Just as cooks pray for a good crop of young animals and fishermen for a good haul of fish, in the same way busybodies pray for a good crop of calamities or a good haul of difficulties that they, like cooks and fishermen, may always have something to fish out and butcher. Plutarch, "On Being a Busybody". Isengard is an odd duck, certainly the most disjointed of the ICE modules. It divides its focus between the Kin-Strife and the period of Saruman's residence at Orthanc, and whilst the latter is obviously essential, the choice of the year is bizarre.
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Nice review. I wouldn't mind seeing the color map of the tower that you describe. Oh and don't forget The Dark Tower on your list of famous towers! Sorry, sorry - the King madness will pass sooner or later I wish I could have provided a look at it, or the other color maps in these books. They're too big to fit on my scanner. I'll see if I can scan enough of it to show it, or see if I can get a picture of it that isn't too bad. Thanks for posting that pic - that looks really cool.
There's just something about Isengard that's always gotten my imagination going. That color map with the interiors is the sort of thing I'd have looked at for hours back in the day. Or, now, if I want to be honest. I know what you mean. It's definitely a stand-out, and it's too bad it wasn't in a book that had more "oomph" to it. Towers hold a certain kind of mystique in legend and literature. Jutting upward, pointing to the sky, they have an air of mystery to them, whether they appear in fairytales or occult legend.
Rapunzel was imprisoned in one, Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold in one, Conan the Cimmerian found adventure in one, the Tower of London is steeped in history and legend, and, of course, the Tower of Babel may be the most famous of all.
Even today, towers inspire fascination, with the skyscraper being the most prominent component of modern cities; having the tallest of these tall buildings confers considerable prestige upon the cities they shadow. Towers also loom up in other contexts in today's world, providing security in prisons, inspiration for worshippers, and nerve centers for airports.
So, it's not surprising, really, that Tolkien included so many towers in The Lord of the Rings. In Rohan , there was the Hornburg of Helm's Deep. The Tower of Ecthelion stood proudly above Minas Tirith. Grim Barad-dur is the focus of the greatest evil of Middle-earth as the abode of Sauron.
And, of course, there was Isengard. Well, technically, Isengard was the entire fortress, the ring of stone and the tower in its center. The tower was named Orthanc. Orthanc was built by some mysterious method in the Second Age of Middle-earth. It consisted of four piers stelae? I say "obsdian-like" because Tolkien describes them as "many-sided" and black, which strikes me as being a good description of obsidian, with the way it has facets when cut or broken.
It seems it may not have been obsidian, or at least not normal obsidian, because it was impervious even to the Ents, who could easily rip apart stone walls when they were angry. It sure wasn't for lack of trying that they didn't damage Orthanc. Isengard was meant to guard the western approaches to Gondor. As Gondor's borders slowly receded, it eventually became an isolated place, and was granted to the wizard Saruman as his sanctuary and laboratory. Wizards have a long history in legend of being associated with towers.
It makes sense, really; towers are defensible, and give a good view of their surroundings. They also can be imposing and ominous, scaring away intruders. They place their inhabitants up above mortal concerns, figuratively and literally, and provide a good place from which to study the sky.
This is an important consideration because of the one-time close association between magic and the stars and planets. Astronomy and astrology were once the same thing, essentially, and they figured prominently in magic creation. Even Doctor Frankenstein worked in a tower, at least in the movie. I'd love to have a screen shot to show you, but I don't. Just take my word for it. So, it seems natural now that Tolkien included a wizard in a tower in his book.
I'm discussing all this because the bulk of Isengard and Northern Gondor deals directly with, obviously, Isengard, and especially Orthanc itself. There is some material on Calenardhon, the northern province of Gondor that a millennium from the time setting of this book, given or take a century, will become Rohan.
Herbs, animals, some cultural notes on the inhabitants, items of note and legend, adventure ideas, the lay of the land, and histories of the region, Isengard, and Saruman are all included, succinct and useful. Interestingly, there is a brief overview of the Druedain, or Woses, the primitive, Neanderthal-like people who had some friction with the Rohirrim, which is more substantive than the entry for them in Riders of Rohan. Given the brief though important role they play in the Rohirrim making it in time to aid Gondor, it strikes me that more about them should have been included in the book about Rohan.
The Hornburg and a few other, lesser strongholds and settlements are detailed, but like I said, the star of this book is Orthanc. A nice, color map of the tower is included, with an interesting depiction of the fortress from the outside. It's unusual for the Middle-earth Roleplaying line to include a color picture of a site on a map.
The map shows the layout of the multiple levels of the place, and there are other maps showing underground levels.
By popular demand; not a great picture, but the best I could do with what I have. It's a pretty standard "dungeoncrawl," though there isn't a lot of variety in the inhabitants of the place - mostly Men and Orcs, the latter appearing after Saruman's treason.
There are quite a few tricks and traps to vex invaders. Oh, and Saruman lives here after a certain point. That makes the place especially dangerous. This entry in the Middle-earth Roleplaying line is solid, though not as interesting as others in the line. The cover art is by Gail McIntosh, who did some of the covers for early books in the line. It's a well-done picture, but I think an image emphasizing Orthanc more would have been appropriate. The interior art is pretty sparse, and only one depicts anything of note, and even then it took me a while to realize it was meant to depict Saruman and Wormtongue.
In all the times I've read Tolkien's book, I never had an image of Saruman anything close to this. And let's not even bother to discuss Wormtongue in this picture. I always thought the interior art in the MERP books was very hit-or-miss, and this book was a definite miss. From a technical standpoint, it was actually pretty good:. But from the standpoint of really evoking the setting? It just doesn't work. I suppose that the paucity of art in the book was actually preferable to a lot of art that didn't seem all that tied to the setting.
This book is an interesting contrast to the previous one I discussed, Riders of Rohan. Regardless, I've forgotten I owned it from time to time, including when I started to do this series of blogs. Doing the Rohan post jogged my memory, and I dug it out to write about next because it complements the Rohan book. I see why it doesn't evoke any kind of deep memories; it seems thin to me. Had it focused more tightly on Isengard itself, making it more of a site-based adventure, it may well have been a classic of its kind.
As it is, it's useful, but forgettable. Posted by Jeff B. Jeff B. August 2, at PM. Newer Post Older Post Home. Subscribe to: Post Comments Atom.
Isengard and Northern Gondor
Nice review. I wouldn't mind seeing the color map of the tower that you describe. Oh and don't forget The Dark Tower on your list of famous towers! Sorry, sorry - the King madness will pass sooner or later I wish I could have provided a look at it, or the other color maps in these books.
Its main purpose was to defend the gap of Calenardhon and the Fords of Isen against attacks by Sauron's forces. Self-sufficient and enchanted, it later became the virtually impregnable fortress of Saruman the White. No spire in Middle-earth was stronger, save the Dark Tower of Mordor. The module is mostly set around T. The module comes with a fold-out color map, a map of Orthanc, and information about the Dunlendings and Woses peoples.