Cultural Analogues (for the purposes of initial costume brainstorming)

Koley Porter

New Member
I was thinking that it might be useful to see if we could draw some cultural analogues for the groups of peoples in the Silmarillion.

This might give us some ideas for starting our costuming conversations.

I have made a few suggestions. I have not covered every culture, nor have I made many distinctions between sub-groups such as the tribes of men.

  1. Noldo in Valinor
    1. Analog: Minoan
    2. Reason: The Minoans were an ancient, peaceful, materially advanced island culture that had an influence on later cultures.
    3. Style: Ornate. Lavish. Ceremonial. Slightly alien.
    4. Note: I think we can safely ignore the bare breasts in many depictions of Minoan costume. The bared breasts come from a statue believed to be that of a goddess, who likely does not represent everyday dress.
  2. Noldo in Middle-earth in the First Age
    1. Analog: Greece during the Classical Period
    2. Reason: The Greeks were a collection of independent, sometimes feuding, city-states with a shared culture. They were advanced in art, architecture, philosophy and warfare.
    3. Style: Clean. Beautiful. Simple. Natural.
  3. Early Men in Middle-earth in the First Age
    1. Analog: Nordic Bronze Age
    2. Reason: The bronze age cultures in Scandinavia developed into the Germanic cultures that produced the sagas of Sigurd, etc.
    3. Style: Germanic, but primitive. Ornate metalwork. Simple tunics.
  4. Men in Contact with Elves in the First Age
    1. Analogue: Northern European Tribes during the Time of Rome
    2. Reason: These tribes were barbarian cultures in contact with a more ancient civilization. (These are mostly British, not germanic, tribes.)
    3. Style: A mix of Roman style tunics (for the aristocracy) and simple gowns and breeches for lower classes. A mix of Mediterranean sophistication and native style.
  5. Numenorians
    1. Analogue: Romans
    2. Reason: The Romans were a seafaring Empire that, though it brought peace, later in the Empire oppressed subjugated peoples. Plus, the Numenorean soldiers (in the Unfinished Tales) sound a lot like Roman soldiers.
    3. Style: A decadent version of the Noldo of Middle-earth mixed with an intense militarism.
What do you lot think? Will this be a useful exercise?
 

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Halstein

Active Member
Hi.
Using historical cultures as a starting-point sound good, but I don't think direct copying would look right. We can then end up with "The elves are the Greeks". That should be avoided. I think it was something they did successfully in the LotR-films.

I have not thought much about which cultures should inspire the different Middle-Earth cultures, but making some mixing would probably be smart. I agree with making First-Age men based on the ancient Germanic peoples. But I would mix it with Celtic, and then have some "fantasy"-elements too.
 

Bre

Active Member
It's certainly a good place to start because it provides some context, but the final armor designs shouldn't be their own thing, recognizable in their own right with enough distance from that initial inspiration.

But this type of thinking is useful because it gives our ultimate designs a better grounding in reality in terms of technology and to help avoid anachronisms, especially in relation to materials used in the creation of specific armor types. It also helps determine the degree of variety that would come from distance or distance but with trade relations by comparing the physical distance between these real-world cultures and those in Beleriand.

Here's a WIP image from a map I was working on creating that would line up all of Tolkien's middle-earth maps to scale, which can further help out with that. I overlayed a map of Europe over it and matched the scale to help get a better sense of the actual size of and distances between locations:
 

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Anastasia

Member
Hello there,

I am so happy to see that there is another costuming forum!

I think it is a good idea to stick with western cultures for the cultural analogues (as you have done), since The Silmarillion was first conceptualized as a mythology for England. I really like the cultural connections you have made, and I am excited to contribute to the discussion.

