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Old 09-29-2004, 09:01 AM   #1
Ealasaide
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Middle Earth - Unstuck in Time?

Someone please direct me to the right place if this issue has already been addressed on another thread or even another forum, but I have been thinking lately that Middle Earth seems to be a place that is culturally unstuck in time.

Prior to becoming heavily involved in RPG's on the Barrow Downs, this issue had not occurred to me, but the more writing I do in the RPG's, the more I find myself tripped up by petty details such as clothing and social nuances.

Culturally, it seems to me that Middle Earth reflects several different time periods at once, depending on the Race and Geographical Location of a given character. For instance, hobbits seem very Victorian, while Rohan seems to ride out to us from about the 6th century. Gondor seems more 12th century. The Elves, on the other hand, seem to come from the Time of Legends, to borrow a term from Terry Gilliam and the Time Bandits, though their clothing seems to be more along medieval lines.

The political structure of the countryside seems more like the sixth century at the beginning of LotR, being divided into separate and sometimes warring citystates, while it takes on more of a medieval feel at the end of RotK, when Aragorn ascends the throne.

So... in terms of RPG-ing, from whence does one draw one's source material other than from Tolkein's works alone? Not being as well-read at Tolkein's works as I perhaps should be, I find myself wondering how to detail my RPG posts. For an RPG that takes place at roughly the same time as the War of the Ring, do I describe a sailing ship that would be contemporary to the 6th, 12th, or 19th century? Do such things as jousting and dueling (with swords - I do realize that there is no gunpowder) exist in Middle Earth? In clothing, I find myself constantly wondering if my character should be wearing a shirt and waistcoat or a tunic. What style dresses do the ladies wear?

So far, I have found that it really has not made that much difference to anyone what I do in terms of details , but being a bit of a purist, I find the situation disorienting at times and was wondering if anyone else had any opinions on the matter.
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Old 09-29-2004, 11:03 AM   #2
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The discussion I remember was from a movie-oriented person... PJ? Philippa Boyens? Not sure. Anyway they thought that the Hobbits were basically Edwardian, and then time moved "backwards" as you progressed East and south. Bree was 1900s; Rivendell was Renaissance or so; Lorien & Mirkwood bordered on Medieval? Rohan was essentially Anglo-Saxon (so I'm thinking 1000-ish) and Gondor was, well, I guess about the same only a different culture(Italian maybe? Who knows.) Dwarves I'm not sure.

I don't know if there is wide agreement on that, but it made fairly good sense to me.

On the other hand, I traversed Middle-Earth before I learned European histories and customs, so in a way, Middle-Earth makes more sense to me than Europe does.

For RPGs I guess I rely on gut instinct; how helpful can I be!
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Old 09-29-2004, 12:22 PM   #3
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I think you raise a good point, Ealasaide. There are several points to consider about how to depict Middle-earth, especially when Tolkien created different cultures and societies with different styles.

I know that when, years ago it seems now, I first set up the RPG resource thread, it was not with the intention of creating rigid categories of historical accuracy. Rather I hoped to provide quick sources people could use to develop vocabularies for various aspects of Middle-earth--aspects which would tend not to be found in our regular vocabularies today. Simple things really--vocabulary for parts of a horse, for archery and swords, for various kinds of occupations, styles of clothing, etc. One of the intriguing things about Tolkien is his control over diction and so I thought that might be reflected in how we care to write our games.

It seems to me there are two basic trends in gaming or Tolkien fanfiction. The pinacle of one kind is represented by Mithadan's superb short stories: an absolute allegiance to the style, tone, tenor and ethos of Tolkien's writing. It is a kind of fidelity and discipline, to challenge oneself to find the language which completely fits Middle-earth without any slippage into modern day terminology or attitudes. Sort of like 'writing Middle-earth from the inside.'

The other kind is looser, maybe more geared towards putting Middle-earth in other contexts: an approach which wants to say, "how would Tolkien have described this if he had included it?" That is what I strove for with my character Darash in Fordim's game Land of Darkness, a Black Amazon from ancient mythologies. I tried to imagine how that kind of person would fit into Middle-earth.

It seems to me too that we have come a long way in our approach to gaming here at the Barrow Downs. As I recall, our initial efforts were devoted towards asking people to respect the special qualities of Middle-earth and at least to be aware of how one went about imagining characters and events in a Tolkien game. At one time, we had many people who were more interested in hack and wack sword play and not so much in the particular attitude Tolkien had towards warfare. Or we had a plethora of unimaginative green-eyed maidens who were all orphans. I think our changes were designed to inspire gamers to strive for originality of characterisation and some degree of consistency with a Middle-earth tone: really a kind of creative writing with the kind of calibre which the discussion threads had. I think we are currently thinking about this same idea now regarding the Mirth forum: how to use language creatively, intelligently, wittily.

That is I think what is essential in any of the games here on the Downs: writing well.

I bet this is a real big help, isn't it?
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Old 09-30-2004, 07:09 AM   #4
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Thanks for the feedback Mark and Bethberry!

While neither of you were able to answer my question directly - I'm not sure there really is an answer - you were both quite helpful.

What an interesting notion that physical travel through Middle Earth runs a parallel to travel backward through time! I don't know that I necessarily agree with the timeline as plotted out - I still think Rohan reflects an older social structure than Gondor - but it is a fascinating idea. (For some strange reason, it makes me think of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the physical journey down the river there being reflective of a spiritual journey into the darker recesses of the heart.) I do agree, though, that hobbits are more Edwardian than Victorian. My mistake!

As for the two trends in gaming, etc, it is interesting to know the history of gaming on the Downs. I think where I was getting hung up was that I tend naturally toward the latter school of thought, i.e. "how would Tolkien have described this if he had included it?" but was thinking that maybe I should be trying harder to meet the requirements of the former. It's good to know that that is really not the focus here and that good writing in general is. Also, BethberryI'm very familiar with your RPG resource thread, having made use of it on a number of occasions. It does a wonderful job of providing vocabulary and insight into a wide variety of topics that are not exactly in the realm of common knowledge these days. Great stuff!

I am beginning to believe that there may be a fundamental error in my approach here in that I have been rather stubbornly attempting to apply a Western European timeline to a place that exists separately from history, within its own frame of reference. Being a blockheaded realist who is much more apt to be found toting around a volume of Tolstoy or the biography of Gertrude Bell in my briefcase than a fantasy or sci-fi novel, I think I may be trying a little too hard to apply historical standards where they really don't belong.

In the fabric of Middle Earth, it seems that various time periods can exist concurrently in terms of clothing styles and social structure. What ties it all together is that they all share the same level of technology... no one city-state being more advanced technologically than another... but... the question that remains is - What level is that? From what century does Middle Earth cull it's most advanced technology? 6th? 12th? 19th?

Which begs another question... has technology remained stagnant in Middle Earth throughout the ages or has it advanced at all with time? Are the ships, weapons, etc, all the just the same in the third age as they were in the first?
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Old 09-30-2004, 08:30 AM   #5
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Lobelia Sackville-Baggins had an umbrella, and Bilbo had a clock on the mantelpeice. The most advanced thing in Minas Tirith seem to be the siege-engines, whatever they were.

Generally speaking, Tolkien favored art over technology. He doesn't describe Feanor's palantiri as technology; they are art. I think it's not really a question of advancing technology.

In Middle-Earth, I think it's a question of technology-growth being a sign of the decay of the arts. The highest civilizations were the artistic ones (Noldor, and all that high art in Valinor.)

Each race had its art. You might argue that the "art" I refer to is actually a craft, but I would argue that a craft taken to perfection is an art anyway.

For the hobbits, it was actually working the earth. They were superb farmers and gardeners, and they even lived in the earth. When they lost that touch with the soil, and Sharkey built his mills and ugly sheds and started smoking the place out, that was the Shire's greatest catastrophe.

The art of the elves varied, but I think you could examine where the "falls from grace" took place. Feanor & co, is obvioius. Celebrimbor's ringmaking in alliance with a Maia-of-ill-repute comes to mind.

Dwarves are artists in metal and stone.

In terms of men--

The rangers' art is to disappear in the woods and come out again exactly where they mean to. Not much technology there, but lots of "woodcraft".

It strikes me that the art of Bree is that men and hobbits dwell together peaceably sharing real-estate and ale.

When I think of Rohan, I think their horses are their art. Equestrians will understand.

