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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Main:
'Inspired the Twin Towers'? Folly, indeed.

geordie
Tol Eressea

Jan 12 2013, 11:50am

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'Inspired the Twin Towers'? Folly, indeed. Can't Post

There's a link on the front page to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph about a tower in Birmingham which, the article claims, is 'believed' to have 'inspired' Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'. This is an old story, going back to 1992 that I know of, when me and a group of Tolkien Society types went on a tour of Tolkien's Birmingham during the Tolkien Centenary Conference. We saw half a dozen or so houses where the young Tolkien lived during his peripatetic childhood. And the Oratory, where the Tolkien boys' guardian lived, and also Sarehole Mill, opposite one of the family homes where JRR lived with his mum and his brother. Tolkien himself reminisced about this area, more than once. And we were shown this tower - along with another tall building within sight of this tower; being the tower of the local waterworks, and we were told by the guide that these two towers were the inspiration behind Tolkien's book, The Two Towers. Now; we're not tourists - or at least we were then - but we do know Tolkien. All the other sites; the Oratory, each of the houses where he lived; the hotel where Ronald and Edith stayed on their last night together before he embarked for France - all of these are documented; each one can be verified. But not the Two towers claim. We asked the guide where we could read up on this, and he said he didn't know.

Since then, this 'Two Towers' lark has become a bit of an urban myth. It's not helped by the Edgebaston Waterworks putting out a tourist leaflet some years ago, with this unsubstantiated claim - nor by similar claims in leaflets and articles about the local area, which all have the same damning phrase 'it is believed...' 'Believed, by whom?' is the question we should all ask. Bear in mind that most of this stuff is put about by local tourist authorities, to get the suckers in or, in this case, to raise dosh to restore an old pile of bricks. Let's take a look at some of the claims made in this article -

"JRR Tolkien grew up in the area and would have passed the old hunting lodge every day on his way to and from school. Historians believe Tolkien would also have seen the gothic tower dominating the horizon from his bedroom window as a boy."

The first question to ask is, Who are these historians? And, where are they making these claims? The Telegraph has an answer, near the end of the article:
""He'd have looked out of his bedroom window, and there Perrott's Folly would have been," a passing schoolteacher on a Middle Earth pilgrimage from his home in Worcester previously told the Telegraph."
How would this school-teacher know this?

According to the article,

"The trail also features the Tolkien family homes, his church and favourite hotel � all thought to have inspired parts of the book."
Moving on, we come to some easily verifiable factual errors - "...Sarehole Mill, where the author lived between the ages of four and eight..."
- the Tolkiens did not live in the mill; at the time it was a working mill run by the Anderson. IIRC, and was used to grind bone-meal. But I'll leave the biggest gaffe to last -

"Benjamin Bradley, who is responsible for Grade II listed Perrott�s Folly at the charity, said: �Perrott�s Folly is an awe-inspiring structure which towers over the nearby suburbs. It is steeped in history and, as a model for the Twin Towers, is believed to be a key inspiration behind The Lord of the Rings � one of the best-loved stories of all time and a fantasy which has gripped the imagination of millions of people worldwide. Such an impressive landmark should be brought back into use for the community to safeguard its future and to allow the public � including Lord of the Rings fans � to enjoy it for many years to come.�



Tolkien never wrote a book called 'The Twin Towers'. Come to that, he never sat down to write a book called 'The Two Towers', either - this title came about because the publishers wanted to publish LotR in three parts, not one, as JRR had intended. In this paragraph we have someone representing a local vested interst trying to get attention for their fund-raising by mentioning Tolkien, his book (and getting the title wrong) - and his fans who, as everyone knows, are a bunch of no-nothings who'll fall for anything - even a jar of sol from New Zealand

(see this thread) http://newboards.theonering.net/forum/gforum/perl/gforum.cgi?post=559511;sb=post_time;so=DESC;forum_view=forum_view_collapsed;;page=unread#unread


(This post was edited by geordie on Jan 12 2013, 11:59am)


squire
Valinor


Jan 12 2013, 2:35pm

Post #2 of 14 (222 views)
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It's too bad [In reply to] Can't Post

What you say should perhaps be better known by fans: not that Tolkien wasn't influenced in some way by the Romantic 19th century follies in the Telegraph's article, but that there is no known evidence that he was. Tolkien's symbolism and themes are so rich, that it's an easy trap to look around and point at almost anything in Northwestern European history and culture and make a connection to something in his Middle-earth legends. Generally you need a better argument than "it's obvious" or "surely he could have..." if you want some credibility with thinking readers.

