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Tropes from The Lord of the Rings (the book)

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  • Vestigial Empire:
    • Gondor has been in decline for the past one and a half thousand years, with its throne vacant, its borderlands constantly threatened by invasion, its former capital reduced to a Ghost City, and the White Tree (a quasi-religious symbol of the empire's health and favor with the note  gods) dead. Its sister kingdom Arnor went through a centuries-long decline in the backstory until its last remnant, Arthedain, was overrun and destroyed by the Witch-king of Angmar, though its royal line survived in obscurity. This reinforces the parallelism with the ancient Roman empire: one part (Arnor = Western Roman Empire) has collapsed under attack, the other (Gondor = Byzantine Empire) subsists as a beacon of civilization built around a borderline impregnable city (Minas Tirith = Constantinople), but is shrinking and weakened by devious politics.
    • The Elves were the dominant race of Middle Earth prior to the wars against the forces of darkness (Morgoth and later Sauron) and the rise of men resulted in them diminishing in both number and power. However, Middle Earth had been little more than an outpost for their civilization for most of their history; when their control slipped away they simply returned to the Undying Lands where the bulk of them had long lived.
  • Villainous Badland, Heroic Arcadia: Tolkien's preference for the traditional English countryside and for unpolluted wilderness over industrialization shines through in how the heroic and villainous factions' homes are portrayed in the novels:
    • The Shire is very much an idyllic pastoral countryside, while Rivendell and Lothlorien are closely intertwined with the natural setting around them — Lothlorien itself is seamlessly integrated with the forest it's built into and out of.
    • Saruman's fortress in Orthanc is a heavily industrialized waste, filled with smoke, burning forges constantly churning out weapons and military camps packed with orcs.
    • Ironically played with in regards to Mordor itself. The northwestern parts of Mordor fit the bill of a hostile, deserted wasteland of volcanic rock, but its southern half is covered in great swaths of incredibly fertile farmland and a large freshwater lake. Sauron needs to feed all those orcs somehow.
  • Villainous Breakdown: It's noted that when Sauron finally clicks to the fact that the heroes want to destroy the Ring rather than use it against him and are very close to tossing it into the Cracks of Doom, he panics and immediately pulls all his forces out of their current engagements in a mad rush to get to Mount Doom before his fate is sealed.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Wormtongue begs for mercy when his plot with Saruman is discovered and defeated, claiming that he was working for the greater good of Rohan. He's allowed to live, a decision that costs quite a few lives and considerable grief.

  • Wacky Wayside Tribe:
    • The whole Tom Bombadil episode almost certainly counts. Its arguable status as Padding, as well as its mixed reception among readers meant that it got skipped by The Movies.
    • A more literal example would be the Woses, led by Ghan-buri-Ghan. Also skipped by The Movies.
  • War Elephants: The Southrons ride to battle on "Oliphaunts" (as the hobbits call them) or mûmakil (as they're referred to by the Men of Gondor). Sam is very excited when he gets to see one at a distance — he and Frodo are now the only living hobbits ever to have seen a live Oliphaunt. (The others could have seen them at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, but Pippin was too busy dealing with Faramir, Denethor, and Gandalf to bother watching from the walls of Minas Tirith, and Merry — having come with the Rohirrim — was too far to the west of the battlefield.)
  • War Is Hell: Even when the Free Peoples (elves, dwarves, hobbits, ents and good men) have We ARE Struggling Together and the orcs, Nazgûl, trolls, and evil men have an Enemy Civil War, both sides knew that any of their other band enemies will destroy them ruthlessly.
  • War Refugees: Many in Rohan. In Gondor, Pippin arrives just in time to see them evacuated.
  • Warrior Poet: Applies to many characters, who are both capable fighters and cultured. The Elves are particularly brilliant at it, but the vast majority of the characters can and do improvise verses at the drop of a hat. Special mention goes to Gimli, despite his gruff nature, whose long, blissful monologue on the caves of Helm's Deep is eloquent enough to convince Legolas, a Wood Elf, that stones have majesty to rival any forest. After Gimli actually takes him to see the caverns, Legolas admits that he is completely lost for words by comparison.
