Whether it’s through the books, films, or a combination of both, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has captured the imaginations of fans for generations. With director Peter Jackson at the helm, the Lord of the Rings film trilogy began when The Fellowship of the Ring was first released in theaters back in 2001, but the original novel was published nearly half a century before that, in 1954.
Over time, fans have discussed some crazy fan theories, but they have also dissected some little known secrets about the world of Middle-earth. In the past, our team has taken a look at some facts about the series, along with some trivia about beloved characters like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Surprisingly enough, we were able to uncover some darker aspects to the original story that we would like to shed some light upon.
For this list, we’ve rounded up some little known facts about the backstories of certain characters, as well as lesser known information about creating the film adaptations of the books. We also decided to incorporate a solid mix of trivia, including facts about the books, earlier, drafts and the making of the film trilogy.
Here are The Lord Of The Rings' 15 Darkest Secrets And Backstories.
15 Four horses died while filming
The Lord of the Rings films are known for their epic action sequences, and there are plenty of scenes involving horses throughout each movie. While many of the larger battle sequences were created with computer generated imagery, there were other scenes that involved real-life horses.
Four horses died from illnesses during the production of the Lord of the Rings films. There was also at least two horses that were sent to be euthanized. Another was put down after sustaining major injuries after escaping confinement. While filming another scene on location at Mt. Potts, several horses got loose and several were injured. One of the horses sustained a serious injury and was later euthanized as well.
There was also a lawsuit that was filed regarding the mistreatment of horses on set. In the end, the case was thrown out, and one spokeswoman said, “our set was a happy one”.
14 Lawsuits Of The Rings
Although it's been over a decade since The Lord of the Rings hit the silver screen, the film rights to The Lord of the Rings have been mired in controversy for years. The film rights were first sold to United Artists back in 1969, and later acquired by the Saul Zaentz Company in 1976. In 1997, Miramax licensed the film rights and then sold them to New Line a year after in 1998.
Miramax later sued New Line, on the basis that the studio had profited over $20 million from the international box office off of the Lord of the Rings films. The lawsuit was settled, but another suit involving the trust for J.R.R. Tolkien had also started up. Although J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, the trust for Tolkien maintained that a literary rights agreement was signed back in 1969. The agreement included stipulations that the trust was entitled to 7.5 percent of the gross revenue from any film adaptation of Tolkien's novels.
Even director Peter Jackson had a drawn-out lawsuit with New Line over the film’s profits, which finally settled in December 2007.
13 White supremacists claim LOTR as a metaphor for their beliefs
One of the darkest secrets surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the surprising number of white supremacists who cite the Lord of the Rings as a metaphor for their own beliefs. Blogger Hopi Sen notes that Stormfront, a forum for White Nationalists, actually has a separate category solely for the purpose of discussing Lord of the Rings.
Some try to claim the story of LOTR as a parallel to their own personal prejudices. For instance, the fight of the free folk, who are often described as being fair-skinned or white, versus their dark-skinned enemies, the orcs. In a similar thread, a fascist group based out Italy also used the books and films as an example to push their own agenda. Others have criticized the trilogy for being discriminatory and racist.
12 The trilogy was almost squeezed into one movie
In an interview with Indiewire, director Peter Jackson explained that the three epic films in the trilogy almost never even happened. In the beginning, Jackson had initially pitched the idea of creating a single film based on The Hobbit. At the time, Jackson wasn't sure what would happen, given that there was a complicated history with the film rights for the novel.
According to Jackson, Harvey Weinstein had told the filmmakers to squeeze all the LOTR books into one movie. The execs even had another director in mind for the project, John Madden (and Hossein Amini lined up to write the screenplay). Jackson's manager was able to convince them to give Jackson and his wife, Fran, a chance at making the film, and even at that stage, they were considering making just two films.
Jackson and his team were rejected by nearly every studio in Hollywood, and in the end, they met with New Line. Bob Shaye, who was head of New Line at the time, looked at their reels and asked them why they wanted to do two films. Much to their surprise, Shaye asked, "Why would you do two films when there's three books? Why wouldn't you do three films?" and the rest is history.
