Middle Earth vs. Mother Earth

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malren 11/Dec/2006 at 07:41 PM
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This is probably something that has been posted numerous times on the Plaza. But, I’ll ask it since I’ve never seen it and want to know peoples thoughts on the subject.

Would the following be considered true/interesting/false/possible/etc., etc.
The Shire=Britain
Gondor=Mediterranean region
The East=The Orient
Mordor=Eastern Europe/Black Sea region

Interesting question? Lame question? Obvious question? Does anyone agree with the above comparisons?

Morgil 11/Dec/2006 at 09:11 PM
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malren...Welcome to the Plaza. My personal opinion is that as long as a question is honest, it’s not lame. That aside, I’ll give my opinion of you comparisons. Yours seem basically sound, but my own would differ somewhat. In order:

Forodwaith = northern Scandinavia
Gondor = France (northern as well as Mediterranean)
The East = possibly the Eurasian steppes, considering the nomadic nature of most of the eastern peoples
Mordor = Middle East


Skauril 12/Dec/2006 at 03:15 AM
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I saw a map somewhere a while ago that had Europe and western Russia superimposed on top of Middle-earth. According to that map, Mordor was somewhere in the Balkan Peninsula, The Shire was indeed close to Great Britain, Rhovanion corresponded with the central areas of Europe (Germany, Poland, The Czech Republic etc), Gondor was Southern France and the Mediterranean, Forodwaith equaled Scandinavia, Khand may have been Turkey, Near Harad corresponded with Northern Africa, Rhun with Eastern Europe and Russia (and father beyond, the steppes of central western Asia) etc. Sounds pretty logical.

I think the kingdom of Gondor had elements of both ancient Rome and medieval France.

The Eastern cultures, such as the wainriders and the Balchoth, were obviously intended to represent a sort of steppe dwelling nomadic people.. I’m thinking of Attila and his huns, with Russian & Eastern European influences thrown in the mix.

The Rohirrim were obviously heavily modeled on Scandinavian & viking cultures. They built their towns and fortresses out of wood instead of stone (except Helm’s Deep, of course, which was a fortress cut into the side of the mountains).. classic viking trademark. One notable difference was that the peoples of Scandinavia were never reknown for their mastery of horses, whereas the Rohirrim were known far and wide for their equine culture and way of life.

Battlehamster 12/Dec/2006 at 12:58 PM
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Hmm, I’ve always thought of Rohan and Gondor as getting colder than Southern France or the Mediterranean would get. But other than that it mostly makes sense. And I suppose the climate could have changed somewhat.
Durin of Moria 12/Dec/2006 at 08:35 PM
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To be more precise, it should be

The Shire=Countryside Britain
Gondor=Mediterranean region     Minas Tirith=Vienna( according to distance measure )    Pelargar=Venice
Harad=Africa     Khand=Middle-East
The East=Asia                                                                                                                                                   Numenor=Atlantis
Mordor=Tuckey and Asia Minor ( again according to distance measure )

malren 12/Dec/2006 at 09:21 PM
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Wow everybody. Thanks. I feel so special that you guys thought it was a good question. I love the France/Roman influence on Gondor and the Steppes for the East make sense. As does the Eastern Europe explanation for Rohan. I never thought of Vienna as Minis Tirith, either. I’m in the company of Ardian Scholars.  They should make that a tribute rank here. Instead of a Rodes Scholar, an Ardian Scholar.
Kaulargorn 13/Dec/2006 at 04:39 AM
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Tolkien would like to build an english mythology,something that barely existed.All the above are very good thoughts but Tolkien didn’t like allegory,so despite the similarities,for example Numenor reminds us of Atlantis, we couldn’t take for granted that middle earth symbolizes nowdays places and nations.Very good thread though.
TobiasFalco 13/Dec/2006 at 04:51 AM
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Hopefully not taking away from the conversation here but I always saw the kingdom of Rohan more closely related towards the western parts of Europe that were once occupied or influenced by the Celts; including Ireland and Scotland. To me the whole culture, love for horses, and lifestyle while reminiscent and close to typical Eastern European barbarians is more close to traditional Celtic people who were also considered barbaric by the Romans, etc.
Kaulargorn 13/Dec/2006 at 03:42 PM
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Good point Tobias. The Gondorian culture is very similar to Romans’ from military matters to the structures of their society. And the Rohirrim remind a lot a more rough nation but I will disagree with the Celts, cause Celts weren’t famous for their cavalry and preffered man-to-man combat having a strong infantry. they remind more the Vikings who, as the Rohirrim, came from the north
Catiri 13/Dec/2006 at 06:31 PM
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Kaos the Gold 14/Dec/2006 at 03:52 AM
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I always, personally, thought of Gondor as Italy.  And, I do belive that Rohan corresponds with a part of France famous for horses.   But the people of Rohan represent more of the Anglo-Saxons and angles that came from Germany and to Britain, and what they could have been (strength of arms and society-wise) if they hadn’t been defeated at the battle of Hastings.
Nemroth 14/Dec/2006 at 10:17 AM
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My personal experience of Rohan was that of a Viking culture which certainly extended to other parts of Europe than just Scandinavia. It must of been the language of the Rohirrim that reminded me so of Old Norse which, being Icelandic, I can understand to some small extant. Also, Theoden’s Golden Hall (especially with the fireplace in the middle of hall) reminded me of the Vikings.

