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Tropes from The Lord of the Rings (the book)

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  • MacGuffin: Frequently described as such although it doesn't really fit because it has powers which are crucial to the story, the Ring was originally intended to be a sequel hook to The Hobbit until Tolkien decided it was actually an Artifact of Doom.
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: The bulk of the narrative deals with the Fellowship transporting the One Ring to Mount Doom so that it may be destroyed.
  • Made of Indestructium:
    • Quite possibly the origin of this trope. The only ways to destroy the One Ring are to "unmake" it at its place of creation or for a greater smith than Sauron destroy it (the Valar, who would have to break their own rules, or Fëanor, imprisoned in the halls of Mandos).
    • Gandalf muses that dragons can destroy ordinary Rings of Power, but no dragon currently living has the firepower to do the job on the One Ring, nor did even the greatest dragon of antiquity. (Another barrier is left unspoken: it'd be really hard to find a dragon to ask, who would be willing to help.)
  • The Magic Goes Away: Elves sail off to the West, wizards leave (or otherwise drop off the radar), no more magic. Tolkien was extremely loath to use the word "magic" to refer to any of that in the first place.
  • Magic Is a Monster Magnet: Putting the One Ring on your finger lights you right up on Mordor's radar. Also, Gandalf is hesistant to use his magic while traveling with the Fellowship for fear of attracting attention from both Mordor and Saruman.
  • Mage Tower: The once-wise and now fallen wizard known as Saruman lives in the tower of Orthanc, from which he watches as his armies assemble to challenge the free people of Middle-earth.
  • Magic Mirror: Galadriel's mirror is of the reflective surface of water variety.
  • The Magnificent: In Rohan, Merry becomes known as Meriadoc the Magnificent for his actions at Pelennor.
  • Manly Tears: Crying appears acceptable in most Middle-earth societies, and there are many instances of manly men weeping, a point on which Tolkien significantly differs from the old sagas that inspired him.
    • When Éomer discovers Théoden has been killed, he improvises a verse (of course) where he says that they need to keep fighting, and there will be time for the women to weep later. But the narrator mentions that Éomer himself wept as he spoke.
    • In the words of Gandalf: "I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil."
    • Aragorn does some serious weeping over Boromir, to the point where Legolas and Gimli initially think that Aragorn has been mortally wounded.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship:
    • Gandalf is Really 700 Years Old. His friends among the hobbits (Bilbo and Frodo) and humans (Aragorn) are long lived as mortals go; hobbits regularly live past 100 and Aragorn is of the long-lived royal line of Numenor, with some elvish ancestry. However, hobbits rarely make it past 120 and Aragorn himself died at 210. Even after departing to the Undying Lands, the Valar have no power to grant the Ringbearers immortality, and they would eventually expire. Despite the name Undying Lands, this is a common misunderstanding that Tolkien himself cleared up in his Letters.
    • Legolas (an immortal elf) and Gimli (a mortal dwarf who may live for centuries) become best friends. Even after traveling ("it is said") with Legolas to the Undying Lands, like with the Hobbits, the Valar have no power to grant Gimli immortality and he eventually must die as well.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Aragorn and Arwen until she becomes mortal, at which it becomes May–December Romance: he is in his 90s but very long lived, while she is physically probably in her 20s or 30s.
  • Meaningful Echo: There is an example that lampshades Not So Different and War Is Hell, since both sides knew that their enemies will destroy them ruthlessly:
    • In the second book, the orc Gorbag says to Shagrat:
    But don't forget: our enemies don't love us any more than they love Him, and if they get topsides on Him, we're done too.
    • In the third book, after Frodo and Sam saw a little orc kill another of their own:
    For a while the hobbits sat in silence. At length Sam stirred. "Well, I call that neat as neat," he said. "If this nice friendliness would spread about in Mordor, half our trouble would be over."
    "Quietly, Sam," Frodo whispered. "There may be others about. We have evidently had a very narrow escape, and the hunt was hotter on our tracks than we guessed. But that
    is the spirit of Mordor, Sam; and it has spread to every corner of it. Orcs have always behaved like that, or so all tales say, when they are on their own. But you can't get much hope out of it. They hate us far more, altogether and all the time. If those two had seen us, they would have dropped all their quarrel until we were dead."
