Thursday 25 October 2018

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live?

Having enjoyed last week's 'survey' of Your Favourite Inklings - I thought we might try another. 

Where in Middle Earth would you most like to live? To remind you of the possible choices - here is a map (click to enlarge):

Please explain your choice, and include what time (era) you would have most wanted to inhabit that place.

As usual - I will give my own answer (which, again, you may be able to guess from previous posts on this blog) after a few of yours have come-in...


Matthew T said...

Wow, tough choice, especially when you add the "what time?" dimension.

There is a part of me that wants to pick the wilds of Rohan, but, having been to the Canadian prairies, I can say that I cannot tolerate open, treeless spaces.

Part of me wants to pick The Shire, of course! But I should like to think about it a little more and decide whether Hobbit society is really so dull and dimwitted as is often caricatured. Is there a subgroup of exceptionally literate and curious hobbits with whom I could socialize?

I suppose in the end I'm going to have to say this: I would live somewhat in the region that Beorn lived in, during the days when this was a more "high-traffic" area, so that I could dwell in Nature (like Beorn), but still get to meet some interesting people coming through.

Honourable mention goes to living somewhere in the Northern Kingdom, in the age before LoTR, but I would have to ponder this a little more.

Stephen Gustav said...

There's lots of places I should like to visit - the Shire, obviously; also Gondor and Rohan and even Mordor (after the Return of the King, obviously.) That's just the close of the third age. Seeing Numenor at its height would be remarkable. I probably wouldn't be allowed in Valinor, but would love to see that above all. Assuming that you'd be living in Middle Earth at the time of Bilbo and Frodo is problematic, like picking a place to live in Germany in the 30 years war.

But a place to live, with family? Looking again at the map, and guessing about places that were never really described in the books and using the same criteria I do in real life - safe from Orcs, scenic, good climate - I'd say Harlinden or Anfalas.

Both have hills or mountains and are close to the sea. Anfalas was in the west part of Gondor and not generally exposed to the depredations of the Sauron's armies. Harlinden would likely be mostly protected by the elves in the Grey Havens. Safe, picturesque, likely decent weather.

John Fitzgerald said...

As close to the Grey Havens as possible. At any period. I like ports and I like the sea. The Elven associations of the place would always serve to remind me of higher levels of existence and also a deep and many-layered history. A very evocative place in all respects, but also quite low key and contemplative in spirit and tone.

Nathaniel said...

I like Stephen's analysis. Perhaps the nicest places to raise a family were not the most "interesting" and were not really mentioned in any stories.

Margaret Dean said...

I would like to live in Nargothrond during the time that Finrod Felagund was king there, since Finrod is my favorite Silmarillion character.

Lauri Stark said...

Buckland, somewhere in the third age. Dangerous old forest in the neighbourhood and Bree at a reasonable travelling distance. And baranduin running there of course. Sea not too far away.

On the other hand, I could reside at the shores of lake Evendim. Since I am from Finland I have love for lakes. In any case I would want to live at the northwest part of Middle-Earth, in the third age Shire or restored Arnor of the fourth age.

Bruce Charlton said...

Great comments - so much that I found my own choice wavering...

But I'll stick with it: Dol Amroth. This is linked to my choice of the 'coolest character' in LotR

and the lift of the heart I feel whenever I read about Dol Amroth.

Plus, I am a Man - and probably would not relish living my whole life among elves, or hobbits (or dwarves...) - although Rivendell is very tempting. But of course I love the elves, and the knights of Dol Amroth have Silvan elvish blood.

It is the second city of Gondor, known for its music (and I presume, other arts) - it sounds like it would have an ancient 'university', libraries, beautiful architecture... I imagine the true spirit of Numenor was better preserved there than in the capital city.

(A disadvantage, now I think about it, is that Dol Amroth would probably much too 'tropical' in climate - I had forgotten about this. If Minas Tirith is Constantinople, Dol Amroth would be sort-of Mediterranian, thus too hot for my constitution.)

More Lembas said...

