Technology in Lord of the Rings and its Lore – Airships? – Is Technology not developing in LotR?

Technology in Lord of the Rings and its Lore – Airships? – Is Technology not developing in LotR?


The timespans in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
universe are often very long. The first event that sets the stories of the
Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings in motion took place about 3000 years prior to them. It was at the end of the siege of Barad-dûr
by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, when Isildur cut off Sauron’s finger with the One
Ring on it. Often people ask: that was 3000 years prior
to Lord of the Rings? What were the peoples of Middle-earth doing
all the time? Isn’t there any technological development? I think the user “Keyboard Dancers” was
the first, who asked me to share my thoughts on technology in Tolkien’s universe quite
some time ago. And this will be our topic for today’s video. Before we start a few hints as usual. As you probably noticed I try to pronounce
names as Tolkien described it (so prepare for some trilled Rs) and this video could
be more interpretation heavy than usual. What is technology? Wikipedia calls it: “the sum of techniques,
skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the
accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation.” (which seems like a really good definition). It is in my opinion also an expression of
the development of practical tools, science and structures of a society. If we look at Tolkien’s universe at the time
of Lord of the Rings, we already see vast differences in development – in the same era. Some places seem ancient, others medieval
or even further developed. However we also have supernatural elements,
which must be considered too, because they are also part of the world. Even though “magical” elements are often
very grounded in Tolkien’s universe (we discussed this in my video about magic or the one about
necromancy), it still must be considered, that we actually don’t know too much about
it, but if we look at the definition above, we see that technology is also about the knowledge
or skill to accomplish an objective and as we learnt: Tolkien’s magic is very knowledge
based. So when I can create an almost unbreakable
magical material in Middle-earth to fulfil a task, this would probably count as technology. Orthanc the tower in Isengard (or Isengard)
or Barad-dûr, Sauron’s fortress, would be examples for that. In this sense there is a lot of technology
in Tolkien’s world, but it’s not always obvious and also not available to all people. Interestingly one of the most advanced places,
that is also the closest to our own time, seems to be the anachronistic Shire. This can be potentially explained with the
communication situation of the books (and it being a stylistic device), but it can’t
be denied, that the rural Hobbits seem far more advanced than the people of most other
areas. The books are written from the perspective,
that Tolkien found Bilbo’s and Frodo’s Red Book and translated it into Modern English,
so parts of their technological advantage potentially comes down to translation and
the decision to bring the Shire closer to our own time. Examples of their technology are e.g. clocks
and in a drawing of Tolkien even a barometer. They have a mail service, umbrellas, invented
golf and in the first chapter of LotR we find a comparison with an express train (which
in my opinion is just used as a “metaphor”). Still their clothes and technology remind
of the Victorian era of England. Ofc as mentioned in my opinion this is more
a stylistic device used by Tolkien to move the Shire closer to home for the reader. If we compare that to Dunland or Rohan, we
will see huge differences, which brings us to the locality of technology. Ofc as citizens of the most advanced countries
in the world, our perception could be, that everyone is as advanced as we are. But there are places in the world, where people
are technologically a few hundred years behind us. It’s even hard to imagine, that just about
when Tolkien was born, 127 years ago, about 80% to 90% of the world population could not
read or write. The numbers got much better over time, but
even today about 500 to 700 million people are still illiterate. So we can definitely see, that technology
and knowledge is not uniformly distributed even in out time. This is in my opinion reflected in the world
of Tolkien too. However if we look at the highest developed
societies in Middle-earth: why are some areas lacking behind after all those thousands of
years? Again a look at our own history might give
us an answer. The seemingly biggest technological developments
came probably in the 19th and 20th century. Knowledge and technology just boomed in that
time and to this day. But people often forget, that it took us thousands
of years to get to this point. If we come back to the ability to read. One of the, if not the oldest known written
stories is the Epic of Gilgamesh, written down about 4500 to 4700 years ago. You could ask the same question: what did
they do all this time, that even today not everyone knows how to read and write or has
access to written knowledge? I think this example alone explains that our
modern technology came a long way. But we also learn that our “tech tree”
(to use this video game term here) is quite complicated. To move as fast through it as we did in the
past 100 years, we needed to e.g. learn how to make enough foot with less people. When 99% of a society are busy surviving all
