How well does Shadow of Mordor fit into Middle-earth canon?
The 2014 video game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In it, an undead Gondorian Ranger named Talion is bound to Celebrimbor's wraith by the will of the Black Hand of Sauron.
What I want to know is, are there any inconsistencies with the timelines, characters, etc. (Was there really a guard of Men at the Black Gate, and was it attacked? Could Celebrimbor actually have come back as a wraith? Is Gollum's appearance justified? etc.)?
I know that there WAS indeed a guard near the Black Gate at one point, but I'd have to research for the rest. Gondor originally had control of all land right up to the Black Gate, but that "front line" receded further and further back in the years preceding Lord of the Rings.
The black gate was built by Gondor to watch Mordor (from HoMR). It was ironic it became a defensive structure when he returned.
@Clay Not only the Black Gate, but also the Tower of Cirith Ungol that gaurds the pass through the mountains from Minas Morgul, and the ancient castle of Durthang in the north of Mordor were also built by Gondor to keep watch over the Black Land.
Tolkien wryly noted that Sauron, like many dictators, was more concerned with keeping his subjects in.
There appear to be a number of "disconnects" of various types between the text and the game (even between the movies and the game).
To begin with, in the text there was never a garrison of Gondor stationed at the Black Gate. The Rangers of Ithilien patrolled a strip of land a few days' journey south of the Gate, just west of the Mountains of Shadow (the Ephel Dúath); but before Sauron "repossessed" Mordor, Gondor didn't have the manpower for such a guard, and afterwards, the Black Gate was far too dangerous to post a standing guard.
The Wikipedia article on the game describes the game's hero, Talion, as being "ritually sacrificed" by leaders of Mordor "in an attempt to summon the wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor". In the text, Celebrimbor died in 1697 Second Age, some 3700 years before Sauron reoccupied Mordor; presumably (like that of any Elf) his feä or spirit returned to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor. Very few Elves returned from Mandos; and certainly none could be summoned in any way, nor could they appear as a wraith (it's not precisely clear to me what that means). Neither could Talion "return" or be "resurrected" in any sense; the Doom of Men required that when a human died, their feä went to the Halls of Mandos indeed, but then went on to some unknown place and never returned:
The sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Ilúvatar ...
(The Silmarillion, Chapter 1, "Of the Beginning of Days")
The one exception to this, Beren, was not truly an exception; Luthien was able to convince Mandos to let him return to Arda, but only for a brief time; Mandos had no power to keep the Gift, or Doom, of Men from him. Thus the situation in which Talion finds himself after death is incompatible with the world of Men as Tolkien described it, as is his encounter with Celebrimbor.
The article describes Celebrimbor, in the game, as having assisted Sauron in forging the One Ring and can wield the One Rings power. This is outright denied in the books, in which Sauron is described as forging the ring "secretly" (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond"). Celebrimbor is said in Appendix B to have "perceived" the designs of Sauron, an odd phrase if he was that involved with the Ring. It is also stated that the One Ring can only be wielded by Sauron and Sauron alone.
Again, there is said to be "a community of Gondorian outcasts living in Mordor". This seems unlikely: Appendix A states
At this time [about 1856 of the Third Age] it is thought that the Ringwraiths re-entered Mordor.
So the forces of Sauron had occupied the land for nearly 1200 years; and (given the time period, some time between 2941 and 3018), Sauron had recently reoccupied the land. It was not a healthy place for humans to be—Frodo comments, seeing two orcs fighting,
They hate us far more, altogether and all the time. If those two had seen us, they would have dropped all their quarrel until we were dead.
(Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter 2, "The Land of Shadow")
Next, the issue of the "kingdom of Núrn": its queen, and her daughter, play important roles later in the game. There is no reference to such a kingdom anywhere in the text; Tolkien does, however, describe
the great slave-worked fields away south [of the plain of Gorgoroth] in this wide realm, beyond the fumes of the Mountain by the dark sad waters of Lake Nurnen.
(Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter 2, "The Land of Shadow")
This "Lake Nurnen" is described on the map as the "Sea of Nurnen"; but clearly the same place is intended. There's no hint that the place is, or was, an independent kingdom at any point.
With respect to Gollum: Gollum did leave the Misty Mountains about 2944 (according to the timeline of Appendix B), and went off toward Dale; several years later (about 2951) he "turned towards Mordor". It appears to have taken him nearly 30 years (!!) to get there; the Appendix lists his acquaintance with Shelob, for example, as dating to about 2980. Gollum appears to have lurked around the borders of Mordor for another 30 years or so before being caught sometime between about 3010 and 3018. (This is one of the most difficult aspects of Tolkien's timeline for me to swallow; but I'll accept it for the purposes of the question.) So it would be possible, in theory, for Talion to have met Gollum; but as far as "leading Celebrimbor to relics of his past", as the Wikipedia article mentions, that assumes far too much knowledge on the part of Gollum—as well as assuming that these relics somehow made their way from Eregion (where Celebrimbor lived) to Mordor.
Most egregiously (in my opinion): Every time that Tolkien gives a story of a character who becomes enamored of power or revenge (as Talion does), the story is a tragic one and the desire for power or revenge is the tragic flaw (Túrin Turambar is a classic example; or Fëanor). This story, though perhaps it doesn't quite end here (as one would expect it leaves room for a sequel) should, if Tolkien's pattern is followed, end with the downfall of Talion. As it does not, it seems to display a fundamental misunderstanding of Tolkien's view of good, evil, and power.
One final note, unrelated but perhaps interesting: Although I don't know what "Talion" means, or is intended to mean, in Elvish (presumably Sindarin), I do know that it appears related to a Latin word. The lex talionis, or (more or less literally) "Law of the Same Thing", referred to the Old Testament principle of "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"—disturbingly relevant to a character whose purpose in life, or unlife, has become taking revenge.
Excellent answer. Obviously, the most blunt answer to the original question is, "It doesn't." I'll be directing people to this answer when they ask about the canonicity of Shadow of Mordor.
*"presumably (like that of any Elf) his feä or spirit returned to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor"* - I've never read the books, but in the game, Celebrimbor was cursed by Sauron via blood-sacrifice to "a fate worse than death," eternally stuck between worlds. Talion was cursed the same way, met Celebrimbor, and together they managed to somehow rematerialize in the real world *(I haven't beaten the game yet, so I'm not sure if 'how' is ever explained)*. Also, Talion definitely isn't *"enamored of power,"* he just wants to *(be able to)* die so he can see his wife again.
Sauron is "just" a maia even if a powerful one but not even the valar have the power to change the fate of races Eru Ilúvatar set. So that curse is impossible.
"The article describes Celebrimbor, in the game, as having assisted Sauron in forging the One Ring." The game itself doesn't mention this, it suggests that Celebrimbor forged the other rings, but Sauron forged the One Ring himself. Sauron secretly corrupted the rings that Celebrimbor forged so he could control them with his One Ring.
@Kevin Without spoiling to much, later in the game it becomes more and more implied that Celebrimbor does have a direct contribution to The One Ring
@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft As far as "enamored of power" - I was going by the description in Wikipedia and by descriptions from people I know who've played the game; they describe Talion in this way. They also describe him as motivated strongly, if not primarily, by revenge; that sort of motivation is treated the same way by Tolkien. I may update my answer to reflect that approach.
@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft perhaps Talion isn't directly enamored of power, but he does manage to follow the "wraith" into building up power in a bid to challenge Sauron for supremacy in Mordor.
Actually, Elves *could* refuse the summons to Mandos and live on as wraiths in Middle-Earth - although Celebrimbor probably wouldn't have been that kind of Elf. Communication and manipulation of these spirits is exactly the kind of "necromancy" and sorcery that Tolkien says men and Sauron used.
