(OK, so this wasn’t one of the previously mentioned items, but it’s an idea that struck me…and besides, it’s a break from all the story commentary…)
J.R.R. Tolkien is famous the world over for his philological intellect and creating the most consistent constructed world in fiction…possibly. This of course goes without mentioning his fame as a writer, who’s literary works are still popular many decades later, more so with the help of Peter Jackson’s adaptive trilogies of his famous Middle-Earth chronicles.
What is it about fictional universes and worlds that appeals so much to us? Is it the escapism? Is it the fact that speculative fiction presents analogues to real world issues? Or is it megalomania, the fact that as someone else has complete creative control over a world, so you can too? How glorious such demonic cackles they must be…
Of course we’ve all had those fantasies, particularly as children. I, for example, was always hoping to get my Hogwarts acceptance letter. When I didn’t, I just buggered off in the TARDIS. No doubt Middle-Earth is yet another fictional world (fully constructed compared to the other two examples) that anyone would love to settle in and have multiple adventures, right?
Well, maybe. But let’s be honest – Middle-Earth, when you come down to it, is probably a pretty shoddy place to live. If you were born there, you wouldn’t know the difference, but from a 21st century perspective, I think I’d probably prefer this place. And I’d advise everyone to think twice before heading off to Mordor. Why? Well, I’m counting down the top 10 reasons for why Middle-Earth is kind of sucky place. There are no doubt more reasons that exist than this…
Please bear in mind that I don’t claim to be any expert on Tolkien’s legendarium. I’ve only seen The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit film adaptations, and whilst I’ve done some expanded reading into the cosmology and history of Arda and certain elements of the books not present in the films, I’ve not actually read the books myself, so feel free anyone to correct me if I make mistakes on this list.
So, without further ado, let us see what the top 10 Downsides to Living In Middle-Earth are…
10) Everything Is Trying To Kill You
There’s no real getting around this fact – I thought I’d start right off the bat with the most obvious one. Middle-Earth is terrifyingly dangerous! Let’s start with the fact that there are so many creatures that are apparently just inherently evil – orcs, vast armies of psychopaths that ride ravenous, enormous wolves, trolls, who, if you’re lucky, will turn to stone whenever there’s sunlight, but otherwise are enormous thuggish rogues. Even worse are dragons, vast flying monsters which, whilst they might look cool, are terrifying and dreadful to behold. It took a single dragon to flatten the Kingdom of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain (although just one arrow to take it down, go figure), so just bear in mind if you ever accumulate any wealth in this world, you’re a dead wealthy person. Dragons will come and incinerate you. Unless they are cold-drakes, in which case, they’ll freeze you. And that’s not counting any of the creatures that spawn from the dark lords themselves. The ring-wraiths, draped in black that will not hesitate to kill you, and of course the One Ring, a malevolent bit of bling that will slowly rape your mind and turn you into your own worst enemy, and the worst enemy of everyone else. Even Hobbits, the most diminutive and harmless race, will become utterly terrifying under the influence of the Ring. Even outside of Mordor, you can easily be at risk…
9) Everybody Smokes
Is this a petty entry…?
No, I don’t think so.
Now, I’m not sure how much smoking takes place in the books (but I’m fairly sure there’s quite a bit) but in the films at least, every time somebody’s sitting around, they’re all smoking pipes! Why…? Evidently Middle-Earth medicine has yet to determine all the risks smoking has for you, including lung cancer, heart murmur, stroke and more. And even if you yourself didn’t smoke throughout your life on this continent, you’d still have to smell it! Might just be a pet peeve, but I can’t stand the smell of tobacco. Of course, there’s no suggesting it is tobacco…they call it pipeweed. What’s that meant to be? We don’t get any indication whether or not it’s hallucinogenic, addictive, or otherwise detrimental to cognitive processes. Maybe Gandalf was just a figment of Bilbo’s imagination after all, because he’d been smoking too much, the silly bastard. Even Saruman pointed out to Gandalf that smoking all this pipeweed would be bad for him: ‘Your love of the halfling’s leaf has clearly slowed your mind.’ He was quite right – Gandalf failed to notice that Saruman the White had become Sauron’s flunky until it was almost too late.