  • Meaningful Name: Virtually all of Tolkien's names, whatever language they are in, have a meaning, though sometimes this changed over the years as Tolkien's languages evolved. Characters also acquire names over their lives which reflect personal qualities or great deeds.
  • Meaningful Rename: There's a number of times when people get names/titles added to them that are meaningful, but a true example would be when Gandalf comes back as Gandalf the White. He's taking Saruman's place and assuming his duties.
  • Medical Monarch: Aragorn is recognized as the true king of Gondor when he uses his healing abilities after the battle of Minas Tirith. It is prophesized that only the King will be able to use athelas to heal the Black Breath.
  • Medieval Stasis:
    • And when they're not standing still, they're going backwards. Justified by the dwindling population of the West, and the steady procession of wars and plagues engineered by Sauron, but also by more metaphysical concerns. The grass really was greener in the Second Age, and the physical world less recalcitrant. As Morgoth slowly regains his power over the eons, matter is becoming ever more hostile to mind. (Yes, every time your shoe lace breaks, or your pen leaks, or your computer dies and takes all your information with it — or someone in your family gets cancer — it's Morgoth's fault. It wouldn't have happened in the Second Age; things, including human bodies, were more reliable back then.)
    • Many like to imagine the look on Sauron or Morgoth's face after seeing their armies crushed by artillery and bolt action rifles. Then again they'd probably just do what Sauron did to the Númenóreans, or reverse-engineer the technology if they didn't invent it in the first place; Sauron was a Maia of craft, and Morgoth was a Vala with similar leanings.
    • Initially, Tolkien did toy with the idea that Morgoth had more advanced technology. Drafts telling the Siege and Fall of Gondolin describe Morgoth's forces using crawling iron machines that sound suspiciously like the early tanks Tolkien had seen in World War One. (And in The Lost Road, Sauron ends up providing the Númenóreans with not only aircraft but the medieval equivalent of V-1 buzz bombs.)
  • The Mentor: Gandalf has been a mentor to Bilbo, Aragorn, Frodo, and Faramir.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: This happened to Gandalf. The wise old wizard, who acts as a mentor to Frodo and later to the whole Fellowship through the first part of the novel, dies in Book II of six. He does come Back from the Dead again in The Two Towers, but Frodo has already gone his own way by then and can no longer be mentored by Gandalf; while Gandalf himself, with his increased power, becomes a leader rather than a mentor after his return.
  • Messianic Archetype: Several partial examples: Gandalf suffers a Jesus-like death to save his companions from a demonic threat complete with transfigured resurrection; Frodo's role as the defeater of evil by suffering a great evil; and of course Aragorn is the descendant of a fallen royal house, returning to reclaim his throne and restore his kingdom to glory. The former two fit the Christian notion of the Messiah, and the latter fits the Jewish version.
  • Mid-Season Upgrade: Gandalf suffers a Heroic RRoD after a battle to the death with a roughly equal foe. His bosses relax some of the restrictions on him to make sure that doesn't happen again.
  • Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Sam and Frodo's hopeless persistence as they travel through Mordor.
  • Military Mage: As emissaries of the Valar, wizards are strictly forbidden from "dominating" the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth or "matching Sauron's power with power." Sometimes they bend or break this rule, however:
    • Saruman goes full Sorcerous Overlord and raises and commands an army of orc-human hybrids implied to be created or bred by magic. He also uses alchemy (or just scientific knowledge more advanced than is common in the setting) to create a gunpowder-like substance to attack the walls of Helm's Deep, and uses a Crystal Ball for intelligence-gathering and communication with Sauron, whom he serves but plans to double-cross.
    • Gandalf largely limits himself to an advisory role to leaders like Denethor and Theoden, and seldom offers advice that couldn't have reasonably been given by any wise and learned adviser without special magical knowledge. The exceptions are just before and during the Battle of Minas Tirith. Just before, he performs a rearguard action to repel the Ringwraiths harrowing Faramir's unit's retreat into the city with what are clearly magical means, though the specifics are vague due to the point-of-view character observing from miles away. During the battle, with Denethor neglecting the defense of the city and his heir and chief captain Faramir indisposed, Gandalf takes de facto command of the city's defense. He relinquishes command to Aragorn at the first opportunity.
