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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
So...about those bathrooms...

Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 24 2019, 8:32pm

Post #1 of 9 (1516 views)
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So...about those bathrooms... Can't Post

Hello all!

So...I've always been curious about the mundane details in Tolkien's world of Middle-earth. What was it really like? Not just the world, but specifically-what was it like to actually live there? As in, what was it like day-to-day for the various kingdoms and races of ME? The closest we get to anything pertaining to daily life is in Concerning Hobbits, and the first chapter of TH where hobbits' day-to-day/culture is described in length.

But what of the other races? Tolkien gives us some hints, but he doesn't go into great detail, preferring instead to focus on the epic, rather than the mundane. As a fan who is vastly interested in his world, it's rather...disappointing, to say the least. I mean, don't get me wrong. His epic tales of love and sacrifice are the whole reason why places like TORn exist Heart

But lately, my mind has wandered to a very mundane topic. So mundane, that most novels, movies and tales barely even mention it- if it is mentioned at all.
Yup, I'm talking about bathrooms. And not the very traditionally English style of bathroom, where one bathed and had coppers to heat water (which is what is implied/described about hobbit bathrooms at least). Nope-I'm talking about that inescapable fact of biology that every living thing (in one way or another) must deal with at some point.

In a nutshell, I'm curious about the various cultures' way of dealing with the very important, but mundane detail of relieving themselves.

I'm sure there are many who would think this a very gross subject to broach, and for that I apologize. But my curiosity has been piqued, and lent itself to wondering just how exactly such "personal matters" were taken care of in the various kingdoms, realms, and cities of MIddle-earth. Particularly, how it was handled in underground kingdoms like Menegroth, Nargothrond, Erebor, Moria, and Thranduil's Halls, and in Lothlorien (due to the flets/talans in the trees).

Thus, I have compiled some theories, which vary depending on what sort of environment one lived in.

1. Underground kingdoms (dwarves and some elves).

This one is tricky. Living underground surrounded by stone (whether it was carved geometrically or in the shape of trees) would present a very real problem of what to do about one's personal hygiene byproducts. For one, it's not like they could just dig an outhouse and let it go back to nature, so a solution would HAVE to be presented in order to keep the kingdom/realm sweet-smelling and hygienic. So my theory for underground kingdoms is:

Aqueducts. We know that Moria had wells, so presumably there was an underground source of water in there somehow (plus you had Gollum's lake). Water in such a scenario would collect at the bottom of caverns and tunnels and could reasonably gather together to form an underground river, which would then issue forth from the base of a mountain and form a stream or river again until it flows into a larger river (like the Anduin, for example). So, given dwarven ingenuity, one could suggest that they had managed to find a way to utilize that source to help flush waste products away (same with Erebor, which had the River Running coming out of it, or Thranduil's Halls, which had the Forest River running underneath it. If elves used it to transport barrels, one could presume they had rigged it to flush waste out as well).

So I imagine they had water closets of sorts, which were basically outhouses inside a little room with a seat open to the aqueduct below where one could take care of personal matters and not have to worry about handling the contents. Depending on social status, they may have had one in their home/apartment/whatever you would call it, and for the less wealthy, perhaps there were common toilets and chamber pots in use for when nature called at home and the public facilities were in use.

2. Hobbits.

This one is fairly simple. Outhouses. I suppose that the degree of comfort depended on the wealth of the particular hobbit, but it seems as good an answer as any, given the agrarian culture and living above ground. I imagine Bag End's outhouse was the epitome of comfort and refinery in the Shire Smile

3. Men

This one varies. On the one hand, you have rural and nomadic Rohan, with a few permanent cities of sorts, and on the other hand you have Bree, and finally Minas Tirith. I would suggest that Bree and Rohan likely used outhouses and chamber pots, whereas Minas Tirith may well have had an aqueduct system and quite possibly public unisex Roman style bathhouses as well. Could be similar to underground realms, with the wealthy having water closets and the less affluent using chamber pots and public toilets.

