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Kuruharan 07-11-2015 09:52 AM

Fantasy Counterpart Culture
 
Rohan is consciously a version of the Anglo-Saxons. The Shire is rural England. Gondor is sort of a hybrid Egypt and late Roman Empire. The dwarves are commonly held to be a Viking themed culture (although I personally do not subscribe to this view).

My question is, what seems to have influenced Tolkien the most in his conception of elven culture?

Of all the cultures in his work this is the one that seems to have the most originality, although there are certainly aspects of heroic Northern culture that are in their make up.

Inziladun 07-11-2015 10:11 AM

Did Elven society have any real world correlation?

I think Tolkien may have discussed this a bit in Letters, but it seems to me that mostly Elves represent his idealized views of the best parts of Mankind.

They don't appear to generally possess negative traits; the one I see repeated is a feeling of superiority over other races. I think that's an unavoidable consequence of having immortal beings in cohabitation with those who quickly grew old and died.

To the Elves' credit though, we don't see them taking that superiority to the point of conquering and enslaving.

Zigūr 07-11-2015 10:27 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kuruharan (Post 700608)
although there are certainly aspects of heroic Northern culture that are in their make up.

I'd agree with this. Certainly in their youth as seen in The Silmarillion their passion and vigour is reminiscent of many characters from the Sagas.

At the same time, I'd argue that virtually everything in Professor Tolkien's work is fundamentally influenced by ancient Germanic literature. Almost all cultures in Western Middle-earth (apart from the Shire) have something of an early Medieval Northern European flavour. In that regard I'd suggest that, even though I'm aware Professor Tolkien explicitly compared Gondor to the Egyptians and the Byzantines, in a sense I'd argue that the Dśnedain evoke to a significant extent the idea of "if Norse/Ancient German peoples had built and operated the way the Egyptians and Byzantines did."
Quote:

Originally Posted by Kuruharan (Post 700608)
The dwarves are commonly held to be a Viking themed culture (although I personally do not subscribe to this view)

This is really one of those things that has grown up after Professor Tolkien's work, isn't it? This bizarre modern conception of Dwarves as short bearded Scotsmen with Viking helmets on.
As we know, Professor Tolkien compared the Dwarves to the Jews, which I think is an interesting comparison, but again they have very Norse/Germanic traits as well.

Overall I'd suggest that it might be possible to say that in a sense most of at least Western Middle-earth is essentially less a counterpart of real world cultures and more an exercise, in some respects, of imagining a world deriving from the style of the Germanic world rather than, as occurred in reality, the Graeco-Roman Classical world.

Nerwen 07-11-2015 10:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kuruharan (Post 700608)
Rohan is consciously a version of the Anglo-Saxons. The Shire is rural England. Gondor is sort of a hybrid Egypt and late Roman Empire. The dwarves are commonly held to be a Viking themed culture (although I personally do not subscribe to this view).

I know we're now getting a bit off your actual question, but do you mind if I, too, quibble on your use of "is"? I'm not sure if there's really meant to be that kind of literal 1:1 relationship between Middle-earth and actual societies. For example- well, I am hampered by not having the books with me, but isn't there a bit in either "On Translation" or the "Letters" where Tolkien says that his use of Anglo-Saxon to stand in for the "real" Rohirric language *shouldn't* be taken to imply a close equivalency between the cultures?

jallanite 07-12-2015 10:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Inziladun (Post 700609)
I think Tolkien may have discussed this a bit in Letters, but it seems to me that mostly Elves represent his idealized views of the best parts of Mankind.

They don't appear to generally possess negative traits;

You seem to be forgetting all you have read about the Fėanorians.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nerwen (Post 700621)
… isn't there a bit in either "On Translation" or the "Letters" where Tolkien says that his use of Anglo-Saxon to stand in for the "real" Rohirric language *shouldn't* be taken to imply a close equivalency between the cultures?

Yes. But in fact the equivalency is very close in terms of vocabulary used and culture, closer than to any other historic culture of which comparable knowledge has come down to us. The main difference is that the Rohirrim are very horse-centred while the Old English were not. See http://www.councilofelrond.com/litar...s-an-overview/ , http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Rohirrim , and http://www.oocities.org/licia_north/anglo.html .

Galadriel55 07-12-2015 12:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jallanite (Post 700639)
You seem to be forgetting all you have read about the Fėanorians.

And you seem to be forgetting that there is a large difference between the way Elves and Elf culture are depicted in different books and at different times. LOTR Elves are very different from Feanorians. You could also say that Elves in The Hobbit were based on people high on laughing gas, which isn't an inaccurate description of Elves in that book. You don't have to pick people''s words all the time, but gather the context from the context. Some things don't have to be stated explicitly.

