Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

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Elleth
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Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Elleth » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:54 am

I’ve been thinking for a while that this year it was finally time to get a proper period bow. All along my plan had been to get a semi-custom “elvish” recurve, something midway between the Ringing Rocks take on the “Lorien” bow and WETA’s “Rivendell Guard” bows from the Hobbit. I’ve always preferred recurves, I loved the lines, and I thought I could justify a significant elvish influence in a Dunedain impression.

The more focused we’ve become on authenticity though, the less happy I was with that idea. Partly because I reconsidered the wisdom of that much of a culture mishmash, and partly because my eye was getting more educated and less happy with much of what I was seeing on offer: effectively modern American flatbows with curlicue paint jobs.

Before going down another false start, I thought I’d do a quick survey of what’s in the text. I’d expected of course to find again the references to the yew bows amongst men, and classically English feel to the Rangers of Ithlien, with their “great bows, almost of their own height.”

I had not recalled that the Uruk-Hai at Amon Hen also armed themselves with great yew bows, and that orcs, dwarves, and elves are all noted as at least occasionally using horn bows. The relative commonality of horn bows came as a surprise to me - Earendil's dragon-horn bow could possibly be set aside as legend, and goblins make all manner of strange things - but dwarves? On reflection it makes perfect sense - I imagine the steep sides of Erebor and the Mistys alike were dotted with alpine sheep perfect for crafting bows.

It does make me wonder though - as much as I personally love recurves- and have been carrying a cheap modern horsebow myself as an interim solution - seeing them in the hands of Western rangers always seemed a bit odd and out of place. But perhaps they’re more common on the ground in Eriador than I had thought. Certainly I think one could say any decently travelled Ranger would have come across something similar in construction, if not in aesthetic.

For my own impression? I’m thinking the best - or at least safest - is a selfbow of wood. Shorter and (much) lighter than a proper English War Bow, but if I can find one I can afford perhaps still of yew. I’m not certain what pattern exactly - perhaps with a touch of recurve at the tips, but nothing drastic. I think I’ve seen early nordic patterns that might fit, though I’ve not settled on anything yet.

What do you all think works best for Dunedain?







References:
===============================

Dwarves:
Out of the gloom came suddenly the shape of a flying deer. … Thorin was the only one who had kept his feet and his wits. As soon as they had landed he had bent his bow and fitted an arrow in case any hidden guardian of the boat appeared. Now he sent a swift and sure shot into the leaping beast.
The Hobbit, Chapter 8. Flies and Spiders


Then Thorin seized a bow of horn and shot an arrow at the speaker. It smote into his shield and stuck there quivering.
The Hobbit, Chapter 15 The Gathering of the Clouds




Elves (Mirkwood and Lorien):

Eärendil was a mariner...
his bow was made of dragon-horn,
his arrows shorn of ebony
- FOTR, Book II Ch 1 Many Meetings




To Legolas she gave a bow such as the Galadhrim used, longer and stouter than the bows of Mirkwood, and strung with a string of elf-hair. With it went a quiver of arrows.
- FOTR, BkII Ch 8 Farewell to Lórien


`I know what it was that you last saw,' she said; `for that is also in my mind. Do not be afraid! But do not think that only by singing amid the trees, nor even by the slender arrows of elven-bows…
- FOTR, Bk II Ch 7 The Mirror of Galadriel




Men (of Eriador?)
There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands. They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs: and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.
- TTT, Book III Ch 1 The Departure of Boromir



Men - Dale:
But there was still a company of archers that held their ground among the burning houses. Their captain was Bard, grim-voiced and grim-faced … Now he shot with a great yew bow, till all his arrows but one were spent … He bent his bow for the last time.

