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Discussing: Mirkwood Habitationals

Mirkwood Habitationals

I reached a point (namely, fire under the trees in Dol Guldur‘s last attack) in my novel where I can no longer avoid the topic of inhabitation in Mirkwood, but I'm still not sure about it. Legolas seems to appreciate the talans in Lórien, but it is known that the wood folk (not necessarily the avari, but general wood elves) lived in village-like cabins and shanties.

While Legolas probably lived in the caves with King Daddy, I don't think the ordinary elves also lived there. So anyone has an opinion on how Mirkwood elves lived? In shanties, talans, sleeping in the ground...



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Well, I wouldn't think they'd sleep on the ground! Hm. The trees in Mirkwood were big, as I recall from The Hobbit, but not like mellyrn, so I don't know if any of them would be large enough to support a talan, realistically.

I'd suspect wooden dwellings of some sort, although "shanties" implies rickety shacks to me, and I'd think the Silvan Elves would manage better than that. Call them "houses" or "cottages."

But I don't think that they'd go for large luxurious houses, either. Big enough to be comfortable even during winter, but most of the year I'd imagine they'd spend a good bit of their time outside, not in. Chimneys? Possibly. Stoves? I'd doubt it. Roofs of split wood shingles or else thatch - I'd be inclined to say shingles, in the middle of the forest. No glass windows, probably.




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

From The Hobbit :

"In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favorite trees. The king's cave was his palace, and the strong place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies."

"Flies and Spiders"

So they did have homes in trees, though it sounds like the housing was never very substantial.




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Okay, I'd forgotten that description.

But even Elves need shelter from the rain... so presumably they'd have fairly tight roofs, even if their dwellings weren't terribly elaborate.

Cel, now inspired to start another research question



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals


I have done some thinking on this, and since all good elven architecture is a draw on the human imagination, from a human context, since elves are humaniod and creatures of our imaginations.....I went looking at how people have dealt with architecture in forests thru the ages.

Shanties are created when organized labor is needed fast and in high volume and doesn't apply to a forest culture of long standing.

So, we have cottages, which are timber thatch and daub, usually. But cottages don't neccessarily always age well, and these are an elven folk, so cottages might not be longstanding or grand enough....

Huts seeem like they could be used like flets for guard duty, but probably not for living.

I imagined a very exciting community of both houses on the ground and in the trees. A large tree will support more that you realize and I think the Mirkwood inhabitants, lightfooted elves that they are, could
very easily do a sophisticated reed and timber thing that was able to be supported by the trees.

Then you have the whole Frank Lloyd Wright thing. Architecture that melds with and accomodates the wood.

Here is my idea, feel free to glom it if it suits you in any way.

I imagine that they have cities just like human people do, but perhaps more subtly so, with the spacing more open from residence to residence. In fact, I expect that to humans it would look like nestled homes spaced periodically, rather than a city propper. but they would all mingle in a vaguely round configuration in the greenwood, so that they were defendable from a single, solid perimeter. I anticipate them being built each near a "family" tree. A large tree that the house is built into and around. It supports a flet, but also is part of the structure of an elegant, art nouvue meets celtic knotwork sort of synthesis of nature and architecture, sophistcated and elegant, but simplistic. These could support cooking fires, but I suspect that most of the elven food is fresh during the green season. I always imagined them using part of the great caves to prepare their winter stores, so that the cookfires and curing fires and the making of preserved "canned" goods, didn't alert their position in the forrest. We know they store great wines in the caverns....I suspect that along with the King, his court and their wine, they keep all the stores of the people safe from looting. I think that each house probably stores only what it needs and replenishes from a communal stock in the Royal caverns of Thuranduil. There is probably an "officer of Food Distribution"*chuckle* Unlike what I imagined were the softer tones of Imladris, I always saw the Mirkwood elves painting their homes to blend into the wood itself. Deep, dark hues of the earth, accented by intense, rich golds like the colors of the fall. Psychologically, buildings are supposed to always look like their purpose, so I assume that the homes of the elves have round rooms for communal affairs and higher offset rooms for private things. I imagine that vaguely, toward the center of their "city", are the official buildings like dinning halls and such. I imagined them as being less roofed and more covered on high by a fairy woven canopy of branches. Everything is very delicate and woven in with the forrest. Even very pedestrian things like public benches are crafted to make one feel at home in the wood, rather than a spectator, like human park benches do. As for Santitation, well, it is understood that in a seting that has more that a couple of people, in the wild, the latrine trenches should be dug at a distance because sometimes table water is close to the surfaces and will be corrupted easily if you take care of busines near the place where you get your water. But I expect that the elves don't have latrine trenches. It is, aftder all, a long established city, so it may well have an underground sustem of waste removal that deposits it into a distant localtion, but not the river. It may also be that it is taken care of house by house. If the water table is deep, then there could feasiblly be an individual sanitation protocal for each home due to the fact that you can calculate how much soil it takes to assimilate and purify wastes from water per houshold based on how many people live there. I think it is something like 10 feet of soil completely cleans 1 liter of waste per day, so that it is clean when moisture from it hits the water table. So if the water table is only 2o feet underneath, only 2 people can live there per acre. But a 100 foot deep water table is able to suport 10 people per acre

Anyway, there you are, just a few of my suppositions on the elves of Mirkwood.

