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Discussing: Geography of ME

Geography of ME

I have been looking at the Geography of ME and the distances on the Maps.

It seems to me that there is a rather large expanse of latitudinal distance that is off. The Globe of the earth is roughly 25,000 miles in circumference. The Map of ME from the Third Age is barely 2000 miles from North to South. With the Ice Bay in the North and the Deserts in the South.

While it is not unfeasible for this to occur, it does leave a lot of questions about how this can be an archaic representation of Europe and have this kind of geography.

One thing that I think may explain it is that JRRT did not think adequately about the distortion of distances on a regular map, or he may not have thought clearly about the distance to the equator or Poles (much less an Arctic climate like Forochel).

I have looked at the Maps in the "Atlas of Middle Earth" and found that they cloud the issue even further.

I do recall that in one issue of HoME that CJRT quotes his father as saying that he wished that he had looked more into geography and topology before attempting to create a map of ME. I am often tempted to create a new Map that would resolve some of these issues (not to mention filling in the population deficiencies of ME that would be necessary to feed the population that he does include).

Has anyone else given any consideration to looking at exactly what sort of errors are in the Maps? I am full aware of the fact that they could be considered to be mythic in nature (and are the products of a fantasy), but JRRT went to extreme lengths to give a reality to his works, and even admitted to wishing that they conformed more to reality. It would seem a shame to let this go unnoticed and uncorrected.

MB 

 

 

Re: Geography of ME

Hello, Matthew--nice to meet you!

It seems to me that there is a rather large expanse of latitudinal distance that is off. The Globe of the earth is roughly 25,000 miles in circumference. The Map of ME from the Third Age is barely 2000 miles from North to South. With the Ice Bay in the North and the Deserts in the South.

While it is not unfeasible for this to occur, it does leave a lot of questions about how this can be an archaic representation of Europe and have this kind of geography.

Well, I think there are many possible answers to this question.  First of all, for myself, is the fact that this is not meant to be our Europe.  Tolkien toyed with the idea that all the events he wrote about took place before the last Ice Age, which was clearly his way of "handwaving" the geographical details off.  Placing his stories in the real landscape--much of which was torn by violent nationalisms during his lifetime--would have pinned them down too much, made too concrete a connection to a particular set of people in a particular place.  Leaving them fuzzy around the edges, impressionistic, makes them more inclusive.  As things stand, it would be silly to argue about whether Rivendell was in the French Alps or the Austrian Alps.  Especially when he originally meant Britain to be Tol Eressea! Grin

And don't bother looking for maps of pre-Ice Age Europe to see if they fit any better.   They don't.  Although it is helpful if the North Sea was dry land, as it was during the glacials . . . but then there's all those bothersome ice sheets.  Wink

In his essay "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien talks about how distortions that make the familiar seem strange can break its "staleness" and allow us to recover our sense of wonder.

For the story-maker who allows himself to be "free with" Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.

Regaining an appreciation for such things is excuses fudging a few maps. Smile

As an early medieval scholar, I like to think of Tolkien's geography in terms of the classical/early medieval world, not so much the features on the map: the Icemen of Forochel as the northern Scandinavian people who traded walrus ivory to Ottar--who told his travel tales to the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred; the deserts of the South being North Africa, with Carthaginians as Black Numenoreans; Gondor could be Rome or Byzantium, depending on your preferences; the horse-loving Rohirrim as one of those peoples off the steppes (but in a good way).

So my stories, which might be described as an early medieval/Tolkien fusion, are set on the northern coast of Lindon, where the Blue Mountains meet the Sea, in an area I consider as analogous to the Highlands of Scotland as the Shire is to the part of England where Tolkien grew up.  I take great pleasure from harmonizing what I know of Scotland's past with Middle-earth, playing with the reflections created by Tolkien's own knowledge of early medieval culture and folk-lore influences.

If you haven't yet read "On Fairy Stories," you are in for a treat!  Tolkien's idea of "fantasy" was hardly "just made-up stuff."  Grin  Subcreators unite!

Cheers--

Adaneth

 

 

Re: Geography of ME

It is not a question of relating ME geography to real world geography, but of establishing his various climates and positioning of the continent he has described into a larger world.

 The area depicted in Eriador/Rhovanion is scarcely larger than present day Europe. This is not to say that there is a correlation to Present Day (or even ancient) Europe, but simply to get an idea of size/scale of the events depicted, and the estimated populations.

For the simple geographic features, I am simply looking at how they would map to a globe and how you would get an Ice Bay in Forochel and Hot Arid Deserts in Harad with such a small latitudinal separation.

