Good day to you all, friends, old and new!
My apologies for the lack of updates in the last months – real life happened. But I’m back and I’m here with a slightly shorter article about the Elven architecture. I’ve been thinking how to treat this style, since there are many common elements between the different settlements we know, and I have decided to start with a short and general view first; during the next weeks (months?) I will focus more on some peculiar Elven places (I have a nice parallel in mind for Mirkwood and my fingers are hitching to write it).
First thing first: if we want to understand the style of the Elves and their ways of constructions, we need to understand their inner selves, first. You can do it reading The Silmarillion, or The History of Middle-Earth, if you have not already, or… bear with me and read these few, poor lines.
Keep in mind: the material and the ideas you will find here, do not represent Tolkien’s thoughts and Peter Jackson’s view of things (or John Howe and Alan Lee’s). This is by no means an accurate atlas of what they were thinking when writing, drawing, creating. It is only a fun way to relate something that comes from the pen of a genius (and the pencil of two artists) to our reality. I will not draw detailed technical plans, because I can understand not all of you can read that kind of drawings. I will try to make it easier with schemes, more than architectural plans.
Elves were the First Born, Children of Eru Ilúvatar himself, and for this reason they were considered the wisest and fairest race of Arda. They were basically immortal; they were very light and elegant on their feet, yet incredibly strong; they invented music and poetry, languages and words… they essentially had an incredible interest in learning and creating – craft was one of their many abilities.
“And in all crafts of hand they (Noldor) delighted also; and their masons built many towers tall and slender, and many halls and houses of marble.” The History of Middle-Earth, Volume 10 – Morgoth’s Ring.
And, above all, their love for the beauty of nature was infinite: it is, in fact, timeless and un-aging, just like them. Think of a tree, strong and old, alive and resilient to wind, water, time.
Why am I telling you this? Because all these aspects can be found also in their writings, in their crafts, in their houses.
Most of their cities were in deep relationship with nature:
- some of them were built on the trees (Caras Galadhon is also called City of the Trees and literally means Fortress of Trees)
“The branches of the mallorn-tree grew out nearly straight from the trunk, and then swept upward; but near the top the main stem divided into a crown of many boughs, and among these they found that there had been built a wooden platform, or flet as such things were called in those days: the Elves called it a talan.” (The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, book 2, chapter 6, Lothlórien)
Lothlórien, movie version.
- some were underground among the roots of the trees (Mirkwood)
“In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more wholesome than any goblin dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous. In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods, and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches were their favourite trees.” (The Hobbit, chapter 8, Flies and Spiders)
Mirkwood, movie version.
- others had a lot of terraces and built on waterfalls (Rivendell);
“He [Frodo] walked along the terraces above the loud-flowing Bruinen and watched the pale, cool sun rise above the far mountains, and shine down.” (The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, book 2, chapter 2, The Council of Elrond)
Rivendell, movie version.
Besides, in the movie we can see no windows nor screens to protect their rooms from the external environment – which is a huge inside/outside connection: wind, water and leaves could enter inside their room – the nature itself inside their houses.
Rivendell, movie version.
There is, finally, a very well-known artistic movement of the last century and its principles were basically the same of the Elven architecture: Art Nouveau (or Stile Liberty in Italy, Jugendstil in Germany, Modernisme in Catalunya, and so on).
It was characterized by the predominance of curves, instead of straight lines, and very dynamic, organic and rich decorations, usually stylized, graceful and elegant. There was a great desire of renewal, with the reawakening of the art in all its forms and a great study of beauty.
Entrance of the tube in Paris, designed by the architect Hector Guimard, France.
The primary source materials used were the glass and wrought iron and cast iron, leading to a real form of sculpture and architecture: the glass was usually worked and crafted in different colors and with vegetal decorations; same thing happened with the cast iron, which is one of the most “soft” metals. This means it is easier to work on and to shape it in very rich and detailed forms, like leaves, flowers and branches. The result were usually supple lines, elegant and apparently light, yet strong and ageless – like Elves.
Hotel Van Eetvelde, by the architect Victor Horta, Belgium.
Remember when I said that Elves were very good craftsmen? Well, the Art Nouveau has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon aesthetic ideology of Arts and Crafts, which had emphasized the free creation of the craftsman as the only alternative to the mechanization and mass production of objects. Even if Art Nouveau, in the end, used heavily the industrial production.
As I told you, this very short introduction is meant to give you the basis for some other future articles I’m planning to write, regarding Rivendell, Mirkwood and Lothlórien. Hopefully, the next one will be ready for the beginning of the new year.
I take the chance to thank you all again for your wonderful response and to wish you and your loved ones a very good Christmas and a great 2015. May it be full of joy, health, well-being… and Middle-Earth!
Curiosity: when I think of Elves and Art Nouveau, I always end up thinking of Galadriel in one of Alfons Mucha’s paintings. So I googled it, with the plan to do it one myself if nobody already thought about it (and of course somebody already thought about it!), and I’ve found not only Galadriel, but also Arwen, Thranduil and Tauriel. Check koroa’s tumblr page and the art nouveau tag. It’s amazing!
Till next time, folks!
PS: since many of you do not know me, I have a great love for ruins. I love everything that is ancient and ruined, because it speaks of history, of time and it makes me wonder: what was that? What was its use? Why did it become so devastated? What happened?
So, one of my many plans for this blog is a series of articles regarding the Ruins of Middle-Earth: there will be a lot of history, theories and sketches, probably. Would you be interested in it?