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Tropes from The Lord of the Rings (the book)
Tropes A-C -- Tropes D-F -- Tropes G-I -- Tropes J-L -- Tropes P-R -- Tropes S-U -- Tropes V-Z

Tropes M-O

  • MacGuffin: Frequently described as such, the Ring was originally intended to be a sequel hook to The Hobbit until Tolkien decided it was actually an Artifact of Doom.
  • MacGuffin Escort Mission: Escort the Ring to Mount Doom.
  • Made of Indestructium: Quite possibly the origin of this trope. The One Ring can only be destroyed at Mt. Doom where it was made.
    • Somewhat subverted in that the Word of God states that anyone better at smithcraft than Sauron could destroy it. This includes some of the Valar, if they wanted to break their own rules, and Feanor, who was imprisoned in the halls of Mandos after he died. However, even if anyone did manage to get the Ring to Feanor for him to unmake he would be too easily tempted to take it for his own.
    • Gandalf muses that dragons can destroy ordinary rings of power, but no dragon currently living has the firepower to do the job, nor did even the greatest dragon of antiquity. And, it'd be really hard to find a dragon to ask, who would be willing to help.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Elves sail off to the West, wizards leave (or otherwise drop off the radar), no more magic- although Tolkien was extremely loath to use the word "magic" to refer to any of that in the first place.
  • Magic Is a Monster Magnet: Wearing the One Ring lights you right up on Mordor's radar. Also, Gandalf is hesistant to use his magic while traveling with the fellowship for fear of attracting attention from both Mordor and Saruman.
  • Mage Tower: Orthanc while occupied by Saruman.
  • Magic Mirror: Galadriel's mirror, which is just water in a silver bowl.
  • The Magnificent: Merry
  • Manly Tears: In most Middle-earth societies crying seems acceptable, and there are many instances of manly men weeping. (A point on which Tolkien significantly differs from the old sagas that inspired him.)
    • When Eomer discovers Theoden has been killed, he improvises a verse (of course) where he says that they need to keep fighting, and there will be time for the women to weep later. But the narrator mentions that Eomer himself wept as he spoke.
    • In the words of Gandalf: "I do not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil."
  • Mayfly-December Romance: Aragorn and Arwen
  • Meaningful Echo: There is an example that lampshades Not So Different and War Is Hell, since both sides knew that their enemies will destroy them ruthlessly:
    • In the second book, the orc Gorbag says to Shagrat:

  But don't forget: the enemies don't love us any more than they love Him, and if they get topsides on Him, we're done too.

    • In the third book, after Frodo and Sam saw a little orc kill another of their own:

 For a while the hobbits sat in silence. At length Sam stirred. "Well, I call that neat as neat," he said. "If this nice friendliness would spread about in Mordor, half our trouble would be over."

"Quietly, Sam," Frodo whispered. "There may be others about. We have evidently had a very narrow escape, and the hunt was hotter on our tracks than we guessed. But that is the spirit of Mordor, Sam; and it has spread to every corner of it. Orcs have always behaved like that, or so all tales say, when they are on their own. But you can't get much hope out of it. They hate us far more, altogether and all the time. If those two had seen us, they would have dropped all their quarrel until we were dead."

