The Lord of the Rings

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" There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. "

– John Rogers

" It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something."

– Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings, sometimes shortened to LotR, is the sequel to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. He found that the setting he had built was far too interesting to abandon after a simplistic quest storyline, an experience common to modern GMs, and his publisher thought a new story in Middle-earth would be just as popular as The Hobbit (he was wrong; it proved more popular).

The Books[edit]

Because of its original publication scheme (the whole thing was too big for '50s era bookbinding techniques), LOTR is commonly, though erroneously, called a trilogy - it's technically six books, just bundled into three. Tolkien had wanted the whole thing to be one single, giant doorstopper, but he was talked out of that. Thus, we got three books:

  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King

You have, of course, read them. If you haven't, gtfo and read them. And don't you even dare just watch the movies. Although amazing films, they aren't the same experience.

The Story[edit]

The original First Edition nerd book

If you're a filthy normie or you've been living on a cave on Mars with your fingers in your ears, here's a brief refresher:

Check The Silmarillion and The Hobbit to go in chronological order.

Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of The Hobbit, decides upon his 111th birthday to leave home and entrusts his magic ring to his nephew Frodo. Problem is, Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo's wizard friend, has figured out that something's off about the magic ring once he sees how Bilbo can barely bring himself to give it up; it is in fact the One Ring, an artifact created by Sauron, Lord of Mordor (and also Of The Rings), and contains a vast amount of his power. Its continued existence is a threat to the free peoples of Middle-earth and Gandalf exhorts Frodo to come to a meeting in Rivendell, house of the great elven lord Elrond, where a council of all the finest minds that can be brought together will determine what to do with it. Joined by his gardener Samwise and two fellow hobbits, Merry and Pippin, Frodo makes his way to Rivendell but not before running afoul of barrow-wights and Sauron's chief minions, the Nazgul, leading to him getting stabbed with a cursed sword by the lead Nazgul that would make him their wraith minion. Fortunately Elrond is also skilled in healing arts and magic and saves Frodo from the fate worse than death.

At the meeting, it is revealed that no mortal artifice can destroy the One Ring (demonstrated in the movie when Gimli shatters a weapon on the unassuming golden band). The only way to unmake it is to return it to the fires of Mount Doom where Sauron originally forged it. Unfortunately, Mount Doom is smack dab in the middle of Mordor and Gandalf can't ask his great eagle buddies to risk death by arrows, Fellbeasts (seriously, why does everyone forget that the bad guys could fly too?) or deadly volcanic gases to fly the ring to Mount Doom for him. Really though, stealth was the only realistic option, even if that meant hoofing it for months on end. And to make things more complicated, the ring itself is actively trying to get back into Sauron's hands, whether by alerting Sauron to its presence every time someone puts it on, outright manipulating people with promises of power, or just trying to GTFO the Bearer's person at every vaguely-plausible opportunity. Frodo agrees to bear the One Ring on its journey and a group is formed to escort him there. The party for this quest is called the Fellowship of the Ring and consists of:

  • Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer, hobbit;
  • Samwise Gamgee, Paladin/gardener/Frodo's "best friend", hobbit;
  • Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, rogue, hobbit;
  • Peregrin "Pippin" Took, bard, hobbit;
  • Gandalf the Grey, wizard (one of the Istari, essentially an Angel in human guise, and on the same tier as Saruman, Sauron, and the Balrog);
  • Aragorn, son of Arathorn, ranger, human of Númenorean descent and heir to the thrones of Arnor and Gondor;
  • Boromir, son of Denethor, fighter, human;
  • Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, archer, elf;
  • Gimli, son of Glóin, fighter, dwarf;
Legolas.jpg

So, off they go. After a few detours and sidetracks, the Fellowship is split into three (even though you should never split the party): Frodo and Sam go off directly to Mordor, as Frodo's the only one who really needs to go and Sam is too much of a bro to abandon him; Gandalf duels a primordial demon to the death (both their deaths, really) since he's the only one there powerful enough to stop it, but since he's a demigod on a divine mission he gets to come back; Pippin and Merry are kidnapped by orcs but escape and wind up in Gondor, a formerly prosperous kingdom, and Rohan, a nation of Anglo-Saxons on horseback, respectively, after having adventures with Ents; Boromir dies in an ambush but has a pile of corpses to show for his troubles and gets a river funeral; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli form a Human-Elf-Dwarf triple threat team, ostensibly to find and rescue Merry and Pippin, but end up travelling across two different kingdoms and fucking evil's shit up for the rest of the story, with Gimli as Dennis Rodman.

Despite having their own problems to contend with, somehow the members of the divided Fellowship seem to get involved with everyone else's mess and need to sort shit out. Their list of game achievements include, but are not limited to: surviving a ruined dwarf city filled with an insane number of goblins and a big motherfucking demon lord with weapons made of fire (the backstory behind this inspired the aforementioned game); foiling the plans of Gandalf's wicked wizard counterpart and his orc army; saving not one but two human nations (and the entire world for that matter); winning a whole campaign's worth of scenarios and battles; and defeating the big bad evil guy of the setting (that is currently not imprisoned off the edge of the world, his old boss had a bigger resume) with enough time to go home for tea and crumpets.

