Woses - and other Races in Middle Earth
This could get controversial... I'm just thinking out loud here. (Mostly anyway) and I will say as a disclaimer something that I should put at the beginning of all my posts really. LOL. And that is that I can often express views that are not actually my own, just for the sake of exploring the subject to it's full extent. I do *not* think that Tolkien was racist. I'll say that now! But I do think that the subject is worth exploring, for the sake of understanding those who believe he is, and for ourselves to learn more about the books we love.
And with that said, let's get on.
This post was inspired by Gramma's BS this morning.
The Woses fascinate me. I suppose because they are mysterious, and one of the things that drew me to Archaeology in the first place was the chance to explore the mysteries of our ancestors and the way they lived.
I don't know if Tolkien was a subscriber to Creationism or Evolutionism.. (or neither!) But from his description of the Woses, and other stuff that he says about the different kinds of men, there is a hint of Victorian Evolution Theory in his work.
Many in the 19th/early 20th C believed that man's brain was constantly expanding/evolving, and that earlier man (I'm not talking about other species of hominid ancestors but actual Homo Sapiens Sapiens like us) was less man-like in all its ways than we are.
The World of Middle Earth, encyclopedia describes the different races in steps like this:
The Woses, communicating by drum beat, and living so in tune with the wild that they are seen as ghosts by those men who have since forgotten how to do the same, fit into the catagory of stone-age men. (The Dunlendings and other kinds were also of this early kind though of a more advanced type then Woses, say mesolithic or even Bronze-Age). Then you have the Breelanders and Beornings. And then the Eorlingas, taller and more 'noble' yet still seeing glory in battle.
And then the great men of Numenor such as Aragorn and the men of Gondor and Arnor, who have a longer life as well as a mind tuned more to the things of science and literature than to war.
I can see where the writer of the encyclopoedia got his interpretation from. No one could doubt that the men of Rohan find glory in battle..
At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red-day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.
and that the men of Numenor seek higher things than that.
"War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise." Faramir - the window to the west TTT
But I don't think that Tolkien was meaning to say that the Woses were any less intelligent than the Gondorians/Eorlingas. Far from it, when Ghan-buri-Ghan meets Theoden, we see that though he is not so good at Westron (often - as any tourist in a foreign land will know from experience - bad language is confused for bad intelligence) he is far more clued up about what is going on than Theoden is.
Still, I've often wondered what Tolkien meant exactly by giving different races different levels of greatness...
I know some who would see that as racism, but even if Tolkien was saying there were different levels of man (and I do not really think he was), I am sure it wasn't racism. It was just the generally held view at the time because of limited understanding of Evolution. Even now Archaeologists battle to demonstrate that the earliest civilizations (eg the builders of Stone Henge) were just as intelligent and able as we are in the 21st century. For example an article appeared in the Telegraph last saturday beginning with:
"[many] Archaeologists assume a smooth progression in human development from primitive hunter-gatherers to sophisticated city dwellers. But this cosy theory has been undermined by the work of [amongst others] a professor of engineering."
So if that is still a struggle now, we can hardly object to earlier generations mistakenly believing the same thing as many still do today.
The Woses built amazingly beautiful stone statues at Dunharrow (or at least the impression is given that they were the ones involved in building them). ""
That gives the same impression of longevity in the land as you get in Western Europe where such decorated standing stones are commonly found. And again, until very recently it was believed that each new culture was a wave of immigration - or invasion - from another land. That still may be true, but some are suggesting it was far more complicated than that.
One of the things I like about Tolkien's story is the hints of what came before that are scattered all over it. Think of the remains of the watchtower at Weathertop, or the great statue of a Gondorian king whose head, wreathed in flowers gives Frodo such joy at the crossroads to Minas Morgul.
But as in LOTR - where the Numenorians became the Gondorians, and before that were the Edain the earliest men (see bottom) - there is a sense that the more recent things are just a continuing of that which came before.
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On a slight aside (if you'll pardon me) as an example of how the 'cultural evolution' theory is changing, the article I mentioned describes something wonderful. At Newgrange in Ireland is a circular structure built about 1000 years before Egypts great pyramid, predating any city in western Europe by about 2000 years. A single shaft was carefully constructed there so that the light of Venus would penetrate into the central chamber once every eight years giving the engineers who designed it a calendar so accurate that it can be beaten today only by the use of atomic clocks.
