Tag Archives: The Lord of the Rings

Love and comfort in fantasy, or why George R. R. Martin isn’t the American Tolkien

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I totally stole this image. I honestly have no idea where it originated, but I really like it. So many, many props to some unknown but sincerely appreciated artist.

First, I am really enjoying HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I was enjoying the books, immensely, until I realized I was forgetting so much between volumes that it just made more sense to wait until the entire series is finished to dive into them again. My “to be read” stacks are perilously high, and having to re-read an entire series of not exactly concise tomes every time a new volume is released takes a lot of all-too-scarce reading time away from other books, any one of which might become a new and beloved favorite.

Overall, though, I’m a fan. I mention that because what follows might be perceived as throwing shade on Mr. Martin’s books, or on HBO’s adaptations, and I don’t mean it that way. This is, in fact, not a review at all. It’s just a series of thoughts that occurred to me about my own writing, specifically in my Widening Gyre series, as I was watching the most recent episode of A Game of Thrones on HBO.

Sure, Professor Tolkien’s and Mr. Martin’s books have a lot in common … on the surface.

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Also, both Professor Tolkien and Mr. Martin introduce heroes of smaller stature. I stole this image, too, by the way.

I often hear Mr. Martin called “The American Tolkien.” I can see why people say that. (Was Lev Grossman the first?) Both write (or wrote) extremely complex fantasy novels, both have very passionate fan bases (with a great deal of overlap), both have created British Isles-inspired worlds rich with invented history and languages, and, well, both authors have the initials “R. R.” in their names.

But honestly, I think the resemblance ends there. The similarities are superficial at best.

Mr. Martin’s books are grounded in, well, the rather unpleasant realities of a world at war. Mr. Martin has made no secret of the fact that his books are inspired by true history, most notably the War of the Roses. When his books are brutal, it’s because, well, history was brutal. In fact, Mr. Martin has criticized Professor Tolkien, pointing out that his wars aren’t like the wars of history (they certainly aren’t), and even pointing out that The Lord of the Rings never bothers to address Aragorn’s tax policy. (For more, read this article and this one.)

To be fair, I think Mr. Martin’s complaints have more to do with how Professor Tolkien has become a template for lesser writers than with any real issue with The Lord of the Rings, but I think the point is an interesting one.

You see, Professor Tolkien and Mr. Martin are writing books in the same genre only to the extent that it makes it easier for bookstores to know where to shelve them. Mr. Martin writes grounded, historically-based fantasy that appeal largely (I think) because they are so grimly real. The famous shocks and twists come from the harsh brutality of a world at war. Even the famous Red Wedding is based on two different historical events. (For more information, read here and here.) To a large (and often uncomfortable) degree, Mr. Martin is writing history, with a few ice zombies and dragons tossed in.

Professor Tolkien, on the other hand, is writing myth.

In his book The Inklings, biographer Humphrey Carpenter recounts a significant and now famous conversation between Tolkien and a then-atheist C.S. Lewis. The two were walking among the colleges in Oxford on a September evening in 1931. Lewis had never underestimated the power of myth. One of his earliest loves had been the Norse myth of Balder, the dying god. All the same, Lewis did not in any way believe in the myths that so thrilled him. As he told Tolkien, “myths are lies, and therefore worthless, even though (they are) breathed through silver.”

“No,” Tolkien replied. “They are not lies.” 

Tolkien went on to explain that early man, the creators of the great myth cycles, saw the world very differently. To them “the whole of creation was myth-woven and elf-patterned.” Tolkien went on to argue that man is not ultimately a liar. He may pervert his ideas into lies, but he comes from God, and it is from God that he draws his ultimate ideas. Therefore, Tolkien argued, not only man’s abstract thoughts, but also his imaginative inventions, must in some way originate with God, and must in consequence reflect something of eternal truth.

When creating a myth, a storyteller is engaging in what Tolkien called mythopoeia (myth-oh-pay-uh). Through the act of peopling an imaginary world with bright heroes and terrible monsters, the storyteller is in a way reflecting God’s own act of creation. Human beings are, according to Tolkien, expressing fragments of eternal truth. Tolkien believed that the poet or storyteller is, then, a sub-creator “capturing in myth reflections of what God creates using real men and actual history.” A storyteller, Tolkien believed, is actually fulfilling Divine purpose, because the story always contains something of a deeper truth. Myth is filtered through the artist’s culture, experiences, and talents, but it is drawn from a deeper well.

