Five Reasons Why The Silmarillion Should Be Filmed

So it turns out that Peter Jackson is further expanding the already expanded two film version of The Hobbit into three films.  It’s somewhat unclear just what this hypothetical third film will entail – one idea floating around is that it’ll use more material from the Lord Of The Rings Appendices to bridge the two series, making The Hobbit basically a prequel trilogy.  Still, it does seem that if Jackson wants to continue working on film adaptations of Tolkien’s work, there is already a vast corpus of writings to build on that does not require making stuff up outside of Tolkien’s writings.

That corpus is, of course, The Silmarillion, the vast collection of stories and legends from the First Age, a mythology upon which the characters of the Lord Of The Rings (set in the Third Age of Middle Earth) look back.

Fig. 1: This somewhat naff painting cannot contain the awesomeness that is The Silmarillion.

Naturally, due to its immense scope and over-elevated tone, many people scoff at the idea of a Silmarillion film series.  They make jokes like it being 12 movies long and filmed entirely in Elvish.  It’s not as widely – or repeatedly – read as the Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, so there’s just not the same demand for a film version.  This is unfortunate, because if it were pulled off correctly, it’d make pretty sweet series for the following reasons:

1. The Silmarillion is more episodic that the Lord Of The Rings, and therefore more easily translatable into a series of films.

It seems somewhat spurious to regard the Lord Of The Rings films as three separate movies.  Really, they constitute one cohesive story split into three sections.  You wouldn’t, for example, just pop The Two Towers into your blu-ray; rather you would watch each of the three in order (not necessarily in one sitting).  Narrative-wise, both The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings are each one single, self-contained quest (it’s worth noting that both the film and the novel version of The Lord Of The Rings omit any depiction of the other theatres of the War of the Ring).

The Silmarillion, on the other hand, has a basic framing plot – back in the day, Morgoth (Sauron’s boss) stole some valuable gems (the Silmarils) from the Elves, who then rebel against the gods and wage a series of wars against Morgoth to try and recover them – but the Silmarils themselves merely act as a MacGuffin for the various series of events that lead to Elves’ downfall.  Really, this stuff is just a background for the individual stories that make up the text.  As a result, each installment of any Silmarillion series would be a more or less self-contained story that can stand alone while still being part of the overarching narrative.

Also, because of the synoptic nature of the text (well, texts – there are multiple and sometimes contradictory versions of the stories in The Silmarillion), the filmmakers would have much more freedom when it comes to adapting the story.  This freedom would come in handy since the multiple, complex plots would require some compression even for an epic film series.

All in all, I reckon The Silmarillion could be done in 5 or 7 separate films, depending on the amount of plot compression.  Again, because of the stand-alone nature of each film, they could be done by separate directors to save time since a consistent tone would not be necessary for the whole series.

2. It actually has meaningful female characters.

Surely one of the challenges for adapting the Lord Of The Rings to the big screen is that, until Éowyn shows up in Volume II, there are really no female characters of any importance: Galadriel has a key cameo appearance in Lothlorien and Arwen is mentioned in passing, but that’s pretty much it.

Fig. 2: Barely in the original novels.

For the film adaptations, Arwen’s role had to be greatly expanded (Éowyn’s also, to a lesser degree), and Galadriel will presumably end up folded in as the only female character in the forthcoming Hobbit. Still, these three are pretty much the only substantial female characters in what’s supposed to be a world-spanning, epic story.

The Silmarillion, however, has no dearth of strong female characters.  Luthien, Aredhel, Nienor, Morwen, and Galadriel are all central lead characters, not to mention the many other women throughout the various tales.  As such, The Silmarillion is much more gender-balanced and undoes some of the male chauvinism of Tolkien’s later works.

3. It’s much more adult-oriented than the kiddycentric Hobbit.

It’s a good job The Hobbit features a flying, fire-breathing dragon because without Smaug, the films will seem a bit of comedown after the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  Judging from the trailers, it seems they’ve made the originally rather juvenile Hobbit in the same serious tone as the LOTR movies.  That’s one of the reasons why they’ve expanded the book into two (and now three) movies – by showing more behind the scenes stuff that ties the original kids book to its somewhat more adult-oriented sequel.

Now, one of the things that worked so well with Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman trilogy is how he used the comic book characters to explore deeper issues of justice and vengeance.  With The Hobbit, there’s less philosophical meat, as it were, to play with.  The Lord Of The Rings does have the idea of the corrupting effects of power as a central theme (although the films de-emphasize this in favour of focusing on the defence of freedom), but even then it doesn’t seem to have the same intellectual weight as, for example, Nolan’s Batman films.