Rivendell. Purely associational reasons. Its elven name, "Imladris", arrested my attention and imagination the first time I read through.

Its location on a gorge (riven dell) and on the Bruinen, in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, lends it a dramatic locale that suits me. It's relatively northerly so the climate would also suit me.

It's also rural, not on the Great East Road, hidden and safeguarded.

As far as when, my preference would be between the founding of Rivendell and the Last Alliance, so I could meet Gil-Galad, who has been a favorite of mine since reading Bilbo's translation of his elegy:

"Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
The last whose realm was fair and free
Between the mountains and the sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen.
The countless stars of heaven's field
Were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
And where he dwelleth none can say.
For into darkness fell his star;
In Mordor, where the shadows are."

DanC said...

Upper Anduin valley, first two-thirds of Third Age or into the Fourth Age. Big river, four seasons, huge mountains to the West, huge forest (Mirkwood/Greenwood) to the East. I have a feeling it would be a fertile land for crops and for a little adventure. During a time when orcs weren't too numerous and Mirkwood wasn't so murky.

Neal said...

Bruce, what's the source of the Constantinople connexion? Is that a theological parallel or more explicitly drawn out somewhere by JRRT? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I scanned the map, looking where and in what Age to snooze and browse the shelves whilst absorbing Gothic grammar. Bag End? Rivendell? The vaults of Minas Tirith? No!

The Bodleian, Michaelmas, Hilary or Trinity, of Middle Earth is...


Pius Vindex said...

Dol Amroth is an excellent choice! But I don't think I could live in the city full time. I'd pick the hills of the Dor-en-Ernil or the vales of the White Mountains above Minas Anor during the high days of the Ship Kings or perhaps in the Fourth Age under Elessar and his successors.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Neal - The comparison (with 'Byzantium') comes from Tolkien's big letter to Milton Waldman - published in the selected letters. It was just a comparison, not a modelling-on - and Tolkien also compared Minas Tirith to Egypt and Rome. But MT was certainly conceptualised as a 'southern' remnant of a greater empire.

Bruce Charlton said...

More great comments, thanks!

I was tempted to imagine a peaceful rural idyll - yet the fact is I have lived my adult life in cities, and in many ways a good city/ town is better for a family (which I would hope to have).

It is interesting that in LotR Minas Tirith seems to be the Only city in Middle Earth - which is another similarity with Constantinople wrt the ex-Roman Empire. (At some points in history Constantinople was so much larger, more populous, more beautiful, more technologically-advanced, more scholarly - and more defensible - than anywhere else; that the difference was one of kind, not degree.) The Only city in a world that had once had several cities of men (e.g. Osgiliath and Minas Ithil - plus the North Kingdom), with probably other cities of elves (Lothlorien as the last remnant), and of dwarves - especially Moria.

I am assuming that Dol Amroth was a small and cultivated city; but it may simply have been a town surrounding a defensible castle and harbour.

Hrothgar said...

I automatically assumed the question must refer to the end of the Third Age when I saw it. "Dol Amroth," I thought to myself, "It has to be..." before I had even clicked the link from your main blog and read the rest of the question. Explaining why is a little more difficult, as the choice was instantanous and instinctive. I believe you've covered a good deal of it with what you said, but I'll add some more thoughts that have occurred.

It surely represents the most flourishing survival of what was best in the ancient Númenórean culture, before its corruption and downfall. Perhaps it expresses its Númenórean inheritance in a rather provincial manner - even its nobles (as I assume the knights to represent in part) likely being for the most part somewhat simple people, evidently great practitioners and patrons of music, and presumably other arts, and skilled in that of war; possibly with a near-elvish love for nature and the sea; certainly with highly developed personal virtues; but very probably also lacking at least some of the extensive literacy and book-learning, skill with crafts, sciences, and architecture, and deep historical consciousness that must have pervaded the great central cities of Gondor - Osgilliath, then Minas Tirith - at their height.

