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Would Gondor have been multicultural and/or cosmopolitan?
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HeWhoArisesinMight
Rivendell


Mar 28 2014, 11:23pm

Post #1 of 36 (491 views)
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Would Gondor have been multicultural and/or cosmopolitan? Can't Post

I recently started a thread on the Hobbit Movie forum about people of color being villagers in Laketown. That got me to thinking how Tolkien (and Peter Jackson) could have added multicultural aspects to LOTR (I am not necessarily broaching the "racism" aspect in Tolkien's writings, but looking at this more from a demographic and geographic perspective. Also, I am not saying the text necessarily have to or should be changed, they are great as they are; I am simply pointing out that human-based societies in Middle Earth likely would act like those in the "real world" and thusly, would probably have more interactions than just warfare.).

Laketown appears to be based on Medieval times or the Middle Ages of the continental Europe. So many people of color there would seem a bit of a stretch.

However, Gondor is more akin to the ancient Greco-Roman civilizations of the Mediterranean, which were very cosmopolitan and multicutural societies. Minas Tirith and Osgiliath (in its prime) as great cities should have been major cosmopolises, given their proximity to Harad and Khand. Umbar was probably akin to Alexandria in Egypt, so a city such as that would definitely be multicultural and probably cosmopolitan.

It is known that Numenoreans sailed to the Southern Lands and created settlements, so why wouldn't it be plausible for Southrons to migrate north (remember, Gondor is still relatively far to the South in Middle Earth; in fact it is closer to Harad than Rhovanian). I'm sure people in Near Harad probably heard of the wonders of Gondor and some may have come just to visit.

Of course, a "literal" reading of LOTR would mean there was little or no cosmopolitanism in Gondor given there is no textual evidence to really support the idea. However, simple geography and historical migration patters would suggest that there was some intermingling between Gondorians and people to the south in Middle Earth; for example Gondorians did intermarry with the Northern peoples who migrated South.

Yes it is hypothetical, but an educated guess. Gondor bordered Harad and borders and ancient hatreds don't always stop people from interacting with one another.


squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2014, 1:34am

Post #2 of 36 (251 views)
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You've pretty much boxed the compass [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say, Tolkien in his book doesn't really admit that Gondor would include among its citizens the people of color who inhabited the lands to the immediate south. Pippin, our reporter who walks the streets of Minas Tirith, never mentions any such people, and as Damrod tells Frodo and Sam:
‘‘Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship. In those days our bounds were away south beyond the mouths of Anduin, and Umbar, the nearest of their realms, acknowledged our sway. But that is long since. ‘Tis many lives of Men since any passed to or fro between us." - LotR IV.4 (bold by squire)

On the other hand, you make the correct and reasonable observation that in 'real life' the Mediterranean was a two-way street, and that the cities of southern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia all had extensive intercourse with each other. Gondor is a kind of amalgam of all three locations in the context of Middle-earth. It is absurd - from a "realistic" point of view - to imagine Gondor and particularly Minas Tirith as not having a substantial minority population from the Harad if not the Rhun.

What are ya gonna do? I say, go with Tolkien and charges of racism be damned. He is not writing ethnographical realism, he is writing fantastic heroic romance. In his subcreation and only in it, Gondor in the Third Age is the southernmost and easternmost extension of the superior (morally speaking) culture of the "North West" of a mock-Eurasia as epitomized by the heroic tribes of the Edain of the First Age, and the glory that was Numenor in the Second.



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Rembrethil
Tol Eressea


Mar 29 2014, 1:39am

Post #3 of 36 (229 views)
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Really, I never think about it. [In reply to] Can't Post

I've lived in a very culturally diverse area, so I don't give any thought to skin colour or ethnicity. I just assume that crowds are people, and I don't think about the diversity of the ones casually mentioned in books.

I'm sure there was some kind of diversity, but the physical aspects that were related to heroism, Tall, fair, dark, and other described aspects of other characters probably has us project them onto their peoples, making them representative of their entire group. So we read Aragorn was fair, dark haired, and tall, so we assume all other Gondorians are. It doesn't help that many others are described as such. Besisdes, may were nobles or of higher standing, thus they would be more choosing in their mates, perhaps wanting to marry for social advantages.

