Friday, February 24, 2006

The War of the Ring as a Chess Game

Tolkien fans may enjoy this exercise. Think how a game of chess would look if you used figures from The Lord of the Rings. It's not that easy. Is Frodo the white king, or is Aragorn? Besides Orthanc, is Barad-dur or Minas Morgul a better black rook? Who are the pawns as opposed to the big players?

I came up with four chess sets. Three reflect the view of someone related to a major player in the war: Frodo Gardner, son of Sam and Elanor; Eldarion, son of Aragorn and Arwen; and Erestor, advisor to Elrond. The fourth set reflects my own outsider perspective as a reader of the books. Interestingly, this is the one I like least. Perhaps because it seeks to be the most objective, it comes across as the most superficial and least distinct. Maybe there's something to be said after all for an insular bias: I very much like the other three.

1. The War of the Ring according to Frodo Gardner, son of Samwise and Elanor

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Bag End Mount Doom
Q Knights: Pippin (on horse) Cave Troll
Q Bishops: Gandalf Sharky
Queens: Sam Shelob
Kings: Frodo Sauron
K Bishops: Smeagol Gollum
K Knights: Merry (on horse) Witch-King (on fell beast)
K Rooks: Grey Havens Barad-dur

Pawns (White): 8 hobbits
Pawns (Black): 8 orcs

This is the war in completely hobbit-centric terms.

For white, Frodo is the obvious king who can't be captured lest the world fall; Sam the all-powerful queen for doing (literally) everything during the quest -- killing Shelob, invading Cirith Ungol and rescuing Frodo, carrying him up the slopes of Mount Doom; Gandalf the bishop assisting unexpectedly at times, Smeagol (Gollum's better half) doing likewise; Merry and Pippin the knights/esquires of Rohan and Gondor; Bag End and the Grey Havens the natural rooks.

For black, Sauron is the king, Shelob his queen who faces off Sam appropriately; Sharky (rather than Saruman) and Gollum are the insidious bishops, one wreaking war on the Shire through other hobbits, the other scheming against the Ringbearer even while assisting him; the Witch-King and Cave Troll face off the hobbit knights -- and again, love the hobbit's perspective: Merry (rather than Eowyn) is the true slayer of the Witch-King; Mount Doom and Barad-dur serve as the rooks of darkness.

The fact that the hobbit pawns are mismatched against the orc pawns (hobbits fought in the Shire against Sharky's men, not against orcs, just as orcs fought against men in the south rather than hobbits) poses no problem at all. Hobbits are cheerfully illogical about these things.

2. The War of the Ring according to Eldarion, son of Aragorn and Arwen

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Helm's Deep Orthanc
Q Knights: Theoden (on Snowmane) Ugluk (on a warg)
Q Bishops: Treebeard Saruman
Queens: Arwen The Mouth
Kings: Aragorn Sauron
K Bishops: King of the Dead Witch-King
K Knights: Imrahil (on a swanship) Gothmog (on a warg)
K Rooks: Minas Tirith Minas Morgul

Pawns (White): Eomer, Eowyn, Theodred, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Ghan-buri-Ghan, Faramir

Pawns (Black): 2 Uruk-hai captains, 2 Dunlending captains, 2 Haradrim captains, 2 Mordor-orc captains

The war from a human and thoroughly military perspective.

Aragorn and Arwen are the royal pieces (though chess-wise, Arwen actually had a more kingly and Aragorn a more queenly role). Treebeard and the King of the Dead are the bishops, last-minute "secret" weapons who helped turned the tide against the forces of Isengard and Mordor, respectively. The king of Rohan and prince of Dol Amroth assist King Aragorn as knights from abroad, while Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith are the castles of refuge.

Sauron is the black king (as in all these scenarios), the Mouth his closest confidant and "queen". Saruman and the Witch-King are the bishops, his prime tools who carry out the war against Rohan and Gondor. Ugluk and Gothmog are the orc captains under their respective commands, from Orthanc and Minas Morgul.