  • Warrior Prince: Most of the main characters, since the only major character not descending from a high (or at least respectable) bloodline is Samwise, whose ancestors always were just ordinary people — gardeners, ropemakers and such.
  • Was Once a Man: The Ringwraiths. Also, Gollum (once a hobbit...)
  • Water Is Womanly: Of the three Elven rings, Narya the Ring of Fire, and Vilya the Ring of Air are borne by Gandalf and Elrond respectively, but Nenya the Ring of Water (also known as the White Ring or Ring of Adamant) is borne by Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien.
  • Weakened by the Light: A lot of Evil creatures, including orcs/goblins, trolls (turned to stone), the Nazgûl, Shelob and Gollum. Sauron manages to block out the sun before the assault on Minas Tirith, enabling his armies to fight at their full strength during the day.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The elves, dwarves, and men are constantly squabbling with each other when they should be joining forces to fight the Evil Overlord. The Lothlórien elves distrust Gimli the dwarf, and so all the Fellowship must go blind into the path to Lórien:
    "Alas for the folly of these days!" said Legolas. "Here all are enemies of the one Enemy, and yet I must walk blind, while the sun is merry in the woodland under leaves of gold!"
    "Folly it may seem," said Haldir. "Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him."
  • Weather Saves the Day:
    • At the beginning of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. After days of the land being covered in darkness because of clouds put out from Mount Doom by Sauron, a wind arrives from the West, as per the page quote. Could be Divine Intervention; this is hinted at but not stated.invoked
    • Foreshadowed a few pages earlier when Ghân-buri-Ghân says "Wind is changing!" and disappears into the bush. The wind not only aided the charge of the Rohirrim by breaking up the Morgul-darkness, it literally brought redemption by bringing Aragorn's fleet to the battlefield in time to save the city.
  • We Can Rule Together: Saruman pulls this on Gandalf. He turns down the offer and ends up being a prisoner. Later, in a desperate gambit, Saruman tries to talk Gandalf over again, and Gandalf just laughs.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Denethor, for Faramir.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Boromir wants the One Ring to protect Gondor, and by extension the rest of the free world, but his eventual attempt to take it from Frodo doesn't go well at all. This trope is also mentioned as how all good people who deliberately set out to wield the Ring will begin their unavoidable Start of Darkness: Both Gandalf and Galadriel say that if they wielded the Ring they would begin with doing good, but that's not how things would end as its evil power corrupts them.
    • Sauron started off as one, desiring to establish order in Middle-Earth, which decayed into a desire for tyranny. Tolkien portrays tyranny as the corrupted mockery of order just as chaos is the dark counterpart of freedom. Some tyrants just want power at any cost from the beginning; Sauron originally intended to use that power to create his own order, but kind of forgot it on the way. By the time of the book though all that was ancient history and he had evolved into something not far from an Omnicidal Maniac.
    Gandalf: For nothing is truly evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.
  • Wham Line:
    Frodo:I have come. But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Invoked by Sam when he witnesses the death of a young Southron warrior.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Painstakingly averted, to a point where even the fates of stolen ponies are usually accounted for in the narration.
    • Except, oddly enough, for Radagast the Brown. He shows up in a flashback, unwittingly directs Gandalf into the clutches of Saruman, and then never appears again. Someone mentions going to his house in the woods to try and find him, but the house has long been abandoned.
    • The Lesser Rings are mentioned by Gandalf early in the story, as an explanation for why he didn't immediately see the One Ring for what it was, but they never come up again in the trilogy, or any other work by Tolkien. The term, incidentally, can't refer to the Seven or Nine, since Gandalf explicitly includes them among the Great Rings, all that can be recognised by the stones set in them and can give their mortal bearers impossibly long lives.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Glossed over in the case of Orcs, but eventually brought up when Men corrupted by Sauron battle the Ithilien rangers. Sam has a moment that is probably pulled straight from Tolkien's mind.
