Multicultural Laketown

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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby RoseMorninStar » Mon Nov 24, 2014 7:40 pm

Yes, it is a strange discussion, but if one reads the first couple of posts by the author of the thread it seems they were bothered by the inclusion of non-white persons in the movie. And so here we are.

I am going to cut & paste the previously mentioned essay with quotes from Tolkien here, because I think it is very relevant to the conversation. I will bold a few bits which I feel are particularly interesting to this discussion.

Was the northwest of Middle-earth meant to actually be Europe?

From: The Tolkien FAQ by William D.B. Loos

Yes, but a qualified yes. There is no question that Tolkien had northwestern Europe in mind when he described the terrain, weather, flora, and landscapes of Middle-earth. This was no doubt partially because NW Europe was his home and therefore most familiar to him and partially because of his love for the "Northern tradition". As he said himself:

"The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man's home should. Love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; ..."
(The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 376 (#294)).

Thus, the environment of Middle-earth will seem familiar to dwellers of that region of Europe (was Middle-earth another planet?).

However, the geographies simply don't match. This was the result not so much of a deliberate decision on Tolkien's part to have things so but rather a side-effect of the history of the composition: the question did not occur to him until the story was too far advanced and the map too fixed to allow much alteration:

... if it were 'history', it would be difficult to fit the lands and events (or 'cultures') into such evidence as we possess, archaeological or geological, concerning the nearer or remoter part of what is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance, is expressly stated to have been in this region [The Fellowship of the Ring, 11]. I could have fitted things in with greater versimilitude, if the story had not become too far developed, before the question ever occurred to me. I doubt if there would have been much gain; ...
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 283 (#211)

... As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleontologically. I do sometimes wish that I had made some sort of agreement between the imaginations or theories of the geologists and my map a little more possible. But that would only have made more trouble with human history.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 224 (#169)

The remark that there probably would not "have been much gain" is characteristic and perhaps indicates Tolkien's own approach, which would seem to have been to focus on the environmental familiarity at the "local" level (in the sense that any particular scene might have come from somewhere in Europe) and to simply overlook the lack of "global" identity. On the other hand, he made some attempt to address the difficulty in the quote from the Prologue (The Fellowship of the Ring, 11), where it was said: "Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed...". The conclusion is that it is a matter for each individual reader as to how important is the lack of geographical fit and where one comes down on the continuum between "Middle-earth was northwestern Europe" and "Middle-earth might as well have been northwestern Europe" (or, as Tolkien might have said, "Middle-earth 'imaginatively' was northwestern Europe"). [Thus, recent attempts to force the M-e map to fit the map of the Eurasian land mass, such as in Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day, should be discounted.]

In one letter he provided indications to help in visualizing the circumstances of various locales, but this does not help in resolving the above matter, since again northwestern Europe was used for comparison rather than equation:

The action of the story takes place in the North-west of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. ... If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 375-376 (#294)

Given that we have Tolkien's own thoughts & words on this subject, I don't think we should equate what races 'should' or 'shouldn't' be in any given part of Middle Earth compared to where peoples of a race lived during the European Middle Ages. In any case Tolkien quite despised racism, judging by his letter to the Germans, and I think a 'multicultural' town in Middle-earth is in keeping with his spirit.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby solicitr » Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:21 am

Given that we have Tolkien's own thoughts & words on this subject, I don't think we should equate what races 'should' or 'shouldn't' be in any given part of Middle Earth compared to where peoples of a race lived during the European Middle Ages


We do have Tolkien's own words on the subject, especially in Books IV and V, and it's clear that he is describing the Haradrim, men from the south and southeast, as dark-skinned and having a decidedly Persian/Saracen aspect; and Far Harad is the place from which come "black men like half-trolls." For that matter, the Rohirrim, seen in one aspect not as Anglo-Saxons but as Goths, parallel them as a (fair-complected) Northern people who migrated to more southerly latitudes on the borders of a fading empire.

