The banner is a low-tech simulation of my place through time: the first photograph is intended to invoke the tundra of the PaleoIndian period, 12,500-10,000 BCE; the second, the swamps and woodlands of c. 1630, of the contact period between the Massachusett and the first European settlers. The third photograph is of my front yard when I moved in (the yard was used as a doggie playground), c. 2007; the fourth, a photograph of my garden, c. 2010.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

guest blogger, Jackie Peszynski, on Tolkien's Rivendell

Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment.” –Cheryll Glotfelty

            Straight from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings comes a completely invented world called Middle Earth, meticulously detailed and mapped out by its creator. Within Middle Earth in the North is a place called Rivendell, an elven city that is visited by the members of the Fellowship of the Ring on Frodo Baggins’ quest.  The elves also play a significant role in Rivendell’s natural setting and connection to the Earth. This home of the elves lies on the foothills of the Misty Mountains to the east with Hobbiton to the west, as shown in the map below, Figure 1.

Figure 1: Red Book’s Map of Rivendell

Though invented, Tolkien supposedly based Rivendell on the Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, which he visited in 1911 (Rivendell in Switzerland). In these two images below (Figure 2 and Figure 3), one of the Lauterbrunnen and one that Tolkein drew of Rivendell, there are definite similarities in the terrain and layout of the area.

Figure 2: Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

    Figure 3: Tolkien’s drawing of Rivendell

The most important aspect of Rivendell’s location is that the mountains surround and protect it from enemies. Upon further inspection of the ecology, the Misty Mountains border Rivendell and a river runs through it. It is called Loudwater (see Figure 1) in English and Bruinen in Elvish, noticeably similar to the name Lauterbrunnen, the location that inspired him (Rivendell in Switzerland). The buildings themselves are built into the ledges and side of the mountain, hidden in a valley between tall mountain cliffs.
Throughout the story, Frodo and the Fellowship use Rivendell as a place of refuge because the city is protected by a kind of elven magic that makes it almost impossible to find. The book speaks of a “power in Rivendell to withstand the might of Mordor, for a while.” (Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked) However, Frodo eventually decides that they cannot stay there and risk enemies finding the elven retreat.  Gandalf says: “To go back is to admit defeat and face worse defeat to come  . . . sooner or later Rivendell will be besieged, and after a brief and bitter time it will be destroyed” (Chapter 5).
Tolkien describes the departure from Rivendell as the Fellowship begins their journey:
Their purpose was to hold this course west of the Mountains for many miles and days. The country was much rougher and more barren than in the green vale of the Great River in Wilderland on the other side of the range, and their going would be slow... The spies of Sauron had hitherto seldom been seen in this empty country, and the paths were little known except to the people of Rivendell . . . Yet steadily the mountains were drawing nearer. South of Rivendell they rose ever higher, and bent westwards; and about the feet of the main range there was tumbled an ever wider land of bleak hills, and deep valleys filled with turbulent waters. Paths were few and winding, and led them often only to the edge of some sheer fall, or down into treacherous swamps. (Chapter 5)

Elves: Connected to Nature

All ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it.” –Cheryll Glotfelty

In The Lord of the Rings, not only do the elves live in the contours of the land and in the forests, they have a unique relationship with the nature surrounding them. They were even credited with teaching the Ents—huge old trees that move—to talk. (“Elves”)
During one passage of The Fellowship of the Ring when Arwen is trying to save Frodo from nine riders on horseback (the Ringwraiths, servants of Sauron), she speaks to a river and prevents the wraiths from crossing. The river roars by and washes over the enemy, leaving her and Frodo safe and allowing them to escape to Rivendell.
Elves have a magical presence in the eyes of men who don’t understand their relationship to nature quite as well. This connection stems from the fact that elves are immortal beings who must live in peace with nature.  Instead of living in conflict with nature, they live in harmony with it and grow upon its own beauty (“Elves”). This idea is directly shared with ecological thinking: all creatures are connected to the earth in occasionally inexplicable ways; Tolkien suggests that this connection should be embraced.
Allison B. Wallace says that ecoliterature is “writing that examines and invites intimate human experience of place’s myriad ingredients: weather, climate, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, rocks, minerals, fire and ice, as well as all the marks there of human history.” Tolkien’s work is certainly ecoliterature because of his imaginative and vivid descriptions of Middle Earth.

Works Cited

"Elves." Lord of the Rings Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <>.
Glotfelty, Cheryll. "What Is Ecocriticism?" What Is Ecocriticism? N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <>.
"Rivendell in Swizterland." Rivendell in Switzerland. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967. Print.

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