Fantasy Tropes Lord of the Rings Started

Since its original publication in the 1950s, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has gone on to become one of the best-selling works in literary history. Although there were countless fantasy stories before The Lord of the Rings, the incredible popularity and immense detail of Tolkien’s work has led to it becoming a keystone of the fantasy genre.



Almost every work of Western fantasy since finds itself in conversation with stories of Middle-earth. Following, subverting, or even deepening the many tropes and conventions Tolkien codified in his work. Tolkien borrowed many of these long-standing ideas from old myths and legends, but their execution in The Lord of the Rings has become synonymous with modern fantasy.


10 Dense History and Lore

  • Aside from Tolkien’s four novels, there’s also a lore book that explores the history of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion.

A modern fantasy world can’t simply exist within the confines of the particular story being told; it must come packed to the brim with its own history, myths, and legends. Tolkien was not a professional author, and as such, his primary interest wasn’t as much about telling stories as it was about exploring the world he’d created.

The world of Middle-earth he created is as rich, layered, and complex as any real-world mythology cultivated over centuries. Few other fantasy worlds come anywhere near the scale of Middle-earth, but thanks to Tolkien, any fantasy story without a fully fleshed-out world just feels lacking.

9 Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Goblins and Men

  • Without Tolkien’s use of diverse races like dwarves and elves, it’s likely fantasy would’ve looked very different.

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Any expansive fantasy world must then be filled with the appropriate diverse fantasy races. Tolkien didn’t invent the idea for dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins, or any of his fantastical creatures, but he did popularize the modern image of them.

The proud, cave-dwelling dwarves, the ethereal and perfect elves, and the sun-fearing and monstrous orcs, fantasy works since have had their own takes on these races, but Tolkien’s take has become the assumed baseline. These are the races that Tolkien chose to pull out of history to become the principal inhabitants of Middle-earth, but there are countless more creatures to be found in myths and legends. Everything from nymphs to giants has become popular elements in the fantasy world-building toolbox, but it’s the races that The Lord of the Rings highlights that have become so ubiquitous.

8 A Multi-Class Central Team

  • Games like Dungeons & Dragons have been made famous by the idea of diverse classes in a fantasy team.

Four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, a ranger, a man of Gondor, and a mysterious wizard are the nine that make up the Fellowship of the Ring. A diverse group that set out from Rivendell on a quest to destroy The One Ring. Other than the four hobbits, the other five members of the fellowship couldn’t be more different. Each was raised by different philosophies and possesses radically different skills and life experiences.

The diverse group of heroes has now become a fantasy staple. The dynamics between such different characters often lead to an engaging interplay, and each member is given a chance to use their unique skills and knowledge as they carry out their quest.

7 A Medieval European Setting

  • While Arthurian legend played a role in the idea of fantasy and medieval settings, The Lord of the Rings brought it to the light to the point that it’s been a staple ever since.

When asked to picture a fantasy setting, most people in the West will think of a pre-industrial age filled with knights, horses, and giant stone castles. It’s a view specifically inspired by medieval Europe, often more precisely northern Europe, where all the characters speak in the accents of the British Isles.

There’s nothing inherent in the term fantasy that should ascribe it to any particular time or place. Even when talking about historical fantasy, the world is a big place, and every culture has its own individual history. The popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to medieval Europe being the default fantasy setting. Only in recent years have more diverse inspirations for mainstream fantasy become prevalent.

6 Great and Powerful Bloodlines

  • Fantasy stories like Game of Thrones have based their narrative on the idea of bloodlines carrying enough weight to command an entire kingdom.

In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is the heir to Isildur, the rightful king of Gondor and the High King of the West. Despite being raised without knowledge of his lineage, Aragorn is continually shown as a natural leader and powerful warrior. It is his bloodline that allows him to command the Army of the Dead in the decisive battle against Sauron’s forces.

In real-world history, much weight was put on the divine right of kings, but Tolkien’s use of Aragorn made this idea into something far more tangible. Since then, it’s felt like every fantasy hero must come with some great power that they’ve inherited through their bloodline.

5 The Assembling and Splintering of Characters

  • Even the finale of The Empire Strikes Back owes much to The Lord of the Rings as it also splits up a group formed in the previous movie.