By Tolkien’s argument, all myth is a response, a reaction to the force of creation occurring all around us. Granted, this calls for a slightly different definition of myth — and ignores the perhaps (probably) different intentions of the storytellers — which, of course, we can never know in any case. But a story can be myth, Tolkien would argue. Indeed, it could scarcely be anything else, because any act of creation is a reaction to the call of the Divine. Tolkien and the Inklings were responding to the same “shout” that the creators of myth have been responding to throughout the ages — the utter magnificence of a beautiful, dangerous, and impossible universe.

I’ve written more on that topic here (in fact, I stole the preceding five paragraphs from myself).

I bring that up because I can’t help thinking that anyone who reads The Lord of the Rings and comes away asking about Aragorn’s tax policy has completely missed the point. (Although again, I think Mr. Martin is actually ranting against the clichés that sprung up from Professor Tolkien’s imitators, rather than the books themselves. The Lord of the Rings was groundbreaking … but I certainly can’t blame Mr. Martin for wanting to break the template. In fact, I applaud him.)

The twin ideas of mythopoeia and eucatastrophe are at the heart of Professor Tolkien’s work. Indeed, the deeply mythic concept of eucatastrophe, a sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the hero does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom, is antithetical to the core of Mr. Martin’s work.

Professor Tolkien formed the word eucatastrophe by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot. For Tolkien, the term had a thematic meaning that went beyond its literal etymological meaning. It was at the very core of Christianity and his love of myth and art. It was a part of his very DNA.

Eucatastrophe is the blessed conclusion we all crave; it’s something we long for deeply in the heart — a time when wounds are healed, the broken are mended, and rights are made wrong. That longing, I think, is key.

In that sense, Mr. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Professor Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are polar opposites, matter and antimatter.

Let me ask you this. Would you really want to visit Westeros?

There’s quite a few variations of this meme floating around on Facebook and Twitter:

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There’s something in the mythopoeic works of Tolkien and Lewis that calls to that deep longing within us. There’s a part of us, somehow, that knows that the fantasy landscapes are a metaphor for something beyond, something more than the fields we know. It makes us feel almost homesick for a place we’ve never been.

I image that most of Mr. Martin’s fans can relate to the Hunger Games fans. A visit to the world of A Game of Thrones is … well, less appealing.

(Although I think there’s another blog to be written about the appeal of The Hunger Games. Stay tuned.)

This idea struck me when I was watching the most recent episode of HBO’s A Game of Thrones with my wife, Carol. The episode happened to feature two absolutely stunning shots of the castle Riverrun. Carol and I turned to each other with wide eyes and just said, “wow.” The shots were lovely. It was, in fact, the first time I can remember that a location in A Game of Thrones had made us want to visit that place. The fact that there was a siege going on quickly damped our enthusiasm, but still, I was struck with the idea that A Game of Thrones is almost utterly devoid of any kind of wish fulfillment, key elements of fantasies like the Harry Potter series or, say, Star Wars.

It made me wonder if anyone would want to visit the locations in my books, or spend time with my characters. I hope so. I really do. At very least, I hope readers would long to visit the Renaissance festival in Blackthorne Faire, or the Commonwealth pub in The Widening Gyre. I try to ground things, solidly — a lesson I’ve learned from Mr. Martin — but mythopoeia and the longing for eucatastrophe are in my DNA, too.

Another thought struck me soon after.

Both the television and the novel versions of A Game of Thrones are short on love. I don’t (necessarily) mean romantic love, but love. Love of family, love of place, love of friends, love of partner. When love is there, it’s usually broken in some way … think of the late King Robert’s lost love for Ned Stark’s sister, Lyanna. Think of Jamie and Ceresi Lannister (but not too much, because ewwww). Think of Tyrion’s love for his prostitute, Shae. Perhaps the purest love in the story is that of Ned Stark’s family, and look how that turned out.

