J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is probably the best and most famous fantasy series in the history of the genre. Tolkien created a vast world that millions of people now adore and we are certain that even he had no idea that his mythology-inspired tale would become so popular.
The books were adapted into movies, video games and now a television series that is in the works. In today’s article, we are going to dwell a bit into the franchise – all of its segments – and bring you a list of 20 secrets from the franchise that will most certainly surprise you! You might have known some of them, but others might come as a surprise even to some more devoted fans, so enjoy!
1. Gandalf, Sauron, and the Balrog belong to the same race
We all know who Gandalf, Sauron and Balrog are. Gandalf is the benevolent and powerful wizard that helps destroy the One Ring; Sauron is the ultimate villain of the whole franchise, mainly represented through the flaming eye of Mordor; and Balrog is the burning monstrosity Gandalf faces off against during the Fellowship’s journey towards Mordor. So, we have a wizard, an evil overlord and a monster. They couldn’t be more different, could they? Well, this is where you’re wrong!
Namely, all three of them are Maiar, which means that they belong to the same race, which is actually amazing. The Maia are a race of supernatural and angelic beings from Tolkien’s Legendarium that are of a semi-divine nature.
The Maia are described as Ainur of lesser power and include individually specific entities such as Sauron, but also all of the wizards and the Balrogs, which are powerful fire-demons that are extremely dangerous and have been corrupted by Melkor.
2. Sean Connery didn’t understand the role of Gandalf
It is now a well-known fact that the legendary Sir Sean Connery, best know as the first cinematic James Bond, turned down the role of Gandalf, which eventually went to Sir Ian McKellen.
The producers thought that Connery would be an ideal pick for the role and they offered him a small fee plus 15% of the film’s total income; this was not the most lucrative deal in his career, but 15% of the total profit for a movie the producers thought had potential was a fair gamble if you asked us.
Had he accepted, Connery would have received around $450,000,000 for the whole trilogy, yet – he declined. Why? He did not understand it. This is what he said:
“I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it … I would be interested in doing something that I didn’t fully understand, but not for 18 months.”
So, the guy who played James Bond, Indiana Jones’ father and tried to redeem this poor choice by playing professor Allan Quatermain in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen declined the role of Gandalf because he did not understand the character. We’re not sure what confused Sir Sean so much, but all we can say in the end is – fair enough!
3. Sauron was a cat
Hardcore fans of Tolkien’s series are certainly going to know who Tevildo, Lord of the Cats, is. But, even some of these fans might not know that Tevildo almost ended up being the main villain of the whole series, i.e., that he almost ended up being Sauron!
Namely, the first drafts of the stories refer to Sauron as Tevildo, “Lord of the Cats”. It was Tevildo who was Morgoth’s first general, but his name was later changed into Thu. Thu then became Thu the Necromancer, the evil sorcerer who would eventually become Sauron, and the rest is history.
Today, there is really no doubt about Tevildo being a separate character, as he was reintroduced into the narrative by Christopher Tolkien, but it would’ve certainly been interesting to see a cat being the main villain of this series.
4. Christopher Lee wanted to play Gandalf, not Saruman
And while Sir Sean Connery declined the role of Gandalf, another Knight of the British Empire, Sir Christopher Lee, actually wanted to play the role before Sir Ian McKellen was cast.
Christopher Lee was an enormous fan of The Lord of the Rings and he had even met Tolkien in his lifetime, saying: “I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine.”
Lee even played the wizard Olwyn in the 1997 television series The New Adventures of Robin Hood just to show everyone that he could play a wizard; he stated that he did it “to show anyone who was watching that I could play a wizard and that I would be ideal casting for The Lord of the Rings.”
He even sent Peter Jackson a photo of himself dressed up as a wizard, although he did admit that it was more of a joke than actual pressure on the director.
Whether it was a joke or not, Lee did get a part in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but it was not that of Gandalf, but of the evil wizard Saruman, which is close enough if you ask us. Lee was happy with the casting and even he himself later admitted that he was “too old” for such an action-packed role such as Gandalf, which is why Saruman was a far better role for him. We can only agree with that!