day and producing enough food for them and their family to survive, there is not much
thought left for science and technology (outside a small elite). Only when this changed and innovation led
to reducing this even further through e.g. better tools and later engines (that were
also commonly used), things accelerated rapidly. In addition developing scientific methodologies
to understand what just happened by accident and the technology to print books and make
written knowledge available for more people, had a huge part in where we are today too. Beyond that peace and stable societies (with
“good” competition), that allow people to freely think, communicate, express their
ideas and invest into innovation to get an advantage over the competition, are also very
important for technological development. If you are living in a war zone, you are again
busy with surviving. Interestingly war and war potential led to
great innovations in America and Europe too, but still the biggest modern technological
and scientific achievements required periods of peace. War or the fear of war was just a reason for
investment into certain war related fields and sometimes out of these came other innovations
by accident. But usually wars are devastating, esp. when
they happen in your own country. Today investments are often economically driven
and sometimes even just by our curiosity (which results in innovation in much wider fields),
but all is built on a fundament of technology and science, that was achieved relatively
slowly over thousands of years. If we look back at Middle-earth in this context:
how stable were their times? The First Age was basically a succession of
devastating wars, ultimately leading to the complete destruction of the west coast section
of Middle-earth called Beleriand. The Second Age stared much more quiet, but
also required re-establishing foundations for societies. A lot of Edain (several groups of Men, who
once settled in the West of Middle-earth) settled on Númenor – an isolated island becoming
the Westmen, known as the Dúnedain (Aragorn is a late descendant from this group of Men). These Westmen are also a very interesting
case. Those of the Edain, who refused to go to Númenor
or were not part of this group (sometimes referred to as Middle-men, but that’s a very
complicated term, which I will avoid), also had to move and find a new home. The Dúnedain on their island should advance
a lot in the Second Age, but they still needed 600 years to e.g. develop the ability to build
ships, that could sail back to Middle-earth. In this context the Elves sometimes came to
their island and helped and taught them. In fact the Elves originally even sailed them
to Númenor and also left some ships behind, so it’s no wonder, that they advanced very
fast, compared to the other groups of Men living in Middle-earth. It’s quite interesting: the Elves still had
people (e.g. Círdan) that knew how to built ships, even after the destruction of Beleriand,
due to their immortality. The mortal Men would have be thrown back for
decades or even centuries in science and technology after they lost the land they lived in and
so many people. In my opinion this Elvish help “kickstarted”
the Dúnedain (in addition they also had longer lifespans, up to 400 years), which was a huge
advantage. They could simply skip centuries worth of
technological and social development, while living in peace on their island. The Westmen also knew, that they were lacking
behind compared to their elvish friends, so they had a goal to work for (a friendly competition). They knew what was possible. And after about 1600 years and with the help
of the Elves (who also brought things like the Palantíri to Númenor), they climbed
up the “tech tree” a lot. They became master mariners, exploring the
other continents except for Aman, which they were not allowed to enter and they built many
settlements in Middle-earth, while they maintained peace on their island. When the men from Middle-earth met the Dúnedain
the first time, they thought they were gods. Also if you think about it, their situation
was really interesting. Their island was very isolated. Only people, who were really advanced in their
ship building technology could even reach it. It was basically like a filter. Only those, the Númenóreans could potentially
learn from, could enter their realm. And so they learnt. Their ancestors, the Edain, were also allied
with the Elves in the First Age and fought with them against Sauron’s master, earning
their respect, so the more advanced Elves were also willing to share their ideas and
knowledge with them. Interestingly the gathered knowledge also
never really left their island. What they wanted to teach the Men of Middle-earth
was fully under their control, so no competition could form elsewhere. The elves on the other hand were advanced,
because of unique conditions. They existed for a longer time, they were
immortal, only very few, had access to the knowledge of Aman, where the Valar (the high
angels) lived, they loved star light, trees and nature and were bound to Arda, so they
had no desire to develop technology beyond their needs or destroy the world for ressouces. They also could use magic and see the “Unseen”. So ofc the Elves (and esp. the curious Noldor
Elves) are very advanced compared to Men. Ofc the Elves, who never entered Aman and
never saw the Two Trees of Valinor in ancient days, could not see the “Unseen” and were
