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Book review: High Towers and Strong Places

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Cover art by Anke Eissmann.

High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle-earth. Timothy R. Furnish. Toronto (ON): Oloris Publishing. ISBN 978-1940992518. 166 pp. $35.00.


Between the publication of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Rayner Unwin, under intense pressure to publish the final volume as soon as possible, wrote to Tolkien pleading for the still unfinished Appendices to The Lord of the Rings to be delivered. Tolkien assured Unwin that he was working on them but expressed his regret that the Appendices had been promised in the first place: It is, I suppose, a tribute to the curious effect that story has, when based on very elaborate and detailed workings of geography, chronology, and language, that so many should clamour for sheer ‘information’, or 'lore’. But the demands such people make would again require a book, at least the size of Vol. I…. In any case the 'background’ matter is very intricate, useless unless exact, and compression within the limits available leaves it unsatisfactory. (Letters, no. 160) The Appendices were delivered (despite a persistent misconception that they were only added to the second edition) and many readers of Tolkien who have “clamored for lore” over the years would disagree about them being unsatisfactory, though they are undoubtedly compressed. Tolkien remained unsatisfied; a decade later, in his Foreword to the Second Edition, Tolkien referred to an “accessory volume” that might include previously withheld information, particularly linguistic material but also including an expanded index for the book, though this volume never came to be.

With the posthumous publication of Unfinished TalesThe History of Middle-earth, the scholarly journals of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, and many other works, modern readers can explore a wealth of Middle-earth lore previous generations could only dream of. Much of this material remains fragmentary, however, and attempting to piece together the details has long been a hobby of the “lore-clamorers”. Dr. Timothy R. Furnish is undoubtedly one such fan and his new book High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle-earth is the product of a great deal of research and an admirable application of Primary World-style historical analysis to the Secondary World with the aim of enhancing our understanding of the political and military aspects of Tolkien’s subcreation. Furnish has predecessors in this endeavor, many of whom he cites in the book’s hundreds of endnotes, but as Furnish correctly notes in his introduction, the vast majority of published Tolkien scholarship has studied the legendarium for its literary qualities rather than its vast invented history. While research into Tolkien’s invented languages has a prominent and respected place in Tolkien studies, investigations into the history of Arda are often frowned upon. As the journal Mythlore warns  prospective authors, they do not accept pure ‘Middle-earth studies’ … which take as a premise that the mythopoeic creation of any author is real, or that fail to relate their work to the ‘mundane world’. Unlike the situation with Tolkien’s languages, there are no alternative journals for such studies to call their own.

Dr. Furnish, who is a former college professor and author of three previously published books on Islamic history, makes plenty of references to the “mundane world” through his application of concepts from political and military science to Tolkien’s cultures and armies. However, this is very much a book about the invented history of Middle-earth rather than one comparing Tolkien’s work with various potential inspirations. Much of High Towers and Strong Places is devoted to recounting the basic histories of the First through Third Ages and providing a brief outline of the major polities of each era. This is necessary for the analysis that follows and the amount of legwork Furnish put in will undoubtedly be appreciated by casual readers, though anyone who has previously spent hours poring over The Lord of the Rings’ Appendix A or Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-earth (both frequently cited by Furnish) will find the first half of this volume fairly predictable. The book shines brighter when Furnish is in analytical mode as he is for much of the second half; the forthcoming companion volume (expected in 2017) will apparently be more like this throughout. His enthusiasm for Middle-earth is palpable and his application of Primary World concepts from the social sciences is thought-provoking, but unfortunately this analysis is undercut by a number of flaws in Furnish’s recounting of the histories. The observant reader will also spot a number of Lore errors of varying degrees of severity which undercut Furnish’s ambitions to provide a complete examination of the part played by warriors … from the First to the early Fourth Age (p. 20).

(A quick note regarding citations: I purchased and read the e-book version of High Towers and Strong Places, available on the Oloris Bookshop website, which is in the ePub file format. EPub files do not have the same page numbering as their corresponding print editions. Some e-readers will alter the number of nominal pages in a book depending on the screen and font size settings, which makes giving citations difficult. As a partial workaround to this problem I have referred to the page numbers as displayed in Adobe Digital Editions, a free e-reader program which is more consistent with its page numbering. However, these are still not the same numbers as in the softcover edition.)

