The Geology of Middle Earth: Lonesome Peaks Pt. 2

So last time I managed to put up one of these posts, I discussed the nature of the great island (Not continent) of sunken Numenor, which might be only fleetingly familiar to the  fans only acquainted with Tolkien’s work through Peter Jackson’s film adaptations.

This time, however, we will be working on two much more familiar mountain peaks. Not only important, but the linchpins of both trilogies: Erebor, better known as the Lonely Mountain; and Orodruin, better known as Mt. Doom.

Ted_Nasmith_-_Across_Gorgoroth
Across Gorgoroth by Ted Nasmith

Mt. Doom is relatively straightforward, geologically speaking. What gives it something of a twist is that it’s one of the few landmarks of the world that Eru Iluvatar did not make. Melkor, later known as Morgoth, summoned Orodruin into being during the First Age, and while Tolkien was quite adamant on Morgoth’s creative sterility, it stands to reason he could move some rocks around.

Orodruin, later known as Amon Amarth aka Mt. Doom, has all the tells of a stratovolcano. This kind of volcano is probably what you think of when you hear the term “Volcano”. Tall, conical, mad of hardened ash and magma, and prone to violent and explosive eruptions. Mount Fuji, Mount Vesuvius, and Mt. St. Helens are all stratovolcanoes.

So let’s take a look at the similarities.

Tall conical shape? Check

Infrequent powerful eruptions? Check

Burning hot internal magma chambers fit for forging rings of power? Check.

There is, however, one issue that we’ll see again in the Lonely Mountain: Where the hell is the water?

The creation of stratovolcanoes, generally speaking, requires the subduction of oceanic plates beneath continental plates. Which is to say, much like the other volcanoes I mentioned, Mt. Doom should be near an ocean if it’s meant to be a stratovolcano. The closest major open water, the Bay of Belfalas, is quite a ways away for it to be the source. I had to do some quick and dirt map comparisons for this, but Mount Doom is approximately five hundred miles from the open ocean. Mt. St. Helens is about one hundred miles from the Pacific, one-fifth of the distance. If anyone can cite me a source for a stratovolcano that far inland, that would be delightful.

In conclusion? Well, we’re going to have to do what the elves do best: Blame Morgoth (since Feanor can’t take the blame this time). That god of darkness clearly has as much respect for the laws of geology as he does for the laws of nature.

But we’ve still got another mountain to deal with.

 

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The Lonely Mountain, center of the unimaginatively named “Kingdom Under the Mountain”, home of the dwarves of Erebor and later the dragon Smaug. It is known for two things: one, being a lone peak in otherwise relatively flat land. And two: Being full of gold and other riches. Enough gold, apparently, to lure a dragon in.

To explain the first, the most obvious first guess would be that  the Lonely Mountain is a Stratovolcano like Mt. Doom. That said, stratovolcanoes generally form along the boundaries of tectonic plates where you also often see mountain uplift. So how is it that the Lonely Mountain is lonely? Well, while we could try to chalk it up as an offshoot of the Grey Mountains, but those are hundreds of miles away with nothing but lowland between. Similar to Mt. Doom’s case, this leads to an issue in Erebor’s formation without an evil god to solve it.

Other possibilities remain, but none quite fit the MO of the Lonely Mountain, so that mystery might just have to be chalked up to Iluvatar (And Tolkien’s) dramatic license.

Next we move onto a slightly more complicated characteristic: The jewels and gold that makes the Lonely Mountain rich, with gold and diamonds in particular. And wouldn’t you know it, we get all of our gold and more than a few of our diamonds from the same process:

Bolide
Via WIkipedia

 

While diamonds form through a number of natural processes, virtually all of the accessible gold on earth was brought here from meteorites, and quite a few diamonds were as well. So while I can’t offer a solution as to why Erebor is a mountain where none should clearly exist,  I think I can explain where its riches came from.

 

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Off-kilter

So I had the misfortune of having a very unpleasant weekend, and it left me thinking a little about how much we (or at least I) value our daily routines. After a power outage on Friday put a stop to any evening plans, I had to contend with a weekend without the internet.

Now, this honestly sounds like the epitome of ‘first-world problems’ but considering how much we interact with the internet in our daily lives, particularly at home, it tends to throw a wrench in a lot of plans. More than any singular inconvenience, however, was this ongoing sense of being ‘off kilter’.

I’m a very organized person, sometimes to a fault. I keep  my living space clean, I do laundry and go grocery shopping like clockwork on the same days of the week, and I have other routines that I see to virtually every day. The power then internet going out put a decisive end to this routine, and while I could have managed to complete some of my normal weekend tasks, I found that I had lost the will to do most of them, everything had this sort of malaise hanging over it because my normal routines had been thrown off balance, and I think that speaks to a deep need for organization within me.

