In the latest example of Western entertainment’s seeming obsession with reimagining J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy work in accordance with modern day identity politics, Wizards of the Coast has revealed that their upcoming The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth set for Magic: The Gathering will depict Aragorn as a black man.
Previously announced during the company’s Magic Showcase 2021, the upcoming The Lord of the Rings-themed set was teased as allowing players to team-up with such established characters as “Gandalf, Gollum, Frodo, Aragorn” to “battle for The One Ring, scheme with Saruman, or journey to the heights of Mount Doom.”
While some fans anticipated the worst possible handling of the IP given Wizards’ reputation in recent years, their fears were partially quelled by a combination of a source material accurate piece of artwork depicting Gandalf entertaining the Shire at Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party being put forth as the set’s main preview image and a belief that no other interpretation of the series could stoop to the level of Amazon’s The Rings of Power.
At least, they were until a further preview of the set was given at the opening of this year’s Wizards Presents, a similar livestream presentation which touches upon the company’s entire catalog of offerings rather than just their popular trading card game.
Taking to the stage on August 18th, freelance host Sydnee Goodman began her tease of the set’s 2023 release with the assurance that Wizards’ design team had “worked closely with Middle-earth enterprises and dove deep into the source material to make sure to get it just right” and that “the cards and art in the series will have all the flavor and history of the trilogy”.
Goodman then proceeded to preview some of this art, unveiling to players their first look at Magic: The Gathering’s depictions of Frodo, the Balrog, and the sets’ new borderless scene cards, which “when brought together will form amazing recognizable scene from the books, like the climactic battle of Pelennor Fields outside of Gondor”.
However, upon her reveal of the cards depicting the latter event, fans were quick to notice a significant divergence from Tolkien’s original writings – namely that rather than having “a shaggy head of dark hair flecked with grey” and “a pale stern face”, as described in the books Wizards claims to have followed ever-so-closely, the last Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North was depicted as a short-haired black man.
“On their own, they are glorious pieces of art,” concluded Goodman, “but put them together, you can see the entire story as if turning pages in the novel.”
Expanding on the set’s upcoming release in a follow-up blog post published to their official website, Wizards shared their excitement at how “The look and the feel for the world, the characters, the weapons, the locations, and the story moments are going to be intimately familiar yet fresh and relevant for a wider audience.”
“The folks at Middle-earth Enterprises take their roles as stewards very seriously, and every decision about characters has been made with deep reverence to the original,” wrote Wizards content manager Adam Styborski. “With that in mind, together we set out to make a set that follows two guiding principles: diversity and originality.”
Of the first goal, Styborski explained, “The Lord of the Rings is about the different peoples of Middle-earth coming together to fight Sauron, finding strength in their diversity. We want to make this appealing story fresh and relevant to an even wider audience.”
In terms of the second, he clarified that “The goal of this set is to express the story and setting of The Lord of the Rings in cards for Magic: The Gathering,” noting that while “countless prior efforts have painted vivid pictures of this world, our goal is a modern take on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, lovingly crafted for a new generation of players and fans.”
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is set to hit shelves sometime in 2023.