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Old 11-25-2010, 03:21 PM   #1
Paradus
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Technology in M-E?

Greetings.

I have been reading the details of the races of the Noldor, Numenoreans etc and it seems that they were were a fairly advanced civilisation.
My question is when it says advanced technology how would one interprit this? i.e did they have mechanized components, development of gunpowder? I'm not really sure.


P.S Also I've always wondered on wether the silmarils were really magical or they were prehaps just uranium for they have very similar components and effects.

cheers.

Last edited by Paradus; 11-26-2010 at 03:44 PM.
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Old 11-26-2010, 03:03 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradus View Post
Greetings.

I have been reading the details of the races of the Noldor, Numenoreans etc and it seems that they were were a fairly advanced civilisation.
My question is when it says advanced technology how would one interprit this? i.e did they have mechanized components, development of gunpowerder? I'm not really sure.
I don't think they had gunpowder– at least, I can't recall anything that might suggest it.

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Originally Posted by Paradus View Post
P.S Also I've always wondered on wether the silmarils were really magical or they were prehaps just uranium for they have very similar components and effects.

cheers.
Now that you mention it, I suppose Tolkien might have had some thought of radium (not uranium) at the back of his mind when he dreamed up the silmarils– but that's a long way from saying he meant them to be made of it. (If nothing else, the description of how Fëanor created them ought to rule that out.)

As a more general answer: it's been suggested that a lot of the "magic" in Middle-earth is simply "sufficiently advanced technology" (in Arthur C. Clarke's phrase). Up to a point I agree with this, but I'd be wary of being too literal about it, and casting it too much in terms of the present. I doubt you'd find a bunch of wires and microchips inside a palantír, for example. I don't think these books are just "hard SF" disguised as a fantasy.

Although, we might look at how that quote concludes: "...indistinguishable from magic". I'd say that often technology, magic and art in Middle-earth can't really be separated from each other at all; it's more a matter of knowledge and ability.
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Old 11-26-2010, 06:24 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Nerwen View Post
I don't think they had gunpowder– at least, I can't recall anything that might suggest it.
Saruman has dinomite, though.
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Old 11-26-2010, 10:15 PM   #4
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Although Tolkien never mentions gunpowder, descriptions in Lord of the Rings suggest its existence in Middle-earth.

To place this discussion in context, we should be aware that as early as 1267, Roger Bacon knew how to make gunpowder and was familiar with its explosive effects. It was another sixty years before gunpowder weapons began to appear in European military arsenals, but they spread quickly. The point is that in Europe during the Middle Ages, gunpowder was known, through few knew how to make it.

Gandalf’s fireworks bespeak of gunpowder: fireworks are an early use of the mixture, and Tolkien’s description of them by Bilbo in The Hobbit and as narrator in Fellowship of the Ring are excellent descriptions of “modern” fireworks that we see today, little changed except in computer-controlled electronic ignition from those Tolkien saw as a child, and that in turn basically the same as Chinese fireworks eight or nine centuries ago.

Now Gandalf was also the bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire, and he displayed some significant fire-related abilities. In The Hobbit, he lit pinecones that he used to attack and frighten the wolves of the Misty Mountains in “Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire”. These burned with various colors, as might fireworks treated with various chemical compounds. (In fact, all flame colors are caused by the chemicals present in them.) In Fellowship of the Ring, “The Ring Goes South”, he creates “green and blue flame” (like many copper compounds) when he lights the wet tinder in storm in the Redhorn Pass; and later fighting the werewolves, he used a “blazing brand” that “flared with a sudden white radiance like lightning” that spread quickly to many trees (much like magnesium). I’m not saying that any of these similarities to real world chemistry indicate that Tolkien intended that Gandalf was a practicing chemist; but Tolkien was familiar with fireworks and pyrotechnics (he certainly saw – and experienced! – a lot of chemical pyrotechnics during World War I); and at Oxford University, he could easily ask any number of first-class chemists how such ignitions might be surreptitiously accomplished and what they would look like. Maybe all this was due to Gandalf’s being a Maia, or maybe it was due to Narya, or maybe Tolkien did use real chemistry as his starting point: any or all of these could be true.

What Aragorn called “Devilry of Saruman … the fire of Orthanc” and described to Théoden as “a blasting fire” (Two Towers, “Helm’s Deep”) was never said to have a sulphurous smell, something most people notice about gunpowder. (I don’t recall that Tolkien ever described anything in Lord of the Rings with a “sulphurous” odor, not even the poisonous fumes of Orodruin or Gorgoroth, where sulphur should be expected around an active volcano.) But while Gandalf uses his fire-“magic” for constructive purposes – even delight in watching fireworks is constructive – Saruman uses his for evil, for blasting and killing. In Two Towers, “Flotsam and Jetsam”, Pippin described machinery producing “fires and foul fumes”, killing Beechbone the Ent who “got caught in a spray of some liquid fire” that sounds reminiscent of Greek fire.

