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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Mordor compared with other very nasty places in literature
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noWizardme
Valinor


Jul 21 2017, 5:27pm

Post #26 of 44 (1998 views)
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I don't see much cacotopia in Tolkien... [In reply to] Can't Post

...probably because he has too positive a view of humanity. Just about anyone - even Gollum - might be redeemable.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Jul 21 2017, 6:00pm

Post #27 of 44 (2000 views)
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Orthanc and Sharkey-Shire compared with Mordor [In reply to] Can't Post

Saruman's nightmare societies seem more dystopian than Mordor in a way- I'm now thinking that this could be because Mordor has those hellish connections and Orthanc doesn't (yet- it's clear that Saruman is headed that way)

By chance (if, as Gandalf might say, there is chance in Middle-earth) I just came across this quote, which seems to speak to why Tolkien couldn't be a "to the barricades!" dystopian:


Quote
“When you’re on the barricades, all you can see is a target, not a human, which is what a writer should see. From the point of view of art, the butcher and the victim are equal as people. You need to see the people.”

Svetlana Alexievich https://www.theguardian.com/...P=Share_iOSApp_Other


~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 21 2017, 6:26pm

Post #28 of 44 (1989 views)
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That's a good quote for the uncivil conversations I see in politics these days. [In reply to] Can't Post

The opponent is always a target to shoot at, never a person, never someone who might have a background that led them to their point of view. They're just something to blow away for points, like in a video game, and move on to the next points.


squire
Half-elven


Jul 21 2017, 8:49pm

Post #29 of 44 (1989 views)
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Umm... not 18th C at all, sorry Oxford Living English Dictionary [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for the update on the word and its background.

Your link (plus Darkstone's comment) opens up the topic a bit, to be sure, since dystopia is presumed to be merely a synonym for cacaotopia, which does date to the early 18th C. (although no citation is given, unhelpfully).

The reinvention of the word in the 1950s, after decades of totalitarianism and large-scale statism, does seem to differentiate it from Mill's usage with its moral judgment of a people rather than a ruling class, dating back to Greek thought.

Margaret Atwood's comment at the end - that utopia and dystopia are complementary concepts that cannot exist without each other - is interesting if a bit precious to my mind.



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squire
Half-elven


Jul 21 2017, 9:03pm

Post #30 of 44 (1989 views)
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Punishment for past sins in Tolkien's "Hells". [In reply to] Can't Post

I might agree with you had I not read his unorganized and speculative essays and fictions about the birth of Man in Middle-earth. If I remember correctly, way back in the beginning (later called the First Age), Mankind almost universally "fell" to Morgoth's temptations, and went over the Dark Side, becoming "evil", "cruel", etc. The only survivors, and even they repented rather than having resisted from the first, were the three tribes of Edain who fled West, and were received by the Elves.

These Men are the Heroes of the Silmarillion, and of course go on in later stories to Numenor, where they fall again, this time to Morgoth as preached by Sauron, and again only a relative handful of hold-outs for God and Virtue make it out alive. And we know the rest!

Point being, by this reading ALL the Easterlings and Southerners are evil by choice and by sin, and all are worthy of punishment like living in Mordor - the Hell of Middle-earth.

This isn't exactly the same as the Christian Hell. As I understand things, that fiery (or icy) place is reserved for those who were saved from original sin by the Christ's Church, having been baptized and confirmed, but then fell back anyway. Middle-earth doesn't have that redeeming option, Christianity, for later generations of Men. There Hell/Mordor is simply the place for those who remain condemned by Mankind's original sin itself.



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Morthoron
Gondor


Jul 21 2017, 10:49pm

Post #31 of 44 (1988 views)
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No, Mordor is not hell... [In reply to] Can't Post

It is "hellish" and a representation of Thangorodim, rather like Thranduil's subterranean demesne is a copy of Menegroth. It is not a place of ultimate retribution for sin, but in its make-up it is a 3rd Age facsimile of the lair of Morgoth, Tolkien's fallen angel.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Jul 22 2017, 2:14am

Post #32 of 44 (1961 views)
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What about Udûn? // [In reply to] Can't Post

 

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Plurmo
Rohan

Jul 22 2017, 3:03am

Post #33 of 44 (1962 views)
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You could turn it the other way around [In reply to] Can't Post

and try to see Mordor by the kinds of pleasures it offers and the kind of spirits that end up locked inside it after following their desires to the full (as if they were tempted by the One Ring itself.) That would be a swedenborgian view. That Mordor would be the perfect place for creatures that delight in fear, pain, sulphuric smells, cannibalism... Of course, being a real place, instead of a spiritual realm, would mean that it is "perfect" only up to a point.Evil


FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 22 2017, 7:55am

Post #34 of 44 (1943 views)
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There's tech and tech [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it's possible for Tolkien to have been inspired by some of the rather frightening and ugly technology of war of his day to imagine non-mechanical things with the same weight of fear and ugliness. If he changed tanks to dragons, that almost makes my point! In one of the earlier threads I recall the winged Nazgul were compared to the threat of airborne attacks in the world wars. The force that destroys the wall at Helm's Deep is called a "devilry" and a "blasting fire", but it sounds awfully like modern explosives.

