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Past English - Input Junkie
June 17th, 2012
05:38 pm

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Past English
Here's is a podcast about a huge database of dialogue from google books, and checking the dialogue in Mad Men and Downton Abbey for authenticity. For example "wartime" didn't come into use until WW2, possibly because WW1 was perceived as anomaly, but when another big war happened, "wartime" became a sort of thing that could have a name.

An article about the same, with a big chart of 'need to' vs. 'ought to'.



I can only hope that the time and usage database or its equivalent becomes publicly available-- it would be a tremendous resource for writers and nitpickers.

Details in historical fiction, and the importance of finding the telling detail rather than any old detail. More discussion of details.

I'm willing to accept Rivendell-- they can make magic waybread and rope. We don't have nearly enough information to know what their economy requires. One of these years, I will reread LOTR, and I hope to be able to ignore that the Shire seems to have more advanced tech than anyone, including the Dwarves.

Authenticity and Chinese Cookbooks-- just a little reminder that people make up a lot more than they realize. Authenticity is yet another of those shifting cultural values.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/544869.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:pickledginger
Date:June 17th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
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Re: The Shire
The hobbits had more need of technology than other Middle Earthers, being: a) magic-impaired; b) relatively small and weak, if durable; and c) decadently fond of their creature comforts, which they pursued rather than gems or gold or magic or other aims.
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 17th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
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Hobbits may have wanted/needed tech more than other races (though note that being magic-impaired probably isn't important because magic is incredibly rare), but that doesn't make tech available to them. They don't seem to be inventing or making it for themselves.

I suppose it's conceivable that they're trading food for custom designs from the dwarves, but that doesn't feel right to me-- they don't have a huge amount of contact with dwarves.

My feeling is that if dwarves are making pocket watches for hobbits, then dwarves should be making more complex devices for themselves.

I didn't have a steampunk LOTR spin-off in mind, but this seems to be drifting in that direction.
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From:agrumer
Date:June 18th, 2012 01:33 am (UTC)
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The dwarves don't seem to have timepieces either.

I'm not sure why people think Middle-Earth's dwarves should be more technologically advanced than the rest of that world. Dwarves are secretive, and technological advancement depends on people being willing to share techniques and build on each other's work. They seem to have the idea that money is something you get by mining it directly out of the ground instead of trading with other people for it (though that may have something to do with the fallen times they're living in during the novels), and this gets them into trouble when some dragon or balrog comes along and messes things up.

It's tempting to consider a parody of The Hobbit in which a dwarf is trying to assemble venture capital for a new mine, and hires a hobbit actuary to crunch the numbers. "No, once you go past this depth, the odds of a balrog breach increase by five percentiles every meter."
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 18th, 2012 01:54 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure why people think Middle-Earth's dwarves should be more technologically advanced than the rest of that world.

Didn't they make very complex fireworks? IIRC, it isn't clear whether the fireworks are magical or technological or both.
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From:agrumer
Date:June 18th, 2012 04:13 am (UTC)
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Did the dwarves make the fireworks, or did Gandalf?

Also, possibly because of their association with Gandalf, I'd always read the fireworks as partly magical.
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From:captain_button
Date:June 19th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
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I assumed that dwarf traders moved through the Shire along the big roads, the ones that cross in the center of the Shire. And that the hobbits sell them food, lodging, and possibly charge tolls.

That gets them foreign exchange, along with the pipeweed and wine exports.
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From:richardthinks
Date:June 17th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
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Downton's dialogue has always grated on me - so much of it just sounds wrong. I know that's not a good analysis, but there it is.
Ought and Need is very, very interesting... and might fit the general theory that nostalgic recreations tend to be more imperative and less ambiguous all over.
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From:richardthinks
Date:June 17th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
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how much of the Shire's tech is in the text, and how much is illustrations? I don't recall much beyond a mill, which could work for a wide swath of time if its operation is not specified.

