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Old 12-07-2015, 07:14 AM   #1
Zigūr
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"Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages"

Hello everyone,

Has anyone read Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages, a book of critical essays edited by Jane Chance and Alfred K Siewers and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2005?

I stumbled upon it a couple of weeks ago in the literary criticism section of a local bookstore and it caught my eye because my PhD thesis (currently under examination) is partially concerned with understanding connections between the medieval and the modern in Professor Tolkien's narratives.

In general, the essays argue for various understandings of Professor Tolkien's work as part of a conversation between the medieval and the modern in literature. Several of the essays situate the narratives of Arda, and The Lord of the Rings in particular, in a milieu populated largely by nineteenth-century fictions such as the works of Walter Scott, Tennyson and of course William Morris. It has also introduced me to the (constructed) legend of Ossian and the works of James Macpherson, which I was in fact not familiar with before, and which set a precedent for the Red Book of Westmarch.

The first essay, by Verlyn Flieger, makes a vigorous and compelling argument for the consideration of The Lord of the Rings as a postmodern narrative, discussing the way in which Frodo and Sam recognise themselves, effectively, as characters in a story - the ongoing narrative of the history of Arda, with the light of the Phial of Galadriel as their connection to the mythic past.

While I realise academic scrutiny of Professor Tolkien's work is not always everyone's cup of tea - I appreciate that many prefer to view the narrative of Eä as a thing in itself, to be discussed according to its own terms - I was curious to start a discussion, if possible, about how people perceive the modern and the medieval in these texts, and how Professor Tolkien perhaps uses one to comment on the other, and both to comment on his own context.

One thing that does irk me about these essays, and others of their kind, is that they are typically heavily The Lord of the Rings-centric and are often very reluctant to explore The Silmarillion or any of the enormous number of further narratives published in The History of Middle-earth which also elucidate and comment upon each other and open up new avenues of discourse, so that might be a worthy thing to consider.

So, what is your opinion of the role of the modern and the medieval in Professor Tolkien's work?
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Old 12-07-2015, 09:06 AM   #2
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Zigur, I'd love to participate on this discussion. My Doctoral Dissertations aren't directly relevant, though. And my Tolkien stuff is ....adaptable, kinda, to how I've developed writings.

PM me, to let me know if you'd value those adaptations. There's ways to bridge, (I reckon it'd be really fun (I'll share the ideas in the PM, if I hear back). And I'm happy to wait, first, to see how this discussion goes with others (i.e. how 'popular' it is).

And - even in a 1:few posters, I'll stick it out, with you. If my input is needed, beyond this point.

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Old 12-09-2015, 09:00 AM   #3
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Well hopefully I can stimulate some public discussion first.

I finished reading the book today, and I quite recommend it, although some background knowledge of literary theory, Victorian literature and Anglo-Saxon poetry is useful for some of the chapters which presuppose more assumed knowledge on the part of the reader.

A couple of things stood out from the final two chapters, which I read today. One of them is by Ted Nasmith, one of the great Tolkien illustrators, who is of course responsible for my favourite representation of the Great Enemy in "Morgoth punishes Hśrin". (http://tednasmith.poverellomedia.com...shes_Hurin.jpg

Considering modern influences, he describes how his 1975 representation of Barad-dūr (http://tednasmith.poverellomedia.com..._Barad-dur.jpg) was influenced by the Douaumont Ossuary at Verdun. Nasmith states that "I remember thinking <Barad-dūr> ought to look bleak, cold and like a giant gravestone."
I think this image of the Dark Tower might work when considering the enduring foundations which stood in Mordor for most of the Third Age as they could not be destroyed, but I personally do not share this view of the tower as a whole. Personally I think Barad-dūr should seem a place of sinister activity: industry, armament and torment. It is, after all a "vast fortress. armoury, prison, furnace of great power." This image (http://woutart.deviantart.com/art/Barad-dur-176142534) comes closest to my mental image of the Dark Tower: somewhat like the film version, but less stylised; more like a grotesque exaggeration of a medieval fortress built up to mountain-like proportions, blended with elements of a factory, a foundry, a barracks and a prison.

In that sense, perhaps Barad-dūr is a "modern" structure in that it evokes some of the immense fortifications which were used in the First World War, but I almost feel as if it is meant to be more like a modern industrial city crossed with a military fortress: innumerable dark buildings, smoke and heat and noise, soldiers training and slaves working, and above it all the "tower" proper from which Sauron broodingly studies the world. Personally I also imagine that Sauron's orders would only really be conveyed through lieutenants and intermediaries. Unlike Peter Jackson's "Hobbit", can you imagine an Orc ever being permitted into the presence of the Dark Lord himself? In that sense, as well, Sauron is the "modern" leader in the houses of parliament or the palace or what have you who leads only from the rear.

Another point comes from the final essay and is concerned with the desolation of so much of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings. This argues that "Sauron's hatred of life, especially free life, has led him to try to create conditions that depopulate Middle-earth and that isolate the populations it still has."

I wonder if this is another point of modern vs medieval. Is Middle-earth so sparsely populated because of a "modern" programmatic policy on the part of Sauron, or is it a "medieval" representation of the days when human society was less consistently spread and there simply was more wilderness, which perhaps would be something Professor Tolkien might favour?

I'll raise any other points of interest as I review the earlier chapters. I hope someone finds this stimulating.
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Old 12-11-2015, 03:39 PM   #4
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Yes, Barad-dūr definitely was a dark satanic mill, more deserving of the title than anything Blake saw in his lifetime. Similar to your description, I imagine the tower itself as the mere pinnacle of a military-industrial iceberg - much of it probably sobterranean, as in Isengard after Saruman changed it (or built into the mountain side). The passage from The Road to Isengard which you quote says that Saruman's New and Improved Isengard was "only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of [...] Barad-dūr, the Dark Tower", and I think we can infer a lot, mutatis mutandis, about the latter from the description of the former a little further up in the text:
Quote:
Originally Posted by LotR Book Three Ch. VIII, The Road to Isengard
Many houses there were, chambers, halls, and passages, cut and tunnelled back into the walls upon their inner side, so that all the open circle was overlooked by countless windows and dark doors. Thousands could dwell there, workers, servants, slaves, and warriors with great store of arms; wolves were fed and stabled in deep dens beneath. The plain, too, was bored and delved. Shafts were driven deep into the ground; their upper ends were covered by low mounds and domes of stone, so that in the moonlight the Ring of Isengard looked like a graveyard of unquiet dead. For the ground trembled. The shafts ran down by many slopes and spiral stairs to caverns far under; there Saruman had treasuries, store-houses, armouries, smithies, and great furnaces. At night plumes of vapour steamed from the vents, lit from beneath with red light, or blue, or venomous green.
I also agree that the idea that Sauron recieving reports or issuing an order by an Orc is absurd. Gorbag describes dealing with a Nazgūl as a harrowing experience; Sauron's own presence would probably have reduced any mere Orc to a gibbering wreck.

As for the sparse population of Middle-earth, I think we ought to remember that we only see the north-west in the book, and that after centuries of war, civil-war and general decline. No doubt Eriador was more densely populated while the North Kingdom flourished. Tharbad, on the fords of the Gwathló, was once a city.

I think the author of the essay you quote is generally right that Tolkien's work in general harks back to an age where towns and cities were fewer and wilderness more widespread, but I'd still maintain that the state of Eriador and Rhovanion at the end of the Third Age, with vast spaces of unpopulated wilderness interspersed with rare pockets of settlements, was untypical.

Rhūn and Harad, where Sauron held sway, are another matter entirely. We know from Tolkien's Notes on motives in the Silmarillion (Myths Transformed section in HoME vol. 10: Morgoth's Ring) that Sauron had no problem with life as such, as long as he could order and control it. We also know that his armies drawn from these countries vastly outnumbered the forces of the West. I therefore assume that his policy in the territories he controlled, rather than aiming at depopulation, would on the contrary have engineered population growth in a precisely planned, supervised fashion, breeding masses of soldiers and slaves according to his requirements. About the means of implementing such a policy I don't care to speculate, but I doubt they involved something as romantic as Mother's Crosses.
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Old 12-11-2015, 05:07 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
Yes, Barad-dūr definitely was a dark satanic mill, more deserving of the title than anything Blake saw in his lifetime. Similar to your description, I imagine the tower itself as the mere pinnacle of a military-industrial iceberg - much of it probably sobterranean, as in Isengard after Saruman changed it (or built into the mountain side). The passage from The Road to Isengard which you quote says that Saruman's New and Improved Isengard was "only a little copy, a child's model or a slave's flattery, of [...] Barad-dūr, the Dark Tower", and I think we can infer a lot, mutatis mutandis, about the latter from the description of the former a little further up in the text...
I always inferred that Barad-dur was an industrial approximation of Angband, with Thangorodrim, one of the three monstrous peaks Morgoth raised to tower over the warren-like subterranean superstructure, being Sauron's influence. But whereas Morgoth the Vala could raise peaks from the tortured earth, Sauron the Maia could only erect a Babel-like approximation of stone built on the backs of slave labor. Thus the greater works of the 1st Age are mirrored in miniature by the latter works, such as Thranduil's demesne recalling Menegroth.

