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Old 02-10-2009, 12:48 PM   #1
William Cloud Hicklin
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Branch thread: Tolkien's military technology

Tolkien, interestingly, postulated a world in which weaponry remained essentially stagnent for thousands of years, or even declined. The impression one gets, from the Nirnaeth right through to the Morannon, is that miltech was fixed at about the level of our 12th century or so.

Now, why would this be? Obviously, he wanted to keep gunpowder and firearms out of his world, and that would be conceivably an argument against plate armor (although it's accepted today that 15th-century 'white harness' was actually less cumbersome than mail, in T's day the old notion of helpless ironclad tortoises that needed hoisting into the saddle was still the accepted view). Nonetherless, he could easily have atributed supertech to Dwarves or Noldor, even if just for the First Age- so why not? After all, if his viewpoint is the earlier Middle Ages and its looking back at the Ancients, we know that Roman legionaries (at least for a while) wore the banded lorica segmentata.

Also the missing crossbows- although I suppose they could exist without mention. But I would think the x-bow would be a perfect Orcish weapon. (Not so the Elves, who presumably have ample time for the training required to make a good bowman, or the Rohirrim, since a x-bow ain't a cavalry weapon). But for Orcs- a cheaply made piece of low-tech which requires little trainng, just a degree of brute strength. The AK-47 of the ancient world. And again, why not the Dwarves, esp. since one would assume a Dwarf could stirrup-cock a much heavier xbow than a Man?
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Old 02-10-2009, 12:51 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
Tolkien, interestingly, postulated a world in which weaponry remained essentially stagnent for thousands of years, or even declined. The impression one gets, from the Nirnaeth right through to the Morannon, is that miltech was fixed at about the level of our 12th century or so.

Now, why would this be? Obviously, he wanted to keep gunpowder and firearms out of his world, and that would be conceivably an argument against plate armor (although it's accepted today that 15th-century 'white harness' was actually less cumbersome than mail, in T's day the old notion of helpless ironclad tortoises that needed hoisting into the saddle was still the accepted view). Nonetherless, he could easily have atributed supertech to Dwarves or Noldor, even if just for the First Age- so why not? After all, if his viewpoint is the earlier Middle Ages and its looking back at the Ancients, we know that Roman legionaries (at least for a while) wore the banded lorica segmentata.

Also the missing crossbows- although I suppose they could exist without mention. But I would think the x-bow would be a perfect Orcish weapon. (Not so the Elves, who presumably have ample time for the training required to make a good bowman, or the Rohirrim, since a x-bow ain't a cavalry weapon). But for Orcs- a cheaply made piece of low-tech which requires little trainng, just a degree of brute strength. The AK-47 of the ancient world. And again, why not the Dwarves, esp. since one would assume a Dwarf could stirrup-cock a much heavier xbow than a Man?
It would have made a boring story.
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Old 02-10-2009, 12:57 PM   #3
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How would it have been a boring story?
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Old 02-10-2009, 03:24 PM   #4
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How would it have been a boring story?
Well to me it's just a personal preference, crossbows just arent as... heroic as bows.
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Old 02-10-2009, 03:54 PM   #5
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Well to me it's just a personal preference, crossbows just arent as... heroic as bows.
Yes, well it certainly would have been a less heroic story. All the weapons used in LOTR require skill and practice (and determination). In Tolkien's world, you need to have these to be a good warrior.
I think that using old-style weapons makes the heroes into warriors rather than soldiers.

Also, remember, Tolkien liked the Anglo-Saxon times, and they didn't have that sort of technology (at least in Europe) then.
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Old 02-10-2009, 04:16 PM   #6
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Also the missing crossbows- although I suppose they could exist without mention. But I would think the x-bow would be a perfect Orcish weapon.

I think (though I don't happen to have LOTR on me), that Faramir was shot with a bolt. I think Imrahil says he removed it and if so it certainly implies a crossbow to have loosed it .

Apart from the fact that the longbow is embedded in the English psyche in the way that crossbows aren't (technically all Englishmen are obliged by an obselete but not repealed law to carry out two hours of longbow practice daily!!!), there is a elegant simplicity about it - elves I am sure would be slowed down by the crossbow's action since a experienced English longbowman would be expected to loose up to 20 aimed arrows a minute, an elf with hands that move quicker than sight could surely do better.
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Old 02-10-2009, 06:35 PM   #7
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Eye Bling Armour

It does seem that the military technology of Midddle Earth actually declined somewhat.

