Saturday, 23 May 2020

More Thoughts on Blue Wizards

I have no idea what Tolkien had in mind for the geography of Rhun and the peoples within it. But it seems to me that, while one shouldn't think of Middle Earth as being too closely paralleled with the real world, there is a case to be made that its character is roughly akin to the Eurasian steppe this side of the Urals - more specifically the Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea (with the Sea of Rhun here being a bit like the Black Sea).




There are a few reasons why I think there are good reasons for drawing some parallels between Middle Earth and the real world, here, again with the proviso in mind that we're not just making one an allegory for the other:


  1. We are told in The Silmarillion that beyond the Sea of Rhun is the Sea of Helcar, another big inland sea. Helcar would seem to be rather like the Caspian to Rhun's Black Sea. We're also told that beyond that there is a range of mountains called the Red Mountains, which seem to me like they ought to be the Caucasus/Urals. 
  2. Rhun is inhabited by Easterlings, who are apparently nomadic or at least semi-nomadic. This implies both a steppe landscape and also cultures something like the Cossacks, Alans, Huns, Magyars, Bulgars, Scythians and other tribes who circulated on the Pontic Steppe at various stages of its history.
  3. The Numenoreans apparently also had colonies around the Sea of Rhun, which suggests to me something along the lines of the Greek colonies on the Crimea, which culminated in the 'Greco-Scythian' Bosporan Kingdom. You can imagine Numenoreans still living in these colonies in the Third Age, perhaps with 'Numenoreanised' Easterling populations as well.
  4. Humans purportedly came from this area originally and this seems to chime, in my mind, with the Pontic Steppe being the original home of proto-Indo-European speakers in the real world.
  5. Well, it looks flat, doesn't it?

A setting suggests itself in which there is a huge steppe populated by many wandering nomadic (or semi-nomadic, based in sichs) tribes with highly distinctive cultures and languages - perhaps hunting vast herds of the Kine of Araw. But there are also towns proper, home to fallen or debased Numenoreans and their 'Numenoreanised' populations. And there are perhaps, too, the ruins, tombs and monuments of a much more extensive Numenorean realm, now mostly forgotten.

But there are other ingredients too. The agents of Saruman and Sauron are abroad (such a Tolkienesque word), searching for clues about the Blue Wizards and spreading mischief. There are dwarfs living in the hills around the Sea itself - indeed, it is implied that a majority of the dwarves of Middle Earth are actually living in Rhun. Elves too - mysterious and forbidding Avari deep in those forests on the north-east shore of the Sea. And the odd dragon, natch. 

What of the Blue Wizards themselves? If we can think of Rhun as the Pontic Steppe, we can think of the Wizards as being beyond it - in Khwarazmia, maybe, or Transoxania - but perhaps that would be to give the game away. In any event, we can be sure that they left "secret cults and 'magic' traditions" behind them as they passed through the steppes of Rhun.

19 comments:

  1. I've never had games that went this direction, but I always wondered what I'd do if players wanted to explore that region...

    Like you said, not to create allegories to the real world ("Cordially dislike allegory," and all that), I felt that the vibe of Rhun was that of the Eastern Roman Empire. The British during the American Colonial Period claimed that Rome had "civilized" them. Imagining Numenor as the (heavy quotes) "civilizing" agent in Middle-earth, acting as the unifying Roman role, draws some parallels for me. Eventually, West and East had a schism, each going their own way. To the East, Constantinople has become Istanbul. By the time they come to Gondor in war, the two sides look to each other like fun-house mirror versions of each other.

    Another thing to consider is the Variags of Khan--Variags was also a term for the Varangian peoples, who definitely had a special position in the Byzantine Empire.

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    1. Yeah, the Variags are an interesting one. MERP almost makes them into American Indians. Weren't the real world Varangians Scandinavian mercenaries?

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  2. Man, this is fantastic. I really love this.

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  3. All of your surmises about Rhun make sense to me. I had never heard of the Sea of Helcar, but you must be right that he has the Black Sea and the Caspian in mind.

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    1. Who knows? I wouldn't want to claim any special insight - it just makes sense in my own mind.

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  4. == Helcar

    The Sea of Helcar ('ice cold') is well worth using. As it is in the east but is named for freezing waters, I can imagine it as a vast narrow dagger lying north-south, 2000 miles long from tundra to below the latitude of Mordor. At it widest 200 miles west to east, it strongly resembles the Red Sea and provides a formidable barrier between the cultures of the NW and NE of Middle-earth. Rhun reaches to Helcar's western shore and the more aristocratic of the Easterling tribes trade their ponies for chariots (Wainriders) with peoples beyond the sea. The islands of south Helcar are home to outlaws, pirates and raiders ejected from the far-east and in the northern freezing reaches of the sea a cult of mystics subsist and to which a remote Easterling folk is bonded.

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    1. I like that, although to me that also kind of fits the Caspian.

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  5. It does look flat, but I always thought that was because the map was unfinished at that point, rather than being an accurate representation of the landscape.

    I also thought that Middle-Earth was England, despite the obvious difference in distances, putting Mordor somewhere around London, and so Rhun would probably be around East Anglia.

    Clearly, I never understood the Middle-Earth map.

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    1. So Rhun is the fens, then! Kind of works.

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    2. Hobbiton is Oxford. Minas Tirith is somewhere round Ravenna, and 'Ithilien' is pretty obviously 'Italian'

      Rhun is geographically somewhere around Hungary, but mythically the Pontic Steppe, why not?

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    4. I think Hobbiton is the West Midlands. Warwickshire/Worcestorshire sort of thing. That's where Tolkien felt most at home I gather.

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    5. Tolkien in his letters equated it to Oxford. But the general setting is a mish-mash of Worcestershire (where he grew up), Warwickshire (where his wife lived before they married) and Oxfordshire (where he worked).

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  6. I don't have a deep enough encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien to craft it but I'd love to see stories or an RPG world book that delves into all this (without over-defining it and completely ruining it's mystique). It also seems like a good opportunity to add new fantasy ideas to Tolkien's world that are still inspired by real world mythology, but less Western Euro-centric.

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    1. Unfortunately Tolkien's estate are somewhat litigious!

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  7. And there is Dorwinion on the north-western shores of the Sea of Rhûn!

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    1. Farbeit for me to contradict an actual Maiar.

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  8. Something to keep in mind. If you can find the Atlas of Middle Earth there is additional information and maps in there about this area. It is a great resource. Also, by the time of the Hobbit, the Iron Hills is probably the largest community of dwarves in the entire Middle Earth and if my memory serves is older than the Lonely Mountain. So the Iron Hills should be a rather large and well organized group of dwarves.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with because "what happened to the other wizards" is always one of my favorite lines of thought when it comes to Tolkien's works.

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