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I also agree that the idea that Sauron recieving reports or issuing an order by an Orc is absurd. Gorbag describes dealing with a Nazgūl as a harrowing experience; Sauron's own presence would probably have reduced any mere Orc to a gibbering wreck.
Hence, the Mouth a Sauron, a mortal lieutenant of Barad-dur, "was crueler than any orc". One needs a good deal of chutzpah to treat with Sauron.

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As for the sparse population of Middle-earth, I think we ought to remember that we only see the north-west in the book, and that after centuries of war, civil-war and general decline. No doubt Eriador was more densely populated while the North Kingdom flourished. Tharbad, on the fords of the Gwathló, was once a city.

I think the author of the essay you quote is generally right that Tolkien's work in general harks back to an age where towns and cities were fewer and wilderness more widespread, but I'd still maintain that the state of Eriador and Rhovanion at the end of the Third Age, with vast spaces of unpopulated wilderness interspersed with rare pockets of settlements, was untypical.

Rhūn and Harad, where Sauron held sway, are another matter entirely. We know from Tolkien's Notes on motives in the Silmarillion (Myths Transformed section in HoME vol. 10: Morgoth's Ring) that Sauron had no problem with life as such, as long as he could order and control it. We also know that his armies drawn from these countries vastly outnumbered the forces of the West. I therefore assume that his policy in the territories he controlled, rather than aiming at depopulation, would on the contrary have engineered population growth in a precisely planned, supervised fashion, breeding masses of soldiers and slaves according to his requirements. About the means of implementing such a policy I don't care to speculate, but I doubt they involved something as romantic as Mother's Crosses.
That the East may well have had a far greater population than the West is evident in the cyclical migration of tribes forced from east to west either by overpopulation, lack of resources or thirst for conquest like the Easterlings and Edain in the 1st Age, and in the 3rd Age the Wainriders, the Balchoth, the Variags, and even the Éothéod.
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Old 12-12-2015, 07:23 PM   #6
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Yes, Barad-dūr definitely was a dark satanic mill, more deserving of the title than anything Blake saw in his lifetime.
A very apt way of putting it. Your statement that "we can infer a lot, mutatis mutandis, about the latter from the description of the former" is an excellent point, and I actually wrote a short article about this on my blog:http://opinionscanbewrong.blogspot.c...ntagonist.html
In the article I discuss how, while Sauron's characterisation and situation are largely confined to texts beyond The Lord of the Rings proper, we can infer a great deal from the way Saruman is both characterised and represented as a kind of 'lesser facsimile' of Sauron.

This itself could be considered something of a modern flourish on Professor Tolkien's part, as Saruman can become the lens through which the almost unfathomable evil of Sauron is understood.
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Hence, the Mouth a Sauron, a mortal lieutenant of Barad-dur, "was crueler than any orc". One needs a good deal of chutzpah to treat with Sauron.
A fine way of putting it.
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That the East may well have had a far greater population than the West is evident in the cyclical migration of tribes forced from east to west either by overpopulation, lack of resources or thirst for conquest like the Easterlings and Edain in the 1st Age, and in the 3rd Age the Wainriders, the Balchoth, the Variags, and even the Éothéod.
Both of your points about population are well made. Pitchwife's remarks about "centuries of war, civil-war and general decline" are an interesting point as well, suggesting the kind of attrition and depopulation modern warfare caused. That being said, the idea of continuous warfare is arguably something that could be attributed to the Middle Ages and the early Modern period, particularly of course obvious examples like the Hundred Years' War and the disastrous Thirty Years' War.

In the book, it is argued of the battles in The Lord of the Rings that "One side, led by Aragorn and advised by Gandalf, fights a 'medieval' war of named volunteers and pledged faith, while the bad side is 'modern,' with its nameless conscripts, machines, slaves and creatures of Sauron." (Andrew Lynch, "Archaism, Nostalgia and Tennysonian War in The Lord of the Rings")
This is an interesting way of looking at it, and not an uncommon one: that rather than showing a war of evil vs evil, Professor Tolkien throws the evil of the modern world into focus by concentrating it into one "side" of the war. And yet I think calling it the other side "medieval" is a little inaccurate. Why are the wars in The Lord of the Rings' backstory so long? It is because, I would argue, of the relentlessness of Sauron.

In that sense, perhaps the "evil" "side" in Professor Tolkien's narratives actually concentrates the worst of both medieval and modern warfare: continuous military aggression coupled with industrialised logistics.

In an earlier chapter which compares Professor Tolkien to Sir Walter Scott and particularly The Lord of the Rings to Ivanhoe, the author explores "two main traditions of historical representation that have come down from Scott's work. The first [...] is the realist tradition [...] in which contemporary individuals are depicted as products of historical forces that are absolutely inescapable, whether or not they are beneficial. [...] The second (and much more popular) of these traditions fuses Scott's novel form to Macpherson's desires to make the past comfortable to our fantasies and to allow an escape from history's impact rather than an accession to its inevitability. The alienating distance between the events of the past and the present is closed in this tradition, because its purpose is to remake the unpleasant aspects of the past int something completely unthreatening to the reader." (John Hunter, "The Reanimation of Antiquity and the Resistance to History: Macpherson-Scott-Tolkien")

Hunter goes on to argue that The Lord of the Rings "successfully works in both of these traditions at once." Hunter draws various conclusions that it would be excessive to relate here, but generally argues for the value of a text which blends the historical with the fantastic and uses this to argue for the postmodernity of the narrative.

I've discussed before on this forum, when criticising changes made to the story for the film of The Hobbit, that Professor Tolkien's narrative, despite being wholly imaginary, possesses a great deal of historical realism: history does not merely happen to a core group of "main characters", and relatively minor characters and secondary protagonists do important and significant things without being the primary focus of the plot. I think the idea of "history, true or feigned" is therefore quite crucial to understanding the modern and/or postmodern elements of Professor Tolkien's work, as it does challenge some traditional motifs and structures of "the narrative" as an art form.
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Old 12-13-2015, 01:29 AM   #7
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Unlike Peter Jackson's "Hobbit", can you imagine an Orc ever being permitted into the presence of the Dark Lord himself?
Well, except Tolkien actually did.

In the (so far) unpublished Chronology of The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien noted that Shagrat brought Frodo's mithril-shirt and Sam's sword to Sauron, and Sauron was so enraged (at the "spies'" escape) that he killed him on the spot.*

Now, I suppose one might speculate that a very laconic time-line entry may have compressed something a bit more involved, as, say, Shagrat delivered them to some Barad-dur functionary who passed them up the chain to the Dark Lord, who subsequently ordered the Orc's execution- but that isn't what it says.

--------------------

*Sauron was having a bad few days, what with the Heir of Isildur turning up, the Witch-king toast, his armies having been crushed on the Pelennor and so on. So one might forgive him for being a bit testy
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Old 12-13-2015, 07:47 PM   #8
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In the (so far) unpublished Chronology of The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien noted that Shagrat brought Frodo's mithril-shirt and Sam's sword to Sauron, and Sauron was so enraged (at the "spies'" escape) that he killed him on the spot.
You're quite right, of course. I'd forgotten this. I'd really like to see what Professor Tolkien actually wrote. In my head I'd gained the impression that, as you suggest, Shagrat delivered the mithril shirt to Barad-dūr in general and when Sauron found out he had him executed as punishment for his failure and/or to shut him up, but that's simply the impression I'd received from reading about it third-hand (from references quoting the Reader's Companion.