I have more, but you may not want to hear any more. I have sketches too, if you are interested.




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Good, preciousss, we feel very very happy now.

Cel and Ang, I don't go for "large luxurious houses" either, because we have to consider mobility. Mirkwood was under constant pressure and, should Dol Guldur attack too strongly, they‘d have no option but to flee. I like the cottages and huts built into trees like unsubstantial houses because leaving them behind wouldn‘t be a big deal as leaving majestic mansions (which don‘t even suit the wood people to begin with, they‘re loads humbler than, let‘s say, Elrond‘s elves).

Caio, I‘m very interested in hearing the rest of your theory and even seeing your sketches. Tweaking it here and there I have the perfect Mirkwood I need. Believe me, I can‘t get enough sociologic information/ speculation for this fic.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

What about tents? Large well made tents could make semi permanent dwellings that could be moved with the seasons or every year or two. Native American tribes survived harsh winters in the plains in double walled tepees, large conical tents. They were able to cook inside the tents and run a small fire for warmth. The worst winter days in the Dakotas can reach -40C with high winds.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

They would be good during war time if people needed to flee far enough from even the caves, the natural first choice of shelter. In this chapter, while I burn the city down to ashes, the women and children have crossed the Esgaroth to safety - tents are better than open fields. While the village is re-built in the future years, tents again would be perfect. It's a great idea, Mike.

I guess when Thranduil first led the elves to Greenwood they spent a long time living in tents, moving around until they found the perfect spot to settle down near the caves when the King decided to make his HQ there). Until the village was structured, organised and functional, more tents and flets.

There were several elves living in more remote settings of Greenwood before the forest got dangerous and they had to all gather around the King. These elves probably lived in flets or semi permanent tents - no point in buidling cities with so few people per acre.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Tents are fine, lightweight, serviceable habitation. Desert nomads use them, Mongolian herdsmen use them, for crying out loud, the Boy Scouts use them!

[Dead silence. Odd stares. People edge away.]

Ahem, back on topic, I can see Silvan elves using materials like woven tree bark (Check out the incredible weaving Northwest Native Ams can do with cedar bark, for example), various plant fibers, and vines and reeds. I see different light weight, flexible panels being used for different types of protection depending upon it being in the trees or on the ground, whether it is meant to be in place for a day, a week, a year, etc., and varying with the seasons. Remember the quote from FoTR about the flet in Lorien:

"The flet was not at all to [the Hobbits'] liking as a bedroom. It had no walls, not even a rail; only on one side was there a light plaited screen, which could be moved and fixed in different places according to the wind."

The "plaited screen" indicates to me some kind of reed or vine work. What do you think?

And tents are definitely a viable housing option for a highly mobile, pre-industrial culture that does not make extensive use of carts and wagons.




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

"I am not now, and never have been, a member of the Boy Scouts of America."

Sorry, don't know why I'm channeling Tom Lehrer lately. *ahem* Pardon me.

Yes, the "plaited screen" I had always assumed was something along the lines of wicker.

Hm. Have you ever run across the author Zilpha Keatley Snyder? She wrote a trilogy of children's books, Below the Root, And All Between, and Until the Celebration, in which the population lived in dwellings built in trees, largely constructed from vines. This particular forest was of immense trees, far larger than the ordinary oaks and beeches and so on of Mirkwood, but some of the ideas of construction based on woven vine - both severed and living, for different purposes - might be useful and relevant to speculation about Elvish dwellings.

(This is a very helpful discussion to me, too, btw, if I decide to let a couple of characters see much beyond Thranduil's cavern...)




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

The "plaited screen" indicates to me some kind of reed or vine work. What do you think?

I always had that mental image of the plaited screen as a woven vine panel, tall only enough to reach the knees of a standing Elf - high enough to protect the sitting hobbits from the wind.

The tree bark could be used to protect the flets in Mirkwood above the houses or in sentry flets. To travel with them would be little practical. How about this: some very boy-scoutish thing like foldable screens woven in plant fibers and reeds, that you can unfold and lay over spikes stuck on the ground or low branches just to create a roof or a "wall" against the wind.

