Our Sponsor Sideshow Collectibles Send us News
Lord of the Rings Tolkien
Search Tolkien
Lord of The RingsTheOneRing.net - Forged By And For Fans Of JRR Tolkien
Lord of The Rings Serving Middle-Earth Since The First Age

Lord of the Rings Movie News - J.R.R. Tolkien
Do you enjoy the 100% volunteer, not for profit services of TheOneRing.net?
Consider a donation!

  Main Index   Search Posts   Who's Online   Log in
The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
JRRT Author & Illustrator, ch. 5: LOTR: Building Middle-Earth

Luthien Rising

Mar 23 2007, 8:55pm

Post #1 of 13 (626 views)
JRRT Author & Illustrator, ch. 5: LOTR: Building Middle-Earth Can't Post

I’m in migraine-land today, so this will be a limited-thought post, except where I already had made notes for myself, and with fewer diacritical marks too. So what, I think, I’ll do is throw in my own thoughts on one of Tolkien’s architecture illustrations for The Lord of the Rings, then show some others and pose related (etc.) questions. And you can just blame my head for any incoherence. Please.

H&S#145 Barad-dur. Pencil, coloured pencil, black and red ink.

(larger at http://www.aumania.it/fa/tolkien/004.jpg)

To me this is a key image when it comes to understanding Tolkien’s concept of the built world – though perhaps that is because I don’t trust strong distinctions that say, for example, that Tolkien loved all things natural and disliked all things unnatural. The Shire, after all, is no less built than Barad-dur.

But this image tells us something about what sets Barad-dur apart from some other built structures, and it does it by not showing us the whole building. The composition of the image makes the structure dominant over the ‘natural’ landscape, which we see beyond it on the left (the eye reads from the strength of the tower and its base to the left – not the direction our eye wants to read – back to the right). The tower itself emerges from the rock, which appears to be shaped both to be more towerlike (below) and to be more ‘natural rock’-like (where it meets the tower). The ordered-unordered patterning of the rocks is carried up into the tower itself, in the zigzag of the windows (which presumably follow a staircase). This time, even in emerging out of the natural, the built has entirely subsumed it.

But we know it falls in the end.

A few Orthancs ... #162. Orthanc (I). Pencil, black ink, coloured pencil. On the back of a leaf of examination paper, 1942. H&S describe this particular Orthanc as similar to the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, “with echoes of the Tower of Babel as drawn by artists such as Bruegel” (p. 169).

online at http://www.warofthering.net/...ien/Untitled-164.jpg

#163. Isengard/Nan Curunir. Pencil, blue pencil. In this manuscript version, “Orthanc became ‘marvellously tall and slender, like a stone horn ...’” (p. 169). Tolkien drew (if I’m counting right) four different variations on this particular Orthan with this particular manuscript, and “tentatively began to colour the pool in light blue pencil” (p. 169).

online at http://www.warofthering.net/...ien/Untitled-165.jpg

#164. Isengard & Orthanc. Pencil. This manuscript version “looks,” say H&S, “remarkably like a modern skyscraper: interesting in its form but alien and forbidding” (p. 170 – that one’s for you, squire).

online at http://www.warofthering.net/...ien/Untitled-166.jpg1. This last Orthanc is closest narratively to what we are used to reading (with the stairs and balcony etc.), but is it your conception of the tower? Which of these is the tower as it would have been originally built? Could it have changed?

2. Tolkien cannot have echoed internationalist and postmodernist skyscraper architecture, since there wasn’t any yet. What inspirations or echoes can you see in the second and third illustrations?

3. Light blue – yes or no? What else in the form of drawing itself – in the techniques and composition – might be significant here, apart from the architectural details?

And on to Minas Tirith, which Tolkien drew over and over again – from different angles, on separate sheets, on manuscript pages, even covering text.

#167. Untitled (Minis Tirith). Pencil, black ink. (Note the level of legibility of Tolkien’s handwriting here, and give thanks for a moment to his son Christopher for reading all that.)

online at http://www.warofthering.net/...lkien/Untitled-2.jpg

#168. Stanburg or Steinborg. Pencil, coloured pencil.

1. Why might Minas Tirith in particular have been an image Tolkien redrew so often?

2. Sketch #167, H&S say, “recalls the ring-wall of Isengard and the tower of Orthanc, as drawn in tiers. It also looks back to much earlier pictures by Tolkien, of the shining city Kor upon a hill [43–44], and of the towers of Tol Sirion [55], also named (in ‘The Silmarillion’) Minas Tirith” (p. 172). What might be significant in these similarities?

3. Is the White City also a colourful city?

Lúthien Rising
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. / We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Beren IV

Mar 24 2007, 1:48am

Post #2 of 13 (441 views)
Orthanc is described as alien [In reply to] Can't Post

Orthanc in the text is not described as an ordinary built tower. It is a vestige of the magic of Middle Earth long ago, in which people's abilities and powers were different. I do envision the last of the Orthancs as being the real Orthanc, and that the others are earlier versions. The Dark Tower likewise looks like a castle, although notice also that the stones are enormous.

