The Chessmen of Middle-earth

by Varda


I don't know if anyone else is collecting the Lord of The Rings chess set from Eaglemoss? The one I complained about having Frodo as a pawn?

Anyway, I have the full set now, and was surprised when I got another box, and opened it to find a very nice little Balrog, with 'Black Rook' on the base. That meant I had a chess set with two black rooks. I was even more mystified to receive another 'white king', even though it was a brilliant Elrond in his council robes.

Just as I was thinking I was losing my marbles a letter arrived telling me the set had proved so wonderfully successful (and profitable, I thought...) that they were doing another set. To keep me sweet they sent a free chess board for the second, which is nicer than the one I bought for the first.  :-/

A cunning ploy, Blackadder, I thought and was going to cut their standing order but then the Black Queen arrived and it was Shelob, and I thought hmm this is actually rather fun.

The second set is a lot more imaginative than the first. The blacks in the first were all rather boring orcs, except for the castles (or rooks, but they are called castles here) which were Barad-dur and Orthanc. They complemented the white castles which were the White Tower of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath.

Shelob is perched on her rock about to pounce on Frodo, nice and menacing with good detail. Having Her Ladyship as Black Queen is much better than having the Witch king as queen, as in the first set. I do think a queen should be female, and there are not that many nasty females in LOTR Not many females at all but we won't start that hare again.

Later pieces include Shadowfax and Gwaihir and Treebeard, so it will be visually a very interesting set.

So I let the order stand. There is a problem, though; how do you play Lord of The Rings chess? I mean, you can't play it just straight, like chess. Gollum is a black pawn. What happens when you move him against Sam, who is a white pawn? You can't just play the traditional moves, you have to play out the parts they have in the book. So you have to have Sam ask
'Where are you sneaking off to?' and Gollum reply;
'Sneak? Sneak?'

Or when Frodo moves against Gollum, does he say;
'Nice master....kind master...nice hobbitses wouldn't checkmate poor Smeagol?'

On the other side, Faramir and Eowyn are both white pawns. Oh dear that will never work. Eowyn will shriek;
'You're a PAWN? I can't marry anyone less than a KING' To which Faramir will gently reply;
'Don't look now, darling, but you are a pawn too....'

Worse, Legolas is a white bishop, but Gimli is only a pawn. Can you imagine what will happen there? Gimli will explode;
'A pawn? Me, a pawn when that goldy-haired pointy-eared tree-hugger is a backliner? I want an immediate promotion!'

Then there is the accuracy problem with a fighting Arwen. The queen is the most versatile and dangerous piece on the board, but can Arwen go into battle? Won't the purists die of apoplexy? Won't she ruin her wedding dress?

Anyway, there is the problem of off-ball tackles as well. What if one is playing chess with this set and some nasty orc takes Pippin (another pawn) One is just going to let some nasty orc kill Pippin? Far better an offside brawl, a broken chess-set and isn't it well they invented superglue?

So we have to have a game in which the pieces act out their parts from the book, not play chess, at which I always lost anyway.

Like in Toy Story when the door closes and all the toys, or chess pieces, come to life and start to talk.....in Middle Earth the game, like the story, never ends.


II.

But you know, when I come down in the morning, the pieces are not quite in the positions I left them in the night before. And yes, Prim, they do chatter dreadfully. After I go up the stairs at night I hear them at it, and the voices can get quite raised, till Gandalf raps his staff on the board and shouts;
'Silence!' like Dumbledore used to do.

He has a hard time enforcing discipline, as all four unruly hobbits are in front of him, grumbling Gimli beside them and Eowyn and Faramir arguing over the pre-nuptial agreement as well. On the end is a poor soldier of Gondor, making a complete hash of drawing a longbow (not on your knee with a longbow, my friend....) I am sure he is a bit overcome by the elite company.

Both white knights are from Rohan, Eomer and Theoden, and they are wonderfully worked pieces. Theoden especially looks so grave and noble, this is his last chance to regain his honour, so if there is any joking he barks; 'Is this a chessboard or a cheeseboard?'