The most serious misstep is a methodological one: namely, that Furnish has no consistent historiography or analytical framework for assessing the source texts. This is most evident in the sections regarding the First and Second Ages where one not only has to tease out information from often scant accounts but also attempt to determine Tolkien’s own intentions from a mass of often inconsistent writings. Furnish runs into this problem early in the second section of the book when discussing the histories of Eregion, Lórien, and Galadriel and Celeborn (p. 37-38). The main source here is “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”, published in Unfinished Tales, which is infamous for its many conflicting versions and lack of definitive answers on almost anything. Furnish acknowledges this in the section’s endnotes, but his main narrative makes no mention of the major questions surrounding the “facts” he presents. Furnish’s endnotes are extremely thorough and well worth referring to, but by piecing together a single narrative from various passages within “Galadriel and Celeborn”, Furnish gives an impression of consistency or solidity, particularly to the casual reader, while the actual situation is the exact opposite. This is not only a bad way to read Tolkien, but it would be a poor treatment of any controversial point in real history. The Second Age activities of Galadriel and Celeborn are as controversial as they come in the historiography of Middle-earth and this merits discussion in the main body of the book.

This same problem plagues Furnish’s descriptions of orcish society, which span several sections. Furnish acknowledges that the question of how orcs were first made is left unresolved in “the canon” (the term he uses for Tolkien’s writing, especially vis-a-vis the Peter Jackson movies), but he notes that humans are the most likely source, as Tolkien commented in “Myths Transformed” (Furnish, p. 70-71). However, “Myths Transformed” (published in HoMe X: Morgoth’s Ring) is a collection of notes and fragments that Tolkien wrote largely as musings addressed to himself, playing around with many different concepts and rejecting many of them. He returned to the question of orcs numerous times in these notes, with multiple different answers. He also proposed sweeping revisions to the legendarium that he never followed through on, leaving it an open question which of these ideas he might have used had he ever finished “The Silmarillion”. In short, “Myths Transformed” is not something to be referenced lightly or without carefully establishing the context in which a comment was made. To his credit, Furnish does acknowledge these limitations the first time he discusses orcs. However, he later cites different parts of “Myths Transformed” as evidence for various statements about orcs, despite these texts not being compatible with each other. For example, Furnish describes Orcs as only able to speak by imitation, like parrots (p. 144), referring to an idea Tolkien expressed in Text VIII of “Myths Transformed”, while making the point that orcs lack autonomy. However, later in the same section he refers to Text X while describing orcs as possessing autonomy and quotes Tolkien as mentioning the orcs’ ability to speak as evidence of this. Instead of presenting these as snapshots of Tolkien’s evolving conceptions about orcs, both statements are simply given at face-value, leaving readers unfamiliar with HoMe to question which is meant to be true. For a more detailed consideration of the complex treatment of orcs in “Myths Transformed” and how Furnish describes them, please see the addendum to this post.

I do not claim that there are easy answers to questions regarding the Second Age activities of Galadriel or the origins of orcs; in fact, with Tolkien apparently undecided on these issues, there are no definitive answers at all. This is frustrating to many readers, but it mirrors a similar problem in Primary World historiography. In real history, the events of the past are of course not subject to change, but our understanding of those events has to be reconstructed from various pieces of evidence (written accounts, material culture, etc.). Some events are for all practical purposes universally agreed to have occurred, but the meaning we take from events is always subject to interpretation and can be taken in wildly different directions depending on our approach and assumptions. The different ways people interpret the past is the central focus of historiography. In the study of Tolkien’s invented histories, particularly for the First and Second Ages, we face the additional problem of the “true” events never having achieved a finished form in Tolkien’s mind, much less in publication. However, Tolkien presented both his stories and the vast histories underlying them as translations of texts that were ostensibly written in-universe by characters inhabiting specific places and eras within Arda and therefore working from incomplete knowledge, exhibiting biases, and otherwise not being completely reliable narrators, just like in real history. Tolkien’s stories are therefore not to be understood as gospel truth but as subject to interpretation based on our broader knowledge of Middle-earth. This framing device is made explicit in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but was left out of the published Silmarillion. However, the internal source tradition is made very clear in The History of Middle-earth and although the specifics of that tradition changed throughout Tolkien’s life it is clear that Tolkien intended for “The Silmarillion” to be understood as the product of in-universe hands (HoMe I, Foreword).

