Category Archive 'J.R.R. Tolkien'
07 Aug 2017

Criticizing Tolkien’s Map

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Alex Acks is a geologist who thinks J.R. Tolkien, where geology is concerned, is an excellent scholar of linguistics.

I’m good with the mountain ranges on the west coast of the map. I can pretend that Eriador is like the California of Middle-earth, and it’s a nice active margin—I will just ignore that my housemate, who unlike me has completed the Silmarillion slog, has disabused me of that notion. And I can buy the placement of the Misty Mountains, again as a continent-continent collision, perhaps, even if there should be a lot more shenanigans going on then, in terms of elevation. But when you throw in the near perpendicular north and south mountain ranges? Why are there corners? Mountains don’t do corners.

And Mordor? Oh, I don’t even want to talk about Mordor.

Tectonic plates don’t tend to collide at neat right angles, let alone in some configuration as to create a nearly perfect box of mountains in the middle of a continent. I’ve heard the reasoning before that suggests Sauron has made those mountains somehow, and I suppose right angles are a metaphor for the evil march of progress, but I don’t recall that being in the books I read. And ultimately, this feels a lot like defending the cake in the song MacArthur Park as a metaphor—okay fine, maybe it’s a metaphor…but it’s a silly metaphor that makes my geologist heart cry tears of hematite.

Mount Doom, I’m more likely to give a pass to, since it’s obviously a place of great magic. But geologically, it posits a mantle plume creating a hot spot under Mordor—since that’s the only way you’re going to get a volcano away from subduction or rifting zones, and I’ve already called shenanigans on Mordor being either of those. And the hallmark of hot spot volcanism is that you get chains of volcanoes, with the youngest being the active volcano and the older ones normally quiescent. This is caused by the tectonic plates moving over the hot spot; examples include the Juan Fernández Ridge, the Tasmantid Seamount Chain, and the Hawaiian Islands (more properly called the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain). You’ll notice most hot spots can be found in the oceans, because there’s more ocean on Earth than land, and also the crust is thinner there, so a hot spot causes volcanism much more readily. On continents, you’re more likely to get dike swarms (e.g.: the Mackenzie dike swarm in Nunavet, Canada) where magma filters into cracks and weak spots between formations and remains underground until unroofed by erosion—or chains of massive volcanic calderas like the ones you see ranging from Yellowstone to the Valles Caldera in the US.

Okay, so maybe Mount Doom is from a really young hot spot and there’s been no drift since it started. That’s the best I’ve got for you. It’s better than the nonsensical border mountains.

27 Jul 2017

Leftist Orc Reads Tolkien

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He finds a political subtext in LOTR And Damien Walter disapproves.

Tolkien’s myths are profoundly conservative. Both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings turn on the “return of the king” to his rightful throne. In both cases this “victory” means the reassertion of a feudal social structure which had been disrupted by “evil”. Both books are one-sided recollections made by the Baggins family, members of the landed gentry, in the Red Book of Westmarch – an unreliable historical source if ever there was one. A balanced telling might well have shown Smaug to be much more of a reforming force in the valley of Dale.

And of course Sauron doesn’t even get to appear on the page in The Lord of the Rings, at least not in any form more substantial than a huge burning eye, exactly the kind of treatment one would expect in a work of propaganda.

We’re left to take on trust from Gandalf, a manipulative spin doctor, and the Elves, immortal elitists who kill humans and hobbits for even entering their territory, when they say that the maker of the one ring is evil. Isn’t it more likely that the orcs, who live in dire poverty, actually support Sauron because he represents the liberal forces of science and industrialisation, in the face of a brutally oppressive conservative social order?

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings aren’t fantasies because they feature dragons, elves and talking trees. They’re fantasies because they mythologise human history, ignoring the brutality and oppression that were part and parcel of a world ruled by men with swords. But we shouldn’t be surprised that the wish to return to a more conservative society, one where people knew their place, is so popular. It’s the same myth that conservative political parties such as Ukip have always played on: the myth of a better world that has been lost, but can be reclaimed by turning back the clock.


28 Mar 2017

George Washington, Hobbit

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Detail: Arnold Friberg, The Prayer at Valley Forge, 1976.

Jefferson Shupe sees a strong resemblance between George Washington and Frodo,

On an estate in Northern Virginia, there lived a hobbit.

He lived in the countryside and liked to keep to himself. He was slow to make speeches or draw attention. He loved things that grow and preferred quiet evenings at home to far-away adventures.

His name was George Washington.

No, he didn’t fit the visual hobbit stereotype. He was 6’2″, wore shoes, and we have no record of him visiting Middle Earth even once. But hobbits are curious things, and given his life and his choices, he may have been one all the same.

Read the whole thing.

26 May 2016

Epic Deprivation

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John C. Wright sounds like C.S. Lewis when he argues the importance of the epic to humanity, and contends that Epic Deprivation Syndrome has a lot to do with the deficiencies of the contemporary age.

