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The Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth as a whole is about to begin its Golden (Second) Age

With Prime Video's Rings of Power returning and a new movie due this holiday season, everything is coming up Tolkien

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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75 years after the acclaimed trilogy was written — and 21 years after the movie adaptations of the three novels was completed — the fantasy epic that is Lord of the Rings is having a big year… and, in what might be considered shocking by some longterm fans of the property, doing so with material that goes beyond what author J.R.R. Tolkien had written about the worlds of Middle-earth.

First up — although still technically unscheduled — will be the second season of Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The season was officially announced all the way back in 2019, with shooting beginning three years later, and completing mid-2023. In other words, this season has been a long time coming; the season will, according to producers, “go a little bit deeper into the lore and the stories people have been waiting to hear” when it comes to familiar villains from Tolkien’s writing.

Then, at the end of the year, The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim will arrive in theaters. An animated feature from Japanese director Kenji Kamiyama, who’s previously worked on multiple Ghost in the Shell spin-offs as well as the ‘Ninth Jedi’ episode of Star Wars: Visions, the feature is a prequel set hundreds of years before the events in both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and features a voice cast including Brian Cox and Miranda Otto, the latter reprising her role from Peter Jackson’s live-action Lord of the Rings features. Philippa Boyens, who co-wrote those movies with Jackson, also worked on the screenplay of this feature in addition to producing the project.

Both of these stories represent attempts to expand the mythology of Tolkien’s work beyond his own writing; while both are rooted in Tolkien’s writing — The War of the Rohirrim is, at heart, an adaptation and expansion of a story in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, and The Rings of Power is an expansion of narratives mentioned in those same books. “We have the rights solely to The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the appendices, and The Hobbit, and that is it,” Rings showrunner J.D. Payne told Vanity Fair back in 2022. “We took all these little clues and thought of them as stars in the sky that we then connected to write the novel that Tolkien never wrote about the Second Age.”

Related: Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum - Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with Smeagol-centric spinoff

The mention of the "Second Age" might sound confusing to those not particuarly familiar with Tolkien lore, but the writer split the mythology of Middle-earth into three distinct time periods: the First, Second, and Third Ages. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in the Third Age, while The Silmarillion, an anthology of stories set in Middle-earth published after Tolkien's death, concerns itself with The First Age. The Second Age, outside of some backstory and apocrypha in appendices of other books, remains relatively untouched... and it's this period where both The Rings of Power and The War of the Rohirrim take place. In a very real sense, these new projects are filling in missing pieces of history for Middle-earth fandom.

If this sounds ambitious, that’s because it is; after purchasing the media rights to Tolkien’s work in 2022 — the deal was eventually revealed to have cost a surprisingly reasonable $395 million — Swedish gaming corporation Embracer Group announced to shareholders that it planned to”several world class products” based on the property, and had signed a multi-year agreement with New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures — the studios behind Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies — for “multiple feature films.”

That Embracer’s management puts a lot of faith in the plans for Tolkien-inspired projects was underscored last month, when the company made a surprise announcement that it would be split into three separate entities… one of which will be called Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends, and will focus on Tolkien-centric projects… and, curiously, Tomb Raider projects. (Quick, someone come up with a crossover between the two!)

The creation of Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends only signifies that fans should expect even more Lord of the Rings-related material to be released in the years to come — all of it created with the same amount of respect (and hushed awe) for the source material, even as every single element becomes mined for story potential. For those who’ve dreamed of all you could possibly imagine from Middle-earth, it’s a dream come true. The new Golden Age of Middle-earth has arrived... and it’s very likely here to stay for quite some time. At least until someone can work out how to bring Lara Croft face-to-face with Sauron.