Call me Rem, and remember, not all who ramble are lost...Uh...where was I?


SirDennisC
Half-elven


Mar 29 2014, 3:54am

Post #4 of 36 (239 views)
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Not so sure, [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
It is absurd - from a "realistic" point of view - to imagine Gondor and particularly Minas Tirith as not having a substantial minority population from the Harad if not the Rhun.

or perhaps truth is stranger than fiction...

The part of the world I grew up in was one of the major destinations of "The Underground Railroad." Years after abolition the old routes and settlement pattern can still easily be observed. One such route "ended" in a certain community with no bleeding into surrounding communities though several decades past.

Even as a child I thought this strange, and then was horrified to learn that many of those surrounding communities had passed by-laws prohibiting brown-skinned people from settling there. What's even more shocking is that in a couple of the towns, those laws remained on the books well into the 1970s. I can't say if the laws were enforced to the bitter end but they definitely had a chilling effect. (In the past decade I've noticed that those towns slowly are becoming more ethnically diverse -- they couldn't become less so.)


(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Mar 29 2014, 3:57am)


squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2014, 4:34am

Post #5 of 36 (229 views)
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Gondor on the Ohio [In reply to] Can't Post

Your story is both true and shaming - but it's also a story of our nation, whose history is different from the lands of the Levant, "Gondor's" closest real-world location. As you show, the "part of the world" one grows up in can deeply affect how one judges the realism of Tolkien's mock-historical imagination!



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demnation
Rohan

Mar 29 2014, 7:10am

Post #6 of 36 (231 views)
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Pippin our reporter also notices [In reply to] Can't Post

That many of the men coming up from the south to Gondors aid (Forlong, etc.) are "somewhat swarthier" than many of the other men he had yet seen in Minas Tirith. A broad statement, but I don't see the harm in interpreting it however you like. It could certainly provide a base for the argument the OP is making.

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."


squire
Valinor


Mar 29 2014, 11:23am

Post #7 of 36 (206 views)
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Yes, good point!// [In reply to] Can't Post

 



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IdrilLalaith
Rivendell

Mar 31 2014, 3:40am

Post #8 of 36 (180 views)
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I was thinking the same thing [In reply to] Can't Post

There's an artist who makes the point that there's more diversity in Tolkien than people typically realize. In his Silmarillion Project (http://silmarillionproject.tumblr.com/), he's re-imagining a lot of characters.

While this doesn't apply to Gondor, I think it's reasonable to assume that not everyone was super white in M-e.


(This post was edited by IdrilLalaith on Mar 31 2014, 3:41am)


CuriousG
Valinor


Mar 31 2014, 12:15pm

Post #9 of 36 (190 views)
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Racial purity [In reply to] Can't Post

That really is a thought-provoking question, HeWho, and I agree that if M-earth reflected reality, Minas Tirith at its height would have a "Harad ghetto" for traders from there, and probably a city district for low-wage workers from Dunland or wherever. When I think about it, Dwarves didn't engage in agriculture unless they absolutely had to and preferred to sell their manufactured goods for food, so shouldn't there have been a Dwarf district for conducting trade in every significant metropolis? (There was something like that in Menegroth in the First Age, actually.)

But it seems to me that Tolkien leaned heavily on racial purity in his nation-states, with the startling exception of Bree. Rivendell is the other exception, though it's not clear to me if Dwarves lived there or a significant number of Men, or if it was 99% Elvish.


Rembrethil
Tol Eressea


Mar 31 2014, 2:26pm

Post #10 of 36 (168 views)
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Well, after Numenor... [In reply to] Can't Post

Things went downhill between Elves and Men.

Then you have the Nauglamir episode of Dwarf vs. Men and Fram's defiance.

You also have the Elf-Dwarf mistrust.

So high diplomacy and inter-kindred alliances were at an all time low. Perhaps that was Sauron's meddling? United at a corporate political level, they could have crushed Sauron much earlier, and the distrust seems to work in his favour.

Call me Rem, and remember, not all who ramble are lost...Uh...where was I?


