Old World

Yesterday, I was listening to the latest episode of The Tolkien Professor — great podcast, check it out! — where they were talking about The Silmarillion. Dr. Olsen mentioned that one of the reasons people have such trouble reading The Silmarillion is that is was purposely written in a way that only used words that exists from before the 1500s. J. R.R. Tolkien wanted to only include words and phrases that would have been around in the time of the many translated works he was reading. In other words, to make it as real as possible, he wrote the book as if it was a translated work itself.

If you don’t know the history and life of J. R.R. Tolkien, and I do not claim not be of an expert, but he was interested in myths and language. More than most of things, he was interested in Philology, the comparative study of language as it has changed but looked at from primarily written sources. In other words, he looked written records and studied how people communicated through words. This is important because he took these works and this style of translation and used it to write his works.

You may not know it, having been not so familiar with The Lord of the Rings but the in-world history of the work is that it is written by by people within the world of the story. In fact, after it has happened. The book is a record of the Third Age.

The Silmarillion> is about the First Age, the Second Age and bits of the Third Age. Its importance though is that talks about what came before. It is supposed to be a collection of stories and tales from the history of the elves as handed down to them from the Valar and Maiar. Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of another work The Hobbit is said to have taken these histories and created the book that explains how their would came about, who did the creating and what happened to bring about where it is now. Tolkien himself calls this type of world creation as Mythopoeia, the creation of a world that has a history, its own backstory and enough of a framework to withstand many stories within it.

Why am I talking about Tolkien? He is important because he utterly transformed the genre of high fantasy with his books. Most of the fantasy that is written today, notably things like Game of Thrones, has its roots in what Tolkien created with his books. World creation was not a new thing for fantasy, but the degree to which Tolkien  did it and the many people who came after him do it is massive. They breathe life into a fictitious world.

There has been something that has been bugging me as I’ve been playing Oblivion and it is this: nothing feels old. Sure, there are ruins and occasionally a character might mention some deity of long past but, for the most part, the world seems as it just started as my character did and has not lived much longer than that. Added to that is the fact that the overall fictional universe of The Elder Scrolls is very heavily “inspired” by the work of Tolkien.

Doing some quick research shows that a number of ideas, in fact, seem to be lifted wholesale right out of Tolkien’s works. Since I’ve began to keep track of it, I thought I would post what I’ve manged to find so far.

  • Orc are corrupted elves
  • The people who settled the middle land first came from an island.
  • Eru (Tolkien) is very similar in name to Anu (Oblivion) — both ripped from Sumerian mythology.
  • There used to be more magic(ka) than there is now.
  • The elves are broken into two main groups, one dark and one light.