    • It's important to notice anyway that all the Maiar who went as the Istari were, even at full power, all way below Sauron in might. So one way or the other it was never going to be by war they were going to defeat Sauron.
  • Miracle Food: Elven lembas, or waybread, is created by a secret art, never spoils, and a single wafer can sustain a person for an entire day. Gimli liked his first taste of it so much (he mistook it for Cram, which is basically the dwarf version; described to be just as indestructible, but bland) he scarfed an entire biscuit - enough for a whole day of strenuous travel.
  • Mission Creep: The Council of Elrond appoints the Fellowship to carry out a simple mission: escort the Ringbearer (Frodo Baggins) to Mount Doom and drop the One Ring into the lava. But along the way, the Fellowship faces setbacks, the (as it turns out temporary) disappearance of their wizard mentor Gandalf, the loss of one of the Fellowship in battle (Boromir) and the risk that the Ring could corrupt other members of the Fellowship into compromising each other. As such, to better carry out the mission in complex circumstances, the Fellowship breaks up, with Frodo and Sam going to Mount Doom alone, while Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas march to rally a movement of resistance to oppose Sauron and Saruman's forces to better distract their attention and draw their gaze away from Frodo and Sam. What starts with a Fellowship of nine ends up involving an intricate alliance of human kingdoms, undead armies and eagles, all to serve the same original mission which could never have succeeded had they operated in the way they originally set out to.
  • Monument of Humiliation and Defeat:
    • The former city of Minas Ithil (the Tower of the Moon), renamed Minas Morgul (the Tower of Black Magic) after the Witch King took over. The river was poisoned, the flowers turned putrid, and the tower that was renowned for its white as the Moon beauty seemed instead as pale as a dead body, with a strange sickly luminescence over all.
    • The crossroads on the road to Minas Morgul was originally guarded by the statue of a former king. By the time Frodo and Sam pass that way, the statue's original head has been replaced with a rock painted as a grinning cyclops, presumably intended to represent Sauron.
    • The appendices mention that Sauron was quick to remove the pillar marking where the Numenoreans landed to capture him during the Second Age when Harad fell to his control.
  • Mooks: Rather a lot of them, actually effective when they aren't fighting one-man-battalions.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: Despite being considered one of the the classic good Vs evil story, in reality, it falls into this. While most characters are unambiguously good (they still got their own defects and qualities to be dimensional and feel realistic or verosimil), and there is a clear dichotomy between good and evil, there are an impressive amount of characters in the middle. Boromir, Denethor, Frodo himself, King Theoden, Gollum, Grima Wormtongue, Saruman, even the hobbits in general. Boromir, Theoden, Frodo, and even Denethor, are all ultimately good and noble people who wish to protect their loved ones and want the best for everyone, but all of them at one point or the other succumb to evil in different ways (Boromir and Frodo get twisted by the ring, but they are both able to get out of the place. Theoden fell many years into depression and despair, but with the help of Gandalf, he manages to get out and be himself again. And Denethor, while he falls into despair and kills himself, was still a noble person who fought for the love of his kingdom, only collapsing into despair because he lost his children and faced Sauron in a will's battle for way too long). Then, you got characters like Grima, Gollum, and Saruman. While morally bankrupt and sides of evil, or just working for their own goals while aiding evil, their still have their shades of grey or pitifulness. Saruman got corrupted for getting too long involved in Sauron's devices, plus his jealousy of Gandalf and Pride. Grima got out of his league while collaborating with Saruman, and ends up a pitiful and miserable being afraid of his master, while still doing evil things. And Gollum...he got corrupted by the ring, did a lot of evil deeds, but ultimately, he was a sad pitiful broken creature who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and his life was full of misery and self-hatred. They all have the chance to turn to the side of good, but they reject it and end up falling into evil. And then, of course, we have the evil. Sauron is the most evil being on the story, and has no redeemable features, same for the Nazgûl, orcs, trolls, and other beasts. And curiously, even them did not start as evil. Sauron got corrupted by Melkor's influence and power, and his own original misguided attempts to bring order to the world (he was offered the chance to repent, just like Saruman after him, but rejected it out of pride). The Nazgûl got corrupted by the rings of power, and became the undead servants of Sauron. The orcs and trolls were raised in hellish conditions to be nothing but cruel and evil. As a matter of fact many of the men who follows Sauron are not bad people, just in the wrong side of the war.
