|Posted: Fri 17 Aug, 2012 5:48 am Post subject: Analysis of Middle-Earth Weapons
As the long-awaited film of The Hobbit is coming up, and with the current mild controversy over the form of Thorin's sword Orcrist in the film, I found myself thinking about the weapons of the films and how they related to each other. So, I thought, why not figure out some things about how the swords and such of the LOTR films and Tolkien's books are related? And it grew extensively from there...
I will warn you that this gets long-winded and possibly boring. If you're bored... well, too bad. I'm not doing this for you, bored person! I'm doing this for myself and I decided to share it with you lot, and if you don't care, well, go climb a tree or something :P
Without further ado, I present the introduction...
Beginning in 1917 with the jotting of what would become ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ on the back of a sheet of marching music, J.R.R. Tolkien created the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. He told the story throughout various ‘scribblings’ until he wrote The Hobbit, which he later edited and revised to tie into the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Various other writings, the great majority of which were published after his death, have expanded immensely our knowledge of how deeply he created Middle-Earth’s history and lore.
This legendarium inspired various adaptions throughout the years, but the best known and most recent is Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Jackson and his production company, Weta Workshop, have been deeply invested in these films to the point of digging deeply into Tolkien’s lore and writing to draw inspiration.
While one could write books—and indeed, many have—upon Tolkien, his work, and the films, I will focus here upon a specific type of object found within this legendarium: swords and weapons.
Swords are a prominent part of Tolkien’s work, in both his writing and the adaptions thereof. Tolkien’s profession was the study of languages, but historical sagas and legends, specifically of the Dark Ages (approximately the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire CE 476 and, more or less, the 11th century CE), were one of his passions. This shows itself in how he depicts swords—nigh-if not actually magical objects, capable of wreaking great havoc and injury towards evil, shining in the hand of heroes, often bearing a name and occasionally an identity of their own to the point where they are almost characters in the story.
Other weapons are also found worthy of note, such as Aiglos, the spear of Gil-galad, Angrist, the knife of Beren, and Dramborleg, the axe of Tuor, to name but a few.
While I would love to go deeper, I believe it most expedient to address specifically the weapons seen in the Lord of the Rings films, and to a lesser extent in The Hobbit, as those have not been seen in depth yet. I intend to study from literary, filmic, cultural, and practical perspective these weapons. Weapons noted in the Silmarillion will also be commented upon, although not in depth as these have thus far only been portrayed in print and various illustrations. Notes may also be taken of illustrations by Alan Lee, John Howe and other designers from Weta Workshop used in the production of the Lord of the Rings films.
It should be remembered that the majority of these are named weapons, borne by royalty, made to the highest quality. They are not typical of ‘normal’, ‘average’ weapons that would have been worn and wielded by common soldiers. For all that, they do follow in general their various cultural patterns, and as such common elements can be identified. Parallels, where available, will be drawn between existing ‘real world’ weapons and these weapons.
I will attempt to examine all these weapons in rough chronological order. This is not as straightforward as one would think, and parallels cannot necessarily be drawn as well as we might like to our ‘real world’ history. Tolkien’s Elves were essentially immortal, and were brought into existence upon Arda before even the Sun and Moon were created—millennia before Humans were created. It is not impossible for an Elf who saw the Light of the Trees—the world’s second source of light, after the Lamps and before the Sun and Moon—to live well over eight thousand years, if not more, from Middle-Earth to Valinor, back to Middle-Earth and finally returning to Valinor at the end of the Third Age.
When one is dealing with a lifespan this incomprehensibly long to mortal humans, one has to realize that Elven weapons may be very much older than one would think. As such, only fairly general guesses at age based upon what data Tolkien presented can be made.
Finally, please remember that there is a degree of subjective suspension of disbelief necessary to read this. The assumption is implicit that we are dealing here with an actual society and history—one established by Tolkien and further interpreted by various artists and film-makers. Magic, for lack of a better word, does exist within this universe.
Written by J.R.R. Tolkien:
• The Silmarillion (ed. Christopher Tolkien) (QS, for Quenta Silmarillion)
• The Hobbit (TH)
• The Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
• Divers other writings such as the Book of Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, &c. that will be cited as necessary. (OW)
Weapons and Warfare of the Lord of the Rings, written by Chris Smith (W&W)
• A note regarding this book; while it is a decent book with some excellent illustrations, much of its data is flawed and conjectural, but is nonetheless presented as though it is factual. My conclusions may very likely differ from those of Mr. Smith’s, and the book is mainly referred to for its illustrations and occasionally illustrative extracts of text.
The Art of the Lord of the Rings, written by Gary Russell (ALR)
• These are largely production designs for the LOTR films, and as the great majority of them did not appear onscreen, these should be considered somewhat ‘non-canon’. They are nevertheless helpful in determining, to some degree, the design process used in creating these weapons.
Various prop replicas crafted by United Cutlery in association with Weta Workshop (UC)
Records of the Medieval Sword, R. Ewart Oakeshott (RMS)
The Archaeology of Weapons, written by R. Ewart Oakeshott (AOW)
• These two books are fundamental to a stronger and better understanding of not only the history of swords, but also the purposes of different blade geometries and the ways that various blade shapes serve different purposes. An excellent complementary article that summarizes up the Oakeshott typology of European swords can be found at: http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_oakeshott.html
• The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, other writings and all characters thereof are © JRR Tolkien or Tolkien Estate, whichever is applicable.
• The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films are © New Line Cinemas. Art books are © New Line Cinemas and HarperCollins Publishers.
• All prop designs and drawings are © either New Line Cinemas or WETA Workshop, whichever is correct.
• Finally, this analysis is © Jeffrey Faulk, also known as ‘Elheru Aran’, and is written for personal enjoyment and nonprofit educational use. All photographs, quotes, and illustrations fall under fair use law. Permission has been obtained wherever possible, but if anybody sees any illustration or photograph that they own, please contact me privately if you wish it withdrawn. Conversely, I will also be happy to credit the owner of the photograph in my Sources, which will be edited to reflect the necessary change. I think that covers everything… now onward!
Thus endeth the first part. More after a while!