The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide. In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather, so fierce was its flight.
The Hobbit, Chapter 14 Fire and Water



Men - Dunedain (Northern):
A little apart the Rangers sat, silent, in an ordered company, armed with spear and bow and sword. They were clad in cloaks of dark grey, and their hoods were cast now over helm and head. Their horses were strong and of proud bearing, but rough-haired; and one stood there without a rider, Aragorn’s own horse that they had brought from the North; Roheryn was his name. There was no gleam of stone or gold, nor any fair thing in all their gear and harness: nor did their riders bear any badge or token, save only that each cloak was pinned upon the left shoulder by a brooch of silver shaped like a rayed star.
- ROTK, Book V, Ch 2 The Passing of the Grey Company



Men - Dunedain (Gondor - Ithilien Rangers):
If they were astonished at what they saw, their captors were even more astonished. Four tall Men stood there. Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows.
- TTT, Book IV, Ch 4. Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit


Men - Rohirrim:
Without a word or cry, suddenly, the Riders halted. A thicket of spears were pointed towards the strangers; and some of the horsemen had bows in hand, and their arrows were already fitted to the string.
- TTT, Book III Ch 2. The Riders of Rohan



A few of the riders appeared to be bowmen, skilled at shooting from a running horse. Riding swiftly into range they shot arrows at the Orcs that straggled behind, and several of them fell; then the riders wheeled away out of the range of the answering bows of their enemies, who shot wildly, not daring to halt. This happened many times, and on one occasion arrows fell among the Isengarders. One of them, just in front of Pippin, stumbled and did not get up again.
- TTT, Book III Ch 3 The Uruk-Hai



Orcs

There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands. They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs: and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.
- TTT, Book III Ch 1 The Departure of Boromir




There was some cursing and scuffling, and then most of the Northerners broke away and dashed off, over a hundred of them, running wildly along the river towards the mountains. The hobbits were left with the Isengarders: a grim dark band, four score at least of large, swart, slant-eyed Orcs with great bows and short broad-bladed swords. A few of the larger and bolder Northerners remained with them.
- TTT, Book III Ch 3 The Uruk-Hai



Presently two orcs came into view. One was clad in ragged brown and was armed with a bow of horn; it was of a small breed, black-skinned, with wide and snuffling nostrils: evidently a tracker of some kind.
- ROTK, Book VI, Ch 2. The Land of Shadow


Hobbits -
Though slow to quarrel, and for sport killing nothing that lived, they were doughty at bay, and at need could still handle arms. They shot well with the bow, for they were keen-eyed and sure at the mark. Not only with bows and arrows. If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover, as all trespassing beasts knew very well.
- FOTR, Prologue, 1. Concerning Hobbits


Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and...
- ROTK, Book VI, Chapter 8: The Scouring of the Shire
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Eledhwen
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Eledhwen » Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:29 pm

I use a lot of different bows...due to loving archery. Most of them are 'D' section traditional longbows and most of those have horn nocks. I also have some flat bows. However, the bow I have been using most recently and which is my absolute favorite bow, is the Scythian composite bow. A horn bow, if you like. It was custom made for me by Grozer in Hungary, the only custom bow I have (not including the ones I am making myself). I have always justified it as being the result of having visited Far Harad and understanding its use in heavy brush, from horseback, etc.

History is pretty clear about some things. One of them is that humans will adopt and adapt anything they find useful from their own, or neighboring/conquered/etc cultures. The 'Turkish' bow became a popular shooting and hunting bow with many Europeans after the Crusades. At Birka, a number of Eastern Archery items have been unearthed. The Viking were certainly familiar with the composite bow. The Romans adopted whole units of Syrian auxiliary archers with these bows. Horse archery was adopted by the later Empire. There is, to my mind, plenty of ground for using such a bow myself.

They are lighter, smaller, can be strung longer without 'setting', and are just as powerful as any other bow at the usual ranges. Mine is currently 55ibs @ 28" draw...and since my draw length is 28", the bow suits me perfectly. This thing fires very fast, very little hand slap, no pinch (when I use just my fingers; I have learned to use a thumb ring). They are a bit more challenging to string for some folk.

