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  • Accidental Aesop: Tolkien's anti-war message conflicts rather badly to modern readers with Éowyn's position as an amazingly progressive Action Girl for the time, giving the impression that her ending up happily hanging up her sword is saying that women should Stay in the Kitchen. It does not help that she is the only human to explicitly do so (along with the Hobbits and Gandalf, who aren't), but is mitigated by the fact that in this action, she stops being a Death Seeker.
  • Accidental Innuendo:
    • From Chapter 3 of The Fellowship of the Ring: "Just why Mr. Frodo was selling his beautiful hole was even more debatable than the price."
    • And only a little while later, in "The Old Forest": "Tom put his mouth to the crack and began singing into it in a low voice. They could not catch the words, but evidently Merry was aroused."
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Many are prone to this.
    • Gollum: A nasty sort of character to begin with, he killed his friend for the Ring and escaped with it (so far this is canon), but resisted the Ring's attempts to completely subjugate him even as he was driven insane by it and actually trapped it away from Sauron's attempts to retrieve it, fighting its influence and his twisted impulses the whole time while aware that he was doomed to fail due to his envy.
    • The Orcs, helped by the fact that Tolkien was worried about the implications of the Always Chaotic Evil trope (that he detested) and apparently intended for them to be Proud Warrior Race Guys serving Sauron only because of his power over them. He had actually planned to have Frodo meet some helpful Orcs but hadn't figured out where to work their scene in. He would have introduced this part of them and expanded their role in future editions too, but sadly his death got in the way of that.
    • Who was the real hero - Sam or Frodo? (Or both? Word of God favored Sam.)
    • A darker interpretation of Frodo's decision to take the Ring to Mordor - maybe partially motivated by a desire to be close to the Ring again.
    • Many readers just take it for granted that the Ringwraiths attack the inn at Bree and trash the hobbits' room personally, as both film versions have done, but it's not actually confirmed in the text if they did. Many argue that it was actually their (and/or Saruman's) minions/spies who did the legwork.
    • Similarly, Legolas's hair color is often taken for granted to be blond, since his father the Elvenking in The Hobbit has explicitly "golden" hair, and most visual depictions have gone with this. But some readers argue he is actually brunette, pointing to a scene where he shoots a Ringwraith and his fell beast out of the air, where "his head was dark". However, this takes place at night.
    • More notoriously, readers also disagree about whether the Balrog has physical wings or just a shadow aura that looks like wings, but both movies and many illustrations have gone with the former.
  • Applicability: Tolkien discussed this in the foreword to a later edition. He pointed out that a lot of the things people insisted were allegories of World War II (e.g. the Ring as the A-Bomb) were conceived of before the 40s and any similarity people find is due to hindsight, as well as detailing what the story would have been if he had actually written a WWII allegory. He disclaimed allegory and used the word applicability instead - allegory is an intention of the author, but applicability is free for the reader to determine.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Tom Bombadil, big time. Whether you enjoy his portion of the book or find it unnecessary is completely up in the air.
    • Denethor, opinions vary as whether he was a pitiable character or a total Jerkass who deserved what he got. It doesn't help that he was less fleshed out in the movies and made into somewhat of a villain.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment:
    • Early on in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien briefly stops the action to describe a fox's train of thought, which runs: "‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it." This was likely a holdover from the early drafts of the story, which were more in the vein of the Hobbit explaining the narrative aside.
    • The infamous encounter with Tom Bombadil clashes both with the mood of the story at that point, and any established lore as well. Plenty of Epileptic Trees have been planted by fans trying to figure out what's the deal with him, to no explanation better than that Tolkien brought him over from a separate story he wrote because he felt like it.
  • Broken Base:
    • Whether the many songs and poems in the books are any good or not.
    • Whether the books are better than the movies or vice-versa.
    • Some consider the end to be too long. Hence the whole subplot of the "Scouring of the Shire", taking place after Sauron is defeated, was dropped in the movies. Yet Tolkien wasn't eager to pawn off a pat "happy-ever-after" ending. Instead, the heroes' homecoming is just as important a part of the journey as it was in the old epics it emulates.
    • Whether or not Éowyn giving up her Action Girl and Glory Seeker tendencies to become a noble consort and healer is (even if unintentionally) a case of Stay in the Kitchen on the part of Tolkien is still hotly debated to this day.
    • To a lesser extent, whether or not her Pair the Spares with Faramir is a case of Strangled by the Red String. Tolkien justified it through personal knowledge of romances formed in wartime, which may seem hasty compared to peacetime but fueled by the increased stress of such periods.
    • The Balrog. Wings, or has a shadow-aura that looks like them?
  • Common Knowledge:
    • There is a widespread, although tongue-in-cheek, assumption that pipe-weed is marijuana—partly for Rule of Funny, partly because it is sometimes called simply "weed" (in an example of Have a Gay Old Time), and partly because it's uncomfortable to consider that all the protagonists are addicted to a drug that is now known to cause a battery of horrible illnesses. However, Tolkien specifies in the prologue "Concerning Hobbits" that the weed in question is a variety of Nicotiana, so it is definitely the tobacco plant.
    • It's been perpetuated by official illustrations for many decades (like those by the Brothers Hildebrandt) and thus carried over into the movies, but there's nothing to indicate that hobbits in general have big feet, proportionately bigger than normal humans' feet would be to them. One hobbit clan does, the Proudfoots (or properly, Proudfeet). The confusion probably comes from most hobbits being said to go barefoot, with their hairy feet sporting leathery soles, but there's nothing outright said about size.
    • Similarly, artwork and adaptations almost always give Tolkien's elves pointed ears, an attribute he never mentions in any of his complete, canon texts. In a letter to his publisher, he did once describe hobbits as having ears "slightly pointed and 'elvish'" but it's unclear if means his elves had pointed ears, or if he was referring to the general fantasy trope of elves and other fair folk having them.
