Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series Might be Taking the Wrong Lessons from Game of Thrones

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In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the wizard Saruman turns to the dark side. He tells his old pal, Gandalf, that the evil lord Sauron is just too powerful to fight. “We must join with him, Gandalf,” he says in Director Peter Jackson’s 2001 film, The Fellowship of the Ring. “We must join with Sauron. It would be wise, my friend.”

“Tell me, old friend,” Gandalf retorts. “When did Saruman the Wise abandon reason for madness?”

I had the same thought when I heard that Amazon, for its wildly expensive Lord of the Rings series (scheduled for a 2021 release), had hired an “intimacy coordinator” and tossed out a casting call saying that actors “must be comfortable with nudity”.

My first thought: Argh. My second: Why?

It’s not as if there’s a lot of nudity in Tolkien’s original works. In fact, there’s none. The Lord of the Rings is about as un-sexy a series as you’re likely to read. (Battles? Tons. Bedroom dalliances? Zip.) Why, when Jackson turned his attention to Tolkien’s prequel, The Hobbit, he had to create a whole new female character (Tauriel) and conjure up a love triangle out of nowhere.

That little twist of Jackson’s was just one of many reasons why Tolkien fans mostly hated the bloated Hobbit film trilogy. (The rest of the world wasn’t that fond of the additions, either.) Pretty sure that adding gratuitous sex scenes to Tolkien’s classic work won’t thrill Tolkien purists—purists whom you’d think Amazon is counting on to watch.

It’s a particularly strange decision, given that the success of Hollywood’s most successful franchises have been driven not by “improving” the source material, but by honoring it. Jackson earned raves (along with 17 Oscars) for his original Lord of the Rings series. Why? Because he was a Tolkien geek himself. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is shepherded by Kevin Feige, who loved the comics growing up and wanted to do his heroes justice on the big screen.

When you look at the cinematic trash heap, lots of it happen to be movies based on beloved source material that directors tried to “improve.”

But, of course, Amazon’s sexier take on the trilogy doesn’t just threaten to turn off Tolkien geeks. It’s messing with families—many of them Christian families—who would normally love nothing more than to get together and watch an epic tale of good and evil, wizards and hobbits.

Some of Plugged In’s constituents recoil from most any movie or television show involving magic, but many make an exception for Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, a fervent Catholic, used his magical world to create a deeply resonant, faith-adjacent myth that explores powerful themes and reinforce strong lessons on how one should live.

But let’s face it: You don’t need to be a person of faith to appreciate Tolkien’s story. Many parents from all sorts of backgrounds were excited to watch Jackson’s LOTR trilogy with their kids when they were old enough to deal with the violence. I know families who set aside time each year to re-watch the whole series.

But Amazon seems determined to shut out these families.

In fact, it doesn’t feel like Amazon is out to make a real Lord of the Rings series at all. I suspect that it wants to make Game of Thrones again.

I understand, superficially, the impulse. Game of Thrones was the last genuine “must-watch” show on television in this fragmented age—a ratings phenomenon for HBO. And as a sprawling, fantasy story, Game of Thrones had its merits. The show scored 57 Emmys during its run.

But the books that the show was based on, written by George R.R. Martin, were designed as kind of a counterpoint to Tolkien’s classic work: Bleaker. Grittier. Sexier. The content was baked into the story from the get-go. And while it was one of the most problematic, content-riddled shows on TV during its run, at least supporters could point back to the books and say, “See? That’s where all that sleeze came from.”

I’d be very excited to watch a Lord of the Rings series—in part because it’s not Game of Thrones. The idea of injecting the seamy world of Westeros into classic Middle Earth isn’t just incredibly disappointing, but absolutely mystifying.

Here’s hoping that Amazon will think better of pushing nudity into Tolkien’s universe—for its own sake as much as ours. Middle Earth has plenty of room for dwarves and elves, orcs and hobbits. But it is no place for an intimacy coordinator.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

21 Responses

  1. -One thing’s for sure. Tolkien purists will be set to storm Amazon like it was Helm’s Deep if they do this. Can’t say I blame them. Not every story needs to inject nudity into it. Heck, I’d say no story does.