I think I should do some additional research before I comment more fully (alas! all my books are in another province for the next two weeks) but some things I have been thinking about are:
Noldo in Valinor: I think that the lack of information we have about Minoan dress could be an advantage, since it will enable us to be more creative with the designs. I always imagined the elves in Valinor as having finely embellished fabrics. I can imagine them delighting in embroidery, beadwork, fabric painting and lacemaking. I realize that lacemaking is a more modern art, but I think that their great skill and delight in all things beautiful would have brought them to invent it.
Noldo in Middle-earth in the First Age: It seems to me that one of the reasons that Greek dress primarily consisted of rectangles of fabric was because they used the rectangles of cloth for various other purposes as well as for clothing. This is very practical, and could be used to represent some of the groups that were constantly at war, but I had always imagined the Noldor as having a more advanced knowledge of cut and fit, and therefore having more variety in the shape of their clothing. This idea could perhaps be represented more fully in places such as Gondolin and Nargothrond, where things were a bit more stable.
Men: I love the silhouette which is represented, but I have a few things I need to research more fully. I have read that northern European textiles were of excellent quality and sought-after in the roman empire. I'm not sure how I feel about this in the context of The Silmarillion, I think it depends on how much of a difference we want to see between the Noldor and the Men. Another point is that Northern European metalwork was highly developed, and I wonder if such development should be reserved for the Dwarves. Or perhaps the Men could have the skill represented in northern Europe, and Dwarves could be using a more advanced metal.
Numenorians: Again, I have been thinking about cut and fit. But in this case I think rectangles work to an interesting advantage. In Japan, Kimono are made with rectangles. This is not only because their aesthetic is more cylindrical than hourglass, but also because by not cutting anything the kimono can be re-made and passed on to the next generation. I think this idea works wonderfully within the context of Numenor, because mortality is such an important theme to that story. We can use rich textiles to represent the glory of Numenor, but keep the shapes simple to represent Man's mortality.

Some references I have found useful are:
Minoan: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mino/hd_mino.htm
Greek: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grdr/hd_grdr.htm
Celtic: http://www.academia.edu/1488040/Celtic_Clothing_During_the_Iron_Age-_A_Very_Broad_and_Generic_Approach (not sure how reputable this paper is, but the author has used many references, so I'm going with it for now)
Roman:
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gaul/hd_gaul.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothing_in_ancient_Rome (I know it's Wikipedia, but it has some good references at the bottom)
 
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Anastasia

Member
Something I have been considering for the Teleri and the Sindar is to use more naturalistic references as a way of hinting at the fact that they haven't been to Valinor, and are more connected to Beleriand. I think something to consider is how we are going to depict the Elves at Quivienen, that way we can determine how each different group of elves is going to branch off and evolve from that starting point.
 

Rowen

New Member
Just curious, but 1) does it need to be recognizably Western (and if not, if we put people in things that look like kimono's and saris and whatever, does that cause other problems?) 2) does it need to be based on Earth historical fashions? Though, that being said, I realize there's only so many ways to deal with cloth.
 

Anastasia

Member
Rowen, I have been thinking about this a lot.
I am in the process of drawing up a collection of silhouettes for the various groups, but I have very little time, and I am not very fast at drawing...
I think that we should draw inspiration from various cultures and historical periods but I think that, especially in terms of The Silmarillion (as opposed to The Lord of the Rings, for example), we are creating a world that is so far removed from any history we could draw from, that we would be doing it a disservice to limit ourselves by the clothing of any one culture or historical period. I think the most important thing to think about is creating unique cultural landscapes, and that the look we are creating should be unique and make sense within the sub-creation, regardless of the cultural/historical inspiration.
For me, the challenge is striking a balance between the fact that this is, at its heart, a western story, and the fact the time frame of the story is so far in the past, and deals with such huge swaths of land and time, that limiting ourselves to western influences seems silly.
I think the biggest problem we will deal with when drawing inspiration from various cultures is cultural appropriation. We should be sensitive to the real-world implications of the choices we make, and the real-world cultural and historical significance of any particular garments we choose to draw inspiration from.
Does this answer your question? What do you think?