  • Complete Monster: The Two Towers: Shelob is "an evil thing in spider-form" and the last child of Ungoliant. A self-serving glutton whose only concern is to feast on as much life as possible, Shelob has haunted Cirith Ungol for thousands of years, targeting Elves, Men, Orcs and anyone else who comes near her lair; her capacity for death lead her to become Sauron's unofficial executioner, regularly given Sauron's prisoners to "play with" then consume at her leisure. Shelob injects a paralyzing venom into her victims, then strings them up for sometimes days to stew in their fear before she drinks their blood and rends them with her claws. The progenitor of other giant spiders that terrorize Middle-Earth, like the ones in Mirkwood, Shelob makes a habit of breeding with her offspring, then killing and eating them just as she would any other prey. Shelob's only desire is the consumption of all living beings in Middle-Earth, and she is one of the most evil entities that Frodo and Sam confront on their quest.
  • Critical Backlash:
    • It got mixed reviews initially, ranging from enthusiastic to deeply rejective and hostile, with one critic calling it "juvenile trash". The Lord of the Rings didn't catch on until the 1960s.
    • Peter S. Beagle expressed it well in the foreword: "The '60s[...] were when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene."
  • Die for Our Ship: Poor, poor Arwen. Aragorn/Boromir, Aragorn/Legolas and Éowyn/Aragorn fans hate and bash her like there's no tomorrow. The fact that she was a late addition (Tolkien didn't create her until the third draft) really doesn't help her any, and her love story with Aragorn is in the appendices.
  • Ending Fatigue: The climax of the story takes place little over the halfway point of Return Of The King, with the return journeys home being just as important as the journey to Mordor in the first place, practically making it read like a Post-Script Season. Tolkien didn't want a cliche "happy-ever-after" ending, and included the Scouring of the Shire to show how the small hobbits of the Fellowship had grown into true heroes in and of themselves. It also shows how most of the hobbit race (except for some bad eggs) are Crouching Moron Hidden Badasses when push truly comes to shove, and that they absolutely abhor killing their own kind, which was one of the MAJOR failings of the Elves of the First Age.
  • Even Better Sequel: The Hobbit is to this day considered a good fantasy story for younger audiences. The Lord of the Rings, partially thanks to its more mature tone and epic scope, is regarded as superior in every way, with far more dynamic and interesting characters and huge emotional stakes involved, in addition to its farther reaching lore and Worldbuilding.
  • Fair for Its Day: While Éowyn may not exactly measure up to modern standards of the Action Girl concept, she was still meant to reflect female valour. In one of his letters Tolkien wrote that she was neither an Amazon soldier nor a nursemaid, but "like many brave women, was capable of great military gallantry at a crisis". So she's probably best described not as a Xena-type warrior woman, but more like a female member of the Home Guard.note  Worth noting that in the third book she was supposed to stay at home to lead her people in the king's absence, and in case he and the direct heir (her elder brother) didn't come back - not merely because she was a girl. And that they decked her out in war gear for the occasion. Only her sneaking off with the war host anyway was secret. She's also given sympathy for having broken under the responsibility of being her uncle's caregiver rather than being cast as selfish or not loving her family enough. When Éomer says they were in the same situation, Gandalf sharply corrects him by pointing out that Éomer could always escape and raid orcs to relieve his stress while Éowyn remained trapped at home, all day, every day. This conversation makes Éomer reevaluate the whole of their previous life together.
  • Fandom-Enraging Misconception:
    • Many fans are grumpy about anyone spelling his surname "Tolkein" or pronouncing it "Tol-kin", "Tol-kyen" or "Tolky-yen" rather than "Tol-Keen". And even spelling "Middle-earth" as "Middle-Earth" in extreme cases.
    • Referring to The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy of novels, or even as one big novel. The author sometimes used "novel" and "trilogy" loosely to refer to the work as a whole, but also said that either term isn't quite right in a formal sense, which some fans get hung up on in order to respect his wishes. The work was first published in three parts so it is a trilogy, but it was one big book first Divided for Publication only for budget reasons, so it's not a trilogy in the sense of "three distinct but connected works", especially works created at different times. Then it's a work of fiction of substantial length so it is a novel, but it wasn't really intended to conform to the modern standards of the novel form so it's not a novel, and he called it a "heroic romance" instead. Thus some fans just shrug this issue off and stick to "book(s)".
    • Whenever someone mispronounces any proper name beginning with the letter C (always a hard-c or "k" sound, never a soft-c or "s" sound), e.g. Cirdan, Celeborn, Celebrimbor, etc.
    • It was never an option to simply have the Great Eagles of Manwë fly the One Ring to Mount Doom (a misconception enhanced by the films, but which wasn't directly explained in the original novel either). The Eagles are not a general-purpose taxi service to begin with (Gwaihir was paying back a debt when he rescued Gandalf from Orthanc), they would have been too obvious to successfully get into Mordor and would have been intercepted and killed by Sauron's forces, and nobody on Middle-earth was mentally strong enough to intentionally destroy the One Ring anyway, Eagles included: in the end it was destroyed by accident when Gollum put a foot wrong and fell in.
    • Mistaking changes introduced by Peter Jackson's adaptation for the content of the books is a sure-fire way to get the die-hard fans riled.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The book series only really took off when it was embraced by the American counterculture after the paperback editions were published there. It also became so extremely popular in Sweden in the 1970s that their national non-commercial TV made a film of the first half of Fellowship of the Ring (it was pretty bad, suffering from too much cheap blue-screen technology). Interestingly, the trilogy was translated already in 1958 but spent the 1960s in relative obscurity.
  • Genre Turning Point: There is no doubt that The Lord of the Rings stands as one of the seminal, mololithic, and overshadowing works of the Fantasy genre, that has basically influrenced pretty much every single work that came after it. This quote by Terry Pratchett perhaps sums it up best:
    "J. R. R. Tolkien has become a sort of mountain, appearing in all subsequent fantasy in the way that Mt. Fuji appears so often in Japanese prints. Sometimes it's big and up close. Sometimes it's a shape on the horizon. Sometimes it's not there at all, which means that the artist either has made a deliberate decision against the mountain, which is interesting in itself, or is in fact standing on Mt. Fuji."