That gun turret actually seems to have been built in the 19th century, and isn't mechanized - soldiers had to turn it by hand. The amazing rotating Roman dining room that Darkstone linked to must have been turned by hand too, probably by slaves. So whether used for oppression as in Minas Morgul, or used for display and sophistication (or even stargazing?) when it was Minas Ithil, it would have needed slaves or workers of some kind to do the actual turning. I'm guessing that Tolkien had never heard of a revolving restaurant (according to the Wikipedia article, the first inspiration for them only came in 1956, with a stationary restaurant at the top of a tower in Stuttgart, and a revolving one a few years later), so our perception of the idea has been changed in ways he couldn't have anticipated.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



FarFromHome
Valinor


Jul 22 2017, 8:16am

Post #35 of 44 (1943 views)
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The theology is getting tricky [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
...way back in the beginning (later called the First Age), Mankind almost universally "fell" to Morgoth's temptations... and of course go on in later stories to Numenor, where they fall again, this time to Morgoth as preached by Sauron...

I see these as other "retellings" of the story of Adam and Eve, the fall of Man from grace at the promptings of the Devil. The punishment for Adam and Eve is not Hell, but ejection from the Garden of Eden so that they are forced to live in the world as we know it. That would make Mordor a part of the world (aka Middle-earth), perhaps like the Slough of Despond or the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, places that you have to get through to reach salvation, rather than a place apart like Hell.


Quote
This isn't exactly the same as the Christian Hell. As I understand things, that fiery (or icy) place is reserved for those who were saved from original sin by the Christ's Church, having been baptized and confirmed, but then fell back anyway.

According to Dante's version, the virtuous from the time before Christ are in the first circle of Hell, also called Limbo, where they are not punished but are not in the presence of the Divine. Some of the most deserving are released by Christ after his death (the so-called Harrowing of Hell) and allowed to enter Heaven (is that relevant to Frodo being allowed to go to Tol Eressea, I wonder?)


They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



squire
Half-elven


Jul 22 2017, 11:55am

Post #36 of 44 (1928 views)
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We can't be too rigid about the parallels [In reply to] Can't Post

As Tolkien warns us, he dislikes allegory!

I began wondering during this interchange if, since Middle-earth lacks the Christian messiah figure to redeem Mankind, we should be putting that role on the Elves of the West as a collective device for the saving of Mankind from Morgoth. The Elves are immortal, and have communed personally with the angels in Heaven (Valinor), so their assurances to Men from the East, looking for salvation, should surely be authoritative and meaningful.

That would do an end-run around the entire Christian structure of Hell, the World, and Eden that you've referred to here, producing instead Hell (Mordor as the spiritual center of the entire evil East/South of the world), the World (the North/West of Middle-earth), and Heaven (Valinor/Halls of Mandos for mortals).

I'm not sure I buy it either. But I'm also not sure I can go with NoWiz's proposition that Mordor fails as a Hell because the denizens are not being punished for past sins. It still seems to me that any Men who bow to Sauron and wage evil war under his Eye are in fact sinners against Eru, and consciously so (or responsibly so) in that Eru did warn them back in that somewhat unconsidered myth we've now read. Granted, none of that is apparent in the text of the Lord of the Rings itself, and readers would certainly be excused for picking up instead on the many references to totalitarian societies that Tolkien used to bring Mordor "to life".

I wonder, following that train of thought, if that isn't the confusion here? Tolkien started with Mordor as the Black Land, Home of the Enemy, source of the Fire, etc. in the beginning of the book, and the subsequent references in the early books seem to link to Thangorodrim (a much more mythical Hell from the Sil) including the obvious one of the hobbits reprising the quest of Beren and Luthien. But when we get to Books IV and VI, Tolkien is forced to depict Mordor as a setting for action, not a backdrop of terror. He, I'm guessing here, couldn't help but abandon the "Hell" aspect somewhat, although the landscape certainly remains hellish, and pick up the parallel but much more modern model of the dystopia that we've been poking at in this thread. That model is more about a society than a land, and focuses on the people and the nature of evil within us rather than on the domain of a devil and the spiritual punishment that sinners have earned. Tolkien, being a man of his time (two world wars and many dictatorships), couldn't help recasting Thangorodrim into a kind of all-purpose desert-like totalitarian and militarist soldier-hive, very much more reminiscent of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' or 'Lord of the Flies' than of Dante's Inferno or the classical Underworld.