To look at two real world examples of such climates, the latitudinal separations are on the order of 3000+ miles (Sahara to Northern Finland, where you get the first really land-locked ice flows in the winter, or the Deserts of the American SW and the Latitude of the Hudson Bay - this is also not a very good approximation as the American Deserts have a very different type of climate to the Eurasian Deserts that JRRT modeled Harad  upon.

I also understand that JRRT's ideas of Fantasy was not just made up. I've been reading and studying his works for a long while now, and had a friend (he died a few years ago) who actually corresponded with JRRT when he (my late-friend) was in College in the Late 1960s. I wish that I could get these correspondences as they had material that I would very much like to make public (Like the "no orc women" letter)... But, alas, that is not to be. 

I think that you are a bit off on the Carthaginians as Black Númenóreans. The Punic Wars are an area I have studies in fair depth. The Black Númenóreans might be more akin to the Schism in the Western Holy Roman Empire when two Pope reigned (Avignon and Rome) as just one example. The Carthaginians were a completely different people than the Hellenic Greco-Roman culture, and thus would mean that the Black Númenóreans were also a separate culture.

Umbar itself is modeled after the Dark Age/Medieval Pirate cities of Libya, so you have the right area, but I think maybe missed the mark by about 1200 years. I believe that there is also a remark that it could be a correlation to Alexandria as well. The Similarities between the two cities are remarkable in this regard. Still, it is hard to draw any direct links between extant geography and ME, as JRRT tended to mix and blend cultures rather freely in many cases (The Culture of Ostrogoth and language of the Angle-Saxon for the Rohirrim for instance).

All speculation aside, my interest in the mapping is not so much to provide a real world analog but to correct the geological features that would have driven the Geographic features (Distances due to being a globe, topology of the mountains range, lowland interfaces, and so on). Any such map would still be very much a recognizable ME, but would contain features that were more realistic (such as the depiction of the Pelennor fields and the distances between Minas Tirith and Osgiliath on the current Map).

MB 

 

 

Re: Geography of ME

It is not a question of relating ME geography to real world geography, but of establishing his various climates and positioning of the continent he has described into a larger world.

Conjectures on what the rest of Arda may look like would be very interesting!  Well, let's look at this in more detail.

To look at two real world examples of such climates, the latitudinal separations are on the order of 3000+ miles

The latitudinal distance between Umbar and the Ice Bay of Forochel appears to be approximately 1550 miles.  This is approxiately the same as the latitudinal distance between Rabat, Morocco, and northern Denmark.  I grant that you don't find the southern Baltic icing up, but that is a much larger body of water than the Icebay--and the Kattegat does ice over in some winters even now, when the climate is comparatively warm.  The impression I have taken from the only real descriptions of the Icebay--the sad story of Arvedui being driven there by the Witch-King--was that it was unusually cold at that time (cold being a traditional force of the Enemy): certainly something on the order of the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, if not colder.  The ship that came to rescue him was able to sail into the bay, so the whole bay wasn't covered with fast sea ice.

This is, of course, merely my excuse for how there could be so cold a climate so near the rest of Arnor--Tolkien probably did get the Icebay out of place.  But if you leave the Icebay aside as an abberation, what if anything in the rest of the map is out of place?

All speculation aside, my interest in the mapping is not so much to provide a real world analog but to correct the geological features that would have driven the Geographic features (Distances due to being a globe, topology of the mountains range, lowland interfaces, and so on). Any such map would still be very much a recognizable ME, but would contain features that were more realistic (such as the depiction of the Pelennor fields and the distances between Minas Tirith and Osgiliath on the current Map).

Which geological features do you think require correction?  It has been some time since I took my geology courses, but I have a keen interest in such things.  (Otherwise I would not be such a fan of Dwarves.  Wink )  I have always ascribed the "unrealities" of Tolkien's maps to their more "pictorial" style--which has been giving me fits, believe me, as I try to create my own maps.  When you see the landscape as contour lines in your head, it's hard to draw individual mountain peaks and clumps of trees.  That pictorial style, however, is less "anachronistic."

I think that you are a bit off on the Carthaginians as Black Númenóreans.

Well, I didn't mean it as an exact analogy: I had in mind the Roman abhorrance for their "unholy rites" (reputedly burning babies alive as sacrifices to Baal) and their command of the sea.  Certainly the Corsairs are loosely based on the later Barbary pirates (who continued to be a major threat to shipping into the 19th century AD).

Cheers--

Adaneth

 

 

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