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • It must be awkward looking at the title of The Two Towers after September 11, 2001. In fact, at least one person sued to block the release of the movie given that it was "obviously" referring to the events of 9/11. It was no doubt a surprise to that person that the book had been released in the 1950s.
    • The Rings of Power number at 1 (The One Ring), 9 (Men), 7 (Dwarves), and 3 (Elves) for each race. J. R. R. Tolkien himself would pass away at the year 1973.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • When Galadriel gives gifts to the members of the Fellowship, most of them get some pretty cool items. Sam, on the other hand, gets a box of dirt, leaving the reader to ask "is the box of dirt going to help?"
    • The lighthouse imagery of the Eye of Sauron gets stronger throughout the books, up to and including a red beam sweeping over the Hobbits as they climb Mount Doom. Then come the movies, and the Eye of Sauron as a giant evil lighthouse become very literal.
    • Hobbits don't consider a person a full adult until 33, and those between their teenage years and adulthood are referred to as "tweens". Then come the naughties and that term entered general use meaning the complete opposite.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Hi, meet the fandom. Read the books. Go on the Internet in general. Tolkien himself apparently stated that Sam and Frodo were not in love with each other, and Sam gets happily and heterosexually married anyway, and it didn't slow the fandom down a bit.
      "At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Sam came in. He ran to Frodo and took his left hand, awkwardly and shyly. He stroked it gently and then he blushed and turned hastily away."
    • Legolas and Gimli get their fair share, too.
      When King Elessar gave up his life Legolas followed at last the desire of his heart and sailed over Sea. We have heard that Legolas took Gimli Glóin's son because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it.
  • Inferred Holocaust: The Entwives, who lived in what is now the Brown Lands, after a campaign by Sauron. Extends to the whole Ent race, because without the other sex, there will be no new Ents. (Word of God confirms that the Ents did "die out" after a fashion - the ones that weren't killed by something basically turned into trees.)
  • It Was His Sled: Boromir dies. Gandalf comes back. The Ring is destroyed. Aragorn gets crowned King of Gondor. Though arguably the last of these was heavily foreshadowed in the poem about him early in the story, and the third is almost a given in a story like this.
  • Iron Woobie: As a small boy, Frodo lost both of his parents in a tragic boating accident, and had to move cross-country when he was (luckily) Happily Adopted. As an adult, he leaves his comfortable, upper-class lifestyle for a lengthy, dangerous quest to take the Ring to Rivendell to protect his homeland, suspecting even then that he might not come back. He winds up going on another, even longer, more exhausting, and more dangerous quest to get rid of it. He has to deal with increasing problems, not least of which is an Artifact of Doom messing with his head. Yet he remains committed, even when he's so wounded and exhausted he can barely move. As reward for his troubles, he becomes the only hobbit of the four who can't recover from what happened to him and return to life in the Shire.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Gollum, in a Jekyll/Hyde split personality example: the Sméagol persona is a sniveling Woobie, while Gollum (his desire for the Ring given form) is pure Ax-Crazy Jerkass.
    • Less of a Jerkass or a Woobie than Gollum, but still qualifying, is Boromir. He has several bad ideas (and to be fair, some good ones) on how to conduct the quest and never quite understands that the Ring cannot be used for good until he actually tries to steal it. However, he has more immediate fears for his homeland than anyone else, as he's actually been on the front lines against Mordor and knows that his homeland will fall if there isn't some major intervention, so it's not surprising that the Ring finds him a willing listener.
    • The orcs as a race, arguably. First there's the way they were made, created from captured elves who were tortured until they broke and then transformed against their will. There's mention of rebels, and constant spying on each other, which suggests that a) there's a significant amount of orcs who don't actually want to work for Sauron, and b) the ones who do something about it come to horrible ends. But they can't get any help, because practically everybody else in Middle-earth hates and fears them after all they've done in Sauron's service. The only Men who don't have a (justified, by this point, to be fair) kill-on-sight mindset towards them are the Haradrim and Easterlings, who work for the same Big Bad who enslaves them. Small wonder they're violent and ruthless; they're not exactly swimming in options.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Uglúk is the leader of Saruman's fighting Uruk-hai. A surprisingly intelligent and savvy Uruk who is wholly loyal to Saruman, Uglúk leads his "lads" to surround the Fellowship and capture the Hobbits while also causing the death of Boromir whom Uglúk is indicated to have delivered the mortal blow to. Keeping control of a divided force of Orcs, Uglúk is able to keep ahead of the Rohirrim by his own tactics and seeks to deliver the Hobbits Merry and Pippin to his master in Isengard.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: The book is a humongous bestseller (often ranking as second bestselling novel of all time) and practically revered in the Fantasy fandom for being a trendsetter, but for the general audience, the actual content is best known through the film versions (and videogames), or just plain general Pop Culture Osmosis.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President," both popular rallying cries from The '60s.
    • "Tolkien is Hobbit-forming." Also, anything having to do with Hobbits.
    • Political discourse: "Frodo failed, X has the ring" or "Y is like the One Ring, everyone wants it"... Strangely influential, perhaps because many poli-sci geeks see the Ring as an allegory for nuclear weapons or the corruption of tyranny.
    • "Another piece of Mordor," often seen scrawled on ugly building projects under construction.
    • There is even a whole neighbourhood in Warsaw, Poland, customarily called Mordor due to being a part of the city where many many corporations have their offices, and thus it's very, very densely crowded during rush hours (and it's often suggested that employees are seen as dispensable and fungible - just as orcs were in Mordor). Please enjoy this picture of an unofficial, fan-made city signage (usually denoting a city/town limits) signalling where the Mordor starts.
    • "My prrreciousssss..."
    • You cannot pass.
    • It was this series that popularized the entire concept of telling a story in three parts.note . Ironically, Tolkien intended it to be published as one work and hated that he had to split it up.
    • Before 1954, the standard plural of dwarf was dwarfs. The Lord of the Rings introduced the term dwarves, which ultimately became more common.
