Middle-earth: Shadow of War is Glorious Fan Fiction, and that’s OK

It's still better than EROTIC fan fiction.
shadow of war fan fiction - minas ithil

Even the nerd-troversial George Lucas knew when the enormousness that is Star Wars had indeed become “Too Big to Fail Geeks”.  Surely part of Star Wars’ sale to Disney was just Mr. Lucas saying, “F*ck this sh*t, I’m done.” But a larger part, I’d like to believe was the filmmaker’s own realization that a project he’d once made for himself had become something that belonged to no one and everyone. So when I see gamers and fans alike chastising the new Middle-earth: Shadow of War trailer, tweeting that Tolkien must be rolling in his grave – I give an eye roll.

“…a project he’d once made for himself had become something that belonged to no one and everyone.”

Even Tolkien never expected his creations to matter very much to anyone but himself, but he was very pleased when he learned that the tale of Bilbo, Frodo, and the whole of Middle-earth did indeed strike a chord with people the world over. He’s long gone now, and maybe a Tolkien scholar can pop in and say whether JRR ever made mention what he wanted to happen to ME after his death, but as a fan I’m just glad that Saul Zaentz and Co are feeding us more wonderful fan fiction their quest for more wonderful money.

I’m coming at this topic as a gamer and a simple fan, no JRR Tolkien scholar. I fully comprehend that the Balrog and tale of Celebrimbor and Talion may very well be cringe-worthy to those folks. But I don’t because after I’d finished reading Tolkien’s Middle-earth works, I hungered for more. When the Lord of the Rings movies were completed, I wanted more. I didn’t love the Hobbit trilogy, but I was so very glad to be back in that world of Peter Jackson’s again.

the cinematic reveal for Middle-earth Shadow of War

Looking at Sauron in the cinematic reveal for Shadow of War, I understand the depiction of the dark lord may not be what Tolkien intended, but it’s a very important distinction to remember that these games (like the movies) are not canon. They are not officially part of the narrative. They are based on the film and IP to which Warner Bros. has the rights. They work with the Saul Zaentz Company and Middle-earth Enterprises to be respectful and detailed with the lore of Tolkien’s many works – even if none of it will ever truly affect that official timeline.

“It’s not your fault they don’t like fun things.”

Stories like Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War should be treated as they are: extremely competent and luxurious forms of fan fiction. They tickle our fantasies, transport us into a world we long to be, and serve as a way for us to cling to the works of Tolkien even though we’ll never get “new” words from the man himself without the help of his own children and long-dormant notes.

So the next time you share your love for Shadow of Mordor or Shadow of War, or so be it any work of fiction that extends beyond the original creator’s scope, and someone tells you that it would make so and so “roll in their grave” – tell them to bugger off. It’s not your fault they don’t like fun things.

Written by
The Greatest Excite Bike Player of All Time (GEBPAT for short) and Editor in Chief of and


  1. Bill.

    Balrogs don’t have wings. Therefore this entire idea of Shadow of War being a good LOTR – based game goes out the window.

    On a serious note, I am a Tolkien scholar. I’ve written multiple articles on the subject, I’m well known within the Tolkien community as one of the go-to Tolkienists. The problem is that Monolith invited this criticism the minute their game director came out and stated that Shadow of Mordor lines up with Canon. Had they been more honest with both themselves and fans and simply stated this was fan-fic, a story in an alternate timeline and try to placate themselves to ardent Tolkienists, we’d have a different discussion.

    That said, as a gamer and a games critic, I personally cannot wait to play this game. I will say the idea of seeing how Monolith takes the story of Talion and Celebrimbor and moves it forward is interesting to me, especially the way things were left in the first game. Will I be critical of the game’s setting and adherence to the source material? Absolutely. Will I have fun? If the game is good, absolutely. We, as humans, are capable of both here.

    • Here’s the thing though, until ME Enterprises SAYS it’s canon, and not just “sort of”, the it really is just an awesome story based on the Middle-earth timeline. It’s not canon. It just lines up with it.

      • That’s the problem though: ME Enterprises doesn’t exactly have the clout to even claim that – they are a thing set up by the SZC to look after the media rights of The Lord of the Rings and so on. We would need the Tolkien Estate to weigh in – they would be the true keepers of Tolkien’s work. It’s why we’ll never see a Silmarillion movie so long as Christopher Tolkien is alive at the very least.

        However, the developer shouldn’t make the claim either. The minute they do, they invite this kind of criticism. Now, anyone worth their salt in terms of their knowledge of Tolkien’s world would know the minute the story’s general premise was detailed would see immediately that this is completely diametrically opposed to what Tolkien himself represented in the books.

        It’s important, though, that we remember that the number one goal of these games is to entertain – not satisfy every lore inkling we have. It’s why the movies – while inaccurate in some senses (Friggin Faramir….) – are phenomenal gateways to the larger world of Tolkien.

        • “It’s important, though, that we remember that the number one goal of these games is to entertain – not satisfy every lore inkling we have.”

          Said perfectly!

  2. Exactly. Who even cares if it’s canon or not? It’s simply a fun game, and it happens to be based in a fantasy world many people (myself included) love and has indulged in for a very long time. I think it looks awesome.

    Ultimately it’s a video game. A GAME. A thing meant to be played with and enjoyed. So I’m going to be doing a lot of playing and winged Balrog slaying when it launches.

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