Tolkien created a wonderful thing in Middle-earth. He created a world so complete in every detail of mythology, history, culture, art, and geography. The different peoples he created differ from each other in just the right ways and are also so distinctly apart from our own world, even where there are parallels. Lately I've been noticing a certain duplicity in most of the Middle-earth cultures that is interesting to consider. I call it beauty and battle.
Most of the cultures of Middle-earth (at least, the ones that you would consider to be "cultures," not orcs or goblins or such) value beauty, though they each have their own ideas about what beauty is. The elves love trees and harmony with nature, flowing lines and radiant colors. The dwarves value the precious stones they mine from within the earth and the vast cities they carve out of stone. Men differ, depending on region and time period, but whether we're speaking of Númenor or Rohan or Gondor, they all have a certain adherence to style and form. Architecture as a form of art and a specific type of raiment, whether for daily use or for important or ceremonial positions, is important to all of these cultures. It makes them seem very high that they value beauty and art so much.
But they are also peoples of war. The elves have a complicated history with war. Some of them fought with each other, some of them only fought the evil foes, and some of them try and stay out of it all except when they have no choice. But elves are good at battle. Dwarves are pretty good, too, and they tend to value their warrior status pretty highly, too. Men, I think, are warriors more out of necessity. The men of Gondor (and Aragorn's scattered people) value many other things besides war but fight because there are foes, and so they try to make themselves good at war so that they will not lose. They are not savages, but still they fight.
Beauty and battle. The highest, aesthetic appreciation and the most base of actions. Beauty and battle. Do they fight to protect beauty, or do they create beauty because they must also fight? What is beautiful (and here I speak of more than just architecture) is worth protecting, and when one is forced to take part in war one likes to have something beautiful to think of and remember. Beauty and battle--they are both intelligent and efficient and they both have a profound impact on people's lives.
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