    • The year of passing of Tolkien, 1973, being reversed to "3 7 9 1", i.e. three rings for the Elves, seven for the Dwarves, nine for the Humans, and the One Ring for Sauron.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • The endless suggestions that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory of World War II, even after Tolkien himself shot the idea down in a later introduction to the book and bluntly noted his distaste for allegory, would also qualify.
    • The same goes for those who consider it an allegory for Christianity; Tolkien similarly Jossed the idea that Gandalf's death and rebirth as Gandalf the White was supposed to be an allegory for Jesus's Resurrection. This is borne out by the rest of the mythos, where it's revealed that Gandalf's "race"note  is basically a lesser Angel, and Tolkien did consider having the God figure appear as a mortal to drive out evil but ultimately discarded the idea.
    • Even the One Ring itself gets this. Way too many people have used replicas of this symbol of evil as wedding rings. The film using an actual wedding band didn't help.
    • Similarly, the Black Speech gets this, because people thought it sounded cool. Tolkien emphatically disagreed with this, hating the Black Speech so much that he deliberately used as little as possible (most notably in the inscription on the Ring itself and then in a few snippets of dialogue).
    • The book is popular with white supremacists due to its narrative of a good, pure coalition of western nations being threatened by insidious barbarians from the east. This ignores the fact that the Southrons, Easterlings, and Haradrim are explicitly established to not be inherently evil and had been indoctrinated and lied to by Sauron, that they in some cases had legitimate grievances over the Colonialist actions of Númenor, and that the book does not hesitate to point out that the Men under Sauron's sway always fought with valor (as opposed to the Orcs, who were unreliable and prone to routing if things started to look bad). Not to mention that Tolkien (who wrote a vicious letter to the German printing house in 1938 when they asked about his blood status as the Hobbit was set to be published in Germany) would absolutely not have approved of white supremacy. As he himself said, "I should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race doctrine."
    • Burzum, which is an example of the previous two points (the band's name itself is in Black Speech and Varg Vikernes is well-known for his white supremacist ideas).
    • Éowyn settling down with Faramir does NOT equal to her either "just settling for second best" or becoming a boring housewife. Her and Faramir's relationship is a part of An Aesop of the book that peace, healing and nurturing are better than war and violence (especially when the war is over) with language evoking a Call to Agriculture. Éowyn befriends and eventually falls for a man who helps her realize that she was more of a Death Seeker than anything else, so ultimately she chooses life over death, and falls for someone who even as a Forest Ranger ordered his men never to kill without need. Also, becoming a ruling lady of a princedom is different from becoming a housewife: it's a very tough position. The fandom, and specially fangirls, insists that Eówyn was chickified and "reduced" to a Trophy Wife or a House Wife. Ironically for modern readers, shieldmaidens in actual Norse sagas hung up their weapons whenever they married ("maiden" refers to being an unmarried woman), so Éowyn is perfectly in line with her legendary forebears. It also helps that most of the main characters follow this homely path after the events of the story, not just her. Gimli and Legolas spend their remaining years just spending time together, and eventually sail off to the Gray Havens together. Aragorn becomes a peaceful ruler with Arwen. The Hobbits all go home and settle down, except for Frodo.
    • The popularity of the book with the American counter-culture of the Sixties was a thing Tolkien himself struggled to wrap his head around. While he wasn't, strictly speaking, opposed to having this sort of fandom and they weren't as misaimed about the book's themes as, say, aforementioned racial supremacists, there probably weren't all that many issues on which they would see eye-to-eye with a stately, quaintly conservative, devoutly religious elderly English professor of literature.
  • Moral Event Horizon: See here.
  • Narm:
    • Some lines in the book come off as rather narmy, like "praise them with great praise" note  and "their joy was like swords".
    • The fact that Sauron specifically stole the black-haired horses of Rohan. Come on Sauron, are you trying to be stereotypical? In fact, he may have been trying to do just that. One point that Tolkien makes repeatedly in his works is that evil lacks creativity.
  • Narm Charm:
    • In any other setting, Mount Doom being named as such should have made it the prime example of a lack of creativity on Sauron's part. Somehow in here, characters and readers alike say this name with absolute seriousness and terror. (Contrast the exoticism of the Elvish equivalent, Amon Amarth, which on its face is A Good Name for a Rock Band - or a metal one.)
    • Similarly, the book makes a big deal out of the ring on Galadriel's finger - it's one of the original three given to the Elves - and it looks semi-ornate, in addition to being one of the most powerful magic rings when wielded by Galadriel herself. The single most powerful ring, the One Ring, is a normal-looking gold band, which seems kind of weird in retrospect as it holds none of the ornate or spectacular looks of modern magic rings of power in fantasy settings. This helps enhance the maliciousness of it, as being a normal-looking ring - even Bilbo is confused when he first finds it and it takes Gandalf almost fifty years to recognize what it really is - makes it incredibly beneath suspicion, to the point where the events of the book are almost a last-ditch effort because it evaded detection for so long.
  • Newer Than They Think:
    • Orcs and Balrogs - you'll find them in many generic fantasy settings alongside mythological creatures, but The Lord of the Rings is the first (published) work to use them. "Orc" is an Anglicized Elvish word ("Orch" in Sindarin, which gives the wonderfully apropos plural "Yrch"), while Balrog is Sindarin for "powerful demon."
    • The word "orc" actually existed in Old English, but it was a vague term for a monster or demon ("ogre" is a related term, originally a cognate of "orc" in French) . Same goes for "ent", which was a generic term for a giant (the related word "eoten" is a cognate for the Norse "jotunn", all referring to giants). It was only after LOTR that they started being used to refer to very specific fantasy creatures.
  • Older Than They Think:
    • The idea of a ring that makes you invisible goes back to the Ring of Gyges from Plato's Republic. Considering how well-read Tolkien was, it's probably where he got the idea in the first place.