Elrond refers to a 'host of elves in armour of old' or somesuch, implying that the Third Age armour was inferior to what was used in the First Age perhaps? Certainly the Gate-Guards of Gondolin had some visually impressive stuff but the exact type of armour is not described in detail.

I wonder if the 1st Age Elves had discovered face-hardening, a metallurgical technique that makes armour practically arrow-proof? Or could be that they had plenty of Mithril!

Also the steel bows of the 2nd Age Numenoreans are mentioned, but no hint of them in the Third Age.

At least we can be sure that the stirrup was used by cavalry, as Eowyn mentions the stirrup-cup.
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Old 02-10-2009, 07:22 PM   #8
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Certainly the Gate-Guards of Gondolin had some visually impressive stuff but the exact type of armour is not described in detail.
However there's a snippet in The Children of Hurin, where it was said that "the sword and harness of the least of the warriors of Turgon was worth more than the ransom of any king among Men." Which implies either mithril, or serious high-end smith-craft.

But how did they get mithril? (And, yes, I know they built a whole gate out of the stuff).

And supposedly even the Noldor never made mail as good as the best Dwarven stuff.
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:17 PM   #9
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I think (though I don't happen to have LOTR on me), that Faramir was shot with a bolt. I think Imrahil says he removed it and if so it certainly implies a crossbow to have loosed it .
The word used is "dart," rather than "bolt." I have the impression that a dart could mean either an arrow or a small javelin of some sort.
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Old 02-10-2009, 10:37 PM   #10
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In regards to 'darts' and 'bolts'

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The word used is "dart," rather than "bolt." I have the impression that a dart could mean either an arrow or a small javelin of some sort.
There are two other instances I could find regarding 'darts' and 'bolts':

'Then the engines and the catapults of the king poured darts and boulders and molten metals on those ruthless beasts ...' - The Fall of Gondolin, The Book of Lost Tales II, The History of Middle-earth Volume II

'Then Gil-galad and Elendil passed into Mordor and encompassed the stronghold of Sauron; and they laid siege to it for seven years, and suffered grievous loss by fire and by the darts and bolts of the Enemy, and Sauron sent many sorties against them.' - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, The Silmarillion

Tolkien has used the term 'darts' as synonymous with arrows in a few passages; however, I will have to reconsider a blanket statement when considering "bolts". It most likely could be that bolts were shot from an arbalist, rather than crossbows, as both quotes concern sieges or siege weaponry. In fact, the sentence 'Then the engines and the catapults of the king poured darts and boulders...' indicates he was referring directly to siege weaponry.

There is no indication that Tolkien ever mentioned hand-held crossbows, even by Orcs, but since Tolkien mentioned in The Hobbit that Orcs are keen on inventing weapons of mass destruction, it is highly likely they would have used siege weapons like the arbalist.

As far as the term 'armour', that could indicate any type of protective accoutrements, not necessarily plate. And armorial technology was certainly on the wane, even among dwarves. I recall Thorin admitting that much of their craft in smithying was gone, save for the manufacture of iron rings (or something to that effect). Long gone are the days of Telchar of Nogrod, or Eol, artificer of Galvorn.
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Old 02-11-2009, 06:11 AM   #11
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Yes I checked it when I got home. And the use of dart, shaft and arrow for the same item by Imrahil (who would presumably not use the terms inaccurately) makes a crossbow less likely than even dart alone - maybe it is the pub game that makes me think of a smaller thing than a longbow arrow! Anyway I got it wrong ... sorry.
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Old 02-11-2009, 06:57 AM   #12
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Sting

I don't think there's one reason for it. Although, I agree that Tolkien's love of Anglo-Saxon times and ancient heroics probably contributed to his choice. But more than that, it may be that he did not see such technological advances as the automatic weapon and so on as 'progress'.

Combat is so much more different with guns than with swords. The latter is much closer and confrontational. Indeed, I have noticed that there are several occasions where people (Turin springs to mind) are described as being so strange that they would be impossible to kill "unless by an evil arrow". Even here we find this slight dislike for ranged warfare. Indeed, Turin's main complaint with the people of Brethil is that they prefer the secret arrow to face-to-face battle.

