QUICKBEAM'S OUT ON A LIMB:
Send in the Penguins
I often find very interesting points of discussion in our Q&A section; offered for public consumption by me and my fellow Green Bookers, Ostadan and Anwyn. At one point Ostadan addresses one reader who thinks Elvish children do not exist because Tolkien "never mentions them," and thus Elves don't have kids. Ostadan adroitly replies to the querent saying many things and people must exist in Middle-earth, we know they are there, even if Professor Tolkien never mentions word one! Could we suppose automatically that there are no "Gondorian innkeepers" or even Elvish children, just because the author has not laid out the exactitude of their reality? Well, they are there, yet you are left to imagine the details and fill in the blanks for yourself.
And here is where my mind is suddenly opened to new possibilities. There are indeed many, many things extant in Arda; even if Tolkien skips over them
I can't help wondering
Here my fancy takes flight; and it is now my turn to ask some questions. Heh-heh-heh! I want to know about these things that are bouncing around Middle-earth, yet never get the spotlight within the main stories. Let's start with the penguins.
Where are the they? Aren't there penguins living up in the Ice Bay of Forochel and the frozen north? There's a whole bunch of stuff about the Lossoth, the Snowmen who helped Arvedui when he was in trouble. If Tolkien goes to the trouble of creating the equivalent of Inuit tribes living in the coldest regions of the planet, then there must be penguins somewhere. Hey, after all, he was fond of Polar Bears (remember the Father Christmas Letters?). I love penguins -- it wouldn't hurt to have a little mention of one, would it? Remember that fox that was puzzled when he saw three hobbits sleeping in a fir-wood out in the country
that should have been a penguin. He would have been puzzled too.
Yes, of course I realize that penguins only exist in the southern polar
regions (you could call them Antarctic regions, but it's likely Tolkien
would have invented a very different Elvish word for the location). So
maybe we could just ask for puffins. Doesn't every one love puffins?
Our new Special Guest science contributor, Olog-hai, gave me some
fascinating options to solve the possibility that penguins could exist
in the far North. He states: "I would imagine that penguins would have
been collected by Numenorean explorers, who we know were interested in
what we'd call 'science' and we know explored everywhere on Earth except
for the Far West, even to the Gates of Morn. So I guess they might have
picked up a few penguins. Perhaps they brought some to Numenor. I'd
imagine that there'd be a zoo, or at least one private menagerie showing
off strange creatures from other parts of the world. Maybe a
consignment of penguins got marooned in the North after a shipwreck."
Ah, yes, there are funny ways for flora and fauna to move about the
planet, even though not of their own volition. But alas, the author did
not deem to pursue such specificity. Tolkien, as the creator of his own
world, had to determine place, time, reasons, and back-history for every
little thing. Even the tiniest little things.
There are microorganisms in Middle-earth. Yes, nasty little bacteria and germs that are never considered in scientific terms, not as we modern folks consider them. I remember Bilbo caught a bad cold, and in T.A. 1636 there was the Great Plague. It nearly wiped out every living person and even killed the White Tree! If we accept the presence of microorganisms, then there's got to be fungus too. That means foot fungus for the poor hobbits with all that fur on their bare feet. What would hobbits use if they got athlete's foot? How could they cure it? Now that's a conundrum. The poor dears. Imagine some crazy Ioreth-type healing woman in the Shire, walking around from one village to the next, selling her "medicinal" salves and potions. Considered by some a saving grace and by others a transient crack-pot, she sells little vials of her remedies and instructs the suffering foot fungus victim that he'll have to shave his furry feet for 3 weeks to get rid of the infection. Oh, the humanity!
On that note, let us consider door-to-door salesmen. Betcha there was lots of shifty types who sold junk and "commodities" all across Gondor. There's a large marketplace out there; one would just have to go find it. In the lovely village of Calembel, near the River Ciril, there's a knock on the door. "Hello, who is it?" The lady of the house opens the door, and standing on her stoop is a craggy-looking man with colorful scarves wrapped around his head. "Good morning, kind lady," the salesman begins. "Can I interest you in this powerful citrus-essence cleaner? It does the job of 30 men!" She slams the door and goes back to plucking goose feathers.