By contrast, The Lord of the Rings is bursting with love, even though it is (almost) completely devoid of romantic love. There are certainly deep and loving friendships — Merry and Pippin for Frodo, Sam and Frodo, Gandalf and Bilbo, Gimli and Legolas. There is also a deep love of place … think of Frodo’s love for the Shire, all the walks he takes. Think how heartbreaking it is when Frodo’s ultimate sacrifice isn’t his life, but rather the life he has known and loved in the Shire. When he returns, his battles won, the Shire is lost to him, but not his love for it.

Indeed, the whole story turns on the role of Providence, the divine love that leads to eucatastrophe, that dearest of all loves.

The Narnia stories, too, are rich with love. So are the Harry Potter stories. They shine with love and grace.

Last — and this is something that the films missed for the most part — The Lord of the Rings, the novel, holds precious moments of comfort, even in the midst of terrible war and danger. There’s Bag End of course (who wouldn’t want to visit Bag End?) — which, to be fair, the films absolutely nailed. But Bree, a port of (at least temporary) safety in the books, is a frightening place in the films. Ditto Lóthlorien, that precious place of unfallen paradise. Gone utterly are Tom Bombadil’s house and Crickhollow.

The dear and comfortable places make Professor Tolkien’s Middle-earth come to life. It makes us long to visit, just as (for example) Cair Paravel and Beaver’s Dam make us want to visit Narnia, and Hogwarts makes us long for an owl-delivered letter.

For the most part, the Lord of the Rings films miss these moments of comfort, and the moments of the numinous. I think that’s why they’re less likely endure the test of time, as the books certainly have.

These moments are, at best, rare in A Song of Ice and Fire. Mr. Martin seems to be crafting more of a puzzle box, closer to, say, Lost than to The Lord of the Rings. When was the last time you heard someone talking about Lost? (To be fair, I expect a much stronger resolution to A Song of Ice and Fire.)

I wonder … when the last shock has shocked and the last twist has been revealed in all its gory glory, will we still turn to A Song of Ice and Fire?

Probably. I certainly think so. I think Mr. Martin’s achievement is a remarkable one that will continue to find new readers for generations. I hope writers will learn the right lessons from it … break the templates, don’t just imitate the new ones.

I think A Song of Ice and Fire will gain as many new readers as The Lord of the Rings does. When all the mysteries are unfolded, and there’s no need to go back and scour the text for clues, I wonder if A Song of Ice and Fire will have as many re-readers? I don’t think so.

I wonder, too, if A Song of Ice and Fire will inspire the same enduring love, and longing, that The Lord of the Rings kindles. Time will tell.

In the meantime, both have lessons to teach writers like me. I’ll ground my fantasies. I might even think about the tax policies of my own (metaphorical) Aragorns. But I’ll always season my stories with love, place, and comfort, even in the moments of darkness.

Mr. Martin isn’t the American Tolkien. He’s the American Martin. That’s more than good enough.

Game Review: Falling into a Story with The Lord of the Rings Online

A fast note: versions of this article have been published before, most notably in the amazing Silver Leaves, a scholarly journal focusing on J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and the Inklings. It is a terrific publication, a must for both the causal and the obsessive fan. Best of all, the proceeds go to charity. Please give it a try if you can.

Play The Lord of the Rings Online

My character, Jack Rowenstaff, visits Bag End in the Shire. Click any image to enlarge.

While there are, of course, many virtues in fantasy, it’s not hard to argue that one of the chief appeals is wish fulfillment. I’ve known many readers who lost themselves utterly when visiting the charm of the Shire hills, the welcoming comforts of the Prancing Pony in Bree, or the golden, enchanted magnificence of Lothlórien. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a person look up, blinking, from a tattered paperback of The Fellowship of the Ring and realize, suddenly, that they are in a doctor’s waiting room, or a school cafeteria, or on a train. Each time, whether I’ve actually spoken to them or not, I’ve smiled an inner smile and thought to myself … friend. There sits a kindred spirit.

I don’t think I am the first to have been so lost in a story that I’ve almost forgotten I’m reading, and that there’s a world around me that will, all too soon, require my attention. I am probably not the first to long to vanish into a story for a longer period, to hear forgotten tales at the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, or raise a pint with the Gaffer in the Ivy Bush. And I don’t think the desire to go left, when the author took the characters right, is necessarily a lonely one. What might have happened then? What paths were left unexplored? What surprises did the author not reveal? Is the beer at the Golden Perch really that good? What of the Forsaken Inn, a day’s journey east from Bree, that Strider hinted at so tantalizingly? What is that like? Or Staddle, the hobbit town outside of Bree; could it be as charming as our beloved Hobbiton?