Finally, after going around the most fuck-me way possible to get into Mordor (partially due to bad directions from Gollum, who was conflicted with his addictive desire for the Ring, and an encounter with the giant spider/spider-demon hybrid Shelob), Frodo reaches Mount Doom and is about to drop the ring into the lava when he can no longer resist the ring's allure. Just as it had done at the end of the Second Age when it stopped Isildur from destroying it, the ring saved its existence from certain doom. But in an ironic twist, the ring's former owner Gollum attacks Frodo for it and bites it off of his finger, dances about happily, and falls into the lava, just as both Frodo and the ring itself had warned what would happen if Gollum betrayed him and tried to take the ring. With the ring destroyed, Sauron's power is all but gone forevermore and his armies scatter. The eagles can swoop in for MEDEVAC, getting Frodo and Sam back to civilization to rest and recover before the hobbits return to the Shire.

But wait! The Shire's under new management, Chief Sharkey. Frodo and company help the hobbits rise up against Sharkey, who turns out to be Saruman, who has committed his greatest evil yet by trying to industrialize The Shire out of spiteful revenge. Frodo allows Saruman to leave the Shire, but his put-upon minion Gríma Wormtongue slits his throat (and is then riddled with arrows, nicely tying up that loose end). After compiling his memoirs and still feeling pain from the Nazgul attack all the way at the beginning of his journey, Frodo travels to the Grey Havens and is allowed to sail into the West, where he may find relief from his pain. The story ends on a bittersweet note as Sam (arguably the story's true protagonist and MVP of the closing chapters) finally settles back home with his family, writing the final pages to the Baggins' family saga.

Final apocrypha detail the fates of the characters, notably Sam goes west following his wife's death as he was a brief ringbearer (leaving the Red Book to his daughter and son-in-law), Merry and Pippin retire after lengthy political careers and witnessing Eomer's death before dying in Gondor, Aragorn cleans up the remaining orcs and makes peace with human servants of Sauron, has a son and some daughters with Arwen and dies of old age, followed by Arwen a year later. Gimli and Legolas go west after Aragorn's death, presumably along with the final few Elves who were getting their affairs in order before leaving Middle Earth, leaving humans as the dominant power of the Fourth Age and the Dwarves apparently peacefully dying out after reclaiming lost homes.

The Expanded Canon[edit]

Besides the LOTR trilogy and the Hobbit, there are a few other books about Middle Earth. Many of them were published after Tolkien's death, but were personally edited by his son to make them available to the public. While none of these books are strictly need-to-know material, they can be thought of as great fluff books full of additional stories that flesh out the setting.

  • The Silmarillion - This was an abridged history of Middle Earth, from its creation to the War of the Ring. Here you'll find more information about Sauron and the creation of the One Ring, as well as epic tales of both elvish and human heroes from the First Age, the sociopathic Elf King Fëanor who played right into Melkor's (Middle-Earth's Satan and Sauron's boss) schemes, the rise and fall of Atlantis Numenor, the War of the Last Alliance, and other things. Many people complain about the Silmarillion being too dry and reading like a history book (which is what it is, to be fair); if you’re looking for a novel - read on.
  • Children of Hurin - published after Tolkein’s death, it is also the only complete novel covering one of the First Age stories in the Silmarillion. This covers the tragic story of Turin Tarambar, Tolkein’s version of Kullervo, and how Morgoth cursed him and his family to a fate worse than death. Still an epic adventure that fits well into the Legendarium.
  • Unfinished Tales - As the name implies, these are narrative scraps which Tolkien hadn't completed before his death. Christopher Tolkien published this mess of notes on his way to completing two of the Tales (which he hadn't dared, himself, at the time). This book includes longer versions of lore mentioned in the trilogy, such as Isildur's death, the origin of the Wizards, and the founding of Rohan. And draughts of those Hurin and Gondolin stories which Chris would fill in, and publish, (much) later. But not Beren.
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil - Poetry centered around Tom Bombadil, who is best described as Middle Earth's equivalent of a Monty Python sketch. He's actually in the first LOTR book but is so carefree and oblivious to the War of the Ring that he's not terribly important despite being implied to be powerful enough to kick Sauron in the balls an walk away without a scratch.
  • The History of Middle Earth - A 13 volume series detailing the creation of Tolkien's mythology, includes early drafts and unused stories. Here's where Beren is first floated, as a poem; and the first (maybe best) Fall of Gondolin. While the early material here isn't considered canon, some very interesting revelations appear here:

The Cancelled Sequel[edit]

Yes, you're reading that right. After the Lord of the Rings was all wrapped up, Tolkien did at one point feel the "sequel itch" and considered doing a follow-up set in the Fourth Age that would have included the son of Faramir, and with the villains being a cult of Sauron fanboys. But, recognizing that following up the epicness of Lord of the Rings with a much more minor threat was almost certainly not going to work, his heart just wasn't in it and he quickly gave up on the idea. Tellingly, despite how much subsequent creators have wanted to tell their own stories in Middle-Earth, none have yet to try and take Tolkien's discarded 4th Age story ideas and run with them (probably because they've come to the same conclusions about it that he did).

A Mythology for England?[edit]

Now, you might be wondering why Tolkien bothered to do all of this in the first place. What motivated him? The answer is generally held to be, that he wanted to give England its own mythology. Tolkien had noticed that almost all other civilizations had them: Greek Mythology, Egyptian Mythology, Norse Mythology, Native American Mythologies, etc. But England seemed to be the exception. So Tolkien took the Thanos approach and decided "Fine, I'll do it myself". And the rest is history.