Yet Minas Tirith, having long possessed all these things in plenty, has undergone a long slow process of Byzantine decay despite them, and now scarcely remembers them, existing for the most part rather precariously, staving off decay by spending what remains of the cultural capital bequeathed by the greater forebearers of those who now live, and which will soon be all used up.

(The applicability to our own case is stark; we need no Sauron to bring about our final collapse – but nor would they have, in time.)

I therefore suspect that the more “provincial” way of life followed in Dol Amroth (whatever exactly that was; tempting material for speculation, but that would require a post of my own devoted to the subject) may have actually been superior at fulfilling real human needs - and thus ensuring cultural continuity and social cohesion - than the more concrete, “civilized” and contemporaneously praiseworthy achievements of mainstream Númenórean culture in Middle-Earth - for that matter more than those of Númenor itself, since it too was eventually corrupted.

I won’t speculate more on details for now – but will say that I think I would have been immensely proud, had I been found worthy, (and had I been born and trained to such, among such people, I might have had a good chance) to be one of the knights who followed Imrahil’s swan-banner.

But had I not been of pure enough Númenórean descent or failed in whatever other qualities it took to become a knight, I think I would have still have had much to be thankful for: knowing that I lived in a beautiful land, with a well-ordered society, surrounded by virtuous people with strong traditions who knew what was important in life; as safe as anywhere in those times from the immediate threat of war and suffering; and led by truly virtuous and able Men, who would be the first to lay down their own lives in the defense of what we all held dear. I think then I might have found satisfaction in being one of their famous harpers; likely combining this with singing or poetry.

[A small disclosure - IRL, I acquired an actual harp very recently, with which I am having great fun, besides making more progress than I have any right to expect in playing it and composing my own melodies. Despite never having even touched one before, I'm finding it the most naturally congenial instrument (besides percussion, with which I already have some skill) that I have tried to play. If such is the case now, I suspect that in Dol Amroth I would have been drawn to the instrument at an early age, and the rest would have followed naturally!]

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hrothgar - Excellent comments: which I would endorse.

wrt your harping; I have a yen for that instrument; but for sentimental reasons; one of the smaller, portable sizes that would have been suitable for a travelling bard.

What size is your instrument, and how many strings/ tuning?

One great appeal of the harp is the British connotations, which go through Anglo-Saxon (Scop), Welsh-Briton, Gaelic-Scots and Irish bardic strands. (Although the Welsh and Irish have kept the tradition more diligently.)

Something like a harp - together with some kind of pipe - was probably the most ancient of tuned instruments.

Wurmbrand said...

Before reading others' answers, which will probably be enlightening, I'll say: If they were happy with it, I'd live next door to Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. Their beautiful little realm is "unspoiled," though not without Old Forest dangers that Tom is well able to subdue. Tom and Goldberry are wholly good; what excellent neighbours they would be. Living there, one would be pretty close to the Shire to the west, and well on the way to Bree, and beyond that Rivendell, to the east. Tom would be a cheery conversationalist attuned to permanent things and with a deep, long memory. Tom's the friend of Farmer Maggot and his family. What a great place to raise a family! The kids could learn the ways of the woodland from Tom and the ways of a fine farming household from Maggot.

Dale Nelson

Philip Neal said...

I posted a comment here late last night which I now see was ill written and confused, but I stand by my answer.

What, in Middle Earth, would be the nearest thing to reading Tolkien, to losing yourself in something, to be immersed in it, to find yourself exploring ever deeper vistas and seeing further into the past? It would be life in Fangorn Forest, getting absorbed into the trees and becoming ever more like them. I vote for Fangorn.

Hrothgar said...

@Bruce - It's a Paraguayan harp with 36 strings. By no means a small instrument – around 4 ½ feet tall - but very lightweight for its size. I can easily lift and carry it with one hand, which would probably not be the case for most other harps of similar size!

Bruce - It's a Paraguayan harp with 36 strings. By no means a small instrument – around 4 ½ feet tall - but very lightweight for its size. I can easily lift and carry it with one hand, which would probably not be the case for most other harps of similar size!

