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.
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.