And that doesn't even take the orcs into account!



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noWizardme
Valinor


Jul 22 2017, 1:35pm

Post #37 of 44 (1915 views)
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That works for me, and so does it's converse! [In reply to] Can't Post

That makes sense to me too:


In Reply To
Tolkien started with Mordor as the Black Land, Home of the Enemy, source of the Fire, etc. in the beginning of the book, and the subsequent references in the early books seem to link to Thangorodrim (a much more mythical Hell from the Sil) including the obvious one of the hobbits reprising the quest of Beren and Luthien. But when we get to Books IV and VI, Tolkien is forced to depict Mordor as a setting for action, not a backdrop of terror. He, I'm guessing here, couldn't help but abandon the "Hell" aspect somewhat, although the landscape certainly remains hellish, and pick up the parallel but much more modern model of the dystopia that we've been poking at in this thread. That model is more about a society than a land, and focuses on the people and the nature of evil within us rather than on the domain of a devil and the spiritual punishment that sinners have earned. Tolkien, being a man of his time (two world wars and many dictatorships), couldn't help recasting Thangorodrim into a kind of all-purpose desert-like totalitarian and militarist soldier-hive, very much more reminiscent of 'Nineteen Eighty-four' or 'Lord of the Flies' than of Dante's Inferno or the classical Underworld.


But I think you could also argue it the other way around (without contradicting the first way!). In order for Tolkien to use 'destroy the Ring!' as a main plot, think Mordor from the outset has to be an aggressive military threat, rather than what might happen to you if you're bad. What we first know about Mordor is that it is the home of the Dark Lord, contains the only place were the Ring can be destroyed, and it is also the source of an imminent military threat. That military threat is an important piece of plot - it both puts Sauron clearly in the wrong, and it creates an urgent reason for Frodo to go to Mordor. That is, if he doesn't go to Mordor, the forces of Mordor will come to him - and soon - to take the Ring by force. IT's important that there is no realistic hope of preventing this by conventional means (otherwise, why not just hide the Ring, as is suggested from time to time). Of course that also dovetails with the theme of the Enemy being an oppressor of the free will of others. And it allows our heroes to take part in heroic and just physical battles for their survival.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


noWizardme
Valinor


Jul 22 2017, 1:59pm

Post #38 of 44 (1922 views)
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"Verily I come..." [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
...try to see Mordor by the kinds of pleasures it offers and the kind of spirits that end up locked inside it after following their desires to the full (as if they were tempted by the One Ring itself.) ...


Yes, I think that's a promising approach. Gandalf claims that Gollum is being drawn to Mordor, and Gollum confesses this in an unguarded moment to Frodo (in Taming of Smeagol) before instantly denying it.

Then, on Amon Hen Frod has this strange (and I think alarming) experience:


Quote
"He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell."


Who says the 'verily' bit (with the rather biblical choice of words, unusual for this book)? Perhaps Frodo is very sure it's the Ring speaking. But I think Frodo's not sure - it could be him, or part of him that is becoming equivalent to Gollum (in the Gollum/Smeagol pair of personalities). I think that Frodo is aware that he might be being drawn to Mordor, as well as sent there on his quest. That certainly seems to be one of the thoughts behind his long speeches at the start of Taming of Smeagol.

If so, I'd argue that this self-knowledge is essential. Frodo has learned at Weathertop (and, I claim, at Amon Hen) that he can have impulses and wishes that serve the Enemy. Compare Frodo's first Black Rider encounter, with his encounter with the Witch King at Weathertop and then again outside Minas Morgul. Notice how Frodo's awareness grows that he's being prompted by an ouide will:

The first Black Rider encounter:

Quote
A sudden unreasoning fear of discovery laid hold of Frodo, and he thought of his Ring. He hardly dared to breathe, and yet the desire to get it out of his pocket became so strong that he began slowly to move his hand. He felt that he had only to slip it on, and then he would be safe. The advice of Gandalf seemed absurd. Bilbo had used the Ring. ‘And I am still in the Shire,’ he thought, as his hand touched the chain on which it hung. At that moment the rider sat up, and shook the reins. The horse stepped forward, walking slowly at first..

FOTR Three is Company


Weathertop:


Quote
Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt that he must take the Ring and put it on his finger.