What if he was selling toothbrushes? That's a useful item I would consider. Let us stretch our notion of dental hygiene here. The Free Peoples could not neglect their pearly whites. Scholars think that in ancient times the first toothbrushes were likely invented by the Chinese and then during the seventeenth century brought over to Europe. So if pre-Industrialized Europe can have toothbrushes, so can Arda. After all those centuries hiding under the mountains, Gollum had only six teeth left. He obviously forgot his brush.
Well, one thing they did NOT have was plumbers, that's for sure, or any indoor plumbing. That guy knocking on doors would not sell any plungers, to be sure. It is a peculiar fact of "medieval" life always overlooked by today's Renaissance Faires; you know the kind, trying to "recreate" the historical milieu of Medieval England. When you go to a Ren Faire there's always a Port-o-Potty off to the side -- which rather shatters the illusion, eh? Tolkien never tells us of literal outhouses, but they must be around somewhere. There's a funny bit in The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring book where John Howe admits that his drawings of Bag End did not include a toilet. He states: "Of course, in the end I didn't put the bathroom in! There was a problem with plumbing, because you really wonder what degree of sophistication Hobbits really have. Perhaps they just go round the back of the big tree!" Then again, there are real bath-rooms in hobbit dwellings. We all remember the hobbits' enjoyable bath in Crickhollow. There were three huge tubs but no toilets? I rack my brain sometimes.
Since we're on the subject of going potty -- Queen Berúthiel had ten magical cats, yes? So where was the litter box? It must have been a mighty big litter box, and certainly no fun to clean. Now think of the person who's job it was to clean up that mess. "Hello, my name is Rufus and I am the Keeper of the Citadel Kitty Box. It is my duty to keep Her Majesty's little friends happy and content. I have seven silver "scoopers" engraved with the White Tree, and also one of bright gold for those special days."
I just thought of something delightfully anachronistic. Chess! Gandalf uses a chess pawn as a metaphor, and later on Pippin thinks of a chessboard. Even though Tolkien makes good use of this classic metaphor, at no point do you see characters sit down to play a game. Are there real chess games in the Shire? Do the Men of Gondor play at their local inn (while they are served by that innkeeper Ostadan asserts is really there)? Perhaps they have Chess Clubs where the acutely smart and nerdy types show their stuff. Maybe it's a different "version" of the game, because the playing pieces would not likely exist as they do in our world. There could be no Bishop, per se, since there was no Christianity to influence the game's design. Now this is a head-scratcher. But somewhere out there, perhaps brought to Middle-earth from the far lands of Rhûn, there is a board game called CHESS. I want to play.
And what would I do if I lived in Middle-earth? Figuring out my vocation would be a challenge. I lack any precise skill with hunting, horses, weapons, farming, or basic Ranger-ing, so I'd have to figure out something. I'm a playwright -- an actor -- a bon vivant. The minstrels of Gondor walk around with harps, singing great songs of war and glory. Surely the performing arts in this mythical world are not limited to just Glenn Yarbrough! This is the supreme question for me: are there any theatres? Actors? Playwrights? Would I have a job if I moved to Minas Tirith?
At last the answer comes from Gandalf:
'Saruman, Saruman!' said Gandalf still laughing. 'Saruman you missed your path in life. You should have been the king's jester and earned your bread, and stripes too, by mimicking his counselors. Ah me!'
Now you're talking. Surely I could do that. How I would truly enjoy being the Court Jester for King Elessar! I could fill my days entertaining the royal family of Gondor, belittling the King's most annoying guests, and making a great ruckus during the holidays. Laughter and good cheer would abound; and I would be in my element. But, alas, that would require one fundamental thing
I would have to be funny.
Oh well. It was a nice thought.
Much too hasty,
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