The Third Age: 3,000 years of technological stagnation

I know Tolkien wasn’t big on industrialisation, but really: 3,000 years of technological stagnation?

As far as I can tell, Isildur and Aragon were using about the same types of weapons and so on. Gondor, Arnor, and its successor realms, Rohan - they’re all stuck in a medieval rut for 3,000 years.

Am I missing something? Did the existence of magic somehow hold back technology? Or is this just a “to be accepted” thing?

Our resident Tolkien geeks will be along shortly, but yeah. When magic passed out of the world with the death of Sauron (or, rather, hastened its passing), it opened the door for technological progress and the eventual dominion of Man. Magic or technology - you can only have one.

Its true, technology barely moved or even regressed in many areas. Only the Hobbits progressed any real amount. Mantle Clocks & Matches. Ship building declined, Moon letter making was lost, calculating Durin’s day was lost. The Third age was a very long version of Europe falling into a dark age more or less. Think fall of Rome.

Technology doesn’t advance in fantasy literature; usually it just fluctuates between the the equivalents of the 11th and 15th Centuries, often in the same book. That’s just one of the basic rules of the genre. Either accept it, or read something else.

Indeed, Aragorn & co were using much the same stuff as Feanor’s children.

If you want to fan-wank the Third Age, you could say that it was a side-effect of the Rings of Power. The elven rings staved off the ennui of the elves, promoting timelessness.

Well not totally. They did invent gunpowder.

Which when combined with magic made for some very impressive fireworks.

There are some fascinating advances in genetics happening in Isengard these days.

Magic quashes technology.

  1. Why bother inventing things when you can just wave a magic wand to do what you want? And the mindset would be to go to a wizard when faced with a problem.

  2. Do you really think wizards would allow anyone to challenge their power?

That is not consistent with the way wizards and folk interact in the stories. Wizards don’t go around solving the day-to-day problems of the people. Technology, in Tolien’s world, has only negative results. I made a joke about Saruman above, but he was in many ways a technologist. He had “machines” and there was always a foul smoke arising from Isengard (which name derives from iron-fortress).

Technology is how humans solve problems in a “better” way. In the Second and Third Ages, which last a total of 6000 years (!), there are limited points in time where attempting to “better” the condition through technology becomes desirable. In some way, the effort of the Númenoreans before The Downfall is one point where they attempt to overcome adversity through technological advance (improving their ships as needed to first conquer Middle-Earth, then to attempt landfall at Valinor). I think that the effect of the Three Rings helps to forestall the need for attempting technological advances.

Of course, wanking aside, there are 6000+ years of virtual technological standstill because Tolkien was writing a mythology, not a story intended to have any realism. He consistently portrays technological advances as the work of evil minds (a result of his upbringing near Birmingham, I believe). The length of the Second and Third Ages is merely a result of his trying to create a fittingly extensive history into them.

Yea, almost all pre-modern literature has either static technology, or the world declining from some ancient, more advanced state. So Tolkien’s Beowulf fanfic is of course going to picture the world in the same way.

So, who invented magic wands, then?

Staves, not wands. Middle Earth not freaking Harry Potter :slight_smile:

Counterpoint: Discworld. Technology advances fast. From the first book which is a generic pre-Shakespear fantasy world, to Making Steam, which is late, late Victorian.

And A Midsummer Tempest by Anderson, which assumes that everything Shakespeare wrote was true. Chiming clocks in Brutus’ house were not an anachronism, but a measure of the accelerated time line, which meant the Industrial Revolution was taking off at the time of the English Civil War.

Plus fighting in the Battle of the Somme, as AK84 pointed out in another thread.

If you spend a few months of your youth seeing your mates blown up by HE mortar rounds, gunned down by rapid fire machine guns, and having bombs dropped on you by flying machines, you might emerge with a jaundiced view of technology’s “benefits”.

“The Three Rings - this is why we can’t have nice things.”


It was the dawn of the third age of mankind…What? Sorry, wrong franchise.

It changes throughout the series, though. In Men At Arms the gun is invented, but as a result of an external, malevolent spirit: the “gonne” infects its user with the desire to use it, but won’t permit copies of itself to be made. After the weapon is destroyed at the end of the book, stasis resets. I think it isn’t until The Truth that an invention - the printing press - is allowed to stay and have an influence, and from there on technology on the Discworld gallops ahead.

Keep in mind, “wizard” isn’t an occupation in Middle-Earth that someone can take up and learn. The wizards - Istari in Elvish - are an order of Maiar, the lesser class of gods, who were sent to Middle-Earth specifically to help unite the Free Peoples against the Enemy. They’re essentially the Middle-Earth equivalent of angels walking the land in human form. You’d no more go get a wizard to solve your problems than you’d call up St. Michael to unclog your sink.