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This one may seem less obvious at first, but it’s a trope that’s become an incredibly effective device for stories with large casts of characters. In The Lord of the Rings, halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring, all the major characters are assembled in Rivendell for the Council of Elrond. This is the meeting that sets the quest to destroy the Ring and sends the fellowship on their adventure. Shortly after, Gandalf is lost to the Balrog, Frodo and Sam separate from the rest after Boromir tries to take the Ring, while Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs.

Having all the characters set off together is an excellent way to get a story going and define the group dynamic. Forcing them apart allows the audience to see the characters in new combinations and gives them new, more focused challenges to overcome. At the end of the journey, when the group is often able to reunite, it can be another moment of great catharsis.

4 The Purity of Elves

  • Even stories like The Witcher feature Elves, though they are far more oppressed than what Tolkien had introduced.

Tolkien didn’t invent the idea of elves; he borrowed their traits from Norce Álfar’s and Islandic Huldufólk. In these mythologies, they’re depicted as humanoid beings who are closer to gods than to men. Tolkien’s interpretation sees Elves become slim, smooth-skinned, and impossibly beautiful beings. They live seemingly immortal lives and practice powerful magic while being one with the natural world and are quite handy archers.

This leads elves to become distant from the rest of the world around them. They are revered by some and mistrusted by others. Since Tolkien, this has become the default state that elves have fallen into. To do anything different would be to subvert the general understanding of what a fantasy elf is.

3 An Impending and All-Encompassing Darkness

  • Sauron’s presence was so powerful he didn’t even physically appear to face Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, and yet his presence was still all-encompassing.

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The main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings is Sauron, known as the Dark Lord. He defines the events of the story, yet he’s never seen. His presence is manifested as a perpetual darkness that slowly rises and covers the land. Sauron is less a character and more a shorthand for pure evil. The Lord of the Rings is not a complete black-and-white morality tale, but when it comes to the Dark Lord, he is uncomplicatedly evil.

Despite our world’s moral complexity, the fantasy trope is to have a benevolent evil coming to take over the land. There is no way to reason with or understand this evil; it is simply a dark force to nature that will unite the realms of the living against it.

2 Magical McGuffins

  • While there are many McGuffins, the One Ring was the scariest because its magic could corrupt anyone while making its way back to Sauron.

The iconic object from The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly the One Ring itself. A singular small trinket that contains the power to conquer all of Middle-earth, its allure is so powerful that it corrupts all those who come to possess it. The Ring’s power comes from possessing part of Sauron’s soul. This means that while it could bring great destruction, the destruction of the Ring also marks the end of Sauron.

The power of the Ring within the story is to give a physical, tangible quality to a quest that seems so big and complicated. By design, it’s intoxicating to both the audience and the characters. Although not a McGuffin by Hitchcock’s original definition, the One Ring provided an elegant solution for focusing on the problems of Tolkien’s giant world. Nothing has come close to capturing the allure of the Ring, but magical objects are now a fantasy staple.

1 An Unlikely Chosen One

  • The Chosen One trope has been made famous in many modern franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter.

The Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is the somewhat unlikely hero of The Lord of the Rings. As a Hobbit, he is small and often goes unnoticed by the wider world; his kind are not known for their prowess in battle or for possessing any desire for adventure. Yet despite this unassuming nature, he’s the only one capable of resisting the influence of the Ring long enough to get it to Mount Doom.

While many fantasy heroes since have had a far stronger desire for adventure than Frodo, many spend their days looking to the horizon and dreaming of being a part of something bigger; they continue to come from equally unlikely places. A way of making outlandish fantasy worlds more relatable is to follow a character with more grounded experiences. This is what Frodo was to English readers in the 1950s. The idea that anyone could get sucked up in an adventure bigger than their wildest dreams is a powerful storytelling device, and, unsurprisingly, it’s become a mainstay of the fantasy genre.

The Lord of the Rings Franchise Poster

The Lord of the Rings

Created by
J.R.R. Tolkien

First Film
The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

Latest Film
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

First TV Show
The Lord of the Rings The Rings of Power

Latest TV Show
The Lord of the Rings The Rings of Power

First Episode Air Date
September 1, 2022

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