    It just goes to show how far this world has gone. What a shame. But we can take comfort in knowing it will all be over soon.

    1. -You sound very confident, both on your opinion on nudity and on your conviction that “it will all be over soon.” Though I could really hardly think of a less necessary story for nudity (husband/wife or even war-related) than The Lord of the Rings, it’s not the end of the world figuratively or, in light of this comment, literally.

      1. -Just take a look at the world around us and tell me it’s not the end of days out here. I mean, this is just the dress rehearsal.

        As for The Lord of the Rings show mentioned, shows these days have been nothing but a cesspool of depravity, and it just goes to show how far we’ve fallen. No wonder we’re dealing with endless war, disease, and chaos. God’s getting fed up with all of us, and He’s about ready to let us all have it for abandoning Him and His principles.

        And I make no apologies for saying so either.

    2. -Nameless: Yes, each of us will inevitably perish and for us, it will be over. As for the entire world being over… well, people have been saying that for thousands of years, it has not happened yet, and things are no worse in 2020 than they were in the Middle Ages when the Black Plague ravaged Europe and killed hundreds of thousands of people. Or when Rome was the “one world order” that controlled the world. 😉

      OP: Are we sure this casting call is for the Tolkien series (I hate to call it LotR, since it’s not LotR, it’s a prequel)? I read the article on TheOneRing and they said Amazon has a lot of shows in progress at the moment, so it’s not a certainty, although it’s the only show filming in NZ at the moment. I’m also wondering how much artistic control the Tolkien Estate has, because I know they wouldn’t sign off on that. And I know Christopher was angry about all the changes made to The Hobbit, but since his death I’m not sure who has the last say anymore.

      Even so, I hate to hear this. Just once, I’d love a show on Amazon Prime to be PG/PG14 instead of MA.

  2. – The addition of nudity and gratuitous content would be really disappointing to me. I and my siblings love LOTR and would be greatly saddened if we were unable to watch the TV series because of such content.

    I looked around, and there’s a petition on Change dot org headed by J.S. Clingman asking Amazon to stay true to Tolkien’s works.
    I would hope that Tolkien’s fans would take this opportunity to let Amazon know their thoughts and wishes on the subject.

    I’ll add the link, hopefully it is allowed. Not sure what PluggedIn’s policy is.

    http://chng.it/RvJvjBwBWz

  3. -I am from one of those families you mention who watch the movies together. I have read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to my kids. They love it. I will be so disappointed if Amazon take this direction. Keep a broad audience. Let the young and old fall in love with Middle Earth, as the movies and books did and do so.

  4. -Hmm, nothing less than what I expected. Though, I thought I should leave this here…

    “Po-Ta-Toes!”
    -Samwise Gamgee

  5. -I really hope that they don’t have nudity. There is no reason to do this. I had hoped that the Amazon Lord of the Rings series would have time to tell parts of the story that Peter Jackson cut to extend the battles, but it sounds like from this that they just want to push the ratings.

    I’ll still hold out hope that they won’t do it or that they’ll have a broadcast tv version. One of my favorite sci-fi shows apparently had nudity in the first episode, but the producers, directors, actors etc. decided that it set the wrong tone so they cut it out… and it came to broadcast tv, which is where I found it. Hopefully, the Amazon Lord of the Rings team will fall in love with the books and keep the series in the same vein as the books.

  6. -I’d be careful with this. The source is a fansite. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions until the rumors are confirmed (biggest lesson of the 21st century).

    If it’s true, nudity would indeed be a departure from Tolkien’s vision. LOTR was curiously devoid of sexuality and (for the most part) money. I always saw that as a flaw, since it’s hard to create a plausible fantasy world that lacks two of the primary motivators for human behavior. Lots of people saw the George R.R. Martin books as a welcome corrective that gave fantasy a more realistic psychological underpinning.