The Minas Tirith drawings give me conceptual problems. It looks like there are buildings only on the topmost level, not on the levels below it. There have to be people living in the lower levels, don't they? I'm not sure if Tolkien intended to portray this.

I do not see Minas Tirith as a colorful city, though. The Men of Gondor strike me as being, as Tolkien hints, a people more interested in death than in life, and as such monochrome white would be their color, with a little bit of other colors, perhaps, mostly cold colors like blue and green, rather like Minas Morgul actually although not so obviously undead or unholy. The new Minas Tirith, after the Reunited Kingdom, would be more colorful, I think.

Btw, I hope your headache feels better.

Once a paleontologist, now a botanist, will be a paleobotanist

Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea

Mar 24 2007, 3:02am

Post #3 of 13 (455 views)
The Two Towers (and a city) [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Lu, and I hope your head feels better. I'm very impressed that you could post through that.

I am more and more impressed with Tolkien's Barad-dur after seeing it through others' eyes. Whereas before I only saw a plain brick building, now I have a better feel for the the mass and for the domination of the landscape. I still wish it weren't brick, but I'll overlook it.

That third Orthanc is much more satisfying to me than the first one. It's supposed to look almost like a natural formation rather than something "built". Although I like the landscape details of Isengard in the first two drawings, Orthanc itself looks right in the last. It's quite a departure from the first one, too.

I don't have much to say about Minas Tirith, except that I agree with Beren that it seems strange not to have any houses or buildings on the lower levels. Obviously these are very rough and unfinished drafts. I wish there was more or that I could see more in it.

Where's Frodo?


Mar 24 2007, 11:46am

Post #4 of 13 (429 views)
Take care of yourself! [In reply to] Can't Post

My father had migraines, and I know they aren't just headaches.

I love your point about Barad-dur dominating the landscape. The perspective Tolkien chose couldn't be more different from the perspective he chose in the pictures of Bag-End and Rivendell and the Mirkwood home of the Elven-king, all of which fit into the landscape (although the land in the Shire is nicely tilled, of course). Tolkien could have chosen a different perspective on Barad-dur, one which would have made Mount Doom large and Barad-dur much smaller in the distance, but that did not suit his purpose.

Sorry, more later on the other towers.


Mar 24 2007, 11:57am

Post #5 of 13 (429 views)
Orthanc and Minas Tirith [In reply to] Can't Post

The last Orthanc is the one I prefer because it looks like it could have been carved out of the rock itself (unlike the ziggurat-like tower in the first picture, something too man-made!

As for Minas Tirith, Tolkien did not include the pier that bisects the city! That is one detail that has given artists some trouble (The Bros. H. made it look like something out of the Arizona desert; the film is probably the closest to my mental picture of the the place). These could have been studies to get the tiered layer cake design down, but it perhaps shows the extent to which Tolkien wasn't fully able to execute the ambitious images in his head.

(Formerly drogo of the two names!)

Aunt Dora Baggins

Mar 24 2007, 2:04pm

Post #6 of 13 (432 views)
I don't have any words of wisdom about towers, but [In reply to] Can't Post

I suggest a Vivarin, two Tylenol, and a multivitamin. And a nap. And maybe some "Head On". That works for me sometimes too. Sure hope you feel better soon. Migraines are awful.

"For DORA BAGGINS in memory of a LONG correspondence, with love from Bilbo; on a large wastebasket. Dora was Drogo's sister, and the eldest surviving female relative of Bilbo and Frodo; she was ninety-nine, and had written reams of good advice for more than half a century."
Chance Meeting at Rivendell: a Tolkien Fanfic
and some other stuff I wrote...
leleni at hotmail dot com



Mar 25 2007, 11:30am

Post #7 of 13 (446 views)
Orthanc and Minas Tirith. [In reply to] Can't Post

There's another version of Orthanc you saved for your discussion of cover art. Although it is seen from a distance, it suggests something much more sleek and conventional than the rough rocks shown in the last sketch here. Yet I agree with you that the last sketch here is closest to what the text describes, i.e. a tower that looks like it might not be man-made at all.

The problem is, I'm not sure I particularly like what the text describes, or any of the towers Tolkien draws. When I read the text I could not quite visualize the tower, and so I never had a clear picture of it in my mind. When I see Tolkien's sketch I nod, finally understanding what Tolkien had in mind -- but I do not instantly reject all other representations, including John Howe's famous version, because I never fell in love with Tolkien's version.

