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Tolkienology Chapter 3: middle earth- a time and a place


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#1 richsabre

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 09:27 PM

Hi and welcome to chapter 3 of what is so far a series going better than what I thought. Firstly I would like to thank all the support I have received from those who have been following my writings. Secondly I would like to announce that I have created a site specifically for publishing these ‘ramblings’ as it were, so that people interested have another place to read them outside this forum. Here is the link TOLKIENOLOGY.WEEBLY.COM I hope you like it. You can also subscribe to the feed, so you can get an update via email.

Last chapter we looked at the mysteries of Tolkien’s writings, and I was reminded that even though I had touched on some pretty in depth material, I hadn’t yet done a chapter on the basics.

So without further ado……

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Where better to start than the beginning? It’s a safe bet everyone reading this will have heard of Middle Earth, however the professor seemed to have a lot of confusion regarding his choice of words. What exactly does ‘middle earth’ mean?

Tolkien actually didn’t create the term middle earth, it comes from the word middle erd, which in itself comes from the word middangeard, the name of the inhabited lands of men between the seas. It also bears resemblance to the norse word midgard, the world of living between heaven and hell.

The confusion arises that many people think that middle earth is a fantasy world created by Tolkien, in which he places his dragons, balrogs, elves and so on. This is in fact incorrect and middle earth is our world in which we sit today.

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But no, Middle Earth is not a planet in a galaxy far far away (sorry couldn’t resist), but to use that last famous line as reference, what it is, is a long time ago.

Tolkien specifically stated that he didn’t think himself as writing fantasy. What he called it was mythopoeia-creating myths inside our own earth.

And indeed, taking this new fact, if Middle Earth is our earth, then the only fantasy that Tolkien ever created was the pre-history timeline.

To put this clearer, everything that happened in Middle Earth- Melkor, Sauron, the rings, Frodo, Gondor, Elves, hobbits, happened in our earth, just a very long time ago. How long ago? Well……(these are according to my sources- from books and other websites- not editable wikis, though if you have other numbers that are backed up id like to hear them, as ive known authors to be wrong before on dates.)

From the creation of the world, known as Arda (which includes middle earth and the undying lands)-to the events of the war of the ring, there is approximately a gap of 37 000 years. After the events of the trilogy finish and the 4th age starts, there is a gap of around 6000 years until Tolkiens’s time- ie the 20th century. This would place the war of the ring around 4000bc in our years, and the creation of Arda around 41 000 bc.

So if middle earth is our earth, then where would all of Tolkien's locations be now placed on a map? Well, if you look at a map of middle earth, it loosely represents the area of north western Europe. We know that Tolkien based his inspiration for The Shire on the Midlands of England, placing Bag End near Birmingham. Also Rivendell is sometimes loosely associated with Oxford. Gondor can be seen as Italy, and in some places- The Roman Empire (the splitting of the roman empire into Rome/Constantinople looks alot like the north/south realms of Arnor/Gondor), and Rohan can be seen as the various Germanic tribes. Mordor can be seen as the Black Sea and the lands about. (it would also put the colder north farthing of the shire around the lake district which is where I’m at….yeah gotta love being in the shire :D)

Of course there is a glaring problem here with matching locations on our maps, to locations on a middle earth map. They obviously can't be transposed directly. If Bag End is Birmingham, then id challenge anyone to travel due east for about 300 miles to get to oxford, and they’d most likely end up in the North Sea. But we must remember that Tolkien is not saying these places are their earth counterparts. They are more based on them. Tolkien himself states that it would be pointless looking for geological references as the days of the third age are long past, and the lands much changed. Here Tolkien is of course referring to the world's geological change from one super continent to those we know today.

Taking this we can say for certain that Tolkien is not trying to be geologically correct, as the shape of middle earth of course could not possibly change to our continents in a mere 6000 years. Here Tolkien is speeding up continental shift by many thousands of years.

So it can be said that Tolkien's creations are more of an 'alternate reality' or to be more precise, an 'alternate timeline,' as we actually know in our reality what was happening 6000 years ago, however according to Tolkien it is much different. Not to mention us having proof that the world is much older than the 43 000 years Tolkien is proposing. Also none of the places that we encounter in the hobbit, or the trilogy, or the silmarillion, existed in the same time as their counterparts- they couldn’t possibly have- we already know that 6000 years ago none of the places that Tolkien uses as inspiration would have existed.

If we look at the writings of Tolkien in this new light, then we only begin to see how clever he really was. For instance, take the downfall and sinking of the island of Numenor in the 2nd age. It has always been clear that the inspiration for this was of course the legend of Atlantis. But seeing as everything that happened in middle earth happened in our earth, then Tolkien is in fact saying that Numenor was Atlantis. It is Numenor that in fact fuelled that legend that we call Atlantis today, not the other way round.