...LotR is so obviously England that it seems useless to imagine it anywhere else, but I'm tempted to run a thought experiment that sets it in China or sub-saharan Africa. What changes? Is there anything in the text to prevent this reading?
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 17th, 2012 11:07 pm (UTC)
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Bilbo has a pocket watch which keeps accurate time. Lobelia has an umbrella and tries to steal silverware by dropping it into the umbrella.
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From:richardthinks
Date:June 17th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
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Interesting. The pocket watch clearly escaped from the Hardyverse... and is the most troubling item by far. But perhaps standards of accuracy for hobbit time are not what we benighted humans might imagine? (I could see it being completely broken and always pointing to "well perhaps just a little something," in between Second Breakfast and Elevenses)
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From:agrumer
Date:June 18th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
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Bilbo has a pocket-watch (16th or 17th century), pockets to put it in (18th century), and buttons (13th century) on his waistcoat (17th century). One of Tolkien's illustrations of Bilbo's home depicts what appears to be a barometer (17th century).

(Yes, pocket-watches predate pockets. What we call a pocket, and what I assume Bilbo had, is an 18th century innovation. Before then the word existed, but referred to a kind of bag.)

Hm. Someone else in that thread I linked to points out that:
As for the technology; who said clocks were made in the Shire? We know that the toys which Bilbo gave to the children came from Dale, and 'were of real dwarf-make'. I see no problem fitting in the idea of clocks as being of dwarf-make too; we know that dwarves traded useful things for things that they needed; and dwarves used the East-West road frequently, and stayed at inns in the Shire. Clocks; barometers - whatever these strange hobbit-folk might require, I'm sure the dwarves could provide.
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 18th, 2012 02:01 am (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure they didn't have glasses in middle earth, considering that the dwarves in The Hobbit depended on the younger members of their party for seeing at a distance.

If anyone wants to come up with an explanation for why dwarves apparently get near-sighted rather than far-sighted with age, go for it.
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From:agrumer
Date:June 18th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC)
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Vision-correcting eyeglasses are actually a 13th century invention, and therefore arguably period for medieval fantasy.
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 18th, 2012 09:51 am (UTC)
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Glasses might well be period, but if a party of dwarves has apparently never heard of vision correction, then it might be reasonable to assume that glasses haven't been invented in middle earth.

Is there any mention of glass in LOTR? Off-hand, I can't think of any, or at least the only near mentions I can think of are the palantirs and the silmarils, and they're magic.

An argument that particular inventions aren't inevitable-- not only was Greek fire lost, but the Chinese has gunpowder without inventing guns.
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From:richardthinks
Date:June 18th, 2012 10:09 am (UTC)
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I'll just retcon in that dwarves, living in the dark, rely on vision much less than their other senses. They also never have to see very far, being stuck in limited-traverse underground galleries most of the time (only occasionally carving out big cathedral spaces) and therefore they never developed glasses for longsightedness. Also dwarf skulls elongate slowly with age, due to the heavy pull of their beards, causing asymmetric compensating distortions in the eye socket that are difficult to correct with lenses.

No, I have no idea what the canon explanations for this might be.

As far as periods for fashions etc go, aren't they completely irrelevant, since the technology involved in a button or waistcoat is trivial? It's not supposed to be in our recorded history: if they want buttons or even stuff like wax cell cylinder sound recording, there's no reason why they shouldn't have it?

But a pocket watch is something else. It's a complex machine requiring real precision and remarkable miniaturization. I honestly don't know how you could invent it without also inventing almost all 17th century technology.
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 18th, 2012 10:42 am (UTC)
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I think Moria was well-lit in its great days. However, I'll grant that dwarves would be unlikely to need distance vision in their daily lives.
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From:celandine13
Date:June 18th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
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I always thought the hobbits vs. everyone else was sort of the way Shakespeare has servants talk in prose while lords talk in pentameter. Hobbits are the most mundane people, so they're sort of like 19th century British folks.
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From:agrumer
Date:June 18th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
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Yeah. The Middle Earth books are a sort of portal fantasy without the portal. Instead of starting you out in the real world and walking you through a door into myth-land, Tolkien starts you out in a modern-but-not-Modernist-seeming domesticated suburb of myth-land, and then walks you into the more mythical parts.
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From:interactiveleaf
Date:June 19th, 2012 07:54 am (UTC)
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It's been covered by my F-List already: http://greyweirdo.livejournal.com/2836946.html
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