Because it is the most “adult” of Tolkien’s works, The Silmarillion could certainly be the basis for a truly great film that balances spectacular visuals (see #5) with interesting ideas (what Prometheus failed to do).  The stories themselves explore ideas of pride, creation, fate, and vengeance.  Not to mention that the whole work is basically the Catholic Tolkien’s Middle-Earthification of the Original Sin myth.  Above all, The Silmarillion features something largely absent from the other two works: the element of tragedy.

4. You will actually get to see Elves kicking ass and taking names.

One thing that kind of annoyed me about the Lord Of The Rings films is the way the Elves were.  A bunch of smug hippies who were accompanied wherever they went by lame, Celtic new-age music.  And then you see Legolas fight and he’s a goddamn ninja.  I’d much rather see more of that than a bunch of long-haired Wiccans mope about being immortal.

Of course, you don’t see the Elves do much in the Lord Of The Rings because supposedly “their part in the history of Middle-Earth is done” (even though they started this ring nonsense in the first place).  In The Silmarillion, however, there’s tonnes of Elves running around being badasses.  That bit in The Two Towers when some Elves inexplicably show up at Helm’s Deep is just a taste of what could be to come in a Silmarillion film series.  There’s even some Elf on Elf violence in there.

Fig. 3: That’s not an Elf (left), that’s an Elf (right).

Also, whereas in the Lord Of The Rings, the Elves are more or less one-dimensional, bland good guys, the Elves of the First Age – when they were the primary characters in the mythos – are much more complex.  We do get a glimpse of this in LOTR when Galadriel is tempted by the ring, but in general, the Elves of the Third Age are more or less wholly good (and kind of aloof).  In The Silmarillion, however, the Elves are much more balanced – capable of guile, intrigue, and, above all, pride.

Indeed, characters like the tormented Maglor, the proud-before-a-fall Thingol, the helpful-to-fault Finrod, and the conflicted Maeglin are much more interesting than any of the characters in the Lord Of The Rings (who all tend to oscillate between wholly good and wholly bad).

5. Everything cool about The Lord Of The Rings is cranked up tenfold in The Silmarillion.

Not only are the Elves cooler, but pretty much everything about The Silmarillion is the Lord Of The Rings jacked up to eleven.

  • Remember the Balrog in the mines of Moria?  How about of a whole bunch of them.  In battle.
  • Shelob, the gigantic horrible spider?  The Silmarillion’s got her mom, the even more gigantic and horrible Ungoliant.  Fights the Balrogs at one point.
  • Rivendell and Lothlorien are pretty, but not as nice as the hidden city of Gondolin, the caves of Nargothrond and Menegroth, and the blessed realm of Valinor.
  • Likewise, Saruman’s industrial nightmare of Isengard is a nice office park compared to the Satanic smokestacks of the Thangorodrim and Angband.
  • Instead of the disembodied eye of Sauron as a principal antagonist, The Silmarillion has the fearsome Morgoth as a proper, full character (Sauron himself runs around causing trouble as Morgoth’s right hand man).
  • And of course, the battles of Helm’s Deep and the Pelennor Fields are but skirmishes compared to the epic clashes of the First Age, which were fought primarily by Elves and Orcs with an assortment of monsters and dragons (and some men), not to mention the armies of Dwarves in their hideous war-masks.

So even though as a book, The Silmarillion may come across as difficult, stuffy, and overwrought, the stories themselves could be brilliantly translated to the screen.  Given that there is already a built-in audience of Tolkien fanatics (though admittedly less so than for The Hobbit or the Lord Of The Rings), and that the epic visual flair of Peter Jackson and/or Guillermo del Toro will surely attract the uninitiated, I can’t see how a film adaptation of The Silmarillion could fail.

Unless they film it in Elvish, of course.


~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on August 1, 2012.

12 Responses to “Five Reasons Why The Silmarillion Should Be Filmed”

  1. I just saw The Hobbit. It’s a nice movie though. But I really hope Jackson films the silmarillon too! Have you ever played The Age Of Wonders? The world of elves and halflings and everything else.

  2. If this can be really done, that’s it for me! Before reading this, I always thought it impossible to successfully convert the epic masterpiece (I love Silmarillion above all btw) into a movie, but with your reasoning, it sounds possible.