Not only that, but there has recently been discovered a 'Megalithic Yard' (mega-lithic means 'big stones') that is a measured length used in building stone age structures that seems to be the same in all the sites throughout Europe. It is equal to 82.96656cm. It is believed that it was measured using a pendulum (though it was beyond me how you converted time in to distance... I'm sure the book the article was based on tells you nicely). You didn't have to count the number of pendulum swings, you just had to recite a poem say to it.
Remember those poems you used in the playground? "Eeny meeny miny mo, catch a baby by the toe, if it squeels let it go, eeny meeny miny mo." Well, it is now believed that that particular poem - at least the eeny meeny miny mo bit, is a left-over from one of the earliest forms of language in the world. (awesome huh?)
But anyway, someone had the bright idea of taking a tenth of a megalithic yard, and making a cube out of it (just like we make a litre by making a cube of 10cm x 10 x10). And found that the volume they ended up with was equal to 1.005 pints! In fact, comparing it to earlier measurements of pints gets even more accurate results. Henry VII (1485-1509) pint was closer to the megalithic pint than it was to the modern one - with a difference less than on part per 1,000. Not only that, but the pint in Elizabethan times in 1601 was identical to the Megalithic one.
Then they checked it against other measurements from around the world. The Spanish vara is very close to a megalithic yard. 1,000 Japanese shakus fit 366 megalithic yards with an accuracy of 99.8%. Ancient Egypt's standard measurement was the "Royal Cubit" and the Great Pyramid was built using a measuring wheel that had a circumference of one Mesalithic Yard, and a diameter that was half a royal cubit. And in the Indus Valley (in India), the earliest form of measurement was a gaz which is as close to a megalithic yard as to make no difference..
Isn't that amazing?!
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back to Tolkien then..
So, we have the Woses, the original inhabitants, then in come the Dunlendings - perhaps - who are then driven out by the arrival of the men of Rohan and the war that took place at that time. Of course the men of Numenor (who became Gondor and Arnor) had already arrived, but they entered from outside and were seen as closer to elves. Indeed there is a lovely passage in the Silmarillion, if ONLY I could remember where, which says something like 'in those days men and elves were much alike'
Ahh I have found it!
"In those days Elves and Men were of like stature and strength of body, but Elves had greater wisdom, and skill and beauty; and those who had dwelt in Valinor and looked upon the Powers as much surpassed the Dark Elves in these things as they in turn surpassed the people of mortal race...[and they] were allies and held themselves akin, and there were some among Men that learned the wisdom of the Eldar, and became great and valiant among the captains of the Noldor. And in the glory and beauty of the Elves, and in their fate, full share had the offspring of elf and mortal."
To me that says that men were on a parr with the dark elves who had not moved westward following the call of the Valar, and those who became the men of Numenor became greater still through drawing close to the Noldor - the High Elves. And all men, Woses to Gondorians are all descended from the same Men who first rose as the Second Children of Eru.
So here is the answer. Tolkien isn't saying that different men are on different levels. He is saying that man has it in him to become great, as those who drew near to the Noldor did. They grew apart from their fellow men through their deeds, not through an intrinsic superiority. That is a very suitable message for a Myth. Which indeed is what this whole Middle-earth saga is. We can all become greater than we are.
And no one could doubt that Tolkien felt the glory of the ride of the Rohirrim, or that the reader too is stirred and thinks of great things as they read it. Indeed it is one of my personal favourite passages! Their glory in battle is a good thing, not an inferior thing, even though he does suggest that it is better for men to hold on to what they fight for, rather than revel in the fighting itself.
I once met a lady who said that the more she delved into LOTR the more concerned she became of its racist content, and though she would still read it to her children, there were passages that she believed she would have to sit down and explain to them, or even renounce. This made me a little sad, because I was sure that she was seeing something that isn't there. Now I know that if she had delved deeper, she would have seen that the racist concept was purely superficial and due to bad interpretation..
Let me leave you with what Ghan-buri-ghan says on the matter.
"Wild Men are wild, free, but not children,' he answered. 'I am great headman, Ghan-buri-Ghan. I count many things: stars in sky, leaves on trees, men in the dark. You have a score of scores counted ten times and five. They have more. Big fight, and who will win?'"
And from what we know of Tolkien's love of trees, leaves, and stars.. Indeed from his various writings we could say that he loved these more than anything else. So we see here that he admired the Wild Men perhaps even more than any other, because they could count what others see as un-numberable.