As horrible as battle always is, it strikes me that Tolkien almost promoted a sort of line of thinking that if you are going to kill them, don't do it from afar. Perhaps he thought of the sword and shield as being preferable to the gun and bullet. Even Beleg Strong Bow gave up his bow in favour of the sword.

The Dwarves have an interesting slant on this. They use metals such a Mithril (when they can get it) to make chain-mail that is strong enough to stop a spear thrust. Could it be that they saw this as progress enough? For warfare, anyway. I suspect their main developments came in the finding and mining of ores.
I know mithril was not so readily available; but there is the hint throughout the books that Dwarvish armour is somehow superior to the stuff men made. Even more so when it comes to the elves.

Perhaps it is a case of almost 'enchantment' over advancement?
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Old 02-11-2009, 05:07 PM   #13
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As horrible as battle always is, it strikes me that Tolkien almost promoted a sort of line of thinking that if you are going to kill them, don't do it from afar. Perhaps he thought of the sword and shield as being preferable to the gun and bullet.
I think it's also that fighting behind a ranged weapon (and more so a gun) is usually thought of as more cowardly than face-to-face combat, especially in ancient times. With an arrow you're just hiding and killing without even giving your opponent a chance, whereas with face-to-face combat you throw yourself into the fray, and are at much more risk. The opponent also gets to see who kills them, and a chance to fight back, rather than a shot coming nowhere.
I think that this idea was shown well in the LOTR movies, with Boromir's death (here)
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Old 02-11-2009, 06:55 PM   #14
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Quote:
With an arrow you're just hiding and killing without even giving your opponent a chance, whereas with face-to-face combat you throw yourseelf into the fray, and are at much more risk. The opponent also gets to see who kills them, and a chance to find back, rather than a shot coming nowhere.
Ah, like that sneak Legolas shooting down a
noble flying nazgul?

And it's the bad guys or good guys turned bad
(Sauron, Saruman) who innovate/create new weapon
systems like explosive powder and Grond the super ram.
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:25 AM   #15
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Ah, like that sneak Legolas shooting down a
noble flying nazgul?
Or those nasty elves laughing and shooting at the noble Naugrim after their conquest of Menegroth.


One reason for there being no advancement in Middle-earth was because its people were not brought up in society of evolving weapons. The elves were taught by Aule to create weapons. There would be no reason for elves, men, and dwarves, to seek to craft anything better, on account of weapons built by the Valar is the best there is. Instead of trying to figure out how to go from the Bronze Age to the era of Iron, each race just needed to figure out how to maintain a certain level of quality. Elves relied upon the skills that they learned in Valinor; the Dwarves had Iron and Mithril, which they could craft beautifully; Men had their courage and skill.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hookbill
The Dwarves have an interesting slant on this. They use metals such a Mithril (when they can get it) to make chain-mail that is strong enough to stop a spear thrust. Could it be that they saw this as progress enough? For warfare, anyway. I suspect their main developments came in the finding and mining of ores.
Exactly, you hit the nail on the head, Hookbill. Dwarves could also make many impressive things out of lesser ore. For instance, we have the fire resistant masks that the dwarves wore into battle, and the Iron boots worn by the dwarves of the Iron Hills; ergo, the name Dain II Ironfoot.

Although the dwarves could build great weapons and armor, their true hobby was mining and building gigantic cities out of stone. Belegost, Nogrod, Nargothrond, and Khazad-dum were their great cities. Even the elves envied their skill; resulting in the cities of Menegroth and Nargothrond. The dwarves most remarkable achievements were not their weapons, or toys—gold, silver, gems etc.—it was the dwellings that they lived in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hookbill
I know mithril was not so readily available; but there is the hint throughout the books that Dwarvish armour is somehow superior to the stuff men made. Even more so when it comes to the elves.
It was available in abundance back in the heydays of the dwarves, in Khazad-dum. We definitely know that dwarves were superior to elves in crafting anything, save only the Silmarils. The example of Thingol and the Naugrim (a rather unfair name for so mighty a people, don’t you think?) proves that.
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Old 02-12-2009, 03:04 PM   #16
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If I can contribute anything to this thread, it would be that weaponry and armor changed little over the thousands of years because there were relatively few people, few invading forces, and few wars.


The people that inhabited the northwest of M-E were few and far between (I have never attempted a census, just role with me here) meaning that the status quo was the norm as long as no one else intervened to challenge the status quo. Which leads me to my next point.

