middle earth looks

You know you’re in New Zealand when...

…you cycle past a field of cows and they all stop and look ‘round at you. That’s a very peaceful place, when a solo cyclist manages to stop the cows.
- Richard Armitage


AND GUYS!

That’s exactly what happened to me today! (as a solo pedestrian, but still!)

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Olórin in the Gardens of Lórien. 

I kind of HC the Gardens of Lórien to be like the movie “What Dreams May Come,” they’re kind of surreal. I used my “Springtime in Arda” fluid painting as the background. 

“… though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.” Unfinished Tales, “The Istari.”

Nobody’s going to deny that, as it’s conventionally depicted, Middle-Earth - the setting of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - is awfully monochrome. In art, basically everybody is drawn as white, and all major depictions in film have used white actors.

When this state of affairs is questioned, the defences typically revolve around “accuracy”, which can mean one of two things: fidelity to the source material, and the internal consistency of the setting. Being concerned primarily with languages and mythology, Tolkien left few clear descriptions of what the peoples of Middle-Earth actually look like, so in this case, arguments in favour of the status quo more often rest on setting consistency.

Of course, we need hold ourselves neither to fidelity nor to consistency - the author’s dead, and we can do what we want. However, what if I told you that there’s a reasonable argument to be made from that very standpoint of setting consistency that Aragorn - the one character you’d most expect to be depicted as a white dude - really ought to be portrayed as Middle Eastern and/or North African?

First, consider the framing device of Tolkien’s work. The central conceit of The Lord of the Rings - one retroactively extended to The Hobbit, and thereafter to later works - is that Tolkien himself is not the story’s author, but a mere translator of writings left behind by Bilbo, Frodo and other major characters. Similarly, Middle-Earth itself is positioned not as a fictional realm, but as the actual prehistory of our own world. As such, the languages and mythologies that Tolkien created were intended not merely to resemble their modern counterparts, but to stand as plausible ancestors for them.

Now, Aragorn is the king of a tribe or nation of people called the Dúnedain. Let’s take a closer look at them in the context of that prehistoric connection.

If the Dúnedain were meant to be the forebears of Western Europeans, we’d expect their language, Adûnaic, to exhibit signs of Germanic (or possibly Italic) derivation - but that’s not what we actually see. Instead, both the phonology and the general word-structure of Adûnaic seem to be of primarily Semitic derivation, i.e., the predominant language family throughout the Middle East and much of North Africa. Indeed, while relatively little Adûnaic vocabulary is present in Tolkien’s extant writings, some of the words we do know seem to be borrowed directly from classical Hebrew - a curious choice if the “men of the West” were intended to represent the ancestors of the Germanic peoples.

Additionally, the Dúnedain are descended from the survivors of the lost island of Númenor, which Tolkien had intended as an explicit analogue of Atlantis. Alone, this doesn’t give us much to go on - unless one happens to know that, in the legendarium from which Tolkien drew his inspirations, the Kingdoms of Egypt were alleged to be remnant colonies of Atlantis. This connection is explicitly reflected in the strong Egyptian influence upon Tolkien’s descriptions of Númenorean funereal customs. We thus have both linguistic and cultural/mythological ties linking the survivors of Númenor to North Africa.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Tolkien actually envisioned the Dúnedain as North African; he was almost certainly picturing white folks. However, when modern fans argue that Aragorn and his kin must be depicted as white as a matter of setting consistency, rather than one of mere authorial preference, strong arguments can be made that this need not be the case; i.e., that depicting the Dúnedain in a manner that would be racialised as Middle Eastern and/or North African by modern standards is, in fact, entirely consistent with the source material, ethnolinguistically speaking. Furthermore, whether they agreed with these arguments or not, any serious Tolkien scholar would at least be aware of them.

In other words, if some dude claims that obviously everyone in Tolkien is white and acts like the very notion of depicting them otherwise is some outlandish novelty, you’ve got yourself a fake geek boy.

(As an aside, if we turn our consideration to the Easterlings, the human allies of Sauron who have traditionally been depicted in art as Middle Eastern on no stronger evidence than the fact that they’re baddies from the East, a similar process of analysis suggests that they’d more reasonably be racialised as Slavic in modern terms. Taken together with the preceding discussion, an argument can be made that not only is the conventional racialisation of Tolkien’s human nations in contemporary art unsupported by the source material, we may well have it precisely backwards!)