PS: It's true that cloth has its limitations, but these limitations are much less restrictive than most people think. There are amazing shapes that can be created with the correct fabric and under-structure. The biggest limitation is how well the actor is able to move when wearing the garment, it's very hard to act when one can't move :)
 

Rowen

New Member
I think we're on the same page, and, honestly, I'm a little conflicted between staying within Tolkien's bounds, which was very much based in European history, or opening this up to a wider design. That's not to say I think we should have the Vanyar in kimonos, and the Sindar in saris, but I also think that there's a lot more to play with than tunics and togas. (I'm also still on a costume high from Crimson Peak and want SOMEONE to wear something as amazing as Jessica Chastain's nightgown in the final confrontation scene.)
 

Halstein

Active Member
Rowen, I have been thinking about this a lot.
I am in the process of drawing up a collection of silhouettes for the various groups, but I have very little time, and I am not very fast at drawing...
I think that we should draw inspiration from various cultures and historical periods but I think that, especially in terms of The Silmarillion (as opposed to The Lord of the Rings, for example), we are creating a world that is so far removed from any history we could draw from, that we would be doing it a disservice to limit ourselves by the clothing of any one culture or historical period. I think the most important thing to think about is creating unique cultural landscapes, and that the look we are creating should be unique and make sense within the sub-creation, regardless of the cultural/historical inspiration.
For me, the challenge is striking a balance between the fact that this is, at its heart, a western story, and the fact the time frame of the story is so far in the past, and deals with such huge swaths of land and time, that limiting ourselves to western influences seems silly.
I think the biggest problem we will deal with when drawing inspiration from various cultures is cultural appropriation. We should be sensitive to the real-world implications of the choices we make, and the real-world cultural and historical significance of any particular garments we choose to draw inspiration from.
Does this answer your question? What do you think?
Hi.
I think we should keep our options open. As some might have guessed from my posts, I am quite interested in Late Antique and Early Medieval history. If I had made the designs, it would influenced me heavily. What I think we should avoid is "modern" materials. Zippers and synthetic fabrics. At least materials based on hydrocarbons. But we can use materials looking like natural fibers. Also "natural" products like caseine-plastic (http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/Classroom_Activity_Teacher_MilkPlastic.shtml), made from milk and vinegar. Also I think we should avoid the different cultures taking inspiration from only one or two real world cultures. Finding three, four or five influences in one culture would enrich the experience. Especially if they are subtle.

When designing you guys, who actually have a clue, should think in terms of real materials and techniques. Then the costume department can cheat. After all, there will not be real Silmarils.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
I think one thing to avoid would be to create a culture like the one in Firefly. There, an amalgm of real-world cultures are all thrown together, as the backstory is that humans fled earth to colonize these other planets.....so everything sorta got mish-mashed together.

Which is fine. There can be random kimono in Firefly, and it can fit. Right next to American cowboy stuff.

But we wouldn't want that in the Silmarillion. So, the inspirations have to be blended appropriately, and the elves can be very distinct from the humans, even if we allow for cultural variety amongst the elves. Also, the elves at Cuivienen should *not* be wearing the same thing as they will later in Valinor - it should be much simpler in the beginning, and more ornate/courtly at the other end. So even the same characters (Finwë) can show a cultural shift over the course of the show.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hello there, I am back, after an abundance of unexpected work.

It sounds like everyone is on the same page with regards to drawing inspiration from different cultures, which is think is wonderful :)

I have been reading this book, which is about the history of traditional "women's work". It emphasizes weaving, which is the expertise of the author, but wherever one finds cloth, one finds clothing, so it necessarily talks about clothing in the prehistoric and ancient worlds.

Anyway... it has given me a lot of ideas about where the clothing of the elves would begin, and how it would progress. If we go with the idea that Cuivienen was more northerly (I'm using this Encyclopedia of Arda article to make that assumption), then we can assume that the elves would have had to invent clothing in order to keep warm. This means that they would either have had to use skins, or would have learned to weave. We can start with simple rectangles of cloth held with a belt. During the journey we can make the rectangles narrower (it is easier to carry a smaller loom) and sew them together to create cloth, they can also start weaving more complex patterns into the cloth to show their progression of skill. Once the elves arrive in Valinor, we can see an accelerated progression of skill, so that their cloth becomes very fine and the patterns within the cloth very complex. We can also start to see garments made to fit each individual person specifically, since elves are immortal, and death hasn't come to Valinor yet. This idea of mortality can also move over to the difference between how men and elves create their clothing. We can create a tradition within the world of men where important garments are made to be worn by many generations, and are therefore easy to alter to different heights/girths, whereas the garments of the elves can be made for each individual, since they will (hopefully) live for a very long time.
What do you think of this progression from Cuivienen to Valinor? Does it make sense to you?
 