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Mar 31 2014, 3:58pm

Post #11 of 36 (163 views)
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Diversity among the Men of Lebennin [In reply to] Can't Post

As Gandalf and Pippin approach Minas Tirith:

Quote

The townlands were rich, with wide tilth and many orchards, and homesteads there were with oast and garner, fold and byre, and many rills rippling through the green from the highlands down to Anduin. Yet the herdsmen and husbandmen that dwelt there were not many, and the most part of the people of Gondor lived in the seven circles of the City, or in the high vales of mountain-borders, in Lossarnach, or further south in fair Lebennin with its five swift streams. There dwelt a hardy folk between the mountains and the sea. They were reckoned men of Gondor, yet their blood was mingled, and there were short and swarthy folk among them whose sires came more from the forgotten men who housed in the shadow of the hills in the Dark Years ere the coming of the kings. But beyond, inthe great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey eyes.


'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


squire
Valinor


Mar 31 2014, 9:31pm

Post #12 of 36 (177 views)
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Tolkien's original form of racism [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that description, which brings out more detail about the racial diversity of Gondor. Interestingly, the "southern" province of Lebennin gets its "short and swarthy" strain not from lands of Harad further south, as we would expect if we made the obvious parallel between Gondor/Italy and Harad/Africa. Rather, the racial impurity comes from the White Mountain people to the north of Lebennin (sort of Switzerland in real-world terms); and of course we have just learned in the UT discussion that those mountain people shared their ancestry with the Dunlendings who had wandered even farther north, to Dunland and even Bree in Eriador. In other words, even "mingled blood" that led to "swarthier" skins, within the world of the Free Peoples, comes from their own territory, not from the Unfree lands to the South or East.

Another fun thing about Tolkien that takes his racism a bit more out of our world is his relentless emphasis on height as a marker for virtue and goodness. We readers may be sensitive about his use of skin tones like "fair" and "swarthy" to differentiate peoples in terms of good and evil, but in this passage being short is just as damnable as being swarthy. He doesn't even bother to let us know if the purer (sorry, "higher") folk of Dol Amroth are fair or not; he simply notes that they are "tall"! Mocking stature is not exactly the most common form of discrimination in our society; but Tolkien - who knows what Tolkien can do, or think?

**hums "Short people got no reason to live..."**



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HeWhoArisesinMight
Rivendell


Mar 31 2014, 9:48pm

Post #13 of 36 (146 views)
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Unless your are a hobbit [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Another fun thing about Tolkien that takes his racism a bit more out of our world is his relentless emphasis on height as a marker for virtue and goodness. We readers may be sensitive about his use of skin tones like "fair" and "swarthy" to differentiate peoples in terms of good and evil, but in this passage being short is just as damnable as being swarthy.


Yes, being tall is a virtue for Tolkein and all of his great heroes are exceedingly tall. The only short people who get some love are the Hobbits and I guess the Dwarves, but even among them, Tolkien gives special consideration to Merry and Pippin for growing much taller due to the Ent draughts.

I do recall him making reference to "tall and cruel" men out of Harad. Don't know whether this was a reference to the black Numenoreans or people of color from Harad.

I often cringe at Tolkien's use of the term "swarthy," which has become almost archaic. In the Silmarillion, he refers to the Easterlings who come into Beleriand as "swarthy," although I wonder if their parallel would be Slavs, Goths or Huns, who were pale, but maybe not as fair as Western Europeans. At least we know for sure there was "ethnic" diversity in Gondor now, but I still imagine the great cities as much more diverse than that.



demnation
Rohan

Apr 1 2014, 2:19am

Post #14 of 36 (144 views)
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The thorn in the side of the height argument [In reply to] Can't Post

is, of course, the hobbits, who more than any other race are defined by their short stature. The frustrating thing about Tolkien and race is that there are a bunch of contradictory little details that make it hard to determine what he really thought.

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."


demnation
Rohan

Apr 1 2014, 2:22am

Post #15 of 36 (142 views)
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I can agree about swarthy being archaic [In reply to] Can't Post

but he does seem to use the term indiscriminately. Actually, I think Bree is where the term seems to pop up the most often. It also doesn't help that swarthy is a rather broad term that can be interpreted in any number of ways.

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."


squire
Valinor


Apr 1 2014, 2:36am

Post #16 of 36 (140 views)
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Well, it's not really an argument [In reply to] Can't Post

It's more of an observation or a query.