often less advanced. So there were also local differences. But back to Númenor. Building settlements in Middle-earth led to
conflicts with the people living there (e.g. with the ancestors of the Dunlendings). In addition there was an enemy with Sauron,
who also had advanced knowledge and was slowly rising in power. So the Dúnedain needed weapons over time. Their huge advantage towards Men from Middle-earth
also secured them resources, they could not get from their island. They fell a lot of trees in e.g. Eriador and
also many places in Middle-earth were still unsettled, so there was no competition (considering
that the Elves’ population was never that big). At the beginning they also helped and taught
the Men of Middle-earth agriculture, smithing and so on, but when the Númenoreans becam We know that the Dúnedain had access to Mithril,
but we don’t know from where they got it. Same goes for e.g. iron. Some were probably available on Númenor itself,
but in the Unfinished Tales we can red, that metal was precious there and the elves brought
some, when they visited them. I assume they later mined or bought it in
Middle-earth and transported it back to their island, like they did with wood. As mentioned they had no real competition,
large parts of Middle-earth were uninhabited and nobody could withstand them anyway. Not even Sauron dared to attack them openly. All this led to a very advanced society and
Tolkien had several ideas how advanced they would be. The inspiration is clearly the legendary Atlantis. In early drafts from “The Lost Road and
Other Writings”, we can read that they had metal ships, that did not depend on wind (but
are not fair to look at anymore), which means engines, and they even had ships that could
travel through the air. We also find the sentence “our darts are
like thunder and pass over leagues unerring”, which could reference gun fire. This is really incredible in my opinion. Imagine Tolkien would have used these ideas. He could have had some influence on the Steampunk
genre too. It could have changed a lot of things in the
Second Age. And airships were used in World War I and
II, which Tolkien has experienced. Also shout outs to Min for allowing me to
use his amazing airship artwork. The link to his gallery is in the description. However it seems engines and air ships were
not necessary to make Númenóreans appear superior and so the Westmen remained at a
pre-industrialization stage. Ofc we still find the word “engine” several
times in his main works, but this is a bit open for interpretation. Often it simply refers to “siege engines”. Still considering the development of the world,
what Númenor did was definitely impressive. It was their knowledge that led to the construction
of Orthanc, which was almost indestructible, Minas Tirith and Osgiliath, both were very
advanced cities from an architectural perspective. The outer walls of Minas Tirith were built
out of the same black and almost indestructible material than Orthanc (which is shown differently
in the films though). Quote from LotR:
For the main wall of the City was of great height and marvellous thickness, built ere
the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile; and its outward face was like to the Tower
of Orthanc, hard and dark and smooth, unconquerable by steel or fire, unbreakable except by some
convulsion that would rend the very earth on which it stood. Only few could build cities like these and
they were built around or after the downfall of Númenor, so long after their Golden Age. Hard to imagine what Númenor was capable
of building at their absolute height of knowledge and skill. In our world we also have several examples
of highly advanced cultures, that fell apart and it took people some time to catch up again. The Roman Empire comes to mind, but also ancient
Egypt. Númenor is in contrast an extreme case, where
the whole island just vanished and only few survived and ofc the settlements remained
too, but the foundation of knowledge and technology was gone. We often underestimate how important an intact
and stable government is (that focuses on keeping peace), to maintain existing technology,
like water supply. All high developed technology and production
capabilities need infrastructure. The Downfall of the Dúnedain also impacted
their military power and it was just a short time until Sauron dared, what he did not dare
before: to attack and corrupt the Númenórean settlements and new build cities on Middle-earth,
which ultimately resulted in the War of the Last Alliance. In this war men alone weren’t powerful enough
anymore and needed the help of the Elves and Dwarves to defeat Sauron. Imagine the Dark Lord having access to flying
ships and other modern technology after corrupting some of the surviving Númenorean settlements,
he probably would have been unstoppable, so I would argue it was a wise decision to decrease
the technological capabilities of Númenor in Tolkien’s later versions. If we look at the weapons found by Tom Bombadil,
Frodo and his friends in the Barrow-downs, they seem to rival the weapons of the Elves. The Witchking could be ultimately killed,
because Merry stabbed him with his ancient blade in the heel. And this blade was not even made in Númenor,
but in Arnor (or Cardolan to precise), so by the descendants of the people of Númenor
to fight the Witchking of Angmar and his forces. In my opinion quite impressive. In Lord of the Rings we also find the mention
of Athelas or Kingsfoil several times, esp. to heal those, who encountered the Ringwraiths
