For over a year, Amazon has been developing a streaming series based on ‘Lord of the Rings‘. To date, the project has been defined by just how little Amazon has been willing to confirm about it, which is to say virtually nothing. The most concrete statement we’ve been given on what to expect from the show came last summer when Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke stated that they are “not remaking the movies, but we’re also not starting from scratch.”
In lieu of concrete information, the studio has been more inclined to tease fans. The big ones have been exactly what stories will be adapted (and the possibility of original material) and the potential involvement of Peter Jackson. While the latter seems unlikely you can, but you can hardly blame them for wanting to keep that door open. As for the former? Well, their latest tease may have given us our strongest hint yet as to just what Amazon has in store for us.
On Friday morning, the show’s official Twitter account posted an image. It was simple, a map of Middle Earth accompanied by the phrase “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,”. Now, you can’t post something like this without sending people into a frenzy, and that’s exactly what happened, as fans pored over the map in search of any potentially significant details. And rest assured, there were details. Perhaps the most succinct breakdown so far has come courtesy of an individual known only as @tolkienthot. The delightfully named Twitter user shared their observations in this thread, and we’ve collected the most interesting bits below with some of our own commentary and analysis thrown in:
“Okay so the map shows Middle-Earth post-War of Wrath since Beleriand isn’t on it. Meaning the show takes place in the Second or Third Age.”
“Could be anything from Numenor, to Gil-Galad, to the northern kingdom of men Arnor? The exiled Dunedain settling in Arnor and Gondor? It could be loads of things.”
In broad terms, that puts us in territory covered by ‘The Silmarillion’, which filled in much of the First and Second ages of Middle-Earth. But while this has always been treated as the obvious next step in adapting Tolkein’s work, the question of rights has always made that a bit tricky. The Tolkein estate has typically licensed ‘The Lord of the Rings’ itself plus the appendix materials and ‘The Hobbit’ for adaptation. While it’s not entirely clear what Amazon’s license covers, this was very much the case with Peter Jackson’s movies and helped provided filler for ‘Hobbit’ trilogy in particular.
The thread continues, noting that the accompanying quote at least hints at the involvement of Elven royalty and adding that a particular mountain range pictured (bordering an inland sea) may be the Red Mountains, which are the speculated home of an eastern clan of Dwarves. And then they zero in on something interesting – the compass, or specifically the markings used to indicate the cardinal directions:
“Very reminiscent of Khuzdul runes. Highly doubt this is any form of Tengwar as the markings are very old-norse in nature. If so, why are the directions on the map written in Khuzdul? Just some respectful shoutout to Dwarves or something more?”
Those Cirth runes (Khuzdul refers to the Dwarf language they most commonly represent, Cirth to the runic script itelf) are, as the “shoutout” remark suggests, predominantly used by Dwarves. Who else used them? Well, the script was originally developed by Elves, who were known to use it until at least the Second Age. It was also used by the Dunedain.
In the replies, another geographical feature is pointed out, namely an area of Mirkwood known as the East Bight. The East Bight is a large, square-shaped clearing that resulted from centuries of forestry by the Northmen (forerunners of the Rohirrim and the Men of Dale and Lake-town). Though few specific dates were given by Tolkein, it is generally accepted that the Bight emerged as a distinct feature when the Northmen were at their most populous in the area, roughly in the mid-Third Age.
Assuming the folks at Amazon have put even half as much thought into this map as fans have (as opposed to throwing together because it looks cool), we’ve just been handed our first real sense of what to expect from the show – even if it means we have to read into it. And while I stress that until there’s an actual, official announcement of some kind the information gleaned from this map is purely speculative, it certainly seems to be pointing in a very definite direction.
The key seems to be the combination of Cirth runes and the presumptive mid- to late-Third Age timeframe suggested by the presence of the East Bight. You see, in that June 2018 statement I mentioned earlier, Jennifer Salke also said in reference to the show that “it’ll be characters you love.” Now, that can still mean a lot given the numerous immortal and otherwise long-lived characters in Tolkein’s legendarium, but one of the most prominent rumors to emerge over the last year is that the series will be a prequel chronicling the exploits of a young Aragorn. While the map doesn’t exactly confirm that, it points to the series being set in a timeframe that coincides with Aragorn’s early life. And then of course, there’s the fact that the map includes runes known to be used by the Dunedain. Of which Aragorn is one.
But what do you think? Does this strengthen the case for an Aragorn prequel? Are you still holding out hope that some of the stories from ‘The Silmarillion’ will be adapted? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ series as it becomes available!