What this means though, is that Middle-Earth is technically not a fantasy setting totally separate from real life in the way that something like Azeroth or Golarion is. It is our world, but in a distant past that's details were ultimately lost to time, causing it to become legend. This is an aspect of the franchise that's often overlooked, but it is there when you remember what Middle-Earth was intended to be for Jolly Old England. Tolkien intended to run with the idea even further, tying Middle Earth to Dark Ages Europe where a 5th century Welsh mariner discovers Tol Eressia and learns of the ancient shared history of the elves and men, as well as tying in existing legends like Saint Brendan's voyage. The novels that we have today (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion) were to be surviving stories from this forgotten age, either being retold by ancient Welsh explorers or directly copied from the Red Book of Westmarch. He also considered having Eru (the God of the setting), pulling a Jesus and appearing on Middle-Earth in mortal form, but discarded this idea for being a little too on the nose. Instead this is merely implied in a conversation between Elves and Men as being the reason behind the strange gifts and fate Eru assigned to men.

This also makes the Tolkien Purist's insistence on absolute, 100% fidelity to the source material at all times somewhat ironic, since that isn't how mythologies work: they change with each subsequent retelling. So we should really be a lot more accepting of changes to lo--HERESY!

Do note that in modern scholarship, the question of Tolkien's purpose in writing the Lord of the Rings and the wider Silmarillion is up for debate. Many believe that Tolkien's work evolved away from the "mythology for England" origin after his failure to get The Silmarillion published, and that Tolkien had left-wing anarchist viewpoint be anathema to the modern fanbase that glorifies monarchism, racism, and Eurocentrism. Fans generally argue that such people are full of shit and only making these radical claims in the interests of getting published and securing tenure.

Legacy[edit]

The man himself

It's commonly accepted that the Lord of the Rings invented modern fantasy fiction, as everybody basically used it as a template for most, if not all, future stories that involved anything more than Knights, princesses, and dragons. That being said, most people tend to only pick up the surface elements of the stories without the nuances they originally came with, either to fit their own stories or because they just thought, "hey, orcs are cool, imma add them to my campaign." One example is that despite everyone basing elves on Tolkien's interpretation rather than the more pixie-like versions of previous generations, most stories' elves are universally depicted as arrogant and smug racists who were almost as commonplace as humans, whereas Tolkien hewed closer to the original mythological version of an alien, isolationist, though not outright hostile people, who seldom interacted with mortals (it helped that any racial supremacist tendencies they once had were basically stomped out of them after getting their asses kicked in the First Age, with humans giving them most of their support). On top of that, the books are pretty clear that Elven immortality isn't all sunshine and rainbows, as they are doomed to fade into wraiths unless they travel to the Undying Lands.

Even in his time, while Tolkien maintained a strong correspondence with his fans (he wrote enough letters that they essentially became a supplement on the Lord of the Rings stories), he felt that a lot of people simply didn't get his stories. Hippies declared Frodo to be an anti-establishment hero, despite Tolkien himself being strongly conservative and the story containing an explicitly pro-monarchy plot point in Aragorn's ascension. On the other end of the spectrum, Tolkien has also been a sadly popular target for accusations of racism even though his letters made his utter hatred for Hitler and Nazism pretty clear and he also explicitly rejected "race doctrine", to say nothing for things in the books themselves that contradict the charge, such as the Haradrim being respected by Gondor and Rohan, who make peace with them after the War of the Ring, Númenor's society going to shit the more oppressive of other men they became, and a dead Haradrim being shown sympathy by Sam (Faramir in the movie). People would claim it to be an allegory of WWII and nuclear war, despite being based on his own personal experiences during WWI (he also hated allegories in general). And if he were alive today, he'd probably call the travesty that was the Hobbit trilogy (see below) the very "disneyfied" crap that he sought to avoid. Here's a list of fantasy cliches attributed to Tolkien that are actually misrepresentations of what he wrote because the authors would miss the point.

All that being said, the influence of his books can't be denied. The funny thing though, is that despite being a source of inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons (one could argue that DnD codified fantasy tropes moreso than LOTR, but that's for another time), the actual story of the Lord of the Rings wouldn't make for a great roleplaying campaign; rewards for battles are scant, the vast majority of enemies are orcs, orcs, and more orcs with a dash of goblins that's just another term for orcs, the actual fighting done by Aragorn's team is of secondary importance to Frodo's mission to destroy the ring, Sauron never appears in the flesh so there's no final boss, etc. A webcomic called "DM of the Rings" explores this concept quite humorously, as the tension between the player characters (as Aragorn's party) and the DM shows how frustrated they get when the story doesn't meet their hack-and-slash expectations.