8) There are very few 21st century comforts
I already mentioned that Middle-Earth medical knowledge only seems to go so far. That is just one of many 21st century comforts that don’t exist in this place – obviously you’ve got no computers or internet. How will one cope?? That and all the places just look really…drab. Places such as The Shire and Rivendell are exceptions, as most other ones just have this dirty, uncomfortably old fashioned look about them. The taverns certainly have nothing going for them, and yet another awkward thing about life in Middle-Earth is the calendar. Yes, the calendar.
The Western world and many other places today use the Gregorian calendar, a calendar standardized around the birth of Christ…a date we’re still not actually entirely sure about, and not entirely helpful in that sense because there’s no year 0. But the point is, it does at least give us an easy to use system – with BC/BCE you’re counting down, and with AD/CE you’re counting up. Both give you an impression of how long ago a certain date was. Not so with the calendar of Middle-Earth. The history of the continent is split into Ages, which I suppose is fair enough, (First Age, Second Age and so on) but all they do is count along the years until an event big enough comes along and then they start the next age. How is that in any way helpful to historians, or just people learning history? The First Age had 587 years, ending with the War of Wrath against Morgoth, the Second Age had 3,441 years ending with the War of the Last Alliance against Sauron, and the Third Age had 3,019 years ending with the War of the Ring, again against Sauron, the persistent bastard. Who exactly decides when an age ends? And who’s going to remember which ages have which number of years anyway? To make matters worse, the Shirefolk have their own calendar system, Shire Reckoning, beginning when their insignificant little country was founded. It probably doesn’t translate well with the rest of the complex calendar, and so only the very mathematically minded can probably make sense of it…so not me.
7) There is no pity for an artificially bred race of self-loathing slaves
In the early days, it’s said that Morgoth mutilated and brainwashed elves into becoming his personal foot soldiers, and yes, they were picked up by Sauron too. As adversaries to our protagonists, orcs are defined only by their intense hatred for themselves and everyone else, including their masters, whom they serve out of fear. From birth to often violent death, orcs experience nothing but misery and self-loathing every second of their lives.
So…where’s their pity?
Even Gollum was pitied! Despite the fact that he killed someone the second he saw the One Ring! But nobody cares for the dozens of orcs they slaughter, there is no hesitation in slaying these creatures at all. Admittedly, at the time, it’s usually in self-defence, and perhaps they consider the fact that they’re putting them out of their misery. It’s a possibility indeed, but it does bring home yet another grim fact about life in Middle-Earth. Not to mention all they do is flee in terror the second Sauron is destroyed, implying that they will get just as little mercy in the Age of Men as they did under the Dark Lords. In fact, I hear that having an exclusively easy race was a big problem for Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic who believed in salvation and forgiveness. Apparently he never came up with an answer that satisfied him.
6) Everyone’s Pretty Racist
Even though the orcs get the worst rap, the various races of Middle-Earth are not much kinder to those of every other race. Elves and dwarves in particular have this habit of slagging each other off and mistrusting each other. It was so bizarre to every community that a friendship could even form between an elf and a dwarf, as if such a thing has never happened before…which it probably didn’t.
Elrond also expresses his opinion that men are weak, based on the activity of just one. Most races look down on Hobbits (both literally and figuratively), and it seems that the racism is prevalent enough that everyone seems bound by their race, as though to defend it. How many times did Gimli remind us he was a dwarf? How many times have characters referred to others just by their race? Start counting them up, and you’ll begin to see the ingrained problem, which is made even worse when you realise…
5) …they’ve kind of got a point, too…
Am I excusing racism? Of course not. But being constructed races, it seemed inevitable that those of Middle-Earth showcased a lot of archetypes. All dwarves have awful table manners, and are stubborn and pugnacious. All Hobbits eat more than they should and most are lazy. All elves seem to be good at whatever the hell they try and do, far outstripping anyone else. All men have pathetically short lifespans. It gets worse when you consider that only the elves and men were specially created by Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme creator deity of this universe, making everyone else seem kind of second class. Add to that the fact that elves are immortal, you’re looking at a very unfair world indeed, right down to the divine structure.
