With the unexpected news that Amazon is working with Warner Brothers to turn the Lord of the Rings into a TV series, Tolkien’s fantasy epic is back in the spotlight, but it could be said that the seminal fantasy story never left our collective consciousness. It is one of the best-selling books ever written, with over 150 million copies sold, and it has been made into award-winning adaptations for radio, theater and film.
Although far from the only adaptation, it is undeniable that Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, released across the early 2000s, is the most well-known. With its ground-breaking special effects, sweeping score, and a stellar cast, it was a triumph both for fans and financially. Numerous boardgames and video games have also been inspired by Tolkien's works, including Middle-earth: Shadow of War released earlier this year.
With so many disparate adaptations of Tolkien’s work, it is no wonder some of the original themes and characters have been misrepresented or changed to reflect fresh mediums.
Whether you are thrilled by the idea of a return to Middle-earth or believe that we have already had the definitive version of the influential epic, Amazon has already committed to a multi-season series with potential spin-offs.
To prepare for yet another foray into Middle-earth, here are 15 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Lord Of The Rings.
15 Who is the real hero
Most casual viewers would cite Frodo Baggins as the hero of the Lord of the Rings. He is the ring-bearer; the story opens with his introduction and much of the quest is seen from his point of view.
Yet, there is a case to be made for other characters being the main protagonist. Aragorn is a popular alternative. The story ends with his triumph at the Black Gate and his acceptance of his kingly destiny is a central theme throughout the story. His love for Arwen and finally their joyful union parallels the renewed partnership of Elves and Men, crucial to an understanding of Tolkien’s wider universe.
Tolkien himself may have considered a surprising character as the true hero of the tale. He often wrote in his letters of the importance of the perspective that Samwise Gamgee provided. His sense of duty, “rustic love” and everyday heroism was needed to contrast the loftier themes of quests, sacrifice, and beauty.
Tolkien based Sam’s character on traits that he considered to be the most truly heroic: the ordinary, humble loyalty and courage of the English Soldier, based on his experiences during World War I,
14 Sauron Is the Main Villain
One fact that blows the minds of fans of only the Lord of the Rings movies is that Sauron was not the original evil.
Sauron is indeed the eponymous Lord of the Rings, but was also once a Maia of Aulë the Smith. Sauron was called Mairon, meaning "the admirable", and was a great craftsman. Bear in mind, Saruman and Gandalf are both also Maiar.
Sauron loved order and perfection, which led to his downfall when the original Dark Lord, Morgoth, persuaded him that true order could only come by controlling the minds of the people of Middle-earth.
Morgoth, or Melkor, is the primordial source of evil in Tolkien’s mythology. Originally the most powerful of the Ainur created by Eru Iluvatar, Melkor rebelled against his creator out of pride. He strove to corrupt Eru’s creation and was responsible for many of the worst acts of hate in Tolkien’s history.
Without Melkor, there would have never been Sauron.
13 Elves Are all Blond and Pointy-Eared
Fantasy has a very set image of the Elf. Everyone knows that Elves are the fairest creature in Middle-earth, tall and slender, with pointy ears and golden hair. Of course, this is actually not necessarily true.
It might ruin some people’s world view to know that there are no explicit references to pointy-eared Elves in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. It is only in Tolkien’s wider writing that it is stated that Elven ears are more pointed and leaf-shaped than Human.
With regards to hair color, there is more than one type of Elf and so they are not all blond. Galadriel is famous for possessing beautiful silvery golden hair. The Vanyar shared a similar blond appearance, while the Noldor, Sindar, and Avari had dark brown or even black hair. The Teleri and some of the royal houses of the Sindar had a distinct silver hair color.
Even more unsettling is the fact that Tolkien does not describe Legolas’ hair color. His father, Thranduil, had golden hair and so Legolas is assumed to possess that as well. Who knows what to believe anymore?
12 There are Three Films Because There are Three Books
It is difficult to imagine that The Lord of the Rings could ever have become anything other than a glorious movie trilogy.
Initially, Peter Jackson pitched two movies to Miramax but when they asked him to condense this into one and miss out some crucial sequences to save money, he took his ideas to New Line Cinema. Luckily for Jackson, and even more luckily for us, New Line Cinema jumped on the idea and pushed Jackson toward making three movies.
It may come as a surprise to some that the proposal had nothing to do with the number of novels. New Line did not care about how many books there were. Instead, the studio recognized the potential in Jackson’s ambitious plan and began visualizing the dollar signs.
In actual fact, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is really one novel, divided into three volumes for economic reasons. Then the novel is divided internally into six books, two per volume.
Regardless of motive, we are eternally grateful to Jackson and New Line for changing fantasy film-making forever.