The Prancing Pony Inn in Bree

Critics, of course, would be quick to dismiss that longing as puerile escapism. And they are, of course, quite right, the smug rascals. But as Professor Tolkien himself noted, who objects to escapism? Jailors. The master wrote in On Fairy-Stories: “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?” Since Tolkien is careful to distinguish between the escape of the prisoner and the flight of the deserter, the question arises: what’s wrong with wanting to escape into a story, to wander the hills of unknown shores, now and again?

Unfortunately, books have endings, the hidden roads remain lost and secret gates unopened. As much as we might want to, we can’t wander north to see what is beyond the Shire, or linger in Lórien’s golden wood, and Fornost remains forever only a dread rumour.
Until now.

The dread Barrow Downs by night

The Lord of the Rings Online is a computer game that actually captures the feeling of falling into a story. There are some limits, of course, but by and large, Middle-earth is yours to explore at will—from Thorin’s Hall in the west to Lórien and perilous Mirkwood in the east. Using the arrows on your keyboard, you can send your character wandering through the towns and forests of the Shire, or through the dangers of the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs (both deliciously creepy), or even all the way to Bree and Rivendell, where old friends will be waiting. The experience of the game is astonishingly immersive—sounds, voice, and music blend seamlessly with the visuals. Every environment is lovingly—at times even astonishingly—rendered. Even more than Peter Jackson’s films, the game feels like Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

The eastern gate of the Mines of Moria

Everything you recall from the books is there—even things only mentioned in passing, like the taverns at Frogmorton and Stock, or the mysteriously-named Forsaken Inn. Barliman Butterbur welcomes you to the Prancing Pony, and you might happen upon an abandoned Elf camp in the Shire, just before you come to Farmer Maggot’s farm. Wander through Bag End itself (although you’ll have to endure the shrill complaints of the thrice-dratted Sackville-Bagginses) or brave the dread halls of dark Moria or (now) Dol Guldur in Mirkwood.

And, of course, there are a few smiles and in-jokes for the more dedicated fans of Tolkien and the Inklings. The Inklings met regularly at an Oxford Pub called the Eagle and Child, or “the Bird and Baby,” as they affectionately called it. In the game’s version of Michel Delving, just below the famous Mathom House, you’ll find a pub called The Bird and Baby. The painted sign will be familiar to any fan of Tolkien, C. S. “Jack” Lewis, Owen Barfield, or Charles Williams, who has visited Oxford. If you wander to the back room of the game’s version, you’ll find a group of lively hobbit friends raising pints, arguing literature, and wondering about the whereabouts of their friend Ronald Dwale. Their names are Jack Lewisdown, Owen Farfield, and Carlo Williams. What fun to spend a lively few minutes, even virtually, with the Inklings!

Indeed, it’s tempting to ignore the “game” play and simply wander and take in the sights, or simply to stand on the porch of your very own Hobbit Hole or Bree house and blow a few virtual smoke rings as you chat with the neighbors. But then, the game itself is terrific fun.

Sunrise over the Golden Wood of Loth Lórien

I should issue a fast disclaimer. I’m not a computer gamer. At all. Well, at least not until I discovered my virtual passport to Middle-earth. I pretty much went straight from mobile phone Solitaire to The Lord of the Rings Online (or LOTRO, as the experienced gamers say). I’m not sure how this game compares to others, save that I’m told the interface is similar to World of Warcraft. That said, I’d often heard how these games could be incredibly addictive. I used to shrug and scratch my head when players of games like Everquest called it EverCrack and NeverRest. I now get the joke. If you’ve ever stayed up way too late, flashlight under the covers, to finish a wonderful book, you’ll know the feeling.

The first thing to understand is that this is a multi-player online game. As you wander Middle-earth, you’ll constantly bump into other players—Hobbits, Men, Elves, and Dwarves. The hobbit you meet at the Moria gates may be your neighbor; that Gondorian warrior in the North Downs may be huddled over a computer in France or Africa.