    • This situation appears in the different kingdoms and races. As a matter of fact, none of them are purely good or evil. The elves are the closest thing to pure good, and even them are isolationist or closed. The dwarves too. The kingdoms of men have been falling into decay and despair. Even the bad kingdoms of men are still seen as more misguided and corrupted than truly evil (like the mountain men, who were deceived by Saruman). The hobbits, for their part, are quite ignorant, isolated and careless of the rest of the world. Even the orcs, from which we have no case of individual good orcs, are still raised in hellish conditions, and conditioned to be evil by everything around them, specially their master Sauron, who was also one of their creators (the second one after Morgoth).
  • Mordor: The Trope Namer, but also averted - other than the plateau of Gorgoroth, which Frodo and Sam cross, Mordor is quite a fertile country, with a large lake and volcanic soil that make the southern parts of the land good for farming.
  • Mortality Ensues: In the end, Arwen gives up her immortality to be with Aragorn.
  • Mortality Grey Area: The Nazgul/Ringwraiths. As they are eternally bound Sauron's will as his top enforcers, they can never truly die as long as the One Ring, and by extension Sauron himself, still exists. But neither are they truly alive, as they are also powerful ghost-like entities with no physical bodies of their own who's primary weapon and purpose (when not pursuing the Fellowship) is to sow terror and discord among their master's enemies, and without fire or a Numenorean blade, it's impossible to so much as even scratch them.
  • Multinational Team: The Fellowship, which brings together heroes (and four hobbits) from across Middle-Earth.
  • The Musical: A rare (possibly unique) literary case. Expect any important event to inspire someone to improvise a song, or at least a poem. Among those listening, someone will often join in — especially if they're an Elf.
    • There is actually a musical adaptation of the story. Reactions to it are mixed.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Boromir after he tried to take the Ring from Frodo; Denethor upon learning of Boromir's death; and, of course, Sauron in the instant that Frodo claims the Ring.
    • Galadriel has a rare prospective one of these when Frodo offers her the Ring. Essentially she gets the receiving end of having your heart tested, as she does to the heroes she meets.
  • Mythopoeia: The Ur-example.

  • Named Weapons: Glamdring, Sting, Andúril, and many others.
    • Aeglos, the spear of Gil-Galad.
    • Grond (I), the Hammer of the Underworld employed by Morgoth millenia before the War of the Ring; and Grond (II), the great battering ram used to shatter the gates of Minas Tirith.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Mordor the Black Land, for one, ruled by the the Dark Lord Sauron, guarded by the Morannon, the Black Gate, and Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery.
    • Deliberately evoked by Tolkien when he designed Orcish and the Black Speech: he wanted everything (including names) to seem furious, discordant, and threatening.
    • A more minor example: Grí­ma Wormtongue. Appropriately, more creepy and insinuating then a direct threat.
    • It might be just a coincidence, but Gil-galad is only one syllable away from Gilgamesh.
  • Narrative Poem: Many. Among them are: "Eärendil was a Mariner" and an excerpt from the lay of Beren and Lúthien.
  • National Weapon: Axes for dwarves — the association is strong enough to make it into their standard battle-cry ("The axes of the Dwarves are upon you!") Tolkien is probably also responsible for the standard fantasy association of bows with elves, though he doesn't really use it. Legolas habitually uses a bow, but fights with a long knife when he runs out of arrows. And elves in general are just as likely to use swords or spears .
  • Near-Villain Victory: Tolkien basically coined the word "eucatastrophe" to describe this trope; it happens plenty of times throughout the novel, being a particular favorite trope of his.
  • The Necrocracy: The kingdom of Angmar in the Back Story and Minas Morgul in the main story. They're actually ruled by the same evil sorcerer.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: The showdown between the Witch-King and Gandalf at the gates of Minas Tirith is cut very short by the arrival of Rohan.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Frodo Baggins goes unappreciated back in the Shire. Sam, who could have ended up as an unsung, thankless hero, gets elected Mayor of the Shire, while the oblivious hobbits overlook Frodo's ordeals.