(and e.g. were hit their Black Breath). In the Third Age the knowledge of the healing
power of Kingsfoil was almost lost (and only preserved by the Dúnedain Rangers), but it
once grew on Númenor and its healing abilities were obviously known to the Númenoreans,
which also indicates, that they had knowledge in the field of herbs and medicine. It’s also mentioned in the First Age. Ofc beyond Númenor we also have Mordor and
Sauron. E.g. Mordor was also able to produce armour and
weapons in large quantities. They also used powerful siege weapons, like
catapults and rams. Grond is a very prominent example. We can read that “spells of ruin” lay
upon it and it managed to destroy the iron gate of Minas Tirith. Interestingly Gondor also had siege weapons
(there are some references about catapults on the city walls and the Last Alliance once
besieged Barad-dûr for 7 years). We also have some quotes, that could be interpreted
as Sauron utilizing lava of Mount Doom, quote “Some [rivers of molten rock] would flow
blazing towards Barad-dûr down great channels”. If you read it as a whole, it could also just
describe how the lava flows. Tolkien chose some “industrial words”
here, even using the term “furnace” for the pits in the mountain, where lava pours
into the land, which can generate the impression of industry using the lava. However I can see, how this is just to describe
this terrible place. Tolkien was not too fond of technology and
esp. industrialization destroying nature and becoming more important to Men (almost dominating
their wills like the One Ring), than peace and nature. He called this loss of balance and pure devotion
to technology “The Machine”. Some interpret this as Tolkien being against
technology, but that is too simplified and not true. He was not against technology, he e.g. liked
driving his car, what he disliked was losing control, pure devotion to technology and turning
landscapes into wastelands not respecting human life and nature anymore, which he has
seen in the first World War. He also often saw a shortcut in technology. The One Ring was a shortcut to power and most
of its wearers (and those who desired it) would not be able to create this device or
the result of using it themselves, but were devoted to possessing this shortcut to power
at all costs, instead of developing the inner talent and power to achieve this goal by themselves. Gollum once murdered his friend for the One
Ring just to have it for himself. This was to my understanding, what he meant
with “The Machine”. It’s potentially also a topic for another
video. However the question: “What were the peoples
of Middle-earth doing all the time?”, we can also ask ourselves. At the end of Lord of the Rings Men in Middle-earth
only existed for 7000 years. Our species in its current state exists for
about 200000 years, so in comparison the Men in Middle-earth are doing great and some even
got relatively close to our time. Ofc this comparison is not a fair one and
the situations and concepts are vastly different, but I think we can see how just surviving,
devastating events, wars and the fall of great empires in history can throw back technology
quite a bit and that the development of knowledge and technology accelerated just recently. In our past we also often took a few steps
backwards at times. To reach the point we have reached now, we
needed to learn a lot of things, that seem almost trivial to us today. E.g. getting food, water and gathering supplies
for the winter not eating up our whole day just to survive. Hygiene and medical facilities reduce diseases. A stable peace and good competition (that
is willing to invest into knowledge and new technologies). Same as developing a scientific methodology. Also it seems that concepts of justice, law
and infrastructures to secure those are also necessary for large societies. In addition a good government has to built
and take care of many aspects of infrastructure needed for technology, be it streets, water
supply, energy supplies, communication infrastructures, education and so on. Many advanced technologies also require other
technologies, like purer or more advanced materials or more precision in the fabrication
process. And all these are just few examples and very
basic concepts, that needed thousands of years to develop and also places where people started
to actively apply them. Some of those concepts and ideas are ancient,
but it took a very long time until we started using them (esp. outside of a small elite). We often underestimate these developments
and how they are needed to reach the point we see today in our modern societies. Thank you for watching. This was a tough video and it feels like I
have to revisit this some day – I did a lot of research and much of it didn’t even
make it into the video. But I hope you still liked it. If so: feel free to press the like button,
leave a comment (I read and answer almost everything), recommend me to friends and other
Tolkien fans and maybe subscribe and press the annoying bell, if you want to support
this channel. It helps a lot. I also want to hint at my discord server,
Twitter and I also stream on Twitch as a little side project (you can find all the links in
the description) and maybe I stream a bit after this video releasees or tomorrow. Next video will be lore related again. I plan continuing the book/film differences
series and I also started to make my video descriptions a bit cleaner. Hope that helps. Again thank you for watching and goodbye.

