High Towers and Strong Places

Friday, August 19th, 2016

In High Towers and Strong Places, Timothy R. Furnish presents a political history of Middle Earth:

Departing from the tradition of analyzing Tolkien’s works as literature, poetry, linguistics, mythology, culture and even roots in Christian theology, Furnish applies the disciplinary lens of political science and opens up into view the geopolitics of Middle-Earth; Sauron as tyrannical theocrat, Gondor as hegemon and Gandalf as the grand strategist of the West. Furnish, a former Arabic linguist and Army chaplain with a PhD in Islamic history, emphasizes that J.R.R. Tolkien, as a scholar and “subcreator” was deeply concerned with history and historical realism as a substantive basis for his fictional world that he took to “amazing lengths” of detail. This makes Middle-Earth a prime candidate, Furnish argues, to be analyzed in “real-world fashion”.


  1. Graham says:

    I always credited the idea that Gondor is Byzantium and Minas Tirith Constantinople, with nearby abandoned Osgiliath a geographically displaced analogue for Rome. Arnor is the western empire.

    Not sure what that would make the elves. On whom I would be curious if Furnish addresses the First Age. I always wondered what would be good estimates for the population of the elven realms of Beleriand and the armies the elves could field in the First Age, or the Second for that matter.

    I wouldn’t want the battle of unnumbered tears to turn out to have been a petty skirmish between armies in the mere few thousand.

  2. Graham says:

    Ok, I had to go ahead and order this on the strength of the very political sciency publisher description on Amazon. With lines like this:

    “Particular attention is paid to little-studied issues: Numenor’s Second Age imperialism; the longue duree planning of immortal beings such as Sauron and Galadriel; and Gondor’s role as Third Age hegemon”

    How can one not order?

    One quibble. I am not sure Sauron’s rule can be described as theocracy in the sense we usually use the term, though it is strictly accurate. How many earthly theocracies actually have a god in active charge? Even Sargon couldn’t make magic rings — that we know of.

  3. Magus Janus says:

    The Battle of Vienna included the largest cavalry charge in history and was the obvious inspiration for the Charge of the Rohirrim.

    Thematically Tolkien borrowed several concepts from Western History, but not clear 1:1 allegory, so Osigiliath for instance (between two rivers) is modeled after Constantinople, but so is Minas Morgul (formerly Minas Ithil) which was a city of the good guys but fell to Darkness and became a huge center of the bad guys.

    There’s also of course a clear Catholic undergirding to the entire enterprise. I recommend Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life, by a former white racialist who converted to Catholicism but is still firmly on the Right as it were. Great read.

  4. Jay Dugger says:

    OT, but has the RSS feed for entries stopped working as of 06 Aug 16?

  5. L. C. Rees says:

    That Tolkien put his stand-ins for Angles, Saxons, and Jutes on horseback and had them line up in one massive cavalry charge makes it obvious that the Orcs were Normans and Pelennor Fields is Hastings with a happy ending. Shield walls are for losers.

  6. Thanks for reviewing my book! I’m currently writing the sequel, “Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors: A Military History of Middle-earth.”

  7. And yes, Graham, I cover First through early Fourth Ages!

  8. R. Craigen says:

    Hi Graham. Osgiliath is completely overrun prior to the final assault on Minas Tirith. I would say that Edoras makes a better parallel to Rome, and the ride to battle on the Pelennor Fields a rough analogue to the first Crusade … But in both cases more allusory than genuine allegory.

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