The Third Age material, most of it having been published during Tolkien’s lifetime, is the easiest part of the legendarium to examine in this manner. The LOTR Appendices are explicitly stated to be based on in-universe histories that were preserved in the Red Book of Westmarch, given by Frodo to Sam at the end of The Return of the King (cf. LOTR, Prologue, Note on the Shire records), and much of the Appendices is printed within quotation marks indicating that, unlike the main story, they had not been ostensibly rewritten or dramatized for modern audiences. Curiously, Furnish does not examine the Appendices through this light at all. He makes a single mention of the Red Book in the introduction (p. 14) but only once does he question the reliability of a statement in the text, and this is a spoken line of dialogue – Erendis’ description of Númenórean men as warlike (UT, Aldarion and Erendis; qtd. in Furnish, p. 156) – not a statement from an in-universe chronicler. This leaves serious holes in Furnish’s analysis, such as in his description of the mid-Second Age Númenórean empire as benevolent (p. 46). Furnish bases this statement on the Akallabêth, which is ostensibly a historical document written and preserved by Númenóreans, reflecting their worldview and intended to make the party of the Faithful look good. Tolkien wrote much more negative accounts of Númenórean imperialism in an appendix to “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” and in the fragmentary story “Tal-Elmar” (HoMe XII). Furnish actually does refer to “Tal-Elmar”, but he places it too late in the timeline and ascribes blame for the abuses described therein to the wrong faction. (See the addendum for more detail.) Later, in a brief discussion of the Drúedain, Furnish ignores Tolkien’s explicit statement that the history as presented is only what was known to the historians of Gondor (and his brief suggestion that the Gondorians were mistaken) but repeats it uncritically as if it were undisputed fact (Furnish, p. 59-60; contrast UT, The Drúedain, especially note 13).

Historiography aside, Furnish does apply concepts from the social sciences to his analysis of Middle-earth’s political structure and military history, primarily in the second half of the book. This comes across as the area where Furnish’s interest truly lies, though to some extent it feels like a teaser for the second volume, Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors, which Furnish indicates will be a more technical look at the military side of things. The third section of the current volume is nominally about classifying the polities of Middle-earth by political system but also serves to bring readers up to speed on the terminology and theoretical framework being used. The fourth and final section is almost entirely analysis of the cultures and armies of Middle-earth through this lens. These sections include genuinely insightful observations such as Furnish’s ideas about how Elvish immortality influences their military activities. (He offers a thoughtful critique of the Peter Jackson movies’ depiction of Elves as well.) Furnish also observes that the Elves rarely if ever seem to have had conflicts with humans and suggests that the Second Age Eldar may have limited their settlements to the north of Middle-earth because they had begun consciously trying to avoid conflicts with their successors [Men, including evil men], who were destined to rule all of Middle-earth (p. 150-1), which is a genuinely thought-provoking idea that merits further consideration. The book concludes with perhaps its most intriguing synthesis of Primary World thought and Middle-earth history, suggesting that Gondor (and its enemies in Middle-earth) were locked into a half-millennium cycle of socio-political/economic stress which was exacerbated, or more likely, exploited by Gondor’s chief enemy, Sauron—who as an immortal Maia, would have had a long enough lifespan to recognize such turns of the pendulum (p. 166-7). Frustratingly, the book ends only a paragraph after this idea is introduced.

One hopes that the companion volume will not only introduce such ideas but explore them more thoroughly, yet it is hard to shake the feeling that the lack of deeper analysis is to some extent due to Furnish’s approach to the source material. He refers repeatedly to “the canon” of Tolkien’s writing (p. 21, 59, 71, 107, et passim), especially in comparison to the Peter Jackson film adaptations, but has little recourse when a concept is not explicitly stated “in the canon”. Furnish declines to even attempt an analysis of Elvish economies on the grounds that there is too little evidence to work from (p. 161). Caution is understandable here, but certain things can be inferred, especially when one accepts the stories as the products of certain characters’ hands rather than an objective and omniscient picture of Middle-earth. Such an approach yields only probabilities at best, which is unsatisfying to some, but in truth so much of the legendarium was left unfinished by Tolkien that there are many points where we can only make educated guesses at best, regardless of what type of analysis we carry out. Even restricting oneself to just The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion does not give one a completely consistent picture, as I have discussed before, but Furnish reaches frequently for The History of Middle-earth as well, though he doesn’t fully acknowledge the difficulties this poses. Knowing which characters and cultures recorded the histories gives us more room for inference by allowing us to assess the reliability of different accounts, but Furnish never attempts this. Even so, his book is clearly the product of a great labor to gather so many references to the histories from across Tolkien’s corpus. However, its usefulness as a reference work in the model of, say, The Atlas of Middle-earth is limited by an unfortunately large amount of inaccurate information quite separate from the question of historiography.