Having looked into it a bit more closely, it seems more likely to me that Shagrat was brought to Sauron and Sauron killed him personally, perhaps because the matter of halfling "spies" in Mordor was seen as a very important one. That being said, I feel as if this does not invalidate my remark - it seems noteworthy that the one time we know an Orc did encounter Sauron directly, he was killed! He certainly could not have given Sauron any back chat like Peter Jackson's Azog.
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Old 12-13-2015, 08:25 PM   #9
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The line verbatim reads "Shagrat brings the Mithril Coat and other spoils to Barad-dūr, but is slain by Sauron."
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Old 12-19-2015, 07:37 PM   #10
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So, what is your opinion of the role of the modern and the medieval in Professor Tolkien's work?
I'll try to contribute to this topic even though my knowledge about medieval literature and myths is limited. Please forgive that I'm starting off, at least kind of, LotR-centric as well.

There's a certain aspect of Tolkien's work that I find to be very important if you're going to analyse this question: Tolkien's concept of a fictional modern translator and editor who has, supposedly, access to the original (albeit fictional as well) source material, which he translates into modern English and then uses to compile and create the given novel. The fictional source material, on the other side, was communicated, written down and gathered by numerous fictional authors within the context of Middle-Earth.

This stylistic device creates a literary tradition which bridges the gap between the days of legend and the modern era. It also makes the question so much more difficult, since it adds all those different meta-levels to the text. At least if you take this concept seriously.

Textual allusions to medieval culture like the language of the Rohirrim, the look of certain runes or the form of some Middle-Earth poetry, are meant to translate the real Middle-Earth equivalent. And the decision to use those medieval placeholders is supposed to be made by Tolkien's fictional counterpart to give modern readers an idea about Middle-Earth. The language of the Rohirrim, for example, got translated to Anglo-Saxon with the intent to illustrate the linguistic relationship between their archaic language and the commonly spoken Westron, in a way a modern English speaker could comprehend.

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Old 12-20-2015, 08:06 PM   #11
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Both of your points about population are well made. Pitchwife's remarks about "centuries of war, civil-war and general decline" are an interesting point as well, suggesting the kind of attrition and depopulation modern warfare caused. That being said, the idea of continuous warfare is arguably something that could be attributed to the Middle Ages and the early Modern period, particularly of course obvious examples like the Hundred Years' War and the disastrous Thirty Years' War.

In the book, it is argued of the battles in The Lord of the Rings that "One side, led by Aragorn and advised by Gandalf, fights a 'medieval' war of named volunteers and pledged faith, while the bad side is 'modern,' with its nameless conscripts, machines, slaves and creatures of Sauron." (Andrew Lynch, "Archaism, Nostalgia and Tennysonian War in The Lord of the Rings")

This is an interesting way of looking at it, and not an uncommon one: that rather than showing a war of evil vs evil, Professor Tolkien throws the evil of the modern world into focus by concentrating it into one "side" of the war. And yet I think calling it the other side "medieval" is a little inaccurate. Why are the wars in The Lord of the Rings' backstory so long? It is because, I would argue, of the relentlessness of Sauron.
I would suggest the importance and mystique of Aragorn assuming the role of a found king to be a very medieval concept, almost Arthurian. The idea of medieval fealty goes beyond the Prince of Dol Amroth and various other vassals like Hirluin and Forlong the Fat bringing their men to fight for their overlord, it is intrinsic in the very journey down the Paths of the Dead where the Men of the Mountains, the oath-breakers cursed by Isildur, are called upon by the one true king, Isildur's Heir, to fulfill their oaths of fealty and regain the honor they had lost. So too, Théoden answering the call of Gondor is yet another instance of medieval oaths being fulfilled.

It is also interesting that, in renewing their vow, the Men of the Mountains' targets turned out to be the Corsairs of Umbar, descendants of the rebels engaged in the Kin-strife, and thus oath-breakers against the rightful king themselves.
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Old 12-23-2015, 02:48 PM   #12
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Boots Even though this is rather tangential

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I also agree that the idea that Sauron recieving reports or issuing an order by an Orc is absurd. Gorbag describes dealing with a Nazgūl as a harrowing experience; Sauron's own presence would probably have reduced any mere Orc to a gibbering wreck.
Orcs were his primary servants, though. They would have had to have been permitted in his presence. Not vast crowds of them, of course, but leaders would almost certainly have had to have some kind of interaction with him. Also note that Shagrat and Gorbag discussed the possibility of Sauron coming to visit them in person. Grishnįkh, to name another example, seems to be familiar with several matters of extreme sensitivity to Sauron. Grishnįkh might have been present at Gollum's torture, where we know Sauron was present.
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Old 12-26-2015, 07:43 PM   #13
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Thanks for everyone's thoughts so far. When I get a chance I'll dig up some more interesting bits and pieces.

While I have the opportunity, however, I should comment on this:
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The line verbatim reads "Shagrat brings the Mithril Coat and other spoils to Barad-dūr, but is slain by Sauron."
Thanks William Cloud Hicklin. One shudders to think what this slaying involved, especially if Sauron at the end of the Third Age was possessed again of the burning skin he had at the end of the Second. He was also "of more than human stature, but not gigantic." I can picture this terrible figure, perhaps nine or ten feet tall and burning with heat, smashing Shagrat aside with a single monstrous backhanded blow.

It's worth wondering whether this is a more modern or medieval conceit, in which attracting the ire of a tyrant was almost certainly a death sentence. While Orcs may have been in Sauron's presence - they clearly were when he led his own armies during the Second Age - I struggle to imagine him permitting an Orc to converse with him except in very specific circumstances.

Sauron as a kind of illegitimate aristocrat is interesting, because like many modern tyrants he was no king but acted and was treated like one - yet at the same time he was a very "great person" in his own way; but among his own people, while somewhat high of stature, he was not of the highest rank (even among the Maiar alone, it would seem).

EDIT: A couple of other thoughts occur: population decline might be compared to a medieval situation, that caused by the devastating Mongol invasions of Central Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe in the 13th Century, which perhaps (given their predilection for mounted soldiery) have some points of comparison with the Easterlings and their repeated invasions of western Middle-earth. Of course in Professor Tolkien's fiction, there is an immortal manipulator behind the scenes, which greatly extends things. The apparent population decline of Gondor, however, might also to some extent be a prediction of a modern scenario in which a relatively high quality of life (which Gondor appears to have had) can have extremely variable effects on birthrate and population growth - note that as many modern Western societies rely on immigration to support population growth and age, it was the mingling of the Men of Gondor with Middle Men that to an extent enabled their survival into the end of the Third Age (despite ugly racially-motivated resistance to this, as seen in the Kin-Strife, obviously an incisive narrative expression on Professor Tolkien's part with immense relevance to his context and beyond).
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Old 12-27-2015, 01:26 PM   #14
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Orcs were his primary servants, though. They would have had to have been permitted in his presence. Not vast crowds of them, of course, but leaders would almost certainly have had to have some kind of interaction with him. Also note that Shagrat and Gorbag discussed the possibility of Sauron coming to visit them in person. Grishnįkh, to name another example, seems to be familiar with several matters of extreme sensitivity to Sauron. Grishnįkh might have been present at Gollum's torture, where we know Sauron was present.
All good points which I overlooked. There were, of course, orcs and Orcs - Snagas, Uruks and Boldogs, some strong enough to stand in Sauron's presence, others maybe not so.

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I can picture this terrible figure, perhaps nine or ten feet tall and burning with heat, smashing Shagrat aside with a single monstrous backhanded blow.
Or with a purely mental blast of wrath communicated through flaming eyes - staring him to death. That would be how I'd picture it.

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Sauron as a kind of illegitimate aristocrat is interesting, because like many modern tyrants he was no king but acted and was treated like one - yet at the same time he was a very "great person" in his own way; but among his own people, while somewhat high of stature, he was not of the highest rank (even among the Maiar alone, it would seem).
By the standard of his peers Sauron was an impostor, as there was but one rightful king among the Ainur - Manwė, the Elder King under Ilśvatar. But by his mortal subjects he was (and aspired to be) regarded as far more than a king - a god, or god-king. Theocracy as a form of government isn't particularly medieval but has occurred throughout history from antiquity even to the modern Middle East, and watching news of the murdering hordes of Daesh it's hard not to feel reminded of Orcs propagating Sauron-worship.
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Old 12-28-2015, 04:30 AM   #15
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By the standard of his peers Sauron was an impostor, as there was but one rightful king among the Ainur - Manwė, the Elder King under Ilśvatar. But by his mortal subjects he was (and aspired to be) regarded as far more than a king - a god, or god-king. Theocracy as a form of government isn't particularly medieval but has occurred throughout history from antiquity even to the modern Middle East, and watching news of the murdering hordes of Daesh it's hard not to feel reminded of Orcs propagating Sauron-worship.
It might be worthwhile to consider a "modern" movement in which the leader himself was effectively the object of worship, however. The idea of a "Cult of Personality" seems to reflect Sauron's position in some respects, although that in itself is hardly a purely modern concept, given that it was practiced long before the time of the men to whom these days it seems to mostly be attributed, such as Stalin.

