The Story Behind Your Favorite 'Lord of The Rings' Meme Is Actually Funnier Than You Think

Inexhaustible variations of Boromir's "One does not simply..." speech from the 2001 movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring have clogged social media for more than a decade, but the story behind the meme has gone largely unnoticed.

The meme's origins come approximately from the movie's midpoint. Once Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) makes it to Rivendell, Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) calls a council to determine what to do with the all-powerful One Ring. While only the fires of Mount Doom (from whence it was forged) can destroy the Ring, Boromir (Sean Bean), a prince of Gondor, is skeptical of their chances.

"One does not simply walk into Mordor," Boromir says. "Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly."

Its lofty but cowering language, combined with Bean's unforgettable delivery, has made Boromir's disparaging assessment of their chances the perfect object for memetic japery—it's a pompousness that's fun to pop.

But there's a little more to the scene behind the meme as is commonly supposed.

On Sunday, actor Josh Gad (Frozen) assembled multiple cast members from The Lord of the Rings for his YouTube series "Reunited Apart," including Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellan, director Peter Jackson (Dead Alive) and Boromir himself, Sean Bean. Gad brought up the Boromir meme, which Bean was well aware of. He offered a fresh line read, to laughter and clapping from the cast. Then Jackson stepped in with the behind-the-scenes story.

"Can I just say one thing about the scene?" Jackson said. "That entire speech that Sean had to deliver at the Council of Elrond was written the night before. It's long and we gave it to Sean the moment he arrived. What Sean did—and I thought it was very clever—is he got a print-out of the speech taped to his knee. It was on his knee."

Boromir's downcast gaze, seeming despair in the face of the challenge before them, was instead the result of an actor given last-minute lines. One does not simply memorize a speech about Mordor.

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"Not with ten thousand men could you memorize a script in one night," redditor samthewisetarly said, joking in response to a post sharing the behind-the-scenes trivia behind Boromir's downcast gaze. "It is folly."

Gad's livestream isn't the first time this bit of trivia from behind the scenes of The Fellowship of the Ring has been told. The 2013 book Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond by Brian J. Robb and Paul Simpson also share the anecdote.

The Mordor meme has been kicking around since at least 2014, according to Know Your Meme, beginning with a photoshopped image of Boromir leaning out of a car, captioned "One does not simply drive into Mordor."

One does not simply drive into Mordor.

— ilsa (@_venus1nfurs_) August 20, 2014

But while visual puns are the lifeblood of memes, Boromir's The Fellowship of the Ring meme can also be shorn of its imagery completely, to be used as a so-called "snowclone." Coined by economist and screenwriter Glen Whitman and linguist Geoffrey Pullum, a snowclone is a phrase or line so familiar that endless variants can be created for use by writers looking for an easy cliche or joke (the name derives from the idea of the Inuit language having a bunch of variants words for "snow"). Pullum suggested some other common snowclones, like "In space, no one can hear you X" or "X is the new Y."

Sean Bean at a party at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, celebrating and hyping "The Lord of the Rings" before it was even finished filming. GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images

Whether used cleverly or by lazy hacks, this versatility makes "One does not simply X into Mordor" more than a visual meme, but also a likely candidate for an existence beyond when most of its users are conscious of the movie scene from which it has been pulled. "One does not simply walk into Mordor" could be with us for a long time. One does not simply forget one does not simply walk into Mordor.