11 Hobbits Have Over-sized Feet
Hobbits are the unsung heroes of the Lord of the Rings. Everyone knows that they are happy-go-lucky creatures, with a penchant for second-breakfast. and large, hairy feet. Or do they?
In actual fact, Tolkien never said they had unusually large feet. He described their feet as unusually hairy, and hardy due to not wearing shoes - not over-sized.
Although this is something Tolkien wrote as a distinctive trait of the Proudfoot Hobbit clan, it is not actually something the author specified for all Hobbits.
The prevalence of this trait is more likely influenced by the illustrations of the Brothers Hildebrandt and the large prosthetic feet used in the films by Peter Jackson. Hobbit feet are hairy, but not necessarily "big."
10 Difference Between Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-Hai
In essence, Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-Hai are actually the same race.
Peter Jackson distinguishes between the three far more than Tolkien did. In the movies, the creatures are obviously different. Orcs are smaller, bow-legged, and ugly, while the Uruk-Hai are taller, stronger, and more human in appearance, although horribly twisted. The Goblins, seen in Moria, appear smaller and more athletic. In actual fact, Tolkien simply used the word "goblin" in the Hobbit and "orc" in the Lord of the Rings to refer to the same creature.
Either way, Orcs/Goblins were the foot soldiers of Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman. Morgoth bred them in mockery of the Elves and some interpreted that as meaning he bred them from Elves, but this is not explicitly stated.
The Uruk-Hai were bred in the Third Age and so distinguished from earlier orcs. They were stronger, faster, and able to spend more time in sunlight. Again, it was heavily implied that the Dark Lord might have been breeding Orcs with Men to create bigger, badder creatures, but this is not necessarily a fact.
In Tolkien’s work, the three are supposed to be the same twisted, cruel race, not separate, as many viewers believe.
9 Eowyn killed the Witch-King alone
One of the most memorable moments in the trilogy is the death of the Witch-King of Angmar.
It was thought that the Witch-King could not be killed. A prophecy of Glorfindel foresaw that the Black Captain would not be killed by the hand of Man and, fittingly, the killing blow came from Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan.
However, many mistakenly ignore the input of Merry in the villain’s demise. As the Witch-King prepares to kill Éowyn, Merry stabs him in the leg with the blade of Westernesse – a leaf-shaped blade he was given by Tom Bombadil. This dagger broke the spell holding the Witch-King together and opened him up to the killing blow from Éowyn.
This is not to diminish Éowyn’s epic confrontation. Éowyn already killed the Witch-King’s fell beast and stood up to the creature as he threatened her with a fate worse than death.
Éowyn did not kill the Witch-King simply because she was not a man. She and Merry stood up to one of the foulest creatures in Middle-earth and won because they were both far more heroic than people gave them credit for.
8 Sauron Forged All the Rings of Power
The most common mistaken assumption from the Lord of the Rings is that Sauron forged all the Rings of Power.
The Rings of Power were twenty magic rings intended by Sauron to seduce the rulers of Middle-earth to evil. However, Sauron only forged the One Ring. Nineteen of the rings were made by Celebrimbor, and the Elven-smiths of Eregion.
Sauron may not have made them but he taught Celebrimbor the secrets of crafting them, making him the insidious strategist behind using the Rings to corrupt and control the rulers of Middle Earth.
Yet, three Rings, the Three Rings of the Elves, were never touched by Sauron and created by Celebrimbor in secret. Their purpose was to preserve the beautiful Elven domains, to aid in healing and to resist evil. The Three Rings are Narya, Ring of Fire, held by Gandalf; Nenya, Ring of Adamant, held by Galadriel; and Vilya, Ring of Air, held by Elrond.
However, all the Rings of Power are linked to the One Ring and are what sets in motion the events of the Lord of the Rings.
7 Grey Havens vs The Undying Lands
Something many people misinterpret is the difference between the Grey Havens and the Undying Lands. Both locations are references by the Elves and other characters in the story as havens of the Elves but one is considerably more impressive.
The Undying Lands are the vast continent of Aman, in the far West of Arda. This is the land of the immortal Valar, Maiar and Eldar. After the Change of the World, the Undying Lands were taken to a place beyond the mortal sphere. It can only be reached by sailing in the magical white ships of the Elves and it is here that the Elves and a special few will live in paradise.
The Grey Havens are a harbor, which acts as the last haven of Elves on Middle-earth. When the story references that characters are travelling to the Grey Havens, this is usually so they can then travel to the Undying Lands, which is where the confusion occurs.
6 The Nazgûl Are Blind
With their eerie hooded faces, distinct screeching cries and fell-beast mounts, the Nazgûl are terrifying servants of the Dark Lord Sauron.
