LotR (was Re: [DWJ] Re: humor in fantasy)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Feb 16 08:23:43 EST 2006

Otter commented on LotR:

>I have reread the whole trilogy several times, with greater or
>lesser pleasure.  The most recent time I was particularly struck
>by the absence of wild animals.  And there are very few birds
>who do not have a role to play -- no birds going about
>their avian business, just crows and ravens and eagles.
>I was also struck by how much _landscape_ there is.  It's
>easy to imagine that the author did a lot of walking, but was
>not much interested in wildlife.

I always noticed how empty the whole of Middle Earth seems to be.  It isn't
just a lack of birds, and of wildlife apart from one fox at the beginning;
there's a lack of *anybody or anything* who/that isn't in some way part of
the story of the hobbits' quest.  In this area the size of Western Europe
there are no villages on the roads, only about three towns, and about three
cities.  I know it's all at war, but just being at war doesn't stop humans'
dwellings from existing or at the very least having existed and still being
there in ruins, as witness Europe in 1945.

I think it just has to be accepted as being a Story with vestigial
surroundings, rather than as a place with a story happening in it.  The
manufacturies for the well-stuffed armchairs simply don't appear, as it
were; Tolkien liked the results of the industrial revolution whilst having
no interest in the sordid details, I guess.

This is a reference to a comment by Pat Wrede in an article on writing
fantasy worlds: she had praised someone for putting a well-stuffed but
scruffy armchair in a pub-scene, as having with a single prop told the
reader all about the economic set-up in this world, but the girl who had
written that chair into the scene had no idea what its presence implied.
As soon as I read Pat Wrede's remarks I realised what it was that had
somewhat niggled me about LotR: at its simplest it can be put as, "woollen
clothing and not a single sheep in sight" -- let alone bales of wool being
taken to markets to be sold and turned into cloth.

(What are elven clothes made of, and who produces the raw material, I wonder?)

I can live with this lack, just as I can live with the servants in Jane
Austen's work being pretty-much absent.  The servants must *be* there or
the food wouldn't be on the table, and I don't mind too much not having
them appear on-stage; the mercers and weavers must be in Middle Earth
somewhere, even if they and their dwellings and retail outlets are
invisible.  Just because there is no commerce in the story, it doesn't mean
there's none in the world.


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