Earlier this week, Deadline revealed that New Line Cinema would be revisiting the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien. Rather than adapting one of his many novels or stories, director James Strong will be helming a film about the author himself, which has the potential to give viewers an entirely new way of looking at the works that he’s most famous for.
Middle Earth is described as following Tolkien’s "early life and love affair with Edith Bratt," as well as his service to the British Army during the First World War. The film, to be written by Angus Fletcher, is reportedly based on years of archival research on Tolkien’s life.
Tolkien had a challenging upbringing. Born in South Africa in 1892, he and his family moved to England when he was a child, where he attended primary school and formed a close bond with three other boys: Robert Gilson, Geoffrey Smith, and Christopher Wiseman. Calling themselves the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, they told stories to one another, and were a major influence in encouraging Tolkien as he began to develop the earliest seeds of what would eventually become his larger Middle-earth mythos.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Gilson, Smith and Wiseman joined the Army. Tolkien did not join the war effort right away. Coming from a desperately poor background, he opted to finish his studies at Oxford before joining as an officer, his only path to a respectable career.
The war was not kind to the TCBS. Gilson died in July 1916, while Tolkien contracted Trench Fever later that fall. In November, an artillery shell wounded Smith, who passed away after gangrene set in.
These deaths had a profound effect on Tolkien during some of his most formative years. He had been writing small fragments of his fantasy world, and he began incorporating elements of his wartime experience and his love life into the larger fabric of Middle-earth. It’s not all tragic, though: Tolkien’s own courtship and eventual marriage to Edith Bratt formed a major foundation for Middle-earth.
After Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit, became a major success, he began working on a sequel, which grew into Lord of the Rings. The novels channeled a feeling of loss common throughout post-war Europe. An entire generation of young men had been wiped out in the conflict, leaving many to believe that Europe’s best days were behind it.
The footprint of World War I lurks in the background of Tolkien’s works, and Middle Earth will also likely make people take another look at The Lord of the Rings after reading or watching it. Rather than just being a straight-up epic fantasy, it’s a story with considerable gravitas and meaning. Characters deal with losing homes, friends, and ways of life as the specter of Sauron looms. Even Middle-earth itself is a reminder of a more glorious past. The story takes place at a point of transition for the world, in a landscape littered with ruins of vast buildings and civilizations, now left to rot.
While understanding the history behind it isn't necessarily crucial to the enjoyment of the story, it does provide some context that enriches the text. And Middle Earth would tell a dramatic story in its own right: that of a man coming to terms with the losses he and his generation experienced during one of the most terrible episodes of human history.