Concerning Hobbits: How the Smallfolk Saved Middle Earth

By Thomas Adams

Warning: If you have not seen the rest of the Lord of the Rings series and do not want it spoiled, do not read this post.
After watching the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I was inspired to finish the rest of the series (again, for like the 5th time). So I went on to watch the extended edition of The Two Towers and The Return of the King. This time, instead of watching for pure entertainment, I was watching to learn – about the world, character development, the motivations of peoples, and many other things. Near the end of The Return of the King, the four hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) start to bow to Aragorn, the new King of Gondor. However, Aragorn stops them and says, “My friends, you bow to no one” and bows before them. The rest of the people around follow suit.

I don’t think it can be understated how true Aragorn’s statement is and how important the hobbits were in saving Middle Earth. Let’s look at each one individually.

Merry

At the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Merry is capture by Uruk-hai, along with Pippin. When the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting with one another, the two escape into Fangorn Forest where they meet up with Treebeard, a tree-herder. Once Merry learns of this new race of trees, he tries to get Treebeard and his ent company to fight against Sauron and Saruman. Eventually, the council of trees decides that this is not their fight to fight. When he begins taking Merry and Pippin back home to the Shire, Merry convinces Treebeard to take the south route, which goes right past Isengard. Merry says this would make the most sense, since Saruman would least expect it and Treebeard obliges. As they continue on the path, Treebeard comes to an opening in the should-be forest. He realizes that his tree friends have to cut and burned down to fuel the fires of Isengard. Unsurprisingly, this angers him greatly, and Treebeard calls upon his tree friends to fight Isengard. The destroy a dam, flood Isengard, and win the battle to take control of Isengard. Merry’s part in the story here cannot be understated. He single-handedly convinced tree beard to take the route that would lead him to see the destroyed forest and make Treebeard realize that this was their fight. If Merry had not convinced Treebeard to turn around, Isengard would have been left unscathed and many of the following events would have never occurred and the rings may never had been destoryed.

Pippin

in The Return of the King, Pippin accompanies Gandalf to Minas Tirith to convince the Steward of Gondor to ready his armies for battle and call to Rohan for aid. This battle would be the last battle to determine the survival of Men in Middle Earth. After a conversation with the very stubborn steward of Gondor, Gandalf is unable to convince him to light the Beacons of Gondor, which would signal to Rohan that Gondor calls for military aid. Gandalf has another plan. Using Pippin’s size to their advantage, Gandalf instructs Pippin to climb the beacon’s spire and light the flame himself. Pippin is able to do this successfully and alert Rohan to their need for help. Eventually, the message reaches Rohan and they ride out for battle. If Pippin did not accompany Gandalf to Minas Tirith (the reason for which is another story in itself) and if Pippin was not able to successfully light the beacon unseen, Rohan would have never made it to the battle for Minas Tirith, and the Realm of Men would surely have fallen.

Sam

There’s so much that can be said about Sam that it is really difficult to focus on one particular instance that had the most influence. But after watching the Return of the King, there is definitely one that comes to mind. After Sam is banished from the quest by Frodo (for supposedly eating all the lembas bread and wanting the ring for himself), Frodo and Smeagle venture into the Spider’s tunnels. Smeagle did this so the Spider would eat Frodo, and Smeagle could then take the ring for himself. As Sam is venturing back down the Stairs, he sees the lembas bread remains that Smeagle threw over the edge. This was the turning point for Sam, as he knew Smeagle had ulterior motives and would end up killing Frodo for the ring. Sam starts back up the Stairs to save Frodo. Sam gets there just in time to stop the Spider from eating Frodo (who is paralyzed at this point). He battles with the spider and eventually wins, defending Frodo for the time being. Unfortunately, some Orc come near, Sam hides, and they take Frodo’s body to their nearby tower and Sam follows. Once again, the Uruk-hai and Orc begin fighting among each other. Sam takes this opportunity to head up the tower and defeat a few foes before getting to Frodo just in time. Had Sam not gone back to help Frodo, and successfully fought off the Spider and Orc, Frodo would have never made it out alive and the ring would have not been destroyed – and worse, would have probably fallen right into the hands of the Enemy.

Frodo

Since Frodo’s main purpose is to carry the ring and destroy it, it would make sense that this is his most important task. Frodo did not have as many “breakout” moments as the other hobbits in the movie. On the contrary, he slowly just became more and more corrupted by the ring and eventually tried to take the ring for himself while standing at the edge of the fires of Mt. Doom. However, against all odds and with the help of a few friends, Frodo was able to get the ring to Mordor and get the ring destroyed, ending the battle against Sauron and his forces – solidifying the victory for Man. Frodo was never suppose to make it to Mordor alive, much less actually destroy the ring, but he did it. And that’s the most important thing that could have been done.