11 Miramax wanted Éowyn to be Boromir's sister
Earlier, we learned that Peter Jackson's journey to create the Lord of the Rings film adaptations was a quest unto itself. When LOTR was being considered as a pair of films, Miramax had some unusual edits of their own. They sent Jackson a slew of ideas on how the storyline could be condensed, with one of the most jaw-dropping ideas yet— Boromir would make the cut, but Faramir and Éowyn would mesh into one character.
Yeah, you read that right. Apparently, they had envisioned that both characters would be combined into one and ultimately become Boromir's younger sister. Of course, as most fans undoubtedly know already, Faramir is Boromir's brother, and he eventually pairs with Éowyn at the end of Return of the King. Umm, it's safe to say that we're completely relieved that they didn't end up going this route at all!
10 The books were banned for being anti-Christian
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is heralded by many as being a prime example of a literary masterpiece, but believe it or not, these classic books were actually banned multiple times across the world. The American Library Association listed "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien as #40 on their list of banned books. Although the reasons vary, there are a surprising number of people who have protested against the classic tale.
An anti-smoking group based out of Plymouth, England, argued that children shouldn't be allowed to watch movies like Lord of the Rings because they prominently include people smoking. Another major reason that LOTR is often banned is due to people saying that the story is "irreligious." LOTR has even been banned from Christian schools, who fear that the books are anti-Christian and against their faith.
One of the darker incidents includes a group based out of Alamogordo, New Mexico who burned the books outside of Christ Community Church. The group considered the books to be satanic and helping to promote witchcraft.
9 Viggo Mortensen called shooting it “a mess”
With a budget of over 90 million dollars, The Fellowship of the Ring certainly took the world by storm when it was released back on December 19, 2001. It's been well over a decade since, and actor Viggo Mortensen decided to share more about his experience shooting the trilogy. Mortensen had some less than flattering words to share about the filming experience.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Mortensen felt that shooting the trilogy was a "mess". He expressed that the first film was a huge gamble. Luckily enough, the success of the first film paved the way for The Two Towers and The Return of the King to achieve critical acclaim. In the interview, Mortensen also shared that he felt there was too much dependency on CGI in the later films, preferring the more "organic" style found in Fellowship of the Ring.
8 There were some severe injuries during shooting
Accidents and injuries are not uncommon during filming, and a large scale production like The Lord of the Rings was certainly no exception to the rule. When filming The Two Towers, actor Viggo Mortensen actually broke his toes on set. When Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn fall into despair about the loss of Merry and Pippin, Aragorn kicks an Orc’s helmet into the distance and lets out an anguished cry.
Mortensen wasn’t exactly acting— that yell of pain was pretty real, considering that he broke several toes after kicking the helmet. In another scene, Mortensen chipped a tooth, and he even suggested that the broken piece superglued in place so that he could continue filming.
In addition to Mortensen, Legolas actor Orlando Bloom also broke a rib while falling off a horse. John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, broke out with a major allergic reaction to his makeup and prosthetics.
7 Tolkien wrote a "sinister and depressing" LOTR sequel
In 1996, J.R.R. Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien, published The Peoples of Middle Earth, which is the twelfth volume from The History of Middle Earth. Chapter sixteen, entitled "The New Shadow", was comprised of a story set about 100 years after the fall of the Dark Tower from The Return of the King.
"The New Shadow" primarily focuses on the time period of Eldarion, the son of Elessar and Arwen. The story follows Borlas of Pen-arduin, who is the son of Beregond, and a young man called Saelon. Beregond was featured in The Return of the King novel, where he helped Pippin save Faramir from nearly being killed by Denethor. The two discuss the philosophy of human nature, and their conversation ends on an ominous note. In the end, there are some hints at a shadow of evil returning to Middle-Earth.
In the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, he wrote that the story was "sinister and depressing" and it was “not worth doing”.
6 The origin of orcs is still unknown
Throughout the books and the films, the orcs have become a symbol of an evil destructive force. However, it isn’t quite clear how they first came to Middle-earth. Unfortunately, there is no single origin story that explains the mystery of where orcs come from. Instead, there are a few theories proposed by Tolkien in various drafts and letters.