Note all of the important figures who, from Eldarion's snooty perspective, serve as mere pawns -- even Gandalf.

3. The War of the Ring according to Erestor, chief counselor to Elrond

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Caras Galadhon Dol Guldur
Q Knights: Gwaihir Fell Beast
Q Bishops: Radagast Khamul
Queens: Galadriel Balrog
Kings: Elrond Sauron
K Bishops: Gandalf Saruman
K Knights: Shadowfax Fell Beast
K Rooks: Rivendell Orthanc

Pawns (White): The 8 Fellowship members besides Gandalf: Boromir, Gimli, Pippin, Sam, Frodo, Merry, Legolas, Aragorn

Pawns (Black): The 8 Nazgul besides Khamul: Uvatha, Adunaphael, Dwar, Akhorahil, Murazor (Witch-King), Indur, Hoarmurath, Ren

Erestor, like most elves, sees everyone subservient to the immortals.

For white, Elrond and Galadriel are king and queen, Gandalf and Radagast the Istari bishops. Shadowfax and Gwaihir serve as the knights (rather than the riders they may happen to bear). Rivendell and Caras Galadhon are the obvious rooks.

For black, Sauron is king, the Balrog his demonic "queen" reigning by terror between the two elven paradises. Saruman and Khamul threaten Rivendell and Lothlorien from their rooks of Orthanc and Dol Guldur. Countering the graceful Shadowfax and Gwaihir are a couple of fell beasts, and as with white, the steed itself is the knight.

The white pawns fall into place as the eight members of the Fellowship -- commissioned by Elrond, advised by Galadriel, led by Gandalf. Correspondingly, the black pawns are the eight Nazgul who, along with Khamul, hound the Fellowship.

4. The War of the Ring according to Loren Rosson

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Helm's Deep Orthanc
Q Knights: Theoden (on horse) Wormtongue
Q Bishops: Gandalf Saruman
Queens: Aragorn Witch-King
Kings: Frodo Sauron
K Bishops: Sam Shelob
K Knights: Faramir (on horse) Gollum
K Rooks: Henneth Annun Tower of Cirith Ungol

Pawns (White): Eomer, Eowyn, Merry, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Beregond, Boromir

Pawns (Black): Uruk-hai, Warg, Dunlending, Nazgul on Fell Beast, Cave Troll, Haradrim, Oliphant, Mordor-orc

This is the war from my own reader-omniscient perspective.

For white: The king can only be Frodo, unable to move much or fast, once captured game over. The queen must be the literal king, Aragorn, who reaches everywhere during the war -- to Edoras, Helm’s Deep, Orthanc, Pelargir, Minas Tirith -- turning tides of battle, then finally arriving in desperate gambit at the Black Gate to buy the king (Frodo) some time. Sam is Frodo’s bishop, just as Gandalf is Aragorn's; without them the Ringbearer and heir to Gondor wouldn’t stand a chance. Theoden is the knight on Aragorn's side, sacrificing himself on the Pelennor Fields, while Faramir is Frodo's knight, sacrificing the Ring to the hobbit's quest, knowing he will incur the wrath of Denethor. The refuges, correspondingly, must be Helm’s Deep and Henneth Annun. (Frodo castled at the latter.)

For black: The king is Sauron, remaining forever hidden at a distance. The queen is his mighty Witch, who extends himself everywhere during the war. Saruman and Shelob are bishops facing off Gandalf and Sam, based at the rooks of Orthanc and Cirith Ungol (Tolkien’s "Two Towers"), and who are served upon in turn by Wormtongue and Gollum. Note how unknightly the black knights are: Wormtongue and Gollum are almost anti-knights, once decent, having sacrificed their souls to serve the wizard and spider, and ultimately (in both cases) Sauron.

The white pawns are individualized, while the black pawns are representative of the entire mess of evil thrown against the free peoples during the war.


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