Gondor-- what art have they left? Numenor was once glorious, but their fall was so long ago. They are the most decayed race of all, I think (" How the mighty have fallen. ") They are too busy fighting; not their fault; but Faramir-- a noble example of an "Old Numenorian"-- still loves the arts, and loves the sword not for its brightness but for what it defends. In contrast, Denethor -- an example, I think, of a fallen "Old Numenorean"-- perceives power as the essence of life, and he despairs when it is taken from him. One gets the sense that Faramir could care less about power.

In answer to your question "So how do I write RPG technology"-- my gut instinct is, remember that technology is generally negative and avoid it as best you can. Middle-Earth is about art and character. Whenever technology is mentioned (aside from a hobbits' clock or umbrella) it's a bad thing. Saruman and Sauron are the engineers. The good guys are the artists.

ps. On a tightly related note:

Aiwendil has written an absolutely ***brilliant***, must-read essay regarding the height and decline of music in Middle-Earth.

Aiwendil's essay: Music in Middle-Earth

Last edited by bolcotook; 09-30-2004 at 09:28 AM. Reason: inclusion of link
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Old 09-30-2004, 08:39 AM   #6
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On the other hand, I traversed Middle-Earth before I learned European histories and customs, so in a way, Middle-Earth makes more sense to me than Europe does.
So much for seeing through the glass
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Old 09-30-2004, 08:48 AM   #7
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bolcotook - Perhaps technology was the wrong term to use to communicate the point I intended to make. I hesitated over using it for the very reasons you cite, i.e. that technology as such is portrayed as evil in Middle Earth while art and pastoral work such as farming is portrayed as good. It is interesting that you classify farming as art, but I suppose it can be seen as such when practiced with the sort of dedication brought to it by the hobbits. The same for woodcraft, horses, etc. Good point!

The question I was really trying to ask, though, was when writing in Middle Earth, what line of detail does one go with? Broadswords, obviously, not rapiers. No firearms or cannon. But does one visualize a Viking-style longship when taking to the sea? Or a three-masted ship with a quarterdeck, multiple sails and complex rigging, only sans cannon, of course.

Obviously, there does seem to be a difference in technology between the various city-states, now that you bring up Lobelia's umbrella and the clock on the mantle at Bag End. I can not seem to recall any mention of such objects in Minas Tirith.

That brings us back to Mark's notion of time travel parallelling physical travel.
Hmmm...

**************************

EDIT: thanks for the link, Bolcotook. I will be sure to check it out!

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Old 09-30-2004, 11:50 AM   #8
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Which begs another question... has technology remained stagnant in Middle Earth throughout the ages or has it advanced at all with time? Are the ships, weapons, etc, all the just the same in the third age as they were in the first?
Putting aside the technology/art question (which is a pertinent one, of course, but as always I'm going to take the easy way out and sidestep the thorniest issue ), I think an argument can be made that the level of technology actually declines over time in Tolkien's world: after Feanor, no more Silmarils or Palantiri were made. After Celebrimbor and Sauron were finished, no more Rings of Power were made (I'll admit, there are all sorts of good reasons for this to be the case...). After Numenor sank into the sea, no one made such strong ships anymore. Even the Trees and the Lamps could not be re-crafted. On a grander scale, after the face of the earth was marred by Melkor it could not be re-made in its perfection, and perhaps this is at the root of the idea of "technology" (or whatever it is) declining over time.

The other point you bring up, about levels of technology varying in different cultures, can be explained in another way, at least as regards umbrellas and mantelpiece clocks. The source for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is, of course, the Red Book of Westmarch, written by Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. For all three of them, the Shire is home and it is the embodiment of safety and ordinariness (sorry--there's got to be a better way to make that word into a noun!). Therefore, when describing it, the authors take note of the comfortable and ordinary parts of their surroundings. But when they travel to Rivendell, to Lorien, and to Gondor, they are in foreign countries. They are awestruck by the timelessness of the Elves and the majesty of Minas Tirith. While I can't seem to get my mind around the idea of Celeborn with a pocket-watch (because of the uncertainty of passing time in Lorien), I see no reason why these things couldn't have existed in Gondor and even in Rivendell--the hobbits just didn't take notice of them because they were so ordinary. The descriptions of these places and the people living there are, as most travel narratives are, focused on what is different, impressive, or unique about the places being described. So Theoden may well have had umbrellas by the dozen, but Merry just wouldn't have bothered to tell Frodo about them.

EDIT: I just realized that the above is an awful example, because Merry of all the hobbits would have been the most likely to notice Theoden's umbrellas and mantelpiece clocks. He was interested in the similarities between the Rohirrim and the hobbits, linguistically and otherwise. I sure hope that doesn't deflate my entire argument! But if it does, so be it. It wouldn't be the first time!
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Old 09-30-2004, 12:08 PM   #9
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Tolkien

I am no scholar, but here are my thoughts upon your problem:

When in doubt, leave it as vague as possible.

Of course, being vague is never a good thing, but, let me try to explain with the example of the ship: most ships are pretty much the same. They have the sails and mast, etc. You can also base the ships upon the races that inspired Tolkien's peoples (they were inspired, weren't they, or am I remembering wrong?). But my point is this: instead of focusing on the ship, you can focus on other things, thus making your writing descriptive, yet leaving the object of doubt residing safely in vagueness.

As Bb mentioned, RPG/fan fictions can either be rigidly Tolkien's style, or just a looser form of that style. Either way, Tolkien himself was not that descriptive of details in true mythic style. He gave us enough, and I'm sure that we can draw on that knowledge for our own writings.

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Originally Posted by Ealasaide
Which begs another question... has technology remained stagnant in Middle Earth throughout the ages or has it advanced at all with time? Are the ships, weapons, etc, all the just the same in the third age as they were in the first?
I believe that technology has advanced. In the Hobbit it is mentioned that we do not see hobbits because they are scared of the Big Folks. He also wrote it as a mythology, a place in this world before ours (ME does look very similar to Europe by the by).
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Old 09-30-2004, 01:05 PM   #10
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When in doubt, leave it as vague as possible.
Ah, Imladris, you are obviously not the glutton for detail that I am! If I am talking about a ship, I want to make the reader see the ship with as much detail as possible. I want to come as close to putting my reader on the ship beside my character as I possibly can. If my character is a sailor, for example, I would like for him to be able to talk about his vessel with at least the appearance of being knowledgeable about his vessel. I would like for him to be able to talk about the decks and the sails and usage of the sails, not be stuck saying merely, "hmmm, the wind is up. Let's sail!" No insult intended, but isn't ignoring specifics of detail the lazy way out?

As for Tolkein's not concentrating on details like this, I do believe he had other things on his mind, seeing as he was creating a new mythology... but we have the mythology in place already, many thanks to him, and can afford to place a little more emphasis on detail. So far, I have just been winging along based on whatever seemed appropriate in a given storyline, which has worked pretty well as far as it goes. I am not looking for a definitive listing of what is and is not available to the folks in Middle Earth, but rather a general consensus of what people's impressions are based on their own reading and interpretation of Tolkein's work. Tolkein could be quite descriptive, though, where such description was approriate. To say that he ignored specifics in "true mythic style" is to sell both Prof. Tolkein and "mythic style" a short bill of goods. Go back to the source material of, say, the Iliad or the Odyssey. Homer could go on forever with rather mind-numbing detail at times.

tar-anclime - good point regarding point of view! I had not considered the source there, myself, but you are right as to what you said in your edit. I think a hobbit such as Merry would be first to note anything that made him think of home, the most ordinary things being the most notable because they would bring with them a sense of normality and comfort to stressful situation. So, are there really umbrellas in Edoras? I tend to think not for precisely the reason that Merry neglected to mention them.

Imladris - could the fact that hobbits tend to hide from big folks really be interpretted as an advance in technology? It seems to me - and it's just my off-the-cuff opinion - that that would indicate a change in social interaction, rather than any technological change. Why do the hobbits make themselves scarce? I believe Tolkein said it was because they were shy by nature and that big people were noisy and blundered about with very little care for their surroundings. This does bring to mind a less pastoral mind-set on the part of the big people, but I fail to see the connection between this and technology. I'd be very interested in seeing how you arrived at this conclusion!


tar-ancalime - you also made a good point about the decline of technology in that no more Silmarils or Palantiri were made, no ships so strong as those made by the Numenoreans, etc, etc, but doesn't that also coincide with a decline in magic? It seems to me that LotR takes place at a time when magic is slowly giving way to the ordinary, the mundane, the world of men, as opposed to the world of elves and elven magic.