To give a short list, Tolkien basically gave us:

  • Orcs
  • Halflings
  • Ents
  • Dark Lords
  • Half-elves, though they weren't considered a distinct species. There's only a handful of them, and they have to decide whether to have the fate of the elves (immortality, but you have to go to the Undying Lands or become a wraith) or the fate of men (mortality, but you get a super-secret afterlife that not even the Valar know about, and in the meanwhile are free from Fate and able to do what you like with the time you have). This part never seemed to catch on.
  • Elves as beautiful pointy-eared superhumans; while not explicitly codified as of yet, we also got High Elves in the Noldor and Wood Elves in the Sindar. No Dark elves yet though (unless you count those Avari guys who sat by a lake); that would be the Drow.
  • Dwarves as a proud warrior race rather than just short greedy bastards. Note that the Scottish accent wasn't tacked on until the New Line films. Not even then; the most prominent Dwarves in all six films are Gimli, played by John Rhys-Davies, and Thorin, played by Richard Armitage, who speak with their actors' native Welsh and Yorkshire accents respectively. Scottish Dwarves do exist in the franchise, but it's not mainstream - the Dwarven accents are drawn from a wide UK spectrum. Scottish Dwarves are popular in fantasy games, World of Warcraft being perhaps the most prominent example, but even the Tolkien-esque Warhammer Fantasy has Yorkshire Dwarfs (with some exceptions).
  • The Ranger archetype (historical note: actual rangers were just guys hired to keep poachers off a nobleman's land, the idea of an outdoorsy type of tracker/scout/soldier didn't exist until the 17th century.)
  • Mixed race, mixed class adventuring parties.
  • A "Three Age" structure to history, with the earlier ages being more legendary and mythological than the more mundane later ages. (Though Greek mythology had similar ideas).
  • Mithril {NOT Mythril, a name used in various other books and games to avoid copyright infringement}, a super-strong, super-light metal. Like aluminum, if aluminum were also indestructible.
  • Balors and Bloodthirsters...sort of. See, Balrogs are pretty clearly where the latter came from as "super powerful demonic monsters with horns, bat wings on the back, and wielding a weapon in each hand". Since Tolkien owned the rights to the name "Balrog", the folks at TSR, Wizards, GW, and elsewhere needed to get creative, thus giving us those other super-demons.

The Radio Drama[edit]

Long before there was ever any real chance of getting movie adaptations, the Lord of the Rings was adapted for radio by (naturally) the BBC. Largely forgotten nowadays, but before the PJ movies came out, this was basically as good as it got as far as adaptations went (as well as being the only one made during Tolkien's lifetime, which allowed him to give feedback).

The Movies (and one TV show)[edit]

Old School[edit]

There had been some talk about a film adaptation through the 50s through the early 70s (including with The Beatles trying to be the Hobbit quartet!), but it largely did not go anywhere. Mostly because doing it justice in live action was waaay beyond what could be reasonably done in 1960 (large-scale Medieval battles were one thing, but unless you fancy the thought of a claymation Balrog, the more fantastical elements would have never looked good).

Ralph Bakshi made an animated film based off the Fellowship of The Ring and the first half of The Two Towers, which was released in 1978. The resulting film was trippy, to say the least. It has a lot of weird animation with massive amounts of rotoscoping, although it does work from time to time. It also decided to make adjustments and stay faithful to the text in the oddest ways. Many lines of dialogue were taken from the books word for word, with enough cut out so that you don't know what they are talking about and it does not come across as natural conversation; for example, Saruman declares himself Saruman of Many Colors without explaining the name change, but they decide to make a prince of Gondor (the largest and greatest civilization in Middle-earth at the time) dress like a Wagner opera viking. While it does have some good points here and there the end result both leaves you both weirded out and bored unless you are really into that era of animation.

It's worth noting that, despite his reputation, some of the weirdness of the movie is not actually due to Bakshi. Executive meddling was rampant during the production, one of the most infamous examples of which is with Saruman. Midway through, execs decided that Saruman sounded too much like Sauron and would confuse audiences, so they went behind Bakshi's back and had the VAs start referring to him as "Aruman" instead. Without redubbing the lines that had already been recorded up to that point. Bakshi didn't find out until it was too late to fix, and as a result characters throughout the movie alternate between Saruman and Aruman. In spite of it's shortcomings it did do reasonably well at the box office ($33.7 Million at the box office for the US, UK and Canada against it's $4.5 million budget) which if nothing else got some film and tv execs to think "okay, maybe there is some money in these fairy-tales-for-grown-ups".

Rankin Bass produced a Return of the King animated film in 1980, a made for TV movie which didn't have near the budget. It traded in some of the trippiness (even if it does have Orcs transforming into Coutimundis) for being more mundanely bad and getting pushed into the animation age ghetto, since again, it was made for TV not theaters in an age when censorship ran strong. They couldn't even allow for people getting hit with swords onscreen. That's not even mentioning how much they cut, up to and including entire characters (like Legolas and Gimli), and giving Theoden one of the lamest deaths in animation movie history.

However, even though it's hard to deny the movie as a whole is objectively bad, there are a few gems in Rankin Bass's Return of the King that rival, or are arguably even better than the Jackson movies. Sam's portrayal in particular is very good (certainly leagues better than in the Bakshi version, as low a bar as that might be), showing him as a strong and fearless friend, and one of the only people in all Middle Earth ever to hold an awakened One Ring in his hand, in Morder where it's at its most powerful, took the best shot it could hit him with, and told the Ring to fuck off. The portrayal of the Ring itself is also quite good, with it having a much more active malign influence than it does in the Jackson films. The Ring doesn't just passively corrupt people, it tempts them, feeding those who hold it visions of all the things they could do with it, all the power they could have, and it even delivers a taste of that power, with a weakened and exhausted Frodo able to stand strong and confident just by holding the Ring, enough to even scare the shit out of Gollum.

