Middle-earth and the modern era

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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by Eldorion on Sun May 04, 2014 11:29 pm

Kenelm wrote:There are Neolithic remains, burnt mounds, in Moseley Bog, indicating settlement for around 5000 years, possibly far longer (they were discovered in the drought of 1976, after Tolkien died). There's also no reason to assume the Hobbits were still here by Roman times, either having being dispersed or, possibly, assimilated.

If we're gonna try to construct a history bridging Tolkien's Middle-earth and the modern world, then I think the assumption of dispersal is a reasonable one.  It has some support in the text; Tolkien mentions in the LOTR Prologue (and, I think, in The Hobbit) that Hobbits have become physically smaller, more skittish of humans, and generally harder to find.  We can reasonably assume a decline in population and that they took efforts to hide themselves.  I think this could be plausible throughout pre-industrial history, but once the industrial revolution kicks in it begins to strain credulity more (mine, at least).

However, if we are to assume this, then I don't think we can also use the resemblance of roads in Sarehole and Hobbiton as a piece of evidence for the two worlds being the same.  If Hobbits were no longer living in Hobbiton by Roman times, then there's no reason to assume that their houses or roads were still around when Birmingham area began to be resettled by sizable numbers of people.  So the road thing becomes (in a historical conception) mere coincidence if there is not a demonstrable history of it prior to human habitation of the area.

All that said, Tolkien himself considered the notion that Middle-earth actually occurred sometime in our distant past to be nothing more than a literary conceit.  In the 1960s, he made the conscious decision to tone down the idea in the Foreword to LOTR.  In the First Edition foreword, he openly claims that the Hobbit and LOTR represent an "almost forgotten history" and discuss their textual evolution from the Fourth Age to his own work.  While some elements of this can be found elsewhere in LOTR, where Tolkien was in full pretend mode, but he felt that it was unsuitable to the Foreword, where he addressed the reader as his true self. Tolkien changed the Foreword when he had an opportunity to in the Second Edition, having previously stated that:

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:This Foreword [from the First Edition] I should wish very much in any case to cancel. Confusing (as it does) real personal matters with the "machinery" of the Tale is a serious mistake.

This quote can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth (HoME Vol. XII), in the chapter "The Appendix on Languages".
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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by Kenelm on Sun May 04, 2014 11:39 pm

Eldorion wrote:
Kenelm wrote:There are Neolithic remains, burnt mounds, in Moseley Bog, indicating settlement for around 5000 years, possibly far longer (they were discovered in the drought of 1976, after Tolkien died). There's also no reason to assume the Hobbits were still here by Roman times, either having being dispersed or, possibly, assimilated.

If we're gonna try to construct a history bridging Tolkien's Middle-earth and the modern world, then I think the assumption of dispersal is a reasonable one.  It has some support in the text; Tolkien mentions in the LOTR Prologue (and, I think, in The Hobbit) that Hobbits have become physically smaller, more skittish of humans, and generally harder to find.  We can reasonably assume a decline in population and that they took efforts to hide themselves.  I think this could be plausible throughout pre-industrial history, but once the industrial revolution kicks in it begins to strain credulity more (mine, at least).

However, if we are to assume this, then I don't think we can also use the resemblance of roads in Sarehole and Hobbiton as a piece of evidence for the two worlds being the same.  If Hobbits were no longer living in Hobbiton by Roman times, then there's no reason to assume that their houses or roads were still around when Birmingham area began to be resettled by sizable numbers of people.  So the road thing becomes (in a historical conception) mere coincidence if there is not a demonstrable history of it prior to human habitation of the area.

All that said, Tolkien himself considered the notion that Middle-earth actually occurred sometime in our distant past to be nothing more than a literary conceit.  In the 1960s, he made the conscious decision to tone down the idea in the Foreword to LOTR.  In the First Edition foreword, he openly claims that the Hobbit and LOTR represent an "almost forgotten history" and discuss their textual evolution from the Fourth Age to his own work.  While some elements of this can be found elsewhere in LOTR, where Tolkien was in full pretend mode, but he felt that it was unsuitable to the Foreword, where he addressed the reader as his true self. Tolkien changed the Foreword when he had an opportunity to in the Second Edition, having previously stated that:

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:This Foreword [from the First Edition] I should wish very much in any case to cancel. Confusing (as it does) real personal matters with the "machinery" of the Tale is a serious mistake.

This quote can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth (HoME Vol. XII), in the chapter "The Appendix on Languages".

On the subject of roads, each successive wave of settlers in Britain have tended to use the roads of their predecessors, even if there has been a gap. Almost all the Roman roads, for example, are still in use. We don't have to assume a long gap between the hobbits and the earliest Celts, and a period of overlap is possible.

If Tolkien's histories are true, we have to regard his non-belief in them to have been an error on his part.

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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by bungobaggins on Mon May 05, 2014 3:01 am

Mrs Figg wrote:splitting the thread
across the ethersphere
sometimes there
sometimes here
wheres it gone?
nobody knows
when I cant find it
it totally blows
but not to worry
Eldo split it



The mighty splitter raised aloft his ornate mod-axe and hewn the thread in two!

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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by bungobaggins on Mon May 05, 2014 3:17 am

Eldorion wrote:
bungobaggins wrote:Wouldn't Tolkien's proposing of Middle-earth and its events actually having existed, go against his Christian faith and its view on the origin of the world? Was Tolkien a creationist?

Or at the end of the day are we to assume that the idea that Middle-earth was our world, is more or less tongue-in-cheek?

Tolkien wasn't a creationist; he made a number of comments that indicates he believed in evolution (some of which were posted somewhere in the Origins of Hobbits thread ages ago).  That's actually not at all uncommon for Catholics, and the Church itself has acknowledged evolution since at least 1950.  Also, as Kenelm mentions, Tolkien became very concerned in his later years with the scientific plausibility of Middle-earth.  In the "Myths Transformed" essays (published in Morgoth's Ring) he proposed a number of sweeping revisions to The Silmarillion that would have done away with most of the explicitly supernatural elements of the mythology and brought it in line with current scientific knowledge (relegating the old myths to the status of mannish legends mixed with stories from the Elves and corrupted as they were passed down through the generations).  However, he did not live long enough to follow through on this revision, and it's possible he might have changed his mind about the whole project with more time.

I've got a lot of reading to do. Mad

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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by Eldorion on Mon May 05, 2014 3:22 am

Laughing Morgoth's Ring is one of the densest and most impenetrable books I have ever read. Trying to read that at the age of 14 was up there with my attempt at Dostoevsky a year or two earlier for how much it made my head hurt. There is a lot of really fascinating stuff buried in that volume, along with the whole History of Middle-earth series, but MR is probably the worst to get through. "Myths Transformed" itself is relatively straightforward, though.

If you get your hands on a copy, I'd also recommend reading "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar" and "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" as two stand-out chapters and/or insomnia cures, depending on how you feel at the time. Wink
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Re: Middle-earth and the modern era

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon May 05, 2014 12:27 pm

No one likes a splitter!


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