Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons have long been at the
Although there have been many cultural and literary influences on D&D, when it was first conceived, it eagerly made reference to the world of the Lord of the Rings, with Elves, Hobbits, Orcs and Ents included by name in the game. However, the actual relationship between the Lord of the Rings and D&D is both more complex and controversial,
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Here we look at how the Lord of the Rings influenced D&D and how this influence has waxed and waned throughout the game’s history.
D&D was first developed by Gary Gygax as an expansion of a medieval miniature tabletop game based on Chainmail
The importance of the Lord of the Rings to the genre of fantasy literature and culture as a whole has proved particularly enduring – providing a mature template for deep world-building, and laying out tropes in fantasy storytelling that felt real and historic.
Tolkien’s rich fantasy world, on the other hand, first reached the general public with The Hobbit (1937) and was followed by The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), predating D&D by several decades. Despite being published in the 1950s, however, the Lord of the Rings only really became popular in the 1960s, when it received an immense public response in the United States, particularly on college campuses.
The result was a wave of pastiche fantasy novels which took from the series’ literary world, and a number of books which have been written as a kind of response to it. The fantasy landscape of the 1970s was therefore heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings, with The Silmarillion — a collection recounting the history and mythology of the universe of Eä, including the land of Middle-Earth — being posthumously released in 1977.
Given that the Lord of the Rings was so immensely popular on the fantasy genre during the decades surrounding D&D’s creation, this inevitably seeped into the creation of the game and was ever-present in the imagination of those that played it. Nevertheless, the world of the Lord of the Rings itself has been influenced by a whole host of historical myths and legends of Norse, Greek, Germanic and Finnish origin, having been conceived as an attempt to create an English national mythology which therefore borrows far and wide. Concepts such as good vs evil or light vs dark are of course not original to the Lord of the Rings, but they may have fed through the filter of character and race traits into the alignment system of D&D.
The Lord of the Rings in D&D
Some of the most obvious Lord of the Rings influences are found in Dungeons & Dragons’ original character races, creatures and classes: Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Humans were included, with monsters such as Balrogs and Ents — which are highly unique to the Lord of the Rings — also being featured in the game. And just as they had done in the novels, Dwarves made sturdy fighters, Hobbits made good thieves and Elves made good rangers.
What’s more, the Ranger class itself was markedly taken from the character of Aragorn, with class traits like scrying resembling
Attempts to Discount Influence
Although the influence of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit on D&D seems fairly conspicuous, with creatures and races
The truth behind the influence of the Lord of the Rings is perhaps more complicated than simply dismissing it as an attempt to avoid monetary losses. Although the Lord of the Rings was a cultural phenomenon which penetrated the fantasy world of the 1970s onward, D&D took on a far wider host of influences than just the popular world of Middle-Earth. The basic concept behind D&D has more to do with episodic pulp and adventure fiction which involved the raiding of dungeons in the search for hidden treasure, where allegiances can change based on insular quests of retrieval.
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The Lord of the Rings was at once immensely historical in its structure and moral in its message – the adventure by Frodo to destroy the ring was all-encompassing. In tone, then, D&D was and is worlds apart from the Lord of the Rings, replicating only some of its characters. Even then, there are broader differences. Elves are more like
The Lord of the Rings still remains a pre-eminent tour de force in fantasy literature, having influenced countless writers since its first publication.
Yet where the world of Middle-Earth may continue to influence and inspire others as a solid work of fiction, D&D is fluid and ever-changing, drawing on a wider ancestry of influences with each new incarnation. Whether that’s in reference to contemporary fantasy literature, film and television, D&D has grown to include more complex and morally ambiguous characterisation, taking on influences like Ursula LeGuin’s Tales from Earthsea. This has seen a broader relaxation, too, in Gary Gygax’ relationship with the Lord of the Rings.
Where once the links between D&D and the Lord of the Rings were purposefully downplayed, now they are acknowledged within the context of the specific climate of the 1970’s fantasy subculture. Where the ancestry of the Lord of the Rings can be traced through D&D’s host of characters, classes and, indeed, its world, D&D remains an evolving, interactive game which brings in equal parts its own distinct fantasy world with that of its audience.
In the 1970s, that was the Lord of the Rings; now it is so much more.
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