It’s the social aspect that makes the game so utterly charming. Need help? Ask, and someone is sure to give it. And you’ll find yourself doing the same, even when the laundry needs folding or bed is calling in the last hours before an early morning. And you’ll find that, by and large, the people you encounter are kindred spirits. They, too, fell in love with a certain story. And, just like you, they longed to be a part of it: to share the adventure.

You begin by creating a character. Select the gender and the race—a female Elf or a male Hobbit, for example—and then choose a class: minstrel, warrior, burglar, captain, or lore master. Each has their own set of skills and attributes. Next, customize the appearance—hair colour, body type, even the shape of the nose and the size of the lips. Finally, choose an occupation. The game has an economy, and you’ll find it useful to craft a weapon, grow a crop of pipeweed, stitch a cloak, or even cook a tasty breakfast to make your way in the world. Choose a name. You’ll find that your characters become, well, characters. I play the mighty Jack Rowenstaff, warrior of Bree, Nickollas Windsong, minstrel hobbit of the Shire, and Nedberry, burglar—or rather, expert treasure hunter. There’s something rather Tookish about those latter ones, I dare say. Much to my very great surprise, I’ve come to care about them almost as much as I care about characters in a favorite story. Hmmm. I wonder if the idea of Mythopoeia can apply to a computer game. Why not?

My character, Jack, in front of his house in the greater metropolitan Bree area

Once you’ve created your Dwarf or Elf, explore the world. Wander anywhere you like. Sure, there are a few “barriers” here and there—a cliff too steep to climb or a locked gate—but for the most part, the whole of Middle-earth is open to you. And more is opening all the time. The most recent additions opened Moria, Lothlórien, and Mirkwood. In the months since Moria opened for play in the spring, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Middle-earth is, after all, big. Remember how long it took to get anywhere in the book? Part of the charm, and, I’ll admit, the frustration, of the game is that it takes a while to get from, say, the Shire to Rivendell. But as you advance, travel gets faster. You can buy a pony or horse ride from the stable masters in most towns, and eventually acquire your own mount.

Players can undertake quests—anything from delivering pies in Hobbiton, to finding Bilbo’s lost buttons in Goblin Town, to slaying an army of Orcs in Moria, or even trying all the beer in the Shire. That’s the object of the game. The more quests one completes, the more experience your character gains. With more experience, characters gain new abilities. Quest completion also nets rewards—nifty items or money to save for buying those horse rides and Hobbit holes.

The game takes place concurrently with the events in The Fellowship of the Ring. For all players, the game begins about the time that Frodo and Sam leave the Shire. This means that your story parallels the one you know so well. And, indeed, you provide some unseen help. For example, when you arrive in Bree, a strange Ranger called Strider asks for your help. That begins a game quest. By the time you’ve finished, you race back to learn that Strider has left in a hurry with four Shire hobbits. In his place, you speak to Gandalf the Grey himself, who is eager for your news. And another quest begins. Later, you find an abandoned pony just outside the Moria gates, and save him from ravenous wolves. This is, of course, poor Bill and you help him return to the safety of the Elves.

You can’t alter the familiar events, of course. But your aid, given “off screen” as it were, fits seamlessly with the story you know so well. Perhaps best of all, you get to witness, first hand, some key events: the reforging of the sword Narsil and the departure of the Fellowship from Rivendell, for example.

Evening at Tom Bombadil's house

Along the way, you interact with familiar characters—including, just to name a few off the top of my head, Gimli, Gloin, Elrond (along with his sons and daughter), Gandalf, Aragorn, Barliman Butterbur, Nob, Bob, Fatty Bolger, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Boromir, Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, Radagast the Brown, the Sackville Bagginses, Gollum, the Gaffer, Ted Sandyman, Legolas, Galadriel, and old Bilbo himself. There are many, many others. All right where they should be, doing exactly what they should be doing, and acting just as you would expect them to act. You’ll find yourself grinning, as though you’ve spent a weekend at a monumentally grand party or reunion, smiling at each new meeting with a dear old friend.

For the most part, the game truly feels like Tolkien. Sure, there are a few more monsters than you remember from the books—but none that would seem out of place in the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon sagas that Tolkien loved so deeply. And yes, some of the quests can be redundant and, at times, even tedious. But no worries. You can skip those, or find some new friends and complete them as a fellowship, sort of making a party of it.