"For the Unbodied...are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still...To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and to make them servants of one own's will is wickedness.[..] Or the Houseless may plead for shelter, and if it is admitted, then it will seek to enslave its host and use both his will and his body for its own purposes. It is said that Sauron did these things, and taught his followers how to achieve them." - HoME
@Shamshiel Which volume of HoME is this from? To what extent does it apply to the text of LotR published during Tolkien's lifetime? Tolkien did write a number of things which he did not publish, either because he or his publisher felt there was no audience, or because he did not feel it accorded with the rest of his published work; it's not necessarily the case that what's described in HoME applies to the rest of his work.
@MattGutting: Morgoth's Ring. It was later writing and fits in very well with published writings (indeed was intended to explain them) and the general story; c.f. the fading of the Elves.
I missed this my first read through, but Gondor did indeed once have a garrison at the Black Gate - they also built the Towers of the Teeth and Minas Morgul. The timeline is still wrong, though - Gondor would have long abandoned them by the time of the game. Also, I have not finished the game, but the in-game encyclopedia does say that Sauron forged the One alone - the visions so far only show Sauron present at the forging of the other Rings as the Lord of Gifts. Also, we might cite the Dead Men as another exception (albeit another Eru intervention.)
@chx - Dead men of Dunharrow seem to prove that preventing beings from true death is within the realm of possibility. And it was achieved by a man.
@Deltharis - the curse on the Dead Men is never fully explained in the texts. It needn't have been achieved by a Man in order to have the effect described, however: Isildur may have made the curse, then Eru may have said "OK, I'll run with this"; i.e it may have been Eru who actually decided their fate by letting the curse have effect. That's consistent with all writings and so is a viable theory.
A few inaccuracies with this answer -- 1. Elves could indeed be wraiths, indeed, it was fated that the more powerful Elves would "fade" and become wraiths if they remained in Middle Earth due to the power of their *feä*. Why it would happen to Celebrimbor is unclear, unless Sauron has some power over Elves we don't know about. (he did die in Sauron's care, Sauron was a necromancer, Sauron's minions were capable of summoning human undead, and Sauron himself was in charge of breeding Elves into Orcs). But Celebrimbor was a mighty Noldor and died refusing to give up the Three Rings. (cont)
Although he was an Exile, even Feanor, who hated the Valar, was summoned back to Mandos to be imprisoned until the end of time (although he could technically repent of his actions and be reincarnated, he and his father refused to leave.) 2 -- as noted, Men could remain shades under a curse, and not just by Eru -- this was Sauron's chief power, as a Necromancer. We know that the evil powers had the ability to curse Men from the Silmarillion, although psychic domination required a two-way connection motivated by fear or love (not BS, there's apparently a Tolkien quote from *Osanwe-kenta*)
3 -- there is indeed a kingdom of Núrn, populated by the freed slaves of the area around Lake Núrnen. but it did not exist as an entity until after the slaves were freed by Aragorn (according to the end of RotK).
4 -- There's no reason to assume that the Ring could not be used by some other power of great stature. We often hear this (in the movies too), and it destroys much of the plot of the books (and movie) to assume so in my opinion, turning the Ring into a mere "sticky artifact" that poses no moral hazard, and Sauron's reactions questionable. Celebrimbor knows more Ring-lore than most; but the One Ring was specifically designed to trick and thwart Celebrimbor -- and the other Noldor who were most attuned to Sauron's thought, as fellow disciples of Aulë. That's why he was able to wipe out Eregion.
That being said, I agree with you on the moral aspect, but this is a problem with most combat games in a literary setting :) I just like to remind folks to look at the TVTropes definition of "egregious" as it's often used to describe sins of adaptation that, well, aren't ;-) *The Hobbit was far worse*cough*
Astonishingly, I think you gave the game *too much* credit; the "Lord of the Hunt" DLC establishes that Talion and Torvin the Dwarf first met around T.A. 2940; in-game, this is after both the attack on the Black Gate by the Black Captains, and after Talion first meets Gollum, which pretty starkly contradicts the timeline of the books