33 thoughts on “Technology in Lord of the Rings and its Lore – Airships? – Is Technology not developing in LotR?”

  1. Late upload, but I had to re-edit the video to include this amazing ait ship art work of Min (got the permission to use it basically when I was ready to click on publish the old version without his artwork). Topic was also really tough and I will probably revisit it at some point. I still hope you like it ^^ I will also not stream now, but Monday evening.

    Check those artists who allowed me to use their workArtwork:
    Kimberly80 – https://www.deviantart.com/kimberly80
    Nia hti – https://www.artstation.com/niahti
    Min N – https://min.artstation.com (new ^^)

    Social Media:
    ➥Twitter (@PhilosophGames): https://twitter.com/philosophgames

    ➥Twitch Channel – https://twitch.tv/thephilosophersgames

    ➥Discord Server – https://discord.gg/SPW68vh

  2. OK, about to start this vid, so id best go make a coffee and grab a few mint slice biscuits. This is gonna be good.

  3. Random questions I have, during the 1st age I wonder what was tom bombadil doing. Is there any mentions of him around the time? Idk as I haven't read the silmarilion but I figured u might know PhilosopherGames. Also if u have ever considered doing any content on GoT or maybe the witcher? I love the witcher so much its amazing, I firmly believe it's the best game ever made. Also if you had to choose between the witcher, lotr, GoT, conan the barbarian, elder scrolls which would be your favourite? I don't think I can pick 😖 but for video game its the witcher for sure but as a whole or novel, its the impossible choice 😣

    Glad you liked the random bombadil theory I had about luthien 😀

    Greetings from Ireland my dude, have a nice day ^_^

  4. It seems that the dwarfs were the ones who pushed ahead with technology, always creating and making and doing work for other races.
    The work Sauroman did during the 3rd age was probably based on the dwarfs works and methods.

  5. Great video lad. But I think the real question we should be asking is did they have attack helicopters in Arda?

  6. I actually like the way everything stays ancient/medieval in Middle earth. It’s a bit like how some groups in the modern world are still living in tribes and clans out in rural places.

  7. As usual good video. I have wondered this myself. Why is middle earth so behind when it comes to technology and you gave some great points.

  8. Always an interesting complex topic. I have a lot of thoughts but they are prohibitively complex for a youtube comment when I'm stuck using my phone!

  9. Spectacular as usual M8, a great listen and insite of the inner core of the story .loved it keep up the great work ….📖👉💀👈📖

  10. SO…. we talk about a world where there's magic, shapeshifting beings, giant eagles and even dragons… also, most important, magical rings that can make people invisible or incredibly powerful, BUT….. there are people who wish to question why oh why there are not engineers that made better war weapons cuz… man… that wouldn't make much sense would it?