    But Tolkien’s fans appreciate the squeaky-cleanness, so we’ll see if Amazon plays it safe.

  7. -I’d be careful with this. The source is a fansite. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions until the rumors are confirmed (biggest lesson of the 21st century).

    If it’s true, it would indeed be a departure from Tolkien’s vision. LOTR was curiously devoid of “adult situations” and (for the most part) money. I always saw that as a flaw, since it’s hard to create a plausible fantasy world that lacks two of the primary motivators for human behavior. Lots of people saw the George R.R. Martin books as a welcome corrective that gave fantasy a more realistic psychological underpinning.

    But Tolkien’s fans appreciate the squeaky-cleanness, so we’ll see if Amazon plays it safe.

  8. -I have to agree with Paul- the “adult situations”- I put it in quotations because in reality it’s teenager situations- are not a part of Tolkien’s vision. We’re not in the garden of Eden people. We’re fallen and you all know it.
    Anyway, that was a tangent. But the main points are a) we should have respect for Tolkien’s vision, especially when we’re making money off of it and b) the reason why LOTR is so popular is because of the validity of Tolkien’s vision. He saw BEYOND the childish and selfish, the impure and greedy- yes, our modern world- to something bigger and more beautiful. You are so right, Paul- an intimacy coordinator does not belong in Middle Earth. They do not belong in our world either. Here, as there, there is still beauty and truth and goodness. Here, as there, it is still true that “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

  9. -I saw this on Daniel Greene’s BookTube channel. He explains where the sources are coming from. He also explains that these reports don’t necessarily mean that there will be sexual content but that it could have other meanings and that because of the insane budget, it isn’t out of the picture. He isn’t a Christian and doesn’t have a Christian take on it, but I can see his point (highly recommend his channel to any Fantasy fans). As a Christian, I would hate for that content to come up, but I’m not one of those people who is going to judge it for not being Tolkien pure until the show comes out. There is some sexual content referenced in tales like Beren and Luthien, but it’s pretty clean because of Tolkien’s faith. It’ll be interesting what it turns out to actually be.

  10. -The second part is not true. The nude casting call is clearly for Cowboy Bebop. It uses the keyword JAZZ, something that’s a cornerstone of the Bebop universe, while the LotR posts specify “This if for LotR”.

  11. -They had better not include sex. I for one have been looking forward to this show, and many LOTR fans probably are too, or at least hoping it isn’t rotten. It would be an enormous tragedy to have amazon introduce a middle earth series that includes this horrible disgusting junk. We can only offer up our prayers to God that Amazon does not go this route.

  12. -Achan, that’s actually a pretty plausible idea since a lot of fantasy stories, understandably, just assume that monsters have clothes.

  13. -I thought I heard that this series would be covering events of The Second Age, which leads me to believe that they would be adapting Akallabeth, or the story of the Downfall of Numenor. And while I could possibly see a way that they could inject nudity into that story, I really, really, really hope they don’t. In my opinion, putting nudity into Tolkien’s stories is both unnecessary and entirely misses the point. Here’s hoping it is just an unfounded rumor.

  14. -We have loved the books as well as the LOTR series. As a family we watch one every Saturday night during the month of December. I am looking forward to a LOTR series, but if it is just, yet another, version of trash and filth, then we will have to skip it. What is wrong with a show that has character development and teaches right and wrong? Plenty of filth out there. Dare to be different.

  15. -Don’t give George R.R. Martin more blame than he deserves. I have read the books several times and watched all of the television series, Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones, has FAR more scenes with nudes or near-nudes than are in the books. Many of them are totally gratuitous: not in the books and not justified by the plot. Though I assume GRRM okayed what they wrote (maybe he didn’t), Benioff and Weiss just seemed to grab any excuse or none to insert a scene in a brothel or other scenes with naked or nearly naked women. PLUS there were several gratuitous lengthy torture scenes. The books just said that a certain character had been tortured: they didn’t describe it.

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