If, however, you want to provide a different angle on the LOTR Elves or Silmarillion Elves and their real world counterparts, I would be interested to hear it.

Inziladun 07-12-2015 12:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jallanite (Post 700639)
You seem to be forgetting all you have read about the Fėanorians.

As a matter of fact, I did not. There is a clear difference between cultural behavior of a race in general, and the abberant acts of a minority.

If those deeds surrounding the Silmarils had not been deviant in the eye of most Elves, the histories would have been notably changed.

jallanite 07-12-2015 07:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Galadriel55 (Post 700640)
And you seem to be forgetting that there is a large difference between the way Elves and Elf culture are depicted in different books and at different times. LOTR Elves are very different from Feanorians.

Yes, but I have never seen the supposed difference between Hobbit Elves and Lord of the Rings elves. Yes, they act somewhat differently, but no more different than might appear in a description of the staff of a great house in a joyous and somewhat jesting meeting with unexpected guests and the same staff at a more formal event.

The short jesting conversation between Lindir and Bilbo in the Hall of Fire has, to me, the same flavour as the songs of the Elves of Rivendell in The Hobbit. But different people may perceive the same events in tales very differently from one another.

I don’t see any particular likeness between Elvish civilization and any historic civilization.

William Cloud Hicklin 07-16-2015 09:24 AM

I think the LR is certainly written from a very Northern/Teutonic POV, but that doesn't mean that everything in it must correspond to peoples who spoke a descendant of Primitive Germanic. Certainly the Haradrim and Easterlings don't; the former have very clearly a Saracen/Persian flavor, and what little we see of the latter suggests Slavs.

Similarly, Gondor was (to our main characters) foreign, the great but distant and nearly legendary civilization of which most had heard but few visited. Its climate and vegetation are very explicitly Mediterranean, its scale and architecture unparalleled in the North; why shouldn't it occupy the same place relative to our protagonists as Constantinople to the Anglo-Saxons, the great if somewhat decayed capital of the surviving half of the mighty Empire which had once ruled their own land??

Galadriel55 07-16-2015 01:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin (Post 700730)
Certainly the Haradrim and Easterlings don't; the former have very clearly a Saracen/Persian flavor, and what little we see of the latter suggests Slavs.

Interesting. May I ask why? I always saw it differently - I think the Easterlings have more of a Saracen/Middle Eastern base, while Haradrim parallel RL lands farther south. Hard as I try, I really can't see Slavs anywhere among those races. Could you elaborate?

William Cloud Hicklin 07-16-2015 02:40 PM

Well, we get a very Mideast/North African impression, I think, from Sam's POV description of the dead Southron in 'Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit' (The mumakil aren't a problem: think Hannibal, probably Tolkien's inspiration).

We get very little about the Easterlings (Rhunians? Rhunrim????), besides the fact that they were bearded and carried axes, which would also qualify Vikings and even Dwarves. But who else would they be calqued on, but the Slavic peoples from the East? They certainly don't appear to be Scythians/Sarmatians/Huns.

Galadriel55 07-16-2015 03:24 PM

Ok, I agree with the North African part about Haradrim.

Quote:

Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin (Post 700747)
We get very little about the Easterlings (Rhunians? Rhunrim????), besides the fact that they were bearded and carried axes, which would also qualify Vikings and even Dwarves. But who else would they be calqued on, but the Slavic peoples from the East? They certainly don't appear to be Scythians/Sarmatians/Huns.

I don't know. To me they seem to be steppe/Middle-Eastern peoples rather than Slavs. Axes aside, they seem to be more Arabian, or perhaps slightly Persian, or with a stretch some people from slightly farther northeast, than Slavic. The Slavs weren't the only people to wear beards; they don't match appearances in terms of what we know about facial features or skin colour; they certainly didn't ride in wains, and while they had a cavalry it wasn't anything exceptional (actually, there is a theory that the Mongolian invasion didn't reach anywhere as far as it's said to be, and one of the main supporting factors is that you can't sustain or properly maneuver such a cavalry in the Slavic forests). It's true that Slavs used axes in battle while Middle Eastern people didn't, to the best of my knowledge, but aside from that I don't see how the Easterlings match Slavs.

Saying that, though, Tolkien didn't have to base anyone on just one culture, whether consciously or not. It is entirely possible that there is a combination of more than one influence.

Zigūr 07-16-2015 09:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Galadriel55 (Post 700748)
Saying that, though, Tolkien didn't have to base anyone on just one culture, whether consciously or not. It is entirely possible that there is a combination of more than one influence.

