Posted on May 31, 2023

Lord of the Rings Fans up in Arms Over Decision to Change Aragorn’s Race to Black for New Collectible Card Game

Neirin Gray Desai, Daily Mail, May 31, 2023

A furious dispute has erupted among fans of The Lord of the Rings over a decision to make the fictional character Aragorn black in a new collectible card game.

The new Aragorn will feature on a collectible card which will make up part of a series of Lord of the Rings-themed cards by Magic: The Gathering.

Artwork featuring the character was unveiled in a tweet on Monday from an account run by the franchise, which was released in 1993 and is now a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Switching the identity of characters in adaptations of classic works is controversial. Advocates say it’s important to improve the representation of underrepresented groups but critics say it’s a violation of the original material.

A furious dispute has erupted among fans of The Lord of the Rings over a decision to make the fictional character
Aragorn is a key character in JRR Tolkien’s blockbuster book The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s subsequent and highly successful movie adaptations.

In the book he is described as being white, and in the film he is played by the Caucasian actor Viggo Mortensen.

In Tolkien’s words, he was said to have ‘a shaggy head of dark hair flecked with grey, and in a pale stern face a pair of keen grey eyes.’

Though the students of Tolkien lore were divided, they all agreed that Aragorn is of Numenorean descent – a group widely understood to be fair-skinned.

‘This is just race-baiting,’ one Twitter user wrote in response. ‘A publicity stunt in the worst taste.’

One user questioned what all the uproar was about and why anyone cared, to which another responded: ‘One could ask why people cared enough to change it to begin with.

‘This constant changing is getting old and it only goes one way. You don’t see Asian characters being changed into Hispanic. It’s always white into black every single time.’

An article published by TheGamer, a niche site for gaming news and reviews, defended the decision to make Aragorn black.

‘The most common criticism is that Aragorn is descended from Numenoreans, and they were all white,’ wrote the author, British journalist Ben Sledge.

‘I don’t buy it. Even if we’re ignoring the fact that Numenoreans are made up and Middle-earth is make-believe, there are plenty of people of color in Tolkien’s works.

‘There is plenty of room for lore-accurate black or mixed race Numenoreans if you’re willing to actually think about it,’ he added.

Sledge also pointed out that by virtue of being an adaptation, there should be some scope to make alterations.

‘The nature of adaptations is to adapt – it’s right there in the name – and there is room for people of color in modern retellings of old stories,’ he wrote.

‘We’ve seen countless white Aragorns and even more plain, silver swords, so why would you want the same again?’

On Twitter others came out to defend the decision by saying that the hobbit Samwise Gamgee was described in the book as being ‘brown’, yet in Jackson’s movie he was depicted as white to no outrage.

One user’s explanation for that was to claim Tolkien actually meant tanned.

‘Brown as in tanned. Not brown as in black,’ they wrote. ‘Tolkien was very specific which people were black.’

But another user replied sarcastically, ‘I’m sure you were in close correspondence with Tolkien to know he meant tanned specifically.’

Perhaps the most high profile of such controversies has been over the potential casting of Idris Elba, a black British actor, as the next James Bond.