  • Never Mess with Granny:
    • Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, 110, decides to batter a bunch of Saruman's bullying goons with her umbrella.
      "I'll give you Sharkey, you dirty thieving ruffians!"
    • Galadriel, Arwen's grandmother. Not someone you want to mess with. At all. Apparently, she fights Sauron in a battle of wills as they try to read each other's mind. Constantly. And she's winning.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • Isildur just had to keep the ring. Evil in Middle-Earth made a career of enduring because the hero(es) wind up doing something selfish or stupid in their moment of triumph.
    • Frodo almost has one when he nonchalantly offers to give the ring to Galadriel. Well-meaning and it would have solved the Sauron problem...
    • Sam being rude and cross with Gollum in the Pass of Cirith Ungol, just as Gollum was reconsidering his betrayal.
      Gollum: O, very nice hobbit, very polite! Sméagol finds them secret ways that nobody else knows about and they say sneak, sneak!
  • Nigh-Invulnerability:
    • The One Ring itself is of the standard Made of Diamond variety. The only thing that will destroy is to throw it back into the fires of Mount Doom where it was forged. The entire series then revolves around accomplishing this.
    • The Ringwraiths are incredibly difficult, though not impossible, to permanently destroy, and are immortal thanks to the powers of the nine magic rings that sustain them. The only ways to permanently destroy the Ringwraiths are to destroy their rings (which Sauron keeps in his personal possession) or the One Ring. In his letters, Tolkien says that Sauron could have restored the Witch King in time, if not for those meddling hobbits dropping his Ring into a volcano.
  • No Adequate Punishment: Treebeard's reaction to seeing Saruman having chopped down a good portion of his home forest lets the reader know just how unspeakable an action it is. The ents end up resorting to a Neutral No Longer and enacting Gaia's Vengeance by attacking Saruman's city of Isengard to, at the very least, put a halt to it.
    Treebeard: There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.
  • Noble Tongue: Quenya (High Elven) sometimes functioned this way for the elves of Middle Earth, who otherwise would speak in Sindarin. Similarly, Sindarin acts this way for the nobility of Gondor, who otherwise speak Westron.
  • No Help Is Coming: A factor that adds despair to the defence of Minas Tirith is when the heads of the dispatch riders sent to beg help from Rohan are among those catapulted back into the city: the messengers were intercepted and killed and therefore did not - apparently - carry the message to King Theoden. In reality they did; Theoden received them graciously and said he would lead his army to Gondor - but only after dealing with the pressing threat from Saruman. The messengers were captured and killed on their return journey.
  • No Man of Woman Born: The Witch-King of Angmar is the subject of a prophecy made by the Elf-lord Glorfindel, who foretold that he would not fall by the hand of man; naturally, he was slain by Éowyn, a woman who entered the battle in disguise, with the aid of Merry, a hobbit. This was intentionally based on Macbeth, whose solution to the prophecy Tolkien thought was cheating; the Ents (actual walking trees) came from the same idea. Note how nicely Tolkien covers his bases here: Éowyn is a member of the race called Men, but is female, while Merry is a man of his own race but is a Hobbit, not a Man. And killing the Witch-King takes both of them. In old English, as in many Germanic languages, "man" was a cross-gender word originally. The entire scene can be considered a pun on the human female: Woman, derived from wif-man (literally wife-man, but more accurately translated as "woman-person"). Thus, one Norwegian translation uses the archaic expression "Kvinnmann", ("female man") which literally means the same thing.
  • Non-Indicative Title:
    • A variation. The title The Two Towers never specifies which two towers are being referred to. Almost certainly, one of them is Orthanc, the tower in the midst of Isengard...but what about the other? Is it Cirith Ungol? Minas Morgul? Minas Tirith?? Barad-dur??!!
    • The Peter Jackson movies retcon the title into being about Orthanc/Barad-dûr (complete with Saruman dropping the title in an Inner Monologue), since in the movie Frodo and Sam don't even come close to the Morgul Vale.
    • Inverted with the following volume, The Return of the King which (in Tolkien's opinion, at least) spoiled the ending.