You know what really boils my blood?  When people hate on Boromir (and A LOT of people do).  It’s easy to see him as arrogant and reckless when he does such gasp-worthy things such as when he spats “Gondor has no king!” at our beloved Aragorn or when he tries to take the ring from poor little Frodo.  But it’s just so sad that that’s all people remember him for.  So, I invite you to take a look at a few things concerning Boromir, the Captain of the White Tower of Gondor…

Boromir was raised in war, probably from a very small boy.  His entire existence has been spent fighting for Gondor… a kingless country that, despite an empty throne, has remained strong through the ages and Boromir is PROUD of that.  HE has taken up his sword to fight.  HE has watched his people die in battle.  HE has led armies into bloody victory.  Gondor is HIS country and he has paid blood for it and he loves it with all his heart.  If one thing can be said of Boromir, it is that he loves his country.

Can we blame him, then, for his bitterness when he meets this guy, this “Ranger from the North,” who is supposedly “his king?”  A lot of people simply see arrogance when Boromir declares hotly that “Gondor has no king… Gondor needs no king.”  But I’d wager that it was justifiable anger he was feeling when he shot those words.  I’d bet what was going on in his head was, “Where have you been, Aragorn? Where were you when Gondor’s people were being slaughtered?  Where were you when I had to watch my men fight and die?  Where were you… when I had to tell Gondor’s women they were widowed? Where were you??”

Now… don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Aragorn but let’s face it- he really was wrong in running from his people for so long… but I’ll stand in his defense another time.

But truly… I can’t imagine the fiery anger Boromir must have felt when he was first made to understand that he was looking into the eyes of Isildur’s heir.  If you ask me, he handled himself rather well.  I wonder how many times he, covered in sweat and blood, scanned the gore of the battlefield and felt a pang of bitterness toward this Aragorn son of Arathorn who was off who knows where doing who knows what.  And now here he sits, big as life in all his lordly fashion and Boromir is being told by Legolas, “You owe him your allegiance.”  Umm… Excuse me?  Owe him?  Hang on, hang  on, hang on, let me get this straight:  I… owe HIM… my allegiance…?  Okay, pardon me while I go scream into my pillow.

Let’s back up a bit…

Let us recall that Boromir was raised by his father, Denethor II,the Steward of Gondor, a deranged schizophrenic who literally worshipped him, all the while relentlessly abusing his little brother, Faramir, the one person Boromir loves more than anyone in all of Middle Earth.  Boromir is looking on helplessly as his country is slowly weakening under the powers of Mordor and, despite his strong leadership, he is beginning to lose hope.  How much longer can they fight without a king?  …without a power strong enough to defend against that of Mordor?  And just when all hope is lost, word has come from Rivendell that the One Ring has been found.  Many believe that it was greed that drove Boromir to Rivendell but have we forgotten that it was his father who commanded him to go and bring The Ring back to Gondor?

Seriously, am I the only one seeing Boromir’s face when he is given this commission?  That’s terror, guys… not greed.  In fact, he initially refuses the task until Faramir volunteers, at which time Boromir reluctantly decides to go… not for himself, but for Faramir and for Gondor.  

And so, it is with this purpose, that he rides to the Council of Elrond, skeptical but willing to obey his father’s wishes for the sake of his people.  On the eve of the Council, he wanders the halls of the elves and comes across the shards of Narsil being displayed opposite a painting of Isildur parting The Ring from Sauron’s hand.  At first, he speaks with awe and reverence as he gingerly touches the blade, accidentally cutting his finger.  But this display only serves as a reminder that Gondor’s line of kings has been broken just as much as has the blade that cut The Ring.  He comments that the blade is “still sharp… but no more than a broken end” and continues his wandering, his awe now replaced with disgust and resentment.

At the Council the following day, Frodo brings forth The Ring and its power is felt by all who are present.  Boromir, in his awe-struck naivety, reaches for The Ring in curiosity but Gandalf puts him in his place.  But Boromir is not to be quieted, for suddenly, he has an idea.  You can literally hear the excitement and hope in his voice as he says, “It is a gift!”  He stands with growing confidence and pleads with elves, dwarves, and men to take this weapon and “let us use it against him!”  Hope is finally within grasp for Gondor!  But no.  Sorry, Boromir.  Not today.  The Ring must be destroyed.  Boromir is disappointed but nonetheless, he chooses to become one of the nine companions making up the Fellowship of the Ring. 

If we’re being completely honest, this is one of the best scenes in the trilogy.  Frodo, a humble and innocent hobbit who deserves none of this noise, steps bravely forward to bear the horrific pain and suffering that is The One Ring.  Aragorn rises and vows “If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will.”  The music builds and the epicness is incredible as Strider kneels and declares “You have my sword,” followed by Legolas’ “…and you have my bow…” and Gimli’s “…and my axe!”  But many dismiss Boromir as he too steps forward.  The disappointment is transparent in his face as he approaches Frodo, accepting that this decision is final.  But Boromir is used to disappointment and he is used to putting his feelings aside for the greater good.  He bravely vows to the Ring Bearer, “If this is indeed the will of the Council, then Gondor will see it done.”

