Suburb Designs Its Neighborhood around J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth
I'll meet you at the corner of Saruman and Aragorn
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Want to move to Middle-Earth? It'll cost you. You need well over half a million euros to afford a house at Gimli, Legolas or Celeborn. But the one at Palantir will only set you back only €320,000, and the houses on Tolkien Avenue start from as little as €240,000 (1).
No, Middle-Earth has not joined the eurozone. It's rather the other way round: a small part of the Netherlands has styled itself after J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional world, the backdrop for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Welcome to Geldrop, an unassuming suburb of Eindhoven that has nonetheless given the Netherlands a prime minister and Andy Warhol a pop art model (2).
The town also created the world's densest Tolkien-themed street grid: an estate covering about a quarter of a square mile, containing about 50 streets, avenues and paths carrying names taken from Tolkien's various epics.
The area was built up in the late 20th century in Genoenhuis, a district of Geldrop bordered by the E34 motorway in the south and the Eindhoven to Weert railway in the east. On the map, part of the estate looks ring-shaped – which gave one town planner the idea to link the area to Tolkien.
Themed street names are not uncommon, usually for districts planned and developed from scratch. Some examples:
Indeed, the practice is particularly popular in the Netherlands, and the positioning of the themed street names in Geldrop exhibits a degree of consideration that goes beyond merely plonking down some random names on a map.
The main road through the area is called Laan van Tolkien, or Tolkien Avenue (3). North of that lane are roads named after the men of Gondor: Faramir and Boromir, Denethor and Aragorn. South of those streets and south of the cemetery, but still north of Tolkien Avenue are a number of streets named after men and women from Rohan: Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn.
A bit further south are roads reminiscent of Elvish persons and places: Galadriel, Arwen, Legolas, Celeborn, Nimrodel, Amroth and Lorien. Geldrop seems particularly keen on the dwarves who appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are almost all here – and so are some of their forebears, many (but not all) in the southwest: Gimli, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Ori, Fíli, Kíli, Farin, Thorin and Durin.
Of course, the great wizard Gandalf cannot fail to make an appearance, nor Frodo. Other hobbits represented on the map are Pippin (both as Pepijn and Peregrijn), Merry (Merijn in Dutch), and Sam Gewissies (Gamgee). Other street names include Erebor, referring to the Lonely Mountain; Palantir, the name of the 'seeing stones'; Yavanna, a goddess from the Silmarillion; and Bombadil, after Tom Bombadil, a mysterious fellow and possibly the oldest creature in Middle-Earth.
In the northeast of 'Little Middle-Earth' are names referring to Numenor, a continent west of Middle-Earth: Cirion, Anarion, Elendil, Valandil, Elros, Silmarien. Even smaller paths have not escaped the attention of the tolkienophile town planner: there is the Groene Weg (Greenway), the Zilverlei (Silverlode) and the Haradpad (Harad Road), for instance.
The place names in Little Middle-Earth follow the general rule that negative names are to be avoided (although not an absolute rule, see #744). Plenty of good guys here – in fact, all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring get a mention – but just one bad dude makes an appearance on the map: Saruman, the wizard who goes over to the Dark Side. No street named after Sauron, the Evil Lord himself, no Orc Way, no Mordor Road, not even a Gollum Close. But also, strangely: the central character from Tolkien's oeuvre is conspicuous by his absence – no Bilbo.
Geldrop has the largest collection of Tolkien-themed street names in the world, but not the only one. There is a smaller grouping in Chelmsford, England. It includes Gandalf’s Ride, Hobbiton Hill, Arwen Grove, Thorin’s Gate, Celeborn Street, Goldberry Mead, Gimli Watch, Treebeard Copse, The Withywindle, Butterbur Chase, Lorien Gardens, Gladden Fields and Meriadoc Drive.
There are more Tolkien-inspired street names sprinkled throughout the world, in smaller concentrations.
Many thanks to Andrew Porter, who pointed to a recent article in the Guardian about Geldrop's fantasy district. Map from Bing Maps. Street sign picture from this page at Tolkien Brasil (which has many more). Warhol image here at eindhovenfotos.nl.
Strange Maps #823
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
(2) Dries van Agt (1977-'82) and Apollonia van Ravenstein (b.1952, pictured), respectively. Other famous Geldropians: the writer A.F.Th. van der Heijden; Viktor Horsting, half of the Viktor & Rolf fashion brand; and model Lara Stone, the now ex-wife of British comedian and celebrity David Walliams.
(3) As noted by the Tolkien Library, plenty of places and things have been named after the author himself, including a crater on Mercury, a small asteroid between Jupiter and Mars, a giant tree on Vancouver Island, a Dutch schooner (available for cruises and events), a Street in Orlando and a Lane in Jacksonville, a bar in Zagreb and a restaurant in Birmingham. Reports of a Bistro Tolkien in Bruges, owned by the same proprietors who run The Hobbit bar across the street, are false (or at least outdated). The bar opposite is now called The Habit.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.