Party Game: Lord of the Rings Exegesis

Party Game: Lord of the Rings Exegesis

As Shakespeare tells us, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” And indeed, throughout history there have been many occasions in which people on either side of an argument have both drawn from the Bible (or other holy book) to support their aims. Although a party game based on using the Bible itself in this way would be irreverent and indeed somewhat offensive, fortunately there is another weighty tome, which many people have more than a passing familiarity with, that can be used in its place.

In Lord of the Rings Exegesis, two players each try to argue opposite sides of a debate using references to and quotes from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The player who makes the ‘best’ argument (some combination of most compelling, cleverest, funniest; direct quotes and outrageous arguments strongly encouraged) is considered the winner. The debating points themselves can be either serious or silly, ideally ones which do not have any obvious connection to The Lord of the Rings itself.

Possible means of playing

Like charades and other such party games, most of the fun comes from the process rather than any formal determination of winning. You may play simply by pairing up and getting someone else to call out a debate topic. If a more structured way is desired, one possibility is:

– The names of all people playing are put in a hat.

– Each player writes down one debate topic and puts it in a different hat.

– Each round, a debate topic is drawn and then two names. The first name argues for the motion, the second against (if a person’s name is drawn for their own motion, they are put back in the hat and another name chosen).

It’s suggested that the players have 2-3 minutes each to prepare their case (they may have reference to hard or electronic copies of the Lord of the Rings), followed by 30-60 seconds to make the argument.

House Rules

– It’s worth agreeing upfront whether the source text is solely The Lord of the Rings, or whether other works in Tolkien’s corpus, such as The Hobbit or The Silmarillion are permitted.

– You may wish to allow a short ‘right of reply’ and/or questions from the audience.

Example: Brexit

Let’s assume the question is that asked in the 2016 Referendum: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union?”

Remain

The Remain player might point to the fact that The Lord of the Rings has a strong theme of people from different lands working together to achieve their aims. The Fellowship, after all, is comprised of members representing all the free peoples of Middle Earth. Elrond’s quote that they, “…must not count on their errand being aided by war or force.” emphasises the way the EU works through peaceful means, putting war aside as a method of resolving intra-European disputes.

They might further talk of how it is only by coming together that the free peoples of Middle Earth can stand up to Sauron. Only through their mutual cooperation can Gondor, Rohan, Erebor, Dale, Lothlorien,the Wood Elves and others hope to withstand the Dark Lord: this, clearly, is a metaphor for the fact that no European country by itself can hope to stand up to global powers such as Russia or China. And finally, the events of a Long-Expected Party, where Bilbo receives goods that “had come all the way from the Mountain and from Dale‘ show the benefits that can arise from international trade, all of which could be jeopardised unless there is a vote to Remain!

Leave

The Leave player might respond by arguing that the alliance of the free peoples looks much more like a traditional military alliance such as Nato rather than the EU. After all, we see no pooling of sovereignty between Gondor and Rohan, whilst the closest thing to a supranational body is the Council of Elrond or the White Council. The idea that dwarves in The Lonely Mountain, elves in Rivendell and hobbits in The Shire might live under a common set of laws and regulations is clearly absurd.

They might point to Galadriel’s famous quote, ‘I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel”’ in response to those who argue that we have to be part of the EU to remain a ‘great power’. The quote – from one of the wisest of the wise – shows clearly that it is better to accept a diminished role and maintain one’s own identity, rather than to seek greater power to ‘put things to rights’.

Finally, they might argue that the following speech seems to be written perfectly for apologists of the EU – especially those who argue that it might not be perfect, that we have more influence inside the EU rather than outside, and that those who look to the US or the Commonwealth are deluding themselves:

A new power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us. There is no hope left in the Elves (‘Commonwealth’) or in dying Numenor (‘America’). This then is one choice before us. We may join with that power. It would be wise, there is hope that way. As the power grows, its proved friends will also grow and may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploying maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose.

But, that quote comes from Saruman, arguing that Gandalf should join with Mordor. Clearly, to Leave is the only choice!

Have a go!

For anyone wishing to have a go in the comments, some ideas for Tolkienised debate are:

  • We should all become vegetarian.
  • Chocolate ice cream is better than strawberry ice cream.
  • Bernie Sanders would be a better President than Donald Trump.
  • If men were meant to fly, God would have given them wings.
  • Yorkshire is the best county in Britain.
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