There were really never any new invading forces that would have caused military tech to change/advance. The only new additions to the equation were dragons, the edain, and easterlings. Even with the new invading forces, none of them ever made a huge impact on the people of the Northwest of M-E because none of the invasions were truly successful except for that of the edain, which had adopted mostly elven ways early on. Much later Wainriders and Southrons certainly added new elements to the battle. But these elements could have possibly been dealt with from a logistical stand point just as easily as through new technology, at least at first, in successive battles this might change, which leads me to my last point.

There were very few wars. There were only a handful of full scale, all out war, battles in the First Age. The Fall of Gondolin was achieved through the aid of treachery, stealth, speed, and excessive force, but not through an advantage of military tech, unless you consider winged dragons as technology. Morgoth was overthrown only through the power of the West, not technological advancement.

In the Second and Third Ages, we do see the development of some new technologies on the part of the Numenoreans but none after the Atalante. The new technologies allowed Numenor to dominate the North and West of M-E, but Numenor was really just an extension of the Edain and Elves, with no other influences. Once Numenor was destroyed much of the new tech developed was lost, instead of there being a power vacuum and an outside force seizing control, the dunedain are able to found two kingdoms and thwart outsiders from invading.

In summation, for military tech to advance, there needs to be catalyst, which is war. Without people, invaders, or war then there is no catalyst and therefore no advancement in weaponry or armor.

BTW, if you think that there were a lot of wars during the 6000 or so of the 3 ages in M-E, then I think you need to compare it to the last 6000 years of our history.
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:15 PM   #17
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This thread brings to mind something I've pondered before.

Quote:
'It was by the devices of Saruman that we drove (the Enemy) from Dol Guldur. It might be that he had found some weapons that would drive back the Nine.'
That was Gandalf speaking to the Council of Elrond. Apparently Saruman was something of a weaponsmith, making 'devices' that worked well against the Necromancer and his troops. It's pure speculation, but I've wondered just what sort of weapons they were, and why they didn't come into more widespread use if they were so effective.
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:20 PM   #18
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This thread brings to mind something I've pondered before.



That was Gandalf speaking to the Council of Elrond. Apparently Saruman was something of a weaponsmith, making 'devices' that worked well against the Necromancer and his troops. It's pure speculation, but I've wondered just what sort of weapons they were, and why they didn't come into more widespread use if they were so effective.

"Devices" doesn't necessarily refer to forged weapons, though. It could potentially be a synonym for "arts" or "methods."
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:29 PM   #19
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"Devices" doesn't necessarily refer to forged weapons, though. It could potentially be a synonym for "arts" or "methods."
True, but G's specific reference to 'weapons' in the next sentence seems to me to leave open the possibility that they were items that could be physically wielded. Even if they were 'arts' such as the blasting fire later used against Helm's Deep, could not the practical knowledge of their uses have been known or taught by the other members of the White Council?
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:57 PM   #20
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Sure, it is a possibility.
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Old 02-14-2009, 04:43 PM   #21
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There have been periods in our own history where military technology declined. One of the times that most readily springs to mind is in the aftermath of the fall of Rome in the west...which is broadly speaking, a comparable era of history to the development level of Middle earth.

How one wishes to define military progress is of course up to the individual, however in the aftermath of the fall of Rome warfare on the whole became less structured, less organized and more poorly equipped.

Also note that for millennia of our history, again broadly speaking, the tools of the trade didn't change. Swords, spears, bows and various and sundry variations thereof were the tools of war until the advent of gunpowder.

I personally would have found it harder to swallow if Tolkein *had* described a world that had greatly advanced technologically, partially as a personal preference but also because our own development has taken so long.
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Old 05-14-2009, 01:37 AM   #22
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One reason for there being no advancement in Middle-earth was because its people were not brought up in society of evolving weapons. The elves were taught by Aule to create weapons. There would be no reason for elves, men, and dwarves, to seek to craft anything better, on account of weapons built by the Valar is the best there is.
Although Men, perhaps, with their God-given virtue to shape their own fate, could be expected (eventually) to do their own thing without reference to the Valar. I'm not sure whether the elves or dwarves could create things which surpassed the capabilities of the Valar; I get the impression that the Valar could not have made (the housing of) the Silmarils (in the same manner as "neither has thy secret thought conceived the snowflake" &c.), and Feanor and friends were on a weapons-making drive - thanks to Melkor, admittedly, but there's something about "the swords of the Noldor did him more harm than anything else" and him regretting it - at roughly the same period in elven craftworking. I reckon the Blessed Realm provided a light of inspiration as well as allowing the direct tutelage by the Valar, and that removed from it the elves were unable to innovate.
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Old 04-08-2011, 12:19 AM   #23
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I think his archaism of military is a natural offshot from his love of history. Human society exploded in every possible way in the centuries following the Industrial Revolution, and it quite literally lost its balance and sense of proportion. Although its rather a naieve point to make, pre 1800, human society was much more sustainable simply because there were much fewer people on the planet. I'm sure if Tolkien was alive today he'd be even more horrified