Tolkien's world-building used, as a principal technique, what Shippey called 'calquing.'
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby RoseMorninStar » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:03 pm

solicitr, true, true, Tolkien did make that distinction of the Haradrim, as a group of peoples, but we are speaking of a town.. a trading town. Even in Bree, a smallish cross-roads town, there were peoples of various backgrounds. Wasn't there a 'squint-eyed southerner'? The term 'squint-eyed' could be the trait of a group/race of peoples and it could be that particular person had squinty looking eyes. In any case, there were foreigners traveling in Middle Earth and it sounds as if a fair amount of non-locals stopped and possibly lived in Bree. If this is the case, I don't see why it would be so unheard of for another Middle-Earth town, Dale, to have people of different culture/race living there. The 'multi-cultural' aspect lends itself to the idea that Dale was more than just a small backwoods homogenous berg.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby ngaur » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:41 pm

Esgaroth I think. Or did you intend Dale? Dale was somewhere in the valleys below the mountain, though if the river went all the way I suppose they could have a fair deal of trading as well. More with the Dwarves.

I've forgotten if Laketown was built by refugees from Dale or if they just fled there?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:05 pm

ngaur wrote:Esgaroth I think. Or did you intend Dale? Dale was somewhere in the valleys below the mountain, though if the river went all the way I suppose they could have a fair deal of trading as well. More with the Dwarves.

I've forgotten if Laketown was built by refugees from Dale or if they just fled there?


There was a settlement on the lake before the destruction of Dale and Erebor by the dragon, which Tolkien describes as being evidenced by pilings from a larger and greater town which were visible at times of low water levels in the lake. So, it seems that Esgaroth had been there for a while, but certainly the presence in the city of Bard, the grandson of Girion the last King of Dale, indicates that refugees from the ruined city had resettled on the lake.

And I think that Erebor, Dale, and Esgaroth were all trading centers, though Dale and Erebor sound more like industrial centers which produced goods and then shipped them out to the wider world through Lake Town.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby solicitr » Tue Nov 25, 2014 2:26 pm

RoseMorninStar wrote:Wasn't there a 'squint-eyed southerner'? The term 'squint-eyed' could be the trait of a group/race of peoples and it could be that particular person had squinty looking eyes.


In UK English, "squint-eyed" means what in the USA we call "cross-eyed" (and/or "walleyed"); it can also be used to refer to "shifty, sidelong," in any event referring to eyes that don't look straight ahead. When somebody pointed out to Christopher Tolkien the American meaning of "slitted, narrow, Asian-stereotype" he was nonplussed, completely unaware of it. Tolkien did once use "slant-eyed," but in describing an Orc.

1 squint adjective \ˈskwint\

1
of an eye : looking or tending to look obliquely or askance (as with envy or disdain)
2
of the eyes : not having the visual axes parallel : crossed

2 squint intransitive verb
1
a : to have an indirect bearing, reference, or aim
b : to deviate from a true line
2
a : to look in a squint-eyed manner
b : to be cross-eyed
c : to look or peer with eyes partly closed
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby RoseMorninStar » Tue Nov 25, 2014 3:59 pm

I took it to mean 'shifty eyed' especially, if I correctly recall, the person in question was rumored to be half-orc. Although I could understand why some might interpret it as a hint that the character was Asian even if that was not the intent. One would have to know what set the character apart as a southerner.. be it his accent, clothing, appearance, or inquiry as to who the person was/where he was from.

Given what Tolkien has said, I don't feel that the people of Dale/Erebor need to correspond in appearance and culture to the people who geographically lived in medieval Europe.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Fri Dec 05, 2014 7:23 am

Although I could understand why some might interpret it as a hint that the character was Asian even if that was not the intent.


Though interestingly enough, Tolkien DID say at one time that Orcs were similar to Orientals. Let me see if I can find that quote. . .

Ah, here we go, from The Letters, (this blurb copied from the Wikipedia article on Orcs).

In a private letter, Tolkien describes them as "squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes... ...degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types".
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby solicitr » Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:25 am

True enough; but then again Tolkien was describing Orcs, not any human people of Middle-earth.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Lalaith-Elerrina » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:08 pm

For myself, the inclusion of multicultural people in Lake-town didn't bother me. (Lots of other things bothered me, but I won't talk about those things here.) The reason why, is because I have noticed that while Middle Earth may be formed after a past version of our earth, it isn't actually OUR earth. For example, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins are all Native American foods/crops. They would not have been in Europe until well after 1492. They certainly wouldn't have been widespread and used a lot until a VERY long time after. Yet they're all over the place in LOTR. If I can watch LOTR and see tomatoes, pumpkins, tobacco, corn, and potatoes and not bat an eye, then I can see multi-cultural people and think to myself: 'well, at some point, someone from Harad or somewhere else came to trade stuff in this area, and either stayed and had descendants, or perhaps just got some local girl pregnant, and left behind his DNA. Not implausible.' Therefore, while I did do a doubletake on the multicultural people there, that one particular thing did not bother me.