    • Prior to the popularization of the Middle-earth books, the term "elf" usually made people think of what we would now call Christmas Elves. There was usually little difference in most peoples' mind between elves and fairies, or other sprites. Imagining them as tall, beautiful beings is usually credited to Tolkien, but the first known usage of this type of elf was in Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. Since these writings, however, all fantasy elves are presented this way. Incidentally, Tolkien's original name for elves was Gnomes. However, their similarity to dwarves in European folklore led to the name change.
  • Once Original, Now Overdone: As the Trope Codifier for all of modern western Fantasy, this is practically inevitable. After decades of imitation, inspiration, homage, subversion, and parody by dozens if not hundreds of authors, by the time someone gets to the real thing it can seem unbelievably stereotypical. Of course, they weren't tired clichés when Tolkien wrote them; his setting was just so successful that everyone copied him! Terry Pratchett probably said it best when he compared the influence of Tolkien on modern fantasy to Mount Fuji in pictures of Japan: It's always there. Sometimes it's big and up close, sometimes far and distant, but it's always visible (unless you either deliberately look away from it, or you are, in fact, standing on top of it).
  • One-Scene Wonder: The Balrog is easily as famous as the other monsters from the books despite only appearing very briefly.
  • Only the Author Can Save Them Now: At the climax on Mount Doom, Frodo has ultimately fallen to The Corruption and will not choose to throw the ring into the cracks. So Gollum has to try for the Ring and fall in himself, taking the Ring with him. In this case, the trope fits in with the previously-established themes of the book: No one could resist the Ring's corruption long enough to complete the quest and the event that ultimately saved the Quest resulted from an apparently independent choice made earlier (the pity shown by Bilbo, Frodo, and finally Samwise).
  • Self-Fanservice: With a bit of justification in the case of the Maiar characters:
    • Olórin (Gandalf) is stated in The Silmarillion to have sometimes worn an Elf-like form while living in Aman. As you'd expect, this inspires a lot of fanart of him looking like a handsome young Ian McKellen.
    • Sauron assumed a "fair" form while deceiving the Elves of Eregion and the Númenoreans, which is of course a very popular subject, but the trope really kicks in when fanart showing his "black and hideous" form after the fall of Númenor looks like a Long Haired Prettyboy with an Evil Makeover. Truly hideous depictions are vanishingly hard to find.
  • Sequel Displacement: While The Hobbit is still considered a literary classic, it is The Lord of the Rings which is considered the defining work of High Fantasy.
  • Shocking Moments: The first book features Gandalf, the kindly, yet somewhat grouchy old wizard introduced in The Hobbit, dying at the hands of the Balrog. He comes back, of course, but holy shit!
  • Signature Scene:
    • The Fellowship of the Ring: The Balrog.
    • The Two Towers: Shelob (moved to the third movie).
    • The Return of the King: Mount Doom.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: It takes around half of The Fellowship of the Ring to properly start the quest of the Ring. and even then, the stakes are fairly muted for much of the early journey.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: The faceoff between Gandalf and the Witch-King beneath the broken gate of Minas Tirith has all the makings of a truly EPIC showdown... and then the cavalry arrives (literally). The way it plays out is still awesome, but many a reader has wondered how that battle would have gone if it hadn't been interrupted.
  • Unpopular Popular Character: Gollum is at best pitied and more often loathed by every character he interacts with in-universe. Out-of-universe, he's one of the story's most iconic characters. Not only is he one of the few sympathetic villains, he also gets a lot of great lines and serves as an interesting Wild Card in the narrative, as well as his odd speech and split personality making him quite memorable. His appearance in the films, played by Andy Serkis, only solidified this, as it turned the character into a technological and filmmaking achievement as well as a great performance.
  • Values Dissonance: Since J. R. R. Tolkien was a man of his time in many respects and deeply drew on medieval European history and culture, some elements may not go over well with some modern readers. Though of course, the book was not intended to be an allegory or a manual about "how things should be done" in the real world, but a fantasy inspired by the distant past where people certainly didn't think like modern people do.
    • There are few significant roles for women and generally the fighters and commanders are all men. Even among the Elves, men are usually the warriors, while women are primarily shown as engaging in the healing arts. Other lore published after Tolkien's death suggests that the Elves draw a strict boundary between healers and warriors in general (with rare individuals such as Elrond who have been both), and it just happens that women tend to take on the healer role more often, and that elves considered males and females equals and there were no tasks or jobs considered improper for a male or a female.
    • When the Fellowship departs Rivendell, Arwen remains behind as Aragorn's prize for becoming king, and plays little real role in the story proper, as she is most prominent in the Appendices in Aragorn's backstory. Had the story been written today, Arwen would almost without question have become a member of the Fellowship herself and accompanied Aragorn. Additionally, the entire concept that Elrond can set conditions in the first place for Aragorn to have his daughter's hand in marriage is alien to many modern audiences, though this is both reflected in mythology and in Tolkien's own experiences regarding his wife. Incidentally, Arwen's character did not show up until the third draft (before that, Éowyn was going to be Aragorn's love interest), so that she has a very small role is understandable.
    • It's also expected that Éowyn's role in Edoras is to take care of her uncle, though she does ultimately achieve one of the greatest feats of arms in the entire book by slaying the Witch-King. On the other hand, Éowyn is also placed in command of the defenses of Edoras by Théoden when he rides out to attack Saruman, and later when the Rohirrim ride to answer Gondor's call for aid. This is no small charge, as it means that she is the one who will be responsible for the last defense of their people should Sauron be victorious. Unfortunately, Éowyn is unable to see it herself in her current state. It must also be noted that she complains bitterly about being forced to be her ailing uncle's caretaker when she was a warrior, and the main characters sympathize with her point of view.
    • Galadriel plays with this, as she's one of the most important leaders of the White Council, and though Celeborn officially rules Lothlórien, she holds a great deal of power herself. She leads the defense against the attack by Dol Guldur during the War of the Ring, and the counter-attack in which she personally throws down the tower. In fact, in The Silmarillion, it's made clear she left Valinor and came to Middle-earth precisely to have lands of her own to rule.
