Text Editors in The Lord of the Rings

by Kieran Healy on July 30, 2011

Prompted by a passing thought about TextMate, I thought I’d make a comprehensive, accurate, unbiased, and irrefutable survey of text editors by way of comparison to locations in The Lord of the Rings.

TextMate: Minas Tirith

A once-great but now decaying city. Only the King has the power to renew it, but he is a long absent, indeed half-legendary figure—though there are persistent rumors that he is alive still in some distant land. In his stead, the city slowly falls in upon itself, kept in some sort of working order by its melancholy people. They can repair but not truly rebuild it, and they pray daily for the Return of the King.

BBEdit: The Shire

A quiet, long-overlooked land populated by simple folk who keep mostly to themselves. They are somewhat set in their ways, awkward in their manners, and superficially incapable of apparently simple tasks. Yet they hide deep roots and unexpected strengths.

Emacs: Fangorn

Vast, ancient, gnarled and mostly impenetrable, tended by a small band of shepherds old as the world itself, under the command of their leader, Neckbeard. They possess unbelievable strength, are infuriatingly slow, and their land is entirely devoid of women. It takes forever to say anything in their strange, rumbling language.

vi: Moria

Like Fangorn, ancient and deep, with hints of the long labor of a great people. There is, supposedly, a monumental city of stone down here somewhere but it’s so dark I can’t see a damn thing. No, wait! A shaft of light illuminates some runes! They read as follows:


The Wizard translates: “We cannot get out! We cannot get out! They are coming!”

Microsoft Word: Barad-dur

No need to explain this one.



John Quiggin 07.30.11 at 10:28 am

I guess I’ll claim Lothlorien for Nisus Writer – obscure, doomed to pass away at the end of the Third Age, but oddly beautiful and skilled in many languages


zebbidie 07.30.11 at 11:11 am

I’ll nominate any OSX editors as the 9 Kings of Men in Numenor, who were tempted by power and beauty and then became undead servants of Sauron (recognizable by his dead black turtleneck). They are condemned to haunt Reddit comment threads forever, defending a rapacious corporate monopolist. You may hear their mournful cry of ‘Windoze!!’ echoing up from the deep pits of Ars Technica…


marcel 07.30.11 at 11:34 am

Comprehensive? If you’re going to post something like this, you really have to do a bit more than 5 programs (and only one windows program so far as I can tell, one which was originally written for the Mac).

For years, xywrite was my text editor of choice. I finally switched to wordperfect for most things around 1997 and only gave up on xywrite entirely about 4 or 5 years ago. While WP is dying a lingering death, it was once dominant and I would have expected to see some location for it. Perhaps it’s across the seas, where the elves came from and will return to? Or maybe that’s (a) googledox.


Caleb 07.30.11 at 12:10 pm

If BBEdit is The Shire, what does that make Textwrangler? A hobbit hole?


Kieran Healy 07.30.11 at 12:17 pm

My guide is as comprehensive as it is accurate, unbiased, and irrefutable.


garymar 07.30.11 at 12:34 pm

My first commercial “word processor” was on a TRS-80 with 24K bytes of RAM (4K on the machine itself and 20 more on an extension drive). The software was called “Zorlof the Magnificent” — I kid you not — and had a picture of very wizardly looking figure gesturing out magically from the 5 inch floppy disk. From the label you’d think it was some kind of Dungeons & Dragons knock-off.

So in Kieran’s Middle Earth atlas it would fit nicely right on top of Weathertop.


sth 07.30.11 at 2:09 pm

Hmm. I’m not sure where the “new” editors (Sublime Text, Kod &c.) fit into this taxonomy. Wormtongue-era Rohan, maybe? Aglow w/false promises, ultimately hollow. Also, why am I filled with self-loathing as a result of considering the question?


Max G. 07.30.11 at 2:28 pm

Apple’s Pages is Isengard. Once a verdant garden of hope and tranquility, it was taken over by a mysterious, technologically advanced, and seemingly ageless man. Now one begins to wonder whether it can be trusted…


ben w 07.30.11 at 2:54 pm

Presumably in this scheme ed is Tom Bombadil.


ben w 07.30.11 at 2:55 pm

(Who is admittedly not a location, but then, MS Word isn’t a text editor.)


Ed Marshall 07.30.11 at 3:11 pm

No love for Lyx?


Shane 07.30.11 at 3:26 pm

Can we claim Mirkwood for sed?


cheem 07.30.11 at 4:30 pm

Scrivener: The Halls of Creation


Russell L. Carter 07.30.11 at 4:32 pm

The rise of emacs org-mode has been speeding things up sensationally oh these last 3 or 4 years or so. Without changing the underlying, ah, roots.

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them


garymar 07.30.11 at 4:47 pm

emacs orc-mode — the text editor that demands MANFLESH!


