Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion: A Video Game Review

elder-scrolls-iv-oblivion-oblivion-logoIt’s been awhile since I did any video game reviews, and since my purchase of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’ve been to do one. But before I could cover the latest fantasy installment from Bethesda studios, I figured I should build up to it. After all, its predecessor was a big hit with me in its time, and I got countless hours of gaming enjoyment from it for many years before I retired it.

Such is the nature of these games, they are the gift to yourself that keeps on giving! In any case, Oblivion was the first Elder Scrolls that I ever played. Prior to it, I didn’t even know about the series and didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was about. My thanks to my friend Doug for introducing me to this, and others like it!

Background:
As the fourth game in the series, Oblivion takes place within the fantasy universe known as Tamriel. In previous games, players were introduced to several different provinces in the realm, and were treated to snippets of the ongoing history behind it all. It would be no exaggeration at all to say that universe is as vast as anything envisioned by Tolkien or Martin, and was most likely inspired by one or both.

tamriel_mapThe realm of Tamriel is made up of nine provinces – Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock, the Summerset Isles, Hammerfell, Black Marsh, Skyrim, Valenwood, and Elsweyr. Each serves as the home of a specific faction in the series, such as the Dunmer (Dark Elves) of Morrowind, Orsimer (Orcs) in High Rock, Altmer (High Elves) in the Summerset Isles, Argonians (reptile people) in Black Marsh, Bosmer (Wood Elves) in Valenwood, and Khajit (feline people) in Elsweyr.

There are also several factions of “Men”, which include the Bretons of High Rock, the Redguards of Hammerfell, the Nords of Skyrim, and the Imperials of Cyrodil. At some point in the series’ history, the Mede Empire was formed by uniting the provinces of Men with the Khajit, Argonians and Orcs, either through conquest or alliances, and the Imperial City established as the administrative center of Cyrodil.

The-Elder-Scrolls-OblivionBeyond the Mede Empire, which is made up of Cyrodiil, Morrowind, High Rock and Skyrim, there lies the recently-independent Hammerfell. In addition, there is the competing and often hostile Aldmeri Dominion (comprised of the other four provinces) which is ruled over by the Altmer (High Elves).

At one time, it is indicated, High Elves ruled over much of Tamriel as the Ayleids, an empire which has since fallen into ruin. Another extinct civilization is the Dwemer, a highly-advanced society of Dwarves who were masters of machinery and automation, and who apparently knew much of the Elder Scrolls. Throughout the various games, these civilizations ruins provide all kinds of treasures and the keys to ancient mysteries.

elder_scrolls_racesWithin the realm, the established religion is the worship of The Nine (echoes of the Seven in GOT), gods that represent various virtues and powers. But of course, other faiths exist as well, such as the Nords faith involving dragons, mythical beasts which are apparently extinct at this point. But the other major faith is the worship of the Daedra, gods of “First Causes” that predate the Nine and are both good and evil.

The Daedra and their intervention serve as a major motivating force in the game, contributing to both the main storyline and missions of lesser import. At many points in the series, the coming of a Daedra lord to the mortal realm is the main plot line of the story, usually as a fulfillment of some major and ancient prophecy.

elder_scrollAt the center of it all however, are the Elder Scrolls themselves. These are rarely ever featured in the game, but serve as a plot framing device, where the events in the game “were foretold in the Elder Scrolls,” basically. These objects, which were apparently forged by the gods themselves, contain incredible power and are often incomprehensible to mortals.

Game Summary:
The_Elder_Scrolls_IV_Oblivion_coverThe story opens with an intro movie showing the last Emperor, Uriel Septim (voiced by Patrick Stewart), talking about how since the dawn of time, the Tamriel has been shut off from Oblivion – the hellish realm where the Daedra rule. However, he is haunted by dreams that the gates are about to open again, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that also foretold of the death of the Septim dynasty.

The game then begins with character selection, where you are required to specify your race, gender, class, etc., before things proceed. Once that is complete, you find yourself in the Imperial City dungeons, having been imprisoned for reasons you don’t fully understand. Believing the guards are coming for you, you are then surprised to see members of the Blades – the royal guard/secret police of the Empire – come to your cell with the Emperor himself.

