I was outraged over Christmas to discover that my brothers had never seen the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. It was a scandal! So I roped them to the couch, plugged in the movies, and tossed the remotes out the window so no one could stop it. At first, they were bored stiff.
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That gradually changed.

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While not exactly Lord of the Rings fanatics, they become really interested in JRR Tolkien’s fantasy epic.
Lots of people I’ve talked to have never read the books. I understand completely. They are long, Tolkien goes into loving detail on a lot of history, and about a third of the books are hippy elves singing songs and prancing around tables. So, in an effort to encourage more awareness and appreciation (and to get people to read some of the most important works in English since Shakespeare), I present to you:

A DUMMY’S GUIDE TO LORD OF THE RINGS (LOTR)

(Those of you who are passionate about LOTR will no doubt hate me for my simplifications, generalizations, and massive skip-overs of much of the plot. I have only one thing to say: pbbbbbbt!)

In the beginning, there was a being called “Eru Illuvatar.”
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Tell me if you get the joke.

With the help of angels, Eru creates the world of LOTR. Lots of angels go to live there…including this bad dude named Morgoth. Think of him as Satan.

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All right…fair point. He’s as bad as Satan, but with a better sense of style.

He assumes physical form, goes down to Middle-Earth, and tries to corrupt Elves and Men. He meets with some success, and does a lot of bad things:
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Then he is defeated in a really epic way. The other angels chop off his feet and shove him outside of reality, where he has to wait for the End of Days.
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Morgoth’s deputy, however, is not captured. This guy’s name is Sauron (Elvish name: Should-Have-Paid-Attention-to-Hobbits.).
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Sauron takes over for Morgoth, moves to Morder, and creates his own line of fashionable jewelry.

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He hands out tons of free samples to Elves, Men and Dwarves, but secretly creates the One Ring for himself. This Ring lets him control the people wearing his free samples, and gives him immense power. Think of him as the CEO of Apple.
In the course of wearing this Ring, he does a lot of terrible things:

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Tolkien’s bad guys seem to have an obsession with causing large bodies of land to sink.

Eventually the Elves and many Men band together, march into Mordor and lay siege to Sauron’s headquarters on the slopes of Sauron’s own personal volcano, Mount Doom. Sauron murders the King of Men, but the King’s heir manages to slice the Ring off of Sauron’s hand. Sauron, robbed of the Ring and most of his power, flees like a sissy little girl.
The heir, named Isildur (Elvish name: Idiotic-Boy-Who-Ruins-Everything), should have taken the Ring into Mount Doom, the only place where it can be destroyed. He doesn’t, though.
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He takes it and leaves, but eventually is killed by Orcs (large, stinky humanoids) and the Ring falls into a river. Oh-Sauron cannot die as long as the Ring exists. Think of a Horcrux from Harry Potter; that’s probably where JK Rowling got the idea from.

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And if he ever gets the Ring back, even MORE bad things will happen.
Now we come to The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire, goes on a quest with a bunch of dwarves and the Wizard Gandalf the Grey to reclaim the dwarves’ ancestral mountain from a dragon, Smaug (Elvish name: He-With-The-Deep-British-Voice-that-Makes-Women-Swoon.).
They succeed, but in the process Bilbo takes a ring from a creature called Gollum.
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Gollum’s cousin found the ring in the river three thousand years after Sauron’s defeat, whereupon Gollum promptly murdered his cousin and stole it. He’s been living in mountain caves for five hundred years, stroking the ring; he too, has a weakness for jewelry.
Now we come to the trilogy. (I originally claimed this was a “condensed” LOTR, but I realized that I was lying.) Bilbo goes home, lives for a while, and adopts his nephew, Frodo (Elvish name: One-Who-Grimaces-too-much-at-Camera.). Then Bilbo decides to leave and go see the Elves again. Gandalf encourages him to leave the ring with Frodo, but Bilbo doesn’t want to. Gandalf yells at him, Bilbo drops the ring and leaves. Gandalf is concerned, but tells Frodo nothing for YEARS while he wanders around Middle-Earth investigating.
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Gandalf finally comes back. Oh no! Sauron is back in Mordor, he’s looking for the One Ring, and Frodo has it! If Sauron gets it, all is lost! So of course Gandalf goes away again, leaving the fate of the world in the hands of a Hobbit not even three feet tall. Frodo takes some friends and sets out to Rivendell, the home of one tribe of elves.
The hobbits run into a guy named Aragorn, and he does what Gandalf thought beneath him: guiding the hobbits through the wilderness. He doesn’t do a very good job; Frodo gets stabbed by one of Sauron’s ghostly servants on a hill. (The servants are the Men who were given free jewelry samples by Sauron-now they are his slaves, and immortal.)
Despite Aragorn’s incompetence, they make it to Rivendell. There a grand council is convened, and everyone decides that since Frodo has done such a bang-up job so far, they’re going to let him hike to Mount Doom and throw the Ring of Power in it: once the Ring is destroyed, Sauron will be defeated permanently. Others agree to go with him: Aragorn, who it turns out has the rightful claim to the Kingship of Gondor (a kingdom of men), Gandalf, another man from Gondor, a dwarf, an elf, and the hobbits who came with Frodo, including Samwise Gamgee (Elvish name: Fat-but-Dim.). They call themselves “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
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They go into the wilderness again. They try to take a shortcut through an abandoned Dwarvish mine called Moria, except it’s NOT abandoned; there’s lots of Orcs and Goblins in it. Gandalf turns out to be a worse guide than Aragorn.
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The orcs and goblins attack and the Fellowship flees. Then they run into a Balrog, a gigantic flaming cow that used to serve Morgoth.
Gandalf fights the Balrog:
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This is too epic. I can’t draw it.