(I know the term "magic" is problematic in speaking of Middle Earth, but I use it loosely here for lack of a better term.)
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Old 09-30-2004, 01:59 PM   #11
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the decline of technology in that no more Silmarils or Palantiri were made, no ships so strong as those made by the Numenoreans, etc, etc, but doesn't that also coincide with a decline in magic?
I suspect Galadriel, and the rope-making elf in the Farewell To Lorien chapter, would call that a decline in art.

"Are these magic cloaks?"

"I do not know what you mean by that... Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make."

Quote:
. This does bring to mind a less pastoral mind-set on the part of the big people, but I fail to see the connection between this and technology.
Perhaps the connection is that as men increase their comfort in and dependance on technology, and remove themselves further and further from the soil and the earth, hobbits grow still less and less interested in men-- regarding them with ever-increasing suspicion.
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Old 09-30-2004, 02:19 PM   #12
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"Are these magic cloaks?"

"I do not know what you mean by that... Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make."
With this example, we fall back into tar-ancalime's issue of point of view. For the elves, who are inherently magical persons, this would not be magic, but would be art, quite ordinary for them. But for hobbits and men, who are not capable of crafting such things, it would fall into the area of magic. The cloaks are not magical in that they are not given their power by any charm or spell, but they are magical in that they can accomplish by their mere existence that which is beyond human craftsmanship, hence magical. Under these standards, magic is in the eye of the beholder. To a dog, a television is pretty darn magical, but to the TV repairman, it is just ordinary stuff.

With the decline of the presence of elves in Middle Earth, we see a decline in magic... or art, if you prefer to think of it that way. That being said, however, art and technology can co-exist, but can technology and magic? It seems to me that by it's mere nature, technology eliminates the possibility of magic. The advent of the Age of Men in Middle Earth would seem to bring with it a renaissance of technology and an end to magic. That's where I get the impression of sadness in Tolkein's work, a yearning for the magical in a place where magic is rapidly disappearing.
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Old 09-30-2004, 03:06 PM   #13
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Tolkien

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ealasaide
Ah, Imladris, you are obviously not the glutton for detail that I am! If I am talking about a ship, I want to make the reader see the ship with as much detail as possible. I want to come as close to putting my reader on the ship beside my character as I possibly can. If my character is a sailor, for example, I would like for him to be able to talk about his vessel with at least the appearance of being knowledgeable about his vessel. I would like for him to be able to talk about the decks and the sails and usage of the sails, not be stuck saying merely, "hmmm, the wind is up. Let's sail!" No insult intended, but isn't ignoring specifics of detail the lazy way out?
Being vague might be the lazy man's out, but considering that Tolkien himself was vague on such things as style, we don't really have much of a choice, do we? However, I never said, "Don't describe the ship." You said something about whether the ship was like a Viking ship, etc. However, ships have pretty much the same parts in general: decks, aft, starboard, etc. You can use these. Just because you don't say how the ship overall looks like doesn't mean we are being lazy. I never said that we shouldn't describe at all. I said we should focus on other things other than the over all looks, ie, whether a ship looks like a viking ship or a pirate ship or whatnot because we don't know. What we do know are a few of the details (listed above) that we can use to make it seem real.

To explain, let me quote your ship example:

Quote:
But does one visualize a Viking-style longship when taking to the sea? Or a three-masted ship with a quarterdeck, multiple sails and complex rigging, only sans cannon, of course.
We have a ship.
We don't know how the ship looks like since Tolkien didn't describe the culture of the race using the ship. Thus we are vague on the way this ship looks like.
However, we know that all ships have a certain kind of sails, decks, aft, etc. We use these to make it real.

Lazy? Hardly.

I would also like to say that Tolkien never described how a ship in general looked like (as if it was like a Viking sort of ship). In the part of the Sil where King Ar-Phazon was going to attack Valinor he didn't tell us how the ships in general looked like. He described their banners, how their masts looked like a forested island, etc. In other words, he was vague on how they looked like. Same thing with the Corsair ships. The only thing we knew about them was that they had black sails and they were still real.

What I am saying is that we should focus on the details of the ship (sails, decks, etc) and not on the over all ship (Viking ship, etc). Is that still lazy, or did you misunderstand me? As Bb said, saying what you thought I was saying would be bad writing.

I would also like to point out that we cannot use Vikings, Edwardian, etc styles because they were after ME's time.

Quote:
could the fact that hobbits tend to hide from big folks really be interpretted as an advance in technology? It seems to me - and it's just my off-the-cuff opinion - that that would indicate a change in social interaction, rather than any technological change. Why do the hobbits make themselves scarce? I believe Tolkein said it was because they were shy by nature and that big people were noisy and blundered about with very little care for their surroundings. This does bring to mind a less pastoral mind-set on the part of the big people, but I fail to see the connection between this and technology. I'd be very interested in seeing how you arrived at this conclusion!
ME is a myth of our own world (thus, ME and our world are the same, much as the Grecian gods lived in Greece). We are big folks. Our world has advanced technologically. Thus, the ages of Middle Earth also advanced Technologically.

And, since I was too dumb to speak of it earlier, there were technological advances. The Silmarils, the dwarven craftsmanship, all equal advancement (in this case, artistic). If there was artistic advancement, then there was technilogical advances. Saruman advanced technologically, as did Melkor. Unfortunately they were evil advancements...
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Old 09-30-2004, 03:41 PM   #14
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Imladris - sorry if you thought I was implying you were dumb or a bad writer - neither was my intent. I was merely saying that details are important. One should apply pertinent details in order enrich one's writing and enhance the experience of the reader. I interpreted your statement:

Quote:
When in doubt, leave it as vague as possible.
as a word of advice to me that I would be better off not worrying with details as they are not important. Sorry, I still have to say it sounds a touch lazy to me!

As for your example of Tolkein's descriptions of the corsairs, not much else was needed, was it? But then, he was not writing an extended adventure on board a ship. He was writing about the reactions of people on land to the sight of the ships. I am talking about times when one needs specific details. As for Bb, I'm am certain she understands the importance of detail, hence why would she have created her wonderful RPG Resource Thread, eh?

In an RPG, as I ran into in "Here There Be Dragons" when my character needed to describe his ship, I could not very well have him say, "Oh, well, let's see. It had a deck and a sail. Ummm... Oh, yeah, a rudder, too!" You see where I am going with this? My purpose in starting this thread was to discover if there was a common frame of reference out there according to people's visions after reading the books. I may picture a three-masted sailing vessel, while other people may picture a viking longship with a single sail. In the vast scheme of things, I'm sure it doesn't make that much difference to the world which is which, but it does make a difference when one is attempting to become a stronger performer in a given arena.

Quote:
I would also like to point out that we cannot use Vikings, Edwardian, etc styles because they were after ME's time.
As for this comment, I do have to say that you seem to be taking my remarks a touch too literally. I would never describe something in an RPG by those standards as they do not exist within the context of Middle Earth. To say that Middle Earth came at a time prior to that is erroneous because we are talking about two separate and totally disconnected worlds. While they bear a resemblance to one another, we can cannot in all seriousness say that ME came before this world. If we did that - going back to technology - we would be implying that mantle clocks and umbrellas existed prior to vikings.

Because Prof. Tolkein belonged to this world, i.e. 20th Century Europe, he did draw on these time periods, viking, Edwardian, etc, for reference. Therefore, we are perfectly entitled to use these terms when describing his work, characters, or scenes in a context of criticism and discussion, which I believe this is.
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Old 09-30-2004, 03:59 PM   #15
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Tolkien

Quote:
To say that Middle Earth came at a time prior to that is erroneous because we are talking about two separate and totally disconnected worlds.
Tolkien wrote LotR as a mythology for England (letter 130). Also Letter 156:

Quote:
But they were still living on the borders of myth -- or rather this tory exhibits 'myth' passing into History or the Dominion of Men
Myth

And, I never said not to be descriptive. I write like I explained in detail in my former post (I suppose this makes me lazy, I don't know). I said to draw on the information that Tolkien based his races on.

I, however, do not feel it right to tamper with Tolkien's myth if he has left such things vague and if there is no cultural basis to turn to. If that is lazy then I am lazy.
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Old 09-30-2004, 05:11 PM   #16
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Shield On your mark, Writers of the Mark!

