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The importance of Africa

CMackintosh
Registered User

Apr 15, 9:16am

Post #1 of 11 (1854 views)
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The importance of Africa Can't Post

This keeps recurring in my mind: Africa was of seminal importance to JRRT.

Everything seems to come back to it - he mentions wanting to write a mythology for England. Why? Then I think he probably heard some of the Africans discussing such matters as realities they had to face.

He took easily to language. A lot of boys at that time took three languages as given in their schoolwork, yet he seems to have excelled in it. What are the bets that one of the things he found he had to forget to fit in in Sarehole was a very basic understanding of Zulu? And Afrikaans? I think it's something he would've picked up very easily.

He was taken to a kraal while still in Bloemfontein by one of his family's servants. I can't help thinking that is the true origin of Rohan.

These are just a few of my thoughts based in large part on the fact that he's not the only writer in English to have been raised in a social and cultural environment totally different from the one his parents came from and which he eventually reverted to - JG Ballard is one such, as indeed Mervyn Peake, and Dr Paul Myron Linebarger alias Cordwainer Smith, and also - fwiw - Stephen Donaldson.

What do people think?


squire
Half-elven


Apr 15, 12:51pm

Post #2 of 11 (1821 views)
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It's part of his story, but I'd say the English Midlands were "of seminal importance" to Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

That's where everything comes back to.

He does mention Africa occasionally in his writings -

"I was born in Africa, and have read several books on African exploration," he wrote, as a prelude to protesting that hobbits were not inspired by African pygmies. (JRRT letter 25)

"I wonder if my Father's grave is there still. I have never done anything about it, but I believe my mother had a stone-cross put up or sent out," he wrote his son who was in South Africa within visiting distance of the town where he was born. (Letter 63)

"I was disposed, at last, to envy you a little; or rather to wish I could be with you 'in the hills'. There is something in nativity, and though I have few pictorial memories, there is always a curious sense of reminiscence about any stories of Africa, which always move me deeply. Strange that you, my dearest, should have gone back there..... " he mused, again to Christopher who was in S. Africa in the wartime RAF. (Letter 71)

"My own rather sharp memory is probably due to the dislocation of all my childhood 'pictures' between 3 and 4 by leaving Africa: I was engaged in a constant attention and adjustment. Some of my actual visual memories I now recognize as beautiful blends of African and English details," he comments to Christopher who apparently noted that in Africa he was having sharp memories of his childhood in England. (Letter 73)


So, given that he never claims to have forgotten aspects of his early childhood in Africa, I think it's fair to assume that, had any of his ideas about languages, settings, or cultural practices in his legendarium had African roots from his own experience, he would have mentioned it in his many years of explaining the various sources of his creative work. But as far as I know, he doesn't (except in one letter, which I can't find, where he ascribe a love of desert regions to his childhood). Instead, he goes on and on and on about his fascination with European languages, Medieval and classical history and culture and literature, and his conviction that his spiritual ancestry was dominated by his mother's family's roots in the Midlands, formerly Mercia, rather than by his father's roots in Germany and Eastern Europe.



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InTheChair
Lorien

Apr 15, 1:29pm

Post #3 of 11 (1815 views)
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Rohan was supposedly based on the old Anglo-Saxons of Britain. [In reply to] Can't Post

Or at least their language took such inspiration.


Quote
He was taken to a kraal while still in Bloemfontein by one of his family's servants. I can't help thinking that is the true origin of Rohan.


Would not his pictorial memories of Africa rather manifest themselves in some of his descriptions of Harad and the Haradrim?


(This post was edited by InTheChair on Apr 15, 1:30pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 15, 3:29pm

Post #4 of 11 (1805 views)
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Africa and Middle-earth [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

Quote
He was taken to a kraal while still in Bloemfontein by one of his family's servants. I can't help thinking that is the true origin of Rohan.


Would not his pictorial memories of Africa rather manifest themselves in some of his descriptions of Harad and the Haradrim?


Is that really comparable? Young Tolkien lived in South Africa; the Haradrim we encounter in LotR would have occupied a region equivalent to Algeria, Niger or Mali in northern Africa. That's like saying because you spent your early years in the state of Florida you know what was like in Oklahoma. Or because you were raised in Italy, you can describe living in Finland.

We do have visual evidence that Africa influenced Tolkien's mental image of Middle-earth (specifically the 'Hither Lands' of Harad):



For a larger image, click here.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 15, 3:43pm)


InTheChair
Lorien

Apr 15, 7:26pm

Post #5 of 11 (1758 views)
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He never does describe what it is like living in Harad. So I don't know [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know if it is comparable. There are only a few descriptions of Haradrim, and of Harad in the book. The maps I assume must have been drawn at a much later stage after he had learned the Geography of the world

I am thinking mostly of visual descriptions he makes, rather than any kind of analysis of wether Near Harad represents Northern Africa, such analysis always seems futile to me.

Descriptions of the Mumakil, or the tall dark Haradrim with yellow and black shields with spikes, are things that might seem closer to the wonders one might find in even in southern Africa, than the chainmails and flowing beards of the Rohirrim.

That doesn't exclude the possiblity that influences from his youth found their way into the Rohirrim, or that the Haradrim are more influenced by north African and Roman history, such as the use of Elephants for warfare, or the Scimitars and brazen armour some of them use.