AS for Númenor, I would agree that it resembles Atlantis. Although what Kaula says about Tolkien and his distaste of allegory is true, he often referred to Númenor as Atlantis in his Letters.
Deagol77 14/Dec/2006 at 02:51 PM
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Yes, Rohan is indeed quite a bit like Viking culture. In fact most of the lore is taken from Norse mythology. Even Middle Earth is taken from Midgard, the Viking level of Yggdrasil for humans. Midgard is surrounded by dwarf and elf levels, so mixing the two would be easy for Tolkien. Vikings were very good horsemen as well, they just lived in such cold climates that they didn’t have very many. The Valar are almost perfect examples of the Norse gods, too. The dwarves of Middle Earth have the same characteristics of Viking dwarves and elves have like characteristics of Wood Elves, gaurdians of the forest

Nemroth 15/Dec/2006 at 09:30 AM
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Deagol has some very interesting points there. Just to add to the mythology part, indeed there is a scary resemblance in the structure. The same could be said about Greek mythology as well. But what the two lack is the presence of a higher being, the one we call Eru. At least, I have never heard of such a god in those mythologies. And to add, the renegade Ás (as the gods are called in Norse mythology) Loki somewhat reminds of Melkor.

Another thing also always appealed to me as an allegory is Norse mythology’s Ragnarök and Tolkien’s Dagor Dagorath. In Ragnarök, Loki will be freed of his chains (Angainor in Tolkien’s world) and the will be a battle between the Æsir (Tolkien’s Valar) and those allied with Loki and the giants. Also, the Sun and the Moon will be devoured and the World will be succumb to darkness and winter (Fimbulwinter) which I thought was interesting considering that it Melkor who invented frost and ice. Much like in Tolkien’s world, the World is destroyed but again rebuilt. It differs, however, in the fact that most of the Æsir will die in the final battle, or at least the most renown, whereas in the Dagor Dagorath the Valar are renewed and see the rebuilding of the World.
Deagol77 15/Dec/2006 at 12:13 PM
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Very good. That is all correct. Just one of the Aesir survives and he was technically already dead(Baldr). He would become like Eru, rebuilding the world and populating it again with creatures of his own make. Loki is more like Sauron though. He is just a follower of the frost giants(Rime) who created ice and frost whereever they went.
Skauril 15/Dec/2006 at 02:36 PM
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Interesting info on the Middle-earth - Norse mythology connection. Thanks for enlightening me!

I was always aware that Tolkien had gotten many of his ideas for LotR from the Norse sagas, but I had never really delved into the specifics (except that dwarves, trolls etc were creatures from said sagas, incorporated into LotR.. that, and other small details).

Tolkien was also very interested in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, and the Finnish lanugage as well. He used both extensively when creating Middle-earth. One of the elven languages was based on Finnish (could have been sindarin?). Also, Tolkien seems to have modeled the character of Turin in ME on ’Kullervo’, a tragic antihero of Kalevala.

Deagol77 15/Dec/2006 at 03:15 PM
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I speak Norwegian and as the Finnish and Norwegian tongues are somewhat similar, I could decipher a small bit of location names based on Finnish. Skauril, do you have any idea where I could find the Kalevala? It sounds very interesting and I would like to read it. I bet it’s not in English though. I to made the connection between the Elven languages and Scandinavian. Some words(I don’t remember which ones)are Norwegian words.
Ankala Teaweed 15/Dec/2006 at 03:36 PM
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I think you should be able to find an edition of the Kalevala in print, Deagol77.
It is one of the two remaining epics still recited in oral tradition left in the world. It is apparently in danger of being lost, in the oral tradition, however, as young people are not learning the oral tradition in Finland. Or at least I have seen reports in the press that only one person remains who does that still?