If on Middle-Earth, Tolkien is going to do things differently crops wise, then it isn't beyond plausibility, to me anyway, to have things be a little different trade wise, and have people who can themselves, journey long distances in different ways than they did, pre-Columbian, or pre-Roman.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Fri Dec 05, 2014 12:38 pm

solicitr wrote:True enough; but then again Tolkien was describing Orcs, not any human people of Middle-earth.


Right, which is why we are looking at the term "slant eyed" (or whatever it was) when applied to the Southerner in Bree (who may have been part-orc) in the context of that term's application to the almond shaped eyes of Asians.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Nerdanel » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:20 am

In that movie scene I noticed the black faces in the crowd and thought, "Oh, Peter Jackson must have listened to the people who want more racial diversity in the movies... I suppose that makes sense here though, given that Laketown used to be an important trade hub." The problem with the black faces in the scene was that it took me out of the movie. The diversity should have been established early on when Laketown was introduced.

Anyway, Tolkien says that Middle-earth used to be our world in the past, and I believe him. Between inaccurate Second/Third Age map-making and Tolkien being a non-geologist at a time when geology was much less developed than today, I can accept the Middle-earth being our Earth during the last Ice Age when the sea levels were much lower. I had found a good link about that but it seems to have disappeared. Plants like tobacco and athelas would simply have gone extinct where they once grew. Athelas seemed to be already on the wane, and I don't think tobacco would have survived in the wild once the hobbits farming it were gone.

About "brown hobbit hands" and related stuff, it is noteworthy that Heinlein, writing approximately in the same era as Tolkien, sometimes had main characters of whom he made a small off-hand mention in the latter half of the book that the character was black. This of course was not reflected in the cover images. I think Tolkien did the same thing, only so subtly that people still haven't realized that hobbits aren't white.

Consider the following:
- Where hobbit skin is mentioned, it's brown.
- All hobbits have curly hair.
- Tolkien's words about the Middle-earth being our world and hobbits still living where they used to imply that hobbits are the brownies of folklore.

It is amusing to think that all along our short "Englishmen" actually looked more like Africans than anything. It seems to me that Tolkien was making a statement against racism here, about how all people are inwardly the same. How those Stormfront types who like Tolkien would hate to admit that they had rooted for brown characters...
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Denethor » Tue Dec 09, 2014 7:31 am

On hobbit skin colour, we've got the bit in the LOTR Prologue where Harfoots are browner of skin, Stoors have larger feet, and the Fallohides are fairer of skin. I've always interpreted the "brown hobbit hands" as referring to tanning: certainly your average hobbit wouldn't be exactly "Aryan" in appearance (blond hair is supposed to be a rarity, though Pippin is blond), but they're hardly African either. Short curly-haired Englishmen who tan really well would be the likely situation. Or perhaps a sort of Mediterranean complexion.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Tue Dec 09, 2014 11:44 am

It is amusing to think that all along our short "Englishmen" actually looked more like Africans than anything. It seems to me that Tolkien was making a statement against racism here, about how all people are inwardly the same. How those Stormfront types who like Tolkien would hate to admit that they had rooted for brown characters...


While I can certainly see the appeal in the idea that Tolkien was secretly writing anti-Racism messages into his works, I personally don't see it. We have to be careful to avoid ascribing too much of our own aspirations and ideals to a man who was born over a century ago and who grew up in an entirely different time. The people in Tolkien's world are all "white" (with a few exceptions such as Ghan Buri Ghan and men of the far South etc), but not because he was a racist who was deliberately excluding other races, but because (as I see it) was a man of his time, writing what he knew. He didn't make everyone white because he was thinking about it, but because he wasn't thinking about it, if you take my meaning.

And since I don't think he was intentionally making everyone white, I don't have any problem at all if modern film directors follow contemporary standards and include some non-white faces in places where Tolkien himself didn't think to do so.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby ngaur » Tue Dec 09, 2014 2:08 pm

Given the geografical location of the Shire in Middle-Earth the hobbits we know about are all with certainty white. Though Tolkien is fond of having peoples and groups of peoples migrate, so there's a good chance some hobbit tribe has established themselves in the deep south. Just nothing is heard it.