Furnish has a disconcerting habit of reading the text in an extremely literal way, which leads him to unusual and sometimes baffling conclusions. At one point Furnish refers to the two founders of the Shire as Marcho and Blanco Fallohide (p. 62-3). This appears to be based on a line in the Prologue referring to them as the Fallohide brothers, Marcho and Blanco, but Fallohide is the name of a subgroup of Hobbits, not a surname. Later, Furnish quotes Tolkien’s discussion of how Sauron was “greater” in the Third Age than Morgoth was at the end of the first. Tolkien stated that though [Sauron] was far smaller by natural stature, he had not yet fallen so low. Eventually he also squandered his power (of being) in the endeavour to gain control of others. But he was not obliged to expend so much of himself. To gain dominion over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth (HoMe X, Myths Transformed, Text VII). This is the source of the title “Morgoth’s Ring”, which refers to Morgoth having expended so much of his innate spiritual power (his “natural stature”) in the corruption of Arda that he himself was reduced. Furnish quotes much of this passage but in the portion he paraphrases he removes the word “natural” and instead states that Sauron was far smaller in physical stature than his master Morgoth (p. 66, my emphasis). He also claims that Sauron seems to have gone into a state of suspended animation (p. 69) in the early Second Age, providing no further elaboration. This seems to be based on a line from The Tale of Years which states that Sauron began to stir again in c. S.A. 500 when he began to build a new power base.

In addition to matters of idiosyncratic interpretation, there are many straight-up factual errors. This review is not the place to try to recount all of them, but a few merit mention. Furnish asserts that Sauron never had a naval force, even noting that it would have been useful during his wars with Gondor (p. 160), apparently having forgotten that Sauron used the Corsairs of Umbar and the Haradrim to launch naval attacks on Gondor numerous times including, of course, during the War of the Ring (ROTK, V 9 and Appendix A). When discussing the Elven realms, he claims that the haven of Edhellond was founded about 1980 TA (p. 40) and cites the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel in Unfinished Tales as the source of this statement. Readers familiar with that part of UT will recognize that date as the point at which Edhellond was abandoned by the Elves. Discussing the backstory of Morgoth, Furnish states that after ages of captivity in Valinor he broke free, stole the Silmarils, and fled back to Middle-earth (p. 68). It’s understandable for an author to leave things out when giving a summarized history, but this statement crosses the line into misrepresentation by neglecting to mention that Morgoth was freed by the Valar and that he spent a considerable time in Valinor sowing discord among the Noldor (TS, ch. 6-7); had he not had this opportunity the events of The Silmarillion would have played out very differently. Other errors were likely failures of proofreading rather than research. Furnish incorrectly calls Armenelos the geographic name for the island of Númenor (p. 162; it was actually the capital city), refers to Finarfin as co-ruling Hithlum with Fingolfin (p. 42; he goes back and forth between using Finarfin and the correct Fingon multiple times in a single paragraph), and implies that Eärnil of Gondor came to the throne by murder: King Ondoher and his two sons were killed, and Gondor saved, by the brilliant general Eärnil (p. 54). Any one of these errors on their own would be understandable, but the cumulative effect of so many (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) casts doubt on the soundness of the research and writing that went into the book.

The majority of these missteps come in the first half of the book, which as noted above is primarily scene-setting for the analysis that comes later. That analysis includes some very worthwhile thoughts, and I am personally pleased to see a book attempting to understand Middle-earth’s history on its own terms. By assembling a detailed political and military history of Middle-earth in a single volume Furnish opens the door for greater appreciation of these aspects of the legendarium by readers without access to all of Tolkien’s posthumously published works, which is very admirable. However, I hesitate to recommend High Towers and Strong Places as a guidebook, mainly due to the factual errors which have the potential to mislead readers. On the scholarly front, this is not the book to elevate the field of “Middle-earth studies” to greater levels of respect or accomplishment, though I’d love to see that happen one day. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see such an ambitious and passionate look at this aspect of Tolkien’s subcreation. I fervently hope that this book will encourage more readers to consider the historical element of Middle-earth as I think achieving a greater understanding of the “Lore” is not only enjoyable for its own sake but also helps lead to an enhanced understanding of Tolkien’s aims as a writer.