  • Meaningful Funeral: The funerals of Boromir and Theoden.
  • Meaningful Name: Virtually all Tolkien's names, whatever language they are in, have a meaning, though sometimes this changed over the years as Tolkien's languages evolved. Characters also acquire names over their lives which reflect personal qualities or great deeds. See the trope page for more details.
  • Meaningful Rename: There's a number of times when people get names/titles added to them at are meaningful but a true example would be when Gandalf comes back as Gandalf the White. He's taking Saruman's place and doing what Saruman should have been doing except that Saruman went over to The Dark Side.
  • Medieval Stasis: And when they're not standing still, they're going backwards. Justified by the dwindling population of the West, and the steady procession of wars and plagues engineered by Sauron, but also by more metaphysical concerns. The grass really was greener in the Second Age, and the physical world less recalcitrant. As Morgoth slowly regains his power over the eons, matter is becoming ever more hostile to mind. (Yes, every time your shoe lace breaks, or your pen leaks, or your computer dies and takes all your information with it -- or someone in your family gets cancer -- it's Morgoth's fault. It wouldn't have happened in the Second Age; things, including human bodies, were more reliable back then.)
    • Many like to imagine the look on Sauron or Morgoth's face after seeing their armies crushed by artillery and bolt action rifles. Then again, they'd probably just do what Sauron did to the Numenoreans, or reverse-engineer the technology (Sauron was a Maia of craft) but it'd be worth it just to see that look on their faces.
    • Initially, Tolkien did toy with the idea that Morgoth had more advanced technology. Drafts telling the Siege and Fall of Gondolin describe Morgoth's forces using crawling iron machines that sound suspiciously like the early tanks Tolkien had seen in World War One. (And in The Lost Road, Sauron ends up providing the Numenoreans with not only aircraft but the medieval equivalent of V-2 buzz bombs.)
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: This happened to Gandalf. He's feeling much better now.
  • Messianic Archetype: Several partial examples: Gandalf suffers a Jesus-like death to save his companions from a demonic threat complete with transfigured resurrection; Frodo's role as the defeater of evil by suffering a great evil; and of course Aragorn is the descendant of a fallen royal house, returning to reclaim his throne and restore his kingdom to glory. (The former two fitting the Christian notion of the Messiah, and the latter fitting the Jewish version.)
  • Mid-Season Upgrade: Gandalf suffers Heroic RROD after killing only one Balrog. His bosses de-nerf him a bit to make sure that doesn't happen again.
  • Miles to Go Before I Sleep: Sam and Frodo's hopeless persistence as they travel through Mordor.
  • Mooks: Rather a lot of them.
  • Mortality Ensues: In the end, Arwen gives up her immortality to be with Aragorn.
  • Multinational Team: The Fellowship, which brings together heroes from across Middle Earth.
  • The Musical: A rare (possibly unique) literary case. Expect any important event to inspire someone to improvise a song, or at least a poem. Among those listening, someone will often join in -- especially if they're an Elf. There is actually a musical too, on the West End, but it is not considered good.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Boromir after he tried to take the Ring from Frodo.
    • Galadriel has a rare prospective one of these when Frodo offers her the Ring.
  • Mythopoeia: The Ur-example.
  • Named Weapons: Glamdring, Sting, Anduril; those are the main ones.
    • Aeglos, the spear of Gil-Galad.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Mordor the Black Land, for one, ruled by the the Dark Lord Sauron, guarded by the Morannon, the Black Gate, and Minas Morgul, the Tower of Black Sorcery...
    • A more minor example: Grima Wormtongue.
  • Narrative Poem: Many. Among them are: "Eärendil Was a Mariner" and an excerpt from the lay of Beren and Luthien.
  • National Weapon: Axes for dwarves -- the association is strong enough to make it into their standard battle-cry. Tolkien is probably also responsible for the standard fantasy association of bows with elves, though he doesn't really use it (Legolas habitually uses a bow, but elves in general are just as likely to use swords).
  • Near Villain Victory: Tolkien basically coined the word 'eucatastrophe' to describe this trope; it happens plenty of times throughout the novel, being a particular favorite trope of his.
  • The Necrocracy: The kingdom of Angmar in the Backstory and Minas Morgul.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Frodo Baggins goes unappreciated back in the Shire. Sam, who could have ended up as an unsung, thankless hero, gets elected Mayor of the Shire; Frodo's ordeals are overlooked by the oblivious Hobbits.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero/ What the Hell, Hero?: Isildur just had to keep the ring. Evil in Middle Earth made a career of enduring because the hero(es) wind up doing something selfish or stupid upon triumph.
    • Frodo almost has one when he nonchalantly offers to give the ring to Galadriel. Well-meaning and it would have solved the Sauron problem...
  • No Man of Woman Born: After Macbeth, the best-known example, like, ever.
    • Word of God once mentioned that this case of the trope, as well as the whole idea of the Ents, was directly inspired by Macbeth. Tolkien said that, as a child, he had been disappointed that Macbeth wasn't just killed by a woman and that Birnam Wood didn't actually get up and march against Macbeth.
  • Non-Linear Character: Galadriel and her magic mirror.
  • No One Could Survive That: Pippin and the troll.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Everything done with the rings, including Mordor and Lothlórien.
  • Not a Game: Pippin has to be reminded that the Quest is Serious Business a few times.
  • Not So Different: Both the Free People and Mordor factions know that any of their enemies will destroy them ruthlessly (see Meaningful Echo for the quotes).
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Deliberately invoked by the author in the case of Sauron himself. Only three characters -- Pippin and Aragorn, via the palantir of Orthanc, and Gollum, presumably during his Mordor torture -- have actually seen Sauron's face, and none of them is inclined to describe him. The nearest we get to any physical description is Gollum mentioning the Black Hand, which only has four fingers after Isildur cut one of them off.
    • Also this bit, from Moria:

