1. Of Farmers and God-Kings
or, Elven Princesses Don't Shop at The Gap
A/N: This is a very short and rough answer in part to the question of whether the Shire, (or any of Middle-earth outside of Angband or Mordor, for that matter) would have looked like the Europe of Louis XIV's day. It assumes some slight familiarity with the background story of Middle-earth -- at least of the story of Númenor.
The God-Kings of Egypt are best known to us in one of the most gorgeous images of ancient art, the Golden Mask of Tutankhamen. In this image he is depicted as manifesting Osiris, perhaps the ultimate patron-god of Egypt. His regalia is not that of warfare, or even of priesthood. He wears -- though it might not be obvious due to the richness of the materials -- the striped headscarf of a farmer, the nemes, that keeps the sun off the back of the neck when working in the fields.
In one hand he holds the heqa -- the symbol which is that from which the very word "to rule" is derived -- and it's a shepherd's crook. In the other hand he holds a flail -- not a whip, but the object used to swiftly and easily separate out grains from the grasses they grow in, and without which the mere process of making dinner is rendered incredibly more difficult and time consuming. By association, it is a symbol of divine benevolence and the lifegiving fertility of the agricultural sphere.
When the God-King goes to meet his God, he goes in working clothes.
So. That which manifests the King's relationship to the people's God is first and foremost that of Farmer, -- not Warrior, not, Lawgiver, not Sacrificer. His Primary Role is the one who feeds and protects by the sweat of his brow, however distant and ritualized and far-off in history that origin of his right to rule may be.
Ok. Change leads.
The infrastructure taken for granted in the modern world, which is in many points congruent to that of ancient Rome or any other large bureaucratic society, is nonexistent in Middle-earth. In some places you still have roads left. And you're doing really good then. There is a far lower level of material wealth overall, and consequently self-sufficiency is far easier. "Live simply, that others may simply live" is not entirely alien to the Arda Mythos' founding principles. There are no shopping malls in Tirion or Hobbiton or Dale. There are people who make things and exchange them and do things and exchange their work. "The laborer is worthy of his hire."
The whole world-outlook is different from that of our Earth. Craftsmanship and Scholarship are rated higher than the Arts of War. Making Things, Growing Things, and Knowing Things are the Highest Goods in Tolkien's universe. This is both implicit and explicit, in The Lord of the Rings and in all supporting texts, including Letters. I highly recommend that everyone here read the short, strange Smith of Wotton Major for the revelation that the highest work the Elven King can find for himself while adventuring on errantry in mortal lands is -- to become an apprentice pastry chef.
Because we are not bodiless, and because the universe is a war zone, we can't devote all our lives to these pursuits. It's Arda Marred, folks, inside and outside of the books. Surviving and raising kids is a huge amount of work, and makes it very hard to be a pure artist/scientist, as anyone who has ever tried to juggle family and academics or arts well knows. But we're not supposed to lose sight of them as the proper goals of sentients. Stuff is, and is valuable as itself, not as means to ends -- and more so yet people. Tolkien dismisses utterly the notion that people exist as grist for capitalism no less than war, and that souls should be chained to mass-production jobs which only serve to make money for Overlords while generating wastelands of useless, ugly, unnecessary and disposable products for breakage and disposal.
The civilization in the First Age is the first civilization that ever there was in Middle-earth, and it's based on the civilization of the Golden Age as understood in Pre-Classical lore -- that time of Peace before there was greed, or vanity, or rivalry or violence. (You will also find these same patterns of belief in the Confucian tradition, where the King's authority also derives not merely from Heavenly Mandate but from the leader's continuation of the Divine Way of Peace and Self-Sacrifice on earth. Which sometimes has required kings to give up their reigns; I highly recommend the works of Mencius (Meng-Kuo) for parallels.) There was no need for the trappings of modern authority, because people had different values and saw what was really important, according to the mythoi.
Obviously it falls apart, the further as time goes on, and the more distance both physical and temporal from the Divine Realm. But it is a gross mistake to assume that anything in Middle-earth is a direct copy of an ossified society a thousand years from its first primitive roots and more, deliberately basing itself on a smorgasbord of bits picked from several millennia of history and constrained by intense, tightly-woven population and political pressures. (In other words, early modern France.)
Much more could be said on this subject, but here is an extremely short take on it. The very notion of "feudalism" is a mask for many different and complex and even incompatible ideas and phenomena. Essentially, "feudalism" is a defensive structure employed in times of intense threat, upon which various social systems may be built. For an illustration of one way that "feudalism" can be embodied in Middle-earth, I strongly recommend rereading the story of the Haladin. (Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of Men Into the West.") Parts of Western European history resembled that outline closely, but it never looks anything like 17th c. France, and if their society hadn't been abridged prematurely it still probably never would have looked like Louis XIV either.
There has been one time in the "Unshadowed" part of Middle-earth when a "feudal- as- Yankees- understand- it" civilization ruled and dominated, pyramidal structure, thralls, exploitation and all. It looked a lot like Egypt, in its cultural aspects. It required a long history of encroachment to provide a vast infrastructure capable of supporting material transport and rapid communication, without which the central control of a tyranny is essentially insupportable. It required a long tradition of benevolent government perverted relatively shortly into abuse, but abuse that was initially directed at an overseas colonial empire composed of disorganized and separate populations; this ensured an easier acceptance of increasing regulations and obedient mindsets. It created great gulfs of social hierarchies with concomitant strife and social upheaval, and at the same time allowed for enormous numbers of people to achieve higher levels of material prosperity than ever before; but unfortunately the system was not quite either foolproof or watertight . . .
Afterwards they called it -- "Atalantë."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.