The Lord of the Rings was an epic fantasy published in 1954 by J. R. R. Tolkien, a Philology (Historical Languages) Professor at Oxford University. This is probably all boring back-story for you know-it-alls, but before the film trilogy, Lord of the Rings was actually a beloved book by many a fantasy bookworm. I know, crazy, right?
Anyhow, my point in this literary lesson is to discuss Tolkien’s inclusion of vampires – or vampire-like creatures – in his book. As far as games are concerned, in Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game Supplement, Ruin of Arnor, there is a vampire character named Gžlavhar, who is a ‘winged-terror’ fighting for the Witch-king of Angmar. As intriguing as this character is, he is not actually a character from Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings. There are also bat-like creatures called Merroval that are characters in game The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Although these characters are, in fact, based on the vampire creatures in Tolkien’s epic, they too are fictional characters not originated from the text.
There is only one vampire character that is named in Lord of the Rings, although vampire-like creatures appear several times throughout his work. In one instance, Sauron takes the shape of a vampire before he loses his ability to change shape. He is depicted as flying into the forest with blood dripping down his throat, an image that directly conveys vampirism. In actuality, however, it seems Tolkien named his creatures vampires solely due to their physical resemblance of bats and their frightening demeanor and purpose.
There is also the character Thuringwethil, who is said to be in the form of a vampire, although she is often considered to have been a type of fallen demi-god, or Maia. She is described as having huge fingered wings with iron claws and flying as a messenger for Sauron. At one point, however, another story tells of how a character named Luthien, a half-elven princess of sorts, was able to take the form of Thuringwethil – or a vampire – through use of Thuringwethil’s stolen ‘shaping cloak.’ The idea that Thuringwethil would use a cloak to change forms, however, leaves her true identity a mystery, and the idea of an actual vampire as nothing more than a guise.
Nevertheless, there are vampire-like characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that are well known and frequently cited. However, the somewhat glamorized version of the vampire that we all know and love today was not always the norm, and Tolkien’s version of the vampire veers somewhat from this common conception. In fact, generally speaking, Tolkien’s version of the vampire was no blood-sucker, although they were blood-thirsty. It can also be said that Tolkien used Stoker’s bat-vampire affiliation as an excuse to name a terrifying bat-like creature. All in all, I wouldn’t say vampires were an integral part of Middle Earth, more like another fantastical element to an otherworldly tale.