You then overhear them saying that the royal heirs have been murdered, and they are apparently looking to smuggle the Emperor out through a secret tunnel that runs underneath the dungeons. You cell, which was supposed to be vacant, holds an entrance. After telling you to stand back, the Blades let the Emperor in, and he spots you and tells you he has seen you in his nightmares. After this introduction, he asks you to come with them.

Elder_Scrolls-Oblivion_urielIn the tunnels, you are beset by a number of agents that belong to a sect known as the Mythic Dawn. You are also able to learn from Uriel what is going on. He says that the Dragon Fires, a holy beacon which keep the planes of Oblivion and Tamriel separate, have gone out. They need to be relighted if Tamriel is to survive, but agents are pouring over the city trying to kill him and his sons.

Thus, the Blades are trying to get him to safety. After defeating the last of the Dawn agents in the tunnel, the Blades take off down a separate tunnel and leave you behind. However, you are able to follow them indirectly by passing through a series of side tunnels that are occupied by Goblins. This gives you a chance to collect gear and bolster your skills, and eventually you rejoin the main party.

You are soon cornered, at which point Uriel hands you the Amulet of Kings, the very thing that keeps the doors between Tamriel and Oblivion shut and can only be worn by someone of the Septim line. He tells you that their is one remaining heir, orders you to take the Amulet to a man named Joffrey who knows where to find him, and that only you and he can “close shut the doors of Oblivion”.

Uriel_Septim_VII_deathThe Emperor is then killed, and you are forced to find your way out of the sewers with the Amulet in hand. Once you’re out, you find yourself just outside the Imperial City and must then travel to Weynon Priory in the west. Inside, you meet Jauffre, a monk who is also a member of the Blades, and tell him what happened. He reveals that the secret heir alluded to by Uriel is a man named Martin who is serves at the Temple in Kvatch.

Ergo, that’s where your headed next. But when you arrive, you find the city is in ruins, with a refugee camp at the base of the hill and the guards camped beyond the gates and trying to hold the line against an open Oblivion gate. The guard captain tells you that a patrol was lost inside, and he and his men cannot retake the city so long as it is open. Battling through the hellish environment against Scamps, you find the last remaining patrol soldier and make it to the tower where you remove the Sigil Stone, thus collapsing the gate.

Oblivion-Gate_kvatchBack outside, you and the guards enter the city gates and begin retaking the place from the Daedra. After clearing the front courtyard, you find Martin (voiced by Sean Bean) inside the Temple with a group of refugees. You tell him your story, and his secret, and he agrees to come with you as soon as the city is clear and the refugees can be evacuated. Fighting your way further, you clear out the rest of the city and the main castle, where you find the Lord dead.

With Martin, you report back to Weynon Priory, which is under attack. Between you two and Jauffre, you manage to kill the enemy, but discover that they have stolen the Amulet of Kings. Once again, it appears the enemy are one step ahead. But with Martin alive, the three of you report to Cloud Ruler Temple, the Blade Stronghold in the north of Cyrodil, where Martin will be safe.

Oblivion_Cloud_Ruler_TempleOnce there, he takes charge of the Blades and you are given the option of joining them. With that complete, you are told to report to the nearby town of Bruma where enemy spies have been spotted. Once you kill them, you discover one of them is a resident in the town and search their house. Upon finding a letter, you learn they are part of a cult known as the Mythic Dawn who worship the Daedra lord of Mehrunes Dagon, Lord of Destruction.

Their plan is to open the gate of Oblivion so Dagon can reclaim Tamriel, and they intend to kill the Septim line since it is their blood that has been keeping the gate closed for ages. Intrinsic to this is opening a major gate outside of Bruma, destroying Cloud Ruler Temple, and now killing Martin. They are led by a Dark Elf named Mankor Camoran, a mage who has apparently been alive for centuries.

oblivion_pathofdawnYour next mission is to the Imperial City where you meet Baurus, one of the agents that was there when the Emperor was killed. He tells you that the enemy’s lair is somewhere in Tamriel and you must find it. The key appears to lie in Mankor Camoran’s volumes known as The Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes – a series of books about a tome of ancient power.

