Five Things You Should Know About Lord of the Rings If You Only Saw The Films

I’m in the process of writing something personal about The Lord of the Rings, but it’s a bit of a melancholy tale, so I wanted to get this out of the way first. In an homage to (read: absolutely shameless straight theft of) the style of Cracked, I present to you: “Five Things You Should Know About Lord of the Rings If You Only Saw The Films”.

I’ve never really liked The Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson said he couldn’t make Lord of the Rings into a film, but he could make a pretty cool film that bore some resemblance to the original text, and I think that’s a fair statement, except for the ‘pretty cool’ part. The whole time I was watching them, all I could think about was how much everyone who’d never read the books was missing. And I’m not talking about Tom Bombadil or thousands of songs that go on for pages and pages, I’m talking about all those details and historical anecdotes that make the experience rich and satisfying. Things like:

Aragorn and Arwen are Related

No great tale or Hollywood movie is complete without a fantastical romance, and Lord of the Rings is no exception. Love stories are scarce, barring that of Aragorn and Arwen – the mortal man and the immortal elf. What the movies don’t tell you is that they are, in fact, related. Of course, they’re separated by thousands of years, but it’s an interesting point nonetheless.


Here’s how it breaks down: Arwen is the daughter of Elrond, played with eyebrow-aching gravitas by Agent Smith. Elrond, technically speaking, isn’t an elf, but a half-elf. Thanks to the deeds of his father, all half-elves get to choose whether to be human or elvish, mortal or immortal, hence Arwen’s decision to give up immortality to be with Aragorn. Elrond chose to be an elf, but his brother, Elros, chose otherwise, and became the first king of the ancient land of Numenor, the kingdom to which Aragorn is a direct heir. This elvish blood is why Aragorn ages so well. I can’t remember if it’s touched on in the theatrical cut or just the extended edition, but he’s about 87 when Lord of the Rings takes place. Don’t ask him for his exercise regimen yet, though, because…

Some Silent Dude is the Oldest Living Creature in Middle-Earth

If you hadn’t fallen asleep during one of the twenty endings that comprised Return of the King’s last half hour, you might have noticed this guy skulking around behind V, Katharine Hepburn and the bad guy from xXx:

That’s Cirdan the Shipwright, and he’s the elf in charge of the Grey Havens, a port on the west coast of Middle Earth, not far from the Shire. His job is to ferry elves from Middle-Earth to Aman, a continent across the sea, also known as the Undying Lands. They are so-called because that’s where the gods live. Something you have to bear in mind is that in Tolkien’s world, the gods are quite real, and not only do they exist, but they exist on the same planet as the hobbits. The thing is, they don’t want undesirable types coming to visit, so the only people allowed to cross the ocean are the elves, which is why Bilbo and Frodo (and later Sam and Gimli) getting to go there was quite the honour. The elves, being immortal and having all the time in the world, cross the ocean when they eventually get tired of all the men and orcs and dwarves. To them, the thousands of years their kind spent in Middle-Earth was just a summer abroad. That’s why they’re constantly emigrating throughout the movies: they think Middle-Earth is a lost cause and can’t be arsed fighting the war, because it’s not their problem any more.

Held in high regard for his duties and age, he was given one of the three elven rings – Elrond got one too, as did Galadriel. However, he gave his to Gandalf, because he’s just that generous. Also, it’s not like he’d have much need for it, building boats all day. How old he is isn’t specified and there’s contradictory information concerning when he was born, but it’s probably safe to assume he’s over 10,000 years old, which means he remembers the creation of the Sun and the Moon. Pretty ancient dude, and he didn’t even get a speaking part. Not that the movies really cared about a character’s importance in the lore, because…

Eowyn is as great a hero as almost anyone else in the story

You might remember Eowyn as the blond who falls in love with Aragorn and ends up killing one of the Ringwraiths in Return of the King. What you may not remember is how important this is, because it’s only sort of hinted at, and it’s hard to pay attention when there’s battles and stuff going on.

The characters in the movies occasionally refer to this Ringwraith as the “Witch-King of Angmar”, which is a fairly stupid name when it’s given without any context whatsoever. Angmar was a land way to the north of Middle-Earth, and by all accounts was a pretty nasty place, being run by Sauron’s top dog, after all. It’s like Mordor, only smaller and probably colder. The Witch-King wreaked all sorts of havoc up there, essentially destroying the Kingdom of Arnor, whose people became the Rangers that would be led by Aragorn over a thousand years later. He’s not to be messed with. It took a lot to bring him down – an army of elves and men, in fact.