When I put Theoden on his square he glumly looked at the castle beside him, Osgiliath, and said 'One ruin beside another ruin..'

Some characters highlight the dilemma of good and evil. There is no Boromir; would he be black or white? And poor Gollum doesn't really deserve to be in with a lot of orcs. His livid white skin stands out sharply from the black armour of orc and Uruk-hai and I can hear his sad whinging voice all the time;
'Orcses, nassty, filthy orcses, no, no, not here with them! Nice master, kind master, master will let Smeagol stay with nice white chessmen....'

'Not a chance, sneaker...' mutters Sam.

The black backline is not a happy place either. Sauron isn't too keen on having the Witch King as a wife,and it goes beyond arguing over who takes out the trash. Basically, two people who don't have faces find it hard to interract.  O.o

Beside the old board the new one is a howling silence, with just Elrond staring across at Shelob and the Balrog. After a long time the Elf Lord of Rivendell carefully arranged his tawny velvet robes and said with cheerful disgust to Shelob;
'You know, you are a really ugly arachnid'

This caused the Balrog to fall on the board and roll about flapping his leathery wings, convulsed with mirth. Her Ladyship just sat there, her little red eyes glinting. I think the game on Board Two will be conducted with much more, er, venom than Board One.

After all, Shelob attacking and stinging Frodo is one move I have to allow; it's in the book. nailbiter

Varda, queen of pawns....


Responses:

Varda, you slay me! I love it. Although to be honest, (if you will permit me a couple of observations) . . .
I was surprised that Elrond didn't offer to to show Her Ladyship the Elvish craft of Weaving. Heavens knows she has enough legs to cover (and hasn't waxed since the second age!) ...
And while I agree that queens should be female, my opera background remembers a Bellini opera where one was sung by a baritone, and I hazzard to say that there are some fans of To Wong Fu and Wesley Snipes who would beg to differ ...   - Doctor Gamgee

Varda you slay me! -
But is that in the book? And if so, are you white or black?
Ooo, now there's a scary thought - a chessboard of fans...  - Primula


Ooo... I like that idea! :-D   Now if there was just a 'cafepress' for chess sets!
And just to add my two cents : we have the Noble Collection chess set with all 3 sets of pieces... and we have it on display under glass. No worries about Bishop Frodo being on the wrong color for Bishop Gollum to run into him.  And yes, we must have photos!  - Icarus

Now I remember why I like checkers better. - Vison

Reply by Varda:

But Vison, it is so much harder to cheat at checkers! :-D

Wow I looked at that set on e-bay, and they are asking less than it cost, even if it is a starting bid, £215. The cost of the set was £224 excluding the board, which was at a special rate (of course) but still cost me £10 or something. Which brings the whole thing up to £234. No bids. No wonder
;-)  Postage seems a bit steep too.

Not that I would part with it. What would happen at night without the re-run of jokes and arguments and scuffles after the household is safely in bed? Also, I suppose my set is not quite in mint condition. These are lead figures, with swords and bows etc, and although they are well packaged, a few bits came off in transit and I had to glue spears etc back together. I used epoxy resin which sets grey, but still there are mends. It made the set 'mine' in a way. Also The White Tower of Minas Tirith was a dirty grey, so I painted it carefully with oil paints till it really was a spire of pearl and silver.

Nope, no selling this set, for any money  ;-P   No playing with the first set either, but the second.... I just can't resist Shelob as queen. Just imagine her running riot on the board! (the chess board, not this board  o.0 ). Waxed legs or not, she is one femme fatale. Last offspring of Ungoliant to trouble the world indeed.....

Icarus, where to you find the space for three chess sets, even under glass? I have about 70 of the Eaglemoss die-cast lead figures that preceded these chess sets, and they take up all of what is called in Ireland the 'china cabinet'. But a chess set all laid out....wow.

When I got the first set there was no Saruman. What's the bet he is Black King in the second set? With Shelob as his wife? Oh heck, that is worse than being married to the Witchking! I can hear Shelob whisper endearingly;
'Look into my eyes, darling.......all three hundred of them'

Varda, white knight to black castle