Orthanc reminds me a bit of the tower of rock on which Barad-dur is founded, which as you note seems shaped precisely to form a foundation to a tower. The ring around Orthanc also reminds me of the mountains around Mordor, except of course on a much smaller scale. Mountains often are used as walls in Tolkien's work, and not just by bad guys. Isengard and Orthanc were not built by bad guys, and neither were the mountain walls of Gondolin or Valinor. The Misty Mountains were originally created as a wall by Melkor to impede Orome's hunting.

Indeed there is nothing chaotic about the landscape of Middle-earth. It is all there by design, both story external (created by Tolkien) and story internal (created by various Powers). There is, however, tension between the forces of good and evil, so that half the structures are the result of war and preparation for war. I wonder if any of these mountainous walls were influenced by the trenches of WWI, or the Maginot and Siegfried lines built in anticipation of WWII.

I don't have much to say about Tolkien's early drawings of Orthanc or about his drafts of Minas Tirith. Tolkien obviously liked working things out on paper, but these are just drafts, different from the final version found in the text. I must say that I have always found Minas Tirith both romantic and impractical. And as squire has noted, it is hard to believe that it ever played second fiddle to Osgiliath.

The City on the Hill is indeed a recurring image in Tolkien's writings. Yet although I can think of many fortified towns on hills, I can't think of anything quite like Minas Tirith. It is common to find a walled fortress or place of worship on a hill within a walled city, rising above the city. But Minas Tirith takes that model to an extreme. Furthermore I have always thought Tolkien's habit of putting fortresses or fortified cities below nearby mountains was militarily foolish, if anyone bothered to sieze the high ground above the city or fortress.

But I do love the image of Minas Tirith, and thought this was one instance in which the movie got it right -- although I suppose even here we could debate whether the architecture in the movie was too obviously late medieval. I'm not sure what we could call the Minas Tirith architecture in Tolkien's sketches, but to my eyes it is not obviously medieval.


Mar 25 2007, 1:46pm

Post #8 of 13 (428 views)
Here's an idealized medieval castle [In reply to] Can't Post

that reminds me of Tolkien's Minas Tirith:

Detail from 'March' from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

I've been surprised a few times by finding that Tolkien's physical visualizations of Middle Earth remind me of French rather than English originals. I doubt this was deliberate or even conscious on Tolkien's part, but I still suspect that the influence is there.

I think the movie Minas Tirith, however, was mainly influenced by Greek and Roman architecture rather than medieval. That's what the designers themselves say, anyway, as they visualized the Gondorians as mythologized Romans.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Mar 25 2007, 2:19pm

Post #9 of 13 (424 views)
Once again I show my ignorance of the movies. [In reply to] Can't Post

However we have commented before that Tolkien's Minas Tirith seems somewhat Norman, thus the pencil-like towers mentioned in one of his descriptions. This does not necessarily reflect well on the Normans, though, when one considers Denethor vs. Theoden. There's a sense that Minas Tirith is decadent compared to Rohan, and that Aragorn will bring to it the purifying influence of the North Kingdom.


Mar 25 2007, 2:35pm

Post #10 of 13 (445 views)
I'm not sure it's Norman [In reply to] Can't Post

At least, real Norman towers in the British Isles (England and Ireland) don't look anything like these. They are square, and don't have the "pencil"-type roofs. I think these are continental French - I've seen similar ones in Britanny, for example, and at Carcassonne in southern France

Either way, I agree with your point that the Frenchness might be a sign of decadence in Gondor. So maybe it is deliberate after all!

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Mar 25 2007, 5:25pm

Post #11 of 13 (417 views)
And my ignorance of Norman architecture. [In reply to] Can't Post



Mar 25 2007, 6:08pm

Post #12 of 13 (406 views)
;-) [In reply to] Can't Post

If you lived where I do, you'd know Norman architecture. You practically fall over it sometimes! ;-)

Actually, I kind of suspect that Tolkien's illustrations aren't based on real architecture anyway, but on fictional/idealized architecture from other illustrations, such as the Book of Hours one I posted.

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew,
and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth;
and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore
glimmered and was lost.


Mar 26 2007, 1:49pm

Post #13 of 13 (434 views)
I would think of [In reply to] Can't Post

Mont St Michel

And its English counterpart, St Michael's Mount

Both of which have the city on a hill with different levels, and there's a path which leads through the streets to the keep at the top. Only difference is they are at sea, not near a mountain. This picture shows the sort of thing I was thinking of

I'm sure Tolkien was familiar with both of them and Minas Tirith is a romanticised version of them.

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
Benjamin Franklin
The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.
Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797)


Search for (options) Powered by Gossamer Forum v.1.2.3

home | advertising | contact us | back to top | search news | join list | Content Rating

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings, and is in no way affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises or the Tolkien Estate. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law. Design and original photography however are copyright © 1999-2012 TheOneRing.net. Binary hosting provided by Nexcess.net

Do not follow this link, or your host will be blocked from this site. This is a spider trap.