Shadow of Mordor Canon: The Short Version

Is the latest Middle-earth game, Shadow of Mordor, canon? Is it a story that Tolkien wrote, or at least hinted at?

The shortest answer is no. Tolkien never wrote about a Gondorian who was possessed by any Elf, much less Celebrimbor. Indeed, Tolkien never says anything about the fate of Celebrimbor’s spirit.

But could he have written it? Is it in line with the spirit of Tolkien?

Well, no, not really. Tolkien took issue with people who wanted to delve too much into the mind of the baddies (Birzer, 53). It’s highly unlikely that he would have ever even thought of a story like this, much less taken the time to write it.

But does it fit within the world of Middle-earth? Given what Tolkien wrote, would it have been possible?

Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

The Realm of Maybe

If Tolkien never wrote the story told in Shadow of Mordor and if it’s highly unlikely that he would have even wanted to write such a story, how can it possibly fit within his sub-creation?

The two biggest objections are

  1. Taking away Talion’s ability to die is beyond what Sauron or any of his servants would be capable of accomplishing.
  2. Celebrimbor couldn’t have still been in Middle-earth thousands of years after his death.

Without getting into too much detail (this is the short version, after all!), these objections may not be insurmountable.

  1. There is record of Morgoth, the first dark lord, giving preternatural abilities of sight and hearing to a man (Silmarillion, 197). The Ring gave unnatural long life to Gollum, so it might be possible to prevent permanent death, at least for a period of time.
  2. Elves continue to exist as long as Middle-earth exists–they don’t go to a purely spiritual afterlife (Silm, 42). Instead, the spirits are summoned to the Halls of Mandos in the Blessed Realm to ponder their past lives until they may eventually be reborn. It is possible for an Elf to refuse the summons (Morgoth’s Ring, 223). While these spirits aren’t supposed to be able to influence history the way Celebrimbor influences Talion’s life (MR, 223), it’s not out of the question for Celebrimbor’s spirit to stay in Middle-earth after his death.

Is Shadow of Mordor Canon?

No. It’s not a story Tolkien wrote, outlined, or ever considered (as far as we know). While certain elements of the story may be somewhat plausible, they go further than what would have been possible in the Middle-earth Tolkien conceived.

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  12 comments for “Shadow of Mordor Canon: The Short Version

  1. Robb
    June 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Isn’t sauron the necromancer from the hobbit? If so it’s confusing to see his abilities to keep the spirits of the nine kings in middle earth while still not close to his full power even more of a feat of power when you consider he had to build power to be the necromancer and the wraiths were kept in middle earth while he gathered his strength, and yet he wouldn’t be able to keep talion’s spirit in middle earth? Some people say the wraiths are different because they didn’t die they changed but to be a wraith you are dead otherwise how are you able to exist on a plane where only the dead can exist? Frodo was becoming a wraith and he was described as dying in the books and in the movies, so why would talion’s situation be any different I mean he is dead but a wraith is what’s keeping him bound to the plane of the living and as soon as they are separated his spirit moves on as all spirits of men do. Furthermore if the spirit of a man can become a wraith why would it be impossible to achieve the same thing just in a different way? The ring wraiths became such over time, but for talion it was quick because instead of his spirit becoming a wraith itself it was instead bonded to one and he has all the abilities that any normal wraith has plus the ability to exist as a physical presence within the living realm because his spirit still retains etonomy while bonded. I don’t see how sauron couldn’t pull this off, furthermore what about the men of the mountain? They exist as spirits and yet they are still in middle earth long passed death and that was achieved because a king with no known magical powers Cursed them, a mere mortal achieved what people say sauron can’t?? Unless I’m missing something this seems very plausible. And also Tolkien wrote about the wraiths and men of the mountain so he would have to accept that men’s spirits don’t always leave middle earth upon the physical death of the men and thus talion is a character that would easily be within Tolkiens middle earth. Also the wraiths are unable to hold physical bodies within middle earth so their physical body would have died as they became wraith otherwise they would be physical men and not wraiths like they are in Tolkien’s world.

    • Emily
      June 25, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Because of Tolkien’s dislike for delving too much into evil, it’s difficult to say how Sauron kept the Nazgûl in Middle-earth as wraiths. The Men of the Mountain are an excellent example of something unexplained–along with the Dead Marshes and the Barrow-downs.

      Honestly, I can’t answer your objections without doing a lot more research! It sounds like a fascinating topic, though, so I do plan to pursue it at some point in the future.