This is a sadly overlooked high moment for Boromir.  He is barely over the shock of learning that the man who has abandoned his country’s throne sits before him- and on top of that, he is expected to honor him as his king- plus, he has just failed in attempting to persuade the Council to allow Gondor to use The Ring to defeat the enemy once and for all.  By any standards, he has failed his mission.  And yet, he chooses to honor the will of the Council and agrees to aid in destroying The Ring.  And note that he did not say, “I will see it done.”  He says, “Gondor will see it done.”  (Have I mentioned yet how much Boromir loves his country?)

So, The Fellowship sets off and Boromir forms a friendship with and develops a love for the hobbits, teaching and instructing them how to fight and defend themselves and he loves every minute of it, perhaps remembering simpler times spent with his little brother… but all the while, the reality of his weakening country gnaws at the back of his mind.  Still, he continues on… but The Ring has a will of its own.  It knows that Boromir desires it, even if it is with good intention, and keep in mind that The Ring wants nothing more than to fall into the hands of men.  Aragorn does not desire its power and so it is to Boromir that The Ring calls.  It could not have been an easy thing to resist day in and day out.  Everyone sees the pain of the halfling with the big blue eyes but Frodo isn’t the only one nobly struggling to resist The Ring’s power.

Everyone forgets Boromir’s role in The Lord of the Rings.  Everyone forgets that it was Boromir who was concerned for the hobbits when they were freezing to death in The Pass of Caradhras.  No one remembers that it was Boromir who grabbed Frodo and held him and carried him to safety as Gandalf fell to his death.  Everyone seems to forget that it was Boromir who comforted Gimli outside Moria and implored Aragorn to give everyone “a moment for pity’s sake!”

No one remembers Boromir’s bravery, his leadership, or his great big heart.  Instead, he is remembered only for a fleeting moment of weakness, when he gives in to The Ring and tries to take it from Frodo by force.  He gets so much hate for this and yet take a look one more time at the images above… this is Boromir.  This is a man who loves unconditionally his country, his family, and the hobbits who have become his friends.  But you’d be surprised how many people I’ve heard call him “the guy who tried to kill Frodo.”  (Which is totally untrue, he never tried to kill him… but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The Fellowship, minus one, arrives at Caras Galadhon in Lothlórien and when Lady Galadriel speaks to Boromir telepathically, he is broken to tears, for she speaks of his devotion to his father, the fall of Gondor, and the fact that “even now, there is hope left.”  Nothing means more to him and yet he cannot see it.  He shares this with Aragorn, whom he has begun to make peace with in his heart, for his country is more important to him than his pride.  He stares longingly into the distance as the elves of Lórien sing a haunting lament for Gandalf the Grey and utters with great feeling, “It is long since we had any hope.  My father is a noble man, but his rule is failing, and our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right and I would do it… I would see the glory of Gondor restored.”  Hope is barely detectable in his voice as he asks, “Have you ever seen it, Aragorn?  The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze… Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?”  Aragorn answers, without feeling, that he has seen The White City long ago.  It is clear that he does not yet share Boromir’s adoration of Gondor. 

Throughout the journey, Boromir tries many times to plead with Aragorn to take The Ring back to Gondor.  "Let us make for the White City!“ he implores, but is shot down every single time (which ends up being a good thing but imagine Boromir’s frustration when all he wants is to aid his people.)  He tries so hard to start seeing the ranger as a king but it’s so agonizing when Aragorn is so against going back to Gondor.  He confronts Aragorn one night by the river and points out how quick he is to trust the elves and yet he has so little faith in his own people.  “Yes, there is weakness, there is frailty,” he admits, “but there is courage also!  And honor to be found in men!  But you will not see that!  You are afraid!  All your life, you have hidden in the shadows, scared of who you are, of what you are…” to which Aragorn gets all up in his face and retorts, “I will not lead The Ring within a hundred leagues of your city!”

Finally, we reach Parth Galen where Boromir meets with Frodo in the forest of Amon Hen.  (Here we go, the part everyone remembers… or do they?)  Take a minute here and think for a second, guys… do you honestly think Boromir went into those woods simply to harm Frodo?  He probably did seek him out under the guise of collecting firewood, but after everything we’ve just looked at, ask yourself if he really did so maliciously.  I do not believe for a second that Boromir followed Frodo intending to do any harm; rather, this whole journey, he has seen and empathized with Frodo’s suffering, which no doubt mirrors his own aching heart.  He tries to council Frodo, suggesting one last time that maybe he can help… after all, Aragorn isn’t listening, so perhaps his hobbit friend will. 

But Frodo is having serious trust issues at the moment, given that Gandalf is gone and he has foreseen what will happen should he fail, and so he turns quickly and defensively away, which surprises Boromir… he loves the hobbits!  He can’t take it anymore.  “I ask only for the strength to defend my people!” he declares angrily, smashing the firewood to the ground.  And there… there is where The Ring takes its hold on Boromir.