When the Men of Gondor bow to the four hobbits at the end of the Return of the King, it is very much deserved. Their actions throughout the story single-handedly turned the tides of battle back into their favor and eventually ended the war. Had they not been successful with their respective tasks, Middle Earth would have surely been taken over by Sauron and his evil forces. Of course, many other characters had influence on the outcome of Middle Earth, but it is most certainly true that the smallest persons had the largest impact.

“Bring him down to our level” – A Look at the Dark Knight

While the Fellowship of the Ring has an excellent way of telling a story, it is not the only way. To enlighten myself on an alternative to the romance circle, I chose a movie that I felt would be very different from the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, and compare them for reference. The result: after I re-watched Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight, is strangely informative and satisfying.

The Fellowship is, as we went over in class, a “romance circle” model, one in which the hero must leave childhood behind, dedicate herself to the quest, go into the underworld, brave herself against the dangers of hell, and rise a more prepared champion. Interestingly, Batman Begins, the prequel of the Dark Knight, follows a very similar model, but that’s another topic. On the other hand, the Dark Knight is a very different construction, from the general model of narrative, to the techniques used to build that narrative.

The Fellowship focuses on the story of, well, the Fellowship. Their story is the all-important, age-ending, battle-starting quest that will change the face of Middle Earth forever. Nothing else is more important, even the epic quests in Lord of the Rings Online. In the Dark Knight, Batman has already understood what he must sacrifice to become the “hero Gotham needs.” Furthermore, there is a huge monkey wrench in everyone’s plans: the Joker, who simply want to prove that order is meaningless, and plans to install order, no matter for or by whom, are pathetic. These premise sets up a narrative that is beyond the Batman himself, one in which the actions of Joker, the crime mobs, the mayor, Jim Gordon, and many other side characters are just as important. In a way, this makes the very city of Gotham and its 30 million inhabitants another character in the movie as well.

To construct a narrative with this kind of “connectedness” in a medium in which the audience has only a fixed view (the screen), it seems the movie actually drew the attention away from Batman, the supposed protagonist. The movie often uses a panoramic or bird’s eye view to show the larger surrounding, before drawing closer or cutting to a specific character. This enlarging of view point constructs a more web-like narrative, rather than a much more chronological one like the Fellowship. In the Dark Knight, the scene will often cut to events in different locations, happening to different characters, but often implied to occur at the same, while the Fellowship largely restricts this kind of “changing places” to flashbacks.

There are so much more that I can discuss in the Dark Knight and the Fellowship of the Ring, because of how well done these two movies are. Nonetheless, there is a dramatic difference between them in how each movie choose to tell their own narratives, which are also built very differently. The Fellowship has a more linear style because of the immense importance of the quest to reach Mordor, while the Dark Knight is what happens when a guardian who refuses to abandon his morals meets a psychotic hellbent on corrupting him.

-SyC

To War – Reflections on Lord of the Rings Online

What would Tolkien have said about LOTRO? I wish we can know. Because this is one heck of a way to explore the rich mythology Tolkien has created.

In the familiar trilogy, the story is mainly focused on the Fellowship of the Ring and its adventures during the War of the Ring. However, given that there is a full-scale war going on, what happened everywhere else? Did the elves, humans, and dwarves  just sat around and waited for Gandalf and Aragorn until the few momentous battles occur at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith? LOTRO seeks to fill this gap, and I think it did a very good job of it, so far.

I have played LOTRO  briefly once before, but for some reason I found the narrative so much more engaging this time around. The story line of the epic quests provided a nice view of the beginning of the War from a fresh perspective, of forces from both sides working to gain more advantage (aside from fighting for that one magic bullet, that is) for the looming War. These forces included many elven guardians, dwarf champions, human vagabounds, unlikely hobbit warriors, Southern raiders, local scoundrels, ring-wraiths and many more. These narrative made Middle-Earth so much more lively and colorful, providing details I have never imagined in, for example, Bree before. It is also nice to see characters, places, and events mentioned in the original material and see many characters come to life and fleshed out. I felt a pang of excitement and urgency while helping Aragorn in ensuring the safety of Bilbo and company, could not help but feel alone and confused trekking the Old Forest, and stood in mild confusion talking to Tom Bombadil.

Aside from the narrative perspective, playing LOTRO has been a fairly standard MMORPG, where target selection is done by clicking the mouse, and extra abilities are with pressing progressively large numbers of buttons. While this in itself is not a huge problem, it does show that Turbine (LOTRO’s maker) did not try very hard in pushing the envelope or challenging RPG conventions (many of which are set by another MMORPG, World of Warcraft). Granted LOTRO was created in 2007, fairly early in the history of MMO games, Turbine could have made more effort in designing a better tutorial, for instance.

