The Ettenmoors is a tricky place to write about. The Moors, as we typically call them, are better known in LOTRO than they are in any other Tolkien adaptation. Since 2007 it has been the bane of those players who crave PvP action, first because it’s not really PvP (it’s PvMP, duh) and second because it is the only zone in the game that allows it (unless you live in Russia and play on special nights). The geography of the beautifully done zone is generally reduced to short acronyms like TA (as in, “Get to TA!”) and the land itself is disregarded as anything but a battleground upon which to spill the blood of the enemy.
In the texts it is first mentioned by Aragorn in Flight to the Ford, and even Strider the Ranger, the greatest huntsman and traveler of his day, says, “That is troll-country, and little known to me”. So, if Strider knew little of it, and it is scarcely discussed in any of the books, what hope have I? Let’s turn over a few stones, sniff out a couple troll footprints and see what turns up.
As I said, we’re first introduced to this place while Strider is leading the hobbits from Bree to Rivendell, taking the scenic route to avoid detection by the Ring-wraiths. After crossing the Last Bridge they turn north off the road to seek shelter in the jagged, rocky wilderness of the Trollshaws. If any of you have ventured in those parts, even in the tame sanctity of LOTRO, you know how hard it can be to find your way. And so four hobbits (one of whom has just been stabbed), one Ranger, and one pony are left to scramble up and down rocky hills and find a parth through thorn and bramble to safety. The context of the above quote is when they begin to go too far north and are about to cross over into the Moors. Strider references the “Ettendales” which is a part of the Moors nearing the mountains that is, apparently, completely infested by trolls. He wants to avoid going there for, though it is a viable path to Rivendell, it’s much too far out of the way and dangerous. Presumably this is the area from which our old favorites, Burt, Tom, and Bill, came down from before terrorizing the countryside and meeting their end when dawn took them in The Hobbit.
Most of what we know about the Ettenmoors is in the names used to reference it. According to Tolkien Gateway, “etten” is derived from the Old English word for giant, or troll. Moor is, of course, a wide expanse of hilly land that is mostly barren. Anyone who’s read Sherlock Holmes (or really any other British fiction) should be familiar with that term. The term troll-fells is also thrown around when Ettenmoors comes up. “Fells” is much like a moor; hilly uplands, presumably near mountains. Finally, Ettendales is mentioned as a part of the Moors, not as another term for the Ettenmoors themselves. “Etten” again means troll or giant; “dale” is another word for dell or valley. So, in short, Ettenmoors are moors and dales where trolls live. Simple enough.
The Moors come up again after their arrival at Rivendell, where Gandalf describes his own harrowing journey to the Last Homely House. Shadowfax left the Grey Pilgrim on his own, and so he followed the river Hoarwell (Loudwater), which we’ve all seen as we cross from the Lone-lands into Trollshaws, northwards into its sources in the Ettenmoors. He then came back down in the foothills of the Misty Mountains to reach Rivendell from the north. It takes him 14 days from Weathertop. Two weeks on foot! Grey Wanderer indeed.
We players, sadly, do not have that option for the Moors are truly an island in the world of LOTRO; it can only be reached by swift-travel. There is no way in or out, save by loading screen. Once there, though, we are treated to a challenging place of player-versus-player combat and, really, a nicely done landscape. The designers took a few cues from the lore, as usual, and if we look at the map the place that stands out the most is in the north: Arador’s End.
Arador was the grandfather of Aragorn and father of Arathorn. He was chieftain of the Dúnedain from 2910 to 2930 of the Third Age. We know little of this late lord, save that he was captured by the hill-trolls of the Ettendales and slain. Perhaps this is why Aragorn knows little of those lands? I can’t say I’d be in a rush to get to know the place where my grandfather was brutally killed. We get a glimpse into this little piece of history in the introductory portion of the epic quest, Volume 3, where we take on the role of a Ranger gone to save his lord, only to find him slain. It’s a sad tale, but so are many of the tales of Middle-earth, especially of the Edain and their descendants for the Enemy hounded them until the end.
Neighboring Arador’s End are the Steps of Gram where all monster players begin their journeys. This is where things get a little sticky, because the western boundaries of the Ettenmoors were never really clearly defined, nor was the precise location of Mount Gram. There is a spur that comes off the Misty Mountains to create the northernmost border of the Moors and LOTRO is presuming that this is where Mount Gram was, and so as we move further northwards in the zone so we should arrive at Mount Gram. Beyond this little range, keeping along the edge of the Misty Mountains, we would reach Angmar and Carn Dûm, the denizens of which create the principle point of conflict in the Moors. But we’ll get to that later.
Mount Gram was said to be the home of a large group of goblins led by one Golfimbul. You ought to know Golfimbul for that is where we get the term golf. When the goblins of Mount Gram came down to invade the Shire, they were bested at the Battle of Greenfields by an army of hobbits led by Bandobras Bullroarer Took, the grandsire, on the Took side, of our Bilbo. From Gramsfoot south along the eastern side of the Hoarwell River is all territory of the Enemy. We see towers like Lugazag occupied by the forces of Angmar, and that is because of how close the Moors are to Angmar proper. In LOTRO, Angmar is again become a power and so, geographically speaking, we would see them in a place like the Moors. They might be interested in taking this place because (1) it is close to Rivendell, though they would not know the exact location of Imladris, and (2) the Moors hold a special place of shame for the Witch-king of Angmar.
Angmar, as he was sometimes referred to, had been wreaking havoc on the north in the middle of the Third Age on behalf of his master. His aim was to wipe out the Dúnedain and put an end to the north kingdoms, and he was largely successful. The final showdown happened at Fornost, where he led his armies to finish the job he’d begun. Cutting out the bit about Eärnur (you can read that here), the Witch-king was run off in shame by Glorfindel, who had led and elf-host to help the Dúnedain out; bottom line is, you don’t mess with Glorfindel. In his flight, the Witch-king passed through the Ettenmoors and found his way back to Mordor. This was also the point where Glorfindel prophesied that the end of the Witch-king would not be achieved by the hands of man.
The towers and fortresses that dominate the landscape of the Moors are hard to justify inside the lore. The place was never a part of any of the kingdoms of Arnor and, as I mentioned, the only kingdom that might have built in that area was Angmar. Likewise, the settlement of hobbits along the Hoarwell would not likely have been there. The excellent Atlas of Middle-earth illustrates the migration of hobbits into Eriador, and we see some strains of hobbits taking the northern passes over the Mountains and coming close to the Ettenmoors, but likely they would not have stayed there for fear of the trolls and the more northerly climate. Just speculation on my part.
But all of that is neither here nor there, for the Moors serve as an exemplar of what can be done with the fringes of Tolkien’s work. Certainly he did not intend it to be a never ending battlefield, but its location is justifiable and sometimes, to make a game work, you just have to mess with stuff. We LOTRO players should be used to this by now. So while the Moors are not a Shire or Rivendell or Moria, places with deep histories reaching back into the deeps of earlier Ages, they go to show that no place (or, very few places) in Middle-earth leaves nothing to find beneath your feet.