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Why are there no ‘towers of a distant city’ on the map of Middle-earth?

The following is a short essay from Ringer Squire. Do you agree? Disagree? Share your responses with our discuss or comment areas.

Headlined here yesterday, and discussed on the Main board just now is a link to an entertaining new interactive map of Middle-earth. It’s modeled on Google Earth, in that one can zoom out and see the whole subcontinent, or zoom in and see individual towns and towers close up.  Of course it follows Tolkien’s own map, more or less exactly, but it has in fact been redrawn via computer by a new artist, Mr. Kris Kowal. And when you zoom in you see little bits that Tolkien could not or would not include in his original map, like icons representing the Argonath, the road to Isengard (see illustration below), and the ruined tower on Weathertop. Several place names have been added based on texts in Unfinished Tales, like the “Undeeps” of the middle Anduin, so the creators are clearly knowledgeable about their Tolkien geography.

Building on Tolkien’s map (left) and the story, Mr. Kowal’s map (right) shows the Road to Isengard.

I understand that it is a work in progress, so perhaps we may expect to see more of the details of the Shire in the future, based on the separate map that appears in Fellowship. But really, the power of zooming in, which is so much fun in Google Earth, is disappointing in this “Google Middle-earth”. There’s nothing to zoom in to for 99% of the world—and there never will be. Tolkien only drew on his map the specific places that were mentioned in his story; and for anyone to add anything else is, of course, just another form of fan-fiction.

This new map thus surprisingly reminds us just how poorly Tolkien detailed his physical world. The map, and several recent discussions we have had in the Reading Room about the distribution of hobbit-folk and the political organization of the Rangers, bring me back to an old question. Tolkien expressed his belief that one of the aesthetic virtues of The Lord of the Rings is that it contained hints of the earlier history of the world, but only hints. (more…)

Posted in J.R.R. Tolkien, LotR Books

“It likes riddles, praps it does, does it?”

Gollum is an addict of the One Ring. Gollum identifies with the Ring, calling both himself and the Ring “my precious”. Gollum’s personality has been nearly destroyed by possessing and being possessed by the Ring for hundreds of years.

Riddles in the Dark, by David Wenzel

I think most readers of The Lord of the Rings would agree with these characteristic statements about Gollum. They explain his extraordinary behavior and bizarre speech patterns. The identity of Gollum with the Ring is one of the driving forces behind the primary plot of the book: Frodo’s quest of Mt. Doom to destroy the Ring, in which he is guided for much of the way by Gollum, who treacherously hopes to recover it for himself. Gollum’s degradation and tendency to evil also shows us the danger that Frodo is in. If he succumbs to the Ring, he will become another Gollum – who was, originally, a hobbit!

But who remembers Gollum from the good old days? Back when the Ring was just a ring. Back when Gollum was just a scary but funny ghoul who ate passers-by, but loved riddles. Back when he would abjectly apologize for breaking a promise, and ever so politely show his guest the way out of his cavern. Who now has read the first edition of The Hobbit, written years before The Lord of the Rings was even thought of? In that quaint book, Bilbo’s ring is truly just a ring of invisibility, introduced into the story to better his chances of success as the world’s most unlikely burglar. And Gollum, as described above, was a lot more innocent – a mere figure of passing comic-horror in the same league as the three Cockney trolls, and the cattily hissing spiders. (more…)

Posted in Hobbit Book, J.R.R. Tolkien, LotR Books

Tolkien against the Sea

The Last Shore, by Tim Kirk

The Tolkien Society got me thinking. This year’s Tolkien Reading Day had a nautical theme – some breezy thing about International Seafarer Day. Why? Is Tolkien a particularly “nautical” writer? I admit this had never occurred to me. From the very idea of Middle-earth, a land before time that approximates continental Europe with land bridges to England and Africa; to the endless series of quests across mountains,  forests, fields and caverns that Tolkien loves to describe in breathtaking language; to the most famous fantasy race of Halflings that ever turned pale at the thought of crossing open water, Tolkien has always seemed to me to have his literary feet planted firmly in dry land, like the roots of his beloved trees.

Not that he doesn’t treat with the Sea. Of course he does. Every foreground needs its background. Who doesn’t know that the great Western or Sundering Sea is the barrier between the mortal Great Lands (Tolkien’s original name for Middle-earth’s central continent) and the Undying Lands of Elvenhome and Valinor? Only the Elves may cross this Sea – with the usual exceptions of various mortal Heroes taking their numbers and awaiting their chances. The Elves have the Sea-longing embedded in them. Legolas is warned by Galadriel that once he hears the seagulls at Pelargir in southern Gondor, he will never again be at rest in his woodland home. Ted Sandyman mocks Sam’s love of the tale of the Elves: “sailing, sailing, into the West” – a theme echoed by Saruman at the end of the story as he taunts Galadriel for her exile on the wrong side of the great water.

Posted in J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien, Tolkien Reading Day