Already, you have found two while searching the spy’s house in Bruma, and the third is apparently on special order at the city’s book store. Meeting with the man who ordered it, you compel him to cooperate and hand it over. He tells you he had a date to meet with Mythic Dawn representatives to get a copy of the fourth and final volume.

Posing as this man, Baurus meets with Camoran’s son and daughter while you keep watch. His cover is blown when their escorts spot you and you are forced to fight it out. After killing them, you manage to retrieve the fourth and final copy and go to the Mage’s Guild and ask them for help discerning its clues. You realize that a secret message is inside the book that tells you to go to the city’s cemetery at noon when the sun will be above the White-Gold tower.

oblivion_mythicdawnWhen you do this, you see a map on the mausoleum wall that shows you the location of the Mythic Dawn’s lair. After arriving there, posing as another applicant, you come to see Mankor Cameron himself, who is wearing the Amulet of Kings. After giving his people a speech, he opens a portal to “Paradise” and leaves, taking the Amulet with him. Grabbing the Mysterium Xarxes, which he left behind, you fight your way out of the cave and head back to Cloud Ruler Temple.

Once there, Martin tells you that he may be able to open the portal to Camoran’s Paradise so you can retrieve the Amulet finally. He begins reading the Xarxes to discern what he would need to do this. In the meantime, you are told to report to Bruma where another gate has opened. Alongside the city guards, you go in and shut it again, but know that this is a temporary victory.

Given that the Dawn’s long-term plan is to open a major gate outside of the city and lay waste to Bruma and Cloud Ruler Temple, you know that time is limited. You are thus given two main missions. The first is to collect the items needed to open the gate to Camoran’s Paradise, the second is to go to every other city in Cyrodil and convince the local lord to free up soldiers to send to the defense of Bruma.

oblivion_cyrodil_mapThe first mission requires you to go to several locations, securing a Daedric artifact, the blood of Tiber Septim (the first Septim Emperor), and an Ayleid crystal. The second requires you to travel to all the major cities – Anvil, Chorrol, Skingrad, Cheydinhal, Bravil and Leyawiin – and close the gates outside of these cities. This gives you a chance to see each town and learn of their particular makeup and issues, as well as pick up additional side-missions.

With all of this complete, Martin tells you that there is only one other thing that he needs – a major Sigil Stone. This requires that you allow the Mythic Dawn to open a major portal outside of Bruma, and for the soldiers to hold the line while you go in and grab hold of the stone. A major battle ensues, and you are forced to grab the stone before the Daedra are able to bring out a massive siege engine and lay waste to Bruma, as they did Kvatch.

oblivion_paradiseWith the final item secured, Martin opens the portal to Camoran’s paradise inside the Temple, and you go through. Once there, you see a Edenic like environment, where Camoran’s followers live, but are forced to endure constant death as Daedric creatures hunt them and they are resurrected. They tell you how to make your way to Camoran’s seat of power – Palace Carac Agaialor.

Once there, you confront Camoran’s and his two children – Ruma and Raven – and do battle. Once they are killed, you retrieve the Amulet, and Paradise collapses. You are returned to Cloud Ruler Temple where Martin takes the Amulet, as Emperor, and you plan to return to the Imperial City to light the Dragon Fires and seal the gates between Tamriel and Oblivion once and for all.

oblivion_mehrunes_dagonAt the palace, you are greeted by High Chancellor Ocato – leader of the Elder Council – but the meeting is cut short when the guards announce the city is under attack. It seems that Oblivion gates are opening all over the city and Daedra are pouring through. With no time to lose, you head for the Temple District so Martin can light the fires, but once there, you see Mehrunes Dagon, who has passed into your world, laying waste to the district.

