Posted in Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO: Reading the books through the lens of the game

lo1This is your weekly public service announcement to remind you that even for a game that was made in 2007, LOTRO still has the ability to be quite beautiful.  Been screenshotting the heck out of it lately, including the above early-morning pic of the silhouette of a statue against the sky.

Anyway, lately I’ve been indulging this return-to-LOTRO streak that I’ve had going on by re-reading the Lord of the Rings.  It’s been a while; I think the last time I went through it was back in my fantasy lit class in college, and that was… 1998?  Since then I’ve seen the movies, played LOTRO extensively, and listened to the illuminating Tolkien Professor podcast.  I like to think that my understanding of this world and the books has grown.

But as I’ve been reading the story, I’ve realized that I can’t help but to do so from the vantage point of a LOTRO gamer.  I know that probably many fans of the game had extensive knowledge of the books first and went into LOTRO that way, but I’m coming at it almost the other way around.  Everything I read in the book, I’m thinking of where I might have seen it or heard about it in the game.

lo2While that might be a horrific thought to novel lore purists, it’s actually really neat.  When I was younger, I always felt a little lost in Lord of the Rings, especially with the weird names, barrage of locations, and extensive fictional world history.  But now I realize that the game has provided me with a solid education on all of these things and more besides, so not only am I constantly making connections between the two, but it’s deepened my enjoyment of the book.

Turbine’s always said that LOTRO was the “game of the books” (as opposed to the “game of the Peter Jackson/Ralph Bakshi films,” I suppose), and while some have taken the studio to task for liberties with the lore, I think that the attention to detail and the relative accuracy bears out.  I didn’t realize before how the LOTRO Hobbit racial skill “stoop for a stone” actually comes from a phrase from the “Concerning Hobbits” prologue, and that was a neat moment when I read that and went, “aha!”

lo3One other thing that I’ve come to realize — although it’s not so much of a shocker — is how much the LOTRO game world presents a condensed, not-to-scale version of what’s in the book.  I’m only in the first part of the Fellowship of the Rings, but I keep noting how very big the Shire is and how long it takes the Hobbits to traverse it in their journey to Buckland.  For a player, it’s a mere handful of minutes to run border-to-border in the Shire, although there seems to be most (but not all) of the main settlements and attractions from the book.

I think I’m really going to enjoy reading the book from the vantage point of a LOTRO veteran, and I definitely want to see what the Tolkien Professor does with his LOTRO world tour, whenever he gets that done.

9 thoughts on “LOTRO: Reading the books through the lens of the game

  1. In 2013 I took the Coursera online course: Online Games: Literature and New Media. This is a study of romance literature and its depiction in film and video games. It uses Lotro and Tolkien’s works extensively and while taking the course I too had the experience of playing through the game while reading the relevant chapters of the novel . For one assignment I actually walked up Weathertop while reading about the fellowship’s journey to the same spot. I was astounded at the attention to detail in Turbine’s game. Yes time and space are compressed but all the incidental details are faithfully represented. Even trees and rocks that are mentioned in the book appear in the game. The seem to run the course once per year and I highly recommend it.

  2. I re-read the ‘Hobbit’ for the first time since I became a LOTRO player when the first Hobbit film came out and I really enjoyed it… the comparison with the game was favorable…with the movies less so!

    I will one day reread LOTR again (boxed edition at my Mum’s in GB) and I hope the added flavour of having explored ME digitally will add to this experience as well!

  3. I took that Coursera course too, and had a lot of the same feelings about the game when I read the books. It gave me a new appreciation of how many things from the books that the developers put into the game.

  4. I knew the books very well before I started playing, but even so LOTRO helped me understand a good deal about various aspects of the world. For example I’d heard of Fornost, but I didn’t have much clue where it was, or how it fitted into the history. Or I had never really visualized the layout of Helm’s Deep.

    Sometimes I learned interesting things from the comparison with how the LOTRO world seemed to be different from the books. Like I had the impression that Bree was a pretty small village, but the game version seems to be a fairly substantial town. Which got me looking into what the text actually said and getting a clearer picture of the place.

    If you love the books there are lots of enjoyable moments of recognition when some little thing in the LOTRO world reminds you of some small snippet from the story.

  5. Turbine has done a wonderful job recreating locations from the books. Visiting such locations (or stumbling across them, as with the three trolls turned to stone) in the game has been one of the great highlights for me over the years, and one of the things that keeps me coming back to the game. But there is no missing the amount of terrain condensing that they have to do.

    I have the Middle-earth Atlas (because nerd!) and, as an example, the distance given from the Brandywine Bridge to Bree is 75 miles. Call that an hour and a half drive by car on modern roads. But if that is more than a five minute walk in game… not even on your mount, but on foot… I would be surprised. And, when you read the books, the book goes on about how long they spent in the Midgewater Marshes on the trip from Bree to Weathertop, but you can practically see Weathertop from the near end of Bree… or could if the draw distance was set to be equal to that of the human eye. And would you want to live in Bree if it was that close to the Barrow Downs?

    Still, that is a concession they make so that we can experience Middle-earth without having to spend all of our time traveling.

    And, of course, there is a different spin on the timeline. Gandalf telling Frodo to get the ring away from the Shire through until Frodo and Bilbo leave Middle-earth at the Grey Havens is less than four years elapsed time. Meanwhile, the game is nearly 8 years underway and there is no Minas Tirith in sight, much less Mordor!

  6. I also took the course as the poster mpb did…but I could not complete due to Real Life issues. That course was held on the Gladden server. The course was well liked as was Professor Clayton…who has been a long time LOTRO player. And they did have fun during and at the end of the course. I highly recommend the course…even though Life never allowed me to finish it.


  7. I can’t keep from imagining how sad it’ll be when LOTRO is not available anymore. I’ll miss all the details that make this game so close to the books. Despite having read the books prior to the games I’m always so excited to revisit the important areas mentioned by Tolkien. Yeah, that’s definitely the most amazing game I ever played!

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