Tuning is to the diatonic natural scale (as is the norm for these). It doesn't have levers or pedals - only a few of the more expensive Paraguayan harps are equipped with the latter, and they can't realistically use the former due to their design, which has the strings going through the neck; a bonus in other respects as it makes the instrument more stable and stops it warping.

There are various ways to get sharps and flats while playing, however - one is to press a suitable implement on the string to be sharpened; another (my preferred solution) is to install small wooden blocks on the soundboard, which the strings can be stopped against to get a fully chromatic scale. My harp doesn't have any though, so I would need to utilize my (currently non-existent) luthier skills by installing them myself! (Traditional Paraguayan harpists usually play in small ensembles with one or two guitars, so the lack of accidentals is not such a problem as for those who wish to play other types of music, especially solo.)

I do actually want to play some of the "Celtic"/British traditional repertoire, so at some point soon I may actually have to bite the bullet and make the necessary adjustments, as many of them are more enjoyable with the original notes! Besides there being many traditional tunes I enjoy, the pibroch tradition interests me quite a bit due to its ancient origins, association with courtly grandeur, and improvisatory, theme-with-variations construction. It’s thought to have been originally a harp tradition – I would much rather listen to it on the harp than the Highland bagpipes, frankly!

The light weight and robust design actually make the Paraguayan harp a better travelling instrument than other large harps; convenient in rural South America, where distances are large and population sparse. I imagine the traditional wire-string clarsach-type Celtic harps were also fairly portable due to their convenient size and apparently solid construction. They look like they could probably be disassembled for transport too (as is the case with Paraguayan harps). They seem to have been regarded mainly as courtly instruments - but then again, courts and their accompanying bards were by no means static entities, spent much time travelling around the lands, and relocated often. I suspect that Tolkien had an instrument of this type in mind when he frequently mentioned harps in his writing.

For extensive travel in rough conditions I might prefer a lyre though; the construction is somewhat simpler, and they can achieve good volume (especially in the middle range) at smaller size. I have had a replica ancient Greek lyre for while, since before I got the harp - a pleasant sounding instrument, quite solidly built and very suitable for vocal accompaniment - but not very suitable for fast or complex passages, limited in range, and an absolute devil to keep in tune...

Bruce Charlton said...

More fascinating thoughts - I have enjoyed these comments.

There seems to be an underlying division between those who seek a rural idyll - a trance-like communion with nature (for which I would personally choose Lothlorien), and those who seek a certain social milieu.

BTW, another possible 'city' (as well as Minas Tirith) at the end of the third age would be Thranduil's underground halls in Mirkwood. I'm not sure whether this was meant to be a city, or a fortress - probably the latter; because wood elves like to live outdoors among the trees, and prefer hunting to cultivation. Also, I suspect the population was only a few hundreds. The Lonely Mountain kingdom under Dain is another possibilty - but again I doubt whether the population of dwarves would be more than a few hundred, maybe a thousand.

(Dain brought 500 warriors to the battle of five armies - some would have been killed, but afterwards the women and children from back in the Iron Hills might add another several hundred).

Matthew T said...


I love harp music, very much, and would have considered learning it in recent years if I hadn't actually selected the bagpipe instead. Many moons ago, as an undergrad, I somewhat randomly picked up a collection of assorted Celtic harp tunes, for which I am enduringly thankful, as it never fails to give me a sense of otherworldly peace and longing when I'm "in the mood" for that.


I am very intrigued by your comment about towns/cities: "in many ways a good city/ town is better for a family". As a matter of fact my family is, right now, at a point of having to decide "where to settle down", and I always had the idea that there was a pretty incontrovertible inverse relationship between urban concentration and conservatism - which, of course, matters, if you want your kids to grow up a certain way!

But lately I'm starting to see that there are nuances to this, and I'm interested in your thoughts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Matthew - Well it was fine for us. One big plus is that my wife and I can walk to work, and the kids walked to all their schools. Some years ago it snowed a lot and we didn't use the car at all for two weeks. But we live in a pleasant suburb less than a mile from the city centre.

