Preach loud truth
420 blaze it Tollers
Jam session
Ceiling Lolkien
Shoot the Tolkpedo
Poke the Heretic
Chaika? Yes Chaika

Bree Architecture and the Killing Moon

I take a look at the Moon's distance from Earth, as described in Tolkien's works, and argue that it was much smaller than today. In fact, the Moon orbited only about 1.5 m above Earth. Also, I discuss the effect this small distance had on humans and the architecture of Bree.

 

Introduction: The weight of houses in Bree

The idea for this essay arose, like so many times, when I stumbled upon a puzzling remark in "Lord of the Rings". It can be found in the first description of Bree, when the hobbits reach it: "The village of Bree had some hundred stone houses of the Big Folk (...)" (LotR, At the Sign of The Prancing Pony).

A stone, as everyone knows, is an old English weight unit. One stone roughly equals 6.35 kg. A "hundred stone house" therefore weighs 635 kg. When I built my temple back in my world-conquering days, I learned the hard way how heavy bricks can be. Normal houses weigh, according to my quick research, something like 100 to 500 tons, depending on size and materials used! So, how did the Bree-folk manage to build 635-kg houses? Bamboo? Reed? Paper walls? Helium balloons under the roof?

We are also told that the Prancing pony had "two wings" (ibid.). Connecting this to the abnormnally low weight, I started to wonder - could these houses fly? Was Bree a mobile village? The "Prancing" Pony, indeed!

That would also explain why, as Tolkien noted, travel between the Shire and Bree had decreased at the end of the Third Age. Maybe Bree had just drifted further away, making the journey longer and more difficult.

The question remains, however, why the inhabitants of Bree felt it necessary to build a mobile village. While I was searching for an explanation, my attention was caught by something seemingly completely unrelated: puzzling facts in the song Frodo performed in the Prancing Pony.

 

The mysterious cow jump

As you know, Frodo sang a song in the guest hall of the Prancing Pony. While the content of this song was no doubt intended to be humorous, some facts mentioned in it cannot be easily dismissed, particularly in this stanza:

"With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke!
The cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon."
(LotR, At the Sign of The Prancing Pony)

How is it possible that a cow jumps over the Moon? The Moon today is between 360,000 and 400,000 km away from Earth. I have empirically tested the jumping abilities of cows. I went to a field and pricked 1,000 random cows with knitting needles. I will not bother you with the detailed statistics, but the highest jump I witnessed did not even come close to 360,000 km!

So, unless you subscribe to really implausible theories (like, the Third Age cows were a million times stronger, or the Moon here wasn't really the Moon but rather the Korean religious leader Sun Myung Moon) there is only one explanation. The Moon in Third Age must have been much, much closer to Earth than it is today.

In fact it is undisputed by astronomers that the Moon is drifting further away from Earth even today. These scientists measure the rate of the drift at 3.8 cm per annum, but I think this is severely underestimating it. In fact, I believe the Moon in the Third Age was not further from Earth than 140 or 150 cm. This is a height a frightened cow can easily jump.

Once I accepted this as a fact, it all came together. This easily explains why Bree had to be mobile. A Moon racing over the surface at a height of 150 cm would constantly crash into the houses of the settlement and destroy them. This would not only be annoying, but pose a potentially mortal danger to people sleeping upstairs! A flying village, on the other hand, could easily get out of the way every time the Moon approached.

 

Influence of a low Moon on evolution

This theory provides a simple explanation to one of the most striking riddles of Tolkien's works, namely, why Hobbits were so small. The tallest Hobbits did only reach a height of slightly over four feet: "According to the Red Book, Bandobras Took (Bullroarer), son of Isengrim the Second, was four foot five and able to ride a horse." (LotR, Concerning Hobbits). This translates to about 135 cm.

Now, if the Moon's orbit was 150 cm above the surface, it is very clear that people taller than this had a problem. The Moon would just smash into their heads and probably kill them. As this is a strong evolutionary disadvantage, it is logical that Hobbits evolved to a smaller size.

In criticizing this theory, someone mentioned the Dúnedain, who were much taller than Hobbits (up to 7 feet, or 213 cm), but obviously survived quite well. However, what we see here is merely a different evolutionary strategy. By growing extraordinarily long legs, the Dúnedain became much faster than lesser men. This, in addition to a keen sight and alertness, enabled them to outrun the Moon when it approached. As Butterbur said about Strider: "Goes about at a great pace on his long shanks (...)" (LotR, At the Sign of The Prancing Pony).

The men of Bree, however, did neither shrink nor grow long legs, because they had their floating village and could dodge the Moon. Thus the pressure of natural selection was removed. Fig. 1 summarizes the effect of a low Moon on people of various sizes.

Fig. 1: Effects of a Low Moon

 

Moon stains

One more detail to back this theory up: According to Gimli's song in Moria, in very ancient times "no stain yet on the Moon was seen" (LotR, A Journey in the Dark). This may indicate that the dark stains we see on the moon today were a rather recent addition. I speculate that they are either a) slight damage on the moon surface from smashing people's heads, or b) actually dried human blood. I know a couple of balrogs who would find the second option rather romantic.

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