In The Silmarillion, Tolkien initially wrote that evil forces are not able to create, and it doesn't seem that the entities known as the Vala Morgoth could create them independently. However, Tolkien never mentioned anything about any female Orcs having existed. Also in The Silmarillion, it is noted that Orcs "had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar". The mystery continues to unravel, with Tolkien revealing in a letter that, “There must have been orc-women. But in stories that seldom if ever see the Orcs except as soldiers of armies in the service of the evil lords we naturally would not learn much about their lives. Not much was known."
5 An ambush scene from FOTR was destroyed due to an actual flood
While filming The Fellowship of the Ring, director Peter Jackson had to cope with some unexpected surprises. Towards the end of the novel, the fellowship is suddenly ambushed by orcs. Although Jackson wanted to recreate a more action-packed scene for the film, the New Zealand weather interfered.
“We had all kinds of action planned with boats flipping over … and Legolas’ boat afloat as it bucks and tosses, while the Elf—standing with a foot on each of the gunwales—would be firing arrows at the attackers,” Peter Jackson said. There was a serious weather situation in New Zealand that led to intense flooding. Alas, this particular ambush scene wasn’t included in the final cut, but there are still plenty of heart-racing action sequences to be found throughout the trilogy.
4 A Miramax exec wanted to kill a Hobbit
In earlier entries, we already learned that some of the film’s executives had planned on condensing the film into one or two films. Director Peter Jackson fought long and hard in order to achieve his dream of creating three films, but it wasn’t easy. The daunting task even included convincing certain execs not to kill off some of the core characters.
Peter Jackson has said that Bob Weinstein of Miramax felt that one of the Hobbits should have been killed. Jackson told the Times: “‘Well, we can’t have [all of them surviving]. We’ve got to kill a Hobbit! I don’t care which one; you can pick—I’m not telling you who it should be: you pick out who you want to kill, but we’ve really got to kill one of those Hobbits!’ In situations like that, you just nod and smile and say, ‘Well, that’s something we can consider.’”
We’re glad that all of the precious hobbitses survived the final cut!
3 Arwen and Aragorn are cousins
In a similarly disturbing vein, here’s a lesser known fact regarding the backstory behind Aragorn and Arwen’s familial connection. While the films might highlight more of their romance than was explored in the books, the movies certainly leave out an important fact— they were actually cousins.
According to Tolkien Gateway, it is clearly stated that the two were kin, with Arwen being Aragorn’s first cousin approximately sixty-three times removed. One user from Scifi Stack Exchange used a family tree from LOTRProject.com and counted that they could be considered first cousins, either 62 or 72 times removed, depending on which family tree is used.
In the Lord of the Rings film adaptations, actor Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn on screen and actress Liv Tyler brings Arwen to life.
2 LOTR made Gollum and Bilbo's characters darker in The Hobbit
The Hobbit was first published on September 21, 1937, but Tolkien actually made some changes to the novel after completing The Lord of the Rings. For instance, the first edition of The Hobbit featured a very mild mannered Gollum.
After Bilbo and Gollum were exchanging riddles, Gollum had originally guided Bilbo towards the exit. As Tolkien continued to explore possibilities with the nature of the One Ring, Gollum's characterization became much darker. Tolkien changed the situation of Bilbo and Gollum's riddle game and the One Ring by suggesting that Bilbo had fallen under the dark influence of the Ring.
With this new perspective, Tolkien slightly altered the story, by stating that Bilbo was now lying about how he became in possession of the ring, due to the fact that he had fallen under the influence of the One Ring.
1 Inspired by Tolkien's experiencein WWI
For many fans, The Lord of the Rings has been renowned for being a timeless fantasy series, but the novels actually have roots from real life events. Tolkien has cited his firsthand experience during World War I as some of the primary inspiration for creating his world of Middle-earth.
According to National Geographic, J.R.R. Tolkien was profoundly impacted during his time spent on the battlefield during World War I. In 1916, Tolkien encountered machine guns, tanks, and modern warfare while fighting in France. During this time, Tolkien began to write about his experiences, and some of these scenes would later inspire him to create The Lord of the Rings. When he became ill with trench fever, Tolkien began to write about Middle-earth in greater detail.
BBC notes that Tolkien’s grandson has also expressed how J.R.R. Tolkien was so deeply impacted by his experience during WWI, that he channeled some of those harsh experiences into his own personal work.
Do you have any other dark backstories or secrets about The Lord of the Rings to share? Let us know in the comments!