Deep in In the heart of Midgård there is a forest – or perhaps a cave or a hut – and in that forest (or cave or hut) a story takes place, centuries before the events of Lord of the Rings. What is it about? Who knows! It’s somewhere in the appendices to LOTR books. And even though some of the toughest Hobbit fans are unaware of it, Amazon is currently making an entire series based on it. This, dear reader, is the promise Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power.
OK, to be fair, it’s a little facetious. But really, once you get right down to it, it might as well be true. JRR Tolkien’s authorship transcends generations because it is very rich – people get lost in the construction of the world and imagine what could be around every corner, through every door. The problem with Tolkien’s popularity, however, is that the studios are now looking in all these nooks and crannies for more stories to adapt. Thus, on September 2, Amazon is releasing the first episode of What It Will reportedly turned into five seasons of television based on about 150 pages of history Tolkien wrote after The Hobbits and LOTR trilogy became wildly popular. Will it be great? Maybe! Does that seem like overkill? No doubt.
It’s hard to blame Amazon for wanting to do this, and potentially wrong to point them out. On top of Disney +, Mouse House makes standalone shows for every Marvel character it can find Loki to Knights of the Moon. It does the same with Star Wars handing out series to Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka, which Oprah used to give the keys to cars. Fans are definitely digging some of them, and it’s easy to see why Lucasfilm wants to exploit so many sure favorites, but at some point it’s just going to be Too much.
Lots of cultural critics, including my colleagues, have lamented the burden of streaming – hours after hours of content now available that no human could ever fully see. Others reject the constant extraction of worn-out properties to create yet another show or miniseries. My complaints are not there; I’m not a competist and I do not care that I can not see every show. Instead, my critique is what this kind of overkill does to the role the imagination plays in fandom. If streaming services set out to devote hours of television to all Jedi / hobbits / superheroes father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommatewhat does it do to our collective main cannon? What does it do to the part of the story that fans get created?
Not to get everyone woo-woo (I want to get everyone woo-woo), but a major contributing factor to fandom has always been the ability to make a character or a story his or her own. We all have different ideas about what happened on the Shire after Bilbo traveled on his adventure. (My guess? A Bye Baggins Bacchanal.) But no one needs a series about it. (To be clear, there are no series on this specifically. Yet). Most of the big franchises – Marvels, DCs, Stars, both Wars and Trek – thrive because strong world-building lets fans imagine what happened just outside the box. Having too much of that area explored can feel like a buzzkill. Yes, the imagination is endless and fans can always just invent new scenarios, but at some point, the balloon flight has to stop. Jeff Bezos’ net worth is almost $ 150 billion– should he also own the rights to the obscure corners of Middle-earth? (He obviously does. Amazon paid about $ 250 million for the rights to Call attachments and spend hundreds of millions more for each season of the show.)
Think about this long enough and the thoughts inevitably wander to fanfiction and slashfic. Over there, it seems safe. Streaming services may exhaust all corners of the known universes, but they certainly can not go that far. As much as some fans can enjoy one Stucky shows, it’s hard to imagine Disney + going so far into fiction. Hopefully there are some places streaming services will never go and certain chapters of main canon will remain sacred. There is comfort in that. But if companies want to continue to expand the same franchises over and over again, they would be wise to leave some realms – some caves, some cabins – untouched. But honestly, I would not put it past an ambitious development manager to start searching FanFiction.net or the Archive of Our Own. See what happened with Fifty shades of gray.