The idea of black people in Esgaroth is still very very far fetched and not I think something that Tolkien would have thought of or deemed necessary. It is much more likey that you might see black traders in the southern kingdom. In Pelargir, Osgiliath, Dol Amroth or even Minas Tirith. That one should have travelled as far as Esgartoh, either past the Argonnath and then around Mirkwood, or else by land all the way around Mordor and the by the sea of Rhun reached Esgaroth is unlikely in the extreme, given the geography of those regions. The probability is so slim that even if it happened it probably didn't. You might see them travel by ship along the coasts perhaps. Places like Lond Daer and Tharbad when they were standing would have a greater chance of a visit from blacks than Esgaroth.

In any case the presence of two of them in PJ:s version doesn't make the place multi-cultural, it rather seems to make them out of place. Either way the master of lake-town can't be taken for anything but European.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby solicitr » Thu Dec 11, 2014 9:35 am

Minardil wrote:
While I can certainly see the appeal in the idea that Tolkien was secretly writing anti-Racism messages into his works, I personally don't see it. We have to be careful to avoid ascribing too much of our own aspirations and ideals to a man who was born over a century ago and who grew up in an entirely different time. The people in Tolkien's world are all "white" (with a few exceptions such as Ghan Buri Ghan and men of the far South etc), but not because he was a racist who was deliberately excluding other races, but because (as I see it) was a man of his time, writing what he knew. He didn't make everyone white because he was thinking about it, but because he wasn't thinking about it, if you take my meaning.
.


+1


Wow. I'll have to mark this on my calendar: for once Minardil and I are in complete agreement on something.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Lalaith-Elerrina » Thu Dec 11, 2014 5:19 pm

solicitr wrote:
Minardil wrote:
While I can certainly see the appeal in the idea that Tolkien was secretly writing anti-Racism messages into his works, I personally don't see it. We have to be careful to avoid ascribing too much of our own aspirations and ideals to a man who was born over a century ago and who grew up in an entirely different time. The people in Tolkien's world are all "white" (with a few exceptions such as Ghan Buri Ghan and men of the far South etc), but not because he was a racist who was deliberately excluding other races, but because (as I see it) was a man of his time, writing what he knew. He didn't make everyone white because he was thinking about it, but because he wasn't thinking about it, if you take my meaning.
.


+1


Wow. I'll have to mark this on my calendar: for once Minardil and I are in complete agreement on something.


I find myself agreeing with this. Tolkien wasn't a deliberate racist. He just wrote about what he knew. Again, having different ethnicities didn't ruin that part of the movie for me. Still, I personally don't think it was necessary, and believe that Mr. Jackson did it because of outside pressure. Of course, I'm not him, and do not know for sure.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Fri Dec 12, 2014 6:18 am

and believe that Mr. Jackson did it because of outside pressure
.

If you watch the Special Features on the Extended Edition of Desolation, they have a nice segment on the design and construction of Lake Town, and the concept PJ had of the city being something like Venice, a center of trade which drew people from all over. I don't think he felt "outside" pressure to include non-white actors in his crowd scenes, I think he felt it appropriate to the vision he had of what the town was.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby ngaur » Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:23 am

And possibly also appropriate for the people he had available to work with.

I also think outside pressure would have focused more on having a more diverse mix in the leading roles rather than extras in a culturally white city,
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:56 am

And possibly also appropriate for the people he had available to work with


Yes, that is a point I've made before, that when you announce a general casting call for background players in crowd scenes, you typically get all sorts of people showing up.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Lalaith-Elerrina » Sun Dec 14, 2014 6:59 am

Minardil wrote:
and believe that Mr. Jackson did it because of outside pressure
.

If you watch the Special Features on the Extended Edition of Desolation, they have a nice segment on the design and construction of Lake Town, and the concept PJ had of the city being something like Venice, a center of trade which drew people from all over. I don't think he felt "outside" pressure to include non-white actors in his crowd scenes, I think he felt it appropriate to the vision he had of what the town was.



You may be completely right. I'm not in his mind and can't say. And Esgaroth being like Venice would be plausible, I think. But if he did do it because of outside pressure, he probably wouldn't say that was the reason. I certainly wouldn't. And if he did it chiefly because of other pressure, there are still a multitude of reasons for having a multicultural Laketown that he could mention and still be honest.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Mon Dec 15, 2014 11:53 am

A: What's with all the bots on the boards today???

B: In the special features film on the making of Lake Town, he didn't specifically refer to the inclusion of non-white background characters as being part of his vision of the town, he just spoke more generally of Lake Town being modeled on a commercial port like Venice, in which people from all over would come to engage in trade.