If I may interject here, my two excellent Writers of the Mark, I think there are things to be said for both your approaches. Why? Because, as writers, while we strive to capture the feel of Middle-earth, we also must listen to our own imaginative voices. There is a time and place to learn about character, about plot, about description, about interaction, and there is also a time and place to recognise the role of the creative imagination.

I don't really see any reason why there has to be one definitive form of, say, Middle-earth ship, or wagon, or sword, or armament. What is important is consistency within each game, but I don't think we have to say that all games need to use the same terms of rerference for styles.

What are those words which help flesh out the vision of the particular game you are playing in? Maybe in one game you will want to describe the Viking longboats with their particular shape of sail and oarsmen and prow. Maybe in another you might be inspired by visions of Chinese junks. I can't see U boats in a Tolkien game--well, I'm sure someone might, for the sake of argument, try to see if a 'modern' game of sea warfare could be written with the ethos of Tolkien's heroic ideal--but I think the really important point is not to say definitively that there is one particular style for each race, but that a legitimate case can be made, game by game, for a particular vision. Maybe someone has built a boat by hand and would want to contribute that knowledge to a totally unique sense of ship. A case could be made.

To me, the defining issue is "does this inspire in me a sense of the values which Middle-earth represents?" If no, why not and how can that be accomodated? If yes, then, what is it that creates such a sense? Sometimes it might be the writer's skill at evoking in the reader's mind an idea; sometimes it might be the writer's skill at taking one aspect of Tolkien and extrapolating it; sometimes it might be the writer's skill at catching the very flavour and tone of Tolkien's world.

As an example, let me refer to a quote on another thread. davem offered a passage from a soldier in WWI describing his batman, in demonstration of the historical accuracy of Tolkien's depiction of Sam's fielty towards Frodo. Yet Fordim questioned that quotation as being too patronising. Both 'readings' are, I think, equally valid, but I would not expect to see them in the same game. In separate games each might have its place.

Must away--I will return to provide a link to that thread.
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Old 09-30-2004, 05:41 PM   #17
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Specifically on the topic of ships, I found this interesting. In RotK, the Corsair ships Aragorn makes use of are briefly described. One type listed was listed, a dromund, and I found out what they were here.
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Their shipcraft consisted merely of "dromunds, and ships of great draught with many oars, and with black sails bellying in the breeze." (RK) A dromund is an -originally Byzantinian - kind of large and swift ship of war, similar to a galley of the classical Roman Empire. Typically it was a large vessel, having 100 oars in two banks which were served by slaves. However, they were keel-less ships, restricted to coastal drift and unable to cope with the rough waters of the Belegaer. This was a far cry from the supreme high-sea "galleons" (HA) of Númenór.
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Old 09-30-2004, 05:42 PM   #18
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Meep! My apologies...Thank you for correcting me on that Firefoot.

My point still stands though, even though my example was faulty.
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Old 09-30-2004, 08:40 PM   #19
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Well, Imladris, my friend, I guess we will have to agree to disagree!

I'm going to commit a bit of heresy here... While it is well known that Prof. Tolkein wrote LotR, et al, as a mythology for England, the fact is that it is not the mythology for England. The mythology for England has been lost. Prof. Tolkein's work, while being of exceptional quality and detail, is a relatively contemporary work of fiction that finds its roots in the folkloric traditions of Scandinavia and to a much smaller degree, Russia. As a product of 20th Century England, Tolkein had hundreds of years of European history to draw upon and, as I have noted farther up in the thread, made liberal use of it, hence creating the time-warp effect that made me open this thread to begin with.

Let me reiterate, though - I am not calling you lazy! All I was trying to say is that detail is useful for bringing life to a story. Honestly, I do understand the thoughts you are trying to express here. I just don't happen to agree with them. And you don't happen to agree with me. That's fine! As long as we can agree to that much, we can both go away happy and get a good night's sleep, eh?

*****************************

Bethberry -
Quote:
I don't really see any reason why there has to be one definitive form of, say, Middle-earth ship, or wagon, or sword, or armament. What is important is consistency within each game, but I don't think we have to say that all games need to use the same terms of reference for styles.
Oh, I agree with you completely there! As I said above, it was never my intention to try to create a definitive list of what is and is not used by the folks in Middle Earth. My original purpose in opening this thread was that I had noticed the wide cultural differences that exist between the various regions of Middle Earth, everything from the "modern" Edwardian-style Shire, to the more Iron Age feel of the Mark, and was wondering how other folks had responded to this over the course of their readings. From there, it occurred to me that perhaps the element tying the different "ages" together into the coherent whole of Third Age Middle Earth was the fact that they all shared a common level of technology. I still believe that in a rather nebulous sort of way and am still seeking to define to my own satisfaction what exactly that level of technology may be within Tolkein's work.

As far as RPG's go, I also agree completely with your statement:

Quote:
the defining issue is "does this inspire in me a sense of the values which Middle-earth represents?" If no, why not and how can that be accomodated? If yes, then, what is it that creates such a sense? Sometimes it might be the writer's skill at evoking in the reader's mind an idea; sometimes it might be the writer's skill at taking one aspect of Tolkien and extrapolating it; sometimes it might be the writer's skill at catching the very flavour and tone of Tolkien's world.
But ...hmmm.... a U-boat RPG? Sounds like fun!
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Old 10-01-2004, 01:45 AM   #20
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Ealasaide -

I have read this thread with interest, both your initial questions and the diverse responses these have elicited. Since I spend most of my time in RPGs, I too have given thought to the problems you have outlined. The fact that I am a historian has also influenced the way I view this chronological variation. My initial reaction is this: on one level, the problem is even more complicated than you have described.

Differences in 'technology' (or at least what must be called technology since we have no other label to afix to it) certainly existed in Middle-earth from one people to another. To name just a few technologies, there are numerous anachronistic references relating to Hobbits and the Shire; Gandalf's mastery of fireworks; Elvish "art" which encompasses such wonders as the Seeing Stones, Galadriel's mirror, and the actual Rings; Dwarvish weapons and mining and utilization of mithril, the latter of which seems far superior to any metal I am aware of today; and the charming toys of Dale. That's quite a range of items! At the same time, you also have people such as the Woses and the Icemen who seem to prefer what could be termed a "non-technological" approach to things, choosing to live in harmony with the earth by utilizing purely natural resources and tools.

My first impulse is to throw up my hands in despair with such a hopeless hodgepodge, but I think we can look at this another way. Is this variegated mixture all that different from the diversity of our world today? I can point to societies that are heavily dependent on modern technology, where scientists do research on problems of space travel, cold fusion energy, and genetics, but I can also point to other societies that are more traditional, some out of economic necessity and still others where people have intentionally modelled their lives in a different way. In other words, we live in a world where some people travel in jet planes while others walk, use a bicycle, or carry their belongings on the back of a llama. Yet when we try to characterize the modern world, we invariably fall back on terms and images like "jet plane". But is that accurate? The bicycle, lama, and pedestrian are just as much part of our human experience in the twenty-first century as the rocket ship or airplane. Moreover, we can look at a single society and find examples of people employing a wide variety of methods of transportation: everything from hand crafted boats to ocean liners.

I guess the point I am trying to make is this: the first step in writing about Middle-earth is to realize that there will be as much variation in that world as in the "real" world we inhabit. Different ways of doing things will be apparent, and some technologies will look strange when placed next to others, yet they are all equally valid reflections of a particular world. There is probably no one right Corsair ship just as there is no one right American or British ship today.

Secondly, are we really in all that different a position when we look back on Middle-earth than when we consider our own historical record? Tolkien has told us many things about the society, but he has admittedly left large holes. Yet the same is true of the historical record. My job as a historian is to try and fill in some of these "holes". But quite often, I am simply unable to do so. I don't have enough evidence to understand fully what is going on. And the further back in history that I push, the more difficult my problem becomes. My problem as a writer of Middle-earth RPGs is not all that different in this regard.

My gut feeling is this. Unlike Imladris, my personal preference is to "fill in the holes" to the best of my ability when I write a story. But I do not believe there is only one way these holes can get filled in (or even that they must be filled in). There are certain things I will not do because they seem blatantly wrong, e.g, spaceships and such. I do this out of respect to the author. Yet, even here, there is vast leeway. What about the mechanical monstors that figure so prominently in the early writings? What about Tolkien's story fragments on dream/time travel? If someone used these devices in a story, I would cheerfully accept them (indeed I have used time travel myself), as long as that person carefully laid a ground work to make that particular development believable.

