We don’t know a whole lot about Amazon’s plans for The Lord of the Rings series except for the fact that the creative team behind the scenes is set and that it will take place sometime in the Second Age. The issue is, that’s a roughly 3,500-year span of time to cover, and even the foremost Tolkien scholars and avid book-readers admit to there being quite a bit of gray area to fill, story-wise. So even with the rumored 20 episodes in the first season alone, that’s an almost endless amount of directions that the series could go in, right?
Not exactly. As part of the show’s creative team, Tolkien scholar and consultant Tom Shippey recently gave an interview to the Tolk Cast podcast (via Screenrant). In it, he explains just how much latitude Amazon has when it comes to interpreting the vast mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien and confirms that the Tolkien estate still has veto power over any and all decisions. That insight helps to hem the timeline in a bit and even points toward some characters who are likely to pop up. Will Sauron be getting a more corporeal form than that of a giant glowing eye or a necromancer masquerading as a swirling mist? Stay tuned.
After confirming that we don’t, in fact, now much about what takes place in the Second Age, Shippey goes on to say that:
It is difficult because the Second Age kind of “stopped” twice. Once with the Fall of Númenor and then, about 150 years later, with the Last Alliance and the defeat of Sauron. The end of the Second Age on a map looks about the same as the beginning of the Third Age in terms of place names, coastline or border lines. In addition, the difference to the middle of the Second Age is already much greater. Númenor is still listed on the map, the place names are different, we are literally before the transformation of the world by Ilúvatar … It will be of great importance for the series when exactly the plot takes place, at which point in Middle-earth history something happens.
But just because there’s a lot of wiggle room for the Amazon adaptation doesn’t mean they have free rein:
Amazon has a relatively free hand when it comes to adding something, since, as I said, very few details are known about this time span. The Tolkien Estate will insist that the main shape of the Second Age is not altered. Sauron invades Eriador, is forced back by a Númenorean expedition, is returns to Númenor. There he corrupts the Númenoreans and seduces them to break the Ban of the Valar. All this, the course of history, must remain the same. But you can add new characters and ask a lot of questions, like: What has Sauron done in the meantime? Where was he after Morgoth was defeated? Theoretically, Amazon can answer these questions by inventing the answers, since Tolkien did not describe it. But it must not contradict anything which Tolkien did say. That’s what Amazon has to watch out for. It must be canonical, it is impossible to change the boundaries which Tolkien has created, it is necessary to remain “tolkienian”.
Shippey went on to confirm that the Tolkien Estate does indeed retain a veto right on any and all decisions made in the creation of the show, and that the “First Age” and “Third Age” are “off-limits.”
Events could be mentioned at the most if they explain the events of the Second Age. But if it is not described or mentioned in the Lord of the Rings or in the appendices, they probably cannot use it.