02 October 2014

Guest Post: 'Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review'

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is now available on PC and all next-gen consoles. While I can't wait to check this game out for myself to see how well (if at all) the narrative fits into Tolkien's canon, I'm stuck waiting until the game's PS3 release on November 18 (I think I'll prefer console to PC, in this case). In the meantime, I am enjoying the game vicariously through friends' reviews and YouTube videos.

Corey Brooks (@LOTRHobbit93 on Twitter), a friend and fellow gamer/Tolkien fan, was kind enough to allow me to host his review of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor here on my blog.

(Note: may contain spoilers, depending on your familiarity with Tolkien's writings)

Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor Review 
by Corey Brooks

One does not simply walk into Mordor. Unless you're the Gondorian ranger Talion. Then it's as easy as Legolas taking down orcs in Mirkwood. Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor is the Middle-earth game many have been waiting for. While Middle-earth in the format of video games has had a rich history (ranging from great to not-so-great outings), none but The Lord Of The Rings Online have truly been amazing and fun games to play for hours on end while vividly bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's world to life. And while I've enjoyed every Middle-earth game that's been released, some have been waiting for a truly great virtual experience set in this world. Shadow Of Mordor has changed this, and definitely set the bar pretty high for future outings of Middle-earth related games.
Photo: Corey Brooks
The game follows Talion, a ranger of Gondor who, along with his family, is slain at the Black Gate of Mordor, where he has been stationed to keep watch over the cursed land. Some SPOILERS will follow on the story, so if you haven't played yet or do not want to be spoiled, then look away! Right off the bat the tone, very brutal and sad as Talion one moment spars with his son, then is being beaten bloody by an orc. I've never actually cried playing a video game before, but the moment Talion and his family are killed, and how he tells his son "I'm right here! Look at me!", really had me balling my eyes out, and matches the emotional scale of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films. After a heart wrenching opening, Talion is brought back from the dead by a wraith, who after regaining memories of his past, finds out he is Celebrimbor, the greatest smith of the Second Age, and forger of the Rings of Power, and together, they try to find out why this has happened, along the way also avenging the death of Talion's family by the Black Hand, a servant of Sauron. The story is fantastically done, having a nice cinematic feel to it, with brilliant motion capture and voice work by Troy Baker, who portrays Talion. Players will encounter Gollum, and I love the Frodo/Sam relationship that Talion and Celebrimbor have with the gangly creature. Talion also aligns himself with a cowardly orc called Ratbag, who'll do anything to become a warchief, which also will play in Talion's favor amongst the ranks of Sauron's army. Talion and Ratbag's relationship is pure gold, and had me laughing many, many times. 

22 September 2014

Happy Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week!

Happy Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week!

Tolkien Week – a week-long celebration of Tolkien, as the name rightly implies – kicked off yesterday. Today, Tolkien fans celebrate the birthdays of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. In honour of Hobbit Day, I will be reading from one of my favourite books, The Hobbit, and later, enjoying some pumpkin pie and hard cider – and what better place to do so than in my own Shire?

The rest of Tolkien Week typically involves reading more Tolkien, especially in schools, libraries, and bookstores. If you are a parent or teacher, you may consider reading from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings to your children or students (if you haven't done so already). But really, there is no wrong way to celebrate Hobbit Day or Tolkien Week.

I have also prepared a Feast Week post for Middle-earth News, which will go live tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek:

How are you celebrating Hobbit Day and Tolkien Week this year?

13 September 2014

Guest Post: 'What Hobbits Teach Us, Part 3'

by Anne Marie Gazzolo 

In a tale strewn with heroes, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin all discover they are braver than they ever thought they could be, as they do what they need to out of love. They learn as we have that evil is alive and well in the world but that such powers “cannot conquer for ever” as Frodo boldly proclaims at the Cross-roads (LotR VI:7, 687). These tales show that “evil labours with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in” (Tolkien, Letters 76). Out of the darkness and because of the darkness, many heroic acts of love, faith, humility, and self-sacrifice abound.

            Of all these heroes, Sam is the greatest. This humble gardener shines as a bright light in the Ring-bearer’s darkening world and in our own. Sam’s selfless devotion is an example par excellence of what a loyal friend is. This “jewel among the hobbits” (Tolkien, Letters 88) voluntarily endures torment and terror on the Quest “only for the sake of one he loves beyond everything else” (Bradley 124). He turns aside his own desires, faces down his fears, and repeatedly risks his life, so he can remain at his master’s side. “Wherever you go, I will go” (Ruth 1:17). He gives up much of his share of food, water, and sleep in order to give Frodo more. Such love approaches “religious devotion” (Bradley 121) by the time the Ring-bearers’ near the Fire. Through Sam and the friendship the hobbits share, which Ralph C. Wood calls “a thing of exquisite beauty, even holiness” (Gospel According to Tolkien 135), we learn much of love, loyalty, endurance, perseverance, faith, goodness, and hope. Sam’s sterling qualities strengthen Frodo’s in the bitter battle against the Ring.