My preference is to accord freedom to the writer and not lay down rigid guidelines as to what a Corsair ship should or should not be. If I see it one way and you see it another, so be it....we have only limited information from the author himself.

I am not Tolkien. As such, my RPGs and stories are not "canon". Even Mithadan and similar writers can only guess at what the author might have said in many cases. Interestingly, I think there are other problems far greater than technology when it comes to filling in the gaps of Middle-earth. I would love, for example, to know what a wedding looks like in the Shire or Gondor. Were they anything like the Elvish unions Tolkien described.?...probably not. So I blithely fill in the hole to the best of my ability, hoping that my words echo truthfully. If someone reads the story and responds to that echo and believes that it feels right, I will have accomplished my goal.

As an historian in real life, I see no way that Middle-earth could or should be made to conform completely to certain chronological conventions. It is helpful, for example, to consider the Shire in terms of Edwardian farming practices, or to see the Anglo-Saxon influence that underlay some of what we see in Rohan. But I honestly don't think the author himself was trying to present a completely consistent image. For every historical example you could cite, I could do research and cite examples to the contrary.

Bethberry is on the right track -- get the basic "feeling" right and don't sweat the details. And Davem is also correct in saying there is an element of "faerie" in Middle-earth that can never be understood in strictly historical terms.

Do what seems right, enjoy your writing, and don't worry too much about the rest!

*******************************

Having said all that, I will confess there is something else that still bothers me when writing for RPGS. I have no problem with ships or weddings. The problem occurs when I deal with individual characters. We have spoken at length on other threads how the most important thing for Tolkien was the telling of the story. Unlike the modern novel that focuses heavily on internal character development, Tolkien (with few exceptions) let us see his characters mainly from the outside. For the life of me, I find that very hard to do. My instinctive reaction is to delve into the character's persona in a way that is heavily influenced by the modern literature that I have read. And in most of the RPGs I've participated in, whether in the Shire, Rohan or Gondor, other posters have done the same.

Just once, I would like to do an RPG that attempted to write about Middle-earth in the way that Tolkien did: by showing things from outside in, instead of inside out. But that would be extremely difficult to achieve, and I'm not sure I could do it. Just to take the example of Frodo, one would have to expose the character very slowly and tentatively, with tiny hints here and there, instead of the long internal dialogues that I and many others are prone to use. That might not even be feasible in the context of a short RPG. Would it be desirable or preferable to try such a thing? I really can't answer that, but it would be interesting to try.
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Old 10-01-2004, 08:02 AM   #21
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Silmaril

Child wrote:

Quote:
There are certain things I will not do because they seem blatantly wrong, e.g, spaceships and such.
Two tongue-in-cheek points:

The Straight Road to Valinor?



Vingelot?



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Old 10-01-2004, 08:06 AM   #22
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Excellent, excellent insights, Child! But...

Quote:
My preference is to accord freedom to the writer and not lay down rigid guidelines as to what a Corsair ship should or should not be. If I see it one way and you see it another, so be it....we have only limited information from the author himself.
Firstly, I would like to clarify that I am NOT trying in any way, shape or form to define anything in the absolute - not ships, weddings, weapons, or anything else - for RPG purposes or other readers or what have you. Somehow that seems to be everyone's interpretation of what I am going for here, when really it is the farthest thing from my mind. I believe absolutely in the writer's freedom to express his or her own individual vision within the context of his her own writing. I don't believe that there should be only one way of seeing a sailing ship or a corsair. On that level, what I was curious about was impressions, i.e. what other people see in their minds' eyes, when they read the same passages that I read, not because I wanted to try to impose any kind of guidelines but because of an innocent interest in what other people see.

Secondly, good point that Middle Earth is a diverse place with many different levels of techonology existing side by side, just as in our world. I had considered that as well, which is why the questions of Harad or Woses or Icemen did not come up within my initial comments. I had accepted that much as a given. I was concentrating more on the, for lack of a better term, leading civilizations of The Shire, Rohan, and Gondor. That being said, though, I do not think that we are in disagreement.

As I have said repeatedly, Tolkein's works are works of contemporary fiction that draw upon centuries' worth of history, folklore, and legend. It is one man's vision of a magical place that exists outside of our history. While I did, at first, find myself trying to apply a Western European temporal yardstick to Middle Earth, I abandoned that notion rather quickly. Nonetheless, I still don't find myself departing from the notion that these societies share a common level of technology that ties them together.

For example, if one were trying to apply absolute historical guidelines here, hobbits would be running about with firearms, which were readily available in Edwardian times, while the folks of Gondor and Rohan would still be using swords and arrows. With his interest in technology, Saruman might have automobiles and steamships, while everyone else is still using horses and wagons. Instead, everyone universally rides about on horses, mules, elephants, or what have you. They fight with spears, bows, and swords. Boats are pretty much universally powered by wind and air. That is what I meant by a common level of technology, although I admit in the face of rampant anachronism, it may be impossible to define, based on Tolkein's work, what that level of technology really is aside from non-mechanical.

Even the use of the term non-mechanical gives rise to the argument that the dwarves created wonderfully magical mechanical toys. So, where are we? Back at umbrellas and mantle clocks.

And unstuck in time, by this world's standards, which is perfectly okey-dokey by me.

What I was also interested in on a purely intellectual level, was why it felt anachronistic to write about a ranger with a pocket watch or Denethor carrying an umbrella, when such things do exist in Middle Earth. Think back to the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which illustrated the relative chaos that ensued when such a strange and magical thing as a coke bottle landed among the bushmen. The thing is that I am not talking about bushmen here. The rulers of Gondor repesent the ruling class - eventually - of all of Middle Earth. Why don't the people of Gondor have such things as mantle clocks and umbrellas if they exist in The Shire? Surely they would be considered useful things and not beyond the ken of Gondorian society.

It doesn't matter in the vast scheme of things or even in the vast scheme of gamng, but it is a question that interests me simply as a question.

*********************************

Quote:
Just once, I would like to do an RPG that attempted to write about Middle-earth in the way that Tolkien did: by showing things from outside in, instead of inside out. But that would be extremely difficult to achieve, and I'm not sure I could do it. Just to take the example of Frodo, one would have to expose the character very slowly and tentatively, with tiny hints here and there, instead of the long internal dialogues that I and many others are prone to use.
That does sound like challenge! I am probably as bad as anyone about writing constant and lengthy internal dialogues. It would be a very interesting thing to try.

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Old 10-01-2004, 08:58 AM   #23
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The rulers of Gondor repesent the ruling class - eventually - of all of Middle Earth. Why don't the people of Gondor have such things as mantle clocks and umbrellas if they exist in The Shire? Surely they would be considered useful things and not beyond the ken of Gondorian society.
OK, I"m going to have another go at making the point I tried (and failed) to make yesterday.

I still think that the people of Gondor might well have had these things, but I'll try a slightly different angle on why they're not described:

Because the people of Gondor are the ruling class, the descendents of the Faithful of Numenor, and the relatives of Elrond, among other things, when Tolkien describes them at the end of the Third Age he has to use his words wisely to convey the impression of (for lack of a better image right now) majesty grown over with ivy. In other words, the lack of "ordinary" objects in Minas Tirith can be read as a literary device: we don't hear about Denethor's umbrella because the Gondorians, as the remnant of Numenor about to ascend to dominance once again, are too noble to be troubled with such mundane items.

Of course, the whole thing could well be explained in this way (with no umbrellas in Gondor):

Hobbits, in Third-Age terms, are a relatively young civilization with very little attachment to the past. Gondor, on the other hand, is drenched in its past glory both in Middle-Earth and as Numenor. The Elves are even more backward-looking. Perhaps this is why the hobbits are "allowed" such things as waistcoats and handkerchiefs: having arisen relatively recently, their society most closely resembles modern times. However, this in no way detracts from my theory that "technology/art" tends to decline over time in Middle-Earth: as Child of the 7th Age pointed out, the hobbits find Gandalf's fireworks, Galadriel's rope, and the toys from Dale to be "magical," which implies that there is nothing in their "technology" that can explain these things. Also there is no indication that the other societies look on the hobbits' achievements with anything like wonder or even interest, while the hobbits themselves spend much of the story gaping in astonishment at the wide world. To extricate myself from this rhetorical knot, I'll say briefly: the hobbits' level of "technology" is the most like our own and yet the least advanced of those around it.