As far as medieval-style towers are concerned, I believe Tolkien himself admitted that the tower of the Castle of Warwick (below) was the inspiration for a very early tower in his imagination: the Elvish tower on the hill at the center of Kortirion, the magical city on Tol Eressea, the island-home of the Elves across the sea. This was at a time in the later 1910s when he was living in Warwick and writing poetry about his Elves. He was trying to craft that famously misnamed "mythology for England" wherein England itself was not the Shire but Elvenhome in an earlier time. In his oft-revised poem "Kortirion Among the Trees", the poet wanders through Warwick imagining it as the site of Kortirion, millennia after its noble Elves had faded into the cute and quaint pixies of contemporary English folklore.



As we see, the Warwick castle's architecture is far less exaggerated than most contemporary illustrators of Tolkien's many towers would care to acknowledge. Although Tolkien was not averse to rounded walls and extremes of height (very difficult to achieve in stone), especially in his later work when he began to recognize his own abilities in fantasy rather than mythology, his image of a "tower" was usually grounded in what his studies of older times had taught him. When one compares his own illustration of Barad-dur, Sauron's Dark Tower, which is essentially the structure above on steroids, to John Howe's absurd 3000' finned skyscraper in the New Line films, one should hardly wonder why Tolkien's heirs are hesitant to encourage further filmic explorations of his early-20th century fantasy imagination.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Silverlode
Forum Admin / Moderator


Jan 12 2013, 10:02pm

Post #3 of 14 (153 views)
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I would have thought... [In reply to] Can't Post

given their proximity to the area which inspired The Shire, that they'd have been more likely to be the inspiration for the White Towers to the west, beyond the Far Downs looking out toward the Sea.

Silverlode






sador
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 4:08am

Post #4 of 14 (134 views)
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Can one see the sea from Warwick Tower? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 5:22am

Post #5 of 14 (134 views)
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Great reference Sador. :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

Well one I get, anyway Wink (unless your comment is related to Silverlode's excellent observation).


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 13 2013, 5:28am)


squire
Valinor


Jan 13 2013, 6:03am

Post #6 of 14 (120 views)
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She was sure she saw sea shores from teary-eyed Kortirion [In reply to] Can't Post

But she was wrong - Warwick is smack in the center of England, about as far from the sea as possible.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


sador
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 6:07am

Post #7 of 14 (109 views)
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Psst SirDennis... [In reply to] Can't Post

You've left the // signifying no text in the title, after adding the text below.


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 6:16am

Post #8 of 14 (112 views)
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In only a few posts [In reply to] Can't Post

this thread is a proper mess already -- you were referencing that line from Tolkien's Beowulf lecture, no?

Sorry Geordie Angelic


sador
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 6:20am

Post #9 of 14 (114 views)
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I was indeed. Well done! // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 7:21am

Post #10 of 14 (139 views)
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If it were in a Peter Jackson film... [In reply to] Can't Post

the sea probably would be visible from Warwick.

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SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 8:15am

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Visibility on Earth vs in Middle-earth [In reply to] Can't Post

Back in mid 2010 I commented on the difference in visibility on Earth and in Middle-earth, as well as the change in visibility between our time and Tolkien's time (while he was writing The Hobbit). Jackson's sensibilities aside, atmospheric quality definitely must be considered in any discussion of visibility over distances.

Read the 2010 post here (from a discussion of the mathematics of the Lighting of the Beacons sequence from ROTK).

This would further the argument that Tolkien's M-e is more expansive than Jackson's. However there is also the phenomenon of things appearing larger, the closer they are to the horizon. Not sure what it's called -- has something to do with rarefaction and relies on binocular vision -- but it's the reason the moon and the sun look larger as they rise and set than they do once away from the horizon; it's also the reason distant mountains (and other tall things a ways off) seem to shrink as you move towards them.


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 13 2013, 8:16am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 13 2013, 10:10am

Post #12 of 14 (125 views)
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The phenomenon is called "looming". [In reply to] Can't Post

I'll read your link if you read mine! Tongue

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SirDennisC
Half-elven


Jan 14 2013, 2:37am

Post #13 of 14 (113 views)
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I did read your link [In reply to] Can't Post

(once bitten, as I said once)Angelic

my understanding is that "looming" is when something that is beyond the horizon is still visible, whereas the phenomenon I am describing affects our perception of tall things on this side of the horizon. It is something that occurs in our mind (ie is an optical illusion) more so than because of the atmosphere or any effect of rarefaction: thanks to Wiki I just learned the phenomenon is sometimes called Moon Illusion.