Obviously hobbits are short. And they 'break the rules' of Middle-earth in a lot of other ways, being anti-heroic by nature and also being completely absent from the Silmarillion mythology: "left out of the old lists", as Merry puts it to Treebeard (LotR III.4).

But as already noted, hobbits with height are more than once singled out for notice as being more heroic than their fellows: Merry and Pippin after their adventures, of course, but also the Bullroarer "who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse" (Hobbit, I), and even Frodo in this remarkable description by Gandalf as retold by Butterbur:
“this one is taller than some and fairer than most, and he has a cleft in his chin: perky chap with a bright eye.” (LotR I.10)
Note that Gandalf manages to get both of the approved Tolkienian marks of racial superiority in: "taller" and "fairer"! (Not to mention the famously "bright eyes" of the Elves.)



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demnation
Rohan

Apr 1 2014, 4:36am

Post #17 of 36 (130 views)
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Of course! [In reply to] Can't Post

Though I will say that I am personally struck by how unremarkable Gandalf's description of Frodo is. The quote about Frodo is so vague that the description is almost useless even if one were expected to pick him out of a crowd of hobbits. Fair is a uselessly broad term, and I'm not even sure what the heck "bright eye" even means. Just my view, of course. And can someone spare a thought for poor Aragorn, one who "looks foul but feels fair." Assuredly an ugly man (though he is tall!), and about as noble as they come! Wink

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."

(This post was edited by demnation on Apr 1 2014, 4:39am)


demnation
Rohan

Apr 1 2014, 4:56am

Post #18 of 36 (135 views)
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It's all up in the air [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry. I realized I had something else to say and the edit window had expired.

Anyway, my point is that the relationship between Tolkien and race is interpretive rather than definitive. The frustrating thing is that it prevents me from saying "Yes he was a racist" or "No he wasn't" and be done with it. It's one of those in between things, I guess.

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."


squire
Valinor


Apr 1 2014, 11:33am

Post #19 of 36 (128 views)
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Right, it's the unremarkable that is remarkable [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say, the description is almost useless for finding Frodo in a crowd of hobbits. Tolkien, of course, is chronically deficient at describing his characters' physical appearances, and this passage stands out in a story set in the pre-photography days when there was an extensive vocabulary developed for personal description at just such moments as the one in Bree.

But I find that leads me back to the real point of the description: to use the 'code words' that indicate moral superiority in Middle-earth for Frodo, the story's hero who is a halfling, not a "tall man" or "fair Elf".



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Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Apr 1 2014, 1:09pm

Post #20 of 36 (128 views)
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Mocking? That seems harsh. [In reply to] Can't Post

Your reply seems needlessly critical. Tolkien is not mocking nor derogitory towards the common people of Gondor; he merely notes that they are descended from a more mixed heritage than the nobility. To cite that as proof of racism (even if possibly unintended) makes for a very shaky argument. Tolkien may have been taking under consideration that Gondor and the Bay of Belfalas would have been on approximately the same latitude that the Mediterrainean now occupies. His intention may have been that the commoners of the region represented the ancestors of the Mediterrainean peoples of Europe.

To be tall and fair-skinned in Tolkien's Middle-earth was not always an indicator that one was in the right. The sons and followers of Feanor committed terrible acts. The majority of the Numenoreans were turned against the Valar leading to their fall. Like Boromir in FotR, the heroes of The SIlmarillion tended to be tragic figures, often done in by their own flaws or mistakes. And we have admiriable figures in the forms of many of the Hobbits, Gimli son of Gloin, Balin son of Fundin, and Ghan-buri-Ghan of the Woses.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Apr 3 2014, 8:29am

Post #21 of 36 (104 views)
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Sam wasn't particularly tall. [In reply to] Can't Post

In fact, when Frodo and Sam are captured by Faramir's men, one of them says that they cannot be Elves because Elves are wonderest folk to look upon or so it is said,' and Sam replies, 'Meaning we are not, I take it!'


squire
Valinor


Apr 3 2014, 12:08pm

Post #22 of 36 (119 views)
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Sam is 'lower class' [In reply to] Can't Post

His physical contrast with Frodo, within the constraints of hobbit-kind, echoes the dichotomy we've been tracing: Sam is several times said to be plain-looking, or some variation thereof, in contrast to Frodo's fairness or pleasing appearance. I also remember a reference to Sam's "brown" hand. I think that is a tanning effect, reflecting his occupation as an outdoor manual laborer, and not an actual difference of skin tone. Still, it's consistent with all the other clues to the worldview that Tolkien presents in the story: Sam is a lower-class and "swarthy" hobbit!

