Alan Lee, architecture, bridge, Bruinen, footbridge, Illustration, Lauterbrunnental, Middle-earth, Ottoman, packhorse bridge, Peter Jackson, Ring of Silvianus, Rivendell, Roman Britain, Roman villa, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Stari Most, Ted Nasmith, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, Wasdale
Welcome, dear readers, as ever. In our last posting, we looked at the Greenway from a comparative perspective. In this one, we’ve got an idea or two from having looked as closely as we could at one of JRRT’s illustrations of Rivendell, comparing it with various modern conceptions, including that in the films of P. Jackson.
Rivendell, Sindarin, Imladris, “deep valley in a cleft”, is located on the eastern edge of Eriador, at the foot of the Misty Mountains. Set in that deep valley, which was formed by the action of the river Bruinen (“Loudwater”), it was besieged on several occasions throughout its lifetime, but had survived to be the last refuge of the Elves on that side of the mountains.
It is understood that Tolkien based it upon a Swiss valley, Lauterbrunnental, which he had visited on a hiking trip in 1911.
(And maybe there’s an echo in the name—which is sometimes translated “Louder Springs”—in Bruinen, “Loudwater”?)
Here is the Tolkien illustration
We want to look at two features here. First, in the middle ground, there is that bridge. Here is Alan Lee’s very beautiful version—although you will note that it’s been moved and shortened.
As we examined this bridge as closely as we could, we wondered, where had the idea come from for its shape? And two possibilities came to mind. First, because we’re very much World History people, we thought of those beautiful bridges from the Ottoman world. There are a number of surviving bridges which are more elaborate, but there are also single-arch bridges like these, which bear a strong resemblance to the bridge in Tolkien’s illustration.
To us, one of the most beautiful is the Stari Most (Bosnian, “Old Bridge”), in Mostar (Bosnian, “Bridge Keeper”), which was built in the 16th century, destroyed in 1993, and rebuilt, and reopened in 2004.
Moving a little closer to home (England, that is, in the case of JRRT), another possibility for a model might be something mentioned in our last posting, when we talked about medieval English roads as mostly packhorse trails. Here’s a perfect example, from Wasdale in the Lake District of northern England, a packhorse bridge.
Moving upstream from the bridge in Tolkien’s picture, we see a house depicted.
It’s hard to make it out, even under magnification, but, when we compare it with:
- the buildings in the Jackson films
- Alan Lee’s Rivendell
- or even Ted Nasmith’s,
we personally don’t think anyone quite captures what Tolkien drew. To us, there appears to be, as we said before, something closer to home–in the reconstructions of Roman villas and their outbuildings. And, as we said in our last, so much of Roman Britain was still available, either above or below ground, that we can imagine JRRT being aware of it. (In fact, in 1929, the archaeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler actually consulted him on an ancient curse and the inscription on a Roman-British ring. See the Ring of Silvianus wiki page). Possible examples, some from reconstructed sites:
Blow up the Tolkien illustration for yourself, dear readers, and what do you think?
Thanks, as always, for reading.