Saturday, January 18, 2014

Middle Earth for Modern Earthlings

I finally got to watch The Desolation of Smaug over the holiday.  It filled me with a longing for things that I don't have and can't be.  I can't be an elf, and I can't visit Erebor because it doesn't exist, and neither Legolas or Kili can be my boyfriends because they're not real.  And all of those facts just plain suck.  I was several days into a spiraling depression fueled by Mt. Dew and whatever Mexican food I could get my hands on when I asked myself if, perhaps, the previous premises were actually correct.
Premise 1: I can't be an elf.
Genetically?  Nope, not happening.  However, I just wrote a sorta award-winning blog that pointed out that archery is one of the things that Mongolia does, and I think I could probably find someplace to teach me how to shoot.  And I'm kinda tall, for a chick, so there's that.  On the negative side, I'm kinda fat as well, but I've been doing some thinking over the holiday, and I realized that my weight is the one thing in my life at the moment that I'm not satisfied with, and yet, it is completely within my power to actually DO something about that.  I hate that I figured this out now because I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, but that is what my determination here is going to look like.  However I'm not going to let that stand in the way of turning myself into being an elf inasmuch as it is possible.  I'll have to let you know how that works out for me.

Premise 2: I can't visit Erebor, or any of those other fantastic Middle Earth Places.
Well, everyone knows that Tolkien was, in fact, inspired by actual places.  Let me think about this and get back to you.

Premise 3: Neither Orlando Bloom nor Aidan Turner are going to be my boyfriends.
Sadly, this is a resounding no.  It is an unfortunate fact that art teachers living in Mongolia don't get much play from hot actors (...or anyone, for that matter).  Since I can't do anything about that, I did a little more research about Premise 2, in hopes that I'd be able to figure out how to have some fantastic Middle Earth experiences.  To that end, I give you:
Middle Earth for Modern Earthlings
Also known as "New Zealand is for Sissies."  Because let's face it - visiting the places where the movies were made is just cheating.  I aimed for sites in Europe, because that's the geography Tolkien was most familiar with and it would just be awesome to do one big Middle Earth trek (quite possibly all geeked out in elvish attire, because realistically by the time this itinerary works its way forward in my travel queue, I'll have totally achieved my goal from premise 1), but sometimes reality just refused to go along with me.

The Realms of Men:
Those colossal statues they float past in Fellowship of the Ring: A variety of colossi exist in the world, although sadly the most famous, The Colossus of Rhodes, has not for a very long time.  If I had to pick a colossus that I think most fits the spirit of the ones in FOTR, I'd probably go for the Leshan Buddha (and not just because I've already been there).  It's not a perfect fit - there's only one, for example - but he is freaking huge, you can float past him on the river, and it's got a pretty kickass story to go along with it.
I saw the floating islands while I was in Peru (ostensibly visiting the Evil One).  While an argument could be made for Venice (or one of the cities claiming to be the Venice of some other part of the world) being the Laketown of the real world, I like casting the Uros isles of Lake Titicaca for Laketown because of the fragility of them.  Dragonfire could totally snuff them out.  Also, they actually are on a lake, rather than a part of the ocean, and the people living there are lovely.

Peter Jackson's take on the Rohan reminds me of Vikings (except, obviously, without ships).  If you are longing to walk the halls of Edoras, I'll point you to some of Denmark's Viking era sites.  Trelleborg is a generic term used to refer to Viking ring castles, but is also a specific site, the Trelleborg Museum of the Viking Age.  If that doesn't satisfy you, you can also visit Fyrkat, another reconstructed settlement along the same lines.

If the men of Gondor are more your thing, you might like to visit Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France.  As far as I've been able to find, it's just about as close as you're going to get to climbing the streets of Minas Tirith.  It isn't build on the edge of a mountain, but the fact that depending on the tides it may or may not be an island is pretty cool.

Dwarvish Dwellings:
If you want to get the feeling of underground grandeur, you'd have a hard time finding a better semblance to Erebor or Moria than the Wieliczka Salt Mine.  I'm not going to do it justice, so I'll let you click on the me on this one.
If you're looking for the dwarves' Art Deco stylings, but aren't so worried about actually being "Under the Mountain," I suggest hopping the next plane to New York.  Would dwarvish architecture really resemble what we know as Art Deco?  Not sure, but this is how Jackson interpreted it, and New York is - in my experience - the best place to get your fill of it.