4. The Galadhrim

This one is SUPER tricky, given that the Galadhrim live in talans/flets high above the ground. I imagine the idea of climbing down hundreds of stairs when you're doing the potty dance would NOT be all that pleasant, so I came up with this theory: Pulleys and chamber pots. They have to get goods up to the talans somehow (foodstuffs and dry goods) and it would also not be pleasant to carry them by hand that high either. So perhaps they had a small "elevator" of sorts for goods to come up, and for chamber pots to come down. Maybe the chamber pots had a lid and a handle, so they could lower it via hithlain to an attendant on the ground so it could be disposed of. I imagine they may have combined such a system with more traditional outhouses on the ground so you didn't have to climb up while doing the potty dance either.

5. Rivendell

Another aqueduct candidate, given the amount of waterfalls and rivers in the valley. One could also presume that they may have utilized outhouses as well, and possibly bath houses too, or even private baths in some of the more affluent rooms (this varies if you accept it as being one house, as in the book, or a very large house with multiple living quarters. Given how many and how affluent elves dwelt there, including Glorfindel, I can see a large house setup but with multiple living quarters for the various families that lived there).

6. Orcs

Well, let's presume that orcs didn't really have very much interest in hygiene, but they would have to take care of personal business too. I can imagine it varied from a mutually agreed-upon rock to a tunnel that no one really used, depending on the locale. The army encampments may have been a little more organized, just to keep it from interfering too badly with troop movements. But I don't see much concern over disposal as much with them.


So there are my theories regarding how the various denizens of ME took care of that inescapable aspect of biology. What are yours? Do you agree or disagree with my theories, and if so why?

And...if you think the topic gross and not worthy of mention, feel free to ignore this post and threads altogether Wink But I thought it would be an interesting discussion to be had, considering that presumably all of the humanoid species in ME have to deal with such matters, and without access to modern plumbing and sewage disposal methods, one must wonder how the various Middle-earth societies dealt with such mundane yet very necessary matters.


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Happy reading everyone!


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


Nov 25 2019, 12:09am

Post #2 of 9 (1479 views)
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I know that Lothlorien plumbing has been discussed before, in the depths of time, [In reply to] Can't Post

but I'm beggared if I can find the discussion.

I did, however, find this link to a couple of example of medieval plumbing, thanks to N.E. Brigand in 2008: http://quodshe.blogspot.com/...ent-in-pictures.html.

I assume Gondor used a roadside-gutter system. After all, it's a complicated city with many levels so the easiest disposal could well be to chuck it out the window...

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


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Kimi
Forum Admin / Moderator


Nov 25 2019, 12:52am

Post #3 of 9 (1472 views)
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This one? [In reply to] Can't Post

No restrooms in Middle-earth?

Don't ask me how I found it :)


The Passing of Mistress Rose
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Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?

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Mari D.
Rivendell


Nov 25 2019, 1:29am

Post #4 of 9 (1470 views)
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Should at least be thought through by authors ... [In reply to] Can't Post

... lest we write plots in which there's simply no way the heroes could have gone to the bathroom realistically. ;)
Thanks for the many thoughts carefully put into words. I wonder if, if we thought more technically about the process, like: disposal of unneeded resources - it would be less awkward to talk about ;)

Anyway ... I agree with your thoughts.

One more concept came to mind. It would also be possible to dig a hole in the ground, and afterwards fill it up with earth again. I guess that'd be possible for some of the groups mentioned e.g. in forest areas. And then there's the option of entrusting at least the less solid to the friendly plants around, provided the greenery grants sufficient visual cover.


(This post was edited by Mari D. on Nov 25 2019, 1:34am)


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


Nov 25 2019, 6:46am

Post #5 of 9 (1436 views)
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You could challenge N E Brigand for post-finding. :) [In reply to] Can't Post

I suspect we've covered this topic more than once over the years but it was enjoyable to read that thread again.

One habitation that stumps me is Lake-town. I know the film has toilets emptying straight into the lake, but it doesn't make sense that fisherman would foul the lake they fish in.

