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The Fortress-Keeper


Gord Downie was one of the most influential people in my life. I’ve been a fan of him, and of the band for which he sang, The Tragically Hip, for nearly 30 years, since I saw them play at a music festival in Ottawa; I’d liked their music before, but as with many Hip fans, it was their live show that made me a devotee. They were one of those bands where you needed to see them in action to get the thing. They were all masterful performers, but Gord was like a shaman, soaked in sweat by the end of the second song, fighting with his microphone stand, ranting about police frogmen and lighthouse keepers and killer whales while the band hammered away with him. The tender moments, too, bathed in purple light against a background of stars, conjuring cottage country in Ontario from the stage. Back in Canada, and after I moved to Boston, I saw Gord play with the Hip, and with his touring solo act, at every possible opportunity. The three best concerts I’ve been to in my life were all them.

Gord revealed his terminal brain cancer in 2016, and I was gutted, though I tried not to mourn the living. When the Hip announced what we all hoped would not be their farewell tour, I got tickets and flew to Toronto for two shows. When they played their last show in Kingston a little over a year ago, I watched it live online with my daughter beside me, first awake, then sleeping against my arm. I wept, and sang along, and felt pride in my country and my favorite damn band in the world.

Gord died on October 17, 2017, at the too-damn-young age of 53. He was a poet to the end, and a warrior for the environment and Native rights in Canada. He was a decent man who loved his children and what he felt his nation could be. He stayed creative to the end, and his loss is immeasurable to those of us who loved his music and what he stood for.

I mention this because I put Gord in LOTRO. Not in a flashy way – he’d have hated that – but as a tribute to a man I respected and revered, and whose music has blared through my headphones throughout my time shaping Middle-earth. His music fueled the world of this game, and so I gave him a place of his own. Earlier this year, when the time came to make the Field of Cormallen, when the Free Peoples honour Frodo and Sam, I realized we knew nothing about the minstrel who sings their song – not what he looked like, or even his name. I immediately knew how to honour him. I asked MadeofLions, who was making the minstrel NPC, if he could be bald, have a hat, and be well-dressed (though the shiny metallic suit felt a little too on the nose). And I named him Garthebir, which means “fortress-keeper” in Sindarin – the closest I could find to the etymology of Downie. And there he stands today, alongside the kings of Gondor and Rohan, and the Ringbearers, and Gandalf, singing songs of wonder and loss.

Rest, keeper of the fortress, and thanks. Watching and listening to your art has been one of the profound joys of my life.

--Chris Pierson, Lead Worldbuilder



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