All in all, I feel LOTRO is a great MMO game, despite certain shortcomings. It has great narrative, amazing world-building, and serves as a great exploration of the original material. While the gameplay itself is not very innovative, it plays smoothly and is, most importantly, fun. I believe I will continue to play LOTRO and slowly make my way through the epic quest line, if only to see what happens to Skorgrim, push towards Angmar, take on a Balrog, and even participate in Helm’s Deep (soon-to-be-released).

-SyC

LOTRO: The Struggle is Real

Lord of the Rings Online has definitely been a new experience for me to say the least.  I have never played a game like it before.  The virtual world is so interesting and complex!  It has definitely taken me a while to feel at ease within it (though that may just be because I am directionally challenged in reality let alone navigating a completely foreign fictional world).  However, I think I am finally starting to get the hang of it.  I have been stuck on one quest for three days now (The Wrath of the Elves) and have therefore become very familiar with the Ered Luin area.  Its not that the quests are difficult to understand, its just hard when you aren’t familiar with the layout of the world yet.  Many times I have had to exit the game and google where something was in order to move forward in that quest.  Also, the controls are very confusing.  When in battle, I have no idea what I am doing.  Half the time I am literally just hitting random keys. However, most of the time the quests are really fun and straight forward.  I like having a narrative to follow in the game.  It gives me a sense of purpose.  My most frustrating times so far have been when I am simply roaming around aimlessly without a quest to follow.

Aside from my incompetence with slaying goblins, the game is surprisingly really fun!  I love reading the book and finding the places I read about in the game.  For instance, I loved the Prancing Pony assignment because I had just read that part in the book.  It was cool to explore the famous inn for all of its other qualities that aren’t expressed in the novel, in a way bringing the Prancing Pony to life.

Overall, the game has been a really cool and interesting experience yet very frustrating at times, the struggle is real.

-Emily Blake

Echoes, Quests, and Neekerbreeker Nests

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” Among those quotes that send shivers trailing down my spine, few have had as lasting an impact as these words, spoken by the wizard Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The same lines, barely altered, appear in the wildly successful film adaptation of the novel. The raw power and beauty of Gandalf’s speech seem an inseparable part of the Lord of the Rings experience, yet not all storytelling mediums are equal where emotional attachment is concerned.

In the gaming world of Lord of the Rings Online, though the creators gave a valiant attempt at staying faithful to the book, an observant player realizes quickly that some things simply cannot transfer from page to computer screen. This fact is seen clearly in the Midgewater Marshes, a key stop in both Frodo’s quest and the player’s. While the consistent presence of physical action in the game’s rendition of the marshes engages the player’s thirst for adventure, both the novel and the film provide the audience with an enduring emotional connection, stemming from a persistent atmosphere of loneliness, a setting which highlights the plight of travelers in the marshes, and the use of central characters filled with a haunting fear of the unknown. While the memories of virtual victories eventually grow faint, the passions excited by novels and films grab hold of the audience and refuse to let go, ensuring that the magic of the stories, as well as the lessons they teach, will never fade with the passage of time.

In the game, the first item that the player notices is the convenient map residing in the top right-hand corner of the computer screen. Whenever the player doubts his sense of direction in an area akin to the Midgewater Marshes, he can simply look to the map and follow an unambiguous little arrow towards his quest’s goal. If moused over, it will even reveal how far away the goal lies. The dense fog becomes all but irrelevant, for the player’s eyes watch the arrow, not the ground before his feet.

In contrast, the novel depicts Frodo and his companions slogging through the marshy waters alone and arrowless, forever wondering where and when their dangerous travels will come to an end.  How can a gamer develop a sense of Frodo’s terror when the player can never be lost? One is never truly alone, for one can always turn to the handy arrow and make off swiftly towards home. This lack of fear and loneliness prevents the player from truly appreciating how it feels to wander the spider-infested marshes alone, despite the fact that his avatar traverses those same bogs. The action is the same, yet the feeling is vastly different. The game is forever leading you gently by the hand, while the novel and its cinematic counterpart drag you blindfolded into the gloom of the unknown.

If it is clear that the game’s helpful features bar it from evoking raw emotion, how then does the novel differ? The secret lies within Tolkien’s ability to not only relay the action, as the game does, but to relay the setting, the atmosphere, and the characters’ endless interpretations of the two. As the hobbits struggle to follow Aragorn through the bug-infested marshes, Tolkien provides the reader with a glimpse of their agony by commenting that “the hobbits [are] nearly frantic” as they hear the eerie cries of the swamp beasts, the Neekerbreekers. He describes their exceedingly unpleasant night, a sleepless one thanks to these unseen, yet not unheard monsters. This fear of the unknown permeates the Midgewater section of the novel, giving the reader a taste of how it feels to be alone and hunted in such a dismal place.