Bre

Active Member
Anyway... it has given me a lot of ideas about where the clothing of the elves would begin, and how it would progress. If we go with the idea that Cuivienen was more northerly (I'm using this Encyclopedia of Arda article to make that assumption), then we can assume that the elves would have had to invent clothing in order to keep warm. This means that they would either have had to use skins, or would have learned to weave. We can start with simple rectangles of cloth held with a belt. During the journey we can make the rectangles narrower (it is easier to carry a smaller loom) and sew them together to create cloth, they can also start weaving more complex patterns into the cloth to show their progression of skill. Once the elves arrive in Valinor, we can see an accelerated progression of skill, so that their cloth becomes very fine and the patterns within the cloth very complex. We can also start to see garments made to fit each individual person specifically, since elves are immortal, and death hasn't come to Valinor yet. This idea of mortality can also move over to the difference between how men and elves create their clothing. We can create a tradition within the world of men where important garments are made to be worn by many generations, and are therefore easy to alter to different heights/girths, whereas the garments of the elves can be made for each individual, since they will (hopefully) live for a very long time.
What do you think of this progression from Cuivienen to Valinor? Does it make sense to you?
This not only makes sense, but it's something I think about a lot with my own Silmarillion designs, though I tend to also place a heavy emphasis on armor as well (i.e. the Gondolin armor is steel because the encircling mountains must be rich in ore, while Doriath uses more leather because they are in a forest away from mountains).

One thing I've always had in mind is that upon the arrival of men in Beleriand, the men would still be wearing fairly primitive clothing, but I also always picture Felagund finding the men garbed in furs. I'm not sure where I got this mental picture form, but it was probably from some cover art or Ted Naismith illustration or something. However, I don't picture the early elves wearing furs.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the elves upon their creation, and later upon their flight from Valinor seem to be physically less prone to the elements, and even by the Third Age are less affected by them than men. Secondly, there's always been a stronger connection to nature and elves than between nature and men (perhaps this is why they are less controlled by it, because they are more of the same stock being so tied to Arda itself).

So while I know the elves are not vegetarians, I see them less of fur people early on (I still draw them with fur by the time the First Age is underway), so maybe a good alternative would be for them to utilize more planet material than animal for their Cuvienien and Great Journey clothing. So perhaps they weave leaves and bark once they take the first steps away from basic cloth tunics?
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
Anyway... it has given me a lot of ideas about where the clothing of the elves would begin, and how it would progress. If we go with the idea that Cuivienen was more northerly (I'm using this Encyclopedia of Arda article to make that assumption), then we can assume that the elves would have had to invent clothing in order to keep warm
Hi, I'm not getting into this great discussion, I would just like to comment that we have a thread in the Sets section about Cuiviénen and that we discuss the possibility to see Helcar as a bit like the Mediterranean which would perhaps make Cuiviénen a place that could be similar to the eastern Mediterranean countries (Greece, Turkey, Lebanon or Israel of today), but probably not as arid as those regions. Anyway, we might want to coordinate our discussions.
 

Anastasia

Member
Hello Haakon, Thank you for popping in! I have been trying to get up to date on all of the discussions, but there is just so much information to get through, that I am feeling really quite overwhelmed. So thank you for spotting this. I've posted a reply to the locations thread, and I'll make sure to check up on it.