Martin believes all hope is lost, but a last minute suggestion from you that the Amulet might be able to help gives him an idea. Asking you to escort him inside the temple, which is dangerous considering it involves getting around Dagon’s massive figure, he goes to the center and breaks the Amulet, combining the kings and dragon’s blood with his own. He then transforms into a massive avatar Akatosh, the principle diety of the Nine, and does battle with Dagon.

oblivion_Martin_Mehrunes_DagonDagon was defeated after the avatar of Akatosh – a massive fiery dragon – chomped his neck and sent him back to Oblivion. The avatar then turned into stone, signalling that it too had departed Tamriel and Martin was now dead. However, his sacrifice had won the day, and permanently sealed the doors between Oblivion and Tamriel shut forever. The Oblivion Crisis, as it would come to be known, was over, and a new age begun

Having taken part in the final battle and see the victory of Imperial forces over the Daedra, you are named Champion of Cyrodil and given a special suit of Dragon Armor. In addition to being named Hero of Kvatch and Hero of Bruma, you now hold a rank reserved for a very select few. With the game now over, you are free to roam and pick up any additional quests.

Additional Quests:
Outside of the Oblivion Crisis, gamers have the option of participating in numerous quests, most of which revolve around joining a Guild. These include the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood (an assassin’s guild). Membership in each allows you to go on additional quests, earn ranks, rewards, learn new abilities, and take part in other adventures.

Oblivion_Fighters_GuildThe Fighter Guild quest culminates in you taking on a rival mercenary organization – the Blackwood Company – when it becomes revealed that they are abusing a narcotic known as Hist Sap that makes them bloodthirsty and unpredictable. The Mages Guild quest culminates in your facing a group of Necromancers led by the “Worm KIng”, an evil mage determined to destroy the Imperial Mages.

Joining the Thieves Guild makes you an agent of the Gray Fox, a recurring figure in the game, who provides protection for all of Cyrodil’s beggars and uses them as his eyes and ears. After participating in a number of lucrative thefts, you meet the Gray Fox and assist him in his scheme to recover his lost identity – Count of Anvil. As payment, you get to keep his magic cowl, the very thing that deprived him of it in the first place.

oblivion_dark_brotherhoodFinally, the Dark Brotherhood is an order that you can join the moment you murder someone in cold blood. A visitor then comes to you while you sleep and extends an invitation. Once you join, you are given the task of assassinating anyone who been named in a Black Sacrament – a dark ritual that marks people for death. In time, you have the option of becoming a vampire, and gain the favor of the Night Mother – their patron goddess.

And of course, there are many, many side missions where you have the option of performing tasks for various Daedra. Depending on the lord in question, these can be beneficial, harmful, or just plain mischievous, and all lead to certain benefits and rewards. And of course, there are plenty of missions to be had simply by adventuring around and helping people out.

Add-Ons:
There are also additional quests which I have played – Knights of the Nine, The Shivering Isles – but I really didn’t like them too much. In the case of Knights, you are tasked with resurrecting the order of the Knights of the Nine, collect sacred weapons, armor, and artifacts, and fight against an Aylied deity that is returning to Tamriel.

Oblivion_knights7However, the production value on this game was really not as goo as the main one, and the storyline seemed awful… Christiany. I mean really, the armor and finery you wear make you look exactly like a Crusader, and by the time you are finished with the main campaign, yet another quest involving a resurrected evil seems tired and played out.

In the case of the Shivering Isles, the storyline is a bit more weird, and much more psychedelic. Here, you enter into the realm of the Daedric lord Sheogorath – Prince of Madness and ruler of the Shivering Islesto battle with him and become the new master of the Isles. Here too, found the production values weak, the quest kind of pointless, and the story and setting really odd.

oblivion_shiveringMy advice, stick to the main quests and save your money when it comes to these expansion packs. Sure, curiosity might get the better of you, but why pay extra when what’s added is not up to snuff?

Summary:
I guess it goes without saying that this game is incredibly dense and detailed. And of course, the back story is lengthy and intricate, but as long as you do your due diligence, it’s not that hard to follow. And though it does have its fair share of fantasy cliches, it’s a very inspired piece of work with plenty of historical and cultural allusions.