    • The relationship between Frodo and Sam can also raise eyebrows among modern readers living in a time and place where class distinctions have been much downplayed. Tolkien based their relationship on that between British officers and their loyal "batmen" from the First World War. Frodo is clearly the upper-class gentleman and Sam his servant, and that difference in social classes heavily affects their interactions in the early part of the story. On the other hand, Tolkien certainly expresses a high opinion of such "lowly" individuals, with Sam as perhaps the single most courageous character in the entire book, while making it quite clear that without Sam, the Quest would have failed.
    • Along with this, the frank displays of emotion between Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Boromir, and many other male characters has created a tremendous Fountain of Memes regarding the story containing an excess of Ho Yay to modern audiences. Many modern readers aren't accustomed to seeing platonic relationships between men depicted with such outward showings of emotion.
    • In general the heroes tend to be nobles in some measure with few examples of commoners, most notably Samwise alone in the Fellowship. Frodo, Meriadoc, and Peregrin are members of highly-esteemed hobbit families and Merry and Pippin in particular eventually assume hereditary offices that place them in control of parts of the Shire (the Oldbuck and the Thane of the Tooks, respectively). Gimli is the son of one of Thorin Oakenshield's companions, and thus a prominent member of the Line of Durin, though not actually the heir. Legolas's father is the ruler of the elves in Mirkwood. Boromir is the son of the Steward of Gondor and Aragorn is the long-lost heir to its throne. Gandalf is a literal demigod. Other heroes from the nobility include Boromir's brother Faramir, and Éomer, Éowyn and their uncle King Théoden of Rohan. Besides Sam, other "common" people include the man-at-arms Beregond, and Ioreth the wise-woman and healer, both civilians of Gondor. Beregond helps save Faramir from the pyre, and Ioreth helps along Aragorn's recognition as king among the people of Gondor.
    • Although the narration points out that Haradrim/Southrons and Easterlings (whose homelands are broadly analogous to Africa and Asia) are working for Sauron due to coercion, deception, and/or a historical grudge stemming from Númenor's history of brutal imperialism, and that most of the foot soldiers would much rather be living peaceful lives at home, the textual descriptions of them as looking cruel, alien, or even troll-like to the good and fair people of the West (and Gollum) can still be acutely uncomfortable to read.
    • The general picture of the fundamental worldbuilding throughout the setting's fictional history is of "the West", analogues of European peoples (including the mythological-derived creatures like elves and dwarves), facing the invading forces of "the East" and "the South" which are analogues of Asian and African peoples (plus orcs and trolls which are also derived from European mythlore) which, coupled with the broad strokes symbolism of "white" and "light" standing for "good" and "black" and "darkness" standing for "evil", leads to accusations of racism or at least Eurocentrism. For his part Tolkien was averse to being associated with racism and discrimination, but also was upfront about his inspirations mainly revolving around European culture and history vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
      "...if you want to write a tale of this sort you must consult your roots, and a man of the North-west of the Old World will set his heart and the action of his tale in an imaginary world of that air, and that situation: with the Shoreless Sea of his innumerable ancestors to the West, and the endless lands (out of which mostly enemies come) to the East."
  • Values Resonance: Although it's fairly subtle, there's a good case for to be made that the text encourages diversity, internationalism, and openness to others while rejecting isolationism and xenophobia.
    • The Fellowship itself is in essence a Multinational Team with representatives from numerous races and places, all of whom have different specialties, points of view, etc. They are also helped by still other people who are not present in the Fellowship, (elves from Lorien, ents, Tom Bombadil, men from Rohan and Ghan-buri-Ghan's tribesmen, etc.) without whose help the quest would have certainly failed.
    • Every time someone from the "good guy races" acts in a xenophobic manner or follows isolationist orders against outsiders, it gets called out as stupid, counterproductive, and helping only Sauron.
    • At first glance the Shire seems like it's being held up as a paragon of Arcadia, but there's also a fair bit of criticism of the Shire: the Hobbits living there are quite small minded, ignorant, and provincial, which makes them easy marks for Saruman when he chooses to set up a tin pot dictatorship there. (With the most small minded, ignorant and provincial hobbits generally being the ones most likely to turn into Saruman's lackeys, a la Ted Sandyman.) When the Shire needs to be saved from Saruman, it's not the good old hobbits who are uncorrupted by foreign influences and the outside world who do the saving (or at least lead the charge) it's the ones who have experience in the outside world and have forever been changed by its influences and their experiences in it. When the Shire needs to be rebuilt after Saruman is defeated, it isn't made more beautiful and wonderful than it was before by going back to the way it was, (or by trying to reject outside influence and become more Shirish or properly hobbitish) but because Sam uses the gift of Lady Galadriel to introduce new trees and plants that had never been present in the Shire before. The story even goes so far as to have Gildor, an elf noble, rebuke the isolationism of the Hobbits, pointing out that however much hobbits try to isolate themselves in the Shire they are still part of a larger world that affects them regardless of how much they try to ignore it or remain separate from it. In the divided and increasingly xenophobic and isolationist days of the early 21st century, there is certainly some food for thought and resonance there.
      Frodo: I knew that danger lay ahead, of course; but I did not expect to meet it in our own Shire. Can't a hobbit walk from the Water to the River in peace?
      Gildor: But it is not your own Shire. Others dwelt here before hobbits were, and others shall dwell here when hobbits are no more. The wide world is about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.
    • Masculinity isn't defined solely through raw strength. Plenty of conventionally manly characters are shown crying, displaying physical affection with each other and can appreciate both nature and the arts when they're not fighting for noble causes. This is most notable with Faramir's speech about not loving "the bright sword for its sharpness" and Beregond's frustration that his comrades undervalue Faramir because they think being scholarly makes him somehow "softer" than Boromir.
  • Viewer Name Confusion: Some casual fans think that Legolas's surname is "Greenleaf." "Greenleaf" is simply an English translation of his first name (Sindarin laeg = "green" and golas = "collection of leaves").