C: I don't think we need to postulate that he felt subject to sinister "outside" forces in his casting. I think that after his last foray into Middle Earth won 17 Oscars and netted $3Billion in box office sales (not to mention further billions in DVD sales) I'd assume PJ could probably cast whoever the heck he wants on his own Lake Town set. What I mean is, if someone is on his set, it'd have to be because PJ wanted them there.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby FrodoTook » Tue Dec 16, 2014 12:01 am

"( Sam ) was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace..."



Of the folks spoke of in Middle-earth, in Arda, in Ea...I remember no colors of skin but do
remember examples of what I consider transgressions by...

Melkor
Sauron
Osse
Saruman
Feanor
Thingol
Eol
Maeglin
Caranthir
Ar-Pharazon
Denethor
Boromir
Ulfang
Uldor
Ulfast
Mim
Old Man Willow
Bill Ferny
Ted Sandyman
Lotho Sackville-Baggins

I think each had their own unique "gifts" but I found that each abused it.

I think of the character, not of the colour. And I think that is what JRRT was relaying.

That said. I think the "racial" thing can be found if you "look" very hard for it.

I hope some day people tire of looking for it.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Spider Spence » Mon Dec 22, 2014 11:01 am

Not a bot. Just a new poster here.

I was actually rather confused by the white (if on the Greek side) version of Minas Tirith in Return of the King. Wasn't Denethor complaining about their bloodlines "mingling?" Minas Tirith is a hop skip and jump from Harad. There would have been farmers, traders, prisoners, and people of all complexions in Minas Tirith because of crossover between Numenorean culture and the culture of the area. There's no Mediterranean Sea to prevent Berber types from going north and mingling with other populations in search of better farming. Men in Middle Earth would have been, on the whole, more ethnically diverse.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby ngaur » Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:18 pm

Spider Spence wrote:Not a bot. Just a new poster here.

I was actually rather confused by the white (if on the Greek side) version of Minas Tirith in Return of the King. Wasn't Denethor complaining about their bloodlines "mingling?" Minas Tirith is a hop skip and jump from Harad. There would have been farmers, traders, prisoners, and people of all complexions in Minas Tirith because of crossover between Numenorean culture and the culture of the area. There's no Mediterranean Sea to prevent Berber types from going north and mingling with other populations in search of better farming. Men in Middle Earth would have been, on the whole, more ethnically diverse.


They were, just not in the North Western part. Though Gondor would probably have had darker skin than the Northern people like the Bardings. On the other hand as you say Gondor is a mix of many kinds of peoples, Numenoreans, Peoples of the outlands, some Rohirrim, perhaps even som Dunlendings. Southrons I expect would have been rare given the animosity between the two in their history. Your arguments however fit the Black Numenoreans and the Pirates of Umbar like a glove.

That said. I think the "racial" thing can be found if you "look" very hard for it.


Why would you want to though?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby RoseMorninStar » Mon Dec 22, 2014 3:57 pm

ngaur wrote:
Frodo Took wrote:
That said. I think the "racial" thing can be found if you "look" very hard for it.


Why would you want to though?


Exactly. I can only think of one reason.

Spider Spense wrote:Wasn't Denethor complaining about their bloodlines "mingling?"

It is my impression that by "bloodlines mingling" it was not about race (at least not as far as skin color was concerned) but that the Numenoreans mingled with common humans--humans of any race/color/nation. The Numenoreans were long-lived descendants of the Edain. While the term 'Edain' can be used to refer to all men, it more specifically refers specifically to the peoples from:
The House of Bëor
The House of Haleth (the Haladin)
The House of Hador (the descendants of Marach and his people)
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Frelga » Mon Dec 22, 2014 10:47 pm

One of the things I regret did not make it into the movies is the arrival of the Captains of the Outlands. It's easy to see why PJ could not spare the necessary screen time (not to mention it would have contradicted his portrayal of Denethor as incompetent and evil), but it would have been such a luscious visual. Maybe when they make a TV serial...
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby FrodoTook » Sat Jan 03, 2015 12:05 am

Rose and ngaur.

When I said...' I think the "racial" thing can be found if you "look" very hard for it."

My response was to someone who posted earlier. The person who found the text racial. ( in a bad way )

I still say that I think it takes much effort and / or a predetermined mindset to find "racial stuff" ( in a bad way ) in JRRT's text.

I don't perceive the text that way.

Grande to see both of you.

Happy New Year.
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