(For those who are interested in such things, the only other surviving epic story still recited orally is Iroqouis--the story of the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee, or People of the Long House. The Iroquois Nations are located in upstate New York state and in Canada.)

Deagol77 15/Dec/2006 at 05:28 PM
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Thanks! It sounds really interesting. I bet it would be better recited orally though. Maybe I should go to Finland to hear it. Most European cultures left a mark on Middle Earth in some form. I would connect Gondor to the Romans more than anyone else because of how:

1.Romans are the most advanced culture until about 1500 AD, as Gondor is the most advanced in Middle Earth(among Men)

2.The climate of Italy reminds me of what I imagine Gondor’s climate to be

3.The Romans had advanced weaponry and masonry techniques as the Gondorians and Numenoreans did

broadbeam 16/Dec/2006 at 04:38 AM
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It should be this:

1). The Shire (Hobbits)- The Scottish Highlands

2). Rohan Men- Italy (Rome)

3). Gondorian Men- U.S.A maybe? or England

4). Dwarves- Ireland

5). Elves- France/Spain

6). Mordor- Russia

7). Istari- Hawaii or anywhere with tribal wise people

8). Men of Rhun- Germany

9). Wildmen- Romania or homeless people

I cant think of any other Middle Earth places / people that i know enough of to relate to us.

Daywalker 16/Dec/2006 at 05:24 AM
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Heh..you know much less of those than you think if you go and gategorize nations like that.

’I speak Norwegian and as the Finnish and Norwegian tongues are somewhat similar, I could decipher a small bit of location names based on Finnish.’ Well Deagol77, i have to disagree with this because i cant hear any similarities between Norwegian and Finnish words.

Skauril - Kullervo and Turin

NineFingered 16/Dec/2006 at 07:11 PM
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I think that Gondor has many elements of Rome, but it has a more medieval style. I would say that culturwise:

Gondor= Early Medieval kingdoms, especially Charlemange and the Spanish kingdoms.

Numenor in its expansion stage (Ar-Pharazon)= Rome

This would make sense if you think that the the Early Medieval kingdoms were the succesors of Rome in some traditions and cultural elements, including religion and the law, etc.

Skauril 17/Dec/2006 at 02:52 AM
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Ann Kalagon, you’re correct. I’m Finnish, and Kalevala is very much a dying entity here. There’s just not enough interest for the sagas and mythologies of old, thanks to western cultural influences and globalization (it’s a shame, really). Thankfully it has been preserved in printed form for anyone wishing to read it. Kalevala shares many similar traits with the Norse sagas, including similar deities (some have almost the exact same name, too), but it also has many elements of its own that are completely unique.

Even though you probably won’t find people who can recite Kalevala orally on every street corner, there are still groups of people who could be considered Kalevala fanatics (kind of like us with LotR!). I know one such guy.. this heavily bearded fellow in his early sixties (the man looks like a character straight from the epic  ). He’s something of an expert on all things Kalevala, and other mythologies, too.

Deagol, you should be able to find a copy of Kalevala translated into English.  After all, they translated it into Chinese (along with a whole bunch of other difficult languages). God knows how they managed to pull that off.

Battlehamster 17/Dec/2006 at 04:26 PM
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I’m going to have to try to find a copy of Kalavela.  It sounds interesting.  Though if the main character is anything like Turin, I’ll have to read something cheerful like TH or Farmer Giles of Ham afterwards.

broadbeam-  All of those are interesting comparisons, but how did you come up with the Istari being like Hawai’i?

Brandywine74 21/Dec/2006 at 05:03 AM
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It’s always interesting to draw parallels between Middle-earth and Europe as we see it but I’d say we go too far in positing nations on earth for cultures in Middle-earth. For example, many people associate the Rohirrim with Vikings and/or Anglo-Saxons. However, this doesn’t fit as both of these cultures are sea based and didn’t go in for horses all that much. Their may be some similarities but there are clearly many differences too.
Wentwaley 21/Dec/2006 at 05:41 AM
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It can’t be exactly the same, since this is a fictional work, after all. I’m surprised that there are as many parallels as there already are (I only knew about some of the dwarfs’ and Gandalf’s name taken from Old Norse sagas, before). But I agree with you, Brandywine74, about comparing countries to ME kingdoms. I would’ve associated the ME cultures with ancient European ones - back when cultural (and national?) borders aren’t as distinct as they are now.