The elves were led by Glorfindel, the elf whose role in the Lord of the Rings was replaced by Arwen (the carrying Frodo to Rivendell part, not the making out with Aragorn part), and Earnur, the last real king of Gondor until Aragorn retook the throne at the end of Return of the King. The Witch King shits himself when he sees Glorfindel, and rightfully so – the dude once killed a Balrog, died, and was brought back to life with even greater powers by the gods, just like Gandalf in the movies. You don’t fuck with the Witch-King of Angmar, and the Witch-King of Angmar doesn’t fuck with Glorfindel. Earnur went after him, but Glorfindel stopped him and said “not by the hand of man shall he fall”.

So when Eowyn lays the smackdown on the scary guy in the black cloak, saying “I am no man!” and stabbing him right in his stupid ghostly face, she’s actually fulfilling a really old prophecy, and finally putting a stop to one of Middle-Earth’s legendary pains in the arse. That’s an astonishing act of bravery, but she’ll forever be remembered as the plucky chick who wanted to fight in a war like the men. Oh well. Speaking of Gandalf, by the way…

Gandalf is Basically an Angel

If any of you who saw Lord of the Rings without any prior knowledge of the books have any explanation for Gandalf’s reappearance in The Two Towers, let me know, because as far as I could see it was passed off as “I came back to life!”

Remember how I said the gods were real in Middle-Earth? How it works is this: there’s the supreme being (Eru) and there are the ‘gods’ (the Valar), who in turn are more powerful than the ‘angels’ (the Maiar). The fifteen Valar function much like the pantheon of gods you might find in Greek or Norse mythology. Then there’s the Maiar who are somewhat like the angels in Christian texts, and all of them live in the Undying Lands (barring Eru, the supreme being). Gandalf’s one of the Maiar.

About 2000 years before the War of the Ring, the Valar sent five of them to Middle-Earth to deal with the Sauron problem. They took the appearance of old men and wandered about. Two of them, the Blue Wizards, went off to the east and were never heard from again. Saruman, as you know, was corrupted by power and tried to claim the ring for himself after allying with Sauron. Radagast basically lost his mind and became a regular Dr Doolittle, spending the rest of his time talking to the animals and pretty much hiding from the rest of the world. Gandalf (or rather, Olorin, Gandalf being the name mortals gave him, thinking he was just an old man) was the only one who stayed true to his purpose and fought Sauron to the bitter end – except he was unexpectedly killed by the Balrog in Moria who, incidentally, was also one of the Maiar. Remember all that nonsense he yells about the Secret Fire and so on when he’s on the bridge and all glowy? That’s him saying to the Balrog “Hey, I know what you are, guess what, I’m the same and you’d better step off.”

So when he went to ‘heaven’ (the halls of Mandos), ‘God’ (Eru) said “nuh-uh, you’re the only one we’ve got left since those other guys failed so miserably, back you go.” And this time, to give him a helping hand, he was allowed to reveal a bit more of his angel-like powers rather than pretending to be an old man all the time, hence why he’s all in white and actually does some real magic instead of smoking pipes and making fireworks for stupid hobbit children.

Of the ‘wizards’, Gandalf wasn’t considered the most powerful, but before he came to Middle-Earth he was the wisest, and learned pity from his Valar teacher Nienna, which is why, despite being as old as the universe and burdened by the sorrows of tens of thousands of years of grief and destruction, he still has the patience to put up with all the petty shit about ‘second breakfast’ that the hobbits put him through. And, finally…

The War of the Ring Wasn’t Actually That Big a Deal

Well, no, that’s not entirely accurate. The War of the Ring WAS a big deal, but it was far from the biggest problem Middle-Earth’s ever had to deal with.

Sauron isn’t the ultimate enemy: he’s actually just a lieutenant of the ultimate enemy, one of the fifteen Valar I mentioned earlier, called Morgoth. If the heroes thought Sauron’s army at the end of Return of the King was intimidating, Morgoth’s would’ve melted their minds, containing as it did legions of Balrogs, massive dragons and innumerable orcs and trolls. The only reason Sauron was such a threat was because civilization had degraded to the point where it couldn’t really challenge him any more. In past ages, there were huge cities of elves and noble men to fight the good fight, but by the end of the Third Age the best they had was Aragorn.

Just sayin’.

Morgoth was eventually defeated and imprisoned, and is destined to break out of his prison at the end of time and begin the final battle in a Ragnarok/Armageddon type fashion. Presumably, had Sauron won the War of the Ring, he would’ve set his sights on the Undying Lands, attempted to take down the Valar, and free his old boss. Yes, The Lord of the Rings is pretty much the same as any story where a bad guy is trying to summon an ‘ancient evil’ and the good guys have to stop him, but in this case you never really know what the bad guy’s motivations are.