5. Aragorn was originally a Hobbit
Aragorn is one of the characters that went through a lot of change as Tolkien developed his stories. The early drafts show that Tolkien changed Aragorn’s story a lot and that it took some time before Aragorn became the noble ranger we all know and love.
What is not always known it that he was initially conceived as a Hobbit, although still a ranger. Tolkien had problems settling on a true identity for the character, but what is known is that the nickname Trotter stuck through most of the drafts. The drafts had a lot of different stories in them, with one of them portraying Aragorn as a long-lost relative of Bilbo’s, who helped Gandalf track down Gollum.
The nickname “Trotter” stuck because it was the sound his shoes made while he was walking. However, no many people knew that he was actually a prisoner of Sauron and that the so-called “shoes” were actually the prosthetic feet he was given after Gandalf rescued him.
6. The difficulties of casting Aragorn
Although Viggo Mortensen is practically the only person we could imagine playing Aragorn ever again, the crew had a really difficult time casting this role (for one candidate, see below).
Nicholas Cage was initially offered the role, but he turned it down due to “family obligations”, which was a bad move as it might have kept his career on track. Stuart Townsend, an Irish actor, was then cast but was famously fired on his first day on the set, after Jackson realised he needed an older actor and approached Viggo Mortensen for the role.
Mortensen accepted it at the behest of his son, Henry, who was a big fan of the books, and thus – a legendary role was cast. Mortensen did receive his fair share of beatings during the filming, but as a true professional – he survived all of them.
Had Mortensen declined, the producers had two backups – Australian actors Jason Patric and Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe was actually amazed with the script and the role reminded him of his role in the movie Gladiator, but he was already committed to other projects at the time so it wouldn’t have worked out even if the producers actually approached him for the role.
7. Sean Bean had his script on his knee
One does not simply… read a script during the filming of a scene. That isn’t always true, but in most cases, you won’t really catch an actor reading a script in a scene that ultimately ends up in the final cut of the movie.
Yet, specific as it was, The Lord of the Rings trilogy even had one such moment and it involved the fan-favourite Boromir, played by Sean Bean. And it happened during the crucial scene of the Council of Elrond, where the Fellowship was formed and where Frodo was picked to destroy the ring in Mordor.
If you observe the above scene more closely (watch out for Boromir), you’ll notice that the actor looks down towards his knees on several occasions. It did seem pretty natural, Bean executed it quite well, but the actor was actually looking at his knees because a page from the script was taped there, so he was actually “cheating” while filming this scene.
Now, now, it’s not because Sean Bean is a terrible actor who cannot memorise his lines. Bean did this because the script of the movies changed so many times (see below) that the actors didn’t really have time to prepare for each change, while the shooting had to move forward. So they cheated. And that’s fine with us!
8. There was no Middle-earth before Middle-earth
This one might sound a bit strange, but if you follow our line of thought, you’ll understand that the title of this section is actually true. Namely, when Bilbo Baggins initially travelled through what is now Middle-earth, the region itself did not have a name.
Tolkien’s Legendarium was still in the early stages of its development, so even though the land existed and Bilbo did travel through it, it initially had no name. It was just a piece of land and at the time, no one knew what it was called.
It wasn’t until some time later that Tolkien decided to give his world a name, calling it Middle-Earth. So, no, there was no Middle-earth before Tolkien named it Middle-earth and Bilbo, while travelling through Middle-earth, didn’t actually travel through it. This was, of course, remedied and retconned later, but it is still a very interesting thing to mention here.
9. Dragons are hideous
You know Smaug? He was amazing, right? That guy was a truly majestic creature that was as beautiful as it was frightening. It’s power was matched only by how it was designed and the animators did a really amazing job in that aspect. But even Tolkien portrayed the “later” dragons as such creatures, to the animators didn’t really take liberty with that element. So, how and why are they ugly?