Based on a misunderstanding of the phrase “blinded by their greed”, some assume the Nazgûl are literally blind. This is not helped by the creatures’ strange method of searching for the Hobbits throughout the movies, especially seen when the Hobbits hide beneath roots on the road.
It is true that the Nazgûl are able to smell more clearly than they can hear or see, but according to Aragorn, Nazgûl do not see the world of light as normal people do. After their corruption by the Rings, they faded to exist in a dark world with ghostly images. They do see but it is as if they see the shadows you cast, rather than the real you.
Though it sounds unpleasant, but it does not seem to slow the chilling hunters down.
5 Balrogs Have Horns And Wings
One of the most hotly contested aspects of Tolkien’s legendarium is the Balrog.
Peter Jackson depicted the creature with horns and wings, covered in lava-like crust and billowing fire. Undeniably, the monster is impressive but some have labelled it inaccurate. Tolkien’s description of the Balrog is actually a bit vague. It was a figure surrounded by smokey shadow, with a fiery whip of many thongs and a red flaming sword. He references it surrounded by a shadow that “reached out like two vast wings” which has led to some objecting to Jackson giving it actual wings.
Tolkien continued to describe the Balrog’s wings and the audience is divided as to whether this was an extended metaphor or a literal description.
The Balrog certainly was not described as horned, but Jackson gave it an impressive horned head. What counts is that it did look like a creature of nightmares, even if it's not 100% book accurate.
4 Hobbits are Stupid and Fat
Gollum famously calls Samwise Gamgee a “Stupid, fat Hobbit.”
Throughout the movies, the Hobbits do some arguably foolish things – Pippin looks into the Palantíri alerting Sauron, and Merry throws a rock on the journey to Moria awakening the watcher in the water. There is a sense at times that Hobbits are not that bright. The Hobbits left in Hobbiton are seen as purely sedentary.
Our five heroes who leave the Shire, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, are often thought of as unique in their ability and action. In actuality, Hobbits are not meant to be necessarily foolish or slow. Tolkien's Hobbits have much more of a handle on what is going on than they do in the movies.
After the War of the Ring, Merry writes an academic thesis, Old Words and Names in the Shire, Sam becomes Mayor, and Pippin is a respected Guard of the Citadel and Knight of Gondor. The other Hobbits are also far from useless when they rise up to fight beside the heroes during the Scourging of the Shire.
3 Peter Jackson Made the First Movie Adaptation
Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy is one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken, 8 years in the making, with over a $280 million budget. It took home 17 Academy Awards out of 30 nominations. Its innovative special and visual effects garnered praise and it was a major financial success.
A lot of people consider it the definitive cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s masterpiece but some erroneously think it is the first or only movie adaptation.
In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed an animated version of the Lord of the Rings. It covered the Fellowship of the Ring and the first half of the Two Towers. Although critical response was mixed, it was far from a financial failure. With the voice talents of William Squire, John Hurt, and Anthony Daniels, it became a cult classic. Sadly, a sequel was never made by Bakshi.
Instead, in 1979, Rankin and Bass, who made the Hobbit animated movie, made The Return of the King: A Story of the Hobbits. Unfortunately, response to this was less positive. It lacked the stylistic freshness of Bakshi’s work.
2 Gimli, Frodo, and Bilbo Live Forever
As ring-bearers, Frodo and Bilbo (and eventually Samwise) are given the honor of travelling from the Grey Havens to the Undying Lands. Gimli, Elf-Friend and "servant" of Galadriel, is also endowed with this rare chance.
Based on the name, many then believed that these lucky members of the fellowship will live forever in the blessed land. However, the Undying Lands are the home of immortal creatures, rather than a land which makes you immortal. Only immortal beings are allowed to live there but these immortals do not have the power or right to confer immortality.
The right to live in the Undying Lands given to the Fellowship is to recognize the suffering they experienced and reward them with paradise for a brief time. Eventually, they will peacefully pass away and no one, even the Elves, knows what happens to them after that.
1 There’s A True Canon
It is almost impossible to speak of a "true" Tolkien Legendarium.
As so much was published after Tolkien’s death or edited by his son Christopher, it is difficult to even recognize what texts are canon and which are not.
Tolkien worked on Middle-earth over the course of decades, making considerable changes, updating character backstories, and expanding the universe extensively. His smaller details and hints are often contradictory, especially in the work published posthumously.
With character as old as Galadriel for example, her backstory has been subtly changed. However, this makes a certain amount of sense for a character who has existed since before the First Age.
The author even intentionally left some gaps in his works. Concerning the truth of Tom Bombadil, he wrote that "even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)."
In many ways, these layers of truth and confusion do add to the mythology and make a living, breathing world that it is easy to get lost in.
What other common misconceptions are there about Lord of the Rings? Let us know in the comments!
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