In Letter 183 Professor Tolkien compares the position of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth to that of "the Cause of those who oppose now the State-God and Marshal This or That as its High Priest." This seems to be tied to his abhorrence of the negation of free will, as he argues that those who oppose the negation of free will are always in a morally superior position to those who do the negating, even if they use extreme methods to do it: "even if in desperation 'the West' had bred or hired hordes of ores and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other Men as allies of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their Cause would have remained indefeasibly right."

This is stated in contrast to Sauron and his desire to be a God-King. Thus in this instance Professor Tolkien fairly closely compares Sauron's God-Kingship to "the State-God and Marshal This or That as its High Priest", which seems to particularly evoke twentieth century totalitarianism. In much the same way, in Nśmenor, Sauron was "High Priest" of (the phantom of) Melkor, the religious threat which allowed him to wield absolute power. Similarly in twentieth-century totalitarian states the dictator was generally held to rule in the cause of some ideology or other which was a veneer for tyranny by demanding absolute devotion from all those below the tyrant.

Yet the same could arguably be said of other historical situations, like the Roman Empire at various points and under various rulers.

One could also consider how the worship of Sauron as a god seems to have been propagated among the Men whom he subjugated and not among the Orcs and other creatures which formed the bulk of his personal subjects in his own realms, and seem to have a more varied opinion of him: he is referred to simply as "Him" and as "the Eye" in Shagrat and Gorbag's conversation, but not with reverence. Grishnįkh's "painful" admiration of the Nazgūl evokes something more religious, arguably, but still not wholly reverent: "they're the apple of the Great Eye". Grishnįkh also seems to be some kind of informant, to the Nazgūl or some other form of "internal security" in Sauron's realm: "I may have to report that."

None of these things are particularly specifically modern, but it's difficult to ignore the resonance they have in Professor Tolkien's context in particular.

Interestingly enough, Shagrat's orders were that "the prisoner is to be kept safe and intact, under pain of death for every member of the guard, until He sends or comes Himself." Thus by going to the Dark Tower as he did, he was signing his own death warrant. This also suggests that these were seemingly personal orders given by Sauron to the watchtowers concerning any prisoners taken entering Mordor, which would explain why Sauron saw fit to dispose of Shagrat himself.

It's worth noting that critics have often attributed a technological element distinguishing twentieth century (and onwards) totalitarianism from other forms of tyranny, but it's similarly worth observing that despite lacking "twentieth century technology" Sauron still has "the machine" on his side: "all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills." (Letter 131) Sauron's "magic" (Ainu power used for evil purposes) is his technology: "The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised."
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Old 12-28-2015, 11:26 AM   #16
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EDIT: A couple of other thoughts occur: population decline might be compared to a medieval situation, that caused by the devastating Mongol invasions of Central Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe in the 13th Century, which perhaps (given their predilection for mounted soldiery) have some points of comparison with the Easterlings and their repeated invasions of western Middle-earth. Of course in Professor Tolkien's fiction, there is an immortal manipulator behind the scenes, which greatly extends things. The apparent population decline of Gondor, however, might also to some extent be a prediction of a modern scenario in which a relatively high quality of life (which Gondor appears to have had) can have extremely variable effects on birthrate and population growth - note that as many modern Western societies rely on immigration to support population growth and age, it was the mingling of the Men of Gondor with Middle Men that to an extent enabled their survival into the end of the Third Age (despite ugly racially-motivated resistance to this, as seen in the Kin-Strife, obviously an incisive narrative expression on Professor Tolkien's part with immense relevance to his context and beyond).
These are very good points.

I had not thought before about the potential parallel between Central Asia post-Mongols, which had achieved a high level of cultural development before the Mongols, and the depopulated state of Middle earth.

They were very similar in the sense of both being composed of vast stretches of wilderness with only a few isolated surviving population centers.

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"The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised."
I doubt Tolkien would think highly of the internet...
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Old 01-14-2016, 05:23 PM   #17
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Elmo posted this in the "Who are the 'wild men'?" thread.
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The Dunlendings were the indigenous population of the area and the rightful owners of Calenardhon, they were there long before the Numenorians fell out of the sea onto the land. The Rohirrim were a colonial, interloping, land thieving population 'planted' by Gondor on Dunlending territory for military reasons, similar to what the British Empire did in various times and places in history. The Dunlendings were definitely right to be a bit annoyed about this and can hardly be blamed for their hatred of the horse folk, especially as countless of them were cruelly slain by the Rohan's kings like Helm Hammerhand who brutally murdered many of them like Freca.
This reminded me of another remark from Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages:

In the essay "Fear of Difference, Fear of Death: The Sigelwara, Tolkien's Swertings and Racial Difference", Brian McFadden states that "Tolkien was a human being and would have admitted himself to be fallible; his society, also, had not yet become as self-aware or as self-critical with respect to colonialism and racism as it is today. However, one can perceive an awareness of the artificiality of dividing humans into races in Tolkien's work."

This perhaps raises another point for me, as I stated in my original post, that a lot of critical material is "typically heavily The Lord of the Rings-centric". A study of The Silmarillion, the narrative of "Tal-Elmar" published in The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Lost Road and other narratives would open up more definite angles for considering colonial and postcolonial discourse in relation to Professor Tolkien's work. I particularly think that the image of the Nśmenóreans as island-based seafaring conquerors with increasingly rapacious designs upon the lands they colonise, and whose actions cause lasting damage for centuries to come - as seen in the feuds between Gondor and Umbar, the displacement of the Dunlendings and the like - are quite suggestive for exploring Professor Tolkien's concerns about colonialism.

I note that the Shire itself is described as having been "colonized" and that Buckland is described as "a sort of colony from the Shire." Balin's expedition to Moria is also described as a "colony". The presentation appears to vary, with some "colonies" being more positively portrayed than others.

There may be different kinds of "colonies" in the narrative, however: the settling of unsettled land, like the Shire, and the building of colonial empires, like that of the Nśmenóreans as well as the Men of Gondor after them. It may be that the word "colony" itself is not used in this negative way, and does not appear to be used in The Silmarillion or in Professor Tolkien's letters, but what we would understand to be "colonialism" from a modern perspective (ie empire-building) is portrayed negatively.
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Old 01-14-2016, 06:48 PM   #18
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The connotation I think has everything to do with whether one is displacing other people to build your colony; nobody seems to think that talk of a possible Mars colony is evil!
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Old 01-29-2016, 09:20 AM   #19
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White Tree Gondorian Rangers, Robin Hood and Auxiliary Units

There is an interesting example of a mixture of the medieval and the modern in Tolkien's portrayal of the Gondorian Rangers of Ithilien. They were dressed in a mixture of green and brown for camouflage purposes, and operated from secret bases in Ithilien, which Gondor still claimed as part of its territory, against Sauron's forces. Among their weapons, they used longbows.

It made me think of the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, dressed in Lincoln Green, living in Sherwood Forest, and using longbows. However, I also thought of more modern things; because the Gondorian bows were made of steel, not yew, the green and brown sounding like more 'modern' camouflage uniforms. Also, the Rangers sounded like the Auxiliary Units, planned by the United Kingdom in the Second World War in the event of a German invasion, intended to fight as uniformed guerrillas. They were organised as part of the Home Guard, and wore Home Guard uniforms, but practiced guerrilla warfare and would fight under state appointed commanders.

What do people think?
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Old 02-02-2016, 09:37 PM   #20
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Well, there wasn't anything especially new about "guerilla warfare." In the 18th century the British called it "Indian tactics," formed the green-clad Rodger's Rangers to employ it vs the French, and both sides in the Revolution used it (RR now being the 60th Foot (King's Loyal Americans)). By the Napoleonic wars British rifle regiments specialized in the same tactics and wore green uniforms- but then, the 60th Rifles were after all the direct descendant of Rodgers' Rangers.