But even if these are examples of better living through chemistry, I suppose the inhabitants of Middle-earth would have just called them all “wizardry”.

Speaking of machinery, we should consider, for example, the Doors of Durin at the Westgate of Moria: they opened on a word. We would call that “magic,” though Galadriel told Sam, “I do not understand clearly what [mortals] mean [by ‘magic’]; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.” We could accomplish opening the Doors of Durin with computer-activation, as long as the power supply did not fail nor the machinery break down.

Perhaps, as Nerwen postulates, what we are looking at are examples of Clark’s Third Law, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Last edited by Alcuin; 11-26-2010 at 10:20 PM.
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Old 11-26-2010, 10:46 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alcuin
Although Tolkien never mentions gunpowder, descriptions in Lord of the Rings suggest its existence in Middle-earth.
Sorry if I wasn't clear about that in my first answer– the "they" I was referring to were the Noldor and the Numenoreans, the cultures Paradus specifically asked about, not Saruman or Gandalf. Although, even so, there is a question of whether the latter two would be using actual gunpowder, as seen in the real world, or some kind of wizardly analogue to it. (Ditto for Greek fire and magnesium.)
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Old 01-02-2011, 04:19 PM   #6
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Regarding the Numenoreans, here's a passage that I have not seen at all in my travelings that I think should be taken into consideration. It's probably not well known as it is an earlier work of Tolkien's and people probably don't think of it as accurate, but here it is reproduced for your consideration.

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Yet it is said that even of those Numenoreans of old who had the straight vision there were some who did not comprehend this, and they were busy to contrive ships that should rise above the waters of the world and hold to the imagined seas. But they achieved only ships that would sail in the air of breath. And these ships, flying, came also to the lands of the new world, and to the East of the old world; and they reported that the world was round. Therefore many abandoned the gods and put them out of their legends. But men of Middle-Earth looked up with fear and wonder seeing the Numenoreans that descended out of the sky; and they took these mariners of the air to be gods, and some of the Numenoreans were content that this should be so.

Sauron Defeated, The Drowning of Anadune (third version of the Fall of Numenor), pp. 338-9
And another passage from the same paper considering Ar-Pharazon's (then Tar-kalion's) "thunder."

Quote:
And they encompassed Avallon; and it is said that the Elves mourned and sickness came upon them, for the light of Valinor was cut off by the cloud of the Numenoreans. Then Tar-kalion assailed the shores of Valinor, and he cast forth bolts of thunder, and fire came upon Tuna, and flame and smoke rose about Taniquetil.

Ibid, p. 336
The flying machines are particularly interesting, especially since they were built after the Downfall. I'm not sure why they haven't been discussed more thoroughly: perhaps this paper isn't considered to have as much authority as his later works. Still, the power of flight is a very rare thing in ME and it adds depth to the loss and fall of the Numenorean race in the later ages.

Numenor seemed to possess the technology of cannons as well, as that most obviously fits the description. But this is a very common piece, and almost to be expected.

Last edited by Ironfoot; 01-02-2011 at 04:41 PM.
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:54 AM   #7
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Great quotes, Ironfoot!

Since I have only some parts of the HoMe series, this information is new to me. One thing I don't understand though - why were these machines built after the Downfall? That doesn't make that much sense...
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:14 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by The Might
'(...) One thing I don't understand though - why were these machines built after the Downfall? That doesn't make that much sense...'
Because they desired to sail on the imagined seas after the world was made round, as, upon the Straight Road (as I'm sure you and others know, but just for the thread in general): '... only the gods could walk, and only the ships of the Elves could journey; for being straight that road passed through the air of breath and flight and rose above it, and traversed Ilmen in which no mortal flesh can endure; whereas the surface of the earth was bent, and bent were the seas that lay upon it, and bent also were the heavy airs that were above them.' Fall of Númenor III


I tend to think the flying ships were abandoned. They don't appear in any of the later texts (if I recall correctly), including the Mannish tradition The Drowning of Anadûnê, and the mixed tradition Akallabêth.

Granted The Fall of Númenor could be seen as a variant tradition, but in my opinion if it was supposed to be thought of as Elvish tradition then it awaited a general revision in any case, because it was explicitly a flat world version -- that is, a once flat world made round -- whereas the Elves taught that the world was always round according to The Drowning of Anadûnê (Mannish) tradition.

Even if I'm right about that much, that doesn't necessarily mean JRRT would have abandoned the flying ships, and this becomes another case of an existing idea from an 'early-ish' text (Fall of Númenor) that is not specifically denied -- or mentioned -- in later versions of essentially the same tale (although again, the later tales are arguably meant to represent variant traditions in any event).

Does the idea still necessarily exist in an internal sense? hard to know. This text being relatively private and 'unknown' (from Tolkien's perspective) would not necessarily call for some sort of written direction from the author himself, even though at times JRRT would writes notes to himself, or slash through something later rejected, for instance.

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