If you are curious about the Bakshi film and have an hour to kill, Dan Olson has a pretty good video essay on the subject

The Peter Jackson Trilogy[edit]

But those two movies are footnotes compared to the ones that you have most likely seen, those being Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. By far the most financially successful and critically acclaimed fantasy films of all time, including winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which generally go for historical pieces and similar, not fantasy or sci-fi. It helped bring fantasy to mainstream audiences and probably why many of you are you are here now. It has massive battles made possible by groundbreaking special effects technology. The films also have incredible amounts of attention to detail to bring the world of Middle-earth to life. While some changes were made (as was inevitable in adaptation), many of them were for the better such as developing Aragorn as a character rather than just a mythic archetype, making Arwen an actual character, and having Gollum being accidentally thrown into Mount Doom fighting with Frodo over the One Ring. In short what happens when you get a lot of skilled passionate people together to make something they love come to life. Though apparently Tolkien's son really hated the movies for some reason (Probably for personal reasons as the original books were written in part for him. Ostensibly it was because of the films emphasis on action setpieces etc. as opposed to the more “low-key” elements of world-building etc.). Nowadays the films continue to enjoy a great reputation apart from the folks who refuse to abide even the tiniest changes made to the source material.

PJ followed this up with a series on The Hobbit, which we handle in its own totally unbiased and sober page here.

Amazon's Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power[edit]

NotAwesome.png
This article is about something that is considered by the overpowering majority of /tg/ to be fail.
Expect huge amounts of derp and rage, punctuated by /tg/ extracting humor from it.
Rage-a.pngThis article or section contains opinions shared by all and/or vast quantities of Derp. It is liable to cause Rage. Take things with a grain of salt and a peck of Troll.

"There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of man for this treachery."

– Tolkien fans

"There can be no trust between hammer and rock. Eventually, one or the other must surely break."

– Durin, accurately describing the relationship between Amazon and the fans

"Give me the meat, and give it to me raw!"

– Durin, speaking to Elrond once he got away from his wife

TL;DR: Amazon's made a new show that, due to their own actions and statements, basically killed any goodwill long-time fans may have had towards it before before the first episode aired. It's been to Lord of the Rings what Netflix's Cowboy Bebop was to Cowboy Bebop.

Half a decade after The Hobbit trilogy's derpy conclusion, Amazon announced, with much fanfare, that they were going to make a streaming series based on Tolkien's Legendarium. Given the unreadable and generally obscure nature of the subject to mainstream audiences (moviegoers), fans reacted with wary interest and curiosity. That quickly devolved into seething irritation and rage. This began at the first major warning sign; the firing of Amazon's resident Tolkien consultant Tom Shippey (a British medievalist who has written six books and several academic papers on Tolkien's work, who even met and worked with Tolkien himself at the same university) and subsequent replacement by someone far less qualified, far less experienced and heavily invested in modern identity politics. Combined with this happening shortly after the death of Christopher Tolkien - the one person in the Tolkien estate protective of his father's work - it was clear there was an agenda. More bad news came out soon after; Amazon didn't actually have the rights to any of the Legendarium works. They had spent several hundred million dollars only buying rights to the names, people, and events named in the Appendices, and are unable to reference anything else.

Worse, it was revealed the showrunners had no screenwriting or directing credits to their name, only being hired after J.J. Abrams vouched for them. Their most famous work was uncredited rewrites to "punch up" the script of Star Trek: Into Darkness. Even if they were willing to write whatever Amazon demanded of them, it was seen as bizarre for Amazon to risk their literally billion-dollar investment on completely amateur leaders. One can only assume it was done to spite the showrunners originally attached to the project, who had been fired by Amazon Studio head Jennifer Salke and went on to produce the critically acclaimed House of the Dragon. Several of the main actors themselves were either inexperienced or complete newcomers, most noticeable with the actress playing Galadriel. Supposedly, The Rings of Power was the product of Jeff Bezos wanting to have his own Game of Thrones for Prime Streaming. There were rumors that the show would be incredibly violent and gratuitously sexual, in stark contrast to Tolkien's works, and many expected the worst.

The final nail in the coffin were Amazon's announcements that they wanted to "adapt" and ˝modernize˝ Tolkien's work for the present-day. This proved that the Rings of Power was a prestige product for some studio suits and amateur writers rather than a passionate or faithful adaptation of Tolkien's work. They revealed black elves, black/brown Numenoreans, black and beardless dwarf women, and even multi-hued hobbits that weren't even supposed to exist in the Second Age. Worse, it all looked cheap and lazy and was promoted by paid actors pretending to be "superfans" of Tolkien who could only speak diversity, equity, and inclusion catchphrases. The backlash to the "superfans" trailers (they made multiple trailers for multiple regions in different languages with different actors all speaking from the same general script) was so bad that Amazon chose to unlist the videos from Youtube and Prime.

Rings of Power launched in direct competition with House of the Dragon and initial audience reception was not good. Despite literally paying for millions of premiere viewers by virtue of paying movie theaters to play episodes 1 and 2 for free, viewer numbers entered freefall with subsequent episodes and reviews were consistently, though not universally, negative among the audience. Critics were more favorably disposed to it, though even they were not particularly flattering unless they were reviewing for dedicated entertainment sites like IGN, in which case the show could do no wrong. Many of the initial reviews focused on the leaden acting and terrible writing, grave sins for anyone who'd watched Peter Jackson's trilogy or the original books (though perhaps it suited material allegedly based on The Silmarillion) and the show's absolutely obvious cheapness; despite spending a rumored $60 million per episode, sets were often empty of crowds, costumes were noticeably bad, and CGI was glaringly obvious.

