Charles Goodyear, Civil War soldiers, Dwarves, Gandalf, Goliath, Industrial Revolution, Isengard, Mr. Baggins, Ori, Pipeweed, Potatoes, Sling, Slingshot, The Hobbit, Tolkien, Tomatoes, Vulcanized
“Cold chicken and tomatoes!” shouted Gandalf in 1937 to a flummoxed Mr. Baggins.
“Cold chicken and pickles!” shouted Gandalf in 1966 to a still-flummoxed Mr. Baggins.
Something has happened in those 30 years– and it isn’t just a change in the Hobbit menu.
It’s about anachronism– what is appropriate within a time period and its place– and how Tolkien, in retrospect, came to believe that tomatoes didn’t grow in Middle-earth.
This is odd, one might think, because potatoes and tobacco (only called such in The Hobbit and always “pipeweed” in The Lord of the Rings) do grow there. (Although perhaps only in the Shire? Gollum, a one-time resident of the banks of the Anduin, certainly doesn’t recognize potatoes.)
We’ll never know why the tomatoes disappeared, while the other two remained, they all, being products of New World exploration and importation. After all, all three are agricultural produce and, depending on climate and soil, equally possible.
But then, there’s that slingshot.
It’s not in The Hobbit, but in P. Jackson’s The Hobbit. Ori the Dwarf is armed with it, we suppose in an attempt to differentiate him from the other Dwarves, and to suggest his age in relation to them (although he appears to be perhaps 150 years old, more or less– see the Tolkien Gateway citation for “Ori” for further information).
Consider, however, what gives a slingshot its zing: a big rubber band.
This rubber band is a strip of vulcanized rubber, the process for making such rubber only being patented in our world in 1844 by Charles Goodyear.
(A process which allowed Civil War soldiers to wear rain ponchos.)
Unlike tomatoes, vulcanization represents a further idea in the ongoing Industrial Revolution– an event which did not take place in the Third Age of Middle-earth. (We might see events at Isengard as perhaps signaling pre-industrialization, of the sort one saw in the earlier 18th century in western Europe and particularly in Great Britain.)
Instead of a comparatively recent slingshot, why not use a well-known missile weapon of the ancient world, the sling?
Instead of the tension of vulcanized rubber, this uses arm muscle and physics to propel its deadly ammunition– just ask Goliath.
(For any number of examples of the sling in action, just google ‘sling” on YouTube.)
For us, then, this seems to be a choice. And maybe a significant one. Either, like Tolkien, to consider and reconsider carefully each item and to decide for or against, or simply to grab something convenient and use it, apparently not caring if it were appropriate for Middle-earth or not.
It’s easy to see where we stand on this, so we leave it to you, dear readers: which would you choose?
Thanks, as ever, for reading,