Tolkien and Archaeology
An old idea of mine is popping up independently in the heads of other scholars who aren't just musing about it but actually publishing studies -- on Tolkien and archaeology.
Said I in Swedish in the gaming mag Codex in October of 2001:
Just like everyone in Middle-earth is always ready to deliver a snatch of an old heroic lay, so Tolkien's landscape is full of ancient monuments. The Barrow Downs, Weathertop, Moria, Argonath and Amon Hen, Dunharrow and the Paths of the Dead; the examples are many. They contribute to an illusion that Middle-earth is much larger than the story we happen to be reading, much older; ourselves and the main characters of the narrative we're following are incidental figures and not a central condition for the existence of the world. The painting continues outside the frame, and behind the central figures we can make out a busy background of history.Says Deborah Sabo of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey (Thanks to Beregond for the heads-up!):
"Tolkien ... imprinted the time-depth of his legendary world on the land, through place-names, ruins and monuments. [A]rcheological places provide the setting of many incidents within the book. ... Taken together, these places form a cultural landscape that is experienced by hobbits, dwarves, elves, men and orcs in distinctive ways."Dr Dimitra Fimi of Cardiff wrote her PhD thesis on "The Creative Uses of Scholarly Knowledge in the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien". She will be teaching an on-line course titled "Exploring Tolkien: There and Back Again" starting on 12 February 2007.
"This on-line course will examine Tolkien's awareness of northern European mythologies and languages as well as other aspects of his scholarly background, such as anthropology and archaeology."I've never gotten round myself to systematically identifying Tolkien's archaeological sources, but I do know there are at least two Swedish ones. Early Iron Age rock carvings of mounted warriors at Tegneby in Bohuslän show up among the goblins' cave art in The Father Christmas Letters. And Laketown in The Hobbit looks a lot like the 12th century AD pile dwelling in Lake Tingstäde on Gotland.
Actually, my studies of archaeology and neighbouring subjects have somewhat diminished my enjoyment of Tolkien. They have made the flaws, joints and white spots in his work apparent like they never were to me as a child. Middle-earth doesn't really work when seen from anthropological and economic viewpoints. And Tolkien's world-building makes heavy use of models and interpretations of real-world history that are no longer accepted by scholars. But still he's one of my great favourites.
Yesterday I sat down with my son and played the Gameboy version of The Two Towers, which is a really silly game. An Aragorn looking a lot like Viggo Mortensen was running around the western foothills of the Misty Mountains, killing orcs and collecting gems. A lot of the orcs were also carrying lembas travel bread, on such a scale that they must have had a captive Elven baker hidden somewhere. Abandoned sacks, crates and treasure chests dotted the landscape, and Viggo-Aragorn had to hit them with his sword for gems to appear. Still, my 8-year-old thinks the game is pretty OK, and unlike me he's a member of the target audience. I can always return to the books.
[More blog entries about archaeology, Tolkien, fantasy, ; arkeologi, Tolkien, fantasy.]