“Middle-earth: Shadow of War” as the new shadow

— Jelena Filipovic

Paper given 13 February 2021 at Tolkien Society 2021 Winter Seminar

The video game Middle-earth: Shadow of war (2017) takes place in an alternate storyworld that depicts events preceding LotR and yet it does testimony to the very danger Tolkien envisioned for a possible sequel to LotR when he said, it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of [man’s] nature: their quick satiety with good” (Letters, No. 256). Shadow of War sheds a new light” on Tolkien’s conception of morality throughout the legendarium but threatens it at the same time.

The game expresses a diabolical dualism of Dark Lord (Sauron) vs Bright Lord (Celebrimbor) and its gameplay focuses heavily on the anti-villain trope. At the core of this problematic, where good and evil seem to merge, is René Girard’s anthropological concept of mimetic rivalry. This is a paradox that occurs when antagonists confront one another so implacably that they begin to resemble one another more and more. The initial differences that separated them are now dissolved.

On a more political level, the game also problematizes ideas of sovereignty and war: Orcish governance and rebellious cults, Sauron’s vision of an earthly utopia, and a perpetual war of all against all in Mordor — political concepts which can be traced back to Thomas Hobbes’ political theory in Leviathan (1651). These elements, along with the mimetic rivalry, do extend Tolkien’s canonical storyworld, but are they also the inevitable dangers which the author had foreseen? Can we view Middle-earth: Shadow of War as a 21st century digital representation of Tolkien’s meaning behind the new shadow?”

Authoritative information may be found here.

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date recorded 📅2022-01-24
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