  • Vindicated by History: While some praised the work on release, the books generally received middling reviews when first published. Pretty much all the criticisms you hear today were the same criticisms made back in the 1950s and '60s: that it's too long and boring; that its Black-and-White Morality and Everybody Lives ending makes it intellectually immature; that it lacks sex and romance; that it's a vehicle for right-wing, conservative values; and that it's sexist and Eurocentric. While the reception from the general public and book reviewers was mixed, professional literary critics could be visceral and outright contemptuous. One called it "juvenile trash." Another disparaged the books as about "a silly, furry little hobbit who makes his dreams come true." British magazine Private Eye sneered that Tolkien appeals to "those with the mental age of a child and Americans." The books didn't start to gain respectability until the early 1970s, and didn't really become popular until the turn of the 21st century. Today the books are widely regarded as genius, with dissenting views in the minority, and are considered some of the most influential in the western canon and laid the foundation for all modern western fantasy.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Didactic?:
    • Just as the only evil in Lothlorien is evil that the visitor brings there, the only symbolism in Lord of the Rings is symbolism that the reader brings there.
    Tolkien: I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.
    • Some critics have tried to find Christian symbolism in it (similar to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, which is more openly Christian), with Frodo, Gandalf and/or Aragorn being classified as Messianic Archetypes, Boromir's death by arrows evoking St. Sebastian's martyrdom, or some such other connection. It is true that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, yet the only symbolism he admitted to was the Elven "energy bread" lembas being reminiscent of the Christian Eucharist or Holy Communion. In fact, as noted below, Lewis and Tolkien got into such big fights over how proper it was to put overt Christian allegory into fantastic fiction that it soured their friendship for some time.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: While its predecessor, The Hobbit, was geared towards a younger audience, this story was intentionally targeted towards adult readers due to Tolkien becoming more and more uncomfortable with the fantasy genre being used solely for children's stories. Nonetheless, until Peter Jackson's films came out it was often seen as a children's work and the Ralph Bakshi The Lord of the Rings and especially the Rankin/Bass The Return of the King are aimed at younger audiences.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?:
    • There are many, MANY interpretations of the book as a thinly veiled allegory of World War II. In particular, according to this view, Sauron is A Nazi by Any Other Name, and the whole Scouring of the Shire episode is a satire on Communism. Tolkien started to shoot down these interpretations when he was still alive, but when has Word of God ever stopped fans (or not-fans)? He famously responded to this in a forward to a later edition of LotR:
      Tokien: I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.
    • Tolkien's old buddy CS Lewis adored allegory, hence his Narnia books being nothing but allegory. They had such a falling out over allegory in Narnia (and other things Lewis did that pissed Tolkien off) that Tolkien and Lewis didn't speak for awhile. They agreed to disagree and got over it, buddies again, but it must have really rankled Tolkien to the end of his days when people saw allegory in The Lord of the Rings.
    • The first complete Russian translation of LotR, and still one of the best known, ran with the "Scouring as a parody of communism" idea by translating Lotho's titles as those once used by Stalin.
    • The Ring is a force of great power that is alluring to men, but cannot be controlled even if its power is harnessed and will twist you into a monster before it kills you. This is in no way a metaphor for nuclear power and weapons or radiation poisoning; the Ring's powers are completely literal.
    • Tolkien stated that if the books were an allegory of World War II, the Ring would have been used against Sauron at once, and Saruman would have made his own, turning the war into an Evil Versus Evil situation in which whatever side was victorious would have wiped out the Hobbits.
  • The Woobie: Faramir. For one, his father says straight out that he would have preferred that Faramir die. Then he essentially tells Faramir to go try and die anyway. This isn't as pronounced in the books as it is in the film, mind - Faramir pretty much goads his father into putting it in so many words (and their relationship wasn't nearly so antagonistic until the very last draft).

    Ralph Bakshi Animated Film 
  • Awesome Art: Sure, the character animation is inconsistent at best, but the backgrounds are breathtakingly gorgeous.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: Galadriel with her low cut, cleavage showcasing dress.
  • Broken Base: Either you'll hate the film and/or watch it to mock it, or you will be intrigued by and at least appreciative of what Ralph Bakshi made with all the limitations he had to deal with.
  • Can't Un-Hear It:
    • John Hurt as Aragorn.
    • Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum, who would reprise his role for the BBC Radio version a few years later (as would the voice for Boromir, Michael Graham Cox).
  • Continuity Lockout: A common complaint about this film, since it smushes the first two books into a mere two hours of runtime. To some viewers, this film is difficult to understand if you have not read the books first. For just one example, it doesn't explain why Aragorn's broken sword is important.
  • Creepy Awesome: The Orcs, in one of the few areas where Bakshi did something better (or at least scarier) than the Jackson films. They come across much less like the ugly goblin-dudes we're familiar with and more like the Legions of Hell, especially in the march to Helm's Deep.
  • Cult Classic: Following tradition with Bakshi's work, this film has gained a cult following after being released on home video.
  • Fight Scene Failure: Owing to the up-and-down animation quality and the untrained nature of the rotoscoped performances, a lot of fight scenes have the look of low-rent stage fighting. Blows lack any weight (because they're made by actors trying not to hurt each other), strikes are aimed primarily at the opponent's weapon, and both sides do little besides inexpert flailing.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: One of the reasons this film never got a sequel was that producers doubted that anybody would be willing to see a story split into two different movies. Fast-forward to present-day, and not only did Peter Jackson's films split up the story and still make billions, but the trend continued with The Hobbit film series (which also made a pretty penny). Bakshi was ahead of his time.
  • He Really Can Act: Anthony Daniels really shows off his range by playing Legolas with the dignity and respect you’d expect a noble and brave elf warrior would showcase. A far cry from his more well-known performance as the bumbling-yet-loveable Threepio, huh?
  • Ho Yay: If you thought the Jackson films made Frodo and Sam look gay...
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Some people, mostly Star Wars fans, watch this movie solely because it features Anthony Daniels in his only major movie role that isn't C-3PO.