That said I’m curious how more ‘spontaneous’ or ‘chaotic’ people would have reacted. It’s always good to not only be self-aware of your responses to things, but to consider how others might react to the same stimuli, mixing a bit of the writer and the scientist together.

The Snake and the Mirror

The Cities Eternal

Artifice

October 12th, 2024

“You sure this is the place?” Rosa asked, looking at the drawn door of what looked like a run-down old garage.

“It is indeed,” Angel, the black-haired and winged wolf girl at her side nodded. “Though I must remind you again that it’s unlikely he’ll help.”

“Well, it’s worth a shot,” Rosa said. “Besides, I need every edge I can get and you said he was the best in the city.”

“Unquestionably,” Angel nodded. “Though he is also…temperamental.”

Rosa snorted. “Welcome to the club.”

Without another word, she banged loudly on the metal door of the garage. “Anybody home!?”

Angel rolled her eyes before stepping past her. “Honestly, that’s not going to work either.”

Angel placed a gloved hand on the metal of the door and from where her fingers touched the surface long ornate lines of light began to spread and curl from her hand…

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Our Heroes and Our Villains

So one of the places I had the fortune of visiting was the country of Romania, spending most of my time in Bucharest but taking a day out to do some castle-touring as well. One of Romania’s big tourist draws is, of course, the vampire phenomenon as kindled by Bram Stoker when he made the home of his famous monster amidst the cloud-shrouded hills of Transylvania in his Gothic masterpiece Dracula.

Of course, any fan of history or folklore will tell you that Stoker took a heaping handful of liberties when writing it. The closest Romanian folklore has to a vampire is a creature called a “Strigoi”, similar in character to a Revenant or Ghoul. As for the man himself, well as many have said before me, Dracula was based on the real man Vlad III, also known as Vlad Dracula (names for his father), and Vlad the Impaler. And it is this man, and what he represents, that I wish to discuss.

 

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Vlad III is a polarizing man to say the least. He was characterized by the local Romanians as a folk hero, who bravely held the line against Ottoman invasion even as the church and his fellow nobles attempted to stab him in the back. Of course, to fight a war of extreme odds, one tends to use aggravated methods. In Vlad’s case, the punishment of “Death by impalement” was his favored penalty for every conceivable crime. He was described as “A Man of Extremes in Extreme Times”. Brutal he most certainly was, but he lived in a place and period that demanded brutality to keep one’s way of life afloat.

Books can and have been written on this man. But I’m more interested on what this kind of figure represents in literature. It is often said that iconic villains are those who are sympathetic (Though this is variably true). At the very least that’s what’s popular, and in fantasy literature in particular the dark overlord popularized by Sauron has mostly had its day unless you mess with the formula.

But Vlad III there represents that rare kind of character. The man who is at once both hero and villain. Vlad Dracula was a warlord who fought a brutal campaign against an invading force, and delivered a unique form of psychological warfare by impaling POWs, letting them die slowly over days upon the pikes so that the Ottomans could see just what awaited them, a measure he inflicted upon his own people as well. By the same token he kept the sovereignty of his people going against all odds, and had to fight both for his freedom and for his throne.

Vlad III was more than just a villain with good publicity, he was certainly more complex than a ruthless tyrant, although ruthless he certainly was even by the standards of his day. A “good” villain will often see themselves as the hero, but someone like Vlad III, like many before him both real and fictitious, is the rare breed where just as many call him a savior as a monster, sometimes both at once.

A man of extremes in extreme times indeed.

The Snake and the Mirror

The Cities Eternal

Chapter 21

October 6th, 2024

Noemi rested her arms over the railing of the ship, staring out across the sea. It had been a few days out on the open sea, aboard the sleek merchant vessel that had carried her away from the Aztlan port. As the pirates raided the port, Noemi had swum through the water, grabbing hold of the ropes on the side of this boat and pulled herself aboard. Met at sword point, the only reason they hadn’t tossed her overboard was because Ophida had manifested and promised to provide them as much good wind as her meager powers could provide.

That had been just under a week ago. Since then, Noemi had been working to earn her keep on board the ship, tying knots and cleaning the deck more often than not. The work was hard and boring, but Noemi didn’t complain. At least here, she…

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The Return…and a Thank You

So after an impressively long delay due to a combination of work and world travel I have returned to continue a hopefully consistent schedule of interest and updates. Traveling abroad is a wonderful experience, and I hope to share some of the stories that places can tell across kilometers and centuries over the coming weeks.