And they both fall off a bridge. Everyone is very sad, but runs away to the woods of Lothlorien, where the Lady Galadriel (Elvish name: Extremely-Sexy-Elf-Lady) consoles them, gives them gifts, then sends them down the river to finish the quest.
The man from Gondor that came with tries to steal the ring from Frodo. Frodo panics and runs away, deciding to go to Mordor alone. Sam (Fat-but-Dim) deduces what Frodo is doing and goes after him. Frodo lets him come, though little does he realize he’s going to have to listen to Fat-but-Dim whine about the lack of potatoes for the next seven hundred miles.
The other hobbits are captured by Orcs looking for Frodo. The man from Gondor, Boromir, redeems himself by trying to save them, but dies.
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Aragorn, the elf, and the dwarf decide to try and follow the two hobbits that were captured, and chase after the orcs. They realize that the orcs are under the command of Saruman (Elvish name: Count-Dooku), a wizard who used to be like Gandalf but now wants the Ring for himself. The orcs are taking the hobbits to Isengard!

The two hobbits escape from the Orcs, and run into a group of living trees, the Ents (Elvish name: Hippy-Long-Beards.). The Ents decide that all this war stuff is like, totally not cool for the environment, and like, dude, Saruman is hogging all the dope for himself. They decide to teach Saruman a lesson.

Meanwhile Aragorn and his little band run into (GASP) Gandalf! It turns out he’s as bad at dying as he is at leading quests.
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War is coming and they must hurry, so obviously they stop and have a long chat in the forest before going to Rohan and saving the King, who is enchanted by a spy from Saruman. Gandalf exploits the Americans with Disabilities Act to get his magic staff into the King’s hall, where he kicks some serious butt.
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The King, Theoden (Elvish name: Pantene-Pro-V-Spokesman) sends everyone to a secret hideout where they can fight Saruman’s armies, since it makes PERFECT sense to go hide in an INESCAPABLE RAVINE while THOUSANDS of ORCS come after you.
This goes about as well as can be expected, with lots of people dying and Gandalf running away again, until Huorns (magical living trees similiar to Ents) show up in the ravine, wipe out all the Orcs, then leave in a huff when the Rohanians don’t give them any dope.
Gandalf and the rest go to Isengard, where they run into the Ents and the two missing hobbits. The Ents have like, totally wasted Isengard, but dude!-there’s like, this tower Saruman has locked himself in. Gandalf and Saruman yell at each other, and one of the hobbits (Elvish name: Fool-of-a-Took) finds a magic sparkly ball Saruman’s servant threw at them and looks into it.
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Gandalf nearly poops his pants in unhappiness because now Sauron knows more than he should, and may attack Gondor faster. So, leaving Theoden and Aragorn to clean up the mess, he takes the hobbit and flees east to Gondor.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, nobody spares a thought for poor Frodo and Fat-but-Dim, wandering around a rocky wasteland with only Gollum to keep them company.
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After a lot of ugly crying and unhappiness, Gollum agrees to help them get out of the wasteland and to the Gates of Mordor.
They wander through marshes, hide under rocks, and see gigantic elephants, whereupon Sam (Fat-but-Dim) instantly falls in love.
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Gollum decides to double-cross them to get the Ring back, and Fat-but-Dim overhears Gollum talking the plan over to himself but helpfully says nothing to Frodo. All he can think about is potatoes.
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They sneak into a secret path (which turns out to be about as secret as the NSA’s data collection program) and Gollum sends them into the lair of Shelob.
This is Shelob.
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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Sorry, got a bit carried away.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Why?? Why, Mr. Tolkien, just…just…WHY???
I have never been able to read this section without dying a little inside, so I’m not entirely sure what happens. Suffice to say that Frodo gets poisoned and Fat-but-Dim drives Shelob off (perhaps by threatening her with a giant shoe), and thinking Frodo is dead, he takes the Ring.
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Orcs come and take Frodo, saying he’s not dead, and Fat-but-Dim decides to go rescue him.
Meanwhile, Gandalf and the hobbit arrive at Gondor’s capital city, where they meet the Steward, Lord Denethor (Elvish name: Weepy-Old-Man), who is very upset that his son Boromir was killed a few pages ago.
The Dark Lord Sauron’s forces are preparing to attack Gondor and Denethor, in a moment of non-weepiness, lights the beacons that act as a distress signal for Rohan to come help.
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Again, too epic to draw.