But it is interesting to see the similarities between the Rohirrim and the Vikings. Middle Earth is essentially a continent, while the north-western part of Europe is quite islandic. Despite the differences in transport due to the different landscape, the Rohirrim and Vikings seem to share a penchant for travel.
Skauril 21/Dec/2006 at 05:44 AM
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Brandywine, what you say is very true. It’s all too easy to get caught in the game of speculation and make assumptions that aren’t always on the mark. However, there are obviously some striking similarities between the peoples of Middle-earth and those of our real earth. Some elements are more obviously "borrowed" from real cultures, others less so.

The Northmen that inhabited Rhovanion from the second age onwards (though I’m not always accurate with my Middle-earth timelines, so it could have been a little earlier or a little later) for instance had names that sounded very much like those of the Gauls, from Roman times.

’Vidugavia’ and ’Vidumavi’, for instance, are Northmen names. I just read a script on the Roman conquest of Gaul, and names that sounded almost identical to these two came up frequently.

Tolkien was clever in how he took little bits and pieces of different cultural influences and created a very historical and ’real’ collection of peoples to inhabit his Middle-earth. But he was also smart enough not to draw straight parallels that would have left people saying "oh ok, Gondor is Rome.. they have the Colosseum and the Centurions and everything".

I believe it would be next to impossible to create a totally unique culture from scratch with no influences from the ones that inhabit (or used to inhabit) our world. It would come off as too alien or hard to relate to.. perhaps too artificial. The best approach to devising an imaginary culture is undoubtedly to soak up those influences and blend them together, adding some touches of your own in the mix.


Tin the wizard 23/Dec/2006 at 08:57 AM
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Rivendell/Croatia plitvice lakes,Misty Mountouns/Alpes

Oin 23/Dec/2006 at 10:46 PM
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All: Please remember that when you are giving your answers to this type of question, if you happen to state other similarities that you think are possible, please give your reasons why you think this. Otherwise, this thread will turn into a survey and I will have to close it or move it to OoME. Thanks!

Tin: Welcome to the Plaza!

Galadriel0204 31/Dec/2006 at 07:33 PM
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Hmmm, interesting topic. I think that the elves were celtic in origin just because of the way their society was structured and their culture. The Rohirrim have their origins in the Anglo Saxons. Again because of similiarities of culture. I think Tolkein meant it to be that way though. The story of Middle Earth is like the epic that the English people never had. The one that explained the origins of their society.
Magradhaid 31/Dec/2006 at 09:26 PM
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Tolkien stated that Hobbiton and Rivendell were at about the latitude of Oxford, and Minas Tirith was at the latitude of Florence, with the Ethir Anduin and Pelargir near the latitude of ancient Troy. While Minas Tirith shows a sort of Mediterranean flora as well as Greco-Romanesque architecture, they preferred a style of architecture that might be called Egyptian, i.e. big, monolithic, and impressive; they also (like the Númenóreans and Men of Ered Nimrais) built elaborate tombs. The Shire is reminiscent of Warwickshire in England, and the Riddermark has similarities with the Anglo-Saxons, though they were not "Anglo-Saxons with horses". The Dwarves were wanderers with a Semitic background in language, though they took Mannish names (which were represented with Old Norse). The Men of the Vales of Anduin, ancestors of the Éothéod, had their names rendered in Gothic. And a map imposing gridlines on Middle-earth would be at this site, though in no way would Tolkien say something like ’Mordor is Serbia’!
Oin 01/Jan/2007 at 01:01 AM
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Galadriel: Welcome to the Plaza! Why do you think the Elves were Celtic in origin? I’ve never heard that viewpoint before and I’d like to hear what you have to say on the subject.

Tyrhael: Overall, excellent post.  The one thing I think worth noting however is that in an unpublished Letter he said he regretted comparing the Dwarves to the Jews, although in one of the published Letters he does do so.

Galadriel0204 01/Jan/2007 at 10:48 AM
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Oin: I think the elves were celtic in origin because of the way their society was structured. Correct me if I am wrong, but the celts were organized into clans that were under different lords. The lords were under a high king. This reminds me of the elves with their different groups such as the elves of Imladris and Lothlorien. The elves also had a high king.  Also a lot of celtic artwork just reminds me of elvish artwork..