Amazon’s series about Middle Earth is apparently going to be sexualized. That’s unfortunate but perhaps not unfair to the narrative.
Amazon is hiring an “intimacy coordinator” to assist women who are doing sex scenes in Amazon’s upcoming series about Tolkien’s world. They have also put out calls for background actors who are comfortable with full or partial nudity.
Fans are fuming.
I don’t blame them. I detest gratuitous sex and nudity on the screen or in books.
But here’s the thing: The Amazon series is supposedly going to cover the Second Age of Middle Earth.
The Second Age revolves heavily around a place called “Numenor.”
If that’s the case, the sex and nudity probably aren’t gratuitous.
In the First Age of Middle Earth, a god named “Morgoth” fought the elves for centuries, eventually beating them. The elves appealed to their kindred in the Undying Lands to overthrow Morgoth, which they did in the War of Wrath.
In the War, many men fought with Morgoth instead of the elves, but some fought with the elves. These men were called the “Dunedain.”
For their reward, the gods gave them a large island between Middle Earth and the Undying Lands. The men who accepted the gift and sailed to the island were blessed. They had great resources and were relieved from all illnesses.
The Dunedain (or “Numenoreans,” as they came to be called) grew wise, then powerful, then rich.
And then they started to enjoy it all.
Tolkien tells us the Numenoreans “turned the more eagerly to pleasure and revelry” and that “they drank and they feasted.” The Silmarillion (Ballantine, 1979), 329.
That’s probably the closest Tolkien ever got to a sex scene, but it’s not a leap of imagination to assume there was quite a bit of sex involved in the pleasure, revelry, and drinking.
And then evil Sauron came to Numenor as a prisoner, but ingratiated himself with the Numenorean king and corrupted him. Most Numenoreans followed and the island became decadent.
They built places of dark worship, where human sacrifice and other wickedness took place. It’s not a big imaginative leap to assume these dark temples included naked women and orgies.
And then the Numenoreans started to sail to Middle Earth to harass their distant cousins, taking their limited wealth and taking them as slaves.
And once again, a legitimate imagination would conclude there was probably a fair amount of sex — in particular, rape — involved.
All Sex Scenes Aren’t Gratuitous
Look, I’m Catholic. Tolkien was Catholic . . . fervently so. We both appreciate the dangers and problems with sex.
But it exists, and it often exists very strongly in decadent cultures on their decline (you, delicate reader, can draw whatever parallels you want to western culture today).
Tolkien’s works are written in a strong historical narrative. They don’t feature a lot of dialogue and intimate character development. His pages describe an event, often without any character dialogue whatsoever, then move on to the next event.
The works, in other words, leave huge room for the reader — or movie producer — to fill in the details.
Of course, those details need to be provided in a manner faithful to Tolkien’s narrative. That’s why Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies were an abomination. They castrated the narrative, spirit, and literary facts of Middle Earth for the sake of mass-market appeal.
That’s what Tolkien fans fear is happening with the upcoming Amazon series.
And it might happen. It’s hard to say.
But the mere casting of nude actors and the hiring of an intimacy coordinator doesn’t mean Amazon is going to create an abomination like The Hobbit movies. In fact, given Tolkien’s description of Numenor, it appears that a large amount of nudity and sex, even of the most perverse and twisted kind, could fit the narrative well.
Of course, I strongly hope Amazon resists the need to turn the series into soft porn, like Game of Thrones did. It’s possible to impress on the viewer the decadence in Numenor without showing it graphically and, in fact, such an approach is an art form that movie producers in earlier times mastered with grace, subtlety, and often humor.
I would hope that Amazon, out of respect for Tolkien’s Catholicism if nothing else, would opt for the subtle art of sexuality instead of graphic displays.
But if it opts for the graphic displays, it probably won’t be gratuitous.
And regardless, based on the limited facts we have so far, it’s premature to panic either way.