FOTR: A Knife in teh Dark


The WK outside Minas Morgul:


Quote
Frodo waited, like a bird at the approach of a snake, unable to move. And as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king –not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside.

TT Stair of Cirith Ungol


So I think that Frodo moves from temptation to the sheer struggle to avoid domination

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


squire
Half-elven


Jul 22 2017, 2:07pm

Post #39 of 44 (1917 views)
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I've always loved that sneaky little "... not yet". [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent presentation of Frodo's progress in negotiating the Ring's pressure to be found by its Master. But notice that fatal qualifier in the third one. If we read carefully, we can conclude that Frodo is actually trying to preserve the Ring from Sauron, no longer to keep the world safe, but to claim it for himself at a coming time when he imagines he will be strong enough to hold onto it!

Frodo's self-knowledge grows at the expense of an insidious self-deception.



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Morthoron
Gondor


Jul 22 2017, 5:45pm

Post #40 of 44 (1900 views)
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I'm thinking the linkage is more Thangorodrim than Utumno... [In reply to] Can't Post

Utumno was delved, whereas Thangorodrim was piled up, like the mountains encircling Mordor and the slag heaps Tolkien refers to within Mordor. And Utumno was more Morgoth's direct creation, whereas Sauron has a special connection to Angband, the horrific fortified citadel within Thangorodrim that Sauron oversaw and strengthened while Morgoth was a prisoner for a long age.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



(This post was edited by Morthoron on Jul 22 2017, 5:46pm)


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Aug 5 2017, 10:02pm

Post #41 of 44 (1741 views)
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I think I read somewhere that Mordor was based upon parts of Birmingham that Tolkien knew [In reply to] Can't Post

Which was a bit unfair of Tolkien. I used to live there and it isn't that bad!


squire
Half-elven


Aug 5 2017, 10:51pm

Post #42 of 44 (1742 views)
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Maybe it was worse in the 1800s [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know the area well, but isn't there a district near Birmingham that was known as the "Black Country"? I think it was because the coal seam was close to the surface and easily mined, which led to coal mines, coal dust, and a generally sooty appearance for the entire county.

And after all, Mordor is just a translation of Black Land - or Black Country!


Painting of the Black Country by Bayliss. Title: "Tipping the Slag"



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FarFromHome
Valinor


Aug 6 2017, 11:28am

Post #43 of 44 (1688 views)
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Dark satanic mills! [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
Mordor is just a translation of Black Land - or Black Country!


Here's an article from the BBC website that raises the same possibility, written to coincide with an art exhibition in Wolverhampton in 2014. The artworks themselves are an interesting commentary on how the area was viewed in the early 20th century. The woodblock from 1919 especially seems very "Tolkienian" to me.

Following the thoughts from this subthread a bit further, I'm thinking that although Mordor itself might be a mixture of the blighted lands of industrialization (e.g. the Black Country) and war (the western front), it's Mount Doom that goes beyond these into the mythical imagery of Hell. And the fact that "doom" in Anglo-Saxon means "judgement" is a pretty good clue to the Last Judgement subtext to the destruction of the Ring.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



squire
Half-elven


Aug 6 2017, 12:09pm

Post #44 of 44 (1685 views)
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Speaking of volcanoes as a stand-in for Hell [In reply to] Can't Post

I often think that aspect of The Hobbit is overlooked: Smaug lives in a simulacrum of a volcano (whether or not it is literally one, it looks, works, and smokes like one). Bilbo enters it, encounters and engages with the Fire (i.e., devil-dragon) at its center, and emerges with the greatest and most fatal treasure in the story, the Arkenstone. In terms of plot and theme, Frodo's quest becomes a rewind of The Hobbit, as he re-enters the volcano to confront the Fire and its demon, and to deposit and destroy the greatest and most fatal treasure in the story. One might also re-read the chapter where the dwarves and the hobbit approach the mountain: the Desolation of Smaug reads like a very fair preview of Mordor and its approaches, with all the underlying industrial and Great War imagery too.

Not that there is a direct connection, of course; both stories are too rich for that. But the larger connection is thematic, I think. Themes, embodied symbolically, are Tolkien's main device, I might argue. He felt the power of these images very strongly and presents them quite literally, as he did with a number of other overlaps between the first story and its sequel: spiders, goblins, wizards, eagles, Elven woodland realms, underground passages, magical hosts, embattled armies, etc.

It's ironic, in contrast to thinking about his writing in this way, that most critics and readers (led by Tolkien in some of his notes) seem to focus almost entirely on the hobbits and the Ring as the main connection between the two. In fact the Ring, the key treasure in the second story, is a mere equalizing device in the first story and has nothing to do with Bilbo's journey to the heart of darkness in Erebor.



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