Many times over, I was reminded of LOTR and other prominent genres, and combined with the depth and density of it, it was little wonder why I got so many hours of enjoyment out of it. Between all the spells, weapons, abilities, upgrades, and opportunities to learn about the Elder Scrolls universe, its a truly immersive and entertaining game.

Between the main quest, secondary quests, and the hundreds – if not thousands – of additional quests, it really seems like the game has enough material to keep going indefinitely. But eventually, you are likely to map out every corner of Cyrodil, obtain the very best items, and get to the point where no enemy can possibly best you. And chances are, you’ll lose interest before then anyway, so it all works out.

And it was my experience with this game that led me to finally get around to buying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim not that long ago. Here too, I’ve received endless hours and enjoyment, and will be reviewing it soon enough!

New Trailer: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_Teaser_PosterWhile I have yet to see the first installment, and generally disapproved of Peter Jackson’s decision to release this comparatively short story as a trilogy, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the new trailer. And as you can from see from this 2 minute spot, the next installment promises plenty of action, adventure, and some serious divergences from the source material.

In the last movie, the characters had just survived their encounter with the cave Orcs, Bilbo found the One Ring and “won” it from Gollum, and the company was on its way to Mirkwood. In this installment, things appear to climax when the band of merry dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard reach Smaug’s lair. Some serious changes are showcased with the addition of Legolas (who wasn’t even in the first book), mini battles that didn’t happen, and lots more portentous talk that connects it all to the original trilogy.

And word around the campfire is this is what Jackson really has planned for the rest of the series – Game of Thrones-like diversions from Tolkien’s text that are clearly designed to sex the material up, hint at what was to come with the War of One Ring, and make the whole thing feel like a fantasy miniseries instead of a single story. While I’m sure I’m going to catch the entire trilogy at some point, I might sit the theatrical version out again…

But that’s just me! Enjoy the trailer and, if you’re so inclined, the movie on the silver screen!

The Hillywood Show: Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2

hillywood showPeople may remember these folks from their musical parody of The Hobbit, where Gandalf and the drawves show up at Bilbo’s house to the tune of “Shots” by LMFAO. Well they’re back, this time with a much needed spoof of the latest Twilight debacle, set to the tune of Gangnam Style.

I think you’ll agree, the production values and costume work in this spoof are downright marvelous! I’m not sure who they have playing Edward here, but the words Dead Ringer came to mind a few times! And Hillary Hindi, I swear, just BECOMES Bella, only she has a much greater range and can do more than just stand there and look sardonically unimpressed!

And let’s not forget the dance choreography. I’m sure the Gangnam people demanded royalties, given the close approximation between this spoof and their weird-ass video.

But of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the ever-talented sisters, Hilly & Hannah Hindi, have chosen to shed the dwarf and hobbit garb in favor of vampire outfits and colored contacts in this video. Much more becoming than all that facial and foot hair, I tell ya 😉

Enjoy the show…

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello all and happy July 29th! Or, as its known to many fantasy and sci-fi geeks, the day that The Fellowship of the Ring the first volume in the LOTR trilogy was published in 1954. Yes, I learned that just this morning, and thought it was the perfect excuse to finally do the review I’ve been putting off until now. I can only apologize for my negligence in this regard, but let’s face it, this book is kind of a big deal. With this trilogy, Tolkien effectively did for fantasy what Herbert would later do for sci-fi with Dune; that is to say, make people take it seriously.

And even if you’re not a fan of fantasy, you have to acknowledge the incredible debt owed to Tolkien. Not only did he provide a legitimate injection of mythos to the fantasy genre, establish a very real connection between ancient and modern, and provide archetypes which are still used to this very day. On top of all that, Tolkien gave the British people a sense of cultural lore that was all their own, which was precisely what he wanted.

In fact, Tolkien went so far as to say that his motivation in writing “faerie story” was to create a narrative which he felt had been previously missing in British culture. When one looks at ancient mythology, be it Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American or Indo-Aryan, one sees stories and legends that are tied to a culture and contain incredible power for its people. And while the British have their share, Arthurian myth for example, Tolkien felt that this smacked of a Judea-Christian prejudice and did not genuinely reflect the British temperament.

