The Road to Mordor: The Professor

This past week on January 3rd, J.R.R. Tolkien celebrated his 118th birthday -- or rather, we celebrated it for him. Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892 and lived a rich and full life, from fighting in the first World War to working on the Oxford English Dictionary to taking a position at several universities that would earn him the nickname "The Professor."

He is, of course, most well-remembered for his seminal works of fantasy -- The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion -- although his writings didn't end there. Due to Tolkien's love of nature, linguistics, and mythology, his creations were born out of comprehensive backgrounds and rich histories, which he seemed to love making up just as much as the stories themselves.

For years now, Tolkien fans around the world have remembered his birthday by raising a glass on his birthday and giving a simple toast, "The Professor," at 9:00 p.m. wherever they lived. Likewise, in Lord of the Rings Online, many players gathered at their tavern of choice to do the same.

Today I thought I'd remember the Professor in a slightly different way by exploring the quest chain "Missing the Meeting." While it's not completely overt if you happened to come across it, "Missing the Meeting" is a tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien and his life, and it's worth going through at least once if you want to pay homage and get a nifty token by which to remember him.

Lost Dog

The first stop on our LotRO Magical Mystery Tolkien Tour is to head up to Bullroarer's Sward (I always, always want to type "Sword" instead) in southern Evendim. Near a brigand-occupied town is a lone Hobbit house -- a glassblower's hut -- where a few NPCs are standing worriedly outside. It's quite easy to miss this location when traveling north (it's at the top of "D" in "Sward" on the map).

Here we encounter Ronald Dwale, a hobbit who is, for all intents and purposes, a J.R.R. Tolkien stand-in (Dwale was also in the back of Frostbluff Theatre during the Yule Festival). "Ronald" is the first "R" in J.R.R., you see. Dwale looks a bit Tolkien-ish, with that natty vest and pipe, and he's certainly pleased to meet you.

Dwale hands you a level-30ish quest called "Lost Dog," in which he charges you to find a small toy dog that he lost while he and his son were by the banks of the Brandywine. Where is the son? Where, for that matter, are any Hobbit children in this game? Shut up, is the answer.

It's not that far away, and seeing as how the local variety of neeker-beekers find lead dogs tasty and not at all poisonous, one has swallowed the toy. Time for some impromptu surgery! Slash-slash, cut-cut, crawl in and stay warm for the night. And you thought they smelled bad on the outside.

According to Lotro-Wiki, this quest is referencing a story that Tolkien wrote called "Roverandom" to comfort his son when the boy lost his toy dog. "Roverandom" was post-humously published in 1998 and tells the tale of a dog who's turned into a toy by a grouchy wizard and goes on a quest to get his doggyness back.

Recovering the Lost Leaf

Onward and upward! With the lost toy returned, Dwale graduates you to "Paper Finder" as a reward. "Go away, sonny. Find me... a piece of paper! Yeah, that's it!"

Fortunately, this is not too difficult a task, as the paper in question is a stone's throw away in the middle of a few bandits. Dead bandits, slash-slash, cut-cut, crawl in and stay warm for the night.

This paper, which contains the beginning of a children's story that Dwale is writing, is most likely a reference to Tolkien's history writing The Hobbit. "On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why," Tolkien wrote in 1955.

It's only when you hand the paper back to Dwale that the last, and most interesting, part of this quest chain occurs.

Missing the Meeting

Apparently Dwale is part of a writer's club, but his rekindled excitement for his story means that he's going to miss an upcoming meeting -- and he wants you to deliver the message. It's times like this that you wish Middle-earth had text messaging or a postal service (oh, wait...), but I guess this is why we all became adventurers: to be the awkward go-between of NPCs who have their feet nailed to the ground.

Let's take a quick break to talk about one of the things that's always fascinated me about Tolkien. Tolkien was part of a literary discussion group club called the Inklings (Best. Name. Ever.) who met in the Eagle and Child Pub near the University of Oxford. For the better part of two decades, the Inklings got together on Tuesdays to drink beer in a sitting room and discuss what they'd been reading and writing. Fantasy was a common theme, and it's here that Tolkien shared The Lord of the Rings while he was writing it.

Other than Tolkien, the Inklings was a who's-who of accomplished authors: C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), Owen Barfield (Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry) and Charles Williams (All Hallows' Eve) were just a few of the members who went on to be well-known in academic and literary circles. Another Inkling I'm personally fond of is Hugo Dyson, who was recorded as saying, "Oh God, not another elf!" when Tolkien would read LOTR to the group.

The reason I bring up the Inklings is that this final quest and the Bird and Baby Inn (which was the informal name for the Eagle and Child Pub) is a thinly veiled reference to the group -- Dwale even says the word "inkling" in the quest text. This writers' group is located behind the bar in a small side room decorated with loads of books and a roaring fireplace. Three Hobbits are attending: Jack Lewisdown (Lewis), Carlo Williams (Williams) and Owen Farfield (Barfield).

Talk to Lewisdown and the group grumbles about various books they were hoping Dwale would critique. After that short exchange, you have to travel aaaaall the way back to Dwale to report "Mission accomplished!" Apart from the satisfaction of seeing this little slice of Tolkienna, Dwale bestows on you his old pipe, which can be used to blow a very interesting smoke ring.

This quest chain isn't that important in the grand scheme of things, but I applaud Turbine's efforts to include it for those of us who always wanted to interact with Tolkien in some way.

/raises glass

The Professor!

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.