Here’s a nifty gadget, but is there such a thing in Middle-earth?
In our world, a magnetic compass was invented by the Chinese, though it took another 1000 years before they used it for navigation on the sea. The first mention of a compass in Western Europe dates to the late 12th or early 13th century which does put it within the range of other medieval technologies just arriving on the scene in Middle-earth such as black powder. But alas, no such device is ever mentioned in any of Tolkien’s writings.
In fact, I’m not sure it could even work, at least not until the Third Age. In the beginning of Tolkien’s cosmos the world was flat, surrounding by Encircling Seas. The magnetic poles upon which a mariner’s compass would depend simply didn’t exist. It wasn’t until the Downfall of Númenor that Middle-earth was reshaped into a globe and Valinor was removed from the circles of the world.
But how would Valinor’s new location play with the magnetic field of Arda? And would the 3000 years of the Third Age be enough to discover a compass? I feel like there’s a great essay in here somewhere for a science-minded Tolkien geek.
Card Info: The Grey Havens #8
Artist: Lucas Durham