If I’ve convinced you of anything, I hope it’s that the world Tolkien created was way, way bigger than anything you were shown in the films. Sure, the Lord of the Rings was an extended narrative of one great event in that world, but everything ties in. Everything does, in fact, make sense, and there was an immense sense of history that was lost in the translation to screen. Characters you see are far older than you expect and have tons of shit from the past to deal with, shit that goes a long way to explaining why they act in that weird, detached fashion. The elves have put up with so much in the previous 5000 years that they just don’t care any more. The men of the world are basically dumbasses who can’t see past their own short miserable lives to see the bigger picture. And at the centre of it all, you’ve got four hobbits who have, and I cannot stress this enough, absolutely no fucking clue what’s going on. Every time they make some stupid joke that they think is innocent, Gandalf has to bite his tongue and not bitch them out for being ignorant of the sheer gravity of the situation. Their understanding of the war and its motivations is about as advanced as that of the viewer unfamiliar with the lore: that there’s a bad guy, and bad things will happen if we don’t do something. That’s why it’s meant to be so astonishing that they succeeded at all, that the ‘little people’ actually managed to save not only the lives of millions, but without ever realising it, the entire universe.

Now that you know some of the things the filmmakers knew but didn’t explicitly include from the original story, the question is, has it changed your perception of the movies? I really hope I haven’t ruined them for you – I didn’t like them, but that’s no reason for you to not like them – but instead given you a more rounded perspective of what was going on.

Or at least freaked you out thoroughly with that Aragorn and Arwen thing. It’s totally true: look it up.

Note:  Credit to reddit user Fionwe, who noticed that I’d included a picture of Celeborn instead of Cirdan.  If you’re not that familiar with Lord of the Rings, trust me: these things matter.

9 Comments on “Five Things You Should Know About Lord of the Rings If You Only Saw The Films”

  1. yumi says:

    Hey, nice article, well written, concise and clear.

    I must say however that your last point, at least the part of “Sauron would attempt to go to the undying lands and free Morgoth” is pretty off. Morgoth isn’t held in the undying lands, Sauron wouldn’t want to free Morgoth (at least it’s unlikely), and I don’t even think he could if he wanted to, since he was thrown into essentially the void. He also would be unlikely to be able to go to the undying lands, since it was raised off Arda after the betrayal of the Numenorians (and is only visitable by the magic of the elves), and even if he could, he’d get smashed by the Valar and co.

    I probably shouldn’t nitpick, since it’s not even aimed at LOTR bookreaders, but it’s nice to have things straight!


    • Shashwat says:

      Correct. Sauron became Sauron because he tempted the last king of Númenor to go to the lands of Valar. The Valar folks were pissed and summoned a huge storm and Tsunamied the island of Númenor.
      Elendil and his sons escaped with the White Tree and 7 seeing stones. Sauron came back as a wraith and occupied Mordor and the battle in the beginning of the LOTR series was fought.

  2. Dem says:

    One thing that I’m confused about is if Gandalfs mission is to stop Sauron, then what’s with the whole plotline of The Hobbit? What does Smaug and his treasure have to do with anything?

    • Ryan English says:

      Gandalf wanted to make sure Sauron didn’t have the opportunity to recruit a fully-grown dragon to his cause, and used the plight of the dwarves as a way to convince them to get rid of Smaug. There’s a short story dealing with the arrangement of the quest in The Hobbit that’s in ‘Unfinished Tales’, details of which you can find on Wikipedia:

      It’s been a while since I read it, but it’s always interesting to see how things began.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Matt says:

    I’m not an expert by any means, but doesn’t Gandalf say that Treebeard is the oldest living thing in Middle Earth?

    • Ned says:

      I am not very expert either, but if the guy (Cirdan) is a shipwright, he might be in the grey havens most of the time, so he is the oldest guy in the scene pictured above, but maybe treebeard is when gandalf says that

      • Vastriel says:

        He is the oldest living being because the elves were the ones who essentially created nets and caused them to well, become nets. I’m however not sure if any of the Istari are older than Cirdan’s and just lived unmentioned in Valinor.

  4. Marta says:

    Read the books quite a bit before seeing these movies oh so long ago, and still found this immensely enjoyable. Definitely encourage you to keep writing lotr related material!

  5. Vastriel says:

    Ha! I knew all of this. I really need to get out more. Btw, Glorfindel was the most badass characters in the books, but is only portrayed in ROTK as the blonde elf who steps out from in front of Arwen at Aragorn’s coronation. Also if I counted correctly, Aragorn is Arwen’s first cousin 47x removed.

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