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Old 04-08-2011, 05:09 AM   #24
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human society was much more sustainable simply because there were much fewer people on the planet.
Ever heard of Malthus?

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Old 04-08-2011, 02:24 PM   #25
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Welcome, aussie!

My point is very short: the weapons didn't change very much, but their quality did (both ways).
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Old 04-08-2011, 03:03 PM   #26
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Yes I checked it when I got home. And the use of dart, shaft and arrow for the same item by Imrahil (who would presumably not use the terms inaccurately) makes a crossbow less likely than even dart alone - maybe it is the pub game that makes me think of a smaller thing than a longbow arrow! Anyway I got it wrong ... sorry.
The "dart" thing brings up an interesting point. it seems to me a little odd that, in a world where spears and javelins are so important, nobody seems to use the atlatl (a kind of spear throwing sling). Unlike a lot of of the tech mentioned, atlatls are really, really ancient (they've existed since the stone age) very low tech and very very powerful (they are considered the secret that allowed early humans to be able to kill mammoths with just basic spears. While it is true that it's use had largely died out in Europe by Tolkien's time (one of the reasons why it is known by a Nahuatl (Aztec) name, it was in use in South America a LOT longer). But it seems a bit odd tha no-one seems to have kept it, inclulding very Neolithic tech groups like the Drunedain. In a world where the spear is still cutting edge, a tool that lets you throw them hard enough to take down an oliphaunt would seem to be something you would want to keep in your repetoire.
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Old 04-09-2011, 05:52 PM   #27
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There are lots of ways I respect Tolkien and love his works, but I don't see him as a serious historian or familiar with how technology changes. I see humans as expansionist. Give them a frontier, they will expand to fill the open territory. Given technology, it will be improved. The further along the technology is, the faster it will be refined.

Middle Earth isn't necessarily like that. The Elves in the beginning were perfect, and it all goes slowly downhill. I see the ancient legendary armor being the result of a legendary will enhanced craftsmanship that the humans would call 'magic.' As the elves of Lorien made boats, cloaks and even rations at a level unheard of even in Frodo's day, they once were able to make armor far beyond what humans can.

And if a plague wipes out the population of a good sized part of a continent, it doesn't recover in a century or two, the effects are still there indefinitely.

But that isn't why I read and reread Tolkien. Those are unimportant themes not near the core of his work. Suspension of disbelief isn't hard.
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Old 04-16-2011, 07:08 PM   #28
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I agree blantyr,

that Tolkien was not interested in many of the nuts-and-bolts aspects, such as population size, economics and trade. But he was certainly aware of the evolution of weapons technology, only too intimately, and wanted little truck with it in his sub-created world. Having seen the 'improvement' of weapons first hand in the trenches; machine guns, poison gas and quick-firing artillery, maybe its not so surprising. Though a few elements do appear in his very early works on the Fall of Gondolin. He was also appalled by war-planes, and maybe they are part of the inspiration for the fell cries of the Nazgul?

As many have said, weapons technology didn't really change much over the vast majority of human history. Spears were much the same at Troy as Isandlwana. Alright there were changes and improvements, iron for bronze etc, but at the end of the day its a big pointy stick. The big change is gunpowder, and we do have a hint in Middle Earth with Gandalf's fireworks and flash-bangs in the Goblin cave and the blasting charges that Saruman sent to the Hornburg.

Orald has a good point that things were generally peaceful in Middle Earth. Though I expect that there were lots of smaller conflicts that just didn't rate a mention in the 'Tale of the Years'. Also the population is just ridiculously low, regardless of plagues etc. Think of how quickly Europe recovered from the black Death, or how swiftly North America was conquered and settled by Europeans. Malthus indeed!