The most significant fan complaints were:

  • The show is as full of "memberberries" as a plum pudding is full of figs. Despite being enjoined from referencing Peter Jackson's films because they don't have the rights to them, Amazon lifted a surprising amount of content directly from those films rather than from anything Tolkien wrote, especially in terms of visual design, dialogue, and shots. Galadriel's monologue when confronted with the One Ring, Gandalf being thrown around by an evil wizard using their staff, and the injection of the hobbits HARFOOTS were all largely seen as callbacks to the far more well-received films.
  • Lots of the show actually end up being shockingly boring. There are large swaths of the plot where just nothing of any significance happens. One moment aside (the time Disa sings to the rock in a religious ceremony, which is admittedly a really cool scene and the only time the show manages to grasp an inkling of Tolkiens magic), a lot of time is spent on following up on the mystery boxes, intercut with action setpieces that at best have minimal stakes and at worst are completely nonsensical. Given how much of the dyanmics that are supposed to be established here end up going nowhere and/or are outright ignored/contradicted by the time of the finale, one has to wonder why the showrunners even spent time on these plotlines.
  • Any character actually named after one of Tolkien's characters is unrecognizable in the show. The most prominent example is Galadriel, transformed from a wise and regal queen of unearthly power to a bloodthirsty, rude warrior maiden who only cares about hunting down Sauron, only to be seduced by his comely human disguise instead. She also never gives a mention or thought to her conspicuously absent husband Celeborn when starting to yield to "Halbrand's" charm. Elendil the Tall and his sons are not spared, being depicted as incompetent and cowardly men who only succeed through the intervention of powerful women. And so on.
    • Some see Galadriel as emblematic of the problems with Rings of Power, especially after a finale where she is arguably to blame for Sauron falling BACK into evil and allowing him to flee to Mordor to forge the One Ring; a finale where Galadriel comes up with the idea of Three Elven Rings (and only Elven, the lesser races don't deserve them); and a finale where Galadriel nearly kills Celebrimbor rather than Sauron because she cannot stand to have her mistakes thrown in her face. None of the majesty or wisdom supposedly held by Galadriel as the greatest of the Noldor in Middle-Earth is evident.
  • Amazon's pre-release media blitz had also contained the uncomfortable reveal that, rather than attempt to adapt centuries of conflict between the corruption and fall of Numenor and the Last Alliance, Amazon had decided to create a story that would encompass the broad themes of the Second Age while taking place over a recognizably human lifespan so that they wouldn't need to cast new actors every season. This Amazon-original plot, being led by inexperienced and bottom-barrel showrunners, would bastardize Tolkien's stories in stupendously stupid ways.
    • The elves of Middle-Earth, or at least the Noldor, and all their works are being corrupted and worn down by a dark entropy, the product of "light of Valar" deficiency. Without the "light," the elves are no longer immortal, immune to disease and the ravages of age, and all they have touched can be worn away by time and biology. There is only one cure: Mithril, the fossilized fallout of a battle between an Elflord and Durin's Bane where the Elf channeled all the "light" within his being into one of the Silmarils that was hidden in a tree that Durin's Bane really wanted to burn down with the flame of Udun. As they poured their energies into the tree, a lightning bolt struck and caused the Silmaril to explode. That explosion turned the tree's roots into mithril; a substance "as pure and light as good and as strong and unyielding as evil." Somehow, Gil-Galad and Celebrimbor not only know that the dwarves of Moria have discovered and started mining mithril, they also know it's the only thing that can give the elves their immortality back if they don't want to go back to Valinor. And they better get the dwarves to mine it as quick as they can; without it, they'll all be consumed by the darkness.
    • In the finale, Celebrimbor is incapable of doing anything with the mithril (about a fistfuls-worth) until Sauron tells him to "seduce" the ore with lesser, gentler metals and alloys. Once Sauron's love confession is rejected by Galadriel, she comes up with the brilliant idea to forge 3 rings so that all elves could partake of mithril's effects without falling under their dominion.
  • Albino, white-robed orcs enslaving and oppressing a black elf and black/brown humans, though they also enslave white elves and humans, but unlike elves and humans there are no black/brown orcs. Also the humans that end up siding with Adar really don't like elves and even use slurs like "knife-ear." Real subtle.
  • Writing-related complaints range from the very recognizable Bad Robot disregard for realistic timetables (remember how people seemed to just teleport everywhere at will in Into Darkness or in The Last Jedi?) to bad pacing and completely incongruous scene length (the forging of the rings is less than a minute long, while hobbits get an entire quarter of the episode for a single scene) to audience whiplash as characters shift and change personalities and motivations multiple times within the same episode.
    • Even worse, the dialogue lacks any of the poetry of Tolkien's prose unless it's plagiarizing his work. When left to the writer's room, it ranges from clunky and serviceable to laughably bad. The worst offender in this regard is the very un-subtle moment where some Numenorean men complain that, thanks to the Elves knife-ears being immortal, "they took our darn jobs!"
    • While we weren't expecting the most tightly written story given how light the source material is, its clear that the showrunners didn't grasp the most important aspect in Tolkein's writing; the use of theme and how every detail builds up huge core ideas in the narrative. Instead, everything that happens happens because the plot demands it, even at the expense of previous characterization. One easy example is the Harfoots, who we're told all support one another, but because we have to create drama for the harfoot plotline, are constantly leaving people on their own to die anytime they run into trouble. It's ironic that they were included solely because the showrunners thought that the were the heart and soul of Middle Earth, when audiences have largely rejected the Harfoots as bunch of filthy little psychopaths.
  • Production-related complaints largely focus on the cheapness of the show despite its astonishing budget. It seemed that there was little effort in reshooting or editing anything that should have otherwise gone in a blooper reel (chainmail t-shirts were the cause of several wardrobe malfunctions in the last half of the show) or that looked incredibly awkward once CGI backgrounds and lighting were applied. Cast sizes in scenes was noticeably small, and battles were never well-done or lasted long. It doesn't help that House of the Dragon manages to feel greater in scope and scale but with a third of Amazon's reported budget and that the costume lead-designer reportedly designed the armour around wanting to challenge cosplayers (as if to make his own incompetency any less obvious).