Other examples are the Barrow Wights. The Barrows in England did not inspire Tolkien to write such material. The Barrow’s creators thousands of years ago were actually inspired by true events that happened many thousands of years before that. The same can be applied to almost every part of what was previously called Tolkien’s sources of ‘inspiration.’ This is how mythopoeia works.

So we can see here how Tolkien really pushed the boundaries of making his works ‘realistic.’ Not many writers after him (I can’t think of many, can you?) have made such a bold claim as to state their creations were the pre-history of our own earth.

Ok that’s it for this chapter. Next chapter I intend to look at goblins, orcs, half orcs, goblin men, uruk hai, snaga, and the confusion that is sometimes concerned with them., and if I can manage to physically write it, the icky sticky topic on how do orcs reproduce.

Peace

Rich
 


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#2 Angus Lee

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 09:51 PM

Thanks for Chapter 3!  I've visited your new site and subscribed to the RSS feed there so that I won't miss any new items :)


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#3 richsabre

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 09:54 PM

thanks alot

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#4 cordeirooo

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 11:38 PM

RSS'ed!

 

--

 

Hey, Rich.


I read something (in my native language) that disturbed me a lot and which I think you could expand a little bit:
J. R. R. Tolkien vs. George R.R. Martin (the text was a little biased but had good arguments)
It compared the world, the conflicts and what happen in each World (he even says there is nothing happening in Middle-Earth).

What do you think?

 


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#5 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 01:30 AM

thanks for subbing

as for the text do you have a link? i could then perhaps google translate it or something......i have to admit i have not read any game of thrones, i looked and for some reason it never seemed to appeal to me. what do you mean by nothing happening in middle earth? like it is rather empty of events? or something else?

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#6 cordeirooo

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 01:42 AM

richsabre said:

thanks for subbing

as for the text do you have a link? i could then perhaps google translate it or something......i have to admit i have not read any game of thrones, i looked and for some reason it never seemed to appeal to me. what do you mean by nothing happening in middle earth? like it is rather empty of events? or something else?

rich

 

Sure. Here is the link (the language is Portuguese).
The text is full of good arguments AND fallacies, so it's hard to get 100% of what he wants with the post.

 

For 'nothing happening' he says that the way Frodo walked until Mordor was empty of events. Middle-Earth seemed to have a very low populational density and every character was way one-sided (this last thing I agree, but as a good characteristic of M-E, not as pejorative).

 

If google-translator isn't enough, I can translate it for you; you just need to ask. :)


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#7 Azharh

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 02:47 AM

 First thing first, a big thank to rich for his wonderful articles about Tolkien's work !  As a big fan myself, I was amazed by how deep your work was here, congratz 

 

About Tolkien vs Martin : I've not read any of Martin's fine work (yet !), but I've heard about a lot, and enjoyed the first season of the TV adaptation 'Game of Thrones) by HBO.

My first thought on the question is : those two writers worked on two very different world and two different styles. While Martin's work is full of political intrigues, deception and people trying to seize the most disputed power over a divided and broken empire, Tolkien is more of a mythological work. Thus, two very different environements : Martin's heroes are versatile people, there is no 'right' or 'wrong', no 'good' or 'bad' people. The environement here is quite 'realistic' ; Tolkien's heroes evolve in a manichean world. Two sides : the 'free people' against the 'evil Mordor'. It is so since it's a mythological and epic world.

In 'A Song of Ice and Fire', there's a lot of various political, cultural or military  events that formed the main plot. In 'The Lord of the Rings', there is one main event, although a lot of other important events are said to happen at the same time. That's why, if one don't take this writing contest into consideration, one could think nothing important happens in Middle-Earth.



#8 lleimmoen

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 03:41 AM

There are guys like Stephen King who wish they had done the same Tolkien did, putting everything in one "world" so to speak. They even wish that to the extent that they start doing it as a post script. Tolkien was very clever as a writer to have things under control, even though it often meant creating some problems along the way, as with the re-telling of the Hobbit for instance.



#9 Mattr0polis

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 04:09 AM

Thanks yet again, richsabre!

Can someone maybe help me understand what is what with all the different 'extra' books? After I finish the current book series I'm reading I'm definitely going to finally re-read The Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings trilogy again. But this LCG and richsabre's articles have me very intrigued to read some of the extra books as well for the first time. But it's very confusing.

There's the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, 12 volumes of The History of Middle Earth, something called Lost Tales, the Children of Hurin and then song or poem books like The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Bilbo's Last Song and maybe others?