Well, Glaurung, the “father of all dragons”, who is also called the “Black Worm”, was a hideous, wile creature that terrorised Tolkien’s world. First of all, he could not fly, which essentially made him an over-sized, fire-breathing lizard or worm. His skin was black and he is almost always described as being unbelievably ugly.
On top of that, Glaurung had a pale and wrinkled underside, which made him even uglier. All kinds of junk and filth would get stuck between his wrinkles and scales, which resulted in his slimy skin and his huge body giving off a horrific stench that suffocated every living thing around him. So yeah, you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a small space with this guy.
10. Game of Thrones is like a Sunday-morning cartoon
A lot of fans (myself included) noted the similarities between George Martin’s Game of Thrones franchise and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And although they are not the same, they are in many way similar, with Martin’s stories being labelled as a more “hardcore” version of Tolkien’s narrative.
This is especially true when blood and death are concerned, as Game of Thrones is noted for its violence and Martin killing off his characters as if they were irrelevant plot elements; the guy probably killed of more characters than some authors ever created in their careers. So, Game of Thrones has to be bloodier? Well, that’s true on a general level, but Tolkien’s story still reigns supreme when the number of on-screen deaths in a single movie is considered.
This, of course, refers to The Return of the King, where several important clashes and battles take place. The conclusion of Tolkien’s series was adapted by Peter Jackson as the final movie of his trilogy and it features a total of 836 on-screen deaths, which far exceeds any other movie or TV show. And while the subjective perception could vary – that is why Game of Thrones is generally considered to be bloodier – the numbers don’t lie and The Return of the King definitely ranks first in this category.
11. … and there’s cannibalism
You might not not expect Tolkien to include cannibalism in his stories, but it actually did happen and we’re not counting the Orcs, who would eat anything they could get her hands on, including other Orcs. There was an actual case of real human-like cannibalism in The Lord of the Rings books and it was a truly shocking revelation, despite the fact that it was just implied in the books. So, who ate who?
According to the story, Gríma Wormtongue murdered a Shire-based Hobbit, Lotho Sackville-Baggins, and the story becomes a bit foggy after that; oh, this all happened during Saruman’s tyrannical rule over the Shire. So, what happened to Lotho?
Well, after having been murdered by Gríma, his body disappeared. One theory suggests that he was taken away and buried to an unknown location and was never discovered. The other theory suggests that Gríma actually ate Lotho after killing him, which seems to be a lingering theory within the fandom. Lotho was a spy for Saruman so maybe he did get what he deserved, but nevertheless – no one deserves such a horrible end, not even spies of Saruman, however wretched they are.
12. Oh, and racism… let’s not forget racism!
Okay, the title might be a bit misleading, but it certainly got your attention, right? The question of racism in The Lord of the Rings is a bit different than you might expect, because it refers to the organisation of the afterlife realms in Tolkien’s world. This is not racist per se, but each race seems to have its own “heaven” and mixing between them is rarely possible.
The best example of this are the Undying Lands, where the Elves are reunited with the Valar in eternal life in a literal paradise. Other races have their own heavens and it seems that none of them is as lovely and as Eden-like as the Undying Lands.
The entrance to the Undying Lands is prohibited to almost anyone who is not an Elf (see below), but the Valar did make an exception for the Fellowship of the Ring, as they allowed all the ring bearers – who were truly worthy of such an end – entrance into the Undying Lands; among them was even a Dwarf and we all know that the Elves never had a good relationship with the Dwarves, but Gimli was still granted access due to his bravery and his friendship with Legolas.
13. But at least there’s no incest, right?
As if all the bloodshed and cannibalism weren’t enought, The Lord of the Rings also featured an incestuous relationship, although we are not sure whether that was an unintentional mistake on Tolkien’s side, or an intentional move; if it is the latter, you have to wonder what his motives were for doing it intentionally, but that is a completely different issue. So, who ended up marrying their relative? Aragorn!