 

Before any of that though, before my departure at the end of last May, I was lucky enough to have hosted a panel at the Midwest’s largest Anime Convention: Anime Central (or ACen). My panel, Madoka & Rebellion: A Literary Analysis, had an audience of around seventy people which was spectacular, both for their enthusiasm and willingness to allow me to inflict my inner English teacher upon them. So while I doubt that any of the attendees are among my fistful of followers, I wanted to express a gratitude for the opportunity, as well as a thanks to those followers for doing something similar by listening to my yammering. In the future I will no doubt present something similar to that panel on this blog, but for now I leave it with my thanks.

 

Madokaframe

 

The Meaning of Medium

We live in a society blessed with perhaps the greatest number of entertainment and artistic mediums that has ever existed in human history. From our ancient oral storytelling tradition evolved song and from it music, from the intertwining of song and story came the beginnings of theater and the performing arts. Writing and prose too sprouted across the world as a way of recording those ancient oral tales.

In the past three centuries, technology has given us new mediums and new platforms to explore stories. Cameras gave us photography, the ability to capture the essence of reality in a single frame where before we could only create painted simulacrums. Film gives us an eternal and repeatable performance in grand theaters and our own homes. The comic strip combined relatively simple art with prose storytelling to give us tales from banal newspaper strips to grand graphic novels, and from these comic strips and illustrations came animation. Eventually the internet arose, bringing with it new and experimental forms of mediums. Podcasts replace the radio plays of old, and even my own web serial is simply the resurrection of a past method of publishing.

But at the core of medium is story (or the deliberate lack of story if you’re feeling post-modern). And these stories, born from one medium, seem to almost inevitably cross into another in the modern day of franchises and adaptations. Who among us hasn’t bemoaned the bad film adaptation of a book, or marveled when our comic book superheroes are brought to life before our eyes? Adaptation has existed since the first writer decided to set the Epic of Gilgamesh to tablet, and it has had a divisive history ever since.

In the transference of a story through mediums, the immediate gain is obvious. When books are adapted to movies, what we once had to imagine can now be shown to us in live color and surround sound, featuring our most beloved actors. Or there is the reverse, when the frenetic energy and rapid pace of a movie has time and space to be decompressed into novel form. The desire to see our favorite works adapted is obvious. To be adapted means to be popular, and to see the audience expanded. But what is lost?

The immediate pitfalls are something we all see. Adaptation Distillation can make berserkers of us all as favored background characters and subplots are altered or cut away entirely. Roles are miscast and what was inspiring in one form becomes bland in another. But perhaps there is more to it than the simple disappointment of fans.

A favored author of mine is famous comic author, snake worshipper, and generally frightening person Alan Moore. Mr. Moore has a long history and reputation of being a hateful curmudgeon, disowning all adaptations of his work and refusing to let his name be on them (with one or two standout exceptions). However, closer examinations of his critique and his statements (although he is certainly prone to infuriated outburst and eccentricity) point to a man committed to his medium, who has little faith in the transferal process.

So we must ask yourself, is that such a bad thing? Moore is a comic author, and a damn good one. He knows not only what makes a story work but what makes a comic story work. As opposed to a novel story or a film story, a comic story is one that is inherently one with its medium. To adapt it to film or prose or song is to not only butcher the adaptation, but to remove an inherent part of the work’s soul.

I am not an angry old man on his lawn chair. In the past few days alone I have seen TV shows adapted from comics, movies adapted from TV shows, and movies adapted from comics, and enjoyed them all thoroughly. It is, however, important I believe to look beyond what is cut and what is added when a story is adapted to another medium. Look deeper, and try to see why a book was written as a book instead of a movie, and how much of that might have been lost in the process. The goal of understanding is never to hate or find reason to hate, it is simply to become more aware.

The Geology of Middle Earth: Lonesome Peaks Pt. 1

Mountains are a famous feature of Middle-earth, with numerous rising peaks soaring above their neighbors. Caradhras in the Misty Mountains which stood high above the underground city of Moria; Mount Gundabad, birthplace of the dwarves and now a place occupied by legions of goblins; and other such mountains gained fame as set pieces for the stories of Tolkien’s world.

Three mountains stand out, however, as being lone peaks that seem to rise above the surrounding landscape, like great monuments that stand out in stark contrast to the lowlands at their feet. These are Meneltarma, the Sacred Mountain of Numenor; Orodruin which dominated the Plateau of Gorgoroth and was better known by the name of Mount Doom; and of course the Lonely Mountain, also known as Erebor, beneath which the dwarves built the Kingdom Under the Mountain, and was for a time occupied by the dragon Smaug.

So what causes mountains like this? These tall lonely monuments that stand above the crust of the earth. Well the answer is…they don’t really. Simply by description we can assume that all three of these mountains are likely volcanoes, though of them only Mt. Doom is regularly active. So we’re going to go through these one by one to try and make a little sense of them. Unfortunately, as this post is already quite long, I’ve had to break it up a bit. This post will focus on the great sea-going nation of Numenor and their Sacred Mountain.