Having, as usual, presented two entirely contradictory views, I will now exit without attempting to clean up my mess.
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Old 10-01-2004, 10:04 AM   #24
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Ealasaide,

Quote:
Firstly, I would like to clarify that I am NOT trying in any way, shape or form to define anything in the absolute - not ships, weddings, weapons, or anything else - for RPG purposes or other readers or what have you. Somehow that seems to be everyone's interpretation of what I am going for here, when really it is the farthest thing from my mind. I believe absolutely in the writer's freedom to express his or her own individual vision within the context of his her own writing.
Oh, yes. Sorry if I was unclear on this point. I never felt you were trying to lay down standards for anyone else. But what I thought you were saying was that there might be an "ideal" representation of a particular object --- say, for example, a Corsair ship-- and that you would personally feel more comfortable if you would somehow ferret out a sense of what that was and apply it in your own writing. However, given the statement you made about wanting to gather impressions and there being no one right way of depicting a Corsair ship, I may be slightly askew there!

This will be long so please bear with me, as I am just sorting out my own thoughts on this...

Let me add one thing about your desire to gather "impressions"..... Outside of those factors that Tolkien explicitly stated as being this way or that, I have few ironclad "impressions". For example, I would not have a "pure blooded" Elf with red hair and green eyes because Tolkien has given us enough information through the Legendarium for me to know this is not realistic. For similar reasons, I would not have an Elf with a light sabre aka Star Wars. But, as far as what the Elf is wearing or what the general tenor of Elven society is, that is an entirely different matter: I do not have enough information to develop a guiding impression merely from reading the books. Elements of history creep in, but so too does my imagination. Because of this, my images and reactions will vary from one game to the next.

One reason for this is that RPGs are written collaboratively. I will try to pick up on those hints set down in the story line by the founder and, more importantly, the tone established by the other writers. There are some RPGs on Elves which are written almost as straightforward history, while others may have an underlying hint of "faerie". Based on my understanding of what others are striving to do, I will modify the clothing my character wears, the way Rivendell looks, how solemn or jolly Elven society is, etc. I don't have one Rivendell in my head: I have many. Whichever Rivendell I care to use in a story will shift and change according to the situation I find myself in.

( A side note: I would be extremely curious to hear from other writers. When you write in other RPGS, is your writing different than when you write 'alone', with no one else to influence you, other than a stray author or two, or a real life situation that may have crept inside your mind? )

Is this a "betrayal" of Middle-earth, simply an admission of failure that I don't possess enough information to understand fully what the author intended? I prefer to look at it in another way. Reality to me is constantly shifting. It depends on who you are, what point you are at in time, what world you personally inhabit. There may be an overarching, unshifting "reality" in some Platonic sense, but, even if that is correct, my vision of it can be only partial. Hence, within any given story, I will be trying to capture different pieces of that reality: almost like the interplay of shadows and sunshine that can never be precisely duplicated. Hence, I will portray an istar in various ways in different stories, yet I view all of these pictures as equally valid (which is something pertinent to one RPG which you and I currently share )


My image of an istar , for example, may grow and change, not only based on what others are doing in a story, but also upon my own knowledge and understanding of Tolkien. When I first read LotR, I thought of wizards in one particular way. Later readings of Silm and UT greatly modified that image. Even in my own writings, I can see ways that my depicition of certain peoples and places have changed from exposure to more ideas, primarily those of Tolkien but even those stemming from other sources. For example, my own understanding of Elves has been heavily influence by legends of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. Before I came to this board, I had no idea of these Irish legends. Now there is a tiny bit of the Sidhe in my own depiction of Elves.

What's intriguing to me is that JRRT also seems to have been very flexible in how he dealt with things: his impressions were not static, but shifted from story to story. As Kilby put it, this was a man who consistently put forward inconsistent views on things, and absolutely seemed to delight in being challenging and even contrary!

Take a look at the Hobbit, then compare it to LotR, Silm, and the vast material reflected in HoMe. It seems as if JRRT was always willing to revisit his previous writings, pulling and tweaking things as ideas evolved in his head. This, as much as anything, is the reason why the Silm could never be set down in final form. And Tolkien wasn't even dealing with the vagaries of collaborative work! Some of the differences JRRT depicted could be put down to the challenge of writing for a different audience, particularly in terms of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The Rivendell of the Hobbit is certainly different than the Rivendell where Frodo comes. But even laying aside the question of different audiences, there were times when JRRT shifted his impressions and edited his writing just because he wanted to! I guess I claim the same prerogrative for myself.

So my inclination would be to say that I have relatively few ironclad "impressions". It is my response to the other writers, my evolving knowledge of Tolkien's text and my shifting understanding of the world about me that shapes the characters I write and the places I describe. And that may drastically change from one story to the next!

Quote:
What I was also interested in on a purely intellectual level, was why it felt anachronistic to write about a ranger with a pocket watch or Denethor carrying an umbrella, when such things do exist in Middle Earth. If you think back to the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, we are not talking about bushmen here. The rulers of Gondor repesent the ruling class - eventually - of all of Middle Earth. It doesn't matter in the vast scheme of things or even in the vast scheme of gamng, but it is a question that interests me as a question.

Denethor with an umbrella! That is funny, but you have brought up an important point about the fact that each people in Middle-earth were very unique and technologies were generally confined to a particular locale. Let me pose another question. Aren't we really talking about the "advanced technologies" here? To me, that would be these three:
  • the Elvish arts that were expressed in crafted items like jewels and Seeing Stones as much as through poetry and song
  • the anachronisms of the Shire, in which I would include Ganadalf's importation of fireworks, and,
  • most critically, the inventions of bad guys like Saruman which were dedicated to death and destruction, or to unlimited "production" (such as with the Scouring) with little heed to human or economic consequences.

There was little free interchange of technologies in Middle-earth, except for the toys coming out of Dale to the Shire. Stories seemed to have passed between the varying free peoples much easier than their technologies did. Even at the end of the book, we still have what I would term "gated communities": there is interchange between the differing peoples but this will only go so far. Clear boundaries still exist.

Tolkien cited rare instances where technical items were acquired unexpectedly by someone of a different race. For example, objects of Elvish art were gifted to both Humans and Hobbits---the Stones to the Edain and later to Elessar or the seeds to Sam-- or the Dwarvish mithril shirt and the Elvish Sting with its ability to warn of nearby Orcs. But these gifts were regarded as very rare, and came about only because the people in question had great need. If everything had been peaceful, most of this sharing of technology would not have occurred.

For the most part, only bad seems to come from shifting technologies from one realm to another. One clear example of this is the situation in the Shire at the end of the book where technology is forced on the Hobbits. Sharing technology is simply not done in the story and, because it's not done, I would probably not do it either in my writing, unless I wanted to give an example of something that went very wrong. For example, a Fourth Age baddie finds a hidden remnent of Saruman's technology and tries to reintroduce it.

Tolkien had such negative feelings about the "machine", and took such delight in portraying each of the free peoples as very distinct, that technological sharing was unlikely. ( I am sure he could have hated the current tendency to export American culture haphazardly throughout the world, replacing existing local customs and ways of life!) The author was willing to use technology in his story but only sparingly. And even he had ambivalent feelings about much of what the Noldor had created. So even I would never include Denethor with an umbrella in an RPG unless I was writing in Entish bow.

************

Tar- ancalime - Sorry I cross posted with you because this crazy post is so lengthy.
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Old 10-01-2004, 10:31 AM   #25
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Ealasaide,

In my earlier zeal to confuse the issue, I completely neglected to address this:

Quote:
tar-ancalime - you also made a good point about the decline of technology in that no more Silmarils or Palantiri were made, no ships so strong as those made by the Numenoreans, etc, etc, but doesn't that also coincide with a decline in magic? It seems to me that LotR takes place at a time when magic is slowly giving way to the ordinary, the mundane, the world of men, as opposed to the world of elves and elven magic.
I think that in the First, Second, and Third Ages, technology is magic. You rightly note that the word "magic" is problematic, but it's no less so than the word "technology." What we need is a third word, one to describe things made or created by skill as opposed to things found naturally (Sting is "magic," but the metal it's made from is not, I think; likewise, Aragorn's healing skills are "magic," but athelas is not). If magic is giving way at the end of the Third Age, it's because of the long, slow decline (related to Galadriel's "long defeat," perhaps?) in technology/magic that started long before, arguably with the destruction of the Lamps. So yes, the decline in technology does coincide with a decline in magic, because the two are one and the same--"magic" is a word used by the hobbits to describe technology they don't possess.
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Old 10-01-2004, 02:12 PM   #26
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'|Now goblins are cruel, wicked & bad hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. ...

Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, & also instruments of torture, they make very well....

It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devives for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels, engines & explosions always delighted them...(The Hobbit)
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And it is said that even those of the Numenoreans of old who had the straight vision did not all comprehend this, & they tried to devise ships that would rise above the waters of the world & hold to the imagined seas. [i]But they achieved only ships that would sail in the air of breath.(The Fall of Numenor)
CT comments:
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I believe that the story of the flying ships buiilt by the exild Numenoreans, found already in the preliminary draft is the sole introduction of aerial craft in all my father's works. No hint is given of the means by which they rose & were propelled; & the passage did not survive into the later legend.
It seems that the 'Machine' is symbolic of the Fall - fallen beings are subject to 'machine' thinking - which is the desire to control & coerce, so, as Tolkien said, the Ring is the ultimate machine.

CT tells of sitting with his father on the White Horse hill when he was a child, & seeing a train go by beneath them:CT was excited, but his father felt it shouldn't be there, that it didn't 'belong'. He futher comments that, as far as his father was concerned, it wasn't man that was the problem, nor was it the 'not-man', ie nature, but the man-made that was the problem. (interview in the documentary JRRT: A Film Portrait).

Technology is, therefore symbolic of the fall, because it is the result of an 'unnatural' way of thinking, & a desire for power over things.

As to technology in the various cultures of Me, I think we have to be careful, because its not simply a matter of cultural development, its also a matter of how far the cultures have 'fallen', which will determine how technologically 'advanced' they are. We also have to be careful taking things from the Hobbit & assuming they should be considered part of Me - are there clocks in the Shire in LotR? I can't think of a mention of one (someone will correct me here, I suppose!). In the early drafts of the Hobbit sequel there are mentions of clocks & fountain pens, but they disappear from the later drafts. A clock is a machine which is designed to give 'control' over time, after all.

Also, it is not the material substance alone which must be considered, but the use it is put to - both Gandalf & Saruman make use of 'gunpowder' - Gandalf to make fireworks, Saruman to make explosive charges, & it is Saruman alone who is enslaved to the Machine. So, having the means to produce the machine is not a symbol of fallenness - its only going ahead & producing it that is. Unfallen people don't produce technology, because they don't think that way. Its no accident that Feanor creates the Silmarils & the Palantiri, & claims the former for himself alone, & then goes on to foment rebellion. Whatever else the Silmarils are they are 'machines', technology, in that they are intended to produce an effect on the world, & on others, beyond simply being beautiful. Feanor desires them to impress, to produce envy - in other words, they are designed to seperate him from those around him, to emphasise his difference, & also his superiority over them. So, its not the things in themselves, the items of technology, its the intent behind them, which is the machine.

The fallenesss of the Numenoreans is shown by their creation of flying ships, not because they created them, but because of why they did so - they were motivated by a desire to control, & dominate the lives & minds of others, to impress others with their superiority. Or in short, they were driven by pride. Whether their ships sailed on the sea or through the air makes very little difference. They weren't 'good' & 'unfallen' while their ships stayed in the water, & suddenly 'bad' & 'fallen' when they discovered how to make them fly.

So, it seems to me that for Tolkien, technology is not bad in itself, but rather a sign of inherent badness. Technologically advanced societies are bad societies because only bad societies would produce technology - or at least only societies that are going bad.

No, bear with me...

Art is good, technology is bad - so what's the difference? Technology is art 'misused'. The Numenoreans in both their pre- & post- fallen state had ships, so did the Teleri & the Corsairs. The ships of the Teleri (beautifully depicted by Ted Naismith in his painting 'The Kinslaying at Alqualonde' in the new edition of the Sil - all of the same basic design but each uniquely different) were artistic creations (& seeing those same ships burning in a later painting, 'The Burning of the Ships', is incredibly powerful - despite what I've recently said about paintings of fantasy subjects in another thread!). The frist ships of the Numenoreans were probably the same to some degree, while the later ships of the Numenoreans & the ships of the Corsairs were not art, but technology, because their builders were fallen, & they were producing not art but 'machines'.

Sorry - thinking on my feet here, & no time to go back over it all. Lets say, 'technology' is just what a people 'produce', a means of interacting with the world, & the issue is motivation - which can either be Art, or the Machine.

And now, I will follow in the footsteps of tar-ancalime, & leave without clearing up my mess, either!
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Old 10-02-2004, 02:45 AM   #27
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Originally Posted by tar-ancalime
think that in the First, Second, and Third Ages, technology is magic
See more at the following threads:

Evil Things
Acceptance of Mythology


To finish it up with:

Quote:
by Arthur C. Clarke

any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
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Old 10-02-2004, 02:31 PM   #28
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Thumbs up Ah, yes, Messes!

I loves philosophical messes and deep, deep thoughts!

I just wanted to pop in and say that I've been insanely busy over today and yesterday and am looking forward to answering all of this wonderful input tomorrow when I will actually have the chance to read it all again carefully and think and organize my muddled thoughts!

For the moment, though, all I can say is:

~*WOW!*~
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Old 10-02-2004, 04:32 PM   #29
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H-I,

Thanks for posting that Arthur C. Clarke quotation--that's exactly what I was thinking of, but I couldn't remember who said it.
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Old 10-03-2004, 07:28 PM   #30
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Child, You said:
Quote:
what I thought you were saying was that there might be an "ideal" representation of a particular object --- say, for example, a Corsair ship-- and that you would personally feel more comfortable if you would somehow ferret out a sense of what that was and apply it in your own writing. However, given the statement you made about wanting to gather impressions and there being no one right way of depicting a Corsair ship, I may be slightly askew there!
No, you aren't askew! If anyone is, I am. To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure what I'm up to here, so if I sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth at once, I probably am. So... here goes...

Yes, I was interested in finding out if there was one "ideal" notion of, for instance, a corsair ship, kind of like the Platonic Essence of Corsair Shipness, not so much out of a need for definition, but to assuage my own curiosity. While I might apply that knowledge to my own writing at some point - particularly if I am floundering - I don't think that I would necessarily rely upon it as an absolute. My creative mind is an obstinate and independent little beastie and is usually not apt to follow convention anyway except where it is fairly clearly expected or absolutely required. I think I was mostly trying to find out if my writing was in the right ballpark and not too far out in the tall grass because I tend to wing it pretty regularly. I do like to make things up! Not being the Tolkein encyclopaedia that so many folks are around the Downs, and being something of a perfectionist at the same time, I think I was trying to ascertain if my thoughts and impressions on visual details were at least close to what people who know what they are talking about see in their minds. Now that I know every one else is pretty much winging it as well on that sort of thing, I see that I can relax a bit on that point.

Quote:
It seems as if JRRT was always willing to revisit his previous writings, pulling and tweaking things as ideas evolved in his head. This, as much as anything, is the reason why the Silm could never be set down in final form.
There are writers who are developing artists and those who have but a single masterwork in them, who once that work has been delivered, have nothing more to say. I always saw Tolkein as one of the developing artists. The Hobbit was written very much in the style of the traditional fairy tale and bears a strong resemblance to other stories in the same basic genre, like McDonald's "The Princess and Curdie" or the original book version of Baum's "The Wizard of Oz." Instead of staying within that format, Tolkein advanced into the form of the epic saga with LotR, leaving the conventions of the fairy tale behind, but carrying the core of his ideas with him. He continued to evolve stylistically as he continued to develop his ideas into broader and more complex forms. I always thought that the Silm never reached a final version because it was still evolving and fleshing itself out the more and more Tolkein thought about it and refined his mode of presentation, i.e. moving from the fairy tale to the saga to the mythic. I always thought of it as less contrariness as determined perfectionism, the willingness to keep changing and tweaking and revising until the sound and feel and voice struck exactly the right tenor to match the ideal that already existed somewhere within his mind.