The moderns are hallow without knowing they are hollow: the world is not descending into paganism. It has reached something darker and worse. The postmodern is craven and smug and doomed where the ancient pagan was noble, melancholy, and doomed, because the modern world is hollow and small, but he postmodern men are too hollow and too small to notice.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

22 May 2016

Tolkien’s Webley

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The Webley Mk V [Correction: Mark VI -thanks to Hammond Aikes] of 2nd Lieutenant J.R.R. Tolkien.

According to the Imperial War Museum,

Tolkien was an Oxford University student in 1914 but was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers soon after taking his degree in 1915. He joined the 11th Battalion of his regiment in France in June 1916, shortly before the Battle of the Somme. During the battle Tolkien served as the battalion signals officer. In late October 1916 he contracted trench fever and was sent back to England in early November. He spent most of the rest of the war convalescing. It was at this time that he began to write early versions of his Middle Earth stories. Debate continues regarding the extent to which Tolkien’s war experiences influenced his literary work.


02 Apr 2014

Some Tastes Differ

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Unknown, Sir Walter Raleigh, 1593, University of North Carolina.

[In the Fall of 1944, at the Bird & Bush, C.S. Lewis told J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings about an elderly lady he knew]:

“She was a student of English in the past days of Sir Walter Raleigh. At her viva she was asked: What period would you have liked to live in Miss B? In the 15C. said she. Oh come, Miss B., wouldn’t you have liked to meet the Lake poets? No, sir, I prefer the society of gentlemen. Collapse of viva.”

–Letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher Tolkien, 6 October 1944, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 95.

21 Mar 2014

Tolkien the Soldier

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The King Edward School (Birmingham) Cadet Corps in 1907. The 15-Year-Old J.R.R. Tolkien (mouth open) is fourth from the left in the middle row.



24-Year-Old Second Lieutenant J.R.R. Tolkien, Lancashire Fusiliers, 1916.

A school photo of the schoolboy J.R.R. Tolkien in Cadet Corps uniform recently made the British papers after being unearthed from the archives of his old school in Birmingham.

The Kind Edward School Cadet Corps had just been founded in march of 1907, and had the honor of being inspected by Lord Roberts of Kandahar in April.

Not many years later, most of these boys would find themselves as junior officers with the life expectancy of a mayfly on the Western Front. Tolkien participated in the Battle of the Somme, specifically in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoudt and the Leipzig salient, but happily survived, when so many others did not, because he was incapacitated by trench fever. He spent the rest of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duty, having been found medically unfit for further front-line service.

Via John Garth.

08 Mar 2014

Two Tolkien Fan Films

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Did you know that there was a fan-made 38 minute long Lord of the Rings prequel out there already seen by over ten million viewers? I had not.

The Hunt for Gollum 38:31


One thing leads to another and I soon found that there is also Born of Hope (2009) 71 minutes.

22 Jan 2014

Stop Bullying in Middle Earth

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01 Dec 2013

Another Air New Zealand Middle Earth Commercial

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12 Jun 2013

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Trailer

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First Hobbit, Part 2 trailer. Peter Jackson will clearly be supplying an abundance of action, along with a brand-new, uncanonical character: a female elf named Tauriel, described by Evangeline Lilly (who is playing the role) as “slightly reckless and totally ruthless, [and who] doesn’t hesitate to kill.”

It opens December 13th next.

08 May 2013

Tolkien’s “Philomythus to Misomythus”

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Tolkien wrote Philomythus to Misomythus as a rejoinder to one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

03 Apr 2013

Cursed Roman Ring Which Inspired Tolkien Goes On Display

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A Roman ring, found in a farmer’s field (presumably part of what was once the Roman town Calleva Atrebatum) near Silchester, Hampshire in 1785 in some unknown manner wound up preserved in the library of The Vyne, a stately 16th century home belonging (until 1958, damn Socialism!) to the Chute family.

The ring bears an image of Venus and a Latin inscription. That inscription apparently connects the ring to a Latin curse tablet found by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in an excavation of a temple complex associate with the god Nodens at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire.

The lead curse tablet read:


For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one-half [its worth] to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good-health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1929 apparently consulted with J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford about the natural hypothesis that the Silchester ring, with the inscription “SENI???”, might be the very same ring Silvianus had lost.

Tolkien took an interest in the matter, visited the Gloucestershire temple complex several times, and made a point of looking into the etymology of the name of the god Nodens.

It is believed today that it was this real world story of a lost, and very improbably rediscovered, gold ring, bearing an inscription, and weighted with a curse that may very well have been the inspiration of the One Ring featured in The Hobbit which appeared in 1937.

In any event, the Silchester ring is now being put on display by the combined efforts of the Tolkien Society and the National Trust in a newly-established “Ring Room” in The Vyne.

BBC story

The Register

National Trust page

04 Mar 2013

If George R.R. Martin Had Written LOTR

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Fantasy author L.B. Gale observes that the death-rate among the good guys would have been considerably higher.

It used to be that Joss Whedon was the go-to-guy when you wanted to complain about authors mercilessly killing off characters, but once (spoiler alert!) Ned Stark’s death became a part of popular culture canon, George R. R. Martin took over that throne.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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