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March 23, 2013

Tolkien, myth and modernity

"Can someone please explain why technology in the universe of LOTR does not develop beyond the iron age?"

Because in Tolkien's mythology, technology represents evil and materialism in contrast to the goodness of nature and spirituality.

The One Ring didn't simply exist through magic; it was forged through craftsmanship, which is the most basic form of technology. Obviously, craftsmanship itself is not evil, but it is easily corrupted; it isn't itself evil, but too prone to evil to be considered neutral.

I don't know if you have read the Silmarillion, but this is why the Noldor, the most skilled among Elves, are the ones who suffer most from Melkor's deceit. It is why Dwarves and Men are more easily corrupted than Elves, Tolkien's ideal race. Khazad-dum unleashed the Balrog because the Dwarves delved too deep in their search for more metals and gems, substances of little worth without technology to shape them. Númenór fell when Men's technology advanced enough for them to wage war against Valinor, and they were defeated by the Valar--that is, powers of nature.

What marks Saruman's descent into wickedness? That he destroys Fangorn to fuel his machinery, and he uses his technology to breed the Uruk-hai. The Spoiling of the Shire is its industrialization. Even the palantiri work some evil. So the reason that technology didn't advance between the end of the Second Age and the end of the Third is that Middle-Earth is naturally good. There was no evil force powerful enough to drive innovation, so it remained as it was. If the Fellowship had failed, technology would have advanced under Sauron's rule.

EDIT: For anyone interested, my response draws heavily from Patrick Curry's Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at March 23, 2013 08:07 AM