Elvish Environs
Likewise, if you want to see the Art Nouveau trappings that Jackson uses to express the elves' close ties to nature, but aren't hung up on the fresh air and natural surroundings, Paris is the place to go.  I mean, hell, it's Paris; they're halfway to being elves just by virtue of being French.  I may have been spurned by a French boy last year, but their looks and their attitude (not to mention the decor) make them just about as close to being elves as I reckon you're going to find in Modern Earth.
Via Wikipedia
The unfortunate fact is that I had a hard time finding a place in the real world that actually encapsulated the dwellings of the elves.  They're just a little too fantastic.  Rivendell is the only really good one, and that's because Tolkien actually based it on a valley in Switzerland, the Lauterbrunnental.  For the Mirkwood, I thought the Bialowieza Forest, stretching over Belarus and Poland was more the mark.  It's a primeval forest, a little rough, and has a darker feel to it.  Finally, there's Lothlorien - and the thing that would make me feel like I'm in there is walkways between trees.  I initially came up with Finca Bellavista, in Costa Rica, as my Lothlorien-in-the-real-world, but just yesterday I found out about a rainforest canopy walkway in Borneo, which also looks pretty kickass.  So take your pick.

Natural Wonders
I may get some flack for my next idea, but I imagine Muir Woods, near San Francisco being a lot like Fangorn Forest.  I'm very slightly familiar with it because I LOVE Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, and that's lent a sense of mystery and magic to it.  The national parks' website calls it a "Tree Lover's Monument," and Legolas, Tolkien's number one tree lover, was so taken with Fangorn that I can easily imagine him falling in love with the Redwoods.

Gimli was likewise taken with the Glittering Caves, which he found under Helm's Deep.  Here's how he described them:
“And, Legolas, when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then Legolas, gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light flows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose, Legolas, fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from the dark pools covered with clear glass; cities, such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! a silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea.”
I suppose the closest thing I've ever heard of something like this is the Cave of the Crystals, in Naica, Mexico.  Not a perfect representation, but pretty amazing.
Also Via Wikipedia
Darker Middle Earth
As far as Middle Earth's darker places go, Dol Guldur and Mount Doom stand out the most to me.  There is no shortage of castle ruins in Europe, but I felt that Gýmeš Castle in Slovakia was the most similar to how Jackson portrayed it - not too small, not totally ruined.  Then there's Mount Doom.  Any volcano will really work, I suppose, but since I started out looking for sites in Europe, I came up with Eyjafjallajokull on Iceland, and Mt. Etna, on Sicily.  If I had my choice between the two, though, I'd probably visit Mt. Etna for my Mount Doom experience, simply because the book always mentions Mordor as being in the south, and we all know the reputation that Sicilians have.

Finally - last but not least - I would be completely remiss if I didn't talk about the Shire.  Just about anywhere in the world could be the Shire, as long as you've got good food and good friends.  But for that Bag End aesthetic, I suggest building a house like Simon Dale's.  I first saw this place in, I wanna say, 2010 or so, and it's incredible.  Someday I may finally end up settling down somewhere (stranger things have happened), and this is the kind of house I would want - cozy, low-impact, architecturally interesting, and just big enough for me.

Did I miss an important place?  Totally disagree with me?  Feel free to leave me a comment.


  1. There is magic and fantasy in every area of reality, you just have to have an imagination to see it. Great post as usual ;)

    1. Thanks, Jill! I agree - the problem is most people are too blind to see the magic in their everyday lives. I think this is one of the reasons we get along so well <3

  2. Very fun read. I think you need to visit all of those places one if you were making a journey through Middle Earth. I'll tag along as the lovable hobbit who needs second breakfasts, lunches, and dinners :)

    1. I would LOVE to have you be the hobbit to my elf! The question remains though...who are Domestic Goddess and Engrish? Men?? Dwarves??? I could see us doing a girl fellowship and writing a book that will make us all ridiculously famous - in fact, I love this idea!

  3. Awesome post .i hope everybody will like your post