Does Middle Earth hold up to close scrutiny?

As discussed in two other recent threads, about fictional world that make no sense / or worlds that do hold up to close scrutiny.

I said that the world Tolkien built holds up really well. I focus mainly on LOTR, by the way.
Others said that the economics of Middle Earth made no sense, that there was too much empty space, that Frodo & Sam couldn’t have made it to Mount Doom.
I disagree, but am interested in what others say.

Given that we don’t see a whole lot of it in detail, there’s not a lot to claim that way. The action simply doesn’t take place very much in heavily populated areas.

What I notice most is that it’s awfully stagnant. The Middle Earth of the Silmarillion looks an awful lot like the Middle Earth of the Lord of the Rings, technologically and socially. In that time span, we went from atlatls to nuclear bombs, while Middle Earth went from swords to swords.

We live in a very atypical era of human human history, though. Before about 2.5 thousand years ago the pace of social and technological change was glacial for many millennia. Even before about 400-500 years ago (the time of the renaissance and the scientific revolution) the pace was pretty darned slow compared to what it has been since.

As I mentioned in the other thread, Lord of the Rings is rich with unstable situations. The whole world consists of balancing rocks (I said mousetraps in the other thread.) The hobbits come traipsing in and tip the rocks over (trip the mousetraps.)

For thousands of years, Tom Bombadil was hidden and unknown. Now, he reveals himself in much of his glory. For thousands of years, the Ents were hidden and unknown. Now, they come storming out of the hills to make total war. For thousands of years, the Balrog slept. Now, he bursts forth in mystic flames.

So, not only is Chronos right: not enough actually happens in Middle Earth – but also, too much happens all at once.

It is a world invented for dramatic purposes. That’s fine! It succeeds in this. But it is a world which is too clearly invented. It’s a stage backdrop. It’s “Chekov’s Pistol.”

It’s a beautiful world. But, no, it does not withstand close scrutiny. It wasn’t intended to. James Bond novels also fail if examined closely. It doesn’t interfere (much) with our enjoyment.

Thats rather overstated don’t you think?

Tom Bombadil revealed in all his glory? To who? Four hobbits? The rest of the world still has forgotten about him. The Balrog bursts forth in mystic flames yet still the only ones to see it are the fellowship. And you certainly cannot label the Ents as waging total war, they attacked one fortress and helped relieve the seige at another, thats it.

You only say too much happens all at once because you the reader were shown these events, but the men in Bree still haven’t a clue about Bombadil or the Balrog. Too much isn’t happening at once for them, and if the question is Middle Earth holding up to scrutiny then they are the people we should be considering, not the reader.

And that’s the real answer, anyway. It’s a common phenomenon in fiction. No one tells a story in which nothing happens. And for a large, or continuing, story, a whole lot has to happen.

By that token, the fictional murder capital of the world would be Cabot Cove, Maine. With a 50% higher per-capita per-annum murder rate than Honduras, which has the highest non-fictional murder rate in the world.

Frankly, I think it’s Angela Lansbury. :stuck_out_tongue:

The emptiness bothers me, too. For instance, is there any settlement of any sort in Eriador other than the Shire and Bree? If so, where are they? If not, why not? The collapse of Arnor and its successor states was centuries ago, and even if 90% of the citizenry had been killed or driven off, that’s more than enough time for the land to be repopulated.

But the history of Middle Earth spans something like 7000 years. In the great battles of the Silmarillion, the standard weapon was the steel sword. In the great battles of the War of the Ring, it was still the steel sword. The steel sword, in that world, lasted at least 7000 years, and there’s no indication it was new in the early battles, or going out of favor in the later ones.

In our world, by contrast, 7000 years ago we were just starting in on leather. Metallurgy of any sort didn’t show up until less than 5000 years ago, and steel not until just over 3000 years ago. Steel swords admittedly had a pretty good run, but they were still starting to be replaced by the Next Big Thing two and a half millennia later.

And barrow-wights, bad as they are, aren’t enough to explain it.

When four hobbits know something, the whole world knows it within a week. Consummate gossips, they are!

I mentioned this in the other thread. Neither elves nor dwarves seem to go in much for agriculture, but there doesn’t seem to be enough trade with men or hobbits (who are the main farmers in Middle Earth) to support them. Maybe elves do grow some things in gardens, but there sure don’t seem to be extensive fields around Rivendell or in Mirkwood. Dwarves mainly live underground where they can’t grow anything at all.

Ok, maybe near Gondor or Laketown elves and dwarves can conduct enough trade with men for food. But in Eriador there are elves in Rivendell and the Grey Havens, and dwarves in the Blue Mountains. The only agricultural areas in the whole region are the Shire and Bree. Hobbits certainly don’t seem to have anything to do with elves or dwarves, and Bree seems too small to provide much food for trade. In any case the roads are unsafe and it’s pretty far to anywhere else.

