Christopher Tolkien, the 93-year-old son of J.R.R. Tolkien who’s spent his life curating and protecting his father’s massive legacy, has resigned as director of the Tolkien Estate, just as Amazon and Warner Bros. have announced a deal to produce fresh content drawn from The Lord of the Rings.
SYFY WIRE has reached out to the Tolkien Estate for comment, and we’ll update with any word we hear back.
News of Tolkien’s departure comes just as Amazon and Warner Bros. have revealed they’re developing a new, multi-season Lord of the Rings series for Amazon’s Prime video streaming service. Development appears to be in the early stages, and virtually nothing is yet known about that series’ creative direction.
The deal itself signaled to fans that Tolkien’s famously conscientious grip on content rights to his father’s created work may be loosening. Throughout his life, Christopher Tolkien has been deeply invested in the lore of The Lord of the Rings’ universe, and has emphasized preservation and conservation above innovating new ways to profit from it.
Perhaps as validation of that approach, the profits have come anyway. And the response to Amazon’s new series announcement indicates there’s still much to be gained from repeated return visits to Middle-Earth.
In addition to the Amazon deal, the gates may be opening wide for the Tolkien Estate to pursue other avenues to put more LOTR-branded experiences in front of fans. Tolkien scholar Michael Martinez reacted to the recent shakeups — especially Christopher Tolkien’s exit — by blogging that “the long-awaited ‘rights frenzy’ for Tolkien properties may soon begin.”
Martinez believes there’s a near-infinite wealth of lore that’s still ripe for the picking.
“Honestly, you could take just about any 1 sentence anecdote from the thousands of pages of Tolkien’s published notes and stories and turn that into a full multi-season television show,” he wrote. “Amazon doesn’t need to have rights to everything in the Tolkien arcana to milk this material for decades.”
Is Amazon just the beginning? Will The Lord of the Rings see a resurgence in pop culture to rival or surpass what we experienced at the turn of the millennium with Peter Jackson’s film trilogy? It’s a scenario that’s beginning to look a whole lot more plausible.