Here one discovers the true difference between the player’s avatar and the hobbits of the book. In the game, you play the part of a hero, a hunter. You blaze a trail through the marshes, destroying hordes of Neekerbreekers and taking trophies from the fallen beasts. You fear nothing, and why would you? Forever helpful, the game supplies a detailed analysis of your opponents’ strengths, even color coding them based on the probable victor of a theoretical battle.

In the novel, the likelihood of success versus defeat is not so clear. There, Frodo and his companions are not the hunters, but the cornered prey. They struggle to travel through the shadows, desperate to avoid the eyes of the Black Riders and their power-hungry master. No helpful floating names identify the whereabouts of their enemies; no color coded rings attempt to gauge their power. Thus, the reader experiences the terror of the hunted in a way that the player cannot hope to comprehend, for one medium provides an intricate world of fear and uncertainty, while the other merely depicts the action, like a rough pencil sketch devoid of color.

Like its written companion, the film is also able to draw out emotions in its audience that are beyond the scope of the online universe. While briefly touching on the fear of the hobbits, the cinematic version of the marsh scene elects to focus on the guide, Aragorn, and the pain he feels for a love left behind.  As the hobbits attempt to sleep amidst the cries of nighttime animals, the ranger softly sings the tale of an elf maiden who fell in love with a mortal, letting his voice carry through the lonely darkness of the swamp. Though his young charges do not know it, the haunting song, which ends in the maiden’s death, reflects Aragorn’s own love for the elf Arwen, as well as his fear that their love will destroy her.

Enhanced by the gloom of the surrounding marshes, the mixture of heartbreak and longing exuded by Aragorn grows to fill the audience, as well, and thus the pain of a single man becomes the pain of an entire crowd. This miracle of empathy simply cannot exist in the game world, where both written and visible emotions are brushed aside by the importance of the central adventure. Amidst the endless stream of quests to be fulfilled, the player cannot waste precious time on a woeful tale of lost love, nor a quiet song in the nighttime of the marsh. Though the powerful scene fits perfectly into the fabric of the movie, filling its viewers with both love and despair, it has no place in the realm of gaming, where emotions are a frivolity distracting from a player’s ultimate goal.

Though computer games currently lack the potential for emotional investment, this by no means suggests that the Lord of the Rings game is irrelevant to Tolkien’s fantasy world. Rather, the game was simply not engineered for the same purposes as its written and filmed counterparts. Whereas these forms of storytelling reach one’s imagination by means of the heart, the game is meant to feed on a player’s desire for adventure, entrancing one’s mind with events that are visually rather than emotionally stimulating. The online universe calls to those who desire battles and balrogs, not subtlety and suspense. The very reason the game cannot compare to the novel or film is the reason why it succeeds brilliantly in fulfilling its own purpose: to entertain, engage, and challenge its players.

While one may lament for marshes drained of their mystery or beautifully written characters depicted as static NPCs, you cannot deny that the game achieves the goal for which it was created. It brings the player into Tolkien’s world and weaves him into the story, filling him with excitement, anticipation, and a thirst for what lies ahead. Where the game falls short, where plot becomes side note and battle becomes routine, the novel and film are there to pick up the slack, adding life and color to supplement the game’s limited storytelling abilities. If the game were an outline, written in dull greys and blacks, the others would be vibrant dyes; whereas the game alone would be a poor excuse for the real story, the mixture of all three creates a tale that is beautiful to behold.

In the end, though, why does any of it matter? Whether boxed, leather-bound, or projected on a screen, are they all not just different forms of entertainment? Not quite. Though games, books, and movies all have a component of pleasure, the latter two occasionally provide a more permanent benefit. Of course, the flash of swords and the cry of an angry cave troll, whether heard or imagined, will always bring excitement. Without the thrills, who would pay for the ticket or purchase the book? Yet every once in a while, a novel or film comes along, and it does not just amuse—it teaches.

Like the words of Gandalf resonating in the reader’s mind, or Aragorn’s soft voice echoing in the darkness of the theater, the story begins to take on a life of its own, entrancing the audience with joy and fear, love and hatred. Aragorn’s pain becomes the pain of all who have ever loved; Frodo’s fear belongs to any who have ever felt afraid. When Frodo laments over his bad fortune, wishing that evil had never touched his doorstep, Gandalf’s famous next words are spoken not only to him, but to us: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Suddenly, the story is real, and the battle is our own. We feel Gandalf’s words in our very bones, and they return to us, lovingly, whenever we feel despair looming near. While the crashing excitement of adventure must always fade into silence, the softer passions of the novel remain attached to the heart like a living organism, a symbiotic being that retains life while we do the same. And long after the last pages have been turned, Tolkien’s words remain, echoing like a song in the night, growing soft, but never quite fading away.

 

–The Humblebug