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Fans beg Amazon to keep Middle Earth clean

Will The Lord of the Rings TV series woke-ify J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece?

The New Zealand set where Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed Getty Images/ Photo by Alex Livesay/ FIFA

Fans beg Amazon to keep Middle Earth clean

A petition asking Amazon Studios to keep nudity out of its upcoming Lord of the Rings television series has garnered 50,000 signatures. The creators behind the Instagram account Cathoholicism started their push after learning Amazon had hired an intimacy coordinator for the series, raising suspicions the show might include sex scenes.

“[J.R.R.] Tolkien’s work is truly wholesome and packed with incredible Christian symbolism,” the petition states. “He was a devout Catholic, and his memory does not need to be stained with gratuitous nudity or even nudity in the slightest.”

Amazon plans to invest as much as a billion dollars in the series, which is based on some of the less familiar writings of fantasy novelist Tolkien. The show is expected to span five seasons and cover events occurring long before the stories in the popular novels took place. Thanks to Peter Jackson’s successful Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies, Tolkien’s Middle Earth is as popular now as it’s ever been, so Amazon’s investment seems likely to pay off. But the studio must satisfy a diverse fanbase with diverging expectations of what a new Tolkien adaptation should look like.

The departure of Tom Shippey from the show last year gave originalist fans even more reason for concern. Shippey, a respected Tolkien scholar, had reassured fans the author’s estate would have veto authority over any content in the series—this wasn’t going to be Game of Thrones set in Middle Earth.

“Christian symbolism fills Tolkien’s stories, but this inappropriate material will forever change how people think about Middle Earth,” said Philip Dudt, who started his own petition to preserve Tolkien’s vision in the TV show. “Scripture heavily influenced what went into these books.”

Generations have gone by since the books were published in 1954 and 1955. Now readers and fans are approaching the story from a lens reshaped by the sexual revolution, cultural Marxism, and critical theory.

This past weekend, the Tolkien Society, one of the oldest of the Tolkien fan groups, hosted its annual seminar in which members present papers on their research and analysis of the author’s body of work. This year, the theme was diversity.

“Spurred by recent interpretations of Tolkien’s creations and the cast list of the upcoming Amazon show The Lord of the Rings, it is crucial we discuss the theme of diversity in relation to Tolkien,” the seminar’s organizers wrote in a call for papers.

Previous years saw a mix of presentations investigating Tolkien’s inspirations and backgrounds, as well as looking at the approaches of adaptations and interpretations. But the 2021 seminar took a hard left turn with papers whose titles won’t even make sense to the average Tolkien fan.

Highlights included “Something Mighty Queer: Destabilizing Cis-hetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien” and “The Burnt Hand Teaches Most About Fire: Applying Traumatic Stress and Ecological Frameworks to Narratives of Displacement and Resettlement Across Cultures in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.” “Pardoning Saruman?: The Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” presented a jargon-laden close reading of early drafts of the novels that attempted to turn one of Tolkien’s villains into a representation of repressed homosexuality.

The titles might sound like attacks on a book by a dead white man; after all, it’s popular these days to cancel the classics. But for the most part, the participants seemed to genuinely love Tolkien and his creation. While a few in the audience obliquely questioned the woke-ness of the agenda, most enjoyed the presentations and asked questions that signaled both their love of Middle Earth and their acceptance of radical liberal ideology. Why would this progressive crowd love a stodgy Catholic Oxford don like Tolkien? There was a paper on that too: “Queer Atheists, Agnostics, and Animists, Oh, My!” It turns out they really like make-believe.

Amazon might have to choose which group of Tolkien’s fans it wants to satisfy: those who want to preserve Tolkien’s conservative vision or those who want to enlist his creation to further their own liberal causes.

Louis Markos, author of On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, thinks the attempts at appropriation offer some encouragement: “I think this is a good sign that moderns and post-moderns deeply, if unconsciously, yearn for the traditional and transcendental goodness, truth, and beauty that pervade Tolkien’s fantasy world.”

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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