The modern, gritty, and grounded approach of recent takes on the fantasy genre such as Game of Thrones might make Tolkien's familiar setting of Middle-Earth seem quaint and peaceable by way of comparison. And taken purely at face value, that opinion almost seems merited. However, one doesn't need to delve too deep into Middle-Earth's lore and history in order to find it woefully inaccurate.
In fact, the grand stage upon which The Lord of the Rings took place has seen more than its fair share of calamity, catastrophe, and perhaps most of all, war. Beyond even the well known War of the Ring, the various peoples of Middle-Earth were already well acquainted with tragedy. To illustrate, here are ten of the most brutal and tragic happenings to have ever occurred in Tolkien's world of elves, wizards, dwarves, and men.
10 War Of The Dwarves & Dragons
It shouldn't take much in the way of imagination to get the gist of the aptly titled conflict. Preceding the events of The Hobbit by roughly two hundred years, the War of the Dwarves and Dragons was a conflict that spanned twenty years, during which the dragons sought to drive the dwarves from the Grey Mountains and plunder their amassed treasure.
Things did not end well for the dwarves. With the dragons raiding their strongholds and slaying their king, the dwarves were forced to abandon the Grey Mountains, with most of them settling in Erebor or the Iron Hills.
9 Fall Of Khazad-Dûm
Khazad-dûm, or Moria as it would become known, was once a prosperous dwarven city, famed for the remarkably rich veins of mithril that lay beneath it. As dwarves are known to do, they mined, mined again, and mined some more in pursuit of the precious ore, the city's wealth and influence magnifying as they did so over the ages.
However, they would eventually plunge too deep into the mines, and by doing so awakened an ancient evil. A Balrog emerged from the depths, spilling no shortage of dwarven blood - including that of King Dain VI. The dwarves would flee their great city the following year, and Moria would become renowned as a place of darkness and evil.
8 The Great Plague
The Great Plague was a calamitous illness that swept across the realms of Middle-Earth, originating somewhere beyond Mordor. By the year 1636 of the Third Age, it would reach Osgiliath. Few kingdoms would find themselves beyond its touch as it rapidly continued to spread over them.
Serfs, soldiers, and nobles alike would succumb to the illness. Even the Shire would find its relative peace disrupted by it. The people of Gondor seemed to have felt the worst of it, with cities fled and fortresses abandoned as it wreaked havoc upon its population.
7 The Kinslayings
The Kinslayings were a series of three incredibly brutal civil conflicts fought among the elves preceding Middle-Earth's first age, initially perpetuated by the overly prideful smith of the valuable Silmarils, Fëanor.
The First Kinslaying took place after Melkor (who would later become Morgoth, a being of greater evil than even Sauron) murdered Fëanor's father and stole away his prized Silmarils. Enraged, Fëanor would marshal an army to pursue Melkor, against the wishes of the godly Valar. The seafaring Teleri would refuse to provide him with ships, not wishing to upset the Valar, and he would thus attack them, resulting in the First Kinslaying and setting the stage for two more to follow.
6 King Eärnur Answers The Witch King's Challenge
Eärnur was the last king of Gondor. As a prince, he served as the Captain of Gondor during the Angmar War and led the Host of the West to victory against the Witch-king. However, the Witch-king had insulted his honor before fleeing, and Eärnur was definitely the type of guy to carry a grudge.
Many years later, he ascended to the throne to succeed his father, after which the Witch-king would repeatedly taunt and challenge him from Mordor. His loathing of the Witch-king would win out, and he would foolishly accept, riding out and never being heard from again. It is unknown what became of him, but given the reputation of the Nazgul, his fate being left to the imagination is certainly for the worse.
5 Battle Of The Five Armies
The Battle of the Five armies is a titanic clash that even casual fans of Middle-Earth should be familiar with, as it is the epic battle fought during the climax of The Hobbit. Its title refers to the array of forces that partook in it: the men of Dale, the elves, and the dwarves, set against the opposing orcs and wargs.
Though the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth emerged victorious, it was a bloody and savage battle that claimed many lives. Not least among these was the life of Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarven King Under the Mountain, who succumbed to his wounds the following day.
4 The Scouring Of The Shire
The Scouring began when Lotho Sackville-Baggins, made ludicrously wealthy by way of selling pipe weed to Saruman, began buying out large swathes of the Shire and industrializing it. Eventually, Saruman would take his place, and begin effectively ruling the Shire with an iron fist.
Both the Shire and its people would suffer greatly for this, much to the dismay of the returning host of hobbit heroes. Though they would successfully raise the Shire in rebellion, giving Saruman and his lackeys the boot, the idea that Saruman's evil could reach so far into a peacefully distant and idyllic realm is a little harrowing.
3 Disaster Of The Gladden Fields
The Disaster of the Gladden Fields is effectively a prelude to much greater disaster, as it was an event that was instrumental in setting the stage for the War of the Ring. Having successfully defeated Sauron during the War of the Last Alliance and laid claim to the one ring, Isildur marched home with a small host, but was waylaid by an orc ambush.
The orc army was many times the size of Isildur's host, and would overwhelm them by way of attrition. Fought down to the last, Isildur desperately donned the one ring and sought to elude capture, but the ring would slip from his hand as he swam across the river. As he emerged, orc snipers would slay him with poisoned arrows, and the One Ring would be lost to time until a chance encounter with a certain hobbit.
2 War Of The Dwarves & Orcs
During the Third Age, the elderly dwarven king Thrór journeyed to Moria, seeking to take up residence as its true heir. However, its new inhabitants took less than kindly to his trespass. In one of the most brutal displays in Middle-Earth's history, the goblin-king Azog beheaded and mutilated Thrór, proceeding to hack his body into pieces to use as raven feed.
Not a race to particularly tolerate insult and injustice, the dwarves would rally their kin and engage in a long, bloody conflict against the orcs. Though they would see victory as well as Azog's head impaled on a spike, it was a pyrrhic victory at best for the dwarves, having suffered immense losses in its bitter and pitiless fighting.
1 Nienor/Niniel's Entire Life
The tale of Túrin Turambar, a tragic hero of Middle-Earth's First Age that sees many parallels with the mythical figure of Oedipus, is one of immense sorrow. But while the hero's own life might have been remarkably grief-stricken, the life of his sister was bleaker still.
Nienor was put into a state of amnesia by the magical machinations of an evil dragon while attempting to locate her brother, Túrin. He eventually found her, but as neither of the two recalled her identity, they fell in love, married, and she bore his child. When Túrin slew the dragon, it undid the curse laid upon Nienor. Soon realizing she'd married her brother, she threw herself from a cliff.