  3. Reblogged this on beletsky's notes.

  4. i hard i sure we will get the silmarillon to as the hobbit and lotr
    but i guess it will take like 4 or 6 years bevause there are 2 more hobbits on the way

  5. Yes, i would love to see the silmarilion made into a series. Your points are so valid.

  6. Thank you so much! Loved this.

  7. I agree. I agree so much with everything in this post. If only more people would see this!

    • Thank you. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, the Tolkein estate is resolutely against selling the film rights for The Silmarillion (least of all to Peter Jackson & Co.). The only reason they were able to do The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit was because the rights had been originally sold back in the 70s. Oh well, maybe when it gets Public Domain status…

  8. The only problem is that Peter Jackson has already incorporated about 2/3 of The Silmarillon into the Hobbit

  9. I agree with your points though I still think it would be hard to get such a film made. It would take a massive budget, and therefore for any studio to pick it up they would have to be VERY convinced that it would be popular among the masses. And to make it popular among the masses (or at least to convince a studio that it would be) I fear it would have to be greatly altered. Hollywood has their tested and tried formula for movies and they are very unwilling to bend and take risks. The Silmarillion doesn’t fit into their formula at all.
    I really love your point about elves though. I also don’t like the the modern elf-stereotype where they are agile and swift but fairly lightweight and flimsy. I tend to blame this on Legolas. Since he is the only elf in LotR that we see in action, that is what people became accustomed to and that is what the fantasy genre at large took as their model for the elf. But you don’t really get a taste for Tolkien’s elves until you read the Silmarillion. The Noldor are not only agile and swift, but also physically larger and stronger than today’s humans. Not to mention their fiery temperaments. Anyway sorry for the ramble. 😀 Enjoyed your post.

  10. I have mixed feelings about anyone making it a movie, but I share the awe and love for The Silmarillion. It is one of the most underappreciated works in all of literature.

  11. First I must say I LOVED The Lord Of The Rings (TLOTR) movies and they’ve become amongst my top 5 favorite movies ever. This, of course, because Tolkien’ books are likely my favorite reading ever. My loving these movies has nothing to do with Perter Jackson (PJ): as much as I love the movies, he also ruined them: The Tolkien Estate has EVERY right not hand The Silmarillion to PJ. Its very absurd when PJ fans fight against the many OBVIOUS flaws and unfortunate errors in the movies just so they can ONLY praise him. Did you hear me: I loved the movies so much, as much as I have Beowulf (tho this one took me 3 time to watch and then it stuck), but its FINE pointing out mistakes or else the errors just keep piling on top of each other and arrogance, selfishness, and ignorance becomes all too obvious (in the movies), but because you love PJ you blind yourselves and keep thinking PJ as someone or something beyond this Earth. “No one else could’ve done what he did” and such ignorance. “No one else could’ve done what The Dark Night’s Joker did but H. Ledger” or “if not for Black Sabbath, we wouldn’t have Metal” etc., etc., etc. These statements quoted are said by many people who’s logic is based on PURE ignorance. When I read that Del Toro would be directing The Hobbit, I was so excited. But then PJ (and his connections) played with the banks and made it seem they didn’t know when it would get started into production so Del Toro had to leave the project to work on other things–just what PJ wanted so he could direct it. The Silmarillion can easily be done, and even with its massive and amazing scope, its why its called movie-making-magic. We would need someone other than PJ:
    -G. Del Toro
    -W. Peterson
    -S. Sommers
    -Z. Snider
    -G. Verbinski
    -R. Zemeckis are all good choices. Likely a couple more. Good writing, and this book can be done in 8 films: I did say Good writing. The Third Age would be TWO movies because it lacked an astronomical scope, and the first 2 ages Three movies each. Mind the obvious: unfinished tales and such MUST be part of the production to fill in pages in The Silmarillion.

    More so, it should (I want to say must) be done like Beowulf was done. Take a look at an early cover for the book “Dragon Doom” by Dennis L. McKiernan, where a dragon, Black Kalgagath, is destroying/fighting many warriors all about him below: the colors, the shining armor and swords and shields and helmets, adds so much FANTASY life or color to it. The same with the movie “Sleeping Beauty” (2003 S. Edition). “Pirates Of The Caribbean” and “300” lightly touched on this. I remember PJ saying that he omitted Tom Bombadil from TLOTR because Tom didn’t contribute to the theme or story development (in other words), yet, this story IS fantasy, and a world of fantasy should be filled unquestionably with fantasy [creatures or characters]. Like I said above: good writers are needed (they didn’t need to put in everything about Toms involvement but just enough to give color and character to the movie).

    Lastly, The Silmarillion had times of peace, and such times MUST not be removed, therefore part of the overall grand scope. But peace does have to be limited and well written, or well told. If any of those directors above mentioned have genuine love for fantasy, he is the one who must be selected for this project. The music score also by one who appreciates and loves classical music, NOT movie making orchestrated music (which is fine to a degree) but one who listens to Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, etc., not just someone who is so focused on themselves. As I am writing this, I am listening to classical music and its fulfilling.

    In the movie Star Wars, A New Hope, 1977, towards the beginning when Luke now owns R2D2 and 3CPO, and his uncle tells him he needs to stay another season with him, and Luke being upset about this, leaves the room and goes outside, staring into the horizon, we see a planet and the beautiful music or song playing: that there is appreciation for classical music. Its a brief time of peace but well placed. Love you all.

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