If you aren't a complete hater on the show, you may consider the CGI landscapes beautiful, and enjoy the score that apes and imitates but never reaches the level of the score of Peter Jackson's film trilogy, and believe that the references and callbacks to actual Tolkien lore are fun to see (although many of the show's lore references are likely to confuse newbies as they're hardly explained well, and those who do know the are likely to rage due to the immense retconning). After all, when else will you hear the word Silmaril being spoken on-screen? Alternatively, you could also call anyone that dislikes the show "patently evil" and argue they should be disregarded. Rings of Power is contracted for multiple seasons, so it's likely to be with us for a long, long time. That being said, by the time of the finale, the ratings had dropped to catastrophic levels and even many media outlets who gave the show a chance had to admit that it was a flop. So much so that rumors abound of Amazon discreetly sidelining Payne & McKay for more competent showrunners, while desperately trying to convince audiences that season 2 will be better we promise.

MERP(S)[edit]

Over the 1980s immigration-control Iron Crown Enterprises put out the Middle-Earth Role Playing (System). Lots of sourcebooks for the setting. Generally considered good if quite crunchy (unsurprising, since it was based off Rolemaster). Sadly enough no longer in print.

Unwin did a massive map extending Middle-Earth east and south. Here we got the Stormshadow Mountain Kingdoms, Lands of the Broken Moon, Kingdoms of the Cloud Forests and other hippie bullshit that northern Californians think up after huffing the bong. Nobody considers this map to be canon.

Of course GW couldn't let such a profitable venture pass them by...[edit]

Back in the early 2000s, GW made a tabletop game based around this premise and called it The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game. Because they ran out of short titles.

In a peculiar way, this was GW coming full circle. They began by making miniatures for D&D (which as stated above, heavily borrowed from LOTR) before morphing into Warhammer.

While it let you play out your favorite scenes from the movies (in the way YOU imagined them going), it failed to light the world on fire. Likely because it lacks any of the batshit awesome insanity of their own IPs. However, GeeDubs has kept on truckin' with this line regardless of cost, eventually offloading it onto Forge World to work on in between releases for Blood Bowl and Necromunda.

The Last Ringbearer[edit]

Of course, there is always some weird thing people will do with an original work of an author. If we're to believe the fan fiction authors, all the characters of the novel were fucking each other so hard it's a wonder they were able to waddle out of Rivendell.

Some of them, for various reasons, even flip the script by changing the villains to heroes and/or the heroes to villains. Such is the nature of The Last Ringbearer, a book written by this Russian named Kirill Eskov. Its supposed to be an alternate take on LOTR, and has plot points ranging from The One Ring being a red herring, the Nazgul being enlightened philosopher scientists, and Mordor being an industrialized society torn apart by unsophisticated luddites for no reason other than elf bigotry. We hear that pirate translations exist, including into English. But we could never condone reading such trash, especially when they suck as bad as this did. LotR copyright expires 2043 which may be just long enough for this abortion of a "book" to fall into the pages of obscurity.

The Last Ringbearer was officially published in the legal vacuum that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, which also allowed assorted other unauthorized revisions and sequels to be published. Making it either a cash-grab or an attempt to make LOTR-based Soviet propaganda. Among those are the Ring of Darkness by Nick Perumov (a Fourth Age story where the Big Bad Evil Guy collects the rings of the Nazgul to become a great conqueror, and a Hobbit fighter clad in mithril armor endeavors to stop him) and the Black Book of Arda by Natalia Vasilieva (an alternate take on the Silmarillion where the original evil Melkor is a nice guy).

... so. How about An Archive Of Our Own.