I find it quite authentic enough. The Numenoreans had great steel bows....gone by the Third Age. Horn bows, flat bows, traditional great bows, all of these are, to my mind, more than acceptable. Recurves too, as well as Reflex-Deflex bows.

Then again, we are aware that I am less inclined to go full medieval period in my Middle Earth work....where in my Medieval Hunting pursuits I am fanatic about being properly authentic. In Middle Earth I prefer to preserve a certain amount of difference to our own modern history.

Your mileage may vary.

For what it is worth.

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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Mirimaran » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:42 pm

For myself, I favor a smaller bow, and look to the Native Americans of the Plains for inspiration.

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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Manveruon » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:53 pm

Great stuff here! I enjoy your musings on the subject! I had forgotten the references to the horn bows, but based on what you've shown here I think it's safe to say that the various races of Middle Earth used a wide variety of materials to craft bows, so you've got a lot of room to play. Yew is obviously mentioned specifically, but I don't think that rules out using other woods, like ash or even oak. Or you could take my route and have a laminate bow made of woods that are designed to resemble yew, but without the yew price tag (yikes). Mine is ipe backed with hickory, for example, and looks passably like a yew bow, if perhaps a bit darker in the belly because of the unique color the ipe gives it.

I do agree that a small degree of recurve, at least, is perfectly acceptable in the context of 3rd Age northwestern Middle Earth, even outside of the Elven realms. From what I've seen, recurved bows weren't totally unheard of it Europe and England during the middle ages, as some would argue, and we already know that Middle Earth had a much wider range of historical technologies present at one time than we see in actual history, so that certainly gives you some leeway too. And don't forget historical Eurpoean bows like the Holmgaard bow, which was very similar in many ways to the general design of modern flat-limbed longbows. Lots of options!
Last edited by Manveruon on Sun Mar 12, 2017 11:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Manveruon » Sun Mar 12, 2017 8:56 pm

YEP! Well said!

Eledhwen wrote:I use a lot of different bows...due to loving archery. Most of them are 'D' section traditional longbows and most of those have horn nocks. I also have some flat bows. However, the bow I have been using most recently and which is my absolute favorite bow, is the Scythian composite bow. A horn bow, if you like. It was custom made for me by Grozer in Hungary, the only custom bow I have (not including the ones I am making myself). I have always justified it as being the result of having visited Far Harad and understanding its use in heavy brush, from horseback, etc.

History is pretty clear about some things. One of them is that humans will adopt and adapt anything they find useful from their own, or neighboring/conquered/etc cultures. The 'Turkish' bow became a popular shooting and hunting bow with many Europeans after the Crusades. At Birka, a number of Eastern Archery items have been unearthed. The Viking were certainly familiar with the composite bow. The Romans adopted whole units of Syrian auxiliary archers with these bows. Horse archery was adopted by the later Empire. There is, to my mind, plenty of ground for using such a bow myself.

They are lighter, smaller, can be strung longer without 'setting', and are just as powerful as any other bow at the usual ranges. Mine is currently 55ibs @ 28" draw...and since my draw length is 28", the bow suits me perfectly. This thing fires very fast, very little hand slap, no pinch (when I use just my fingers; I have learned to use a thumb ring). They are a bit more challenging to string for some folk.

I find it quite authentic enough. The Numenoreans had great steel bows....gone by the Third Age. Horn bows, flat bows, traditional great bows, all of these are, to my mind, more than acceptable. Recurves too, as well as Reflex-Deflex bows.

Then again, we are aware that I am less inclined to go full medieval period in my Middle Earth work....where in my Medieval Hunting pursuits I am fanatic about being properly authentic. In Middle Earth I prefer to preserve a certain amount of difference to our own modern history.

Your mileage may vary.

For what it is worth.

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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Greg » Sun Mar 12, 2017 11:13 pm

I'm just going to repeat my statement from awhile back in another topic. I think that, for a Man anywhere from Gondor to Arnor, the most appropriate material would be Yew or a Yew imitation, as Manveruon mentioned. With that in mind, this description follows the references pretty closely.