It’s not really apparent what the economy of orcs is like, especially away from Mordor or Isengard. The orc communities of the Misty Mountains seem too large to support themselves by hunting or fishing, and there aren’t any nearby communities of men to raid.

Exactly. It’s a Potemkin Village. Tolkien’s intention wasn’t to describe a functioning world, just to have a picturesque background against which to set his grand doings. He had no interest in the economy or trade, just his narrative.

I have heard it said that Mirkwood/Greenwood the Great are on the wrong side [east side] of the Misty Mountains. We know that Middle Earth as it were rotates from west to east. So shouldn’t the windward side of a great mountain chain be more forested, while the lee side of the mountains be less vegetated?

Ironically, “too much happens all at once”" was one of the major plot hole complaints about the Second World War. :smiley:

Goblin Town is particularly puzzling. It’s “front door” is a cave off a high, treacherous mountain pass; hardly suitable for hunting, fishing, or farming. It’s “back door” opens to pine-forest wilderness, where I guess they can maybe hunt at least.

And they have to: they’re mounted on pony-sized obligate carnivores. Worgs probably need to eat about a hobbit every day or so. How the heck do the goblins keep them fed, let alone feeding themselves? They need really big herds for that, which means lots of grazing… which you don’t find in barren mountains or pine forests.

The Amazon in on the east side of the Andes.

The rotation of the Earth doesn’t dictate prevailing wind direction to any great extent. That’s mostly dependent on where the high and low pressure systems form, which in turn are primarily dependent in latitude.

While it’s usually true that the *seaward *side of a range receives more rain than the inland, and as a result tend to be more densely timbered, that by itself doesn’t dictate where forests grow. Trees will grow wherever there is enough rain. Provided the inland side of a range gets enough rain, it will support forests just fine. And the fact that there is no extensive forest on the seaward side of the range is attributed to deforestation in the book. The Old Forest is just a tiny remnant of a vast forest that once covered much of Eriador.

IOW, there is sufficient rain across western Middle Earth to support forests, but much of the area west of the range has been cleared.

Isn’t there agriculture around Dale?

The coasts south of Arnor and north of Gondor were once forested, but the Numenoreans razed the forests to build ships. Enedwaith, at least, is mentioned as being former forest now turned grasslands. I think Dunland is the remnant of that forest. Presumably the lands along the southern Brandywine (Minhiriath on my closest map), were likewise forest.

Mind you, it’s been several thousand years since the Numenorean shipbuilding frenzy, and there is neither regrown forests nor people living there. Which seems unlikely for an area probably the size of France with enough rain to have supported forests.

And as I mentioned in response to you in the other thread, Silvan Elves hunt.

Sedentary hunter-gatherer societies have survived for hundreds of thousands of years among humans without any need for “extensive fields”. Especially if the societies in question have got Elvish-quality green thumbs, I really don’t see why you keep insisting that they’d need large-scale intensive agriculture to survive.

Maybe so, but nothing in the objections you’ve raised so far (with the possible exception of orc economies) makes a convincing case for that position. You’re just projecting the expectations of modern industrial/agricultural societies, or slightly modified early-modern versions of them, back onto Middle-earth.

Lemme see if I can still write even just a background geomorphic report:

From distance references and time of travel, Middle Earth is slightly bigger than the European major peninsula starting from the North West in the Shire (British Isles) going South East to Mordor (Asia Minor or Near East.)

The entire super-peninsula is temperate and weather systems are highly localized, with no wide cloudless belt forming a desert region. There is a major divide of uplifted mountains running North-South called the Misty Mountain. The range is also fault-controlled; with the river Anduin following the surface projection of the fault from north to south. The misty mountains appear young given their shape and the quality of soil on either side. they are a bit like the Rockies in attitude rather than the Appalachians.

Near the Gap of Rohan, there is an assumed East-West trending right-lateral fault that broke the southern half of the Misty Mountains and drove it farther to the East. The Southern half of the Misty Mountains forms the Western mountainous border of Mordor.

The Eastern side, from Wilderland, going down to Gondor and Harad, appears down-thrown compared with the West. This is evidenced by low countries that are thickly forested, with marshes and swamps especially near the river and the estuarine areas.

Despite the West side being uplifted, the land appears more stable and large areas are available for human settlement, farming, and animal husbandry. This may be the result of wide deposition and uplifting from previous orogenic episodes, much older than that which formed the Misty Mountains.

The most recent tectonic activity are in Mordor in Mount Doom, and slightly older volcanic episodes in the north which, by popular legend, was inundated due to violent battles 6,000 years past.