Namely, after the whole saga came to its end, Aragorn, the new King, ended up marrying Arwen, which was ultimately expected as their love was more than evident. What is strange is that they are actually related, although it is a very distant relation (which is why we think that it was unintentional mistake on Tolkien’s side). How are they related?
We have to star off with Aragorn’s family tree and go all the way to his sixty-first great-grandfather – Elros Half-elven. Elros was actually the half-brother of Elron, and therefore – Arwen’s uncle. Bam bam bam! But, don’t worry too much over that, because Elros acutally died 6,000 years before Aragorn was even born so the relation is something that one can disregard.
14. The return of Ian Holm
Sir Ian Holm is undoubtedly a legend of British acting and there are so many roles that we could name, from The Fifth Element and From Hell, to his role in Alien, that represent him in the eyes of modern-day audiences.
One of those roles is, of course, the role of the older Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings franchise, a role that will certainly remain among those we are going to remember Ian Holm for. But, what most people don’t know is that Ian Holm is much more closely related to Tolkien’s series than we actually thought.
Namely, his interpretation of Bilbo Baggins in the movies was not his first outing in the franchise, as he had played Frodo Baggins in an earlier radio adaptation of the series for BBC Radio.
His interpretation of Frodo was so memorable that it was the primary (if not sole) reason why Peter Jackson personally offered Ian Holm the role, which the latter gladly accepted. So, despite popular opinion, Sir Ian Holm actually returned to the franchise with this role – and we’re thrilled he did! – rather than debuted in it.
15. But no Vin Diesel, Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman
The Lord of the Rings had a lot people decline roles, but also a lot of people declined for roles. Some actors, like Richard O’Brien, who was offered the part of Gríma Wormtongue by Peter Jackson himself, had agents who did not believe that the movies would be successful, which is why they declined the roles. Liam Neeson also passed on the role of Boromir, but we don’t actually know why.
As for Vin Diesel, the guy actually auditioned for the role of Aragorn and from this perspective, we have to admit that we just can’t imagine Vin Diesel in the role, regardless of how good that role would have been executed. After seeing his Audition, Jackson said that Diesel was “very compelling”, but that he just didn’t feel like Aragorn and we can only agree with that. It’s really difficult to imagine him in that role.
Another pair of actors that almost got roles in the trilogy were Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, who were a married couple back then. Hawke was very enthusiastic about participating because he was a big fan, while his wife was a bit reluctant; they were offered the parts of Faramir and Éowyn. Here’s what the production team said:
“Ethan was a huge fan of the books and was very keen to be involved. Uma was less sure and rightly so, because we were revising how we saw Éowyn’s character literally as we went. In the end, Ethan let it go—with some reluctance.”
16. Mysterio could have been… Frodo?
Another would-have-been cast member is Jake Gyllenhaal, who has recently appeared as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home, although he has – during his career – has loads of great and memorable roles in various movies. Yet, when the casting for The Fellowship of the Ring was taking place, Gyllenhaal was a young actor and he auditioned for the role of Frodo.
We all know that the part eventually went to Elijah Wood, but we have no idea how good Gyllenhaal actually was during his audition. Why? Well, Gyllenhall embarrassed himself so much that the quality of his interpretation was completely irrelevant!
Namely, the role was intended to be spoken in a British accent, a fact Gyllenhaal was not aware of at the time of the audition. This is what he recalled:
“I remember auditioning for The Lord of the Rings and going in and not being told that I needed a British accent. I really do remember Peter Jackson saying to me, ‘You know that you have to do this in a British accent?’”
So yeah, poor Gyllenhaal did an audition using the wrong accent, which was pretty embarrassing. And if that wasn’t enough, he later heard that it had been one of the worst auditions the crew had seen. Poor Jake.
17. The script changed more often than the days on a calendar
The Lord of the Rings is today considered to be one of the best movie trilogies ever and we can only agree with that statement. Peter Jackson and his team did a truly amazing job in bringing Tolkien’s epic story to the big screen and the screenplay for the whole trilogy is a literary masterpiece in itself. But it wasn’t that easy… and we’re not referring to the creative process behind the writing of the screenplay.