When Britain re-organized the Volunteers in 1881, all the Vol Companies (foot; the Yeomanry were horse) were trained in marksmanship, skirmishing, ambush, sniping, concealment etc etc, all in anticipation of a possible invasion.
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Old 07-19-2016, 11:30 PM   #21
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Hello all,

I thought I would mention some other interesting notions I've come across in my studies, particularly which arose during my PhD emendations (by the way, I'm pleased to say that everything is done now, I've got my completion letter and there should be nothing left to do but wait for graduation in September so I can become Dr Zigūr [Don't worry, I'm not actually going to start calling myself that]).

In Chapter 24, "Modernity", of A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Stuart D. Lee and published by John Wiley & Sons in 2014, Dr. Anna Vaninskaya discusses how Sauron's empire evokes a twentieth-century "Theyocracy" in which power is held by a distant, unapproachable cabal of bureaucrats. Dr Vaninskaya analyses Gorbag and Shagrat's conversation, noting that they are aware of "official propaganda", as when Shagrat tells him that the "Big Bosses" hold that the war is going well; Gorbag grunts "They would". Their orders, to quote Dr Vaninskaya, are "in the clipped language of army dispatches."

Dr Vaninskaya argues that there is "definite sense of a hierarchical party structure" in Mordor, with things like "giving your name and number to the Nazgūl."

Dr Vaninskaya observes that "The idea of soldiers, like prisoners, having numbers, no less than the concept of reporting insubordination to superiors whose own situation is precariously dependent on the favor of the Big Bosses, is completely alien to the world of Middle-earth as originally conceived (and as eventually elaborated in the final writings). The glimpses of Orc life in Mordor are also at odds with the rest of the narrative, and the tone and atmosphere of these scenes remind us that the twentieth century sometimes obtruded rather roughly into the secondary world." Dr Vaninskaya also argues of Shagrat and Gorbag that "theirs is distinctly the speech of twentieth-century soldiers, but also of government or party functionaries, minor officials in a murderous bureaucracy."

I'm in two minds about this idea. It's curious to imagine the dread Nazgūl being concerned with things like "names and numbers" of Orcs and the like, but apparently it was something that could happen (unless the Orc who made that threat was exaggerating).

I suppose the Mouth of Sauron and the other members of his dubious "embassy" from Barad-dūr also suggest the idea of high-ranking bureaucrats in Sauron's regime, presumably Black Nśmenóreans like the Mouth or other Men who, through cunning and sycophancy, had proved themselves useful to Sauron.

Yet I wonder how much of a "party" there really is when the entire organisation of the regime seems to serve no will or purpose but that of Sauron alone. It is not clear that there is an "ideology" in Mordor beyond doing that which fulfils Sauron's will. On the other hand, perhaps Professor Tolkien is trying to argue that under such regimes the ideology is just the tyrant's will pretending to be some totalising/universalising truth. Sauron (who can no longer hide his evil intentions from others) has simply stripped this conceit away. Possibly the closest thing we hear to an ideology, I think, is in Morgoth's Ring, in which it is stated that Sauron ultimately united all the disparate, petty realms of Orcs in "unreasoning hatred of the Elves and of Men who associated with them".

I'm interested to hear what others think. If you're interested in discussing it, do you think Mordor really has the equivalent of a "party" or "bureaucracy"? Do you, like me, struggle to imagine Khamūl whipping out a notepad to write down an Orc's number (surely there's someone of lower rank who would be reported to first)? Do you see much in the way of modern ideology at work in Middle-earth?
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Old 07-20-2016, 03:25 AM   #22
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BTW, Zigūr,

Are you familiar with the works of Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett)?

Specifically his Gods of Pegćna.

It is another instance of a literary device like the Red Book of Westmarch, where Plunkett is pretending to translate the found works of the lost land of Pegćna.

His work is somewhat similar to, and possibly was what inspired Lovecraft's Chthulu/Elder Gods mythos. I know that Lord Dunsany had some influence upon Moorcock, at any rate (of another fantasy World Builder).

Anyway.... Just off the top of my head if you are interested in exploring other invented mythologies.

I have seen Tolkien's Modern Middle Ages, but I have steered away from it for the time being, as what I am familiar with from it struck me as a little too Post-Modern, which leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

But it is something that a friend is reading (we tend to trade off on critical works concerning Tolkien).

But nearly every Tolkien scholar I know (Literary Academics, at least) has made some observation of the connections between the Medieval and the Modern.

The most obvious being the contrast of The Shire to that of the rest of Middle-earth.

And between the rest of Middle-earth, and the habitats of Sauron and Saruman respectively.

The foremost being an Agrarian Modern society (19th Century Victorian England), and the latter being examples of Industrialization gone wrong.

But I have not really looked beyond Shippey, Drout, Olsen, and.... grr.... Don't want to google.... Dammit.... Can't call his name (Published a Tolkien Journal back in the 70s....)... And I can't even find it with a Google Search. Not really important...

And they have not really delved greatly into the Modern-Medieval links (well, possibly Drout has).

But the different views on Mordor, Sauron, etc. can get to be quite complex.

MB

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Old 07-20-2016, 03:36 AM   #23
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...Sauron's empire evokes a twentieth-century "Theyocracy" in which power is held by a distant, unapproachable cabal of bureaucrats.
Well, that certainly sounds familiar, even in (ostensibly) what's supposed to be a democratic republic.
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Old 07-20-2016, 03:41 AM   #24
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Hello all,

I thought I would mention some other interesting notions I've come across in my studies, particularly which arose during my PhD emendations (by the way, I'm pleased to say that everything is done now, I've got my completion letter and there should be nothing left to do but wait for graduation in September so I can become Dr Zigūr [Don't worry, I'm not actually going to start calling myself that]).

In Chapter 24, "Modernity", of A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Stuart D. Lee and published by John Wiley & Sons in 2014, Dr. Anna Vaninskaya discusses how Sauron's empire evokes a twentieth-century "Theyocracy" in which power is held by a distant, unapproachable cabal of bureaucrats. Dr Vaninskaya analyses Gorbag and Shagrat's conversation, noting that they are aware of "official propaganda", as when Shagrat tells him that the "Big Bosses" hold that the war is going well; Gorbag grunts "They would". Their orders, to quote Dr Vaninskaya, are "in the clipped language of army dispatches."

Dr Vaninskaya argues that there is "definite sense of a hierarchical party structure" in Mordor, with things like "giving your name and number to the Nazgūl."

Dr Vaninskaya observes that "The idea of soldiers, like prisoners, having numbers, no less than the concept of reporting insubordination to superiors whose own situation is precariously dependent on the favor of the Big Bosses, is completely alien to the world of Middle-earth as originally conceived (and as eventually elaborated in the final writings). The glimpses of Orc life in Mordor are also at odds with the rest of the narrative, and the tone and atmosphere of these scenes remind us that the twentieth century sometimes obtruded rather roughly into the secondary world." Dr Vaninskaya also argues of Shagrat and Gorbag that "theirs is distinctly the speech of twentieth-century soldiers, but also of government or party functionaries, minor officials in a murderous bureaucracy."

I'm in two minds about this idea. It's curious to imagine the dread Nazgūl being concerned with things like "names and numbers" of Orcs and the like, but apparently it was something that could happen (unless the Orc who made that threat was exaggerating).

I suppose the Mouth of Sauron and the other members of his dubious "embassy" from Barad-dūr also suggest the idea of high-ranking bureaucrats in Sauron's regime, presumably Black Nśmenóreans like the Mouth or other Men who, through cunning and sycophancy, had proved themselves useful to Sauron.

Yet I wonder how much of a "party" there really is when the entire organisation of the regime seems to serve no will or purpose but that of Sauron alone. It is not clear that there is an "ideology" in Mordor beyond doing that which fulfils Sauron's will. On the other hand, perhaps Professor Tolkien is trying to argue that under such regimes the ideology is just the tyrant's will pretending to be some totalising/universalising truth. Sauron (who can no longer hide his evil intentions from others) has simply stripped this conceit away. Possibly the closest thing we hear to an ideology, I think, is in Morgoth's Ring, in which it is stated that Sauron ultimately united all the disparate, petty realms of Orcs in "unreasoning hatred of the Elves and of Men who associated with them".

I'm interested to hear what others think. If you're interested in discussing it, do you think Mordor really has the equivalent of a "party" or "bureaucracy"? Do you, like me, struggle to imagine Khamūl whipping out a notepad to write down an Orc's number (surely there's someone of lower rank who would be reported to first)? Do you see much in the way of modern ideology at work in Middle-earth?
I have seen this argument as well.

