Lord of the Rings on TV: five brilliant Tolkien storylines it could cover

There's much more to Tolkien than Lord of the Rings

This week it was revealed that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is coming back to screens – but perhaps not in the way you might expect. It’s not a rehash of the Lord of the Rings tale, or The Hobbit. No: Amazon is working with the Tolkien Estate and publisher HarperCollins on what their representative Matt Galsor is calling “previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.” Could it be an anthology series like Fargo? Here’s hoping. In the meantime, here’s five stories from Tolkien’s works the show could – or should – focus on.

1. Young Aragorn

When we meet Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, he’s already 87 years old. As a member of a dwindling race of Men called the Dúnedain, he grows taller, is better at fighting and lives far longer than the Men of Gondor or Rohan. Anyway: in his 87 years before Lord of the Rings, he’d done plenty of stuff.

He grew up in Rivendell with Elrond under a pseudonym, Estel; he was only told about his royal ancestry aged 20, which is when he also met his future wife, Arwen. He soon went into the wilds to live with the Dúnedain, and aged 25 he became friends with the wizard Gandalf. He began keeping an eye on the Shire under the moniker ‘Strider’ but for decades he served the King of Rohan, Thengel, using the pseudonym Thorongil, during which time he led a fleet of ships to assault the Sauron-friendly corsairs of Umbar, and killed their lord. It’s this period of his life fans reckon the series might focus on.

After this he went off to the regions to the south and east of Mordor, Haradwaith and Rhûn – though it’s unknown what exactly he did there. Later, at Gandalf’s request he headed to the Dead Marshes, where he captured Gollum and brought him to Mirkwood to be interrogated by Thranduil and Gandalf.

Would it make a good TV show? Though the amount of Tolkien material on Aragorn’s early life isn’t enormous, he’s probably the most popular character from the series, making most storylines about him interesting to fans. It just depends how much creative license the showrunners are granted in telling his story.

2. Beren & Lúthien

One of Tolkien’s best-known stories outside The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is the tale of Beren & Lúthien, which was originally included in the posthumously published The Silmarillion, but the story was recently released as a novel in its own right. It’s a love story, but there’s a fair bit of backstory involved. The main thing you need to know is that it takes place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings, and it centres on Silmarils – perfect, uncorruptible jewels that were sources of power and beauty. Before the events of the novel, these had been stolen by Sauron’s original boss, known as Melkor or Morgoth, and set in his crown – a source of great offense to the elves who created them.

In the story, Beren is a man and Lúthien is a royal elf whose dad doesn’t like Beren. When Lúthien’s dad learns they’re in love and want to be married, he sets Beren the impossible task of retrieving a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. They go through many weird trials and tribulations to retrieve the Silmaril – even death. It’s such an epic love story that on the gravestone of Tolkien and his wife Edith, it reads “Beren” & “Lúthien”.

Would it make a good TV show? It’s a long way from the Lord of the Rings stories we know – other than Sauron there aren’t any characters we know, and it contains elements like werewolves and vampires that could be considered outlandish by film-only fans. But it’s still a sweeping, exciting story, and its recent release as a book could still stand it in good stead.

3. Sauron vs Celebrimbor and the elves

In the red corner: Sauron, long before he was publicly known as the big baddie of Middle-Earth – at this time he went by the name of Annatar or ‘Lord of Gifts’, and he was ‘friends’ with elves, dwarves and men.
In the blue corner: elf-lord Celebrimbor, grandson of Fëanor (the creator of the Silmarils mentioned above) and friend of the dwarves in Khazad-dûm. (A bastardised version of him features in the videogames Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War).

When Sauron arrives in Eregion (west of Moria), he feigns benevolence and teaches Celebrimbor to craft rings of power – seven for the dwarf lords and nine for the kings of men. In secret, Celebrimbor also crafts three for the elves, which are kept separate from Sauron’s corrupting influence. Sauron crafts the One Ring and tries to dominate the owners of all the rings of power, but is furious to discover both the existence of the elvish rings and his inability to control them.

With the elves now aware of Sauron’s true evil self, a bitter war begins that results in the death of Celebrimbor. During this time Sauron manages to gain control of the nine rings of men, but thanks to the intervention of the kingdom of Númenor, he ultimately fails, and is later forced to retreat to Mordor with his crushed forces.

Would it make a good TV show? Yes. This is a compelling LOTR-style story with a villain we already know, and it’d satisfy fans’ curiosity about how Sauron’s dominion over Middle-Earth began. There are plenty of locations – it’d give us more of a view into how Dwarven and Elvish kingdoms used to look – and it’s got characters we already know such as Elrond and Galadriel. It’s a strong contender.

4. The story of Elendil and Isildur

About 1,500 years on from the war with Celebrimbor and the elves, Sauron is back to his tricksy ways. An idiotic guy called Ar-Phazadôn, the ruler of the island of Númenor, attacks Mordor and captures Sauron, but over a period of 48 years he gets tricked into being Sauron the deceiver’s puppet. Sauron convinces him to attack Valinor, the fabled land to the west that houses the immortals and gods of Middle Earth, from which he, Sauron and others were exiled millennia ago.

Another Númenorean man, Elendil (Aragorn’s 38-times-great-grandfather) is not a fan of this idea. When Ar-Phazadôn attacks Valinor, Eru the creator of the world sinks his fleet and Númenor under the sea, but Elendil escapes (as does Sauron).

Elendil and his son Isildur found the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, taking with them magical artifacts like a palantir and the seed of the Númenorean White Tree that we see in Return of the King.

Sauron eventually returns to power in Middle-Earth and the Elves and Men combine forces to confront him. During the final battle, which we see at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, Elendil and an elven king called Gil-Galad are killed, but Isildur defeats Sauron and claims the One Ring as his own, despite Elrond’s attempts to convince him otherwise. He eventually loses it while being ambushed and killed by Orcs. The ring isn’t discovered until Gollum finds it thousands of years later.

Would it make a good TV show? Bits of it, yes. There’s a lot of crossover material from LOTR that fans would find interesting, it’s got an epic overarching narrative, and its many battle sequences would be on a par with Game of Thrones‘. The ending is a bit of a bummer though.

5. The Children of Húrin

Like the tale of Beren & Lúthien, this is another recently published Tolkien book. It’s also far darker than other Tolkien material, with something like the tone of Beowulf, and it takes place in Tolkien’s First Age.

This epic tale follows the children of a powerful hero called Húrin, but particularly the exploits of his son Túrin. When Húrin is captured by the most evil being in existence, Morgoth, he is sent by his mother to be fostered by the elves of Doriath. Unbeknownst to him, his mother gives birth to a daughter months later.

Túrin has plenty of adventures (and misadventures) – living in exile with outlaws, serving kings as a general and counsel-giver. He accidentally kills his friend and goes a bit mad; he gains a nemesis in a dragon called Glaurung; he and his sister sleep together without realising, and when they find out they both kill themselves. It’s really cheery.

Would it make a good TV show? It’d be a curveball choice, but something about the epic tragedy of this tale makes it stand out from the crowd.