Politics in Silmarillion

Dom Nardi

Member
I have a background in political science and have written a paper about politics in Lord of the Rings for the Mythlore journal. I was talking with Corey recently, and he suggested I start thinking about how we might incorporate politics into the story of the Silmarillion. In particular, I would help think about how the Elven kings would behave and rule.

The Silmarillion obviously has a lot of Elven kingdoms, but Tolkien doesn't provide details about the political arrangements. Yet, there might be some points in the show when we'll need to think carefully about these issues. For example, does Thingol have a lavish throne with a hall full of courtiers? How does High King Ingwe relate to the other Elves? Should all the Elven kingdoms be basically enlightened despots, as depicted in the book, or should we play around a bit with the types of political systems?

Peter Jackson's Hobbit films provide an important example of how this matters to the adaptation process. In the films, Jackson gave Thror a large throne with the Arkenstone lodged in the top. In the Riddles in the Dark podcast, Corey noted that the Arkenstone seemed to have greater political importance than in the books, almost acting as a symbol of Thror's divine right to rule. Also, Jackson changed Laketown's political realm from a corrupt democracy (or oligarchy) to a corrupt dictatorship or Soviet republic.

I'd love help with this, or at least a small group with which to discuss various issues. I'd like this thread to be the place for people to submit questions or ideas about the depiction of politics in the Silm Film. Initially, I'd like to make a list of the generally issues that might come up (e.g., the depiction of political symbols like crowns, etc.).

Please let me know if you're interested in helping out?
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I am ecstatic that someone brought this up, and I'm glad to add whatever I can. To start with, I'd like to address at least one issue you brought up. The Elven kings _do_ strike me as enlightened despots, but men (and Elves) looking to do what's best for their people, sometimes at the exclusion of others. Also, we'll see their personal relationships with each other informing a great of their political decisions.
 

Dom Nardi

Member
The Elven kings _do_ strike me as enlightened despots, but men (and Elves) looking to do what's best for their people, sometimes at the exclusion of others.
I definitely agree with that assessment. But I'm actually starting to wonder if we shouldn't maybe change the government institutions up a bit for the sake of the drama. For example, it might make sense to give Turgon in Gondolin a council (like the Small Council in Game of Thrones) with a bunch of advisors. Then we could have scenes of Turgon debating Tuor's warning with his council members. The books to my recollection don't really ever depict rulers debating with councilors or advisors, but I think that could work much better on TV to show rather than tell these types of political decisions.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
That does make sense, it is difficult to show what is going on without having more than one person speaking. I can see in your example there, a debate between a sneering Maeglin and a passionate Tuor. Beautiful image.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
I was thinking about the different degrees of military structure. For instance, the Sindar might have an army but also lots of craftsmen organised in guilds, while the Noldor have much more militarised societies.
 

Dom Nardi

Member
Good point about military. Seems like there will also just be basic questions about logistics. How large are these armies? Do they have primarily archers or cavalry or infantry? Even if we din't talk about those details on the show, audiences will see the armies, so we'll need to depict them according to some sort of logic. Actually, some people have criticized the Game of Thrones show for not doing enough of this (i.e., not conveying the relative size of each army). I know there are some vets (and even active duty military) affiliated with Mythgard/Signum, so I'd love to draw upon their expertise.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
And the elves of Ossiriand - do they have a king at all? They might have, I don't know, like a consensus based society... Or maybe they're organised in hunting teams. If they're not vegetarian.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Well, let's look at this a bit:
Avari are going to be very lightly armed, lightly armored if at all. Probably tribal societies with warriors and hunters.

Sindar are going to be much more organized, but still lightly armed and armored, with very little in the way of metal used. Mostly bows and spears, not very good for a direct, toe-to-toe confrontation.
Remember, the Elves were getting decimated by the forces of Melkor before the Noldor arrived.

With the Noldor, we'll see heavier armor and weapons, probably obvious military units, in my mind, I'm seeing pike squares, as well as swordsmen. We wouldn't likely start seeing cavalry from the Noldor initially.

The Sindar would start being incorporated into Noldorin armies as light infantry auxiliaries. Used to harass the enemy on the flanks much as the Romans used non-Roman units. Over time, you would start to see the difference between the two being equalized. The pinnacle of this, strikes me as the Gondolindhrim, who seem to be the ultimate in disciplined military with dedicated, specialized units deployed through signals and what-not.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
The Laiquendi could develop some kind of guerilla warfare as the years go by. We will have to show all elven societies turning more and more militarised.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
Primarily though it would be interesting to discuss the process that makes Ingwë, Elwë and Finwë (and others) the first leaders of the Firstborn. Is it charisma? Skills? Size? We could work with some pretty basic factors here, politics at the most fundamental level. The process should be influenced by the different threats posed by Melkor and his creatures.
 
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Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I have little doubt that Elwë's leadership has at least a little to do with his height, but in my mind, I imagine them as the First. That the three of them were hanging out for at least a day before the others began to awaken. This makes me think of the fact that in the Bible, Adam was around for long enough to name all of the animals before Eve was created.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
You're probably right. And that's a good point about the naming. The fact that they have begun to speak first will be a good thing to show, and even if the others speak as well, that will probably be one important factor in the process of forming their leadership and later kingship and legendary status.
 

Haakon

Administrator
Staff member
Don't you think Fëanor and his sons and their whole clan is like some kind of Cosa Nostra or Mafia? At least there are some parallels.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
That would be kinda interesting. They clearly each have their own realms, but they hang out with each other often, it would seem. I can see them sitting around a table to make a lot of their decisions.
 

