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Old 07-11-2015, 09:52 AM   #1
Kuruharan
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Boots 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.
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Old 07-11-2015, 10:11 AM   #2
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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.
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Old 07-12-2015, 10:58 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
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 Fëanorians.

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… 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 .
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Old 07-12-2015, 12:19 PM   #4
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You seem to be forgetting all you have read about the Fëanorians.
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.
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Old 07-12-2015, 07:50 PM   #5
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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.

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Old 07-16-2015, 09:24 AM   #6
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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??
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Old 07-12-2015, 12:27 PM   #7
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You seem to be forgetting all you have read about the Fëanorians.
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.
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Old 07-11-2015, 10:27 AM   #8
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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 Dúnedain evoke to a significant extent the idea of "if Norse/Ancient German peoples had built and operated the way the Egyptians and Byzantines did."
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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.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:13 AM   #9
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I'd argue that the Dúnedain 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.

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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).

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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 Zigûr that the East was huge enough to have many different cultures in it.
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Old 07-20-2015, 10:14 AM   #10
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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.
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Old 07-20-2015, 02:07 PM   #11
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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.
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Old 07-21-2015, 07:52 PM   #12
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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.
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Old 07-11-2015, 10:36 PM   #13
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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?
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