Simon Hawkin 07.30.11 at 4:56 pm

Highly incomplete but entertaining.


Rip Rowan 07.30.11 at 4:56 pm

Can someone please point the way to Valinor?


Barry Freed 07.30.11 at 6:13 pm

@JQ I never found that Nisus successfully made the transition to OS X. I found it clunky and very difficult to use said transition and I’d been using it for many years on the Mac (and relying on it for Arabic and Persian). So I’d say Númenor, doomed, yes, but all too long ago and now but a faded memory of past glories.


Barry Freed 07.30.11 at 6:13 pm

Uh, that’s “after said transition”


Chris W 07.30.11 at 7:39 pm

Yes, framing it as Moria vs Fangorn demonstrates “ubiased”, I’m sure.


JP Stormcrow 07.30.11 at 9:31 pm

The last reminds me of this little ditty from way back when (early ’90s).

Two versions of OS/2
so the small machines can fly.
Three versions of DOS
for the clueless in their homes.
Nine versions of UNIX
for the hackers late at night.
One version of Windows
for the Dark Lord on his throne.

In the land of Redmond, where the shadows lie.

One OS to rule them all, one OS to find them.
One OS to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them

In the land of Redmond, where the shadows lie.


JP Stormcrow 07.30.11 at 9:34 pm

Imagine italics on the last lines. And comment is also to Russell L. Carter@10.2.


Jon 07.30.11 at 9:35 pm

LaTeX would be … Rivendell? Intricate, detailed, beautiful and delicate, with little interest in interacting with the base, quotidian workings of the outside world.


GaryM 07.30.11 at 11:23 pm

Open Office: Orthanc

Supposedly independent of Barad-Dûr, it looks like a weak imitation of it, its creator enslaved to the Dark Lord’s will in many subtle ways.


ben w 07.31.11 at 12:56 am

LaTeX is a document format and one can write LaTeX documents in any of the editors mentioned (likely with the exception of Word).


sg 07.31.11 at 1:37 am

Maybe LaTeX is a language – elvish? Do elves hate margins?


ben w 07.31.11 at 1:46 am

Plain old ungussied-up TeX is what the Ainur sang to create Middle Earth.


Cosma Shalizi 07.31.11 at 1:58 am

25, 26: I submit that, clearly, TeX is Quenya, and LaTeX is Sindarin.


John Quiggin 07.31.11 at 2:11 am

@Barry: Take another look at NW Pro. The sword that was broken has been reforged.


Glen Tomkins 07.31.11 at 4:48 am

One can only conclude from the number and quality of outpourings on this thread that somewhere a Renaissance Festival village is missing all of its geniuses.


Sumana Harihareswara 07.31.11 at 5:33 am

nano shows up in the Silmarillion.


Twinarp 07.31.11 at 5:35 am

You missed the one with an almost LOTR name. ZARDAX. Text based on 80×24 green screen Not WSYWYG. Had to use very HTML like pairs to indicate bold italic etc. Yes they were and .

Am I just too damned old for this?


garymar 07.31.11 at 5:43 am

Renaissance Festival? Pfui!

The only epoch worthy of my awesomeness is the Hyperborean Age. Close runner-up is Lower Middle Earth.


Mike Kirby 07.31.11 at 6:34 am

Now do email clients!


Andrew Brown 07.31.11 at 8:51 am

@GaryM. Also, anyone who has ever written a macro for OpenOffice will be reminded of the scene in the films where Orcs are being born/spawned/compiled in the workshops beneath Orthanc.


EWI 07.31.11 at 10:20 am

@ Caleb

Bree, obviously.


M. Gordon 07.31.11 at 10:51 am

@Andrew Brown:
while(1) {Orc o = OrcFactory.getInstance();}


JP Stormcrow 07.31.11 at 1:27 pm

Cosma@28: More computing meets the the languages of the elves here.


AlexMagnus 07.31.11 at 2:12 pm

Emacs: “…and their land is entirely devoid of women.”???

Consider: Sacha Chua?


Justin 07.31.11 at 6:01 pm

Notepad++ = the White Tower. From there, one may see in many directions and cast a range of enchantments…be they of dark or light.


Andrew Brown 07.31.11 at 7:12 pm

dim oORC
dim Orc(1) as new com.sunless.star.property


Aaron 08.01.11 at 4:31 am

So MS Word is a text editor now? One would no sooner use Word for text editing than one would use vi for word processing.


liberal japonicus 08.01.11 at 5:16 am

My LOTR knowledge is minimal, so I don’t know if this would change John Quiggin’s location of Nisus http://tidbits.com/article/12220


Anderson 08.01.11 at 6:46 am

So WordPerfect is, I suppose, the land of Rhun to the east — you know it’s there, but that’s pretty much the limit of most people’s personal experience?