Cel, never read that author, but the premise is good: for houses built in trees, we have to think light - vine panels would make better walls than timber and daub. Thatch roofs, I guess, since the foliage should be abundant in trees that enormous and it would already provide protection from regular rain.

This is a very helpful discussion to me, too, btw, if I decide to let a couple of characters see much beyond Thranduil's cavern...

Ooh, that means our elfies get to *ahem* in a real flooring next time instead of grass, sand and water springs? >D



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

I was a Boy Scout, I am now active in the Girl Scouts.

Mirkwood is in the far north and far away from any ocean, which means it is going to get very cold in winter. Far different than the mild climes of Lórien, where they slept on open flets in January. Legolas was dressed in woven cloth as far as I know. I would think a tightly woven fabric, possibly treated with wax to make it waterproof would be more useful in a harsh climate. Leather is another possibility. Tepees were made of buffalo hide.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Actually, being part of the SCA I can tell you a lot about historic tents. The ones the arabian and middle eastern people use were not at all like native american or boyscout tents. Their tents were called yurts. They are tents, but they are also permanent dwellings, as warm as any house is apt to be.

They are circular in design and collapsible in short order. They are very stury (stand up to desert winds nicely) They are rain proof and are very decorative(painted in all sorts of colors and designs)

Their frame is a lightweight lathe frame made frome latticing the lathe, so the frame subtly gives with the wind, just enough to be very stable to not suffer what most tents do, which is being blown over if they aren't properly staked. Yurts are unlikely to be blown over, ever. Modern yurts are often made with the lattice sections you can buy at Home Depot. They are covered in everything from heavy cotton canvas, to oiled, waxed linnens and silks. They look like a mound shape when erected. They have straight sides but a curved dome top. They can be as large or small as you like and as simple or ornate. So the same design could be a great hall, or a private hut.

They can be painted to asthetic taste or utilitarian cammoflauge. And, they are so easy to take down, assemble and move so as to be very practicle. The Arabic peoples' décore made them like palaces inside, so by hanging silks and tapestries and such, they can be divided into rooms and are very luxurious, even though their design is simple. And they can have a fire vent in the center top to vent a stove or cook fire.

E.W. (who has studied tent designs extensively so she can one day build one)



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Leather or waxed are better for the emergency run. The Rhovânion opens between Mirkwood and the Iron Hills ought to be quite windy and chilly, since there's no geographical accident in miles and miles to control the weather, and there would be no time to build intricate huts or yurts.

Yurts, OTOH, would make nice post-war inhabitations, especially if they're homely and can be ornated and designed uniquely - elves do live on visuals, after all. Do you think it would be plot consistent to have the elves camping in yurt-like tents?



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Another thought......

On Redhorn Pass, Legolas was the only person who seemed at home in the snow. The mark of a Northerner, hardened to winter's bite.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Actually Cel addressed this earlier on and started a topic on it.

Now I'm seriously wondering how the Rhovânion climate would be, cos that's major pre-ocupation when you set an army in open fields like that.



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

yurts CAN be complex, but they don';t have to be. it's all in the furnishings, not the tent itself. During wartime(I'm assuming for tolkien fic we might use medieval time as a reference) People broke war camp, sometimes taking down thousands of pavilion tents in no time at all. And barring packing the stuff within, which would depend upon the circumstance; the actual tent itself, a yurt, is much simpler and and fater to assemble/dessemble than it's period counterpart in western society, the pavillian or bell wedge tent. The average 10 foot circular mideaval pavilion tent, common on campaign takes 3 to 4 people to put up or take down in less than 15 minutes. A yurt of comparable size takes 2 people and can be managed with a lot les physical exertion, plus, a yurt takes half the space to store if you are pulling up roots. And if neccessity mandates, a yurt CAN be erected or broken down by a single individual, which is impossible with a pavillion tent, even a really small one.

I have participated in pavillion erections, and they are a stone bitch. I have watched several yurt erections and the only thing I can say is that they took half the time and the people involved didn't look like they were gonna have a heat stroke afterwards.




Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

A lot of yurts are covered in felt, which has two excellent properties for a (semi-)nomadic people: it's nearly waterproof, and it doesn't require a loom to manufacture. You take more or less clean fleece, sprinkle it with water, and apply pressure and/or heat - which you can do in many different ways. Laying it out on a mat, rolling it tightly, and riding around with it tied behind your saddle is one. Or you can stomp on it (like grapes).

Perhaps Beorn would be willing to trade his fleeces to Mirkwood?



Re: Mirkwood Habitationals

Perhaps Beorn would be willing to trade his fleeces to Mirkwood?

also a good idea, Dani. Would make for some very spiffy tents, all felt and ornaments. King Daddy might just decide to settle like that instead of building a new comunnity to be burn down again in another 3000 years.



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