When news broke that Amazon had acquired the rights to produce a television series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien fans knew it surely hinted at something huge happening behind the scenes. Christopher Tolkien, the late author’s son and director of his literary estate, has been notoriously resistant to licensing any kind of adaptations of his father’s work. The film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings themselves were sold while the author was alive, eventually leading to Peter Jackson’s wildly popular film series of both works. But other vital Tolkien works, such as The Silmarillion, seemed like they would never be released from the estate’s tight control.
It turns out that the behind-the-scenes workings were bigger than anyone could imagine. Tolkien-centric news site TheOneRing.net broke the news on November 15th that Christopher Tolkien had formally resigned from his position at the estate. While Tolkien hinted at the move in the preface of a new edition of the senior Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien, and legally formalized as far back as August, the move is stunning never the less. While it was a given that Tolkien, now 93, would control the estate forever, his reticence has made his father’s catalog an increasingly sought after commodity and heightened the reverence surrounding them. Tolkien’s dedication to the integrity to the stories he first heard from his father as a child has spread among many of the books’ fans, and Rings fans are known for their passion.
Some fear that Amazon’s decision to create a Lord of the Rings-based series is nothing more than a cynical cash grab. Indeed, one of the star’s Jackson’s films certainly thinks so. With Christopher Tolkien gone and the reins loosened, more adaptations, tie-ins, and merchandise are sure to come. Will they add to the richness and beauty of the fantasy world that has been so special to so many for decades? Or will the air of mystery and magic that helped make Middle Earth so special vanish in a renewed commercial frenzy? Time will tell. The departure of Christopher Tolkien might seem small to some, but one lesson that is constant in Tolkien’s work is that small things can change the world. Indeed, they are often the only thing that does.