Worldbuilding in The Lord of the Rings

Robin Kirk points out a detail I never noticed in The Lord of the Rings: Epic Fantasy and Breaking the Rules of Infrastructure in the Interest of Speed

Why is there no road to the mighty fortress-city of Minas Tirith in either the books or the movie? Gandalf’s initial approach reveals a broad plain and the menacing flames of Mordor in the distance. Faramir returns—then is dragged back—over browned grass…but not on a road. The same is true of Edoras, seat of the Horse Lords. No road. Some maps show roads but they are mostly absent from the actual text or the films.

Think quickly: what roads do you remember from Lord of the Rings (books or movie)? I came up with those located in The Shire, exiting Rivendell, through the depths of Moria, and the fell ways of Mordor. The Shire is positively thick with roads, a veritable Middle-earthian suburb: the Bywater Road and its inn, the Ivy Bush, Bagshot Row, the road Gandalf travels to reach Hobbiton for Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. Under Aragon’s leadership, the hobbits purposefully stay off the roads, to avoid Black Riders.

Then—very few roads. At first glance, this makes no sense in terms of worldbuilding. …

Interesting observation, isn’t it? Kirk then goes on to contrast the landscape-heavy infrastructure-light LotR with the important infrastructure in The Game of Thrones, making several points on the way about speed of action and deus ex machina and emotional connections to the characters. It’s worth clicking through to read the whole thing if you have a few minutes.

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5 thoughts on “Worldbuilding in The Lord of the Rings”

  1. As pointed out in the comments, there are plenty of roads mentioned in the books. In the movies, not so much.

  2. stopped showing comments in my browser over a year ago, but I agree with Robert, what was the original poster reading or watching? Just off the top of my head there are farms all over Pelennor, and a wall and gates protecting it. Roads in Ithilien, a back road to the city of Minas Tirith that the wain riders had used and then had fallen into decay. …. Bridges, ferries, broken bridges (in Osgiliath), quays….. Not a dearth of infrastructure by any means.

  3. As I was leaving to go make dinner I realized I hadn’t actually touched on the point of the posting. Partly because my eyes glazed over with the GoT stuff – I neither read nor watch it – and partly the sheer wrongness of the claim that JRRT didn’t have infrastructure. ANYWAY. .. I like that in LotR it takes time to get places. It’s an issue with SF, too, that space is huge, it takes time to get anywhere even if traveling FTL. When Sauron’s forces get across the river the summer before Frodo (finally) heads out of the Shire it’s a huge deal to anyone who knows anything. It means Minas Tirith and Gondor are suddenly much more vulnerable.

  4. I think one of the things that makes TLotR seem so real is that Tolkien covers every. single. day. You see the whole journey. I like that.

    Okay, you’re all right: there are a lot more roads in the books than in the movie.

    Elaine, yes, I couldn’t see comments on that post either. I wonder what’s up with that?

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