Alfirin, interesting on the atlatl, but I'd guess that Tolkien wanted to keep a consistent 'Western dark-age/early medieval milieu', partly due to his great interest in the Saxons, so no atlatl. On the darts, shafts and arrows, its notable that authors used to use these terms pretty interchangably, certainly darts was often used to translate javelins and pila from the Latin. Also I guess it gives a little welcome linguistic flexibility whe describing a battle. Regardless of this, darts were indeed used in warfare occasionally, the late Romans employed martiobarbuli, basically scaled-up heavy darts. Re-enactors say that they are longer ranged than the javelin, but less accurate, good for drenching an area in projectiles, but not much use to hit individual targets.
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Old 05-02-2011, 07:20 AM   #29
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In a world where the spear is still cutting edge, a tool that lets you throw them hard enough to take down an oliphaunt would seem to be something you would want to keep in your repetoire.
Except until the War of the Ring nobody believed there would be a keen need to take down an oliphaunt.
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Old 05-02-2011, 07:44 PM   #30
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Except until the War of the Ring nobody believed there would be a keen need to take down an oliphaunt.
Depends on where and when you were. Certainly, no one in the third age west of middle earth would have felt a need, as it seems dubios that any believed Mumakul still existed there (if they even really knew of them, beyond a hobbit legend) at least not ouside of Valinor (which if it had every animal and then some of ME must have had Oliphaunts). In the first age however, it seems like there may have been oliphaunts over much of the world (or how the Hobbits heard of them in the first place) moreover this would have been wild oliphaunts as opposed to the somewhat trained and domesticated ones of the war of the ring. Having some methof of taking down a rouge bull before it trampled your fields would have been of some importance. Of course as the Oliphaunts dissapeared from the West the need for such a weapon would be lost, even more so when the other animals you might need it for dissapeared like the really gigantic boars (the near Everholt size ones) and the Aurochses (Which is sort of what I always imagined the Kine of Araw to be) so it might well be lost. One wonders, however it if still persists in Harad where wild Oliphaunts still may exist (we don't know if the tamed ones represent the whole of the species or if wild ones are simply caught and tamed).
Speaking of Haradrim and thier weaponry, and opnion question. Given that, in some ways, the People of Near Harad are supposed to be vaguely reminiscent of out North Africa and Middle East, do you think they are supposed to use the so called "Saracen Draw" with thier archery (using your thumb to draw back the bowstring, rather than the first two fingers as in the "English Draw". From what I understand each has thier advantages and disadvantages (enlish is better for distance and raw power, Saracen is better for accuracy and consistency of shot impact), and it occurs to me that, given that the Haradrim like to have archers on top of Oliphaunts (where loss of distance might not be of such importance) the increased accuracy might be valued.
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Old 05-02-2011, 08:21 PM   #31
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In the first age however, it seems like there may have been oliphaunts over much of the world (or how the Hobbits heard of them in the first place) moreover this would have been wild oliphaunts as opposed to the somewhat trained and domesticated ones of the war of the ring.
Hmm...I don't know about that. I don't think the climate of northern Middle earth would ever have been particularly well suited to them...at least through the time periods described to us.

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Speaking of Haradrim and thier weaponry, and opnion question. Given that, in some ways, the People of Near Harad are supposed to be vaguely reminiscent of out North Africa and Middle East, do you think they are supposed to use the so called "Saracen Draw" with thier archery (using your thumb to draw back the bowstring, rather than the first two fingers as in the "English Draw". From what I understand each has thier advantages and disadvantages (enlish is better for distance and raw power, Saracen is better for accuracy and consistency of shot impact), and it occurs to me that, given that the Haradrim like to have archers on top of Oliphaunts (where loss of distance might not be of such importance) the increased accuracy might be valued.
I had never thought of that but it seems plausible.
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Old 05-02-2011, 08:23 PM   #32
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Hmm...I don't know about that. I don't think the climate of northern Middle earth would ever have been particularly well suited to them...at least through the time periods described to us.
Evolution is everything... maybe oliphaunts used to be mammoths one day, and having migrated south for whatever reason they shed their fur...