King Theoden takes time off from washing his luscious golden locks and rides with his armies to assist Gondor, while Aragorn helpfully vanishes to go enlist the help of some ghosts, since we all know that disembodied spirits are the best when dealing with large, sword wielding orcs.
There is large epic battle outside the capital. Denethor, thinking that his other son is also dead, decides that he can best assist the besieged forces of Gondor by lighting himself on fire.
Meanwhile, Theoden is killed by Sauron’s chief servant (the one who stabbed Frodo), who is in turn killed by Theoden’s niece.
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Aragorn, having used the ghosts to illegally procure boats, arrives with reinforcements and makes short work of all the orcs.
The survivors of the battle decide to march with all of their soldiers to the gates of Mordor and attack. Why? Are they going to march inside and help Frodo and Fat-but-Dim get the Ring to Mount Doom?
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Frodo is unable to appreciate their sacrifice, however, being locked inside a tower. Luckily Fat-but-Dim rushes in, kills the orcs and saves the day!
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I lied. In a convenient plot twist, all the orcs in the tower kill each other, meaning that virtually all Fat-but-Dim has to do is waltz inside, step over dead bodies and whisk Frodo out.
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Fat-but-Dim has no appreciation for jewelry, so Frodo takes the Ring back. They plod onward to Mount Doom. Sauron, in a very helpful move for the plot, has emptied his lands to go and beat up on Aragorn and the other fools attacking his strongest forts.
They arrive at Sauron’s secret forge halfway up the mountain, where Frodo loses his mind.
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He puts on the Ring, and all seems lost, as Sauron now knows where Frodo is and what he’s wearing. Enter Dirty-Loincloth-Man.

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 “The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many…”

Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger, takes the Ring, and then helpfully falls into the lava at the bottom of the pit, along with the One Ring, the source of Sauron’s power.
Sauron promptly self-combusts, forcing Mordor Jewelry Inc to go bankrupt.
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Everyone is very happy, and Gandalf summons the eagles to rescue Frodo and Fat-but-Dim. I shall ignore the fact that THE EAGLES COULD HAVE BEEN USED THREE BOOKS AGO because I figure I have already ticked off LOTR fans enough.
Everyone is very happy and goes back to Minas Tirith, where Aragorn is promptly crowned and with the stroke of a pen annexes more land into his empire than even Sauron wanted. Everyone is too drunk and happy to realize that Aragorn is now a power-mad despot, and are quite taken with his new wife who is elvish.
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Then they go on a very long tour of everywhere they have been during the course of the books. They think it’s so everyone can be dropped off back at where they live, but it’s secretly so Aragorn can tour his new empire and make plans to oppress his helpless subjects.
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Eventually, after a brief fight with the wizard Saruman, who has taken up residence in the Hobbit’s hometown, everything returns to normal, and Fat-but-Dim gets to pig out on his precious potatoes.
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This is why hobbits are extinct.

Frodo and Gandalf decide to leave with most of the elves, who have realized what Aragorn is up to and don’t want anything to do with it. They sail across the sea to the land of the angels (the people who originally defeated Morgoth) and are never heard from again. Meanwhile, deep in Minas Tirith, Aragorn continues his plotting…
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I hope you enjoyed this condensed guide to the Lord of the Rings. If you didn’t, you have no sense of humor. Now go read the books.

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