  2. Gibson Brondos
    July 6, 2016 at 10:03 am

    I was reading the Silmarillion last night and I found Celebrimbor in the index. Maker of the Three Rings of the Elves; slain by Sauron.

    • Emily
      July 16, 2016 at 9:54 pm

      Exactly! He isn’t a major character in The Silmarillion, but he’s certainly critical to the history of Middle-earth.

  3. Molag Bal the true Lord of Domination
    January 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

    what I want to figure out is weather talion himself is a rate also or a revenant because technically restore corpse just not rotting away

    • Emily
      January 28, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Hm, that’s a tough one. Tolkien doesn’t really delve into the idea of revenants, so I think a wraith is probably the closest.

  4. fantasywind
    January 21, 2017 at 2:45 am

    Shadow of Mordor is strange in regard to how it uses Lotr lore, it seems as if the game developpers couldn’t decide whether they want to fill in to books or movies, with leaning more towards filling movie gaps. From the point of book lore the very concept of any gondorian garrison stationed at Morannon at this point of timeline is wrong (the game is supposed to take place between The Hobbit and Lotr proper) since the watch on the borders of Mordor ceased after Great Plague passed, in year 1640 of Third Age:

    “Then for weariness and fewness of men the watch on the borders of Mordor ceased and the fortresses that guarded the passes were unmanned….”

    The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion.

    For a time there were still some small garrisons both in Minas Ithil (and presumably Cirith Ungol) and Morannon. Morannon during wars with Wainriders still had some troops, Gondor lost it’s eastern territories in 1856 T.A. and in 1944 T.A after king Ondoher was slain in battle in the account of that battle in Unfinished Tales there is reference to force stationed at Morannon.

    “An isolated note associated with the text remarks that at this period the Morannon was still in the control of Gondor, and the two Watchtowers east and west of it … were still manned. The road through Ithilien was still in full repair as far as the Morannon; and there it met a road going north … and another going east along the line of Ered Lithui. [Neither of these roads is marked on the maps to the Lord of the Rings.] The eastward road extended to a point north of the site of Barad-dûr; it had never been completed further, and what had been made was now long neglected. Nonetheless its first fifty miles, which had once been fully constructed, greatly speeded the Wainriders’ approach.”

    Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 2, Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan: Notes, Note 15

    Minas Ithil was besieged by Nazgul in year 2000 T.A. (and captured in 2002 T.A.), of Cirith Ungol we only know:

    “But as with Narchost and Carchost, the Towers of the Teeth, so here too the vigilance had failed, and treachery had yielded up the Tower to the Lord of the Ringwraiths, and now for long years it had been held by evil things.”

    In the end the game does not give justice to Tolkien’s lore. I think that if only ever was made a true open world RPG set in Middle-earth no matter at which point of timeline but fully using richness of the setting only then we would have truly lore friendly game :). RPG’s are always more fucused on story and world, while this game seems more concerned with nemesis system rather than plot or lore.

    • Emily
      January 22, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      The timeline does seem to be odd. I would say it was set centuries before The Hobbit, if it wasn’t for the presence of Gollum. It’s quite possible that was the original intention, but then the published wanted to add Gollum so players had a character to recognize.

      In terms of lore-friendly games, have you play Lord of the Rings Online? It’s an MMORPG. I haven’t played it in years, but I was impressed with how faithful it is to Tolkien’s world.

      • JR
        March 12, 2017 at 12:54 pm

        The game takes place between the Hobbit and LOTR.

        • Emily
          March 12, 2017 at 8:49 pm

          I agree, I just think the timeline was shifted around a bit. Gondor abandoned their Mordor outposts centuries before the events of The Hobbit, which is why I initially thought it was set so much further back.

  5. Tom
    March 5, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Just discovered your blog after seeing the Shadows of War trailer. It has been very helpful. And as an entry level Tolkien fan really appreciate all the content here.
    Never finished SOM though… Would have loved their interpretation of the human world with more characters and story rather than a barren wastland filled with enemies.
    Wondering if you have ever tried LOTRO? Feel like its the best attempt at recreating middle earth in game form. It also offers quite interesting narrative complementing the book.

    • Emily
      March 12, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      Glad you enjoy the blog!

      How far did you get into SOM? The last quarter or so of the game takes place in Núrnen, which is still largely inhabited by free men. It has a different feel from the rest of the game, although I agree that I would have liked to see more of that sort of thing.

      I have played LOTRO, although not in a couple of years. I agree that it’s excellent! Definitely the most faithful Middle-earth video game I’ve ever played.

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