And of course knowing nothing about his time in Africa for all I know he spent the majority of his time there in neighborhoods highly influenced by European culture.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 15, 9:50pm

Post #6 of 11 (1747 views)
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Map V [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The maps I assume must have been drawn at a much later stage after he had learned the Geography of the world


From Christopher Tolkien's Preface, I believe that his father's Map V, reproduced in The Shaping of Middle-earth, was drawn sometime in the 1930s.

My impression of the Haradrim that Faramir's Rangers encounter in Ithilien is that they are from the northern regions of Harad. Other Southron warriors encountered during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields are described separately: "...and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues." I'm speculating wildly, but these fighters might have been given a drug to increase their battle-fury, accounting for their (dilated?) white eyes and (dyed?) red tongues.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


InTheChair
Lorien

Apr 15, 10:29pm

Post #7 of 11 (1738 views)
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They are the ones at least who are associated with the Oliphaunts. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
My impression of the Haradrim that Faramir's Rangers encounter in Ithilien is that they are from the northern regions of Harad. Other Southron warriors encountered during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields are described separately: "...and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues." I'm speculating wildly, but these fighters might have been given a drug to increase their battle-fury, accounting for their (dilated?) white eyes and (dyed?) red tongues.


Yes, despite being rarely mentioned the name Haradrim seems to encompass people of many different cultures. Translated to English I think it just means people from the South.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 15, 10:39pm

Post #8 of 11 (1735 views)
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Fair enough. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Yes, despite being rarely mentioned the name Haradrim seems to encompass people of many different cultures. Translated to English I think it just means people from the South.


You're right, Haradrim is a fairly general term that could apply to any folk from the lands of Harad. The same is true of the term Southrons. The two words are probably interchangeable. The dead man of Harad who Sam sees would doubtless be from a completely different tribe or nation than the black men of Far Harad described later, but both could be from different parts of Far Harad. In fact, other Southrons are mentioned in the very same paragraph as the the black-skinned fighers.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 15, 10:42pm)


squire
Half-elven


Apr 15, 11:16pm

Post #9 of 11 (1727 views)
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Harad is not just 'Africa' [In reply to] Can't Post

Given just two broad continental regions in opposition to the good guys in the northwest of Middle-earth, we see that Rhun ("the East") seems to include elements of eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia, going all the way to Mongolia or even China. Harad, called "the South", seems to have hints of everything else: Africa, of course, both north and south, but also the Arab lands, Persia, and even India.



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'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 16, 1:42am

Post #10 of 11 (1719 views)
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Geography [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm 'speaking' mainly in geographic terms, but many of the Haradrim do seem to resemble Arabic peoples in one way or another. Much of what we think of as the Far East would still be underwater in Middle-earth.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


CMackintosh
Registered User

May 19, 7:21am

Post #11 of 11 (1034 views)
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Fair enough but ... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
That's where everything comes back to.

He does mention Africa occasionally in his writings -

"I was born in Africa, and have read several books on African exploration," he wrote, as a prelude to protesting that hobbits were not inspired by African pygmies. (JRRT letter 25)

"I wonder if my Father's grave is there still. I have never done anything about it, but I believe my mother had a stone-cross put up or sent out," he wrote his son who was in South Africa within visiting distance of the town where he was born. (Letter 63)

"I was disposed, at last, to envy you a little; or rather to wish I could be with you 'in the hills'. There is something in nativity, and though I have few pictorial memories, there is always a curious sense of reminiscence about any stories of Africa, which always move me deeply. Strange that you, my dearest, should have gone back there..... " he mused, again to Christopher who was in S. Africa in the wartime RAF. (Letter 71)

"My own rather sharp memory is probably due to the dislocation of all my childhood 'pictures' between 3 and 4 by leaving Africa: I was engaged in a constant attention and adjustment. Some of my actual visual memories I now recognize as beautiful blends of African and English details," he comments to Christopher who apparently noted that in Africa he was having sharp memories of his childhood in England. (Letter 73)


So, given that he never claims to have forgotten aspects of his early childhood in Africa, I think it's fair to assume that, had any of his ideas about languages, settings, or cultural practices in his legendarium had African roots from his own experience, he would have mentioned it in his many years of explaining the various sources of his creative work. But as far as I know, he doesn't (except in one letter, which I can't find, where he ascribe a love of desert regions to his childhood). Instead, he goes on and on and on about his fascination with European languages, Medieval and classical history and culture and literature, and his conviction that his spiritual ancestry was dominated by his mother's family's roots in the Midlands, formerly Mercia, rather than by his father's roots in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Sorry I've taken so long to respond. Yes, that point about "constant attention and adjustment" makes my point rather better than I could've. He had a solid set of experiences to pay attention to, and he had a large amount of childhood expectations he had to adjust. He would've spoken with an accent, for a start - SA English has an accent that is different from UK English including of course English English. He would've had some understanding of common Afrikaans phrases and words. And probably some of the local Bantu language words, because that seems to be one of the things that English does readily - pick up words and phrases from languages it comes in contact with.

Ithilien's dryad loveliness is probably one of those beautiful blends of African and English details. Again, that curious sense of reminiscence about African stories, is probably what got him into H Rider Haggard's stories.
I'm not arguing for a fully conscious and aware use of African details; what I'm suggesting is that he had an underlay of Africa in his mind that predisposed him to seek out the roots of his European past, and in particular, the roots of his mother's family, since he felt the most attachment to her. (I find I am suggesting that he, with a tongue-in-cheek grin at the readers, most of whom would not notice this, gave us Gollum as one of his Points-of-View characters: "[..]The roots of those mountains must be roots indeed; there must be great secrets buried there which have not been discovered since the beginning." FWIW)


 
 

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