Video Games[edit]

While nowhere near what you see with Star Wars, Middle-Earth has still netted a fair number of video games for itself. A lot of this has to do with the aforementioned Peter Jackson movies, which also came out in an era when licensed movie video games were still common. Since the Lord of the Rings movies actually fit the video game format better than, say, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Golden Compass, and Disney's Bolt (all of which also got video game tie-ins) they were some of the rare few licensed video games of the era that are actually playable. Eventually, the merchandise explosion generated by the movie's success died down, and with it way fewer video games came out, but there have still been a few. Some of the more notable video games are listed below:

  • The Hobbit: This one is one of the very first notable Middle-Earth video games, coming out around the time the PJ Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was wrapping up, which was still many years off from the movie adaptation of the Hobbit. As such it's based off of the book and not those later, skubby films (for the best, most would say).
  • The Two Towers and Return of the King: The main movie tie-in games, with the first really adapting Fellowship and The Two Towers despite the title. Easily among the top tier of licensed movie tie-in games (which admittedly isn't saying much). Mostly revolve around the Big 3 of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, but in Two Towers you could also unlock Isildur (who basically plays as a maxed out Aragorn), and in Return of the King Gandalf and Sam joined the main character roster, with Frodo, Merry, Pippin, and Faramir all being unlockable (sadly, no playable Eowyn).
  • The Third Age: Sort of based off of the Peter Jackson movie trilogy, but with a twist: you play as a team of characters made for the game. Said characters are actually very, very stock overall, but the game boasts some solid customization for all of them, and Final Fantasy-esque turn based combat and some pretty good special effects and graphics for the time. So basically a Lord of the Rings game in the style of something like Final Fantasy VII, but with far less memorable characters. Either one of the best LotR games ever or a dumb idea, depending on who you ask.
    • The Third Age (GBA): Gameboy version. Basically a totally different game from the above despite sharing a title. Here you go through the major (and minor) battles of the trilogy via turn-based gameplay, with Good and Evil each having their own campaigns that are actually just the same missions (meaning there are cases where a level that's easy for one side will be hard as hell for the other). Before starting the campaign, you pick a major hero who sticks with you the whole way through. Good can choose between Aragorn, Gandalf, and Elrond, and Evil can choose between the Witch-King, Saruman, and the Mouth of Sauron.
  • Battle for Middle-Earth Duology: Some real-time strategy Lord of the Rings games, and easily one of the better things EA ever did. Really, given how perfectly suited to the genre Lord of the Rings is, one wonders why more of these haven't been made. First one follows the events of the main trilogy and has fixed resource areas and build zones, while the second game has more flexible building-harvesting system based on map area control. The latter also deals with the battles in the North only somewhat touched on in Tolkien's novels, making it a blend both aesthetically and story-wise of the movies and books. The studio that made these was, together with their engine, subsumed by Westwood to assist in developing the awesome-as-heck Command & Conquer 3 later down the road.
    • Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring: An RTS that was not affiliated with the Peter Jackson movies, and thus has its own aesthetic distinct from the movie's look. Not a terrible RTS, but definitely overshadowed heavily by the BFME games.
  • Lord of the Rings: Conquest: An attempt to do the Star Wars Battlefront formula in a Lord of the Rings game. It didn't go well, being thrashed by the critics something fierce and not exactly most average gamer's favorite Middle-Earth game either (although it did later get a fan-remaster, so there is that).
  • The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest: And here's one that makes the above entry look good. Basically, EA hadn't really gotten the message that by 2010, the media/cultural bonanza surrounding the Peter Jackson films had finally died down, and so trying to keep milking the franchise with more merchandise would no longer be profitable. The result was an Aragorn solo video game that is easily one of the worst LotR video games to date. There's basically nothing you're getting here you didn't get in The Two Towers and Return of the King games done much better.
  • The Lord of the Rings: War in the North: An action-RPG where you play as three different characters, namely a Dwarf, a Ranger, and a hot Elf waifu voiced by Laura Bailey. Released to mediocre reviews overall.
  • LEGO: The Lord of the Rings and LEGO: The Hobbit: Obligatory LEGO games by Traveler's Tales. You know what this entails. Moving on. (Although in all seriousness, they are some of the better LEGO games made by TT, and definitely far from the worst Middle-Earth games).
  • Guardians of Middle-Earth: A MOBA / team-brawler. Released to capitalize on the then-ongoing Hobbit movie trilogy, you play as a team of either heroes or villains from Middle-Earth (a mix of pre-existing characters and OCs) and engage the other side in team-based battling. Definitely one of the weirder Middle-Earth games, but it does mark the one time where Aragorn's father Arathorn (among others) has shown up in a Middle-Earth video game.
  • Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War: A duo of games that go Grimdark and made many, many lore changes along the way. Depending on who you ask, these are either the best of all Middle-Earth games with a cool protagonist, or "Murderhobo's Misadventures in Mordor" with a tone and protagonist that are anathema to Tolkien's writings. In all honesty, they're very well-made games with terrific gameplay, especially the novel Nemesis System that makes your Uruk enemies unique each playthrough and effectively creates stories with characters who the fiction usually relegates to being nameless fodder (ironically making the Nemesis Characters more interesting than most of the rest of the cast). But as adaptations of Tolkien's works, they ran afoul of many a purist not just for their lore changes, but also the idea that the dark tone and the protagonist's methods run counter to the values of Tolkien that he espoused in the original novels (even though both Talion and Celebrimbor pay heavily for the latter). Among the more significant changes are Minas Ithil falling way later than in canon, Helm Hammerhand and Isildur having become Nazgul, and Shelob being a shapeshifter who's more morally gray than straight-evil (and can also take on a super hot form). And yes, every single one of these got exactly the response you'd expect.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]