And of course Sam's faithfulness and inner nobility is rewarded when, in the Fourth Age, he ascends to the petty bourgeoisie of the Shire (as Mayor), and his descendants become fair and blonde.



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demnation
Rohan

Apr 3 2014, 3:28pm

Post #23 of 36 (105 views)
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Grasping at...... [In reply to] Can't Post

Of course, making these observations invites bigger questions, like if it is fair to infer things about an author's worldview from their fiction about a fake universe. (Especially when the author in question is someone like Tolkien, a basket of contradictions if there ever was one.)
And I don't think anyone enjoys more than me taking Tolkien to task over certain aspects of his work. (Much as I admire the man.) That being said, I think it is fair to say that much of what we are talking about is based on some
really shaky ground. A few vague and scattered references (Gandalf's absurd description of Frodo and Sam's brown hand can be interpreted in a variety of ways) don't really add up to much of a worldview, IMO.
Of course, we can state what we think Tolkien might have intended, but none of the things we are bringing up is solid enough to draw any definitive conclusions. And it doesn't help that Tolkien expressed many times a personal distaste for the exact things we are talking about in his private letters.
Anyway, this is an ever circling issue, with no real answer. (For me, anyway.) This has been a great discussion, though!

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." Gandalf, "The Last Debate."


PhantomS
Rohan


Apr 3 2014, 6:40pm

Post #24 of 36 (98 views)
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Lest we forget [In reply to] Can't Post

Let us not forget that Gondor was a feudal empire ruled by descendants of a mighty but dwindling people who tried desperately to keep their bloodlines intact. There were certainly native Men around Pelargir and the other fiefs who were not of Numenorean blood, but traditionally Gondor tried to tie them to the Edain of old, making them distant relatives and 'safe'. They made the same arguement about the Rohirrim, who are descended from Hador's kinsmen and thus also related to them. Notably the Druedain were not so well treated, and the Northerners from Rhovanion were even less liked despite their power in battle.

Gondor is also the only kingdom in Middle Earth that had race-based civil conflicts; the kin-slaying was all about blood mixing with 'lesser blood'. One would think settling in Gondor would be easy but it seems they were selective as to who was actually "in" with Gondor. I would say Gondor is like the Roman Republic or the Greek city states in that one had to be of a certain appearance and manner to be considered "civilized" and welcome as a citizen. The later empires of Rome, Venice and the Byzantines were truly cosmopolitan, but were not founded as so.


Escapist
Gondor


Apr 3 2014, 6:58pm

Post #25 of 36 (87 views)
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Laketown vs Gondor [In reply to] Can't Post

In the case of Laketown, we have a city East of the Misty Mountains and even East of Mirkwood. There is a well established history of trade with both dwarves (in the case of Dale where many of the folk of Laketown came from) and elves (specifically linked to Dorwinion which is further East). There is a meeting of many rivers that would facilitate long-distance travel as well as a history of dwarven riches that would draw trade from all over the area. In such a case, I would expect as much inter-racial diversity (humans from nearby areas) and history as extra-racial diversity (elves and humans and dwarves). Even if elves kept to themselves and dwarves moved on, intermarriage between humans during the heyday of Dale would seem pretty likely.

In the case of Gondor, as others have mentioned, it seemed more tightly controlled (i.e. the wall surrounding it for instance) and it seemed less to be established as a crossroads of trade and more to be established as a capital city of a very racially sensitive culture. I would expect more diversity in Umbar where it seems that many ships met - probably engaged again, as in the case of Dale, in trade and facillitating movement of populations over time.

Another place where I would expect more diversity would be Bree - although it is further West and passage to it is more treacherous. Nonetheless, it is a place of crossing roads and heavy trade between different non-human races (and so also, probably, among different groups of humans), so again, probably a diverse place compared to a typical Numenorean population center.

If all the world's a stage then who's writing the script?

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