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Cover art by Anke Eissmann.

Addendum 1: orcs and Myths Transformed

Orcs are one of the chief cultures that Furnish analyzes, so they are mentioned numerous times in the text. For much of the book, Furnish takes the interpretation that orcs are little more than animals and incapable or barely capable of social organization except when under the dominion of a Dark Lord. Furnish does not provide a reference the first time he mentions this idea (p. 70) but he later cites “Myths Transformed” Text X in support of the idea that the orcs were under insect-like control by the Dark Lords and had no sense of individuality or ability to function independently (Furnish, p. 107). This is consistent with the behavior of orcs at the Morannon when Sauron is no longer directing them (ROTK, VI 4), but it is radically inconsistent with the depiction of orcs elsewhere, including Shagrat and Gorbag’s conversation (during which they contemplate deserting) in the Pass of Cirith Ungol (TTT, IV 10). Tolkien recognized this and later in Text X notes that the number of orks [sic] that were thus ‘absorbed’ was always only a small part of their total. Furnish does not quote this though he does quote the sentence directly following it. He argues that orcs not under the psychic supervision of a Dark Lord usually lapsed into anarchy—although they were capable of creating their own ‘petty realms,’ no doubt of a nasty, poor, brutish and short nature (p. 108).

Of course, as stated in the sentence Furnish chose not to quote, the majority of orcs in the service of Morgoth were not subject to mind control, and while they might not have been as reliable as those who were, they still formed the bulk of Morgoth’s strength in his (mostly successful) wars against the Eldar. Furthermore, Furnish repeatedly misrepresents the level of social organization observed in orcs. He states earlier in the book that the only direct evidence of orcs organizing themselves was the reference to Mount Gundabad as their capital (p. 70) and later says that Gundabad was ruled by the Great Goblin (p. 130). We never see Gundabad in the books – as the Great Goblin’s realm is located further south, beneath the High Pass through the Misty Mountains, which Thorin and Company were using – but Gundabad was likely the base of Bolg, the goblin warlord in The Hobbit (TH, The Clouds Burst). Appendix A also tells us about Bolg’s father, Azog, which brings the count of known orcish rulers to three. Two of them evidently had wide-reaching authority and were able to organize large armies for war. In The Lord of the Rings, the Moria orcs, or “northerners”, were a distinct faction in the orc-band that captured Merry and Pippin and served neither Sauron nor Saruman, but wanted revenge for their folk. The same chapter gives evidence of orcish morality, such as it is, since the accusation of cannibalism is clearly an insult (TTT, III 3). Also, as mentioned above, the prospect of desertion and setting up on their own was not unheard of even for Sauron’s orcs. Unpleasant as orcs may be, the majority of them are not presented as mindless.

Furnish’s statement that the Great Goblin seems to have been of extraordinary intelligence (and elocution!) for an Orc (p. 130) is strange since intelligence and/or cunning is the main distinguishing feature for Grishnákh and Gorbag (TTT, III 3 and IV 10). Azog not only spoke fluent Westron but killed Thrór in a very calculated way as an insult against the Dwarves (LOTR, Appendix A, III). It’s possible that this dismissal of orcish elocution is based on “Myths Transformed”, as Furnish quotes Text VIII of that chapter, which states that orcish talking was largely echoic (cf. parrots) (qtd. in Furnish, p. 144). This comes from a note in which Tolkien speculated that orcs were originally animals, but does not seem consistent with their depiction elsewhere. Tolkien seems to have moved away from this idea and Furnish correctly notes on p. 70 that Tolkien described the human origin as the most likely, though like everything else in “MT” this must be taken with a grain of salt. Later, Furnish quotes from Text X – in which Tolkien mentioned orcish speech without mentioning parrots – as evidence that orcs could develop culture (p. 158). Furnish simply does not address the inconsistency between these accounts (which arose because this part of “Myths Transformed” was essentially Tolkien’s notes to himself as he tried and failed to firm up his ideas about orcs). This is a prime example of why it is essential to have a methodology before diving into HoMe, since otherwise you’re likely to end up smushing together ideas Tolkien had at different times to create something neither Tolkienian nor coherent.

