Way back in 2007 when LOTRO was first launched, one pretty consistent gripe from reviewers concerned the whole concept of the Minstrel class. Sure, everyone knew that the game needed a healer of some sort, but many people just didn’t get the concept of the Minstrel. I remember one particular review that basically asked, “What idiot came up with the idea that you could play music to fight the monsters, and what was he smoking?”
Now that we have a flood of new players, many of whom are unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings outside of The Hobbit, coming in for free-to-play, I suspect that we’ll hear these questions again from time to time, so I’d like to answer them here. Are you ready?
The “idiot” who came up with the idea of music fighting the monsters was none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, and he was probably smoking his pipe.
Anyone familiar with Tolkien’s writings knows that he was very fond of music and poetry; the pages of his books are filled with songs. Some of these, such as “The Road Goes Ever On and On,” have become widely known because of their inclusion in the Peter Jackson films of a few years ago.
However, music in Middle-Earth is not just an important part of culture. Frequently it is represented as an expression of immense power. To take one obvious example, the very creation of the world of Arda (of which Middle-Earth is just one continent) as well as its entire history is portrayed in The Silmarillion as the result of a song begun by Tolkien’s creation deity, Ilúvatar, and taken up by the Ainur (angelic beings). The problems and conflicts of Middle-Earth’s history are caused by a “discordant theme” introduced into the music by a rebellious Ainu named Melkor, who becomes the chief villain of Middle-Earth’s First Age.
Once Arda had been created and populated by all sorts of fair and foul beings, music continued to play an integral role in some its most important stories. The best examples of this motif are found in the tale of Beren and Lúthien (also found in The Silmarillion), which in some ways is the most important story Tolkien ever wrote.
In one of the key moments of the story, Finrod Felagund, a powerful Elf lord, enters into a duel with Sauron (yes, that Sauron). Their weapons? Let’s see how Tolkien puts it: “Thus befell the contest of Sauron and Felagund which is renowned. For Felagund strove with Sauron in songs of power [my emphasis], and the power of the King was very great; but Sauron had the mastery.” Basically, Finrod and Sauron sang back and forth to each other until Sauron’s power overcame the Elf. He accomplished this by summoning up musical images of how Finrod’s people had unjustly slain another group of Elves hundreds of years before.
Later in the tale, the Elf-maid Lúthien employs her musical powers to great effect. First she sings a song that penetrates the stone walls of Sauron’s island fortress and reaches Beren. Later she stands in front of Melkor himself and sings “after the manner of a minstrel.” The song she performs is of “such blinding power” that Melkor and all his minions are put to sleep.
(By the way, it’s hard to imagine what a feat this was if you have read only The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. In the First Age, Melkor was the most powerful being in all Arda; Sauron and the Balrogs were his lackeys.)
I wasn’t in on the devs’ planning of the classes for LOTRO, but I have to think that there was at least one person in the process who knew these stories and showed the others that in Tolkien’s universe, music has tremendous power, even more so than what we see in the game. The inclusion of a class that uses music as its primary tool is perfectly appropriate.
So, if you ever come across a new player who just doesn’t get the Minstrel class, be nice, chalk it up to innocent ignorance, and point him to this article!