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I have been re-watching them recently and I have been bugged at how small the distances seem. Osgiliath is clearly visible from Minas Tirith. I realize that they are close compared to some of the distances in Middle-earth but it seems that they are a five-minute gallop from each other.

And Mordor does not look much further away. Were these places literally 'in the shadow' of Mordor?

Is the scale in the films smaller than it is in the book?

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  • Another example is the ride from Hobbiton to Minas Tirith by Gandalf. Naturally for a film they compress the time and the fact there is a 17 year gap between Bilbo's departure and Frodo's departure means they have to compress things that happen in those years (and omit some). I think the distance is one of the more forgiveable things Jackson did because it's a necessity. Another example that comes to mind is Gandalf's ride with Pippin to Minas Tirith; that too was shortened. I imagine (but this is speculation) most travelling (if not all) was shortened by some extent (perhaps varying extent).
    – Pryftan
    Sep 15, 2017 at 18:59

3 Answers 3

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I had a quick look at several maps (such as the ones below, taken from the Encyclopedia of Arda website and Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth respectively), and all seemed to indicate that Osgiliath was somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles from Minas Tirith according to the lore. You certainly couldn't ride between the two in five minutes. As for being in the shadow of Mordor, the Ephel Dúath, the western mountains of Sauron's land were little more than twenty miles to the east of Osgiliath.

In Peter Jackson's film adaptation, it does appear that this distance was shortened considerably for dramatic effect, rather than getting the scale wrong (the fields of the Pelennor were also dotted with fields and farmsteads, and were not as open and barren as The Return of the King film suggests).

Another example of geographical poetic license would be Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli exiting the Paths of the Dead and appearing near Pelargir, whereas in the books, they found themselves in the Vale of Morthond, about three hundred miles to the northwest.

A further example of the journey being shortened in order to tell the story on film is seen, or rather not seen, in The Fellowship of the Ring. In the film, we see the Hobbits travelling through the Shire, and then in the next scene arriving at the western gate of Bree. As those who have read the books will know, they took a diversion through the Old Forest on the way, to avoid the Black Riders, and had to contend with an angry sentient tree and an evil spirit, whilst meeting a merry fellow and his nature-loving partner in between.

Map of the Pelennor Fields

enter image description here

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    Can I just say that the Encyclopedia of Middle-earth is a non-canonical book. I hope you don't mind me editing your map out with the more canonical version, from the Atlas of Middle-earth written by Karyn Wynn Fonstad, someone who doesn't come up with lies, unlike David Day. Here is a more canonical (and better looking) source: i.stack.imgur.com/GBUoo.jpg
    – Edlothiad
    May 2, 2017 at 14:00
  • I got that image from the Encyclopedia of Arda website (glyphweb.com/arda), if that makes any difference to its accuracy. Please feel free to put Fonstad's map in its place. Thanks :) May 2, 2017 at 14:03
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    Can't ride between the two in five minutes? Faramir and his riders that got within arrow range of Osgiliath while Pippin was singing a 90 second Hobbit song beg to differ :P May 2, 2017 at 15:56
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    A truck, of course. That's how they got there so quickly. It all makes sense. Nothing unusual about the movies at all then :P May 2, 2017 at 16:02
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    I think in the DVD commentaries or the documentary features, Peter Jackson acknowledges that he shrunk some of the geography because he also had to (wanted to) compress time
    – HorusKol
    May 3, 2017 at 0:04
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The distance in Fonstad's Atlas from the Black Gate to Barad-dûr is approximately 120 miles, which is roughly 39–40 times further than the visible horizon on flat ground.

enter image description here

In the films, you can see pretty much the entire height of the tower from ground level at the Gate (visible here above Aragorn's head):

enter image description here

Barad-dûr is situated on a spur of the Ered Lithui, so its foundations are not at the same altitude as the Morannon, where Aragorn's army is. But there's no way you could see such a tower 120 miles away. Note that in the book it took Sam and Frodo four days to walk from the Isenmouthe to the base of Mt Doom, which is less than half the distance from the Black Gate to Barad-dûr.

This is all ignoring the problem of line-of-sight; in the film the mountain range at the southern eedge of Udûn is missing.

Someone with more free time than me could estimate the Black Gate-to-Barad-dûr distance in the film version, given a range of estimates of the height of Mt Doom, Barad-dûr, and the relevant real-world distances to objects at the horizon.

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It's so interesting this question as I have thought about it many times.

I agree with the assessment that at minimum, Osgiliath was about 20-30 miles from Minas Tirith from the different maps you can acquire. In terms of the films this poses a big issue because at ground level you can only see about 3 miles in distance to the horizon. (also taking into consideration that terrain would have to be flat) So in reality you would have to be up in the city walls around the 200ft mark (roughly a third up the city as Minas Tirith was about 700ft tall) before you could even see it on the horizon. Ive always thought that it seemed far too close in the films and it turns out rightly so. There is a scene when Faramir is being pulled back in the gates of the city after being wounded and you can clearly see Osgiliath in the background from GROUND LEVEL! this would mean the city was at max about 5 miles away according to the films depiction.

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    You could strengthen this answer by editing it to include a screenshot of the scene from the film you referred to, or any relevant maps that you know that weren't already presented in maguirenumber6's answer. Feb 8 at 18:51

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