Narfil_Palùrfalas_-_Numenor_Map
Source: Tolkien Gateway. Artist:  Narfil Palùrfalas

To those of you most familiar with the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, the island of Numenor is something only mentioned in passing and likely escaped notice. It is, in short terms, Tolkien’s Atlantis. Though once noble and blessed, the people of Numenor were corrupted by Sauron’s influence and were spurred on to declare war upon the Valar. While some number of the faithful escaped, the great creator of all things, Eru Iluvatar, came down and sank Numenor beneath the waves. I’m not going to attempt to explain the destruction of Numenor geologically as it was explicitly divine intervention, but the island itself was made along with the rest of Arda, and that is something we can explore.

The island itself is technically named Elenna, but the name of the realm upon it was much better known. Although it created a vast maritime empire, the island of Elenna was roughly the same size as Sumatra according to Tolkien’s notes as well as the calculations done in the Atlas of Middle-earth (and corroborated by my own). So while it was certainly large it wasn’t quite a lost continent. The most notable feature of the island itself was Meneltarma, the Sacred Mountain. It was a massive mountain that rose high from the center of the five-pointed island. This gives Elenna a character and geography not unlike numerous tropical islands such as Kauai and Gran Canaria, with the island being formed a volcano created by an oceanic hotspot.

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Pictured: The Island of Kauai in the Hawaiian Island Chain. Notice the distinct central volcanic peak. Source: Wikipedia

In short terms, in an area where a plume of hot magma from the mantle pushes through the crust, a volcanic hotspot forms which can lead to the creation of tall but broad “Shield” volcanoes. Multiple and frequent eruptions form the shield volcanoes (Which are non-explosive and produce copious lava) can create large islands, but these volcanoes become extinct when the tectonic plate moves the volcano away form the hotspot, leaving it to erode as new volcanoes rise up where it once was. In our modern tectonic ally active world this can create island chains such as the Hawaiian Islands and the Canaries.

Elenna’s five-pointed geology could indicate a past series of eruptions from Meneltarma (or at least it was created to idnicate such). However, this leads to an interesting issue. Meneltarma is never noted as being volcanically active, and if it was indeed a shield volcano then the people of Numenor would have noticed flows of lava running from their sacred mountain fairly often. The implication, of course, being that there had been some tectonic movement and the hotspot had moved. This is supported by the existence of a  second smaller mountain on Elenna, Forontil.

Perhaps the island had moved from the hotspot entirely, and a new mountain would someday rise beside Numenor. Whether the sinking of Elenna put a stop to that, who can say? The Legends of Tolkien’s world say that some still believe that the peak of Meneltarma rises form the water where Numenor once dominated. Perhaps it is not the sacred mountain that explorers would find out there, but a newer younger mountain of hardened lava rising from the waves.

 

The Snake and the Mirror

New Chapter up! Where Asha meets another strange ally in the fight for Babylon’s freedom.

The Cities Eternal

Chapter 14

September 28th, 2024

C: What’s up, Asha? It’s been a while.

A: Likewise. Been super busy here in Babylon, sorry we haven’t been able to chat.

C: Cool. I’ve been busy too, so no worries. Even got to hook up with an old friend of mine!

A: Awesome! I’ve been less lucky. Things are pretty bleak here. And we met a new guy who might help but he’s…pretty jaded.

C: I know you, Asha, you can turn things around!

A: Heh, thanks for the support as ever, Cat.

Asha smiled down at the book in her hands. She was sitting on the edge of the window in their tiny studio, legs inside and her back against the frame as she felt the cool late afternoon air pour in, the sunlight glinting on the rooftops as it began to set. People were moving outside in the street below, and…

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The Snake and the Mirror

The newest chapter is live! And we begin to see the threads of fate that tie the narrative together.

The Cities Eternal

Stepping Out

“So this is a memory we’re in?” Cat asked, looking around the stately decoration of the manor hallway.

“Yes, everything here is set and unmutable, it is not like a dream, and they can’t hear or interact with us.” Gisela nodded, staying by her side.

“Ya I get it, it’s like A Christmas Carol, right?” Cat said “So that makes me…Ghost of Christmas Past then?”

“A good enough approximation” Gisela nodded. “Now then, you wanted a story, so observe.”

Together, the pair of them walked through the hall in pursuit of the younger Gisela. They weren’t intangible apparitions, Cat could clearly see her own hands, but her presence felt…ethereal. They made no sound on the hard wood floor as they walked, and their faces weren’t reflected in the glass of the windows they passed either. Cat was aware and present, but as far as the memory was concerned…

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