Dom Nardi

Member
Dom, you're a genius. I love the idea of shaking up the governments across "Beleriand and its Realms."
Actually Corey suggested I think a bit more about this after our Tolkien Chat. There are some interesting issues with Elven politics especially. I might try to present some of my thinking in time for Midmoot this fall.
 
D

Dominic Jerry Nardi Jr.

Guest
As I promised at Midmoot, I’m posting some of my notes about politics in the Silmarillion for the benefit of the SilmFilm project. There was a great discussion afterwards so I encourage others who made contributions to share their thoughts.

Broadly speaking, I mentioned a few reasons why adapting political scenes/characters/themes to film might pose an interesting challenge:

· One can’t rely on an omniscient third-person narrator to set the scene, meaning the TV show would need some other way to provide background information;

· There’s sometimes a perception that politics in sci-fi/fantasy doesn’t provide compelling drama (a la “The Phantom Menace”);

· Tolkien does not provide much detail on the governments of Middle-earth, requiring an adaptation to fill in many details;

· There have been accusations that Tolkien naively advocates enlightened despotism, so an adaptation might have to explain Tolkienian politics for modern audiences.


I then mention a few political factors that might affect the adaptation process:

· Most of the Elven realms in the Silmarillion have kings, but even then there is variation in types of monarchies. Does the government have any formal institutions (e.g., the Council of Gondor)? Is there any mention of specific laws?

The Silmarillion doesn’t ever provide a blueprint of government types in Middle-earth, but it’s worth paying attention to any mention of laws or institutions to get a sense of the extent of formality in political relationships. Realms with more laws and more institutions are likely to be more formalized, with greater levels of bureaucracy and ritual between the ruler and subjects. By contrast, less formalized systems will likely permit informal relationships in which the king might converse regularly with subjects and have a less imposing throne room (for example, the difference between Denethor and Theoden in Return of the King).

· Does the ruler use rhetoric and charisma in order to persuade subjects to follow his orders?

In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s easy to forget that not all political leaders throughout history were charismatic figures or relied on their powers of rhetoric to persuade subjects. There are also different types of charisma, from firebrands like Hitler to soft-spoken religious leaders like the Dalai Lama. Some characters in The Silmarillion, particularly Feanor, seem prone to giving fiery speeches in order to rouse supporters. Other rulers, like Thingol, don’t appear to be particularly charismatic (although Melian is).

In the adaptation process, thinking about a character’s charisma will help in both casting the actor and depicting the character on screen. Characters with charisma require actors with a larger stage presence, actors who could make the character seem larger than life (a Benedict Cumberbach as opposed to Hayden Christensen). Characters who rely upon charisma or persuasive rhetoric should also be depicted leading crowds rather than simple in a court with a small coterie of elites.

· How much intra-elite conflict exists within each realm? Are there politicians other than the king/ruler (e.g., Prince Imrahil)? Do these elites have an independent power base? Do they express open disagreement with the ruler?

Simply put, is there any evidence that the ruler faces potential or actual opposition within the realm? To the extent that there are other powerful elites or nobles, the ruler is going to be more constrained and thus more likely to adopt consensual political behavior. In the adaptation, this means we should see such rulers having to consult advisors or councils rather than issue orders on high from a throne.

· Does the state have a flat or valley terrain? Or is the terrain mountainous or forested?

Typically, states with flat terrain can better manage and extract resources subjects because they can survey the land and observe taxable property, such as crops. This is especially when farmers depend on state infrastructure for irrigation. This doesn’t always lead to oppression, but typically leads to stronger, more intrusive governments. By contrast, in mountainous or forested areas, subjects can flee more intrusive government or higher tax rates. It’s easier to hide oneself and one’s property.

This this can be important as a sign of how much bargaining power subjects have viz-à-viz the ruler. If subjects are not dependent on the state and can flee, they have more bargaining power. Therefore, they’re also more likely to speak out against or resist rulers who make bad choices. In the adaptation process, this might help determine how willing subjects would be to openly defy the ruler. When Thingol banishes Turin, how many people voice opposition?

· Does the state border an enemy stronghold?

As with terrain, the geopolitical security situation can influence the ruler’s bargaining power viz-à-viz subjects. If a neighboring state is hostile and presents a threat to the safety of Elven subjects, then subjects will depend upon the ruler and his military forces for protection. As above, this implies that they will be less likely to oppose him publicly and more likely to cede resources to the state (such as paying taxes). We would also expect such realms to have more expensive and expansive infrastructure, particularly walls and other defensive fortifications.

· How does immortality affect Elven politics?

We might expect that Elves adopt more consensual political behavior because they are immortal and so must confront the long-term consequences of political decisions. Whereas humans might expect to die before the consequences of climate change or environmental destruction hit, Elves would still be alive. However, the First Age Elves are still relatively new to Middle-earth. To what extent do these “young” Elves take a long-term view? For the adaptation, this becomes important when looking at the extent to which Elves have become settled in their political and social behaviors. Does everybody accept Thingol as king in perpetuity or was this a (relatively) recent decisions that has some still grumbling?



Anyways, these are just a few things to think about. I’ll post more later applying this framework to specific Elven kingdoms (particularly Nargothrond, Doriath, and Gondolin) later on.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
I would like to recommend a book for the High Execs of the Silm Film Studio (SFS- not to be confused with MGM!) and just as much for everyone on these fora:
It provides with a political-military history of Middle-earth, which will obviously be of great significance as this project moves into the actual history bits of the Silmarillion:
High Towers and Strong Places - A Political History of M-e,
by Timothy R. Furnish -- newly published
http://www.amazon.com/High-Towers-Strong-Places-Middle-Earth/dp/1940992516/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

This is the first volume in a set. The second will be entitled Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors: A Military History of M-e -- not yet published
 
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