    • Interestingly "The Two Towers" as a name could have made perfect sense for the third volume with Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul facing each other and the complicated history behind their confrontation.
  • Non-Linear Character: Galadriel to an extent, which let her create her magic mirror. Some other elves with strong foresight can act like this too.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Pippin kills a large troll, only to be squashed under it when it goes down. He still manages to survive.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Everything done with the rings, including Mordor and (sadly) Lothlórien.
  • Not a Game: Pippin has to be reminded that the Quest is Serious Business a few times.
  • Not So Different:
    'I wish Merry was here,' he heard himself saying, and quick thoughts raced through his mind, even as he watched the enemy come charging to the assault. Well, well, now at any rate I understand poor Denethor a little better. We might die together, Merry and I, and since die we must, why not?
    But I say to you, King of the Númenóreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. '' As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive."
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Deliberately invoked by the author in the case of Sauron himself. Only three characters — Pippin and Aragorn, via the palantír of Orthanc, and Gollum, presumably during his Mordor torture — have actually seen Sauron's face, and none of them is inclined to describe him. The nearest we get to any physical description is Gollum mentioning the Black Hand, which only has four fingers after Isildur cut one of them off.
    • Also this bit, from Moria:
    Gandalf: I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide.
    • The murk of Shelob's cave causes not simple darkness, but complete sensory deprivation except for the hideous stench.
    • Nothing is actually seen and nothing happens in the Paths of the Dead, but the dread of anticipation increases with each line on the pages until it becomes downright palpable. There's also the great door in the Paths that some poor soul had tried to open to his dying breath. We never find out what's behind it or why the man (Baldor, son of the 2nd Lord of Rohan, Brego) wanted to get in so badly that he left scratch marks with his sword, and then his fingernails when it broke. But you can be sure that the question will haunt you for the rest of the chapter, and beyond.
      • The door is explained in one of Tolkien's essays, being the entrance to a ancient, evil temple from a previous era. Though why he would want to go there is still left enshrouded.
    • Near the end of The Fellowship, Legolas shoots something. It's heavily implied to be a Ringwraith in flagrante delicto, as "something like a cloud, yet unlike a cloud" dissipates from it. Frodo is too scared to posit this hypothesis when asked his suspicions.
  • Nude Nature Dance: After the hobbits have been extricated from the Barrows, Tom Bombadil removes the clothing the wights had placed on them and invites them to "run naked in the grass" while he retrieves their ponies. It's part of breaking the curses they were under, apparently, as was giving away the wight's treasure.

  • The Oath-Breaker: The Dead Men of Dunharrow. Isildur cursed them such that their kingdom would die and they would never rest when they swore to help him fight Sauron and then broke their oath. Three thousand years later, they break the curse by helping Isildur's heir Aragorn.
  • Obviously Evil: Sauron and most of his servants, though he used to be able to put on a fair face. (That power was lost to him in a defeat even earlier than that shown at the beginning of the movie.)
  • Odd Friendship: Gimli and Legolas. Especially odd given that, up to that point, Dwarves and Elves weren't on the best of terms and their parents didn't get along in The Hobbit.note 
  • Offing the Offspring: Denethor, after he goes into full-blown insanity and despair, tries to burn both himself and his feverish son Faramir alive on a pyre.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome:
    • Gandalf's battle against the Nazgûl on Weathertop, Boromir's last stand against the orcs on Amon Hen where he singlehandedly takes twenty orcs down with him (and for that matter, whatever Legolas had been doing there to use up all of his arrows), and Éomer duel with Uglúk on the border of Fangorn, to name a few.
    • As the Rohirrim begin their ride to Gondor, messengers come from the north telling of an invading army of orcs. The Riders ignore it, being too late to change their plans, and leave their largely defenseless country to its fate. We later learn that this army was met in the open field and completely annihilated by the Ents who sortie forth from Isengard in defense of Rohan. This is just one of at least four major battles against Sauron taking place off-screen at the same time as the siege of Minas Tirith.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several of these, such as when the heroes are confronting the latest spawn of darkness (the Black Riders, the Balrog, the Witch-King, etc). The best, though, is when Frodo puts on the Ring at the very edge of the Crack of Doom: Sauron sees and senses Frodo, and it finally dawns on him just what his enemies are up to, how they tricked him, and how close they are to bringing about his utter ruin... and he is so terrified that he completely forgets there's a war going on right outside his gates. "And Barad-dûr trembled from the depths of its foundations to its proud and bitter crown."
