The new Amazon adaptation of Lord Of The Rings will apparently contain on-screen sex. A casting call issued in New Zealand, where the big-budget series is filming, has requested actors “comfortable with nudity” to come forth to Middle Earth; and also, an “intimacy co-ordinator”.
Tolkien fans — who are as excitable in their ways as Barry Manilow fans — are anxious. “This is not the spirit of LOTR,” says one, though they are fine with reducing fine literature to acronyms, which is genuinely obscene. “Literally no one is asking for pointless sex and nudity in the Amazon LOTR series,” says another, which is solipsistic.
Have we yet established whether it is pointless? A subtle and well-judged sex scene is a wonderful thing, but to be fair, they may not get one. They are particularly anxious because Brian Cogman of Game Of Thrones is working on Lord Of The Rings and they fear exploding breasts.
Even so, why wouldn’t you want to see professionally coordinated sex in Middle Earth? It is an entirely complete mythological world — its completeness explains the anxiety, for everyone has a personal Middle Earth they wouldn’t wish to see contaminated — so it would be very surprising if it didn’t contain sex (if it actually existed). Myths are designed to flourish with abandon, to contain all experience, to be universally true.
At worst, Middle Earth sex will be naff (and that is likely), but it does not break the spirit of Tolkien’s stories, unless you believe that male heroism is sexless and female heroism (I mean childbirth) non-existent. Where do people think all those little hobbits come from? I imagine those denying sex are fine with the decapitations, the devouring by spiders and the eternal, thrilling, wars.
Tolkien avoided sexual explicitness, of course; his language is courtly, almost ecstatically so. He was an English professor at Oxford University and a devout Catholic, writing in the mid 20th century, initially for his own small children. But not to describe is not to deny; Tolkien wrote deeply about love.
For me, his writings are all about love. They are a tribute to his dear friends who died in the Great War and couldn’t know love, and to a rural England that was dying. The last passages of The Return Of The King deal with the glorious flowering of the Shire after Sauron fell, and I don’t think he was only writing about pumpkins.
Tolkien understood carnal passion: he fell in love with his future wife Edith Bratt at 18. She was not a Catholic and at his guardian’s request, he cut off all contact with his “lover” — his phrasing — until he was 21. It was agony for him. On his 21st birthday, he wrote to her and they were married eight days later.
Tolkien was not a sexless man: how could he be and write so well? He wrote privately about sexual temptation in marriage: “[Women] are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not”; “No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial”; “The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject.”
It is not, in fact, Amazon that the child-men fans of Tolkien should fear, as they seek to protect their myths from sex: from women. There has already been a sexed-up Lord Of The Rings — a 1969 parody called Bored Of The Rings by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, who later founded National Lampoon. It gives familiar characters disgusting names and imagines elves as nymphomaniacs — I can see that — though it is too obscene to quote. I wouldn’t have them go anywhere near the Tolkien fan fiction either.
I will quote the famous conversation Tolkien had with his friend CS Lewis at Oxford though. “Myths,” Lewis said, were “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver. “No,” Tolkien replied. “They are not lies.”
Of the two, Tolkien was right. Myths are very complete truths; and complete truths contain sexual love. Duck for the exploding breasts.