  Gandalf: I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide.

  • Nude Nature Dance: After the Hobbits have been extricated from the Barrows Tom Bombadil removes the clothing the Wights had placed on them and invites them to "run naked in the grass" while he retrieves their ponies.
  • The Oathbreaker: The Dead. Isildur cursed them when they swore to help him fight and then refused; three thousand years later, they break the curse by helping Aragorn -- the Heir of Isildur -- instead.
  • The Obi-Wan: Gandalf, mentoring Aragorn, Frodo, and Faramir.
  • Obviously Evil: Sauron.
  • Odd Friendship: Legolas and Gimli.
  • Offing the Offspring: Denethor, after he went into full-blown insanity and despair, tries to burn both himself and his feverish son Faramir on a pyre.
  • Oh Crap: Several of these, such as when the heroes are confronting the latest spawn of darkness (the Black Riders, the Balrog, the witch-king, etc). The best, though, is when Frodo puts on the Ring at the very edge of the Crack of Doom: Sauron sees and senses Frodo, and it finally dawns on him just what his enemies are up to, and how they tricked him, and how close they are to bringing about his utter ruin... and he is so terrified that he completely forgets there's a war on right outside his gates. "And Barad-dur trembled from the depths of its foundations to its proud and bitter crown."
  • Old Windbag: Many of Bilbo's neighbours and relatives seem to see him as this.
  • The Older Immortal: This often happens due to several long-lived and immortal races, from which the respective older ones either survive their peers or simply happen to live a among a different group whose members are younger and less powerful.
  • Older Is Better: The swords from Númenór are much better than their present day counterparts.
  • Older Than They Look: Aragorn, and those descended from the Númenóreans in general. For instance, Aragorn is eighty-seven and in the prime of his life when the War of the Ring begins. It is mentioned that his is actually a reduced lifespan compared to his ancestors. He dies at 210 and his ancestor Elros, brother of Elrond, died at 507 - while it's hinted that Elros, as a half-Elf, might have lived a great deal longer than that had he fully embraced his human side, even his great-great-several-times-grandchildren habitually lived 300 or 400 years. Numenor lasted for almost three and half thousand years, and had a total of twenty-five kings. Men are not the only ones affected, either, since other races develop at different speeds. Elves take 50 years to become adults, and Hobbits attain their (legal) majority at the age of 33 rather than 21.
    • Bilbo and Frodo are a special case of this, since their youthful appearances ("well-preserved") are actually an effect of the Ring. It's considered outright bizarre that Bilbo, at the ripe age of 111, looks about fifty-five years old.
    • Dwarves, taking their longer lifespan into account, have a system similar to that of the Hobbits. Gimli, while being 62 years old at the time, was considered too young to accompany Thorin and Bilbo on the quest to retake Mt. Erebor. At the time of the War of the Ring he was 139 and, again, in the prime of his life. If you don't count Gandalf -- who, as a Maia, is older than Middle-Earth itself -- Gimli is the second-oldest member of the Fellowship, with Legolas as the oldest, though the latter's actual age is never stated (usually estimated at anywhere between 500 and 3000 years).
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Morgoth, in the Backstory
  • The Omniscient: Galadriel, particularly in Fellowship Of The Ring
  • One-Gender Race: The Ents, although not by design, as there originally was a distinct female gender - only those wandered off, and haven't been seen since. If they did not have such long lifespans, they would be extinct already for lack of children. (The situation is elaborated upon in the trope entry).
  • One-Man Industrial Revolution: Saruman.