And I can both see it, and not see it.

Tolkien seemed to be terrifically opposed to Modernity, and the idea that any form of Bureaucratic/Hierarchical organization could amount to any good.

Especially when "Machines" were concerned (And he seemed to have a broad definition of "Machine" that included more than the physical mechanisms, but could also be applied to "Mechanistic Thinking").

So that he would associate this with the demonic element in Middle-earth is not very surprising.

I can also see an ideology forming out of this, but one which is segregated between those who are "merely tools" and the "True Believers."

The Nazgūl, the Mouth-of-Sauron, and other such higher-ups would seem to be in the Second Category, and the former mostly the Orcs or the minions of his enslaved lands (either ideologically enslaved, or enslaved via brute force).

But that would require a greater deal of exploration into the different regions themselves, and takes up the issues of motivations and psychology beyond simply "Hatred of Elves" (which seems to have been enough for the Orcs).

As for calling it a "Party" (as in Political), that is a different form of Ideology than is a Religious Ideology.

Both hope to create a narrative, but the former is generally more flexible, in trying to attend to purely secular needs (questions of "How?" - to govern), whereas the latter (Religious Ideology), deals more with Spiritual and Moral Beliefs and Narratives (explanations for "Why?" - are we here).

And I think that Sauron provided both of these to a great extent, even if they were lies.

There does seem to be some suggestion that the Easterlings and Haradrim had been led into either Morgothism, or Sauronism (The worship of one or the other), and that the Black Nśmenóreans remained committed to the Morgothism with which he misled them during the latter 2nd Age.

And this does seem to indicate a Hierarchy, where you have different tiers of "believers" or different types, who are granted different rights, privileges, or... probably most important: Power within Mordor and its Tributaries (Those who pay Tribute to Mordor).

There is a freaking LOT here to explore.

MB
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Old 07-20-2016, 03:45 AM   #25
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Well, that certainly sounds familiar, even in (ostensibly) what's supposed to be a democratic republic.
Wut?

Mordor a Democratic Republic?

I did not get the feeling that the Orcs got to vote on anything.

This isn't a reference to that Russian Monstrosity?

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Old 07-20-2016, 06:22 AM   #26
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Wut?

Mordor a Democratic Republic?

I did not get the feeling that the Orcs got to vote on anything.

This isn't a reference to that Russian Monstrosity?

MB
No, I meant the ostensibly democratic republic in which I live; it shares the characteristic of being run by a distant, unapproachable cabal of bureaucrats. :-)
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Old 07-20-2016, 06:37 AM   #27
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No, I meant the ostensibly democratic republic in which I live; it shares the characteristic of being run by a distant, unapproachable cabal of bureaucrats. :-)
Turkey? Iran?

The USA?

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Old 07-20-2016, 06:43 AM   #28
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Well, that certainly sounds familiar, even in (ostensibly) what's supposed to be a democratic republic.
Exactly; "the Democratic People's Republic of Mordor" comes to mind, although I doubt Sauron bothered with such pretence. I suppose Professor Tolkien might be arguing that strong political ideologies were essentially indistinguishable from false religions, especially with the implication of Sauron being equivalent to a "Marshal This-or-That" of one of the totalitarian "political religions" of the Twentieth Century.

In another thread I mentioned Brian Rosebury's statement in Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon that "The modernity of Tolkien’s work, from the point of view of its content, lies not in coded reference to specific contemporary events or phenomena, but in the absorption into the invented world – no doubt a partly unconscious absorption – of experiences and attitudes which Tolkien would scarcely have acquired had he not been a man of the twentieth century."

Dr. Rosebury goes on to say "Some are obvious enough. The Lord of the Rings describes a continental war, in which the survival of whole peoples and cultures is at stake. The undertow of apocalyptic dread is familiar to anyone who has lived in the nuclear age, but its primary biographical source must greatly pre-date Hiroshima: almost certainly it lies around 1914–15 when Tolkien, in common with millions of young men, discovered that he would have to go to war.The successive international crises of the Thirties and Forties can only have reinforced this impression of secular imperilment. Naturally Tolkien would have been more aware than most people of pre-modern analogies: the fall of the Roman Empire, the bare survival of Christian civilisation in the age which produced Beowulf, the lively expectation of world’s end that obsessed some medieval and Reformation believers. But that historical awareness is itself a modern, even a modernist, attribute."

I find this an interesting argument, because it depends on how we understand "modern". There were certainly continental wars before the First and Second World Wars, such as the Napoleonic Wars and, perhaps, the Thirty Years' War, both of which are "modern" according to some definitions. I believe such wars were also, to some, seen as "apocalyptic" in their time. Thus I suppose the question arises of whether we define "modern" in terms of "modernity" or "the modern period", of the early 16th century until the present day, or as specifically "modernist", that is, of the first half of the 20th century in particular.

One thing I note, which has surely been observed elsewhere, is that Professor Tolkien's love of a good pipe (and many of his characters' subsequent enjoyment of it as well) is a fairly "modern" thing and rather out of place in the medieval world. I wonder if Aragorn still enjoyed a pipe after he had become King? It's unsurprising that the more "modern" Hobbits smoked, but curious to observe that High Men, Dwarves and Wizards did too. There is another bit of "modern" culture working its way backwards into the "medieval" - or is it drawing the medieval forward, into the modern?

(Incidentally, I've been thinking about why Legolas found smoking strange. Even though the Elves made some pipes for Bilbo, is it possible that for Professor Tolkien a pipe meant relaxation and an aid to thinking, which was something Men, Wizards incarnate as Men, Dwarves and Hobbits might need, but Elves did not?)
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:00 AM   #29
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Exactly; "the Democratic People's Republic of Mordor" comes to mind, although I doubt Sauron bothered with such pretence. I suppose Professor Tolkien might be arguing that strong political ideologies were essentially indistinguishable from false religions, especially with the implication of Sauron being equivalent to a "Marshal This-or-That" of one of the totalitarian "political religions" of the Twentieth Century.
Mordor seems to be an outright dictatorship, with fear keeping its denizens in line. I could draw RL parallels, but discretion advises against it...

Gondor had a 'strong political ideology', didn't it? No religious bent there. In fact Gondor seems much more secular at the time of the War of the Ring than at earlier times.

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(Incidentally, I've been thinking about why Legolas found smoking strange. Even though the Elves made some pipes for Bilbo, is it possible that for Professor Tolkien a pipe meant relaxation and an aid to thinking, which was something Men, Wizards incarnate as Men, Dwarves and Hobbits might need, but Elves did not?)
I can see the Elves of Rivendell merely being aware of the smoking habit, through their interactions with the Dśnedain and Gandalf. They don't seem to have practiced it themselves, though.
It appears that the smoking phenomenon was centered around Bree and the Shire, and thus limited to those who passed though or lived in those areas. The Men of Gondor knew about pipe-weed, but apparently never tried to use it for smoking.
The habit was certainly important to hobbit society, and Gandalf seems a right addict.
Maybe it did indeed help Gandalf to relax and find the strength to keep on. Who needs a Ring when you've got a pipe?
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:17 AM   #30
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Well Marxism-Leninism and National-Socialism are political religions insofar as that they are structured and function very much like religions ... you have holy scriptures, a "church", a messias, a paradise that awaits after the worldly struggles, heretics, orthodoxy, etc. In that sense the blending of religion and politics in Mordor makes sense and could also be read as a critique of the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. Mordor is a totalitarian dictatorship: the "state" invades every space of the individual and there is no privacy or individualism left. Sauron is King and God for his subjects.

