Imagine being at a party and talking about Lord Of The Rings (it happens!) and hearing a voice pipe up from outside your circle. “The man might have made up some beautiful languages and written stories that generations of writers have responded to in ways ranging from homage to bad photocopy,” the voice says, breaking through the crowd. “But I’m going to guess he was no connoisseur of geography.”
You’d groan, right? It’s okay, though, because we’re not at a party. We’re on the internet, and we’ve chosen to hear writer Alex Acks’ argument for why J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth is a “geographical car wreck from which I can’t quite look away.” Basically, his argument circles around the realities of tectonic activity and the world’s head-scratching mountain ranges, some of which apparently have corners. “Mountains don’t do corners,” Acks writes.
Okay, fine, this is a fair point. He continues:
Tectonic plates don’t tend to collide at neat right angles, let alone in some configuration as to create a nearly perfect box of mountains in the middle of a continent. I’ve heard the reasoning before that suggests Sauron has made those mountains somehow, and I suppose right angles are a metaphor for the evil march of progress, but I don’t recall that being in the books I read. And ultimately, this feels a lot like defending the cake in the song MacArthur Park as a metaphor—okay fine, maybe it’s a metaphor…but it’s a silly metaphor that makes my geologist heart cry tears of hematite.
Acks also has issues with Mount Doom, though he gives it a pass since it’s “obviously a place of great magic.” That said, he’s still got plenty of problems with there being a volcano in an area with no “subduction or rifting zones.”
But it’s not necessarily Tolkien’s fault, he notes. Nobody was really talking about plate tectonics until the 1950s, and, as such, “fantasy maps drawn after the 1960s don’t get even that overly generous pass.”
Watch yourself, George R.R. Martin.