One of the best things about any fantasy fiction is the diverse populations in the universe, especially in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are Peter Jackson’s film adaptations that bring Tolkien’s high-fantasy universe to life. Fans everywhere got to see their favorite characters given visual form, whether they were Hobbits, Men, Elves or Dwarves. Tolkien’s universe is so compelling because it uses different types of creatures and beings to tell a powerful story.
Middle-earth is inhabited by many different creeds of people who have distinct histories and characteristics that are specific to them. Here’s a handy guide that breaks down the major players from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
Originally named Atani by the Elves, Men were the second major race created by Ilúvatar, the one supreme god, at the start of the First Age. Their blessing is called the Gift of Men, which is mortality — the thing that gives their lives meaning is the finish line at the end of it. Though all Men are distantly related, there are many different groups of Men who share similar characteristics, especially as time and space distanced them from one another. One of the most notable groups of Men is the Dúnedain, who are characterized by their long lifespan (100 years on average) and resistance to evil. Aragorn, one of the main players in the Lord of the Rings, is of the Dúnedain.
Created three ages before Men, Elves were the first Children of Ilúvatar, the first race the supreme god ever created for Arda, the world. Commonly known as Eldar, they are known to be the wisest and most beautiful creatures in Middle-earth. They’re immune to illness, and unless they are otherwise killed or fall into deep despair, Elves live forever. After they reach their physical prime, they no longer age. Some of the Elves in the Lord of the Rings like Elrond and Galadriel are thousands of years old. Elves notably also have far better senses than Men overall and are exceedingly light of foot. They are the perfect combination of grace and power.
Unlike Elves or Men, Dwarves were created not by Ilúvatar, but by Aulë, an Ainu who was responsible for shaping aspects of Ilúvatar’s world. Alongside Aulë’s other notable creations, the Sun and the Moon, the Dwarves are by far his best. He created the first ones under a mountain in Middle-earth before any other race was created, even the Elves. But the Elves were to be the first ones on Middle-earth, so the first seven Dwarves were kept in stasis until it was their time to come forth. Dwarves are masters of stone, and extremely talented at mining. They are also master architects, creating elaborate palaces within and underneath massive mountains. They are short and stout in stature, but make up for it with hearty endurance and never-ending energy.
Hobbits are a mortal race that mostly resides in the Shire during the Third Age. Their origins are a bit murky, but they are said to have initially come from the northern regions of Middle-earth below the Vales of Anduin. Most of the Hobbits moved to where the Shire eventually was created, and the ones that remained in the Vales became known as Stoors, which is the type of Hobbit that Sméagol was. Hobbits are very notable because, despite their shortness and hedonistic lifestyle, they are capable of amazing things and incredible bravery. Hobbits are known not to adventure — they prefer a quiet life filled with good food, drink and smoke. But, as Bilbo and Frodo Baggins show, they can easily surprise everyone.
Orcs were created by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord. He created them as foot soldiers in his quest to dominate Middle-earth. The first orcs were created by kidnapping Elves and torturing them until they twisted into the monstrous forms of Orcs. Orcs were known to be malicious, cruel and completely unrelatable. They are the ultimate villains and the perfect servants for any Dark Lord, whether it be Morgoth or Sauron. Though they are typically shorter than Men, they have long arms and fangs that make them appear menacing and revolting. They create nothing of beauty but can perfect weapons and tools of torture and cruelty. Their evil ran so deep that their murderous natures would even turn on each other — as long as they got to kill something.
Ents were placed on Middle-earth as “shepherds” of the trees at the request of Yavanna, a Valar who was in charge of all the things that grow on Earth, in Arda. The Ents were always sentient creatures but first learned to speak after the Elves started to converse with them. They were in charge of protecting certain forests from Orcs and other dangers and are some of the oldest beings in Middle-earth. They are tree-like creatures that began to look more and more like the trees that they herded, transforming in form over the millennia. Ents are quite strong, as Merry and Pippin can attest to. At one time, there were female Entwives, but they were lost some time ago, and though the Ents still look for them, they are nowhere to be found.
Trolls are unintelligent, humanoid creatures that were made by Morgoth sometime before the First Age. They were created to carry out his nefarious deeds, and they lacked intelligence so that they could better listen to his command and follow his every whim, even at the creature’s own expense. Trolls turn to stone in the sunlight, which was good news for Bilbo in The Hobbit, because they were originally made from stone. They are very strong and made mostly of muscle, but they are incredibly stupid and tend to rely on pure shows of force as their primary weapon. They have terrible manners and are brutish at best. If it looks like one and it smells like one, it’s probably a Troll.
Though they are not featured in the Lord of the Rings movies, the Barrow-wights make an appearance in Tolkien’s books. They are beings of darkness that can shapeshift and reside not far from the Shire at the Barrow-downs, the burial mounds for the first Men in the First Age. They live anywhere in darkness, as the sun is their number one enemy. Barrow-wights appear almost like ghosts, with penetrating, cold eyes and skeletal hands. Their voices are horrible and grating, but somehow hypnotic. If a person were caught in a Barrow-wight’s hypnosis, they would be lured into the darkness to be killed by a sword on an altar. They are dreaded around Middle-earth, and though they don’t appear in the film adaptations, they’re featured both in the original books and in the video game adaptations.
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