Next month sees the release of Magic: The Gathering’s Universes Beyond expansion for Lord of the Rings. The Tales of Middle-Earth card game will, say creators Wizards of the Coast, introduce a diversity to the endlessly reworked franchise that hasn’t been seen before.
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth is to be revealed in full on May 30, when the mechanics of how the CCG will play are revealed. But ahead of this announcement has come the very welcome news that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) and Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) plan to make the Third Age a far more representative time to live in.
Which is to say, not everyone’s white. And if you’re feeling the need to start writing a comment about the ethnicity of the Scandinavian nations that inspired…just close the article down now and move on. Your blood pressure is bad enough.
Fortunately, for those whose imaginations can somehow cope with magic walking trees and actual dragons, but not different melanin content in characters’ skin, there’s still plenty of blazing-white fantasy out there in which they can take solace. But for LotR: ToME (as it will surely be called), WotC are somewhat nervously explaining there’s to be an exception.
“This fresh update was a conscious choice made in partnership between Wizards and MEE,” says WotC’s statement, “and was driven by two guiding principles.” They are “diversity” and “originality.”
Diversity: The Lord of the Rings is about the different peoples of Middle-earth coming together to fight Sauron, finding strength in their diversity. Fans of all backgrounds have been enjoying these stories, characters, and locations for decades, and we wanted this set to reflect on that broad inclusion.
Originality: The goal of this set is to express the story and setting of The Lord of the Rings through Magic: The Gathering Countless prior efforts have painted vivid pictures of this world, but our goal is a modern take on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, lovingly crafted for an ever-expanding fandom.
It makes me pretty sad how tentatively the company’s post seems to feel it must introduce the idea, and how they almost resort to code words to try to appease an imagined hostile audience. “Some characters may look different from previous depictions—and that’s intentional,” it says above the quoted section. The word “may” there is an odd one, almost as if they’re hedging their bets, keeping things just a smidge ambiguous. “Will” would have been much better. Since they will.
However, with sudden confidence, it then continues to say, “Our hope is that more people will see themselves reflected in the characters and that players and fans can find immense joy in telling these familiar stories through gameplay.”
Yes! Immense joy! Because it’s absolutely about this: about seeing oneself reflected in the media we love. What marvellous news!
The sample cards that have been revealed so far are just stunning, including beautiful maps that perfectly capture the look of those from the original books. And then there’s the excellent gimmick, a single printing of a unique The One Ring foil card, written in the Black Speech of Sauron, found in the first run of the English-language Collector Boosters.