About the "modernity" of Mordor: its obvious that it has extensive infrastructure and industry. That would be necessary for the war effort and you would need an effective bureaucracy to manage and oversee the whole thing. I guess this class of bureaucrats would consist mostly of black Numenoreans and elite, long-living Orcs (orcs that have retained some elvish-blood or maybe even are descended from Boldogs) - the official language would be the black speech - there would probably be some kind of "privileged housing" and educational institutions to maintain that bureaucracy.
The Problem is that a lot of Mordor is left unexplained by Tolkien. For example: where do the Orcs live? Are there any large Cities? Is Barad-Dur itself a monstrous City-Complex (very like i.m.o.)? How extensive is the Industry? And how "magical" is Mordor?
I guess the decline that the People and Cultures of Arda experienced from the second to the third Age also affected Mordor (and Sauron), so there is probably a substantial difference between the Mordor of the Second and the Mordor of the Third Age. I always imagined the Mordor of the Second Age to be like a Dark Numenor, an almost futuristic Place, considering that Sauron was a pupil of Aule and probably very knowledgeable and interested in Technology (of course i am talking about the infrastructure and technology here, the life of the majority of orcs and men in Mordor was probably still of very low quality) - but during the Third Age, after the loss of a lot of his power, after giving up every pretense, i guess that the Mordor of the Third Age was a lot more "medieval", primitive and run down. Maybe because Sauron lacked the power to re-build the lost technology or maybe because he no longer deemed it necessary against his reduced enemies.
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:28 AM   #31
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Gondor had a 'strong political ideology', didn't it? No religious bent there. In fact Gondor seems much more secular at the time of the War of the Ring than at earlier times.
Yes; it's definitely worth remembering the remarks in Letter 155 that in Gondor "when the 'Kings' came to an end there was no equivalent to a 'priesthood': the two being identical in Nśmenórean ideas. [...] It is to be presumed that with the reemergence of the lineal priest kings (of whom Lśthien the Blessed Elf-maiden was a foremother) the worship of God would be renewed, and His Name (or title) be again more often heard."
Hence my specification of "false religion"; worshipping Sauron (or Morgoth) was self-evidently false to a well-informed person in Middle-earth. The King, by contrast, was a distant descendant of Lśthien, and thus of Melian, and thus, in a peculiar way, Eru Himself, and therefore seems to have embodied the spiritual Truth with a capital T.

So I suppose Gondor's political-religious system is, within the systems and workings of Middle-earth/Arda/Eä, legitimately derived from that Truth, while an "ideology" in the modern sense might be thought of as a system of political beliefs intended to explain or rationalise the workings of humanity or history according to subjective standards, which are often not necessarily verifiable; I think Professor Tolkien's use of the term "Sarumanism" embodies this concept: a set of unfalsifiable truisms, essentially, about the world and humanity, which tend to serve an interest rather than unambiguously representing reality.

Perhaps there is an "ideology" in Mordor: Sauron's love of order and coordination; it's just one that only motivates Sauron alone (or once did), not something he needs to convince his slaves of to make them follow him (he has more blunt methods of doing that). Again, perhaps that is identifiable with "modernity" by comparison to the works of Orwell in which the ideology only really matters to the elites, who have the "privilege" of interpreting and manipulating it to suit their own interests.

EDIT: Interesting ideas from denethorthefirst as well! I shall give them some thought.
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:32 AM   #32
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Exactly; "the Democratic People's Republic of Mordor" comes to mind, although I doubt Sauron bothered with such pretence. I suppose Professor Tolkien might be arguing that strong political ideologies were essentially indistinguishable from false religions, especially with the implication of Sauron being equivalent to a "Marshal This-or-That" of one of the totalitarian "political religions" of the Twentieth Century.
I seem to recall reading this exact sentiment, but I think it was from Christopher.

And this does seem to be rather the implications surrounding his descriptions of the Worship of Morgoth that Sauron instituted among the Nśmenóreans.

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In another thread I mentioned Brian Rosebury's statement in Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon that "The modernity of Tolkien’s work, from the point of view of its content, lies not in coded reference to specific contemporary events or phenomena, but in the absorption into the invented world – no doubt a partly unconscious absorption – of experiences and attitudes which Tolkien would scarcely have acquired had he not been a man of the twentieth century."
I have often thought something similar, but in a context of how he relates the events of Middle-earth to a parallel history of Christendom that comes almost directly from Gibbon, which saw a Victorian resurgence in the parallels of the British Empire of which Tolkien was a member of the last remnants of that Empire.

But his personal experiences too, are keenly felt in his work.


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Dr. Rosebury goes on to say "Some are obvious enough. The Lord of the Rings describes a continental war, in which the survival of whole peoples and cultures is at stake. The undertow of apocalyptic dread is familiar to anyone who has lived in the nuclear age, but its primary biographical source must greatly pre-date Hiroshima: almost certainly it lies around 1914–15 when Tolkien, in common with millions of young men, discovered that he would have to go to war.The successive international crises of the Thirties and Forties can only have reinforced this impression of secular imperilment. Naturally Tolkien would have been more aware than most people of pre-modern analogies: the fall of the Roman Empire, the bare survival of Christian civilisation in the age which produced Beowulf, the lively expectation of world’s end that obsessed some medieval and Reformation believers. But that historical awareness is itself a modern, even a modernist, attribute."

I find this an interesting argument, because it depends on how we understand "modern". There were certainly continental wars before the First and Second World Wars, such as the Napoleonic Wars and, perhaps, the Thirty Years' War, both of which are "modern" according to some definitions. I believe such wars were also, to some, seen as "apocalyptic" in their time. Thus I suppose the question arises of whether we define "modern" in terms of "modernity" or "the modern period", of the early 16th century until the present day, or as specifically "modernist", that is, of the first half of the 20th century in particular.
The bane of the Historian: defining "Modernity."


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One thing I note, which has surely been observed elsewhere, is that Professor Tolkien's love of a good pipe (and many of his characters' subsequent enjoyment of it as well) is a fairly "modern" thing and rather out of place in the medieval world. I wonder if Aragorn still enjoyed a pipe after he had become King? It's unsurprising that the more "modern" Hobbits smoked, but curious to observe that High Men, Dwarves and Wizards did too. There is another bit of "modern" culture working its way backwards into the "medieval" - or is it drawing the medieval forward, into the modern?
I got the feeling that Aragorn and Gandalf were rather atypical in that regard. Saruman, for instance, only began smoking after he had observed Gandalf's affection for it.

But it does remain a mark of modernity, as "smoking tobacco" (which is what Pipe Leaf is - he does spell that out quite clearly that it is Tobacco - a form of Nicotiana Nightshade (Solanaceae) is a product of the "New World," and not available in Europe until the 16th Century (The 1550s was when it was first introduced, and not until the 17th Century did its use become more widespread). History aside though....

It seems that Tolkien is marking certain people as being "Closer to Modernity" in one fashion or another.

The Hobbits are a sort of Idealized Englishman.

Aragorn is an Idealized King.

Gandalf and Saruman represent Idealized forms of Reason (the word "Idealized" here does not mean, necessarily "Best," but merely a purified, or rarified form).

That is a very deep Rabbit Hole, though...


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Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
(Incidentally, I've been thinking about why Legolas found smoking strange. Even though the Elves made some pipes for Bilbo, is it possible that for Professor Tolkien a pipe meant relaxation and an aid to thinking, which was something Men, Wizards incarnate as Men, Dwarves and Hobbits might need, but Elves did not?)
Did the Noldor not "Think?"

I am not saying that the speculation is out of place, or misguided, as he clearly had this prejudice (The interview of Tolkien I posted in another thread even has Tolkien saying exactly that: Smoking helps him to think).

I get the inference, though, that the Elves tended more to "Remember" or "Dream" than they "thought" about things.

But the Noldor of the First and Second Ages (and during the Ages of the Trees) seem to have done more than a little "thinking" in their time.

Perhaps they did not smoke because Smoking was a New Thing in Middle-earth (being only a few generations old in Bilbo's day), and the days of Glory of the Noldor (when they needed to think were long-gone).

So... You are probably correct here, given that relationship.

And that Smoking was "Modern" even within Middle-earth.

MB

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Old 07-20-2016, 07:38 AM   #33
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Did the Noldor not "Think?"
I said "a pipe meant an aid to thinking", not "a pipe meant thinking."
All I meant was that Elves probably did not need an "aid to thinking" because perhaps they had clearer thoughts and greater powers of concentration than other peoples, tied to their artistic capacity for "product, and vision in unflawed correspondence".
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Old 07-20-2016, 07:55 AM   #34
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Well Marxism-Leninism and National-Socialism are political religions insofar as that they are structured and function very much like religions ... you have holy scriptures, a "church", a messias, a paradise that awaits after the worldly struggles, heretics, orthodoxy, etc. In that sense the blending of religion and politics in Mordor makes sense and could also be read as a critique of the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. Mordor is a totalitarian dictatorship: the "state" invades every space of the individual and there is no privacy or individualism left. Sauron is King and God for his subjects.
Exactly so (National Socialism/Fascism and Stalinist-Leninist Communism).

