August 7, 2000

Tolkien's Middle-earth Doesn't Look Like Medieval Europe
Michael Martinez

One of the Internet's Great Debates concerns how Middle-earth appears. Usually we ask, "Is Middle-earth medieval?", but the question should really be, "Does Middle-earth look medieval?"

To J.R.R. Tolkien it did not, but apparently to Peter Jackson it does. One of my concerns about the movies is that Jackson is severely influenced by the medieval interpretation of John Howe. Howe is a great artist but a terrible Tolkien interpreter. He has reduced Tolkien's panoramic vision of a lost ancient world to a misapplication of medieval Europe.

There are aspects of Tolkien's world which are derived from medieval influences, but few if any of them are actually visual. The medievalisms come most often in story ideas, such as Bilbo's theft of the cup from Smaug's hoard, the story of Turin Turambar, etc. The one aspect of Middle-earth most people seem to feel is derived from Anglo-Saxon England is, in fact, nothing of the sort. I refer to the Rohirrim.