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauronís master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


My original fantasy writing

My LOTR fan-fiction


Lissuin
Valinor


Nov 25 2019, 10:04am

Post #6 of 9 (1419 views)
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I believe I have your answer about Lake-town. [In reply to] Can't Post

Pfahlbau Museum, the Lake Dwelling Museum on Lake Constance, Switzerland, is a re-creation of the type of pole-supported villages built over lakes and bogs in Switzerland and many other locations in Europe in the Stone and Bronze ages. https://www.pfahlbauten.de/

The description below of "why poles?" could apply to Lake-town. One advantage mentioned is "waste disposal." When combined with the changes in water level due to rain and spring melt water from surrounding hills and mountains, the flow of the two rivers through Long Lake would have continuously moved waste on down the River Running. The Lake-town fishermen could have simply done their work in the waters above the town. Plumbing solved!

Of course, Darrylgorn, aka Stephen Colbert Lake-town spy, would have certainly blown his cover by fishing right outside Bard's door. Eeeewah. No wonder the kids knew the house was being watched. Duh, Darrylgorn! Wink

https://www.pfahlbauten.com/...g-museum.html#frage4

Quote
Why did they build on poles or piles?
† At the lakes of the Prealps, water level deviations depend of the yearly water inflow. The average deviation of the Lake Constance water level can measure about two to three meters yearly. The effect of inflowing melt-water starting in March is especially strong during the Spring. Melt-water can cause the lake water level to rise for about three meters in only three months. Considering the distribution pattern of dwellings during the Stone and Bronze Age, it can be assumed that the water level of Lake Constance also depended on the amount of melt-water flowing into the lake during the spring. The shoreline and the ground changed continuously under the natural conditions in an interaction between sedimentation and erosion. For people living at the shore, it was therefore advisable to always build on poles or to take other precautionary measures that ensured a dry and secure dwelling site.

When considering other advantages of a shore dwelling such as house construction, simple waste disposal, communication, transportation, trade, and fishing, then this kind of dwelling is easily understandable also for people of our modern age. The factor of protection against the enemy, as described in past historical writings, could not have been the only reason for the need to live in pile or pole dwellings. That pile or pole dwellings, at least those along the lakeshores, did exist. This has meanwhile been proven by a great number of excavations. It has also been ascertained, that these dwellings were conveniently constructed in ideal positions along remote European trade routes.



(This post was edited by Lissuin on Nov 25 2019, 10:17am)


Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 25 2019, 5:54pm

Post #7 of 9 (1384 views)
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Eww... [In reply to] Can't Post

but understandable. I would think that Gimli might have had some suggestions for Aragorn after his coronation on how to improve things in that regard, since he and a detachment of dwarves helped repair the city.

I sure hope so, anyway Wink

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 25 2019, 5:56pm

Post #8 of 9 (1384 views)
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true [In reply to] Can't Post

The forests did seem to be more temperate though (deciduous except in high elevations), which means that during winter the foliage would have been bare of leaves- and cover.

That is a good thought though. Perhaps that is what elves did with the contents of chamber pots, at least in Lorien or Rivendell. Good thinking! Smile

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


Cirashala
Tol Eressea


Nov 25 2019, 6:23pm

Post #9 of 9 (1378 views)
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exactly! [In reply to] Can't Post

Unless one is talking a stagnant pond, lakes always have a current in them. It's more subtle than a river, but it is definitely there, due to the influx of current from rivers and tributaries feeding and subsequently exiting the lakes. That's why boats will drift across a lake without intervention, and schools of fish may be prolific in one area (calmer spawning areas) and not as prolific in others, depending on the season.

That current, plus the depth of the lake, could wash waste away fairly well. However, I personally would NOT gather water for drinking or cooking from the lake if the privies were anywhere NEAR the water drawing source-not unless I boiled it first before using it. I imagine the folks in Laketown definitely used vinegar or low-alcohol content beers or wine to kill off any sickness that may have been present in their water source due to the waste disposal methods they must have had in such a settlement. It would be fairly easy for cholera and other such diseases to proliferate if they were not careful to position the city in a high current area, and draw water from areas up-current (like upriver, not sure how to describe it in reference to lake currents) from the toilets, and take precautions (boiling, vinegar, alcohol) to make sure any residual bacteria in the water was neutralized. They obviously wouldn't have been knowledgeable about bacteria and such, but would have been aware that the water carried sickness of some sort.

I imagine that they must have preferred drinking things other than water, much like many earlier societies did when the water source available to them carried sickness.

But yes, it would not have been a cesspool beneath them due to lake currents.

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!

 
 

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