But of course, many literary critics went a step further and claimed that his books contained allegorical similarities to the conflict which had just passed in Europe. Though he began work on his voluminous masterpiece before the war began, much of it was completed during the war years and seemed to possess veiled references to the conflict. Think about it, the nations of Middle Earth (which included the “Men of the West”) were faced with a resurgent evil that came from the East.

The last time they faced it they had been successful, but the unsatisfactory conclusion of that conflict paved the way for a future war. Now, with the evil returning, the nations of Middle Earth found themselves in a weakened posture, but managed to succeed by comign together once more to thwart the evil, this time destroying it permanently. Hell, even the races of Middle Earth themselves could be said to be allegories for real nations – the Elves, Dwarfs and Men constituting the British, French and Americans respectively, while Hobbits were unmistakable representations of the British folk, the hardy little people who made all the difference.

But that is mostly speculation. In the end, Lord of the Rings is so richly detailed and deep that people have been able to discern countless metaphors, allegories and significant passages. In the end, it’s genius lies in the fact that it was both hugely inspired yet immensely original. So without further ado, let’s get down to dissecting the bad boy that started this whole phenomena!

Sidenote: the focus of this review will be the novel itself. Any notes on the movie adaptation come at the end, so don’t expect a running commentary on how the book differed from the movie. All artwork provided is that of Alan Lee, the illustrious illustrator of Tolkien’s work.

The Fellowship of the Ring:
The book opens with a note on Hobbits and a preamble indicating what took place in the previous book, The Hobbit. It also provides some deep background which includes notes on the people of the Shire, their customs, and how Bilbo Baggins came into possession of the One Ring. The story then opens with book I, the first in the six book volume that makes up the single tale of The Lord of the Rings.

Book I: The Ring Sets Out:
In the first chapter, the story returns us to the Shire where Bilbo is waiting up his 111th (or eleventy-first) birthday, while his adopted heir Frodo is coming of age at 33. Bilbo is sparing no expense for the occasion and has even invited Gandalf to attend, as he has some rather important news for him.

This, Gandalf soon learns, is that he intends to take a permanent holiday. He plans to leave everything to Frodo, but doesn’t seem to want to surrender his one prized possession: The One Ring. After a tense confrontation with Gandalf, who convinces to leave the Ring behind, Bilbo departs on his journey and the two promise to meet up again. When Frodo arrives at Bilbo’s house, he is ransacked by relatives who are looking for their share of Bilbo’s wealth.

After they all depart, Frodo is spoken to by Gandalf, during which time he tells him he plans to depart on his own business. He warns Frodo to keep a close watch on the Ring, as he fears the worst of it. Over the course of the next 17 years, he pops in to visit Frodo, and eventually comes to tell him the truth. The Ring, he claims, the One Ring forged by the Dark Lord Sauron to help him conquer Middle Earth.

This provides some additional background on the story, where Gandalf explains to Frodo all about the “War of the Last Alliance”, how Isildur took the Ring for himself, and how it fell from his posession to be lost for ages. He also explains how, in time, Bilbo found the Ring in a cave where a forlorn creature named Gollum had been living with it for centuries. It was this Ring that bestowed Bilbo’s legendary longevity, as it did Gollum while simultaneously poisoning his mind.

He comes at last to the point of the tale: Sauron has risen once again and is gathering his strength at Mordor. But before he can complete his conquest of Middle Earth, he needs the One Ring to which he is bound. Already, his forces found Gollum and learned from him that the Ring was in the Shire, in the possession of one named Baggins. Because of this, Frodo must leave and go to Rivendell, where he will be safe and the fate of the Ring can be determined.

Gandalf must set out on his own too, to consult with the head of his order Saruman at Isengard. He promises to meet up with Frodo again before the summer when Frodo will depart. Frodo’s friend and gardner, Samwise Gamgee, is found overhearing their conversation, and out of loyalty to Frodo, agrees to go with him. When the summer arrives, Gandalf does not show, but Frodo must leave and does so under the pretense that he is moving, and with the help of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took, they set out for the edge of the Shire.