As for myself and my own writing, I find that I tend to tailor my writing a bit more toward what other writers are doing and what I believe the reader is looking for when I write in an RPG setting - hence my interest in other people's impressions! When I write alone, however, I tend to be much more quirky and, well, personal, bringing a lot more of my own life experience into play. In both settings, though, I try to maintain a rather cubistic view of the world in that every situation changes depending on your point of view. Each character will see the world from a slightly different perspective depending on his or her own wants, needs, interests, and personal experience. Every character I write tends to be flawed to some degree, is frequently wrong about things, and makes sometimes egregious mistakes due to temper, ego, or simply the wrong impression of a situation. But because it is a team operation in an RPG, I tend to reign in my characters a good deal more than when I am in total control, mostly because I am relatively new to RPG'ing and don't want to tread on any toes or mess up anything that other people might already have planned that I am not aware of. The Perfect Hero or Heroine, the sort who is always right and always does the right thing by some sense of inate goodness is dull as dirt to me - not that that has anything to do with anything. I just thought I would share that thought!

Quote:
Tolkien cited rare instances where technical items were acquired unexpectedly by someone of a different race. For example, objects of Elvish art were gifted to both Humans and Hobbits---the Stones to the Edain and later to Elessar or the seeds to Sam-- or the Dwarvish mithril shirt and the Elvish Sting with its ability to warn of nearby Orcs. But these gifts were regarded as very rare, and came about only because the people in question had great need. If everything had been peaceful, most of this sharing of technology would not have occurred.
Excellent point! That's very true. I had never thought of it that way before, but it is very true that there was very little overlap of technology or culture between the various groups. They each maintained a completely independent and sovereign identity even though they were sometimes in very close proximity to one another. Any kind of crossover was very rare and, you are right, what did take place was of great significance and based on great need. It is also true, as you say, that mostly ill came of so many of the crossovers. Would that be, do you think, because Tolkein regarded the exportation of cultural items as a bad idea or more due to situational reasons such as the recipients of the gifts were unfamiliar with the history and individual qualities of the gifts and, as such, were ill-equipped to handle them? And then I can't help but think about Tolkein's on-going theme in LotR of intent, e.g. what was in the mind of the giver or the recipient at the time the crossover was made.
************************************

Tar-ancalime - You said:
Quote:
when Tolkien describes them at the end of the Third Age he has to use his words wisely to convey the impression of (for lack of a better image right now) majesty grown over with ivy. In other words, the lack of "ordinary" objects in Minas Tirith can be read as a literary device: we don't hear about Denethor's umbrella because the Gondorians, as the remnant of Numenor about to ascend to dominance once again, are too noble to be troubled with such mundane items.
That is an excellent point as well. While I tend to fall more into line with Child over the idea of a fundamental lack of crossover between the different cultural groups, you make a very significant observation in terms of the literary device. "Majesty grown over with ivy" is a very good way to describe it. While I don't tend to believe that there were umbrellas in Gondor as such, I do think that Tolkein was consciously trying to convey that image and, in doing so, would need to avoid anything that might border on the comical or absurd, such as Denethor toting around an umbrella.

Quote:
Hobbits, in Third-Age terms, are a relatively young civilization with very little attachment to the past. Gondor, on the other hand, is drenched in its past glory both in Middle-Earth and as Numenor. The Elves are even more backward-looking. Perhaps this is why the hobbits are "allowed" such things as waistcoats and handkerchiefs: having arisen relatively recently, their society most closely resembles modern times. However, this in no way detracts from my theory that "technology/art" tends to decline over time in Middle-Earth: as Child of the 7th Age pointed out, the hobbits find Gandalf's fireworks, Galadriel's rope, and the toys from Dale to be "magical," which implies that there is nothing in their "technology" that can explain these things. Also there is no indication that the other societies look on the hobbits' achievements with anything like wonder or even interest, while the hobbits themselves spend much of the story gaping in astonishment at the wide world. To extricate myself from this rhetorical knot, I'll say briefly: the hobbits' level of "technology" is the most like our own and yet the least advanced of those around it.
I love this explanation! Nothing like this had ever occurred to me before, but it makes a good deal of sense to me. You've clarified it beautifully. Thanks!

Regarding technology as magic, I bow to you, to HerenIstarien, and to Arthur C. Clarke. Makes sense to me!
**************************************

Davem - Thanks for the wonderful treatise on "the machine" and "machine-thinking," as well as its tie-in with intent and motivation. It wasn't a mess at all! Actually I'm suddenly feeling very enlightened...
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Old 10-04-2004, 01:35 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Ealasaide
Yes, I was interested in finding out if there was one "ideal" notion of, for instance, a corsair ship, kind of like the Platonic Essence of Corsair Shipness, not so much out of a need for definition, but to assuage my own curiosity.
I think this would depend on whether there was a Corsair 'culture' as such - did they create their own cultural artifacts, or simply steal, & cannibalise those of other cultures? I could see their ships having a basic 'Numenorean' feel to them, but adapted for their particular approach - mostly inshore raiding, etc, but I can't see their ships having a 'uniform' look in any detailed sense - any more than their dress/weapons. If there was an 'ideal' corsair ship it would be a purely practical design, any extraneous decoration removed or lost & not replaced, & as well protected as possible. It also seems to me that ancient ship design was based to some degree in the culture's beliefs/worldview - ie dragon prows on viking ships - so that brings in the questiion of corsair 'beliefs' - would they have specific designs which they would add on, or were they purely motivated by a materialistic approach - power & money. Perhaps getting an idea of their culture, if any, would help in imagining their ships. Having said that, I'm not sure there would be a standard shape or design.
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Old 10-04-2004, 02:24 PM   #32
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...even I would never include Denethor with an umbrella in an RPG unless I was writing in Entish bow.
Child, you can expect me to take you up on that challenge soon!


Quote:
"Well, well!" said a voice. "Just look! Denethor the Steward with an umbrella, my dear! Isn't it delicious!"

"Most astonishing wonderful!"
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Old 10-05-2004, 07:30 AM   #33
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OK, I did it - I gave the Steward of Minus Teeth an umbrella! Here is that incongruous story element. I'm not sure whether I should thank all of you who mentioned that so often that I *had* to write it, or whether I should beg your pardon! I guess both, depending on your viewpoint on parody...
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Old 10-05-2004, 08:43 AM   #34
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Oh, yay!

I think it's great that the Steward of Minus Teeth now has an umbrella. I feel honored to be a "contributor" to Entish Bow....even in such a distant and oblique sort of way...

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Old 10-20-2004, 01:29 PM   #35
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When visiting, does he drop small items of high value into his umbrella, thus annying his host?
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Old 10-21-2004, 02:16 PM   #36
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I can't see any problem with umbrellas in ME, after all they're hardly high-tech items. The umbrella situation may be revealing, however, in that there should be no set order of things being invented, apart from those that depend on the technology of their predecessors. For example, you'd have trouble inventing the rifle if no-one had thought of gunpowder before, whereas I can't see any good reason to develop windmills before water mills or vice-versa.

Umbrellas weren't invented by Western society but were brought back from India, where they had been used for centuries, mostly as sunshades admittedly, but the principle's the same. I've even seen a carving of an umbrella-esque sunshade adorning the chariot of the King of Persia in Biblical times. Naturally an umbrella is partly an item of fashion and the current culture will determine whether or not it appears silly.

On clocks, I wonder if they were made by the Dwarves, like the seemingly 'magical' toys, then traded to the hobbits. I'd imagine that the Dwarves were the most mechanically advanced of the peoples. There's no reason that Celeborn couldn't have had a clock, but I'd expect the elves to be uninterested in such artefacts of mechanical technology. (Anyway it'd have to be set to tick once every month!)

Meanwhile with ships, the Numenoreans were noted as sailing 'galleons' and being able to circumnavigate the world in such ships. One would therefore maybe associate them with the Portuguese and Spanish galleons of the Age of Discovery, Columbus, Magellan, the Conquistadores and the Armada, say around the late 1400s to 1500s (minus the canon). However it seemed plain that by the end of the Third Age Gondor's seafaring technology had decayed.

Tolkien said thet he visualised the fighting men of Middle Earth to be equipped similarly to those depicted on the Bayeux tapestry, which fits well with the descriptions of the Rohirrim in the books.

As Tolkien chose his words with great care, I think its not too much of a jump to look for the historical occurences of, for example, the dromund, and let these guide our thoughts.
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