Namely, the studios behind the project weren’t really enthusiastic about the constantly growing budget so the ideas about how to execute the story constantly changed. Initially, the series was supposed to be a duology, but as the budget grew, the studio executives even suggested that they adapt all three books into just one single movie, presented by an old(er) Frodo.
Peter Jackson recalled one funny suggestion, where Frodo would have been “covering [the entire Mines of Moria sequence in Fellowship] by saying something like, ‘So then we went on a dangerous journey through the Mines of Moria and lost Gandalf!’” Just imagine if that happened…
But this was not the only issue with the screenplay. Namely, the screenplay also changed a lot during the filming, sometimes even while the some scenes were actually filmed. This led to the actors not always being fully prepared for the scenes, which is why some of them even “cheated” during filming, as secret number 7 states.
18. George Romero would’ve been proud
You know George Romero, the guy who made zombie horror movies famous? Well, seeing how he loved zombies, he would probably be proud of this detail from Tolkien’s books that is related to the Men of Númenor. The Men of Númenor are known as valiant and just warriors, but that wasn’t always the case, as the group was very different before Elessar’s rule.
Namely, when the Valar created Númenor, they forbid the Men of that land from travelling to the Undying Lands, meaning that they were prohibited from attaining eternal life together with the Valar. The Men of Númenor didn’t really like this, so one day, they set sail for the Undying Lands, thinking that they could easily achieve immortality despite the Valar’s instructions. The Valar would, of course, not allow that.
So, when the Men of Númenor set sail for the Undying Lands, the Valar decided to punish them for their insubordination they trapped them under a mountain in the Undying Lands, effectively burying them alive. The Men of Númenor thus did achieve immortality, as they did reach the Undying Lands, but they would have to live it through under a mountain, in the dark, without hope of ever seeing light for the rest of eternity.
19. The fate of the Shire
The Shire has become one of the symbols of Tolkien’s series. Thanks to the production designers of Peter Jackson’s movies, the Shire has become a pastoral representation of tranquility and peace in Tolkien’s stories. And yet, the small, idyllic home of the Hobbits almost didn’t even survive after the real events of the books ended, which would have left some of our heroes without a home. Luckily enough, the Shire was almost destroyed, but managed to survive. Here’s what happened in this story.
With the War of the Ring finished, the Hobbits could once more return to their homeland, which is what they did in the movies. But the story is a bit different. Namely, the Shire was, at the time, ruled by a tyrannical man called Sharkey. The Hobbits, when they returned, had one final mission to do – free the Shire of Sharkey’s rule. In reality, Sharkey was Saruman, who fled Isengard after convincing the Ents to trade them the keys to Orthanc for his life. This was never shown in the movies.
The Hobbits arrived just in time to prevent Saruman from destroying their hometown, sparking a small rebellion that led to him being overthrown from his position. He was late killed by Gríma Wormtongue.
20. Gollum’s redemption… sort of
Whether you like him, despise him or feel sorry for him, Gollum is an essential part of The Lord of the Rings lore and is most famous for being portrayed as the wretched, horrid creature we’ve seen in Peter Jackson’s movies.
Andy Serkis did an amazing job portraying Gollum, but we can be honest and say that the character’s appearance was more disgusting than pleasing. Taking all of this into consideration, it may come as a shock to you that Gollum was once nothing more than a random creature in Tolkien’s story. How is this possible?
Well, in the first version of the story, when Bilbo Baggins meets Gollum, the latter really does have the ring, but was not corrupted by it, not was he such a wretched presence. Gollum was just a random creature that Bilbo met and he gave Bilbo the Ring without much fuss after losing a game of riddles to him. At the time, even Tolkien was unaware that Gollum was actually holding the One Ring and when he realised that, he had to change the story.
The whole encounter was eventually rewritten by Tolkien and the character of Gollum was changed so that it resembled the wretched creature we know from the movies.
Do you know any other “secret” you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below!