Along the way, they hear of Black Riders that have come to the Shire and are asking after a Baggins. These are revealed to be the Nazgul (or Ringwraiths), “the most terrible servants of the Dark Lord”. With the help of a party of Elves and the Farmer Maggot, Frodo and his company reach the edge of the Shire and pass into the wilderness. Along the way, they meet more curious folk, such as Tom Bombadil, a strange Hobbit-like creature who seems to be immune to the Ring’s effects.

At last, they come to the town of Bree, where they take a temporary respite at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. After downing a few pints with the locals, Frodo accidentally reveals the Ring when he slips it on and disappears from sight. He is then pulled into a room by Aragorn, who reveals himself to be a friend of Gandalf’s and a friend in their quest. He shows them the sword of Elendil, the shattered remains of the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, and agrees to take them the rest of the way to Rivendell.

After several days of traveling through the wilderness, they come to the ruins on the hill of Weathertop. During the night, they are set upon by the Nazgul, and after cornering Frodo, the chief stabs him with a cursed blade. Aragorn manages to chase them off, but warns that Frodo must get to Rivendell with all haste, or he will become a Nazgul himself.

As they hurry along, they meet Glorfindel, an Elf warrior from Rivendell who agrees to takeFrodo there with all haste. The Nazgul, all nine of them joined together now, pursue them and attempt to follow them across the Ford of Brunien, the last remaining obstacle between Rivendell and the outside world. However, Elrond sends a wave down the river which smashes the Nazgul into the rocks and ensures Glorfindel’s and Frodo’s escape. However, Frodo collapses and appears to be near death.

Book II: The Ring Goes South
When Frodo awakens, he learns that he is in the House of Elrond in Rivendell, where he has been healed by Elvish magic. Elrond summons the Council which consists of Aragorn and representative of every race on Middle Earth. Frodo is invited to attend, where he presents the One Ring. Gandalf is there too, and explains that he was held up because of a betrayal. Saruman, head of his order, has apparently betrayed them because he desires the Ring for himself. He is not yet in the service of Sauron, and is amassing his own army of Orcs.

Together, they hatch the plan that the only way to defeat Sauron is to destroy the One Ring, which must be cast back into the fires of Mount Doom from which it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take the ring and thus becomes the Ring-Bearer, and Samwise once again vows to stay by his side. Completing the Fellowship are Aragorn and Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor; Legolas, Prince of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood; Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf; and Merry and Pippin.

Together, they set out south along the Misty Mountain route. However, there attempts to cross are foiled due to snow and avalanches. They debate over what to do next, but it is agreed that they will pass through the mines of Moria instead. Aragorn seems to think this is a risky idea, but Gimli insists that his cousin Balin who rules there will give them safe passage and hospitality.

Once inside, they find the place littered with corpses and overrun by Orcs. Their company finds their way into a side room where Balin’s tomb is located, and where the Dwarves apparently made their last stand. Shortly therafter, the Orcs fall upon them and the company manages to make its way out. However, when they reach deeper into the mines and come upon a bridge leading to the surface, an even greater threat emerges: A Balrog of Morgoth, a creation of darkness and flame from the ancient world.

Gandalf stands against it, but soon finds himself pulled down into an abyss with it. Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship look on in horror, but are forced to flee as more Orcs swarm in to attack them. They make their way out of the mines and Aragorn laments that Gandalf didn’t heed his warnings about passing into the mines. For a long time now, it was feared that the Dwarves lust for Mithril (which was mined in Moria) caused them to dig too deep and disturb what lay down below.

Once free of the mountain, they make for the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they are sheltered by the rulers Celeborn and Galadriel. As they take their rest, Galadriel speeks to Frodo and provides him with visions of what is to come. He offers her the Ring, which she considers momentarily, but then rejects. The quest falls to Frodo himself, he is told, and he must find a way to destroy it. Before setting out down river, they are given provisions and items for their quest, all of which will prove useful later on.