            Sam’s natural hobbit cheerfulness allows him to make light of times of terrible crisis. After he announces his presence at the secret Council of Elrond, all he says of the horrible danger that the Quest will involve, is that it is “[a] nice pickle” (LotR II:2, 264). He provides several opportunities for Frodo to laugh, which is a great blessing for a Ring-bearer increasingly beleaguered by despair. The gardener jokes about ringing the front door at the Tower of Cirith Ungol. He presses on through that dread, horror-filled place and throughout the Quest because his love for Frodo feeds his courage. It also feeds his forgiveness, which comes so naturally Sam does not need to give it conscious thought after Frodo begs for it in the Tower.

            Gandalf aptly names Sam Hope Unquenchable (Sauron Defeated 62). The hobbit’s enduring hope destroys any attempt to draw him into despair. The eyes of his heart see far more than his physical eyes do. He sees beyond what seem disasters to the possibility that they are not. As Orcs come straight toward him and Frodo and capture and discovery seem inevitable, he remains open to the possibility that it is not as bad as it appears. Even as Mount Doom explodes around them, Sam refuses to give up all hope. In our culture of death and despair, it is so easy only to see the darkness and to think things can only get worse. Sam teaches us there is a different way to look at things and to see beyond what our physical eyes do. What need we have today to fashion our hearts to model his!

            As we struggle through life with addiction to our own Ring, if we are fortunate, we will have a Sam with us to support us, for this struggle is not one we can win alone. It must be won if we are not to be totally lost. Or perhaps our part in the Music is to be a Sam to someone and to love our dear one as fiercely and unconditionally as Sam loved his Frodo; to stand by them through every hardship; to hold them against their fears, the night that threatens to overwhelm them, the ghosts that walk in their nightmares, and the horrors that haunt them during the day; to be light to their darkness, strength to their weakness, peace to their turbulence, hope to their despair, healing to their open wounds, solace to their grief, warmth to their coldness, sweetness to their bitterness, even to be ready and willing to die with them or for them. Imagine what the world would be like if more people loved and were loved as deeply and purely as Sam loved his Frodo! It would be beautiful.

            The glowing example of Sam and Rosie’s love, faithfulness, and devotion is another lesson we sorely need to learn in our era of broken promises and betrayal of friends and spouses. These two hobbits are open to the gift of life, and, surrounded by their many children, they celebrate their golden anniversary and beyond. They show where there is great and true love, many miracles happen.

            May Sam’s example inspire and strengthen us to give “perfect satisfaction” in all our relationships, as Frodo assured the Gaffer Sam had done (LotR VI:8, 991). Sam would not have considered himself anyone special, but everyone else, especially Frodo, does. Both hobbits give us examples of perseverance, loyalty, and dedication to completing difficult tasks that seem impossible to even survive. May the light of these heroes, whose stories Tolkien retold “in this very nick of time,” (LotR II:2, 236) serve as a beacon on our own journeys to Mordor or in confrontation with the Shadow in other ways and places.

Works Cited

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. “Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship.” Ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo. Tolkien and the Critics: Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968: 109-127.
The Jerusalem Bible Reader’s Edition. Gen. ed. Alexander Jones. Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
            1966, 1967, 1968.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton
            Mifflin, 2000.
———. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King. 2nd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965-66.
———. Sauron Defeated: The History of “The Lord of the Rings,” Part 4, edited by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Wood, Ralph C. The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth. Louisville, KY: Knox, 2003.


Anne Marie Gazzolo is the author of Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings (WestBow Press, 2012), where some of this essay comes from. To order the book, please visit http://www.ow.ly/ez2dT. Sign up for her mailing list at http://www.annemariegazzolo.com/ and get a free copy of the ebook, Pathways Through Middle-earth: A Guide for the Heart, which contains more lessons on how to apply to your life what Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Men, and Dwarves teach. Find her also at http://www.facebook.com/annemariegazzolo and http://www.pinterest.com/authorannemarie.

19 August 2014

Win a Signed Gandalf Drawing from Artist Darrel Morris

Darrel Morris is scrimshaw artist whose work features many characters and logos from Middle-earth. One of his most recent works-in-progress is a drawing of Gandalf, the first in a series of drawings exploring the inner essences of Tolkien's characters. He will give away one free signed print (valued at $50) to whomever can come up with the best title for this piece:

How to enter:
  • You can enter on Facebook by commenting on this post with your title suggestion.
  • Reply to this Tweet with your title suggestion.
  • Leave a comment on this Instagram picture.
  • You may enter via all three sites if you wish; however, please note that multiple entries will not increase your chances of winning. (Similarly, any comments deemed to be "spam" will not be accepted.)
How the winner will be chosen:
  • Darrel and I will pick our top three suggestions (one from Facebook, one from Twitter, and one from Instagram) and then ask everyone to vote for their favourite.
  • Please make sure we can contact you on any of those sites if you are a winner.
  • Darrel is willing to ship overseas, so this contest is open to everyone.

The deadline will be 11:59 PM ET Saturday, August 30.

To view more of Darrel's work, visit: His website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter