Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Middle-earth Roleplaying books, and why I post about them so much.

In case you've wondered...

Those following along will no doubt notice I've concentrated on Middle-earth Roleplaying (MERP) Game products quite a bit these past few months. To give myself structure, and to cover a subject I don't see much coverage of these days, I landed on these books as just the ticket. As time has gone along, the project has taken on a life of its own, as I work to cover and analyze and reminisce upon all the MERP books I own. It's definitely an obscure subject to some, especially those with no interest in gaming. The internet, though, is the haven for the obscure.

The truly unfortunate thing about MERP is that the books for it will almost certainly never see print again. The license for Tolkien's work is long gone for MERP. The books become more rare as time goes along, the prices for those that turn up on Amazon and eBay steadily escalate. The work put into them languishes. It's truly unfortunate, as the longer I pore over these books, the more I recognize just how good they are, how useful. The art, the writing, the game design, the charts...all are a wealth of largely untapped potential.

I don't know the solution. Perhaps rewrite it all to remove Tolkien's intellectual property? The removal and replacement of names, a reworking of the map, and much of it could easily be used in the context of another game. After all, Tolkien's impact upon fantasy roleplaying games is obvious and profound, and much of the material in these books is not anything Tolkien created. But, the amount of work to do all this might be enough that one might just as well create entirely new material instead.

The MERP line was extensive and long-lived, for a while a legitimate and major competitor in the roleplaying game field. I hope I've shown why that was, and called attention to the work of many talented folk who go unsung.

On another, related, note, website io9 posted an interesting article about Tolkien reading a poem from The Lord of Rings in Elvish. Included are links to YouTube videos of a couple of renditions by musicians, one of whom, Donald Swann, arranged and performed his version while Tolkien was still alive. The musical interpretations are very moody, with Swann's being almost liturgical in feel, and capturing the melancholy of the poem's lament. Tolkien reading his own work is a revelation with each listen, the language he created for his Elves liquid and stately as spoken by him. It's absolutely worth clicking the links if you're a Tolkien fan. It's also worth listening to Tolkien read from "Riddles in the Dark," a chapter from The Hobbit.

Tolkien has a way of evoking the dark, silent, orc-infested underworld in which Gollum lived and Bilbo unhappily found himself, using only his voice and well-chosen words. There are collections of his recordings, and it's too bad he didn't record even more; his oratorical style is almost hypnotic in its intensity and confidence.

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