  • Old Windbag: Many of Bilbo's neighbours and relatives seem to see him as this.
  • The Older Immortal: This often happens due to several long-lived and immortal races, from which the respective older ones either survive their peers or simply happen to live a among a different group whose members are younger and less powerful.
  • Older Is Better: Swords from Númenor are much better than their present day counterparts.
  • Older Than They Look:
    • Elves, dwarves, hobbits and some men (Númenoreans and their descendants), mostly due to aging slower than the corresponding mortal men. Elves become adults at 50 and hobbits are regarded adults at 33. Dwarves have a similar system to hobbits, but live about twice as long (at 67 Gimli was considered too young to go on the quest of Erebor, but in the prime of his life at 139). Aragorn dies at 210 and Faramir at 120, which are reduced lifespans compared to their Númenorean ancestors, who regularly lived 300-400 years. There are quite a few elves in the story who have lived many thousands of years.
    • Bilbo and Frodo are a special case of this, since their youthful appearances ("well-preserved") are actually an effect of the Ring. It's considered outright bizarre by other hobbits that Bilbo, at the ripe age of 111, looks about fifty-five years old.
    • Out of the whole of the Fellowship, Boromir - and possibly Sam and Merry - are the only ones that actually look their age (to the reader's eyes at least). Pippin could be mistaken for a young (human) boy but is in his late twenties, Frodo is fifty but looks as if he's barely out of his tweens, Aragorn is eighty-seven, Gimli - as stated before - is a hundred and thirty nine, Legolas is at least five hundred years old, and Gandalf, as a Maia, is older than the world itself (and has been in his current human-like form for about two thousand years).
    • Tom Bombadil looks like a Man in the prime of his life, but he is almost exactly as old as the world, and says that he remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. (It is unclear whether Tom is himself a Maia or a unique creature who came into existence when the world did.) Treebeard is "the oldest of all living things" and ridiculously old even compared to a tree — even Celeborn, who is no spring chicken himself, calls him "Eldest". He may have been the first-awakened of all the Ents; he certainly remembers lands which ceased to exist at the end of the First Age and the War of Wrath.
  • Old Magic: The practice of making magic rings was once common, but stopped when it was discovered that Sauron had made a Master Ring that controlled the rest. Since then, most have been destroyed or lost, save for the nine rings that empower the Ringwraiths, and the three Elven rings that were made without Sauron's knowledge and that he can't directly influence.
  • The Omniscient: Galadriel and Sauron, particularly in Fellowship of the Ring. However, they can't see everywhere at once, and some beings like Gandalf can cloud their sight.
  • One-Gender Race: The Ents, although not by design as there originally was a distinct female gender - only they vanished, and haven't been seen since. If they did not have such long lifespans, they would be extinct already for lack of children.
  • One-Man Industrial Revolution: Saruman fills Isengard with machines and forges, allowing him to rapidly create a heavily-armed orc army.
  • One Sided Battle: The battle at the Black Gate was this until the Ring was destroyed. It was never expected that it would be won though, since it was a desperate gamble to buy Frodo more time.
  • One Steve Limit: Within the story, but not in the backstory; the Appendices reveal that a number of significant names have been reused throughout history, including Beren, Aragorn, Denethor, and Boromir.
  • Only the Chosen May Ride: Shadowfax of the Mearas. Even the Rohirrim were not able to tame him. Gandalf however, was able to quite easily and he served as his steed from then on.
  • Orcus on His Throne:
    • Tolkien does this with his villains, but only towards the ends of their careers - he had a theme of deliberate Villain Decay and Motive Decay, with smart people with real goals turning to evil but evil itself corrupting them and gradually turning them into cardboard cutouts. Together with this, they start out going out and kicking arse by themselves (e.g. Morgoth fights Tulkas personally at the dawn of time, Sauron comes out to fight Huan in the Silmarillion) but eventually becoming throne-bound. Often after one too many of such direct interaction had a painful outcome (e.g. Morgoth after his duel with the elven king Fingolfin, Sauron after his defeat/half-death and loss of the Ring in the War of the Last Alliance).
