Would a compass work on Arda? Or rather, beginning in what age would a compass work on Arda?

... and the follow-up question: Why don't Frodo and Sam use a compass in the Emyn Muil?

  • 5
    Answer to your follow-up question: if no compasses have been invented yet, it doesn't matter if they work or not :) – congusbongus Jan 24 '14 at 0:04
  • How do we know they haven't been invented yet? Black powder was invented by the Third Age so why are compasses so far fetched? – Mothermole1 Jan 24 '14 at 0:15
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    If they have been invented, then obviously they work...even if it isn't by using magnetism at all. – Oldcat Jan 24 '14 at 1:09
  • Knowing which way is north is no good if you're in a maze: your passage can still be blocked, you can still go round in circles, and you may still need to backtrack. And Emyn Muil was a maze. – user8719 Jan 24 '14 at 2:33
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    @einpoklum - depends on whether or not your way is blocked by crags and cliffs; if the only free route is the wrong route, you're gonna take that wrong route, compass or no. – user8719 Jan 24 '14 at 15:37

I will shamelessly steal from Andres F's answer here:

Middle-earth is supposed to be the same world as our Earth, at a "different stage of imagination". Something like a fictional history of the real world Earth. Here is the relevant bit from a BBC interview with Tolkien:

G: I thought that conceivably Midgard might be Middle-earth or have some connection?

T: Oh yes, they're the same word. Most people have made this mistake of thinking Middle-earth is a particular kind of Earth or is another planet of the science fiction sort but it's just an old fashioned word for this world we live in, as imagined surrounded by the Ocean.

G: It seemed to me that Middle-earth was in a sense as you say this world we live in but at a different era.

T: No ... at a different stage of imagination, yes.

If that's the case, Arda, like Earth, has magnetic poles and thus compasses will work.

It's also confirmed indirectly by the fact that on Arda, birds can navigate great distances (e.g. birds spying for Saruman). They do that via sensing planetary magnetism, biology wise.

  • I'm pretty new here, so just picking up on bits of the history outside of TH and LOTR, but wasn't Arda originally flat, and made spherical when Valinor was removed? When did that happen, as I think before that we cannot assume Arda is like Earth in this regard. Also, when does Melkor create the volcanoes? Magnetism on Earth due to our molten core. – BoBTFish Jan 24 '14 at 8:55
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    @BoBTFish - there was a question regarding that somewhere on the site with pretty detailed answer. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/41245/… – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 24 '14 at 12:30

Ok, a guess would be that after the fall of Numenor, when the Valar detached Aman from the rest of Arda, and made the world geoid-shaped (not round! The world's not f'ing round), then magentic poles start to work, upto the issue of pole reversal.

That still does not solve the question of why Frodo and Samwise don't have a compass though.

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    To have a compass, someone must invent a compass. Not achieved in Middle Earth so not available to the Fellowship in their travels.Shire scientists better get busy in the 4th age. – Ihor Sypko Jan 24 '14 at 19:35
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    In a civilization which has had writing and advanced masonry and metal-working (incl. Iron) and sea-faring capabilities, for thousands of years (in the late 2nd + 3rd age) - nobody's noticed and thought to utilize Magnetism? Eh. – einpoklum Jan 24 '14 at 22:35
  • @einpoklum - they weren't much on the whole "science" thing. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 25 '14 at 19:37

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