Bre:
I agree with you that the elves would make their clothing more out of plant fibers than out of animal fibers, and I like your reasoning. I think that having the first elves be in textiles derived from plants, and having the first men be in skins is a really good idea, because it indicates in an instant how different men are from elves. Your post, Haakon's post, listening to the latest podcast, and reading more of my book have all got me thinking about the elves' clothing on a deeper level even than clothing as warmth.

It's really exciting for me, actually. I love having my preconceived notions about things challenged with good evidence.
So, the book first. In the latest chapters that I have read, the author asserts that the idea of clothing being invented solely for the purpose of keeping warm is incorrect. She asserts that it was more likely invented for ceremonial occasions and due to the need for nonverbal social cues. For example, a woman wearing a particular garment can indicate that she is of child-bearing age, or an item of clothing could be used as a talisman to ward off evil spirits.

This fits with the ideas put forward in the latest podcast dealing with the origin of orcs (that we have the elves wake up while Melkor is still in Middle Earth). The elves could invent certain woven patterns, or create certain jewelry to ward off the creatures that try to capture them.

Now on to Haakon's comment that Cuiviénen has a Mediterranean climate, and Bre's reminder that the elves are not as prone to the elements, and their connection to nature. Plant fibers tend to breathe better and be cooler than animal fibers, so if warmth was only a secondary feature of clothing, then there would be no need for the warmer animal fibers and skins, except maybe their tendency to take dyes better. It also fits with the historical evidence we have, that plant fibers were used first and animal fibers only came into wider use when animals were domesticated.

Basically, what I am saying is that my initial idea about the advent of clothing being about warmth is way less interesting than the idea that it is about social cues and warding off Melkor's servants.

Back to Bre's comment about leaves and bark. I think the use of bark and leaves as adornment would come before the advent of cloth, since spinning and weaving are more complicated processes than gathering and assembling, but they could continue to be an important part of body adornment even after the advent of cloth, especially if we assume that certain plants could be perceived as having social implications or protective qualities.

Speaking of the very earliest days of adornment, when the elves wake up are they naked? What kinds of ideas of modesty do you think the early elves have? Are we going to impose our ideas of modesty on them for the benefit of our audience?
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Speaking of the very earliest days of adornment, when the elves wake up are they naked? What kinds of ideas of modesty do you think the early elves have? Are we going to impose our ideas of modesty on them for the benefit of our audience?
An important question! I think that while some of the audience might appreciate the sight of many fine elvish forms, the reality is that nudity would be highly distracting. One solution is to not 'visit' the elves until they have had some time to invent clothing. So, even if they are naked when they awaken, it's just a few carefully planned shots that show only enough to convey the idea of newborns.

I think nakedness mixed with innocence gives a very Garden of Eden vibe, which may be exactly what we want for this part of the story, but it should not be a pornographic thing. So, keeping it limited, tasteful and suggestive of nudity rather than actually showing nudity would be preferred.

Then, for the rest of season 2 episode 1, we see them with their most primitive garments. Don't know if we want to start with leaves and vines, but....
 

Anastasia

Member
MithLuin: I totally agree with your idea about nudity, I think that it's important to evoke that Garden of Eden quality, especially with how Cuivienen is remembered by the later elves, as a beautiful place that is lost and that they cannot return to. As you said, we shouldn't make nudity a feature, and address it tastefully after we have established the innocence of the first elves.

I think that we can assume that the elves would take up weaving pretty easily. If Cuivienen is a good spot and provides everything they need to survive, then there is no need for them to move about to find food, which leaves leisure time to invent things like spinning and weaving. I'm not sure how big of a jump we will have next season between their awakening and when they are discovered, we might pass completely over any "leaves and vines" phase of clothing development. I just like to think about the whole story, in case it comes up :)
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Christopher Tolkien didn't like the Idea of Nude Elves at Cuivienen as I recall the Interview with Ted Nasmith...
so he painted them in long white Gowns.

I think one should Accect CTs veto here... but I#m still unsure if the early elves already knew how to make cloth or how to weave... shouldn#t they have learned that proper only later from the Valar?

But still they could have used Hides , Leaves and other materials of Nature...
 
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