One thing I find myself being surprised by (more than you’d think) in The Lord of the Rings Online is how thorough Turbine was in creating their Middle-earth. They have been sure to include even the most obscure of details which Tolkien mentions about his world (often) in passing.
I got to really thinking about this when I ran into a famous hill from the first part of The Lord of the Rings, which is The Fellowship of the Ring. In the game, Turbine refers to this hill as Burnt Tor, which can be found in the region of Eregion.
Anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings already knows about the events that took place on this hill. A friend of mine is really disappointed that this part wasn’t put into the movie as it shows off some of Gandalf’s awesomeness.
After the Fellowship’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the Redhorn Pass, Gandalf informs the company that they could travel under the Misty Mountains via Moria. After much debate they set up camp at the top of a hill ringed with stones when they hear the howling of wolves. In the middle of the night, they build a roaring fire before they are approached by large evil wolves. Gandalf says to them:
“Listen hound of Sauron! Gandalf is here! Fly if you value your foul skin, I shall shrivel you from tail to snout if you set foot within this ring!”
During the ensuing battle, Gandalf casts a spell which sets the entire hill aflame. In the morning, the company searches in vain for the bodies of the dead wolves, for the only signs of battle are the scorching and the arrows (which found their mark) of Legolas lying on the ground. It is then that Gandalf says, “It is as I feared. These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness…” It turned out that the attackers were wargs: evil spirits which take on the forms of large wolves at night; their bodies vanished either because of death or exposure to sunlight. Gandalf then urges that the company must make for Moria with all haste.
(“Warg” is actually the nickname given to these creatures by the Men of the North. They are known by another name: were-wolves!)
It’s a neat part of the story, and now that I think about it I do wish it could’ve been in the movie.
The name “Burnt Tor” doesn’t actually appear in any of Tolkien’s writings and appears to be an Elven-esque name given to the hill by Turbine. But going back to what I said earlier, finding this hill in the game really got me thinking about how Turbine seems to go the extra mile to add the most obscure details from Tolkien’s world, be they geographic or historic.
For example, when you read about the hobbits’ journey through the Old Forest in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien vividly describes the path they took and that they rested at a bare hill in the Forest; sure enough, if you go to the Old Forest in LotRO, you can take that exact same path and find that exact same hill.
Here’s an obscure history reference that’s not even in The Lord of the Rings (though it may be in the appendices, I’m not sure): during the Witch-king’s attack of the North kingdom of Arnor, a group of a hundred or so hobbit archers set out from the Shire to Fornost and never returned. In LotRO, there is a quest to collect hobbit arrowheads in Fornost, which can be found on small hobbit skeletons throughout the ruins. Pretty crazy right?
It is things like this in the game that really enchanted me, that made me enjoy playing LotRO and want to explore. No other MMO world has such detail. Most fantasies build their world and characters first, with things like language, history, and mythology coming as a second thought so the world may be enriched. With Tolkien, it all started with developing a language of his own (which would become the first Elvish language, Quenya), and after creating that language, he felt compelled to right a history for it. So unlike most fantasy creations, Tolkien started with language, then history and mythology, and finally put his world together, fleshing it with additional stories and characters.
On this note, I admire Turbine for the effort they put into their Middle-earth… then they turn around and make you grind…