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Addendum 2: source texts and Númenor

As described in the main review, Furnish does not take into account Tolkien’s framing device in which the histories (and the main stories) are written by people living within Arda. The authorship of the Akallabêth is somewhat of an open question; the last version Tolkien wrote ascribed it to Pengolodh, as told to Ælfwine (HoMe XII, The History of the Akallabêth), but Christopher Tolkien removed references to Pengolodh/Ælfwine from the published Silmarillion since he believed his father had decided to replace this idea with Bilbo’s “Translations from the Elvish” (HoMe I, Foreword). A somewhat later note suggests that the Akallabêth was written by Elendil (UT, The Line of Elros, especially note 16); this is of dubious reliability but it seems reasonable to conclude that the text was put together by the Dúnedain at some point. In any event, the other major source of Númenórean history, LOTR’s Appendix A, is stated to have been based in part on many manuscripts written by scribes of Gondor: mainly copies or summaries of histories or legends relating to Elendil and his heirs (LOTR, Prologue). The significance of this is that the records we have are Númenórean history as told by the Númenóreans themselves and/or their descendants. Specifically, the histories are preserved and transmitted by members and descendants of the Faithful faction. This is essential to keep in mind in terms of assessing bias, because Tolkien himself cast doubt on their objectivity in other writings.

Furnish described the earlier stages of Númenórean imperialism as establishing in effect, a benevolent imperial state since the Númenóreans, while lording it over the men of Middle-earth, were also civilizing them (p. 46). Furnish’s source for this is the Akallabêth, which takes a very positive attitude towards early Númenórean imperialism and later, when things get worse, states that in all this the Elf-friends had small part. Emphasis is put on their visits to the Elves rather than exploiting the men of Middle-earth (TS, Akallabêth). However, Tolkien wrote another account of the Faithful’s role from the perspective of the indigenous inhabitants of Middle-earth and it (unsurprisingly) looks very different. In the abandoned story “Tal-Elmar”, the Númenóreans show up and tell the people living in what would become Gondor that Your time of dwelling in these hills is come to an end. Here the men of the West have resolved to make their homes, and the folk of the dark must depart – or be slain. For such a short fragment the history of “Tal-Elmar” is complex (it was not originally set in Middle-earth at all) and Tolkien considered several different locations and eras to set it in. His final decision, as represented in a note written 13 years after the story itself, was that it must recount the coming of the Númenóreans (Elf-friends) before the Downfall, and represent their choice of permanent havens, placing it relatively early in the Second Age (HoMe XII, Tal-Elmar). Furnish mentions Tal-Elmar in a footnote but claims that it is about the King’s Men during the period when Sauron was in Númenor (p. 47 and p. 78), even though Tolkien expressly rejected this idea. Furnish actually quotes the passage I just did in an earlier footnote but replaces the word Elf-friends with an ellipsis (p. 76).

Tolkien also wrote an account of even earlier Númenórean imperialism (before the division into King’s Men and Elf-friends began) in the Enedwaith, the region between Arnor and Gondor. The Númenóreans began to fell trees for ship-building which eventually provoked hostilities with the native woodsmen once the tree-felling became devastating. The woodsmen began a low-level war with the Númenóreans, who in response cut down even more trees and didn’t bother replanting any. The natives ended up fleeing the area and allied themselves with Sauron during his invasion of Eriador in the hope that he would drive away the invaders. However, the war only increased the destruction of the forests and the entire area ended up a wasteland (UT, Galadriel and Celeborn, Appendix D). Even at this early stage the Númenóreans are described as destroying an ecosystem and a people’s way of life out of spite. The similarities to the American bison being driven almost to extinction may or may not be intentional but Tolkien, a noted tree-lover, was undoubtedly not depicting the Númenóreans as benevolent or in the right. These events receive no mention in Furnish. He also white-washes the history of the Rohirrim and the Dunlendings by merely stating that the Dunlendings hated the Rohirrim and Gondorians without mentioning that the reason for their hatred was that they had been forced to leave their homeland en masse so it could be given to the Rohirrim (Furnish, p. 57-8; contrast with TTT, III 7 in which Gamling of Rohan describes the history of the Dunlendings’ enmity and offers no excuse other than that it happened a long time ago). Presenting a one-sided view of history is never a good look, but since Tolkien all but asked the reader to consider the perspective of the so-called “bad guys” (especially in “Tal-Elmar”) Furnish’s omissions are especially disappointing.

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