For many JRR Tolkien fans, myself included, the release of every Lord Of The Rings film was tinged with sadness.
Peter Jackson's films may be riddled with flaws and maddening alterations, but for every invincible Army of the Dead and ignoble Denethor there is a stirring portrayal of the Ride of the Rohirrim and Aragorn's 'Elendil' war-cry at Amon Hen to live long in the memory.
The sadness stems from the realisation that with every film we get closer to a time when there will be no more movie adaptations of Tolkien's work to be released, and that date is currently July 2014 when The Hobbit: There And Back Again will hit cinemas.
But hope remains; there is an as-yet untouched Tolkien masterpiece crying out for movie treatment - The Silmarillion.
Published posthumously, The Silmarillion is both a creation story and comprehensive mythology, a legendarium to use Tolkien's own terminology, that underpins all that happens in Middle Earth.
At around 350 pages including appendices and the index, The Silmarillion may at first appear insubstantial in comparison to The Lord Of The Rings, but contained within its pages are 7,000 years of history of the first three ages of Middle Earth (the events of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings take place at the tail-end of the Third Age).
The Silmarillion is principally concerned with the awakening of the firstborn, the elves, their rebellion against the gods and their return to Middle Earth to wage war upon the Dark Lord Morgoth for stealing the legendary Silmarils, three jewels infused with heavenly light. Naturally, there is a wealth of material in The Silmarillion, but its lack of a coherent narrative and episodic mythological format does not lend itself to a simple adaptation. For decades before Jackson's vision appeared on the screen, however, critics said The Lord Of The Rings was similarly unfilmable.
Technological constraints may no longer be an issue, but the film rights to the book are. Tolkien's son Christopher, who published The Silmarillion, retains the rights as head of the Tolkien Estate and is loath to sell them. However, the success of Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings films and now the first of his The Hobbit prequel trilogy strongly suggests any adaptation of The Silmarillion could expect similar if not better returns at the box office.
Jackson was initially reluctant to return to the director's chair for The Hobbit, preferring to instead produce with Weta, but he would not necessarily have to helm any adaptation of The Silmarillion. He famously sought to turn The Lord Of The Rings into two films before prescient executives suggested three, so one dreads to think what a studio would seek to do with The Silmarillion. But the purchase by Disney of the rights to the Star Wars films and a pledge to produce a film every three years, as well as Hollywood's penchant for rebooting franchises, is another reason to believe an adaptation of The Silmarillion is more than a mere possibility.
The practicalities of such an endeavour are daunting, however. The immortal elves present many difficulties with multiple films requiring recurring characters, while the elves themselves are also problematic. Readers and cinemagoers are fascinated by the haughty elves but, deliberately, find them difficult to empathise with, which is why Tolkien presented his most famous works through the eyes of hobbits.
This leads to a first solution and possible route towards adaptation, focusing initially instead on the atani, the second people - men. Several names immediately spring out; Beren, Turin and Tuor.
Beren's quest to marry the half-angel, half-elven Luthien, mirrored thousands of years later by their descendants Aragorn and Arwen, is the central love story of Middle Earth and Tolkien's personal favourite (his shared tombstone with his wife bears the names Beren and Luthien), and also deserving of several films.
The tale of Turin is too tragic for a standalone film, but could work when interwoven with that of his more fortunate cousin Tuor, brought to the screen with a split focus as employed in The Two Towers and Return Of The King. The Children Of Hurin, recently published, is an excellent source material for any director wanting to flesh out a film concerning Turin, which could also be stretched to two movies.
The danger in making men the focus is that the beginnings of the heroic First Age, and its cataclysmic culmination, could be reduced to a mere prologue and afterthought respectively. There are many, many moments in Quenta Silmarillion - literally The History Of The Silmarils - that cry out for feature film treatment. Otherwise, cinemagoers could miss out on seeing a vengeful Feanor make his terrible oath against the gods, his grief-stricken half-brother Fingolfin challenging Morgoth himself to single combat, and heaven-sent legions of elves and men arrayed against an army of dragons and balrogs in the War Of Wrath.
The quest of Beren and Luthien is intrinsically linked to the Silmarils, Feanor's own creation and the central reason for the elves' return to Middle Earth, so a possible solution would be to whet audiences' appetites with the human-centric stories first before delving further back in time to provide the appropriate back story.
The Silmarillion represents one of the most complete mythologies in existence; what director could turn down the chance to do it justice and bring it to the silver screen? More importantly, which producer could reject the proposal of six more Lord Of The Rings films? There is even the possibility of more, namely the events of the Akallabeth, contained within The Silmarillion, which tells of the downfall of men in the Second Age and their eventual partial atonement as seen in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring.
In the last moments of The Return Of The King, Frodo steps on to a boat into the west with Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel, bringing the Third Age to a close and heralding the end of the Elder Days of legend and song. It would be a perfect end to Weta's relationship with Middle Earth to produce a series of films beginning with the first doom-laden steps the elves took upon the same shores 8,000 years previously.
More importantly, it would also delay, by at least ten years, the moment of ultimate sadness when we are knowingly watching the last Tolkien film.