He begins approaching Frodo, hand outstretched, suggesting that maybe he could just lend him The Ring.

“No,” Frodo answers quickly, obviously scared but bravely firm.

 “Why do you recoil?” Boromir asks, “I am no thief!”

“You are not yourself!” Frodo warns him.  Having had The Ring for months now, Frodo knows when he is looking at someone who has been taken by it.  Not only that, but he has known Boromir for months now too and he knows when The Ring is affecting his friend.  He’s seen a glimpse of it before, in The Pass of Caradhras.

And the more Boromir advances, the more The Ring feeds off of everything- his bitterness towards Aragorn, his frustration in failing to fulfill his father’s command, his fear that his country will die… and it builds and builds and finally, Boromir just snaps.

Frodo couldn’t have been more right when he said that Boromir was not himself.  It is a common misconception that Boromir wanted The Ring for himself all along but that is not the case.  He wanted The Ring for Gondor and to honor his father but his greatest weakness lay in the fact that he significantly underestimated its power.  He has a moment of weakness and The Ring latches onto this.  Frodo flees and Boromir, in a fit of rage, screams that The Ring will end up in the hands of Sauron and all will be lost.  He trips and falls and his head clears and he realizes what he’s done.  He frantically calls out for Frodo, feeling terrible guilt… and I wonder if he thought of his father in this moment?  I wonder if he saw Denethor in himself as he lashed out at a helpless hobbit, the same way his father would lash out at his brother, Faramir? 

Just a thought.

But there is no time to dwell on this.  The Uruk-Hai attack and Boromir does what he does best, charging in to protect those he loves.  Three thick, splintering arrows plunge into his body one by one, and yet he continues to fight for the hobbits until he is taken at length by the agonizing pain and blood loss.  His last stand was made doing what he’d done all his life- defending his people.   His redemption came with this defense, but it came at the price of his life.  As it would later be spoken in Minas Tirith by a fool of a Took, “The mightiest man may be slain by one arrow, and Boromir was pierced by many.” 

His last ounce of strength spent, he lays dying and Aragorn comes to his side.  Boromir queries desperately about Frodo and begs for forgiveness for his failure but Aragorn assures him that Frodo and The Ring are safe and that he fought bravely and has kept his honor.  Gasping for breath, Boromir makes one last pleading attempt to convince Aragorn to take his rightful place as king.  “The world of men will fall,” he says with great difficulty, “and all will come to darkness, my city to ruin!” …to which the Ranger from the North finally, finally replies… "I do not know what strength is in my blood but I swear to you… I will not let the White City fall, nor our people fail.”

Our people.“

That’s all he wanted to hear.  His breaths are labored and pained but peace passes over his face as he reaches for his sword to voice his last words in salute:   “I would have followed you, my brother… my captain… my king.”

“Be at peace, Son of Gondor.”

Son of Gondor.  Yes, indeed.  Boromir was a patriot if there ever was one.  A true hero.  And it’s both heartbreaking and infuriating that he is so commonly misunderstood.  But at least one person got it… as he watches the body of his countryman disappear into the falls, Aragorn straps on Boromir’s bracers in his honor, knowing full well that it is time to face his responsibilities and reclaim his throne.  Boromir’s country is now his.

And that’s why I want to punch a wall anytime someone hates on Boromir, Captain of the White Tower of Gondor… because he is so much more than a mistake made in the forest of Amon Hen.  Have you ever noticed that when Faramir asks Frodo, “You are a friend of Boromir?” he replies without hesitation, “Yes.  For my part.”  Tolkien paints a beautiful portrait of forgiveness here.  Even Frodo refused to remember Boromir solely for his moment of weakness… so why should anyone else?

Remember Boromir.  Remember the friend who taught Merry and Pippin to use a sword… the big brother who provided a father’s love when it was not given… the warrior who fought for a dying country and a leaderless people.  Remember Boromir, Son of Gondor, for it was, after all, his persistence and courage that ultimately led a ranger to take his place as king.

Pippin: this city is really pretty, but dont the vertical layers make it really hard to move resources around? especially with seven gates? how do you get water all the way to the top.

Denethor: look, kid. we do it for the aesthetic. would it be easier to have a flatter city with the same giant outer wall? sure. but it wouldnt look as good, and in Middle Earth, looks are what matter.

May 28th - Thanks to these wonderful guests who proved that a Supernatural convention doesn’t need J2 to be perfect. They made this weekend so, so special for so many fans and I honestly couldn’t have wished for a better birthday present. They truly deserve all the love in the world.

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“The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien, there was no stain.”

for whatmakesyoulove