LotR (was Re: reviews (but not of MC))

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Dec 10 18:31:54 EST 2003

Charlie snipped from the Telegraph article:
>[Tolkien's Middle Earth, as he saw it] "was not a name of a never-never land
>without relation to the world we live in... The theatre of my tale is this
>Earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is
>This quotation intrigues me. What does it boil down to? I'd have thought
>there are quite a few other imaginary elements there than just the
>historical period (elves, dwarves, ents, etc etc). And the continent where
>it's set bears no obvious relation to any I know.

Think "Europe" with the geology all wrong (JRRT admitted ruefully at one
point that he knew not a lot about geology, and questions from geologists
about how he justified some of his landscapes put him in a bit of a
quandry).  After the end of LotR, the world stopped being flat so that you
could sail to West-Over-Sea, and became a globe, so that (as it were) if
you sail West you pass *under* the magical lands, which are now on another
aethereal plane.  After that, any messing about with the coastline (causing
the British Isles and so forth) is a mere bagatelle.

>Nor is magic anything like
>such a prominent element in our world as it is in his fictionalized version.

But it was, in the culture he gave his heart to: the Northern mythology has
all the things his Middle Earth has apart from Ents, which he did
specifically invent, and hobbits, ditto.  He has ignored the squabbling
bloodthirsty Asgardians, but the rest is a dead lift, and why not?  Trolls,
shapeshifting bears (called Beorn, no less), dwarfs, elves, dragons,
wizards, talking birds...  magic rings ... :-)  Even as late as the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, somebody quite matter-of-factly recorded that a
dragon had been sighted flying over somewhere or other (Robyn will know
where to find it), sandwiched in among other important events of that year
such as who had taken over the rule of somewhere, and who married someone's

And I put it to you, quite seriously, that the "magic" in LotR is a very
paltry part of the story.  Fireworks and very fast communications -- and
the latter doesn't work particularly well nor do much good.  The "magic
healing" is herbalism mixed with the King's Evil being cured.  The "magic
duel" is a battle of wills, or in the case of Gandalf v The Balrog (best of
three falls) it's between two magical entities, but not "using magic" so
much as refusing to give up their nature.  The magic consists of there
still being magical persons on Middle Earth, mostly, rather than of them
"doing magic".  Lembas and well woven cloaks, not magic, maybe superior
craftsmanship (or craftselfship).

>I'd like to think that Tolkien was making a more interesting point than that
>the themes of LotR are relevant to our own lives, but I can't see how else
>to parse it.

He wasn't making a point at all, just telling the story he had in him to
tell, is the way I read it: that it happens to include such things as
trying to behave well rather than badly (if you are a hobbit, trying to be
brave and do the job you have been landed with, for instance) may if one
chooses be taken as a Moral Message, but Tolkien was pretty firmly
determined that he Had Not Written An Allegory, and I'm prepared to take
his word for it that such was not his intent.  Why should he be deemed to
have been "making a point"?  If he was, it may just have been "Listen! and
I will tell you of a wonderful dream" only without the Rood.  He invented
the languages almost as a priority, and the early mythology came first, and
he wrote LotR mostly because nobody was interested in his beloved
Silmarillion, and they kept demanding a "sequel" to *The Hobbit*.  (The
money was pleasant, but he didn't actually expect it.)

Anyhow, why is "the themes of LotR are relevant to our own lives" uninteresting?

>Which reminds me obliquely of a question I was wondering about the other
>day: how big is Middle-Earth meant to be? Just the bit where the action
>takes place I mean, not the havens of the west or any other havens that may
>possibly be located at other points of the compass. I'm sure Tolkien had it
>all worked out - he was obviously that kind of person - and by totting up
>the various journeys made on foot or horseback and how long they all took
>one could probably come up with a pretty good estimate of the distances
>involved. One thing's for sure, it's nothing like as big as our own dear
>Middle-Earth. I haven't read the book for quite a while, but I'd guess the
>whole of Tolkien's Middle-Earth would fit quite comfortably into Texas.
>Anyone know better?

I think you'll find that the maps have a scale, and that the area shown is
almost exactly that of Europe if one excludes Russia (which is presumably
beyond Mordor and Mirkwood to the East, where the map doesn't extend).  The
distance from Hobbiton to Mount Doom is approximately 1050 miles as the
crow flies, it's about 400 miles from Hobbiton to Rivendell, and so forth.
The map at the back of my hardback *The Two Towers* certainly seems pretty
clear about distance in miles.

It wouldn't fit comfortably into Texas anyway, because Texas lacks a
western seaboard, play fair!

Drat you, Charlie, I have a Latin exam in the morning and you have
*distracted* me.



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