When deeply moved to disapproval we often ask ourselves an important question: Is my displeasure just or petty? And so it indeed transpired when I learned that Amazon, having purchased the television rights to The Lord of the Rings and all related works, was actively producing a billion-dollar epic set in the second age of Middle-earth, presumably dealing with the fall of Numenor and serving as an all-around prequel to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
This initially struck me as an outrage on many levels, but as my temperature cooled I could see that this was not simply a case of an evil corporation violating the integrity of Middle-earth to further leverage their drive to market domination. The true problem lay in the mundane nature of Amazon’s exploitation. Using Tolkien’s material to make a popular miniseries along the lines of other popular streaming successes such as Game of Thrones is offensive because it so utterly fails to make use of Amazon’s true strengths. The Lord of the Rings is a tale of an epic quest. Amazon, too, is on a quest. Should that not inform their undertaking?
What does Amazon bring to the table? They bring being evil, the drive to domination, and the subjugation and extraction of tribute from their rivals. Amazon’s methods of operation, character, and goals are strikingly similar to Saurons. They have a unique insight into him. The Amazon Marketplace essentially offers the same terms to its subjects as those the Mouth of Sauron offered to the Captains of the West. The crime here is that Amazon failed to do what is clearly their destiny. The heroes, heroines, and villains of Tolkien—Beren and Luthien, Frodo, Aragorn, Sauron and Ungoliant—embrace their destiny and their nature. They rose to the challenge. In this regard, Amazon utterly failed to do what their nature called out for: to remake and rework The Lord of the Rings from Sauron’s perspective. To tell a tale of mordant evil as only another mordant evil could. To desecrate Tolkien in the manner that Sauron intended to desecrate Gondor.
Would it be wrong for Sauron to triumph in the end? Not if Amazon is doing the telling. Would it be wrong for Theoden to have fled from the battle of the Pelennor Fields, for Eowyn to have blenched before the High Nazgul, for Meriadoc to have soiled himself rather than saved her? Absolutely not. Amazon had a duty to remake The Lord of the Rings in their own image, to tell Sauron’s story as they are uniquely qualified to do. The mundane exploitation they are currently engaged in is unworthy of both themselves and of Tolkien.