After setting down at water’s edge, the Fellowship begins to show cracks. After days of becoming edgier and moodier, Boromir finally confronts Frodo and tries to take the Ring from him. Frodo places the Ring on and escapes, and the others scatters to go and hunt for him. Frodo decides that the Fellowship has to be broken, and that he must depart secretly for Mordor. However, Sam finds him before he can leave and insists on coming with him. The two then set off again down river, just as a company of Orcs close in and threaten the camp!

Thus ends the first volume of the Lord of The Rings!

Summary:
Of the three books, I have to declare right off that this was my least favorite. But of course, that isn’t saying much given how impressed I was with book II and III. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel that with this first volume, Tolkien wrote long-winded passages that really weren’t necessary. Of course I could see the point of them. They established background information and detailed the fictitious world in which the events took place.

Nevertheless, so much of Book I felt like interjections and asides that didn’t seem to contribute to the overall storyline. For example, Tom Bombadil’s role in the story has long been a subject of debate. As it was explained to me, he occupies the same category as the Ents and other mythical creatures, in that he is outside the regular events of the story. Whereas the Ents are indifferent to the Ring and the wars for Middle Earth because they are so old, he is also indifferent because the Ring has no power to sway him as it does other creatures.

But in the case of the Ents, they came to be directly involved in the war because they realized that they could not simply sit idly by and let things pass. Tom had no such compulsions or involvement, and aside from being mentioned briefly in Rivendell, has no more role in the story. And unlike certain features which come up during the long journey through the Wilderness, his inclusion also wasn’t a shout out to content from the Hobbit. So really, what purpose did he truly serve?

Second, there was the Fellowship’s journey through the Misty Mountains. It is implied that they are turned back by Saruman’s magic, but it is never established. What’s more, the dangers of going through Moria are hinted at ahead of time, but it appears Gandalf is okay with the idea even though he must have foreseen he would be the one to die. But in the end, it is Aragorn who later laments the decision and questions why Gandalf would be okay with it. It seemed to me that if Moria represented the riskiest choice, Gandalf should have been the one had doubts about it.

Last, there was the point at which the Fellowship breaks. In book I, we see the basic points, Boromir trying to steal the ring, and Frodo leaving with Sam before they Orc party strikes. But it’s not until book II that we realize that such a confrontation took place, that Boromir was killed, or that Merry and Pippin were taken prisoner. In this, and all other cases mentioned, the movie sought to show these things and explain them fully. Quite predictable, but in the case of this first story, I actually felt it worked. But of course that probably has something to do with the fact that this one time I saw the movie first. Were I a Rings geek prior to the first film (as I was for II and III), I might have taken issue with all these changes instead of approving of them.

So far, I feel I’ve been saying only negative things about this book. But let me be clear, it’s only because the story set such a high tone that I was surprised to find that there were any weaknesses at all in this volume. If anything, the flaws are the exception to the rule, which is that Tolkien managed to create a story and and entire world steeped in legend, lore and magic. His main characters are archetypical legends, calling to mind such heroes as Beowulf, Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin, and whose supporting characters call to mind the same kind of comic and tragic figures as Caliban, Launcelot Gobo, and King Lear’s Fool.

And of course, there are the legendary races in the story which continue to dominate the fantasy genre and popular consciousness alike. When it comes to stories, gaming, movies and television, the basic breakdown of Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs, Ogres, Goblins, Wizards and Dark Lords is still in effect. Willow was a movie built entirely on Tolkien’s foundation, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and The Golden Compass owed a huge debt to his work, and Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, and countless other games I can’t even name wouldn’t exist without him.

And the storyline itself is nothing short of genius. Embracing such themes as the “Decline of the West”, the rise of an old evil, the idyllic countryside, the world outside your door, and little people caught in a situation much bigger than themselves, the story was so layered that people could find no shortage of significance and meaning contained within. It’s little wonder then why it has remained so influential and enduringly popular!

Coming up next, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, in that order 😉