    [Sam] wondered what the [dead] man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would rather have stayed there in peace...
  • What You Are in the Dark: Invoked by the Rangers, who intentionally stay out of sight to keep the threats they battle equally unknown to the simple people of Bree and The Shire.
  • When Trees Attack: Ents, Huorns, and Old Man Willow. Ents are ancient spirits which had grown tree-like in appearance after having been around them for thousands of years. Huorns are described as either "Tree-ish" Ents or "Ent-ish" trees, being less active than Ents but more awake than trees. They seem to be formed from Ents who had "gone to sleep" or trees which had "woken up". The explanation for Huorns may also describe Old Man Willow from the Old Forest - or it may not.
  • Where It All Began:
    • The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings can only be destroyed in the same place it was created.
    • The Scouring of the Shire (for the books only), in which Saruman is defeated for good in the hobbits' homeland.
    • Sam speaks the very last words of the story in Bag End, where Bilbo was right at the beginning of The Hobbit.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: LotR did originally have one, which was cut for the original publication, but its three versions have since been published in the HoMe 9: Sauron Defeated. The first two versions are almost identical: It shows an evening seventeen years after the Ring's destruction, with Sam just having finished reading the story to his children, and answering their questions about the story and what happened after. The third version skips ahead a bit, and begins with Sam writing down the Q&A session with his children and talking to Elanor, who is allowed to stay up after the other children because she's oldest and it's her birthday. All versions end with a scene of Sam and his wife standing outside at night.
  • Where There's a Will, There's a Sticky Note: Bilbo, after he vanishes in The Fellowship of the Ring. He leaves labelled items as gifts for people. One of his enemies does demand to see a will, but as it turns out, it's all in order. It's implied to be the normal way of doing things amongst Hobbits. Chaos arises because everyone in the Shire believes Bilbo's home hides riches from his adventure in The Hobbit. It doesn't, as Bilbo actually only got two small chests filled with gold and silver (as opposed to the mountains of jewels everyone thinks he has), and he spent most of it in the intervening yearsnote . But that doesn't stop people from rummaging around Bag End and trying to get more than their share.
  • Whip It Good:
    • The Balrog - of the nonsexual kind, of course.
    • Also, the orcs whipping the hobbits to keep running (Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers on their run that ends in Fangorn Forest, and Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King, when they're mistaken for orcs in Mordor).
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Averted in most cases: the elves are innately immortal and - although rendered melancholy by the many things they've lost - seem to cope well enough. The same applies to the Ents (who are spectacularly long-lived, but not actually immortal). The inhabitants of the Dwimorberg, however, definitely yearn for death, and there are signs of this attitude in Sméagol as well.
  • Will-o'-the-Wisp: When Sam and Frodo are being guided across the Dead Marshes by Gollum he warns them not look at them.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Anyone capable of mastering the Ring would gain power sufficient to overthrow Sauron. But according to all sources of Ring-lore, the power would be addictive and corrupting. The Ring would end up mastering its owner.
  • Wizard Beard: Gandalf has a long beard. It hangs down to his waist, assuming he hasn't trimmed it since The Hobbit.
  • Wizard Classic: Gandalf is a Trope Codifier for newer examples.
  • Wizards Live Longer:
    • Justified with the "wizards" who are explained to be divine beings on the level of Biblical angels.
    • Played with in the Nazgûl . Their rings of power enhanced their lifespans far beyond that of ordinary mortals while simultaneously giving them supernatural powers: but the ultimate price was the loss of their souls, humanity, and free will to Sauron. In Middle-Earth, unless you're an elf or Physical God and therefore naturally immortal, prolonging your life always comes with a cost. (The one exception being the Kings of Númenor, whose lives got shorter the more evil they got - justified since their long lives were originally derived from their half-Elvish nature, which they were increasingly abandoning.)
