Contains plot spoilers.
I’ve been avoiding the news about the forthcoming ‘Second Age’ Tolkien-based TV series, on the assumption that it’d be a bit like the The Hobbit movie trilogy, or Waterworld, or The Phantom Menace. Meaning that in a few years some creative and clever Herbert will make a good fan-edit of it, cutting out all the annoying ‘Jar-Jar Binks bits’. We would thus get something quite watchable. That happened with The Hobbit trilogy, for instance, which was made very watchable by a fan-edit. Or it did until the hobbits tumble out of their fish-barrels in Lake-town. After that point in the plot, admittedly, you’re best advised to switch off immediately and continue the tale with a good audiobook on headphones (cutting back to the movie only when Bilbo goes down the stairs, for the short but magnificent Smaug + treasure scenes, then back to the audiobook post-dragon).
It’s fairly easy to know the broad outlines of what would be likely for a first season of the coming TV show…
The growth of the great sea-city of Numenor, and its early contacts with Middle-earth; Sauron building the fortress of Barad-dur in Moria; Numenor’s establishing of the elf-havens; Sauron posing as a friend of the dwarves of Moria and the elven smiths of Eregion, as he teaches them ring-making; the coming of Galadriel to Lothlorien; ending on Sauron’s making of the One Ring.
But it seems from the more considered commentary that this ‘Second Age’ TV series (let’s not call it The Lord of the Rings prequel) is going to be something else. Those dedicated to divining the TV runes now see clear signs in the interviews and profiles that it’s something of a Game of Thrones II in disguise. Elven power-politics and career games. Galadriel as sturdy warrior. Dwarven princesses. Dwarves without beards. Hobbits shoehorned in straightaway, probably set to become miserable refugees forced to trek over harsh mountains. It will also “feature adult content”, judging by one of the job-roles recruited. Probably also too much gore and bit too much modern leftist subtext.
Of course, all this could be proven wrong once we get the series. But for a future fan-work, that’s actually not so important.
We shouldn’t underestimate the fans and their capacity to make something more durable, which has been proven several times now. Given four or even five seasons and a billion dollars of spending, there will surely be enough good material for an ambitious fan-editor to make something reasonably ‘Tolkien’ from it. Even if the fans have to supply new voice-over links between sections or newly-filmed section inserts along the lines of the fan-films The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope. I mean, there’s going to be a lot of footage and audio to work with, and also the existing audiobooks and soundtracks. There are some very talented vocal mimics in the world, too, able to do any actor perfectly. By 2032 we may well have a six or eight-hour Second Age fan-edit worth watching and ‘as Tolkien’ as possible, though the planning for that probably needs to start now.
In the meantime, the Martin Shaw audio reading of The Silmarillion might not be a bad place to start, if you’re already familiar with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’d really hesitate to recommend all 15 hours of it to even the hardiest and hairiest harfoot mountain-trekker, as after the first few hours even the hardiest will be lost in the blizzards of names and places. But if you just want the Second Age then it’s relatively short and has several characters, races and places you’ll already know from LoTR. Start in the Silmarillion audiobook at “Akallabeth” and listen on to the end from there, which should not be too wearying or too long at two and a half hours.
To be precise, this means:
CD 11 – (54:30 to the end 01:08:00, 14 mins)
CD 12 – (all, 64 mins)
CD 13 – (all, 69 mins) (final CD)