4) The gender equality is terrible
It’s almost something of a shock when I consider that the film adaptations were actual step-ups for the role of female characters, and in The Hobbit, there were none at all. Obviously Middle-Earth is meant to represent a culture of the past, most of which had equally awful records on women’s rights, but Middle-Earth is a constructed world, and as such gives you the liberty to create whatever you desire. But not only is there an obvious gender gap in Middle-Earth, it doesn’t seem to be evolving. The culture of the world seems to stay fixed.
Some are better at it than others, no doubt – the elves seem to have the closest to gender equality in Middle-Earth, with figures such as Galadriel revered with great respect (although that might have something to do with the fact that she’s thousands of years old), but it’s still a man’s world. There’s loads of ‘someone, son of your father’ because apparently your mother isn’t important. Only men can be monarchs, and only men can fight in wars. Unless of course your name is Éowyn, and you happen to be lucky enough to fulfil a prophecy that results in the death of some dreadful thing. I don’t doubt that Tolkien didn’t actually think of women as merely helpless baby machines, but it’s obvious who’s holding all the power here. It probably would have been more bearable if they’d done something like in A Song of Ice and Fire, where the sexist double standards still exist, but are explored and deconstructed via the female characters. But of course, they are two different stories, and Tolkien couldn’t bow to the same tropes without jeopardising the story he was telling.
3) THERE ARE GIANT FUCKING SPIDERS
Yes, I know I already mentioned how much everything on Middle-Earth wants to kill you, but…
THESE DESERVE AN ENTRY ALL TO THEMSELVES.
THERE ARE GIANT FUCKING SPIDERS IN MIDDLE-EARTH, OK??? ABSOLUTELY HUGE, ELEPHANT SIZED FUCKING SPIDERS. I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE ONES ANY LARGER THAN COINS, YOU EXPECT ME TO DEAL WITH FUCKING ELEPHANT SIZED SPIDERS??? FUCK THAT. I AM CANCELLING THAT TRIP TO MIDDLE-EARTH. YOU CAN KEEP SHELOB, AND ALL THE OTHER OFFSPRING OF THE UNGOLIANT, ANOTHER FUCKING GIANT SPIDER DEMON THING. DON’T EXPECT TO DEAL WITH THIS, I’M OFF.
On the other hand, the Ungoliant, Shelob and more spiders are all female, implying an even better role for women than the elves have…
2) There is too much emphasis on the divine right of kings
Gandalf refers to the rule of anyone who is not a king as a rule of ‘lesser men.’ Apparently, just like being an elf, being a king makes you inherently better than anyone else. Your right of royalty is apparently enough to get people to do what you want, and again, it’s a boy’s only job.
Everyone knows full well how this is not a truth in real life, but unfortunately many still perceive things this way. Thorin was able to maintain his right to Erebor despite slipping into insanity because of his kingship. Aragorn was determined to be a leader among his companions, despite not even wanting to be king, just because he was royal. Again, the elitism in this world seems to be elite. And why? Well…
1) The Deities are rather psychotic
The somewhat unpleasant aspects of Middle-Earth go right back to the one who created it. And no, I’m not talking about Tolkien, I’m referring to Eru Ilúvatar, who’s basically God. If I were to meet him, I’d give him serious advice. I’ve already mentioned how he decided to make two races his own important and special children, and give one immortal lifespans, but the truth gets a lot more disturbing than that. It’s not just him, but also his underlings that cause a lot of problems. Aulë, one of the Valar (like archangels) created the dwarves, but was reprimanded by Eru, because only HE gets to create life! Wow, stroppy…Aulë’s response is to DESTROY THE DWARVES, only relenting because they were fucking terrified. Even then, Eru doesn’t allow them to wake before the elves, because he gets to go first! These deities are perfectly happy playing childish games with sentient beings.
Furthermore, when some of the Ainur (collective term for Valar and the lesser Maiar) decided to rebel, led by Morgoth, Eru’s response was not to destroy them instantly but allow him and his subordinates wreck life for everyone on Middle-Earth for miliennia. Thanks a lot dad.
So, that was my list. I hope you enjoyed it, and if not…well, you didn’t. Sorry. Let me know what you think, and all the rest of that. Please.
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