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Old 05-02-2011, 08:26 PM   #33
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I would agree except Middle earth is not described to us as a world where evolution takes place.
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Old 05-03-2011, 07:16 AM   #34
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[QUOTE=Kuruharan;653767]Hmm...I don't know about that. I don't think the climate of northern Middle earth would ever have been particularly well suited to them...at least through the time periods described to us.
QUOTE]

I'm not saying that POV is incorrect, all I want to point out is that the Hobbits must have heard of Oliphaunts from SOMEWHERE for the poem to exist, and if they never existed further North than the landmass of Far Harad this would seem unlikely (I sort of get the impression that travel between the North and the South of ME was NEVER all that common and that Near and Far Harad and the lands beyond have always been sort of terra incognita to the north). I suppose that some proto hobbit could have heard of oliphaunts from an elf who had seen them in Valinor (or had him or herself heard of them from one who did) where they supposedy are also (as per that whole "Ivory in Gondolin Argument".) but this seems tenous. And the theory that the connection between the real life Oliphaunts and the ones in the Hobbit poem is purely coincidental (i.e. that the Hobbits happened to create a made up creature that matched up exactly to a real life one.) seems to fly against the Tolkein ethos.
I will also point out the climate might not be as big an impediment as it seems on the surface. Our modern day elephants actually used to range far further north than they do now. And if you factor in such things as Mammoths (and not just the wooly kind, also things like the less hairy Colombian Mammoth) and Mastodons you have an orginal range that streches all the way to near the artic circle. Some the Greek islands had thier own, tiny version of elephant or mastodon (whose skulls whne found were thought to be the orgin for the legend of the Cyclops) It's really not all that different from the fact that in bibical times, there were lions to be found throughout a lot of southern europe and the middle east and out to India (where there still are some) and bits of Indonesia (Or how Singapore "city of the lion" got it's name, when the first people arrived there, there were lions). And africa still has a kind of elephant in the North that likes forests over grassy plains (and was recently declared a seperate species). I see no real climate problem with elephants in the north of Middle Earth.
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Old 05-03-2011, 12:31 PM   #35
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(I sort of get the impression that travel between the North and the South of ME was NEVER all that common and that Near and Far Harad and the lands beyond have always been sort of terra incognita to the north).
To some extent yes, but don't forget Gondor had holdings in Harad (specifically Umbar which seems to have been a major hub in the south) for years and years and stories of oliphants could have crept north by that route, via their relatives in Arnor, and survived as a sort of folk legend among the hobbits.

Dwarves were another widely traveled folk and while we don't commonly associate them with the south we don't know where in the east the other dwarven kingdoms were. A southeastern location for one of them is as good a guess as any and commerce with their relatives might have brought all sorts of stories to the northwestern regions of Middle earth.
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Old 05-04-2011, 02:38 PM   #36
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Dwarves were another widely traveled folk and while we don't commonly associate them with the south we don't know where in the east the other dwarven kingdoms were. A southeastern location for one of them is as good a guess as any and commerce with their relatives might have brought all sorts of stories to the northwestern regions of Middle earth.
Actually that latter theory would explain another (at least to me) interesting point, the name Mumakul. If you say it out loud it does sound a lot more(or at least, equally validly) like a word in Kuzdul than a word in either Quenya or Sindarin. I don't have an elvish disctonary next to me (so I don't know if there is a Quenya or Sindarin root involved there) Im just saying the word sounds sort of Dwarvish. Maybe, if it was southfaring dwarves who first brought the stories back, the elves, having no previos name or at least knowing no previous one (just because there were supposedly ones in Valinor does not mean they were common enough for the average elf (especially ME born ones) to be familiar enough to know it's "old name" if it had one.) adopted the Dwarvish one as thier own. It could of course, equally validly be a word, in Haradrian. We never hear anyone from Harad speak, so who knows what family thier native tounges beling to (though Khamul, who is supposed to be and Easterling does have a name that sounds like it could be from the same linguistic family, so if Khamul was actually the name he was born with (or at least, one he got while he still was an Eastling, there might be a clue there.)
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Old 05-04-2011, 08:59 PM   #37
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A brilliant suggestion.

According to this excellent page Adnaic owed much to dwarven language so I see no reason why southern languages might not as well.
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Old 05-06-2011, 03:54 PM   #38
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Interesting thought on 'mumakil',

could it perhaps be Adunaic as used by the Black Numenoreans?

I don't think the hobbit stories of oliphants necessarily mean wooly mammoths on the Tower Hills, though I do sort of like the idea, maybe confined to the far North and hunted by the snowmen of Forochel?