  • Narm:
    • Sam's joyful reaction to the possibility of visiting the elves is delivered with goofy enunciation and hand-flapping. This scene, unsurprisingly, became a meme on YouTube.
    • Though many of the rotoscoped monsters have an ominous and unnatural appearance (like the Nazgûl), the armies of Orcs are clearly photocopies of men standing around in cheap monster masks. They also display excessive Mook Chivalry that diminishes their fear factor.
    • During the reference footage for the many running scenes, there is a bit where the badass woodsman Aragorn clumsily trips and falls flat on his face. They didn't even bother to edit that bit out.
    • Some of the character designs are quite questionable. While John Hurt's performance as Aragorn is often highlighted as a strong point of the film, some audience members were put off by his almost-stereotypically Native American appearance and Magic Skirt. Likewise, there is Boromir and his ridiculous horned helmet and Treebeard, who looks more like a weird, nude and balding dwarf in a silly hat than an ancient tree man. The most poorly-received design however is the Balrog, which looks like a man in a lion costume with butterfly wings attached.
    • When Gandalf confronts the Balrog, his "you shall not pass" line is said with a totally calm, almost devoid of emotion voice.
  • Nightmare Retardant:
    • While the orcs looks scary for the most part, don't get too close to their faces, or you'll see rotoscoped Halloween masks that will take away the scare factor.
    • Then there's the Balrog, which looks less like a demon of the ancient world and more like a mix between the Cowardly Lion and a butterfly. Or a gorilla with demon wings.
    • Averted when Gandalf describes how he returned from his fight with the Balrog, where we see a WAY cooler depiction of the creature than earlier.
    • The Nazgûl in the scene where the Hobbits hide under a tree. It limps like Igor and moans like an old man getting ice water poured on his nether regions in the middle of a yawn. It alone takes the pertinent scene straight from So Okay, It's Average to So Bad, It's Good.
  • Obvious Beta: A rare film example. The intention on Bakshi's part was to use rotoscoped footage for reference material and then draw traditional animation on top of it. Unfortunately, they were unable to draw over many of the scenes and so were forced to simply throw a filter over them and attempt to pass it off as animated. This grows progressively more frequent the later in the film (particularly when the events of Two Towers start), to the point of characters changing style from shot to shot.
  • Presumed Flop: The film is often written about as though it were a flop — and to be fair, it only covered half of the trilogy. But it was actually a financial success, earning more than $30 million on a mere $4 million budget. The only reason a sequel wasn't made was because of Executive Meddling.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • With many people likely now coming to the film after seeing the Jackson films, the parts he took direct inspiration from really stand out. Most notably the "Proudfeet!" shot in the Shire, and scene of the hobbits hiding from a Nazgûl under a tree was duplicated almost shot for shot. He also elected to end the Two Towers film in the exact same spot this film does in both storylines rather than where the book ends.
    • Galadriel is voiced by Annette Crosbie, who would later be best known for playing Margaret Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave.
  • The Scrappy: The animated version of Samwise is universally accepted to be a terrible portrayal of the character. Instead of the loyal if simple and likeable Hobbit in the book or other adaptions, he's a whiny, obnoxious buffoon who acts like a child on top of having an ugly design complete with a comically large nose and is given an annoying voice to go along with it. This is partly because the shortened film only hinted at Sam's Character Development; one might notice as Frodo gets weaker late in the film, Sam loses his buffoonish manner and starts becoming serious and assertive, but regardless, nobody liked this version of the character, and he remains one of the only things that is universally disliked about it.
  • Signature Scene: The nightmarish sequence of the Orcs marching on Helm's Deep like demons from Hell is one of the more talked about parts of the movie.
  • So Okay, It's Average: In relation to other adaptations. While clearly ambitious, it's also clearly a strained effort, so it doesn't match the visual highs of the live-action trilogy or the non-visual highs of the BBC Radio series, and the less ambitious Rankin-Bass movies feel better put together despite being shorter and toned down.
  • Special Effect Failure:
    • When Gandalf falls from the bridge, it looks more than anything like the animators didn't bother to actually animate him and instead just took his previous standing cell and turned/moved it slightly relative to the background. This is really obvious in the photobook, which chose to illustrate this with a frame that looks like one of those rub-on transfer books done by a kid who didn't quite get the transfer lined up properly.
    • Much of the film itself is this, as it was unfortunately released incomplete due to production constraints.
  • WTH, Costuming Department?:
    • In fairness, Bakshi didn't have the benefit of the most famous Tolkien illustrators (Alan Lee and John Howe) cooperating with him, unlike Jackson, nor had he as big a budget, but many of his choices are strange, like Boromir as a Horny Viking.
    • For some bizarre reason, Aragorn is depicted wearing a tunic without pants during the Prancing Pony scenes. It's distracting to say the least.

    Peter Jackson Films 

    Amazon's series 

    BBC Radio Adaptation 
  • Can't Un-Hear It:
    • Ian Holm as Frodo (yep), who is considered Truer to the Text than Elijah Wood's for being more mature and steely, while also sounding appropriately younger than he would as Bilbo decades later.
    • Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum, reprising his role from Bakshi's film a few years earlier (as did the voice for Boromir, Michael Graham Cox).
    • Bill Nighy as Samwise. Rather interestingly, Nighy is physically about as far from a hobbit as you can imagine, but being able to use just his voice fits perfectly.
    • Michael Hordern as Gandalf.
    • Robert Stephens as Aragorn.
  • Cult Classic: Already fondly regarded by older fans since 1981, it has been since rediscovered by some newer fans. It's appreciated for being Truer to the Text than the movies in hindsight, even successfully integrating most of the often-dismissed songs and poems. Bill Nighy's rendition of Sam's song in the Tower of Cirith Ungol ("In Western lands, beneath the Sun...") is often considered as a particular Tear Jerker.
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight: Ian Holm's Frodo muses about Bilbo's saying that "it's a dangerous business, going out your door..." Two decades later, in the Jackson trilogy Ian Holm's voice is saying these lines again, but as Bilbo while Elijah Wood's Frodo muses about them.

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