There are various places around Middle-earth, and very often we see that the dwellers of a certain land and the land itself are a good match for each other. There can be observed a particular interdependence between an area and its inhabitants, but is it the land that shapes the dwellers or vice versa?When the Fellowship found themselves in Lothlórien, the beauty and the magical atmosphere of the realm were sensed from the very beginning. It felt as if time stood still there and the land was under the power which was nowhere else present: to Frodo Lothlórien seemed like an Elvish kingdom of the Elder Days. The domain of Galadriel and Celeborn was peaceful, beautiful and safe: neither a shadow, nor a stain lay on that fair land. There was a great difference between the magnificence of Lórien and the bleakness of the world without. When Frodo climbed to Amroth’s flet with Haldir and looked around him, the contrast struck him:

Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city. Then he looked east-ward and saw all the land of Lórien running down to the pale gleam of Anduin, the Great River. He lifted his eyes across the river and all the light went out, and he was back again in the world he knew. Beyond the river the land appeared flat and empty, formless and vague, until far away it rose again like a wall, dark and drear. The sun that lay on Lothlórien had no power to enlighten the shadow of that distant height.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 461)

This Elvish land is indeed a marvel. Apart from a special atmosphere that kept the company in awe, Lothlórien also enjoyed safety. One of the reasons for that was that due to the mounting disquiet in Middle-earth, the Galadhrim led very secretive lives: they guarded the borders of their realm and watched out for strangers, did not often venture outside themselves (when they did it was for collecting news mostly) and rarely had dealings with other people. Some of the Galadhrim could not even speak the Common Tongue.

Impressed and enchanted, Sam called Lothlórien the most Elvish thing he had ever seen. Being very perceptive to the world around him, Sam acutely felt how special the land and the Galadhrim were:

They’re all Elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folk aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us: they seem to belong here, more even than Hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning. It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to. If there’s any magic about, it’s right down deep, where I can’t lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 473; emphasis mine)

Here Sam posed a crucial question of the interdependence between the land and its people. Lothlórien had already been long in existence by the time the Fellowship found themselves there, but it was only under the rule of Celeborn and Galadriel that the land acquired the magical atmosphere of early Elvish realms.

Gustave Courbet – Forest in Autumn (1841) – Wikimedia Commons

Wielding Nenya — one of the three Elvish Rings of Power made by Celebrimbor Galadriel was able to keep Lothlórien beautiful, guarded and free from evil. By calling it the most Elvish thing of everything he had seen, Sam captured the very essence of the Lothlórien of Galadriel and Celeborn: it is the Elder Days that had come alive in that realm in the Third Age, bringing back into existence the times of Elvish kingdoms in their prime and majesty, but in the world where Elves no longer played such a great role as they used to in the First Age.

It is fair to say then that the land of Lothlórien was made by Galadriel and Celeborn. While flets and caution appeared in the times of the earlier Elvish settlers’, it was Galadriel’s ring that made Lothlórien the well-protected, otherworldly realm where time stood still and enabled mallorn trees, found nowhere else in Middle-earth, to grow there. After the One Ring was destroyed, Galadriel’s Nenya lost its power and Lothlórien was deprived of everything that made it so Elvish and ethereal.

The influence of people on their land is the concept that many Númenóreans totally failed to grasp in their desire to gain immortality.  Forbidden to sail West by the Valar, the Númenóreans began to grow discontent, even being the fairest mortals and dwelling closer to the Blessed Realm than any other Men could afford. The unquiet arose during the times of Tar-Ciryatan and Tar-Atanamir: people began to envy the Valar and the Elves, murmur against the Fate of Men that is to die and leave the world no one knew whither, and thus a shadow fell upon Númenor. The Eldar reported their rebellious moods to the Valar, who sent the messengers  to Tar-Atanamir to counsel him on the manner of the world:

‘The Doom of the World,’ they said, ‘One alone can change who made it. And were you so to voyage that escaping all deceits and snares you came indeed to Aman, the Blessed Realm, little would it profit you. For it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land; and there you would but wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast.’

(The Silmarillion, p. 315-316)

Cole Thomas – View Across Frenchman’s Bay from Mount Desert Island After a Squall (1845) – Wikimedia Commons

But Atanamir was proud and did not heed the messengers’ words, and many people followed him. This was the beginning of the downfall of Númenor as things only went from bad to worse from that time.

The idea of Aman giving eternal life to its inhabitants which was not true was readily promoted by Sauron when he came to Númenor as a prisoner. After persuading a lot of Númenóreans to worship Melkor and the darkness, Sauron cast his final stroke by talking Ar-Pharazôn into attacking Valinor to wrestle the Undying Lands from the Valar. This was achieved by a simple lie which was totally opposite to what the messengers had said to other rulers many years before:

The Valar have possessed themselves of the land where there is no death; and they lie to you concerning it, hiding it as best they may, because of their avarice, and their fear lest the Kings of Men should wrest from them the deathless realm and rule the world in their stead.