I'd say so. I get the impression that Rhūn is meant to be pretty vast. The axe-bearing Easterlings were of a kind previously unknown to the Men of Gondor, which suggests to me that many cultures were imagined to exist in the Eastern regions of Middle-earth.

Kuruharan 07-20-2015 09:13 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Zigūr (Post 700610)
I'd argue that the Dśnedain evoke to a significant extent the idea of "if Norse/Ancient German peoples had built and operated the way the Egyptians and Byzantines did."

An excellent point, and I think a very good way of putting it.

Quote:

This is really one of those things that has grown up after Professor Tolkien's work, isn't it? This bizarre modern conception of Dwarves as short bearded Scotsmen with Viking helmets on.
As we know, Professor Tolkien compared the Dwarves to the Jews, which I think is an interesting comparison, but again they have very Norse/Germanic traits as well.
I've always thought that the dwarves have a much more ancient Semitic cultural structure than is commonly supposed, which particularly shows up in their language (the pieces of it we have).

Quote:

Originally Posted by Galadriel55
I don't know. To me they seem to be steppe/Middle-Eastern peoples rather than Slavs. Axes aside, they seem to be more Arabian, or perhaps slightly Persian, or with a stretch some people from slightly farther northeast, than Slavic. The Slavs weren't the only people to wear beards; they don't match appearances in terms of what we know about facial features or skin colour; they certainly didn't ride in wains, and while they had a cavalry it wasn't anything exceptional (actually, there is a theory that the Mongolian invasion didn't reach anywhere as far as it's said to be, and one of the main supporting factors is that you can't sustain or properly maneuver such a cavalry in the Slavic forests). It's true that Slavs used axes in battle while Middle Eastern people didn't, to the best of my knowledge, but aside from that I don't see how the Easterlings match Slavs.

Myself, I don't get much of a Middle-Eastern vibe from the Easterlings. However, some of them, particularly the Wainriders, do give me a strong steppe people vibe. It reminds me of a nomadic people living in portable yurts where the wagons could be repurposed for battle as well.

However, to me the Axemen referenced at the Battle of the Pelennor do seem to me have a bit of a Slavic flavor.

I agree with Zigūr that the East was huge enough to have many different cultures in it.

Morthoron 07-20-2015 10:14 AM

In regards to the Wainriders, I also considered steppe peoples, but the ancient Celts are also up for consideration, primarily for their armies confederated in a tribal manner and the use of chariots, an important facet of their form of combat preceding their arrival in the British Isles. Their migration from the East into Europe also mirrors their movements in Middle-earth.

Kuruharan 07-20-2015 02:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Morthoron (Post 700783)
In regards to the Wainriders, I also considered steppe peoples, but the ancient Celts are also up for consideration, primarily for their armies confederated in a tribal manner and the use of chariots, an important facet of their form of combat preceding their arrival in the British Isles. Their migration from the East into Europe also mirrors their movements in Middle-earth.

I had never considered the Celts in this context before but that is an excellent point.

littlemanpoet 07-21-2015 07:52 PM

My recollections of some of Tolkien's thoughts on this matter include that he wrote his Elves in part as a reaction to, and corrective of, the way "elfs" were described in 19th century romantic literature, in which they were diminutive figures living in buttercups and such. He wanted Elves to be raised to their former high place in the literature, namely the Northern epics, such as the Elder and Lesser Eddas, I believe.

As such, Elves are not based upon a historic culture, but upon a mythical folk derived from northern myth.

William Cloud Hicklin 07-24-2015 05:00 PM

The use of "war-wagons" as opposed to mere chariots is a far more Germanic practice, associated with both the Teutones and the much later Goths. (Of course, there was also Attila's fortified wagon-camp at the Battle of Chalons)

Kuruharan 07-27-2015 09:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin (Post 700885)
(Of course, there was also Attila's fortified wagon-camp at the Battle of Chalons)

That is exactly what I was thinking of in regard to the Wainriders.

William Cloud Hicklin 07-27-2015 11:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kuruharan (Post 700934)
That is exactly what I was thinking of in regard to the Wainriders.

OTOH, the wagons in that case may well have belonged to the Goths who made up nearly half of Attila's army on that occasion; there is little to suggest, in other accounts of the Huns, that their armies used anything for transport besides packhorses and travois.

Kuruharan 07-28-2015 11:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin (Post 700935)
OTOH, the wagons in that case may well have belonged to the Goths who made up nearly half of Attila's army on that occasion; there is little to suggest, in other accounts of the Huns, that their armies used anything for transport besides packhorses and travois.

That is a good point I had never considered before.


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