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I read on the Persian Wikipedia page for Warcraft that Richard Knaak got the idea for the Warcraft series from the Lord of the Rings books and had to get permission from Tolkien's son to use the idea.

Is this true, or just fantasy?

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    Knaak writes books about the Warcraft world. If he derives his ideas from anyone, I imagine it's the developers at Blizzard.
    – gef05
    May 9 '12 at 10:16
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    Everybody gets their ideas from Tolkein. Some of them are just indirectly.
    – BBlake
    May 9 '12 at 22:25
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No. The idea is absurd. By the time that Warcraft came out D&D had already taken the fantasy canon that Tolkien had helped create and spread it around so much it's impossible to source where a modern person would have gotten these ideas from. It's pure fantasy that they had to get the rights to use what they did in Warcraft. As a child in the 80's I played a great many more games than Warcraft that borrowed from Fantasy lore. Finally, World of Warcraft isn't much like LOTR: There are far too many wizards, for one. ;)

Further, even if he did, Tolkien also borrowed most of the ideas from folklore, and, the hobbits themselves were a borrowed idea. Taking many ideas from different sources and combining them originally is the definition of creativity.

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    However it should be noted, there are similar contrasts between the Lich King in Wrath of the Lich King - World of Warcraft, and LOTR. Whether or not this was a "borrowed idea or just an easter egg of sorts for the community, is another question.
    – Jared
    May 10 '12 at 21:53
  • I think it's clear that Wrath of the Lich King took a lot of it's visual style from the movie, honestly, but he didn't ask about that. May 11 '12 at 15:04
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Warcraft borrows far more heavily from Games Workshop than directly from Tolkien. Green Orcs are not Tolkien; they're pretty much Warhammer, tho'. Warhammer's success resulted in the green orc meme (and "ork" spelling) escaping into the wild.

Even the nature of the game is far more Warhammer than it is Tolkien. Tolkien shows a few brave men turn the tide; warhammer is unending war, and heroes make no lasting difference. Warcraft is far closer to that.

Further, anything licensed by Tolkien's estate clearly bears the license mentioned; you'd see either a Tolkien Ent., Christopher Tolkien, or Saul Zaentz license announcement on every boot if it had been.

It can be said fairly that, without Tolkien and LOTR, we probably would not have seen anything with the particular tropes of Warcraft, but it's only by filtration through multiple generations of games that the distinctive elements come to be present in Warcraft.

For completeness: Warhammer attributes (in early editions) much of its material to parody of both AD&D and Tolkien. It's a remove or two from Tolkien. Inspired by AD&D, it parodied it, and integrated some ideas direct from Tolkien in parody, others in tribute, and many more come from the AD&D warpings of Tolkien and other fantasy writers' takes on Tolkien.

Without authorial statements to the contrary, it's rather easy to point out that LOTR is not the most likely candidate for the primary source. It's rather more difficult to say that Warhammer is specifically a source point, but it's not hard to point out that it's more likely, by preponderance of the evidence, to be the divergence point than LOTR itself.

We can clearly rule out a license, since no text indicative of a license is present, and both Christopher Tolkien and Saul Zaentz are incredibly nasty about requiring appropriate license notices on the outside of anything licensed. They do this to prevent the various IP's from falling into public domain.

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    Actually they originally wanted to make a video game about Warhammer's world and came up with warcraft because Games Workshop didn't sell them the right to do it.
    – Kalissar
    May 22 '13 at 12:22
  • Warcraft Orcs are NOT green, they are brown. Gul'dan was the first orc to turn green, due to excessive use of Fel Magic. After the Dark Portal was opened to Azeroth, the demo. Mannoroth was slain, and the orcs drank his blood, turning them green. Dragonmaw and Mag'har orcs never used Fel Magic or drank Mannoroth's blood and have stayed brown.
    – FuxieDK
    Dec 5 '13 at 8:53
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    @Fuxie: Warcraft orcs being brown is a recent development, dating only from the Burning Crusade expansion in 2007. Prior to that, all orcs were green as inspired by Warhammer. That Blizzard decided to have green orcs be a by-product of the Burning Legion doesn't mean that green wasn't their original colour as far as real-world inspiration goes.
    – 3Doubloons
    May 8 '14 at 4:50
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    @FuxieDK - I have to agree with 3Doubloons on that one. The orcs were originally green. The idea that drinking demon blood is what TURNED them green wasn't introduced until WarCraft III in 2002. That concept was then expanded on in the Burning Crusade expansion for World of WarCraft, at which point we were shown that their original skin color is brown. In fact, when we first came through the portal in BC, we immediately found RED orcs and thought THAT was the original color. But nope, it's brown.
    – Omegacron
    Dec 23 '14 at 19:02
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    @aramis Shame that Nathans answer got marked as correct when in fact your answer is the correct one. Warcraft came to life after Games Workshop said NO. kotaku.com/5929161/…
    – Cherubel
    Sep 17 '15 at 13:10
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aramis hit the nail on the head, in his answer - Warcraft is inspired by Warhammer. Kotaku supports this:

Allen Adham hoped to obtain a license to the Warhammer universe to try to increase sales by brand recognition. Warhammer was a huge inspiration for the art-style of Warcraft, but a combination of factors, including a lack of traction on business terms and a fervent desire on the part of virtually everyone else on the development team (myself included) to control our own universe nixed any potential for a deal.

I also want to point out that Richard A. Knaak did not "get the idea" for Warcraft, except from Blizzard. According to BlizzPlanet:

They approached him because of his Dragonlance books. Some of the heads of Blizzard had grown up on his Dragonlance works and asked him to write for both Warcraft and Diablo.

According to Knaak's own website:

It was his work and creativity that caught the eye of Blizzards, and they made a deal with him to write the lore for Warcraft and Diablo.

and

It is interesting to point out that Richard Knaak played Warcraft II and a little bit of WoW in order to get acquainted with the lore.

See also this related answer on the similarities between Warhammer 40K and Blizzard's Starcraft.

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On top of what everybody said: Tolkien and his estate do not have the copyrights over myth and folklore. Anyone can use elves, orcs etc. on their own works (as long as you don't brazenly and completely copy others' designs). Warcraft's fantasy races such as orcs, elves, goblins, orcs etc. are in the public domain and Blizzard never needed to ask anyone permission to use those.

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  • @amarth no.
    – Marvel Boy
    Sep 28 '20 at 15:47
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    Just read up on the Beowulf and old english use from there :) Why I deleted the comments. Arguably the orcs and elves in Tolkien's works are quite different from those in old fairy tales, but then the same could be said about Warhammer orcs or whatever.
    – Amarth
    Sep 28 '20 at 15:48

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