The other confusing part is that then it seems like there is a bunch of cross-over, where some of this stuff is in the Silmarillion I think or in the Histories like Lost Tales, and then there's chapters in the Silmarillion for stuff like Children of Hurin? And there's also a 2nd Edition of the Silmarillion now?

I can't keep it all straight, lol.

Can anybody break down what is what, what is worth reading and what is not needed because it's included elsewhere? You guys just know so much more about this stuff than I do.

If so, thanks!



#10 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 04:19 AM

firstly thanks for the link cordeirooo, ill look into that tonight and get back on what i think

thanks azharh and mattropolis for your kind words, and in answer to your question mattropolis, i think the confusion becomes from the fact that much of the books with JR's name on them were published after his death, sometimes a long time after his death.

i would say the next main one after the trilogy and the hobbit is the silmarillion, i didnt know that a 2nd edition was out, my copy is about 8 years old. i intend to re-read it in very soon as my first age knowledge is a bit rusty.

the history selection is a very intersting read, and very detailed. however obviously isnt a 'story' but an analysis of jrr's works, including old drafts that are an excellent read- i have some of them however with moving house they are currently lost, which is a real shame as theyd come in useful writing these. they were complied by his son christopher- as is the rest of his works released after his death.

the lost tales i believe are the first 2 volumes of the history series, i have not really read them, but i believe they are alot of early material, much of which was changed

the unfinished tales is excellent - it details many of the well known aspects of the hobbit/lord of the rings, and gives alot more info on istari, how gandalf met thorin in bree to go on the quest to erebor, also i think some things about numenor- its really good, and is a much 'lighter' read than the histories, however yet again, my copy is lost with the others, so im having to rely on memory and some other books i have that arent always accurate!

as for the children of hurin, i am going to be completely honest and say for some reason i cannot pick that book up- i dont know why......


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#11 Mattr0polis

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 04:57 AM

Thanks, richsabre.

Ok, so if I'm interested in reading just the 'canon' materials then I can just read:

-The Hobbit

-The Lord of the Rings trilogy

-The Silmarillion

-The Children of Hurin

-Unfinished Tales(??)

-Adventures of Tom Bombadil/Bilbo's Last Song

 

Is that everything?

It sounds like I can skip the Histories if they are old drafts and analysis but even the Lost Tales ones? And the Unfinished Tales sound like they are some of the same stories that are in the Silmarillion just in an unfinished state?

Thanks.



#12 lleimmoen

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:37 AM

But you should surely read the Farmer Gil of Ham. It is a most entertaining short story. It has nothing to do with Arda (I guess, which kinda contradicts what I said above) but it has a very interesting dragon in it.



#13 lleimmoen

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:44 AM

ps: I know some people obviously love it but I would stay far away from the GoT guy. I know he was inlfuenced by Tolkien's writing but it has nothing of its charm, beauty or message. Admirerers, please do not jump the gun, I am not trying to make you angry, I am just trying to save a soul from wasting time just as I did shortly, I think there are better ways to go.



#14 lleimmoen

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:49 AM

pps: Tolkien has a good versus evil aspect in his work, yes. But there are many characters that lie in between. Silmarillion is filled with Elves of dark intentions (couldn't find a better description), something which is rarely (or never) shown in the LotR.



#15 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:08 AM

@cordeirooo

thanks, the link worked, here is my thoughts

the writer (and if the writer is reading this i mean no offense in any of the following- we all have opinions, and mine jsut happens to be hugely different to yours) has obviously not grasped the lord of the rings, or indeed middle earth properly. they are comparing game of thrones universe, which im led to belive the books is all based on armies and political struggles? to tolkiens universe- the two just aren't comparable. they arent about the same thing. its like saying 'man....have you read that bible? talk about boring, its all about religion.wheres all the dragons at?'

they state no one lives in middle earth, there are barely any cities- well thats how tolkien wanted it to be- middle earth just isnt as populated as other book's worlds, take elves- they in the 3d age are a dwindling people, dwarves are too busy underground, and lets not forget that we dont even see most of the land on a middle earth map. there are vast deserts to the south, and ice bay to the north, and plains to the east, and this brings me to my main point-

tolkiens mastery was in SUBTLETY-i always say this on forums, too many authors after him go far too epic. every book has to be 900 pages, filled with epic battles in the 100,000s with mages and skeletons raging against knights with lances, and spells that can destroy cities, and so on. no.....tolkien doesnt play like that at all. (unless we're talking Morgoth stories) and the world of middle earth is all the more beautiful for it. when we travel with the hobbits, and then the fellowship, it is so much more personal that we dont see many people. and remember they are going through the wilds in secret  which the author fails to mention. also he states that bag end to mordor is 400 miles??? wrong. it is about 300 miles from bag end to rivendell.then the journey has to go from rivedell to caradhras, then to hollin, then through moria- 40 miles in itself, then lorien, down the great river, over emyn muil, dead marshes, to the black gate, down into ithillien, to minas morgul, up to cirith ungol, THEN you get into mordor. so yes, it is much more, even as the nazgul flies, but the journey winds its way through mountains and forests and rivers, on a path that certainly isnt direct.

