With The Battle of Five Armies extended edition coming out in early November, the Middle-earth craze will once again fade from the eye of the public. Many are wondering what’s next. While most are speculating about a Silmarillion movie (although I have a different theory), some may be asking “What about a Lord of the Rings sequel?” Does such a thing exist?
Many would point to the Appendices in LotR. They cover some brief facts, such as Sam and Rosie’s children, Aragorn and Arwen visiting Evendim in the North (near the Shire), Merry and Pippin visiting Gondor and Rohan in their old age, and similar events (RotK, 1071-72). But that’s not what I mean by Lord of the Rings sequel.
In the early ’60s (some five to eight years after the publication of The Return of the King), Tolkien began work on a sequel to LotR. He called it The New Shadow. It has been published in full in The Peoples of Middle-earth (411-21).
Now, I have to apologize. Saying that it was published “in full” is a little dishonest–there are only about nine pages’ worth of story. Tolkien abandoned it before he wrote any more. He explained his thought in a letter written in 1964.
I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Mordor], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless–while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors–like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the blog and its discovery and overthrow–but it would be just that. Not worth doing. (Letters, 344)
Christopher Tolkien comments in The Peoples of Middle-earth, “It would nonetheless have been a very remarkable ‘thriller’, and one may well view its early abandonment with regret” (Peoples of Middle-earth, 418).
Regret indeed. The tone of The New Shadow was different from that of LotR (and, of course, The Silmarillion). It first made me think of “The Mariner’s Wife” (told in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, 181-227), probably because that is one of the few stories that deals exclusively with men. It also reminded me of The Notion Club Papers, another abandoned project of Tolkien’s (Sauron Defeated, 145-327). The final page or so reminded me strongly of the opening chapters of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (without the space travel, of course). I have to wonder if Tolkien was thinking of his dear friend while writing The New Shadow, particularly since Lewis would have passed away recently (in 1963).
The fragment of the Lord of the Rings sequel certainly does have a depressing air. It centers on Borlas, the aged younger son of Beregond (who appears only in RotK, 744). He suspects that one of his son’s friends is part of a group related to the “old Evil” of Sauron. The eternal fascination man feels for evil, coupled with the loneliness of an old man whose wife is dead and children are living their own lives, certainly doesn’t mimic the bright, homey, Hobbit doings of “A Long-Expected Party,” the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Tolkien’s attempt to write a sequel demonstrates that he wasn’t entirely the crotchety old man he said he was and is often portrayed as. He genuinely tried to write another book to please both his publishers (and undoubtedly to continue to make money, as he readily admitted to enjoying) and his fans. The style of the aborted sequel also shows that he had more range than most would believe. Christopher is correct in saying that it would have been a very remarkable thriller from a writer who is often dismissed for writing escapist fairy tales.
So, no, it is unlikely that there will ever be a movie sequel to The Lord of the Rings. Even if the studios wanted to turn The New Shadow into a movie, they don’t have the rights to any of the content from the History of Middle-earth series. And Christopher Tolkien has made it very clear he has no intention of selling the rights–presumably his heir will feel the same way. But who knows? Maybe decades from now, when The Peoples of Middle-earth is in the public domain, some one will make a movie that attempts to finish The New Shadow. But it certainly seems unlikely.
Photo Credit: Blake Richard Verdoorn