Here's what coffee was like in The Lord of the Rings
New book 'Flora of Middle-Earth' analyzes and illustrates Tolkien plants
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a lot of things. As its creator intended, the saga of Middle-Earth has become a modern mythology of sorts — its characters, creatures, and landscapes continue to influence fantasy writing worldwide. In addition, it gave Tolkien an outlet for his skill at creating languages, with whole races of creatures who needed their own distinct dialects and histories. But not least, Tolkien’s legendarium also allowed him to express his love of nature. Many are the passages in The Lord of the Rings singing the beauty of green leaves and sunshine-dappled foliage. This is, after all, the series where trees rise up as an army to fight back against destructive industrialization. Now, a new book sets out to apply analytical rigor to this element of Tolkien’s work by analyzing all the plants of Middle-Earth.
Written by botanist Walter Judd, Flora of Middle-Earth presents detailed accounts of every plant in Tolkien’s world. As is fitting for an author like Tolkien, who had such a love of language, these entries break down the real-life etymology of the plant’s names and discuss their place in Middle-Earth. Best of all, each entry comes with a woodcut-style drawing by artist Graham Judd, showing each plant in a beautiful Middle-Earth context.
The drawing for coffee, for instance, shows the plant next to Gandalf and some Hobbits relaxing in the Shire. Judd’s entry describes how coffee only gets a few mentions in Tolkien’s stories, mostly at the beginning of The Hobbit, but, unlike tomatoes, was not later revised out of the story due to Tolkien’s concerns about biological accuracy (since Middle-Earth is vaguely based on a medieval version of Europe, it wouldn’t make sense to have tomatoes, since those originate in South America and thus didn’t reach Europe until the age of exploration). As Judd writes, “He considered the presence of coffee in Middle-Earth as representing an independent, and earlier, introduction from the mountains of northeastern Africa — a plant brought into lands controlled by Gondor as a result of its trade with Haradwaith and Khand … Additionally, he may have thought that coffee (in contrast to the tomato) was more in keeping with the essentially English nature of the Shire.”
Check out the entry and drawing for “coffee” below, along with a preview of other Judd drawings. Flora of Middle-Earth is out Aug. 15 from Oxford University Press.