fans would likely also want to see Captain Beregond, Prince Imrahil and the Knights of Dol Amroth, characters introduced in The Return of the King but excluded from the film due to time restraints.
Moving on from potential storylines and characters, TV is more diverse than cinema and a LOTR TV series would be no different. When Peter Jackson made his films, they were made with the fallacy a pseudo-Medieval European land like Middle-earth would have no people of colour, probably because Wikipedia wasn’t around to remind them immigration to Britain has been a thing since Roman times. Tolkien — an Arthurian scholar who translated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into Modern English and composer of The Fall of Arthur — was likely aware of the black knight Sir Morien and the Saracens at the Round Table.
Jackson clearly realised his mistake, casting black, Asian and Pacific Islander extras in The Hobbit. But imagine them as Elves, Gondorians or Dwarves. Imagine a Latino or Arab actor as Aragorn, the mistrusted Dúnedain Ranger in the North, bringing to the fore the book’s subtext of all races overcoming their differences to face a soulless enemy. Tolkien intended Middle-earth as an English mythology, but he was around when the Windrush arrived from Jamaica, so he may have realised English does not necessarily mean white. Constantly he mentions the swarthiness of the Men of Gondor. He said the Harfoot race of Hobbits had “browner” skin than the Stoors and Fallohides, and even described Samwise Gamgee as having brown hands! It’s as valid to cast a black actor as Sam as it is to design Balrogs with wings.
At the moment of course, a LOTR TV series would be exorbitantly expensive, even with the budget spread across three or four seasons. But as pipe-dreams go, it’s an ambitious one, and hopefully it has been an encouraging thought.