    • There's also the fact (according to "Morgoth's Ring"), that Melkor/Morgoth and Sauron spent much of their power controlling their "agents". They were not exactly lazy: using their physical incarnations to go into battle would have been simply foolish, especially for Morgoth, who "at the time of the War of the Jewels had become permanently incarnate" trying to control physical matter and who as a result could be killed in battle. For example, it's implied that the orcs' ferocity, tirelessness, and rage (along with their tendency to kill each other over nothing) come from being controlled and empowered by Sauron's will.
    • The last time Sauron personally took part in battle was at the end of the Second Age, during the Elves and Men's attack on Mordor, when he steps out of the tower and displays his badass powers, but ends up losing the One Ring, his ring finger, and - for about two thousand years - his power.
  • Order Versus Chaos: This is played out in the race of Ents: male Ents loved the wilderness and forests, nature untamed, while the Entwives cultivated gardens and loved orchards and farmlands. The two genders drifted apart over the years, and the Ents have since lost the Entwives completely. Also could be described as nature vs civilization.
  • Our Angels Are Different:
    • The Istari, the wizards, are angels disguised as Men, and are subject to an aging process - if at a vastly slower rate than that of Men; Saruman, for example, had black hair when he first arrived on Middle-earth, which gradually turned white over the millennia until only a few black hairs remained in the main story.
    • Tolkien's fallen angels are different in that the Valaraukar (Balrogs) were once lesser angels, as was Sauron himself - and, in certain versions of Tolkien's background mythos, the original Dragons might have been too.
  • Our Founder: The Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings: two monumental statues of Isildur and Anárion, founders of Gondor.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Yet another Tolkien-created trope. Tolkien's orcs are actually quite different from the standard Chaotic Evil barbarian orcs when you look beyond the superficial level. They're actually a technologically advanced race (The Hobbit mentions that they are as a rule better craftsmen than Dwarves if they take the trouble, which they usually don't) who are generally of human-level intelligence and have a sophisticated appreciation for others' pain. The problem is, they're usually not working together in large groups unless forced to do so by an outside force, and in fact kill each other at the drop of a hat if no other enemies present themselves. Frodo implies that their rage comes from the will of Sauron, who wants his servants ferocious and berserk. This brings in shades of Sanity Has Advantages.
  • The Outside World: The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, adventuring is generally frowned upon by the Hobbits of the Shire, but the occasional hobbit has set out to see the world, notably Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Samwise, Merry and Pippin, who all get swept up in the events of the outside world.
  • Overly Long Name: The Ents, combined with the fact that they talk really, really slowly.
    • Add to that their immortality, their isolated civilization and how generally hard to kill they are. Keep in mind that an Ent's full name is essentially his entire personal history, and they are quite old.
      • Treebeard also implies that the full Entish name for Orcs is several years worth of insults strung together.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome:
    • One of the best bits of the 'Scouring of the Shire' segment is a version of this. While the hobbit characters are sometimes overshadowed in strength while traveling with the Nine, they command a lot of respect and sternness once they return and deal with the problems in their homeland. In general, hobbits subvert this trope, especially Bilbo, by being unexpectedly useful.
    • Return of the King is basically one big subversion of this trope: Merry helps kill the Witch King, Pippin saves Faramir's life, and apparently Sam and Frodo did something cool too. Just to hammer the point home, when Frodo and Sam finally get back from Mordor, Aragorn himself kneels in honor of them.
    • Played straight with Faramir. He's a fine commander and a dangerous warrior, but he's standing next to Boromir, Aragorn and Éowyn.
    • Also played straight with poor Celeborn. He's one of the oldest and wisest elves in Middle-earth, a mighty Elf-Lord and heroic warrior. All in all a pretty badass guy... But he happens to be married to Galadriel, who Tolkien describes as being the mightiest elf in Middle-earth after the death of Gil-galad and the "greatest of Elven women". She's also an immensely powerful sorceress who was tutored by none other than an angel (Melian) and the lower level Gods (Yavanna and Aulë) themselves. So yeah... poor Celeborn.

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