When FromSoftware, developer of dark fantasy video games like Dark Soulsstarted fashioning a setting for the open-world RPG Elden Ringthey took pains to keep it distinct from the premise of JRR Tolkien’s own The Lord Of The Rings; among other details, the titular Elden Ring is not a piece of jewelry and the goal of the game is to reforge it rather than destroy it. For all the genuine differences in world-building between Elden Ring and The Lord of the Ringsthese two fantasy sagas do still share common narrative threads about ambitious lords and ladies seeking domination and control, only for their good intentions to be corrupted by their pride and the power they wield.
These days, it’s hard to write a fantasy story or design a fantasy RPG not influenced by (or a reaction against) The Lord of the Rings and its legendarium. When JRR Tolkien, a philologist and academic by trade, published the three volumes of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy in the late 1940s, he upped the ante for fantasy world-building by creating a world with unique creation myth, a history filled with ages of heroic tragedies (inspired by epic poems such as the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf or the Finnish Kalevala), and even constructed new languages and writing systems for the species and cultures of his Middle-earth setting. The general premise of Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – a world haunted by the ruins of previous ages, populated by humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings who fight a war of resistance against a totalitarian dark lord – inspired the character creation rules of Dungeons & Dragonswhich then went on to inspire a host of epic fantasy novels and computer RPGs like The Elder Scrolls (another famous franchise Elden Ring developers likely wanted to distinguish their game from).
Hidetaka Miyazaki, FromSoftware president and director of Elden Ringand George RR Martin, the fantasy author hired to create the game’s mythical foundation, were likely both aware comparisons would be drawn between Elden Ring and its inspiration, LOTR, based on their titles alone. Rather than being daunted, however, these two creative luminaries were likely inspired to create a brand new fantasy setting full of dark, strange, and decidedly non-Tolkien-esque world-building details. The shattered Elden Ring, for instance, is not a physical artifact of power, but an ethereal magical c0de that imposes a set of natural laws over reality. The various non-human species populating the Lands Between – chimeric Demi-Humans and Misbegotten, Omens, Onyx Lords, and Albinaurics – are wildly different from the elves, dwarves, and hobbits populating Tolkien’s Middle-earth. In place of a story about the forces of good fighting against once-noble powers corrupted by their pride and hubris (a very Christian tale inspired by Tolkien’s devout Catholic beliefs), Elden Ring’s often regretful story is a Darwinian battle of ideals between different factions, visionaries, and cosmic gods who want to change the world to fit their principles. And yet, though they may differ in big ways, Elden Ring and The Lords of the Rings are epics akin to each other in small, yet meaningful ways.
[Warning: This article contains spoilers for Elden Ring.]
The Elden Ring And The Rings Of Power Were Made To Control
“One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them. One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them“is the inscription written on the golden One Ring forged by Sauron, who yearned for an artifact that could control other magical Rings and amplify his already formidable powers of domination and control. Three other Rings of Power seen in The Lord Of The Rings – the three elven rings carried by Gandalf (who will appear in LOTR: Gollum), Elrond, and Galadriel – are theoretically capable of conjuring forth storms of wind, fire, and water, but their primary functions are to preserve life and bring order to the lands and people of Middle Earth. Elrond and Galadriel use their Rings to effectively freeze their Elven homelands in time and protect them from the ravages of age and malice, while Gandalf uses his Ring to inflame hope and valor in the hearts of those who seek to defeat the Dark Lord and his despair. -spreading wraiths.
The titular Elden Ring is not a physical artifact, but a conglomeration of golden Runes both great and small, collectively forming a massive, reality-altering hyper-sigil. In the hands of Queen Marika the Eternal, though, the Elden Ring fulfilled the same purpose as Sauron’s One Ring, a tool used to impose a new order upon the Lands Between. In the backstory of Elden Ring, Queen Marika and her consort Lord Godfrey used the Elden Ring’s power to raise a host of fanatical champions who forge a massive empire through conquest – defeating the lightning-wielding Ancient Dragons of Farum Azula, exterminating the Fire Giants, and forging an armistice with the Carian Sorcerers of the west. At the height of the Golden Order, the loyal subjects of Marika and her consorts were blessed with a golden luster and benefited greatly from the sacred healing magics and life-giving sap provided by the sky-spanning Erdtree and its saplings. The Erdtree and the Elden Ring within it even altered the cycling of transmigration within the Lands Between, drawing dead souls in through its roots to be recorded and eventually reincarnated. In terms of potential alone, the Elden Ring is an order-establishing tool that would, despite it emulating Lord of the Ringsput the One Ring and its power to shame.
In Both Elden Ring And LOTR, Pride And Power Corrupt
In The Fellowship Of The Ringthe first installment of The Lord Of The RingsSaruman the White, recently defected to Sauron’s side, tries to corrupt Gandalf by preaching about how Sauron’s Ring can grant them the “power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see […] all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends.“ In this quote, Saruman unwittingly describes the once-noble intentions of the once-noble Sauron (to make the lands of Middle-earth a better, more orderly place), and illustrates through mimicry how Sauron firmly believed he was the only one smart enough. to solve the problems of the world. This prideful conceit – along with the intoxicating lure of power – corrupts Sauron and Saruman, dooms major characters such as Isildur, Boromir, and Denethor, and threatens to consume even noble characters like Frodo, Gandalf, and Galadriel when they come into contact with the One Ring. In The Lord Of The Ringsthe greatest act of heroism is not to take up power, but to give it up when it is right to do so.
In the world of Elden Ring, filled with hidden dungeons, the mysterious and ambitious Queen Marika the Eternal arguably has the beauty of Galadriel and the ambition of Sauron, using the Elden Ring bestowed upon her to dominate all life in the Lands Between. The dynasty of Demigods Marika established, to her credit, was far more pleasant and prosperous than the blasted, industrial hell of Mordor; still, it was a totalitarian empire built on conquest and genocide, a society where non-humans were cruelly oppressed and dissidents were purged or exiled with brutal efficiency. In the end, even Queen Marika herself was not free, beholden to the divine agenda of the Greater Will of Elden Ring‘s Lands Between and obliged to eternally maintain the system she’d created.
To escape the prison she’d forged around herself, Marika resorted to dark schemes of destruction. She stripped Grace from her consort Lord Godfrey and sent him into exiled with the other Tarnished. She persuaded Lunar Princess Ranni to steal a fragment of Destined Death from Maliketh the Black Blade, then imbued that stolen power into a series of Black Knives she gifted to Numen assassins from her old homeland. These Black Knife Assassins were dispatched to murder Marika’s own eldest son, Godwyn the Golden, along with several more of her Demigod children in the Lands Between. Finally, Queen Marika the Eternal shattered the Elden Ring, instigated the war known as the Shattering, and set in motion a conspiracy to have one of the Tarnished slay the god she drew her own power from. For this act of treachery, she was imprisoned in the Erdtree, crucified by the Elden Beast, and reduced to a literal hollow shell of herself.
Despite being a tonally dark narrative, Elden Ring is perhaps a bit more optimistic than The Lord Of The Rings when it comes to the notion of wielding power without being corrupted by it, since many of the endings where the Tarnished protagonist becomes Elden Lord are optimistic in tone. Still, the tragic fates of Queen Marika, Rykard, Godrick, Gideon Ofnir, and Tarnished PC in the Lord Of Frenzied Flame finale, the worst Elden Ring ending of all, illustrate full well how absolute power and a lack of wisdom can chain souls towards paths of folly and evil.
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