the author is stating LOTR's faults is that what happens in the entire trilogy, happens in about a chapter other books- that to me is a good point. it gets tiresome to have too many sub plots- take aragorn and eowyn- that little romance thing is a sub plot- but it doesnt interfere with the main book. i ve read fantasy books that have romantic sub plots which makes you feel like you're reading softcore pornography.

phew.....sorry, got worked up.....ive really got to go and calm down after that last statement...anyways....

the author states there are no internetal conflicts...apart from..gollum/smeagol and boromir.......well these two are the best examples of a split personality /internal struggle i can think of. also the fellowship are torn about where to go....follow frodo? go to claim the throne? go and help your own nations?

finally the author ends with the point the basically says tolkien rambles on and says 1 sentence in a paragraph. again his style, but i think more importantly, LOTR was written decades before any martin work.

now of course i am being biased here..how can i not be? i love tolkiens work. however i think it remains that my points are valid. i have not read any of martins work, i am sure they are amazing and his success shows that, however i can probably say with 99% certainty that alot of it will have been inspired by tolkien, as is just about every fantasy writer of the 20/21st century. i mean even stephen king based his dark tower series on LOTR- just with the 'king twist'

so no, i do not think LOTR is slow, boring, empty, rambling (you want rambling? this is rambling :P) however i guess everyone is entitled to their opinion

in a world filled with new books trying to break the 'cliche fantasy' (and we know tolkien didnt technically write fantasy) it is refreshing to have a good old fashion adventure- and that is my honest opinion-besides who set that 'cliche'? tolkien did....theres a reason its timeless

 

 

 

 

 

 


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#16 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:11 AM

Mattr0polis said:

 

Thanks, richsabre.

Ok, so if I'm interested in reading just the 'canon' materials then I can just read:

-The Hobbit

-The Lord of the Rings trilogy

-The Silmarillion

-The Children of Hurin

-Unfinished Tales(??)

-Adventures of Tom Bombadil/Bilbo's Last Song

 

Is that everything?

It sounds like I can skip the Histories if they are old drafts and analysis but even the Lost Tales ones? And the Unfinished Tales sound like they are some of the same stories that are in the Silmarillion just in an unfinished state?

Thanks.

 

 

yes, i think so, though i would recommend reading unfinished tales, it really is excellent, and much of the information is 'fresh', though you are right- it is more 'extras' than core reading

i would definatly read the silmarillion before the others, as it is sort of needed for understanding the others


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#17 spalanzani

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:51 AM

You've done it again, Rich! Another fantastic entry, definitely gives me something to look forward to on a Monday  I've only read the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, and none of this other stuff, but the more of these chapters I read, the more my resistance to spend money diminishes! Damn you! I'm definitely going to get The Hobbit next, anyway, but am really interested in these Unfinished Tales, and so by extension, the Silmarillion, too...

As for the comparison with George that has arisen here, well, I've read up to halfway through his latest offering at the minute, and I must say, I like them both equally. It's like has already been said here, the only thing they really have in common is the fact they'll both be found on the fantasy shelf of a book shop. The pseudo-medieval world in which both take place aside, they deal with different themes and do so in a different way, so any comparison drawn between the two is largely meaningless, anyway, in my view. I like both series about equally, for different reasons. But both are eclipsed by my love of that other George and his universe...


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#18 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 07:05 AM

thank you spalanzani, im pleased im spreading the bug as it were, and seeing as ive lost most of the other JRR works, you and me both may be giving the tolkien estate a lot of our money soon

id recommend getting and reading the hobbit before the films come out, as that book gives just pure nostalgia every time i revisit it- it just fires up the imagination like no other- its basically like the first chapters of the fellowship all the way through


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#19 Budgernaut

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 08:59 AM

 I think emphasizing that Tolkien was writing mythology rather than fantasy is an excellent point to make. My version of The Fellowship of the Rings has a very long introduction written by Christopher Tolkien that talks about Middle Earth and his father's intentions for writing the story, and so does The Silmarillion. Understanding that it was supposed to be a mythology of our earth before I even started reading it might be one of the reasons I didn't feel bogged down by scenery or the pace at which the story progresses.

Anyway, great topic.


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#20 richsabre

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 09:25 AM

excellent points budgernaut- thanks for reading


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