  • One Sided Battle: The battle at the Black Gate was this until the Ring was destroyed.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted; the Appendices reveal that a number of significant names have been reused throughout history, including Beren, Aragorn, Denethor, and Boromir.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Tolkien does this with his villains, but only towards the ends of their careers - he had a theme of deliberate Villain Decay and Motive Decay, with smart people with real goals turning to evil but evil itself corrupting them and gradually turning them into cardboard cutouts. Together with this, they start out going out and kicking arse by themselves (e.g. Morgoth fights Tulkas personally at the dawn of time, Sauron comes out to fight Huan in the Silmarillion) but eventually becoming throne-bound. Often after one too many of such direct interaction had a painful outcome (e.g. Morgoth after his duel with the elven king Fingolfin, Sauron after his defeat/half-death and loss of the Ring in the War of the Last Alliance).
    • There's also the fact (according to "Morgoth's Ring"), that Melkor/Morgoth and Sauron spent much of their power controlling their "agents". They were not exactly lazy: using their physical incarnations to go into battle would have been simply foolish (especially for Morgoth, who "at the time of the War of the Jewels had become permanently incarnate" trying to control physical matter and who as a result could be killed in battle.)
    • Note that the last time Sauron personally took part in battle was at the end of the Second Age, during the Elves and Men's attack on Mordor, when he steps out of the tower and displays his badass powers, but ends up losing his physical body -- which in turn has its finger cut off, and the Ring with it.
  • Order Versus Chaos: This is played out in the race of Ents: male Ents loved the wilderness and forests, nature untamed, while the Entwives cultivated gardens and loved orchards and farmlands. The two genders drifted apart over the years, and the Ents have since lost the Entwives completely.
  • Our Founder: The Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings: two monumental statues of Isildur and Anárion, founders of Gondor.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: Yet another Tolkien-created trope.
    • It's worth noting that Tolkien's orcs are actually quite different from the standard Chaotic Evil barbarian orcs when you look beyond the superficial level. They're actually a technologically advanced race (surpassed only by the humans of Númenorean descent, the elves and the dwarves) who are generally of human-level intelligence and have a sophisticated appreciation for others' pain. The problem is, they're usually not working together in huge groups unless forced to do so by an outside force.
    • It's also worth noting that orcs are literally a corrupted species of elves. They actually have the elves ability to learn, but their masters prevent them from doing so. They also have to be kept under constant control to ensure that they will actually carry out their evil overlord's plan. A prime example of this is when Sauron falls for the last time. They immediately react with pain to the sun and scatter in the face of their enemies.
  • Overly Long Name: The Ents, combined with the fact that they talk really, really slowly.
    • Add to that their immortality, their isolated civilization and how generally hard to kill they are. Keep in mind that an Ent's full name is essentially his entire personal history, and they are quite old.
      • Treebeard also implies that the full Entish name for Orcs is several years worth of insults strung together.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Celeborn by his wife Galadriel, "greatest of elven women".
    • It's mentioned in the Appendices that after Dol Guldur (Sauron's former stronghold) was cleansed of its stain of evil, it was Galadriel who tore the place down.
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