(This from a lawyer who spent about an hour converting a Word draft someone wrote into WP, because trying to work in Word makes me unhappy. Thanks to this post, I now realize my trouble stems from failing to yell at the computer in the Black Speech.)

(Actually, I would rather learn the Black Speech than learn Word.)


Q 08.01.11 at 1:54 pm

Maybe WordPerfect is like the Realm of Arnor/Rangers: Once a glorious empire, but crushed by the might of a rival, evil, empire. Some loyal remnants remain*, but hidden and unknown; of those that know of it at all, m0st think it vanished long ago.

* Mostly among a fairly mysterious group that claims a higher legitimacy to uphold order, but hides its secretes and actions from common folk.

Oh, And what’s Notepad?


DougR 08.01.11 at 4:09 pm

Vax EDT then becomes Iron Hills, or some other ancient Dwarven community where they labored to produce the Rings of Power long before the newcomers listed here.


eddie 08.01.11 at 6:12 pm

I remember the glittering caves of Ami Pro as having great depth and beauty. But nowadays it’s known as lotus symphony and it’s like Saruman won the battle of Fangorn :-(


eddie 08.01.11 at 6:13 pm

D’oh! Should have said Battle of Hornburg.


Anon 08.01.11 at 9:09 pm

Who is “Neckbeard”? You mean Treebeard, or is there some allusion that I’m not catching?


Jorah 08.02.11 at 1:06 am

No love for HomeSite? Perhaps it is The Lonely Mountain…


Jorah 08.02.11 at 1:06 am


Marcin Kowalski 08.02.11 at 2:27 pm

No escape from Moria for me :)


Wu 08.02.11 at 2:45 pm

Funny, but since when MS word is a text editor ¿?¿?? dammit, I’ve been too much time having fun with buck rogers outta space!!


Ed Marshall 08.02.11 at 5:36 pm

Neckbeard=Richard Stallman

Throw the name into google images and it becomes self-explanatory.


Davis X. Machina 08.02.11 at 11:32 pm

I still find myself, when tired, using Eric Myers’ VDE shortcuts and commands, many of which began life in Wordstar.

You never forget your first editor (I ran it on a Toshiba T1000 laptop, DOS 2.11, 640k RAM disk, which still runs.)


Nitin Nanivadekar 08.03.11 at 5:29 am

I would like to ask the morale of this story.
Text editors are the most important, yet the most underrated piece of software technology.
I am trying to figure out the editor for my personal use for days, if not month. The basic need is to use on any platform anywhere (SSH shell, anyone?) and it is faster than my thoughts. It may styling on request.
I am yet to find one for this exact, small need.
You seem to have missed e-texteditor. Sadly the world has missed out on Javascript editors with macro support, styling etc.


jafd 08.04.11 at 3:31 pm

Myself, am still using good old PC-Write to get my thoughts from brain to screen. Wondering yf there are any good work-alikes out there ?

(actually, what I really want is a muntithreading, multitasking, 64-bit version of MS-DOS. Real Computers don’t have mice or funny little pictures all over the screen. ;-) )


jafd 08.04.11 at 3:44 pm

Myself, am still using good old PC-Write to get my thoughts from brain to screen. Wondering yf there are any good work-alikes out there ?

(actually, what I really want is a muntithreading, multitasking, 64-bit version of MS-DOS. Real Computers don’t have mice or funny little pictures all over the screen. ;-) )

(Apologies for previous post. Recently got some new Eddresses, changed my old email to new, mistakenly used Eddress that doesn’t exist.)


flexlingie 08.04.11 at 4:24 pm

Emacs is devoid of female users? Don’t think so. Lame.


Andre 08.05.11 at 9:45 am

vi is rather like helms deep: hard to conquer, but saving the day… ;-)


bitblitter 08.05.11 at 10:14 am

I’m a rabid fan of Vim now, but I clearly remember my first time with it: dark, confusing, no menus, nothing but a bunch of tildes on the screen, even to write anything you had to know the command to do it.. I wondered why anyone on earth would want to use such a thing.
But once you learn the basics and change your mindset from mouse and menus centered to keyboard only – something that at first feels like a step backwards – it becomes clear that for text editing, Vim’s philosophy is the most efficient, never having to use the mouse at all. For someone used to notepad-style text editors, a vim user looks like some sort of magician, selecting, replacing, copying, cutting, going through the text blazingly fast without effort. Although, this comes at a price: when you have to use ‘normal’ text editors again, you feel like a giant turtle going through the mud, having to leave the keyboard to reach the mouse, type again, use the mouse, find your way through the menus.. gah!


Poached Hens 08.05.11 at 7:29 pm

Hahahaha… Too good. Wonder what editor Tolkein used to write the books.

Comments on this entry are closed.