(The Silmarillion, p. 329)

This lie was all the more readily accepted by the king as it was in accord with his own ambitions. Hearkening to the false and intentionally misleading counsel of Sauron, who had long been harbouring a grudge against the Númenóreans, these Men went against their nature and tried to occupy the place which was not theirs to take. Driven by the lack of estel and Sauron’s words, the Númenóreans rebelled against Eru and his will, which, unsurprisingly, caused destruction to them.

In reality, being the realm of the Deathless, Valinor would have brought weariness and death on the Men much sooner as their mortal spirits would not have been able to stand the very air of Valinor for long. It is thus said of the establishment of the land that…

….Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.

(The Silmarillion, p. 30)

So, like in the case of Lothlórien, it is safe to conclude that the Undying Lands were made by the Valar: the realm became known as Deathless because of the immortal eternal beings dwelling there.

Undoubtedly, a land can have a certain influence on its inhabitants, suggesting a certain way of life, types of dwellings or cultural traditions but it is the dwellers that shape the land, add character to it and make it associate with a particular people, as if sharing a part of themselves with the realm they inhabit.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1998.

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay. Other images – Wikimedia Commons.

19 thoughts on “Like dwellers, like land.

  1. Another beautiful reflection on Tolkien’s work and his thought. Thank you so much. As you said, Sam is wonderfully perceptive and he sees that the land is Elvish, not that the Elves are “Lothlórienish…!!!”
    I am sure that eventually, if we stay in one place for long enough, both we and the land affect one another. I think of the experience of exile. One of the saddest of all human experiences. The exile feels not only the loss of the place but also the loss of some part of themselves. The Sindarin Elves of Lothlórien have never known this as Galadriel has.
    How interesting that Sam perceives this as somehow “hobbitish”. How interesting too that Faramir longs for Númenor and not Gondor while in the refuge of Henneth Annûn.
    I think that there is this quality across Europe with its long history of the settlement of its peoples. A relatively short journey can display a wonderful variety. I think you described this well in your description of your Volga journey over the summer. Did anywhere feel similar to Sam’s perception about the Elves and Lothlórien or the Hobbits and the Shire?

    1. Thank you! Sam’s opinions are always interesting as he is very spot-on concerning various things. I think it’s because he feels with his heart and keeps it open, and is thus rewarded with such insights.
      I always have such a feeling in very small towns. They’re really authentic here and are full of local character to the point you can’t imagine its dwellers living somewhere else. The smaller the town is, the stronger this feeling grows.

  2. Very good posting once again Olga. The very reason I dash right away to your blog when the notification chimes in!

    Recently in Mythgard Academy Treason of Isengard series, Professor Corey Olsen pointed out a very interesting aspect related to this subject.

    As the Fellowship was traveling south and crossing the land of Hollin Gandalf states: “There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once the dwelt there.”
    “That is true,” said Legolas. “But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.”

    Prof. Olsen commented that as a woodland Elf, Legolas could hear the stones, but what they said were different to his nature. Further expansion of the subject went on to discuss “Nature spirits (Maia) who dwelt in the lands of Middle-Earth.
    From there it is fun and relatively easy to speculate harmonious associations, perhaps akin to marriages, of various dwellers and the Maia who may be master of a piece of geography.
    I’m thinking here of course of Tom Bombadil, yet he seems to me “Master” of his house and garden and not the Old Forest and it’s dwellers.
    In one of his letters, Tolkien stated Tom Bombadil was an embodiment of the Oxfordshire countryside. I’ve been blessed with visiting those fields, hills, woods, and river valleys twice (so far!) in my life and must say the feelings of “Hey dol! Merry dol! Ring a dong dillo!” certainly welled up in me.

    Gildor’s words to Frodo: “But it is not your own Shire, Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more.” So to speculate a Maia, possibly akin to Yavanna may be master of that land and married with the most agreeable inhabitants of hobbits is indeed a harmonious arrangement!

    The ancient Bree-landers and Bree.

    The Ents and Fangorn Forest.

    The Rohirrim and the rolling grassy plains of Rohan.

    And on the less wholesome side of things:

    Sauron and Mordor. Was the mountain hedged, volcanic land not perfect for this Maia to set up shop? But then again, maybe this land was wholesome and then corrupted by Sauron?

    So to a broader point: Are certain lands in our world made better (or worse) by the qualities of the folk inhabiting them? Of course broad sweeping generalities must be used here!
    Are not the British Isles made more British by the Welsh, Scots, Irish, and English (to say nothing of the more ancient strains of peoples) dwelling there?
    In the U.S. Appalachian region the Scotch/Irish immigrants seem perfectly suited with the land and over just three centuries have matched the region to themselves.
    Or come to think about it, this line of reasoning may just simply be one’s own perception bias….!

