In 2011 Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will release The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, a co-operative action game set in Middle Earth. Here’s the trailer:
Looks cool, huh? I think so, but I also wonder if J.R.R. Tolkien would have approved. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably buy this and revel in all of its orc neck-slitting glory, but how much of this is in keeping with the author’s intent in writing The Lord of the Rings? Is this kind of ass-kicking ultra-violence a perversion of his vision? Does it matter?
I am at a loss to answer these questions as all of my Tolkien books are currently in storage, but I don’t recall Tolkien describing combat in graphic detail – although as a veteran he was undoubtedly familiar with its horrid reality. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember there being a lot of fighting in the books; certainly not compared to the writings of a modern fantasy writer like, say, R.A. Salvatore. Am I remembering this right, readers? It has been about a decade since I read Tolkien’s trilogy, but I recall it as being more than just the swashbuckling adventure story War in the North appears to be.
How far can an artist deviate from his or her source material, in spirit or in fact, and still claim kinship with it? Is it acceptable to do so in the name of good entertainment? A game has certain requirements, the foremost of which is to keep the player’s attention. Constant action is a good way to do so, and even if the story that inspired the game isn’t jam-packed with action, one must make concessions to fulfill the needs of the player. Still, though, is this okay? Also, should a game or other derivative property be judged by the same merits by which one judges the original work that inspired it?