Tolkein and the Machine


“To Tolkien, the machine is something far more menacing than a mere mechanical device. Fundamentally, it represents the lust for power – in particular, for power over others.”

https://theconversation.com/tolkien-and-the-machine-35826

“To Tolkien, the machine represents a means to attain power over others. His orcs – deformed and ugly creatures, whose hands are sometimes replaced with weapons – embody this lust for power.” LOTR Wikia


I saw one person make the point that Tolkein was possibly alluding to the successive ages of civilization that you find in Hesiod and the five descending types of regimes found in Plato’s Republic. That is:

Golden Age – Aristocracy (Wisdom and Reason)
Silver Age – Timocracy (Honor)
Brass Age – Oligarchy (Wealth)
Tin Age – Democracy (Freedom)
Iron Age – Tyranny (Power)

Interestingly, although it makes sense that Hesiod and Plato have influenced my homebrew game design (my undergraduate dissertation, for example, focused on Hesiod and Empedocles), but I wasn’t really aware of how Tolkein’s view of machines might have influenced me (then again, my graduate work did involve the work of Heidegger, and I was influenced by his discussion in The Question Concerning Technology of how mechanization can conceal the true nature of things from us, and we need to question the essence of technology, because it has shifted over time from an expressive, almost poetic or artistic human activity, to one of an obscuring, instrumental, means-to-an end result).

In my TTRPG game world orcs, hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, and bugbears, are corruptions of elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits, respectively. I am still working on this relationship. The main emphasis so far has been to work on making a distinction between the cosmic alignments of law, chaos, and neutrality, along with the moral alignments of good and evil. But intertwined within that there is a sense of degeneration, a loss of one’s soul, humanity, and a sense of identity. What contributes to this sense of lost identity, both personally and culturally? My Castles & Crusades game is the imaginative canvas in which I wish to explore this.

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