deep in the heart of Middle-earth there is a forest – or perhaps a cave or a hut – and in that forest (or cave or hut) is a story set, centuries before the events of Under the spell of the Ring† What is it about? Who knows! It’s somewhere in the attachments of the LOTR books. And while some of the die-hard Hobbit fans know nothing about it, Amazon is currently making a whole series based on it. This, dear reader, is the promise of: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Okay, to be honest, that’s kind of funny. But really, if you’re all for it, it might as well be true. JRR Tolkien’s writings transcend generations because it is very rich – people get lost in the construction of the world imagining what could be around every corner, through every door. The problem with Tolkien’s popularity, though, is that studios are now looking in all those nooks and crannies for more stories to adapt. For example, Amazon will release the first episode of What will on September 2 reportedly to be five seasons of television based on about 150 pages of history Tolkien wrote afterwards the hobbit and LOTR trilogy became wildly popular. Will it be great? Could be! Does it seem excessive? Doubtless.
It’s hard to blame Amazon for wanting to do this, and possibly wrong to single them out. On Disney+, the Mouse House makes standalone shows for every Marvel character it can find, from Loki until Moon Knight† The same goes for Star Wars, handing out series to Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka like Oprah handed out the keys to cars. Fans are sure to find a few, and it’s easy to see why Lucasfilm would want to capitalize on so many surefire favorites, but at some point it just gets too many†
Many culture critics, including my colleagues, have complained about the burden of streaming — the hours and hours of content available now that no human can ever fully watch. Others reject the constant mining of worn-out properties to create yet another show or miniseries. My complaints don’t lie there; I’m not a completeist, and I don’t mind if I can’t watch every show. Instead, my criticism is what this kind of overkill does to the role imagination plays in fandom. If streaming services commit to devoting hours of television to every Jedi/hobbit/superhero the father’s cousin’s cousin’s former roommatewhat does that do to our collective? main canon† What does it do to the part of the story that fans can make?
Not to get all woo-woo (I’m going to get all woo-woo), but a major factor that has contributed to fandom has always been the ability to make a character or a story their own. We all have different ideas about what happened in the Shire after Bilbo left on his adventure. (My guess? A Bye Baggins Bacchanal.) But nobody needs a series on it. (Just to be clear, there’s no specific series on this.) Most major franchises — the Marvels, the DCs, the Stars, both Wars and Trek — thrive because strong world building lets fans imagine what happened just outside of the window. Exploring too much of that area can feel like a buzzkill. Yes, the imagination is endless and fans can always come up with new scenarios, but at some point the ballooning has to stop. Jeff Bezos’ net worth is almost $150 billion dollars– should he also own the rights to the obscure corners of Middle-earth? (Apparently he does. Amazon paid about $250 million for the rights to the rings attachments and spends hundreds of millions more for each season of the show.)
Think about this long enough and the mind inevitably wanders into fanfiction and slashfic. It seems safe there. Streaming services may exhaust every corner of the known universes, but they certainly can’t go that far. As much as some fans can enjoy a stuck show, it’s hard to imagine Disney+ going this far into the realm of fiction. Hopefully there are some places streaming services will never go, and certain chapters of the main canon will remain sacred. There’s comfort in that. But if companies keep expanding the same franchises over and over, they’d be wise to leave some realms — some caves, some cabins — untouched. But frankly, I wouldn’t take it past an ambitious development manager to search FanFiction.net or Archive of Our Own. Look what happened of Fifty Shades of grey†