Anonymous said...

This is not easy! - though I have enjoyed reading all the answers, and find various of them variously persuasive. Might a follow-up 'and where and when would you like to travel' be of interest? Setting out from one of your attractive choices, I wonder what Fourth Age Harad or Khand might be like, or if the Drughu ever welcomed visitors, or even in any sense 'adopted' any outsiders, in the Fourth Age?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Hrothgar said...

Maybe there's scope here for some future discussion of music in Tolkien's work! I can can certainly think of quite a few more things I would like to say on the subject, but to stay somewhat on topic:

@Bruce - I doubt that Dain took his entire population of adult male dwarves to the Battle of the Five Armies. Although supporting his cousin’s claims was important, his primary duty was to ensure the safety of his own people; there was no reason for him to empty his halls of every dwarf who could bear arms and leave them vulnerable in those dangerous times. He simply needed to take a large enough task force to effectively aid his cousin in defending a strong position ideally suited to Dwarves, against what he would have seen as a rabble of human refugees and a force of rather opportunistic elves, who were probably not very committed to the conflict in the first place. (He also did not know when he set off that a huge army of Orcs was going to get involved, and would have had good reason to worry that the currently numerous Orcs might actually raid his his own home if he left it too weak).

Furthermore, the fecundity of dwarf women needs to be reasonably high even to maintain a stable population, considering their low numbers and that the fact that not even all of these wed. Combined with the slow maturation rate of Dwarves, this implies that women and children together are not likely to be much less than half of the total population when dwellings are secure and they are able to reproduce with reasonable success (as should be the case in the Iron Hills). Given all these factors, I would estimate close to two thousand dwarves as the minimum total population of the Iron Hills at the battle of the Five Armies - perhaps substantially more, but I don’t think it can be many less.

Erebor’s own population by the War of the Ring really ought to have numbered several thousand at least, as, in addition to colonists from the Iron Hills, the scattered exiles of the earlier kingdom returned to their ancestral home, dwarf women were able to have offspring in reasonably secure and prosperous conditions with plenty of room for population expansion (there were probably more young dwarves around than was typical), and dwarves of other houses likely immigrated to resurgent Erebor seeking material benefit and safety, especially if my supposition is correct that there were large numbers of these dwelling in the East, uncomfortably under the shadow (if not the actual rule) of Mordor.

Erebor would therefore have been something like the economic and cultural centre of the Dwarven world by then, besides being relatively populous for a dwarven community. I would say there may have been enough to call it a genuine city by Middle-Earth standards, at any rate. The refounded Dale, incidentally, had probably grown to a fair size itself by then due to the fecundity and quick maturing of Men and it serving as a capital for the human kingdom established in the region. Given their close association, it might make sense to consider Dale/Erebor as a kind of twin city, the racially differentiated Erebor serving in practice as a defensive citadel and industrial zone for the probably more populous human city beyond its gates.

I also think that Thranduil's halls would have had few permanent inhabitants, essentially his household and courtiers. These would mostly comprise his fellow Sindar, who must have represented a sort of nobility among the rather primitive Wood Elves. The Sindar being at home in underground dwellings is evinced by their time in Menegroth, which they may actually have been trying to recreate on a more modest scale in Mirkwood - though I can't imagine many wood elves wanting to join them there.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hrothgar, that sounds plausible - and the combined dwarves and Men must have been capable of resisting a considerable force from Sauron for a considerable time - which indeed suggests some thousands rather than mere hundreds of soldiers (although dwarves are said to be the most formidable infantry in Middle Earth - so they would count for more - and they would be defending a fortification which greatly amplifies the effectiveness).

Karl said...

Bruce, I just noticed your comment about living in "a pleasant suburb less than a mile from the city centre". You are to be congratulated. Many American families might just as well aspire to a bed-sit in Minas Tirith or a flet in Lothlorien.

Chris Fellows said...

Having spent much of my life in tropical North Queensland and now residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I should like to dwell in Umbar in the reign of King Elessar, a decade or so after its liberation.