  11. I think it's quite arrogant of us 21st Century folks to assume that advanced technology is somehow inevitable.
    I don't think it is.

  12. Yes, I was going to ask if Tolkien actually thought technological progress was a good thing. To me the evidence seems pretty strong the other way. E.g. in The Hobbit he credits the goblins with inventing

    "…ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far." (Chapter 4)

    In LOTR this idea is developed in the activities of Saruman, e.g. the blasting fire at Helm's Deep and the industrialisation of the Shire. I don't think he was against science itself, and he was quite aware of the limitations of his treatment, e.g. Letter 153 where he admits that [Middle-Earth's] "economics, science, artefacts, religion, and philosophy are defective, or at least sketchy." In fairness the letter was never sent

  13. Magic is often misinterpreted technology. Tolkien uses real magic 😱
    What was first? The weapon or the tool to make the weapon. Weapon technology is older than agricultural technology. Before that there were tools to gather food (as nomads).
    Saruman seems to use the most advanced machinery. The best technology seems to come from the Numenorians; Orthanc, Palantiri, city building.

  14. Just watching an you put up a pic of legless's dad which reminded me in the Hobbit he talks about fighting dragons at one point and his face changes can you explain anything about what the hell is happening then ? Is he showing his true form or old injuries he can make visible again or something like that ? Great vid once again you do really knock it out the park…

  15. Now the Tolkien estate would never allow such a thing, but I could totally see how in the Fourth Age some servant of Sauron finds secret studies made by Saruman hidden in Orthanc, and goes on to develop weapons like slow moving airships. Subjugating the goblins to have them make hundreds and then release an Uruk army that could attack anywhere in Middle Earth. Less magic but more dark fires of industry.

  16. I particularly love that Middle-earth is set in the era it is. It wouldn't seem right if Dwarves were driving around in automobiles.

  17. Ohhh yeah forgot about the express train metaphor in lotr. That confused me reading it. Magical or semi-magical craftwork like the rings and impossible architecture, are sort of technology, just not mass produced, and tied in with the power of the characters using/ crafting them

  18. Tolkien loathed industrialisation and was a conservationist. He disliked cars and drove under protest. Mordor was a metaphor for the expansion of industrialisation and the age of men was the reluctant acceptance of change.

  19. Wonder what Sauron would do with modern tecknology if he had that tech in third age before the war of the ring

  20. Very nice video! Very informative! I always sort of wondered about this myself. Your explanation concerning the elfs is quite nice, there was simply no need to develop an XBOX one of PS4…

    Something I also wondered about, where the army seizes of the elfes and men in the first and second age.

  21. Well here I would say that Tolkien's world is really in those great cycles of the development/growth and progress and decline, civilizations rise and fall, knowledge is gathered and due to cataclysms and tragic wars of annihilation it is lost. The only specific references to 'technological progress' could be related to how Dwarves of Dain's people invented the "hose of flexible metal mesh" for armor protection of legs or that later on when Erebor and Kingdom under the Mountain was rebuild the Dwarves surpassed their fathers in mining and building, (so progress in engineering knowledge), but still some secrets of craft and knowledge was lost due to deaths of thousands to dragon fire etc. Second Age is the time of barbarism and savagery, when peoples of continent were very primitive (that is race of Men, Dwarves and Elves thrived in early Second Age increasing their knowledge and skill, Numenor also became the most advanced human civilization and they started to teach other men) it's all very complex, various societes and cultures are at various stages of development, you have basically cave-dwellers primitive tribes of 'wild men' like out of stone age and a roman/egyptian like civilization of Gondor and Arnor coexisting in the same time period. The time of The Hobbit and Lotr is actually part of a long period of decline, when much knowledge and skill was lost (Gondorians are no longer capable of replicating feats of technical skill their ancestors the Numenoreans did). We know that hobbits, did not like or build machines more complicated than "a forge-bellows, a water-mill, or a hand-loom though they were skilful with tools" (though they had clocks for example).

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