The Bird and Baby Inn in the Shire ... where old friends wait.

Some of the quests are difficult, taxing the brainpower and the strength of your hero. But again, don’t worry. There’s usually someone happy to help. And before the night is done, you just might surprise yourself by thinking of them as friends—met unexpectedly—just like the helpers that appear in a fairytale, and are suddenly, instantly dear. The storyline is terrifically engaging, and complements the familiar story in the books beautifully.

I do have a few complaints about the game, and I fear this first especially is one shared by many.

I discovered the game when my wife started playing it for business research. She was immediately hooked and insisted that I give it a try. I used her account to create a character of my own. Now, I too am hooked, and have opened my own account. But my main character is trapped on her account. We’d love to play together, but since I can’t transfer that character to my new account, that option isn’t available to us. It is available, for a fee, on many other games, so I hope the folks at Turbine will offer it soon. I know many other couples and families in this same very frustrating boat, and Turbine’s inability to accommodate them is costing them customer loyalty and good will.

In their defense, Turbine spokesman Adam Mersky says that this service is not offered to prevent fraud and to protect the game play experience for the majority of their subscribers. But bluntly, speaking as someone who has worked in new media, e-commerce, and even game development, I can think of at least a dozen simple solutions without breaking a sweat. The resources required, of course, aren’t trivial, but speaking from experience, honestly, it’s a fairly simple matter all told. More, people seem more than willing to pay a premium for this service. In this economy, when someone wants to pull out the old credit card, find a way to accept it.

The other complaint is a bit more serious, and it involves customer service.

Recently, I joined a group of friends for a very long (something like four hours) adventure, which was supposed to lead to some nifty items to better equip your character. We fought through and completed the adventure … only to discover that the chests were bugged. We couldn’t open them. No loot. The four hours was vanished forever.

Now of course, I understand that software, but its very nature, it occasionally buggy, and in the case of The Lord of the Rings Online, problems are extremely rare. In any business, problems arise. It usually can’t be helped. The best you can hope for is to make problems as rare as possible (Turbine gets an absolute A+ here), and to make every effort to make things right when they do arise. In the latter case, Turbine failed, and miserably.

When we reported the problem, we were informed that there was nothing Turbine could do to correct the problem, which is understandable. But Turbine’s customer service rep made no effort at all to address the issue. The rep wasn’t even especially polite about it.

Again, problems arise in any business. But all the same, when you pay for a product, it’s not unreasonable to expect that product to, you know, work. When it doesn’t, you expect the company you’re doing business with to make some effort to make things better. If you buy a new television and find it doesn’t work, you expect to have it replaced. If you check into a hotel and find that the shower doesn’t work, you expect to move to another room. If you go to a movie and the film breaks, you expect the theater to make a repair, and probably hand out a few free passes if the delays stretch on too long. If your steak is overcooked, you expect to get a new one. Usually with a heartfelt apology from the manager.

Turbine offered … nothing. No attempt to mail the items we’d just one, or something else. No apology. No coupon for free play to offer a friend. Not even an apology. We were just told, tersely, to try the instance again.

Speaking only for myself, four hours of time is a pretty precious commodity, and it’s not very easy to come by. Not by a long shot. I truly haven’t had it available in the weeks that passed. While the costs of the game are fairly insignificant, I do value my money, too. Turbine should have made some customer service outreach. Something. Even if it was just an apology.

From another company, I might understand. You don’t, for example, expect the same service from a $14 a night no-frills motel that you get at, say, the Ritz Carlton. But Turbine has always, always been a first-class organization. I expected better from them, and I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

On the other hand, it is a rare experience. That’s something.

To play The Lord of the Rings Online right away, you’ll need to purchase the game (either on disc through Amazon, Best Buy, Target, or any other affiliated stores) or download from the Internet. You’ll also have to purchase a monthly or lifetime subscription. Subscription rates are reasonable, and start at around $9.95 for unlimited visits to Middle-Earth. I purchased a lifetime subscription, so I have no monthly fees. A free trial is also available. If you wait a month or so, the game will be free to play, with very attractive additional content available for (surprisingly reasonable) cost. The free to play sounds like a great way to try before you buy, but I imagine that most players will want to upgrade fairly quickly.

For more information, please see: http://www.lotro.com.

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