Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Middling Earth Miniatures

In the 1980s a handful of miniature figure makers dominated the Fantasy Roleplaying Game scene. Grenadier, from the US, were your top-tier outfit, as evidenced by the lucrative licenses they acquired for merchandising - Dungeons and Dragons, Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game (these sculpts were snapped up by smaller outfits after Grenadier folded), and Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Roleplaying, or MERP.

These guys are from one of Grenadier's MERP box sets, the 'villain' set from The Lord of the Rings. In fact, some license has already been taken, as it includes a Vampire, a race which only appeared in The Silmarillion. I don't know whether Grenadier's license actually included this book as Christopher Tolkien has been quite protective of it with relation to Games Workshop's more recent license. There's precious little about these figures on the Internet - surely somebody else must have got them? But here they are anyway, and they are as follows:

Balrog, Warg, Gollum, Uruk-Hai Captain, Ringwraith, Cave Troll.

Not a bad selection, even if the scale is questionable - the Balrog's fine, but the troll doesn't impress with its size (especially after the recent movie version), and the Ringwraith would make an excellent Jawa, particularly as it has some handy 'sprigs' inside its hood, likely for highlighting as glowing eyes. Some of the postures are a little flat, too - the [unpictured] Vampire in particular. Detail-wise it's okay, albeit with a reasonably repetitive cloak and not a lot of opportunity for colour variation, but just standing still with its claws in the air doesn't make for a particularly formidable pose (it needs three other guys doing an M, a C and an A). As it happens, Tolkein's surviving writing is rather vague on what the Vampires (and indeed Werewolves) of The Silmarillion looked like, so I can't be too critical.

With regard to likenesses, my guess is that being sculpted around 1985 the sources for some of these are from the then not-too-old LotR animated movie from Ralph Bakshi. Certainly the Ringwraith, Gollum and Saruman are almost spitting images of the cartoon version, and the Uruk isn't far off it, if a little more detailed than on screen - likewise the Balrog, which is probably alongside Gollum my favourite of the set. I remember having niggles about the remainder - the [unpictured] Barrow Wight (not featured in any movie adaptation to date) is another not-greatly described creature, so here it's just a skeleton with a helmet. The Uruk would have been better served with a shield with Saruman's white hand emblem, although the Eye of Sauron design used here is a nice hat tip to Tolkien's own book cover design, and Grenadier must have liked it as they reused the shield on some undead orcs later, not of the MERP range, as far as I can tell.

I painted these around 1986, and as was customary then the paints were Humbrol enamels. I did the best I could - enamels are great for colour, but clunky to work with, and I much prefer today's acrylic paints for drying time and water-based clean up. The colours used were taken from the animated movie - hence [unpictured - argh!]'Saruman the White' being in red robes (one of the many baffling decisions made by Bakshi's team I suspect). Since taking these photos a few years ago I've stripped the figures down and basecoated them in black enamel for another go - hence the lack of colour pics of some of the guys. I'm still undecided about the palette to use - to adopt the more recent LotR trilogy colours would be more 'correct', but not 'true' to the sculpts, while Saruman, despite my best attempts, will probably still look too much like Santa (guys, what were you thinking?). Mark this up as a potential mini-project for this winter, and if they getdone, you'll get photos properly!

Addenda: I still regret not picking up Grenadier's 'Fellowship' box of heroes, which my old friend Derek did, and surely later purified by fire along with a hoard of other great D&D books and toys after a run-in with The Lord. Thanks to Paul M and Dave I'm putting together a surrogate Fellowship from similar models of various vintage and make. So far I have a Gandalf, Boromir (not the Bakshi 'viking' style, mind) and a Hobbit I'll likely make Frodo. Six to go - the hunt continues...

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