Tolkien has been able to create one of, perhaps even, the most diverse and extensive worlds in the history of literature. Not only did he create the intellectual powerhouse that is The Lord of the Rings, but he was a polymath when it came to the world he was creating. With the anticipation mounting for Shadow of War to be released and fans yearning for me of the iconic universe, this take on Tolkien’s lore could present some very interesting themes.
It appears that Bethesda has been able to use the source material adequately and create their own story that while it can fit in with the LOTR universe, it also stands alone. We are hopefully going to see aspects of the lore that haven’t been explored in the film franchise and will reinvigorate a passion for the iconic series.
So whether you are new to the game series, the universe in general or want some extra knowledge on the lore, this is the place for you. Many aspects will be left out because of the sheer size of Tolkien’s lore and history, but also so that it remains relevant to the narrative of Middle Earth: Shadow of War.
Setting and Key Events
As with Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War has moved a key event from the second age forward for the purposes of the overall narrative. This comes in the form of the fall of Minas Ithil, which according to Tolkien’s lore was the beginning of the War of the Last Alliance. The events that transpired in the War of the Last Alliance ended with the defeat of Sauron and Isildor becoming the possessor of the One Ring. Whereas Shadow of War has it placed alongside The Hobbit’s events after Sauron was expelled from Dol Guldur, so there is a few hundred years gap. Therefore moving the siege and capture of Minas Ithil changes the perspective of the story slightly. Considering it became a stronghold for the Army of Mordor and was renamed Minas Morgul, it would have had great strategic importance.
However, in terms of the overall narrative of Shadow of War, it could serve as an interesting- focal point and also help integrate the more ambitious stronghold mechanic. Although it is unlikely you would be able to take it at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, this could link back to the lore as for a brief time men were able to take back Minas Ithil before it fell once again to the Army of Mordor. Especially as Michael de Plater (Vice President of Creative Productions at Monolith) declared to IGN that they have tried ‘to be very true to the events as they’re known.’ This could make it an interesting end point for the game while not straying far from the history of Middle Earth.
Celebrimbor and the New Ring
Anyone who has played Shadow of Mordor will remember Celebrimbor and his part within the series. His story is integral and his part in the making of the One Ring will certainly have prominence considering the manufacture of the new ring. Celebrimbor’s past could perhaps suggest the ending we may have in store for Shadow of War.
Celebrimbor was a Noldorian elf who was tricked by Sauron into making the One Ring. Celebrimbor was ‘the greatest in skill,’1 among the Noldorian elves in terms of craft, second only to the legendary Feanor. The One Ring was corrupted as Sauron had a direct hand in its craft, whereas ‘the Three (rings given to the elves) remained unsullied, for they were forged by Celebrimbor alone.’2
This is interesting in terms of Shadow of War as it appears the new ring being forged is going to be a major component of the game. The idea is presented that as Celebrimbor would be working on this ring alone without Sauron’s corruption it would become akin to the three made for the elves.
However, this could also give us an idea of the possible outcome of the Shadow of War narrative. The three elven rings weren’t without their faults, the elves could not wear them when Sauron was at power ‘as they also were subject to the One.’3 This could present an interesting overall arch to the story where Sauron could slowly control both Celebrimbor and Talion as the game progresses. Alternatively, we may see a conflict develop between Celebrimbor and Talion as the corruption of the ring affects the hearts of men more deeply. It is said that ‘men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur,’4 Melkour being Sauron’s old master. Combine this with the apparent calm and wise temperament of Celebrimbor with the possible corruption of Talion and this could create a fantastic late game conflict.
Considering that Celebrimbor now has new knowledge on the making of the rings and Sauron would not be involved, there is every possibility that it could be a force for good. Within the Shadow of War trailer we see the new ring being forged and it has some very interesting design features. Instead of being made of gold with a red inscription it is made of silver with a dazzling blue inscription. This could purely be a design choice made to mimic the wraith-like appearance of Celebrimbor or it could link further back to the lore.
It is said that the Valar, the creators of the world, disallowed themselves to interfere directly in the war against darkness, after the destruction they caused while fighting Melkour. Although they have helped indirectly before, most prominently in regards to the War of the Ring. They may be indirectly helping with the battle against Sauron again by interfering with the forging of the new ring. Considering that the color of Manwe (the king of the Valar) is blue, the design of the new ring may be suggesting that the Valar have intervened once again. ‘Blue is the fire of his eyes,’5 is the way Manwe is described and considering the fiery inscription on the new ring, this could suggest that there is a ring of power designed for good.
Within Shadow of War, we are seeing Shelob as she has never been seen before, being able to take the form of a woman. There are many sides to the argument of whether Shelob, according to the lore, would be able to take human form or not. However considering that Shadow of War wishes to play around with the narrative slightly then it might not be that far of a stretch.
Shelob is the spawn of Ungoliant, a primordial spirit that was in league with Melkour within the first age. The origins of Ungoliant are unknown ‘but some have said that in the ages long before she descended from the darkness…she was one of those that he (Melkour) corrupted to his service.’6 After which she made her own way until she once again became famished and Melkour offered her the chance to join with him and eat whatever she could find on the way.
It is difficult to know whether Ungoliant was a Maia and took on the corrupted form of a spider and therefore would, as Sauron and other Maia can take on a human form. Or whether she is a spirit of darkness made by Melkour, just as the ents were spirits made by Yvanna and Aule (Valar). However, it is more likely that Ungoliant was one of those ‘spirits out of the halls of Ea that he (Melkour) perverted to his service,’7, therefore, meaning Shelob is one of those spirits also and shouldn’t be able to take human form.
Suppose however that the premise of Shadow of War is just to engage with new ways of reading Tolkien’s lore and there is still a possibility that Shelob could take human form. The origin of Ungoliant is unknown, so the perspective of her origin can also be changed. The game is meant to be able to stand on its own while still using the parameters set by Tolkien. Therefore as there is no direct clarification that Ungoliant was a spirit conjured by Melkour she, and Shelob, could be Maiar’s.
Shadow of War has set itself up to be one of the most highly anticipated games of the year and hopefully it will deliver on the magic that was present in Shadow of Mordor. The ability to be able to take parts of the lore and change the perspective could make for an intriguing story, that still maintains its focus on the aspects of Tolkien’s universe that people love. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with Shadow of War and how they play out the integration of the new ring.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War will release on the 10th of October on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
1. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 296
2. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 299
3. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 299
4. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 29
5. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 27
6. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 65
7. The Silmarilion by J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) pg. 24