    A recent friend (The Wild Native on YouTube) recommended two books by Robert Macfarlane that I believe are appropriate to this discussion: Landmarks; The Old Ways. The natural form of the land and how people shape and mold it, literally and figuratively with language.

    Your last paragraph hinted at the types of dwellings and cultural traditions. I really do hope you post on these subject too.

    A curious question: Are there any mention of hobbit burial anywhere by Tolkien?

    This article may be old news, but it just fascinates me and relates to the discussion I believe.

    Thank you once again for your blog. It provides me with hours of thought and enjoyment.

    1. Thank you, Kenny! And thank you for this wonderfully insightful comment! I think in many ways people choose lands to dwell in. Sauron chose Mordor and — I’m relying on my memory here — it hadn’t been very different before his arrival and he chose what suited him best. Or, alternatively, should he have chosen a more wholesome place, he would have turned it into Mordor in no time.
      As far as the Hobbit burials go, I’m not sure I’ve read anything on the subject apart from some bits following the Battle of Bywater where the fallen Hobbits were buried in a place where a garden grew later. Can’t really remember anything else off the top of my head.
      Thank you for sharing the link, I’ll give it a read.
      And I’ll definitely consider posting something on dwellings and culture. Thank you for the idea!

  3. You’re absolutely right. We can see this in Virginia. Where the English settlers grew tobacco with slave labor the soil is depleted and infertile, good mostly for shopping centers. Where the German settlers worked the land on their own, and kept it up like they did in the old country, the corn grows taller than I can reach.

  4. “Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood—they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air and later corn, and later still bread, really was in them.” (C.S. Lewis, in a personal letter to Arthur Greeves, 1930)

      1. It’s the short version of Tolkien’s take on the symbiotic relationship between people and the land they live in/on/with.

        By contrast, consider this attitude, and look at Mordor for an example:
        “He looked at the granite. To be cut, he thought, and made into walls. He looked at a tree. To be split and made into rafters. He looked at a streak of rust on the stone and thought of iron ore under the ground. To be melted and to emerge as girders against the sky. These rocks, he thought, are here for me; waiting for the drill, the dynamite and my voice; waiting to be split, ripped, pounded, reborn; waiting for the shape my hands will give them.” (Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead)

      2. Exactly. Those who try to change the world around them for their own — usually evil — purposes are not on the path of wisdom any more. We should live in harmony with the world.

      3. Back in the day, I was introduced to a distinction that I have since found very helpful: Instead of viewing the world as being AROUND us (something the English word “environment” implies just like the German “Umwelt”), we should consider it being WITH us (and hence the term “Mitwelt” was coined) because it is in fact, not just around us, but we are a part of it as much as everything else on this planet. The difference in attitude is what ends up being the difference that makes a difference.

  5. Hi, ..just going through this..good piece…”Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city.”

    This was a very useful quote – I’ve squirrelled it away for future use. I have a theory (you’ll hear me say that quite a lot haha) about the words ‘tower’ and the word for tree: ‘taur’. Notice how they both sound the same?
    You can find an enlightening metaphor for language of Feanor’s in Vinyar Tengwar no.39. The power and light that is shining from these trees is the light that invokes language. Tolkien always describes tree trunks as ‘stems’. And the main graphemes of his lettering as ‘stems’. Coincidence? Well no, obviously not.

    “WHETHER THEY’VE MADE THE LAND, OR THE LAND’S MADE THEM, IT’S HARD TO SAY, if you take my meaning. It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to. If there’s any magic about, it’s right down deep, where I can’t lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking.” you can see my previous point. The Elves were the name givers. Has Tolkien created a world in which language itself is the land. Well, since it exists only in his writings, very much so yes. You can ‘magically’ (for want of a better word- but really that is the magic Tolkien intends) create the substance of the land through the names you give it.

    “For it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land;”

    The Valar were able to shape the land. In their case at least, we know that it’s they who created the land, not the the other way around as the quote states.

    Sauron says: “The Valar have possessed themselves of the land where there is no death;”

    Yes this is the opposite of the truth..they have not possessed it, they actually created it. How did they create it? Well perhaps a clue is to Sam’s previous comment: he says that he could not get his hands on it. We possess with the hand. The word ‘behold’ is used a lot by Tolkien. In the word ‘hold’ we can find two possible meanings. To hold with the eye and with the hand. You can see a good illustration of that in the name of Udun in Mordor ‘Strong-hold’, or ‘hell’. The first words of the Elves are ..lo, behold when they see the stars. They behold with their eyes, not their hands. They created its meaning, with language. That again is the light that invokes language.

    1. Wonderful! Thank you so much for these language insights. It’s always the case with Tolkien – language is much more than simply a means of communicating. It’s a lot more powerful and meaningful. You can clearly tell that the books were written by someone who both – understood languages, could speak his own language with mastery and who could feel languages. It’s a rare gift and it really comes across in his writings. So, nothing is a coincidence, clearly, when it comes to words and phrases.

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