Hannah Arendt, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph Campbell, David ben Gurion, and many others, Academics and Politicians (or both) have made those observations about National Socialism (and Fascism in general), and Stalinism. I would need to ask around to find the names, but there are even Chinese Authors who have been publishing in the last 20 years or so (living now in Taiwan) about how Maoism related to a religious ideology (and how the Chinese are finally beginning to "Secularize" - so to speak).


[QUOTEdenethorthefirst;704876]About the "modernity" of Mordor: its obvious that it has extensive infrastructure and industry. That would be necessary for the war effort and you would need an effective bureaucracy to manage and oversee the whole thing. I guess this class of bureaucrats would consist mostly of black Numenoreans and elite, long-living Orcs (orcs that have retained some elvish-blood or maybe even are descended from Boldogs) - the official language would be the black speech - there would probably be some kind of "privileged housing" and educational institutions to maintain that bureaucracy.
The Problem is that a lot of Mordor is left unexplained by Tolkien. For example: where do the Orcs live? Are there any large Cities? Is Barad-Dur itself a monstrous City-Complex (very like i.m.o.)? How extensive is the Industry? And how "magical" is Mordor?
I guess the decline that the People and Cultures of Arda experienced from the second to the third Age also affected Mordor (and Sauron), so there is probably a substantial difference between the Mordor of the Second and the Mordor of the Third Age. I always imagined the Mordor of the Second Age to be like a Dark Numenor, an almost futuristic Place, considering that Sauron was a pupil of Aule and probably very knowledgeable and interested in Technology (of course i am talking about the infrastructure and technology here, the life of the majority of orcs and men in Mordor was probably still of very low quality) - but during the Third Age, after the loss of a lot of his power, after giving up every pretense, i guess that the Mordor of the Third Age was a lot more "medieval", primitive and run down. Maybe because Sauron lacked the power to re-build the lost technology or maybe because he no longer deemed it necessary against his reduced enemies.[/QUOTE]

I've done a lot of work on this specifically.

Tolkien mentions that the lands in the south of Mordor, around Lake Nśrnen, are very fertile, and are kept by vast plantations of slaves to provide food for his armies:

http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/l/lakenurnen.html

His essays on Orcs, which it looks like you have read, suggest that they breed just like anyone else, and he states that the breed to great numbers quickly (this could mean a very fast maturation, similar to lower Primates, who can reach adolescence in only a few years).

That would make breeding armies much easier, logistically, and could explain a great many other things that Tolkien does not touch directly upon.

But ultimately this just gives us a number of typical mouths he would need to feed.

But Mordor does contain more than enough land area around Nśrnen to support an Army of a couple of million (Republican Roman Italy supported a population of approximately 5 million before it began to require the importation of Grains from Egypt and Northern Africa - And Italy contains roughly the same land-area as the area around Lake Nśrnen).

As to the "Magic..." Well... One needs to ask a few questions about what the "Magic" is, and is expected to do. But it does not seem that Mordor has anything "Magical" that would help support the population that isn't also available to the rest of Middle-earth. There is one aspect even where Mordor's methods might actually hurt its ability to produce food, depending upon how what we call "Magic" works.

But for all of Middle-earth... It is actually Tolkien's given estimates for the sizes of Armies that allow us to get an idea of what the general population would be, given that we have ample records of what it takes human populations to support armies, or militaries of a given size.

And we have a few tangential references by Tolkien to human cultures that are "comparable" to those within Middle-earth (I would be very hesitant to draw direct parallels to them, but we get a rough idea). And it seems to be overall a roughly 7th - 11th Century world (save for the Shire), that has one or two Anachronisms floating through it.

For basic Infrastructure.... That is pretty much where you would need to start.

But most of these questions can be answered by looking at what has been said about Middle-earth, and then looking for the things that would need to be True for those existing references to be True.

You can get a pretty long way toward figuring out things like Infrastructure, and population that way.

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Old 07-20-2016, 08:00 AM   #35
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I said "a pipe meant an aid to thinking", not "a pipe meant thinking."
All I meant was that Elves probably did not need an "aid to thinking" because perhaps they had clearer thoughts and greater powers of concentration than other peoples, tied to their artistic capacity for "product, and vision in unflawed correspondence".
I got that (see the latter part of that post).

But if Smoking produced an aid to thinking, then it should produce an aid to people who can already think clearly as well, too, would it not?

Sort of like a person who has a high tolerance to pain is likely to benefit just as much from a pain-killer as a person with a low tolerance to pain.

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Old 07-20-2016, 08:03 AM   #36
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I think it's more like a painkiller being taken by a person who isn't in pain, imagining an Elf doesn't experience the same kind of confusion, inattention, poor concentration, or need to "cudgel their brains" that a Man, Dwarf or Hobbit might "in vacant or in pensive mood".

But that's just a guess.
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Old 07-20-2016, 08:22 AM   #37
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I think it's more like a painkiller being taken by a person who isn't in pain, imagining an Elf doesn't experience the same kind of confusion, inattention, poor concentration, or need to "cudgel their brains" that a Man, Dwarf or Hobbit might "in vacant or in pensive mood".

But that's just a guess.
I can see that.

We know that Elves and Humans are basically the same species, but that something exists that makes Elves qualitatively different from Humans in more respects than just the longevity of the Elves (I think it is Letter 153 when Tolkien makes that very observation).

So that profound cognitive differences should exist would not be a surprise.


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Old 07-20-2016, 02:16 PM   #38
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Turkey? Iran?

The USA?

MB
Why, the good, ole USA, naturally.
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Old 07-20-2016, 06:45 PM   #39
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Another thought regarding Mordor: I can't really prove it with quotes but I get the distinct impression that Saurons Rule, the "political structure" of his empire in the third age is also "medieval", that is to say feudal, indirect and "looser" than in the second age. Yes he rules over Mordor directly, but the peoples and states in Khand, Harad, Far-Harad, Umbar and Rhun seem to be more or less autonomous. I guess that they have to nominally acknowledge and worship Sauron as God-King, probably send tributes and provide troop contingents during war time, but apart from that Sauron doesn't seem to care all that much and they seem to be more or less left to themselves, they don't seem to be tightly controlled, centrally governed provinces of a continental empire (that's how I picture Saurons realm during the second age). Maybe Sauron would have turned his attention to his Vassals after his final victory against the West and complete the subjugation. While the fight against the west was still ongoing he maybe allowed a certain amount of freedom because he needed the manpower of the East and South but it wouldve been too time- and resource consuming for him to directly conquer the whole area and rule it directly (like he did in the second age) and he wanted to avoid a war on two (or three) fronts ... So he acted diplomatically towards his human "allies" for the time being ...
Of course that's all speculation ...

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Old 07-20-2016, 06:55 PM   #40
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Another thought regarding Mordor: I can't really prove it with quotes but I get the distinct impression that Saurons Rule, the "political structure" of his empire in the third age is also "medieval", that is to say feudal, indirect and "looser" than in the second age. Yes he ruled over Mordor directly, but the people and states in Khand, Harad, Far-Harad, Umbar and Rhun seem to be more or less autonomous. I guess that they had to nominally acknowledge Sauron as God-King, probably send tributes and provide troop contingents during war time, but apart from that Sauron doesn't seem to care all that much and they seem to be more or less left to themselves, they don't seem to be tightly controlled, centrally governed provinces of a continental empire (that's how I picture Saurons realm during the second age). Maybe Sauron would have turned his attention to his Vassals after his final victory against the West and complete the subjugation. While the fight against the west was still ongoing he maybe allowed a certain amount of freedom because he needed the manpower of the East and South but it wouldve been too time- and resource consuming for him to directly conquer the whole area and rule it directly (like he did in the second age).
Of course that's all speculation ...
That tends to be the impression I had as well.

But a Feudal structure is not incompatible with a Centrally ruled Tyranny.

It would just mean that all power was concentrated into the hands of a very small ruling class (The Black-Nśmenóreans, or their descendants, for example).

We do have a few statements, for instance, that Khamūl ruled over the East of Rhūn. And that Harad was largely a Tributary to Mordor, autonomous, and under the control of what seems to be a scattered grouping of Tribal Authorities. We really have not a lot to go on.

But the point I think people are making re-Modernity is that Tolkien was using Mordor to caricature, and mock modern-day Nation-State's Bureaucracies, which he saw during the First World War become downright "evil" in their conduct of that war (impersonal, and capricious). And thus Mordor, even if ultimately a Feudal State (Sauron as absolute Ruler, with petty Lords ruling the various strongholds) was a nightmare of everything that could go wrong in a Modern Nation-State where Ideology was more important than actual results.

MB
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