There's this too from Anwers.com


Quote
The so-called "moon illusion" has nothing to do with atmospheric distortion. The phenomenon can be observed with terrestrial objects, such as mountains or tall buildings (like the Empire State Building), which when viewed at long distances appear much larger than when viewed at closer distances.
Here is a fact: the angle subtended by the moon's width when it is near the horizon is THE SAME as when it is directly overhead, even though it appears to be larger when low in the sky. One evening when the moon is low in the sky and appears large, hold your thumb up at arm's length and note the moon's size compared to your thumb. Later, when the moon is high in the sky, do the same thing. You will see that the moon's apparent size does not change. It's a somewhat disturbing experiment, since the data -- your thumb measurements -- defy what your eyes are telling you.
Scientists are unsure what causes this phenomenon, but it is obviously related to how the brain interprets images of large, distant objects viewed low in the sky or that appear near the horizon. I observed this phenomenon myself when I visited Seattle for the first time. Mount Rainier, when viewed from Seattle, appears quite huge. It's a big mountain, no doubt, but it appears disproportionately large when viewed from Seattle. As you drive to the mountain, it looms quite large until you get into close proximity, when it doesn't seem quite as massive any longer.

http://wiki.answers.com/...izon_than_in_the_sky


In conclusion, atmosphere, viewer elevation relative to the horizon, subject position relative to the horizon, size of the subject, and the quirkiness of binocular vision (I think many optical illusions break down under monocular vision, I know the moon illusion does which is why giant moon photos never turn out the way you saw it), all must be considered when answering the question: can you see the sea from Warwick Tower? Wink

ETA: and if we get into all that, we miss the point of Tolkien's Beowulf lecture entirely. Laugh


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 14 2013, 2:43am)


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jan 14 2013, 5:36am

Post #14 of 14 (131 views)
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And I read yours! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your further thoughts. There are a couple of buildings along my commute that regularly exhibit the "moon effect" for me; it's something I first heard discussed in detail years ago in a television astronomy presentation, where it was suggested that viewing a moon near the horizon while standing on one's head could dispel the illusion. I've never tried that.

I appreciate the enthusiasm of the Dot Physics blogger and his many commenters (to which Finding Frodo linked to in that thread), but oh my, there were so many mistakes! (Not knowing the rotational period of the globe on which Middle-earth is located -- really?) However, a few good insights appeared here and there (including your overlooked correction), and eventually some respondents observed that the distance from the first to last of Tolkien's seven beacons is less than 200 miles, for an average distance of perhaps 25 miles between them. I think no one (barring your post here) discussed the curvature of the earth, which will prevent someone on Warwick Castle (whose elevation I haven't determined, though I know the highest point in Warwickshire is not there and is well under 1,000 ft.) from seeing the sea -- at say, Cardiff, 120 miles away, something like four or five times as far as would be possible without looming, which can only help so much! But for beacons at the same height, or much higher, as in the film, at such shorter distances, this is no problem at all. (It's the view of Mount Doom from Minas Tirith in the LOTR films and the view of the Lonely Mountain from the Carrock in The Hobbit that I question--never the beacons.)

Concerning the beacon speeds, the distance is far too small for the speed of light to be a factor, so the only time that matters is reaction time by stationed observers and the time needed to light the fires. Figure one minute for the former (likely too slow: an attack from Mordor had been expected for nine months, and Denethor has a very good sense of the strength and movement of enemy forces) and five minutes for the latter (also probably too slow), and the beacons would need only 42 minutes to transmit all the way. The film is perhaps showing the action occuring too fast, or is playing loose with time, but that was never one of my complaints about the beacons sequence!

As regards visibility and the effect of pollution, I'm reminded of time I spent in Shenandoah National Park, where on several mountain overlooks there are signs explaining that when the park was established 65 years earlier, it was regularly possible to see the Washington Monument 75 miles away, something that only rarely happens nowadays. Anyway, for these exercises, I have been assuming perfect air quality conditions in Middle-earth.

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Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
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How to find old Reading Room discussions.

 
 

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