The 'chain' might be another explanation, like for trade goods. For example Bilbo's coffee beans might be grown in Ithilien, traded to Minas Tirith, then Rohan, Isengard, up the Greenway to Bree then to the Shire. Nobody actually travels all the way but the goods get passed along the chain. (An inverse Denethor's umbrella for those that remember the thread!). Likewise stories get passed from person to person and can travel further than the individuals

How about the oliphant description starting in Harad, the men of Khand see the oliphants while serving under Sauron, tell the Easterlings about this impressive beast, who mention it while collecting tribute from the Dorwinrim, who pass the story on the the men of Laketown, who tell the Wood-elves, who compose several poems, lays and theatrical performances on the subject, impressing a visiting elf from Rivendell, who recites his favourite back at home in company with the Rangers, one of whom recounts the amusing story at the Prancing Pony, where it's heard by a visiting Took, who relates this in the Green Dragon, and in five minutes half the Shire has heard of oliphants.

Of course the description might not be terribly accurate by the time it reaches Hobbiton, a bit like Chinese whispers.
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Old 05-06-2011, 08:21 PM   #39
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Interesting thought on 'mumakil',

could it perhaps be Adunaic as used by the Black Numenoreans?

I don't think the hobbit stories of oliphants necessarily mean wooly mammoths on the Tower Hills, though I do sort of like the idea, maybe confined to the far North and hunted by the snowmen of Forochel?

The 'chain' might be another explanation, like for trade goods. For example Bilbo's coffee beans might be grown in Ithilien, traded to Minas Tirith, then Rohan, Isengard, up the Greenway to Bree then to the Shire. Nobody actually travels all the way but the goods get passed along the chain. (An inverse Denethor's umbrella for those that remember the thread!). Likewise stories get passed from person to person and can travel further than the individuals

How about the oliphant description starting in Harad, the men of Khand see the oliphants while serving under Sauron, tell the Easterlings about this impressive beast, who mention it while collecting tribute from the Dorwinrim, who pass the story on the the men of Laketown, who tell the Wood-elves, who compose several poems, lays and theatrical performances on the subject, impressing a visiting elf from Rivendell, who recites his favourite back at home in company with the Rangers, one of whom recounts the amusing story at the Prancing Pony, where it's heard by a visiting Took, who relates this in the Green Dragon, and in five minutes half the Shire has heard of oliphants.

Of course the description might not be terribly accurate by the time it reaches Hobbiton, a bit like Chinese whispers.
It could indeed be that, in fact that would explain how it could still have an elvish ending (I miswrote it as "ul" you are right it is "il" so it may come from a languages that has borrowed words and word fragments from both Dwarvish and Elvish, and Andunaic does fit that bill.

Well, what we know of the Lossoth says they use thier sleighs to hunt massive animals in their lands, Mammoths would fit that bill as well as anything else, and since the runners of thier sleighs are described as being bone, there has to be something up there with ribs big enought to make a god sleigh strut (whales would also work, but a mammoth rib would also fit the bill. The Inuit in our world (on which the Lossoth are supposedly based) certainly hunted mammoths, modern
Inuit still have folk stories about it.
I will point out, however, that the Mumakil are not described as woolly mammoths. No mention is made of a long coat so they are probably no harier than our elephants. In fact since Sam knows they are grey they really can't be, Mammoth fur is reddish (we know this from frozen specimens). And if Mumakil really have six tusks (I can't remember if this is actually from Tolkein, or an invention of Peter Jackson.) they aren't likey to be close relatives of our modern elephants, either (there were polytusked elephants, but those died out in deep prehistory. Freak elephants can grow more than two tusks, but they are incredibly rare.) So no wooly (at least in the south) Colombian Mammoths (less hairy) maybe, but not Woolies. My money has always been on mastodons (with their straighter tusks would be a great battle beast, they would have a great advantage in goring) or maybe a Stegodont (bigger and beefier than the modern elephant)
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Old 05-07-2011, 03:52 AM   #40
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Interesting Alfirin,

I'd forgotten that bit about the Lossoth, it sounds at least possible. I reckon that if the oliphants did exist in Forochel they would have to be wooly to survive.

Agree that the oliphants of the Haradrim aren't wooly, and the six tusks thing was indeed a PJ-ism, no indication of more than two tusks in the books.

So perhaps a wooly mammoth-like species in the far North and a mastodon/ stegodont/ stegomastodon in the South?
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