Literacy in Middle-Earth?

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Lifstan
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Literacy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Lifstan » Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:11 pm

In my last game the question came up: what's the level of literacy in Middle-Earth? Meaning, if you meet someone, how likely is that person to be able to write and read?

My take is that it seems like many characters can write and read in Lotr. So I think the level of literacy is quite high. But it my game the question came up about a rider of Rohan... That's a little bit trickier. I mean an elf, sure, a dwarf, sure, but a rider of Rohan?

What do you think?
Last edited by Lifstan on Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Hermes Serpent » Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:14 pm

I personally find it hilarious that the title of a thread on Literacy in Middle Earth doesn't actually spell Literacy correctly. I know its probably because the poster isn't a native English speaker but still.
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:38 pm

Hermes Serpent wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:14 pm
I personally find it hilarious that the title of a thread on Literacy in Middle Earth doesn't actually spell Literacy correctly. I know its probably because the poster isn't a native English speaker but still.
Funny I assumed it was another one of those British spellings with extra letters. Like Armour and Honour. With all the ink you Brits would have saved over the years you could could get the NHS back in the black.
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Otaku-sempai » Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:59 pm

Hermes Serpent wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:14 pm
I personally find it hilarious that the title of a thread on Literacy in Middle Earth doesn't actually spell Literacy correctly.
And then there's the matter of 'Middle-earth'. ;)

Though I also wonder at some other common misspellings I see on the forums: elve and Radaghast, to name two.
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Feb 11, 2018 4:09 pm

Otaku-sempai wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:59 pm
Though I also wonder at some other common misspellings I see on the forums: elve and Radaghast, to name two.
I haven't seen that, but it is pure win. Great visual.
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Valarian
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Valarian » Sun Feb 11, 2018 5:00 pm

Lifstan wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:11 pm
My take is that it seems like many characters can write and read in Lotr. So I think the level of litteracy is quite high. But it my game the question came up about a rider of Rohan... That's a little bit trickier. I mean an elve, sure, a dwarf, sure, but a rider of Rohan?

What do you think?
Literacy in The Shire seems to be high among the gentlemanly class, but not with the common folk. The Gaffer's concern about Mr Bilbo teaching Samwise to read indicates that not all Hobbits are literate.
The Fellowship of the Ring wrote:Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.
Elves mostly seem to be literate, in several languages. Though, an Elf is pretty much an immortal being and have several hundred, or thousand, years to learn.

The Dwarves seem to be mostly literate, in both Westron and Khuzdul. My take on this is that the Dwarves we've seen as literate are part of the upper classes of Dwarven society (e.g. Thorin, Gimli, Balin) and the common Dwarves may not be literate, or may only be literate in Khuzdul.

For Men, Gondorian society is literate - at least in the merchant, scholar, and upper classes. The Rohirrim and Woodmen are not literate societies, relying instead on oral tradition and storytelling as a means of sharing information. I see Dale and Laketown as literate, again in the merchant and upper classes of society. It seems that Men learn to read and write if they are merchants, scholars, or nobility. This includes Barliman Butterbur of Bree.
The Fellowship of the Ring wrote:‘It’s addressed plain enough,’ said Mr. Butterbur, producing a letter from his pocket, and reading out the address slowly and proudly (he valued his reputation as a lettered man):
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Feb 11, 2018 5:33 pm

Excellent textual evidence, Valarian.
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Falenthal » Sun Feb 11, 2018 6:52 pm

Otaku-sempai wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2018 3:59 pm
Radaghast,
It always reminds me of "Gormenghast" [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gormenghast_(series)].

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cuthalion
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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by cuthalion » Mon Feb 12, 2018 12:02 am

Wow, let's not bag on people for their spelling. No matter how lighthearted it's meant, that's like 5 separate people pointing out how the OP has misspelt words in their post to 1 person actually replying and being helpful. Nobody needs that.

. . . Anyway, rant over.

Lifstan, it's a good question. I think you're right to think twice about the Rohirrim. They are a much more martial culture, less 'developed' than Arnor/Gondor. Much more oral tradition--per Valerian--and see Horse Lords p. 8 "Songs of the Riders". They make me think of Saxons/Nordic cultures. Think of Eomer at the border of Fangorn, talking about how knowledge of the area has passed into fairy tale status.

That said, there's probably a difference when it comes to rank/status. Is the character an elder? A marshal? Do they belong to a lineage? Do they own land? All those things would make it more likely for them to be literate.

See also the table on p.15 of the Adventurer's Companion--or presumably somewhere in the Horse Lords supplement--which actually points to Sindarin being a possible secondary language, which surprised me, and that the language of Gondor (by which they mean the Common Tongue) is spoken in court since the crowning of Thengel King.

Hope that helps.

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Re: Litteracy in Middle-Earth?

Post by Falenthal » Mon Feb 12, 2018 6:31 am

Also, I'd distinguish between at least two grades of "literacy": the academic one and the useful one.

Elves, high standing dwarves, nobles and sages of Gondor,... will probably be able to write and read long and complicated texts about nearly anything, or at least according to their intelligence level and interestet in it. There's always the noble's sons that only want to go hunting and skip their sindarin classes to their parent's dismay. The Trait Elven-lore surely covers that for sindarin, as might do Old-lore. Maybe other Traits can be found that are related to writing-reading.

And then there's the "language" used by traders, for example, that probably include all kind of words (probably also in different languages) to refer to their merchandise, numbers to keep inventories and money balances, and short sentences (also in different languages) useful for selling, buying, haggling, and understanding the overall meaning of each written local law that affects their business. More than that, don't give them a history book and expect them to be able to read it.
This is probably covered under the Traits Trading and Folk-lore, at least.

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