      • The implication is that the mortals can't get any more life than they naturally have; they just spread it thinner and thinner, until they are little more than pseudo-living shadows.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Invoked when Bilbo, Frodo, and finally Sam take pity on Gollum, ensuring the Ring's destruction. Gollum (and Frodo) practically become this, however.
    • This mainly applies to Gollum, since the Ring would have prevented the actual bearer from throwing it in, regardless of motivation, as he actively tried to prevent the Ring's destruction after centuries of misery and torment, because of a Heel–Face Door-Slam...
    • Although he was destined to destroy the Ring and so the quest would have failed without his attempt to prevent it. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam taking pity on him and expressly choosing not to kill him on four separate occasions was necessary for the Ring's destruction. note 
    Frodo: But do you remember Gandalf's words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: The basis of what we call magic in the setting. Spells are just that, words or snatches of verse or song that have inherent power. Names are also important, as are vows and promises made.
  • World Building: The original, at least in the modern sense of the detail involved. Tolkien stated that the creation of Middle-earth was the result of giving his created languages a place to live in. He has written a lots of notes on the direction of that the history of Middle-Earth should go. Much of his notes have been organized and published as The History of Middle-earth.
  • Writer on Board: In a Tropes Are Not Bad way.
    • Saruman's crimes against Fangorn Forest are counted as heinous as his crimes against Rohan and Treebeard laments that nobody cares for the woods anymore.
    • Peace and healing are harder, greater, better tasks than war and fighting. When Faramir (who is, granted, a Gondorian, but also the closest thing to an Author Avatar) directly compares Gondor and Rohan, he characterizes Rohan as less wise and advanced because they happily embrace the Proud Warrior Race Guy ethos and enjoy battle for its own sake. Gondor only slid into it out of necessity after being Proud Scholar Race Guys. Beregond later laments that Faramir is less admired than Boromir because he's scholarly and only kills at need, rather than a Glory Seeker, as though being well-educated and being brave are mutually exclusive.
    • Éowyn, a Glory Seeker and Death Seeker, doesn't find happiness in war (in part because she survives it, very much not her intent). Instead she finds it with Faramir, who as mentioned above, is a big player in the "peace is better than war" theme and decides that she's going to dedicate herself to healing, not the sword.

  • A Year and a Day: In The Two Towers Faramir gives Frodo the right to go anywhere in Gondor for a year and a day.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: While the meeting is not at the beginning of the story, the Hobbits first encounter with Strider at the Prancing Pony marks when their world starts to really open up.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Actually done in a positive way. Gandalf reassures Frodo by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the ring and Frodo was meant to have it, which is an encouraging thought. (Taken in the full context of the Legendarium, it's possible that he meant God was quietly nudging things in favor of the good guys.)
  • You Can't Make an Omelette...: Discussed. "He who breaks a thing to discover what it is has left the path of wisdom."
  • You Didn't Ask: Quoted by Gollum after he tells Frodo that there is a safer, more secret route into Mordor than the Black Gate:
    Gollum: "They didn't ask, did they, precious?"
  • You No Take Candle: Ghan-buri-Ghan's grasp of the Common Speech is far from perfect.
  • You Shall Not Pass!:
    • Gandalf facing the Balrog, although the films named the trope. (In the book it's "You cannot pass!")
    • He does it again when he holds the gates of Gondor against he Witch-King of Angmar:
    "You cannot enter here," said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. "Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!"
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Denethor to Faramir. Once his hateful words have done his only surviving son great harm, Denethor repents bitterly.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: Gandalf uses several spells while attempting to open the door into Moria, whereas if he had not translated the Elvish inscription on the door (Speak, Friend, and enter) when he read it aloud the door would have opened, as the Elvish word for Friend (mellon) is the password.
  • You Will Know What to Do: "Take this. May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out."


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