Greg wrote:1) Materials
Yew is the most referenced bow wood by far. Osage may be a good substitute, since it Ambers with age and looks great in the woods in that color stage. I would recommend it being a backed bow, using a material that would be readily available...Deer Rawhide. Less labor-intensive than processed sinew (which doesn't really seem to fit culturally anyway, being very middle-eastern in bow use historically) and easy to make, it seems like a good viable option.

2) Size Practicality
I've been carrying various 48" bows for years, and though they're super practical, accuracy under pressure can suffer simply because there just isn't as much mass present, and a shorter working limb. They tend to be violent on the side of handshock, and the long limb travel just isn't conducive to accuracy, especially for an archer such as a wandering Ranger that doesn't have a target butt handy to keep his skills sharp often, etc. I think a healthy balance between bow mass and woodland practicality could be found between 56-58" nock to nock. Long enough to be described as a longbow by a professor that likely didn't know the technical difference separating Longbow from Recurve, yet short enough to be practical in the woods.

3) Construction
I would lean towards a shallower D-cross section. The D-section bow is iconic of western Europe, but making it a shallower D would enable less stress on the limbs and lower poundages without risking explosion...as much. The flat back would still lend itself to Rawhide backing, and a bend-through handle area would give us plenty of working limb at these shorter AMO lengths to avoid breakage. The possibility of a slight reflex out towards the tips comes to mind, as something that is historically plausible, since recurved limbs of various designs have been accounted for in just about every part of the old world, without throwing a sharp hook on the tips, to keep us looking European. Basically, just enough to give it a midle-earth flair and a little extra cast without forsaking historical design altogether. And, of course, we don't want to get it looking too Elvish...these are the men of the west we're talking about, here!

4) Poundage/Cast
I would recommend the bow be made for hunting first and combat second, since a wandering Ranger would shoot their bow at game significantly more often than orcs. Even a 45# bow can put a bodkin through chainmaille, and since Tolkien was kind to us and left out plate armor...that'll do, pig. I'd stay between 40-55 lbs. A very wise old bowhunter once said that any game in North America, large or small, could be taken on a 55 lb. bow, and he was right. That weight range gives you plenty of options, and will provide enough cast for hunting or occasional combat in a wooded zone, where flight shooting would never occur.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby caedmon » Fri Apr 21, 2017 5:56 am

Here's my take. To Tolkien the default bow was the english longbow. Boys of yew, and bows 'in the fashion of men' should be along the classic war bow lines. Hobbits follow men and use something akin to the Welsh shortbow.

'Bows of Horn' are recurves and are either exotic or sinister. And are not ever shown in the hands of a plain man. Exotic went they are in the hands of 'good' people, but also with a hint of age (The far off first age or recovered from the Erebor armoury respectively). Or alien and sinister in the hands of goblins. Who in the cited passages, feel very mongol.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Kortoso » Fri Apr 21, 2017 8:50 pm

caedmon wrote:Here's my take. To Tolkien the default bow was the english longbow. Boys of yew, and bows 'in the fashion of men' should be along the classic war bow lines. Hobbits follow men and use something akin to the Welsh shortbow.


So then he knew the Victorian longbow, which I understand was a little different from the "Mary Rose" warbow in shape. Can anyone confirm?
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Elleth » Fri Apr 21, 2017 9:51 pm

So then he knew the Victorian longbow, which I understand was a little different from the "Mary Rose" warbow in shape. Can anyone confirm?


Coincidentally, Mr. Easton just did a video on that. (Or is that what prompted your comment? :) )



That said, to the extent he had a mental picture, I'm virtually certain the Professor would have had the smooth lines of the later sporting longbow in mind.
Period illuminations explicitly show the nobbly rough yew selfbows, but it's my understanding few people paid attention to the distinction until relatively recent times.

I could be mistaken, of course. The professor certainly was in a better position than most in the mid 20th c. to peruse ancient illuminations, but given his mind didn't turn to material culture much I doubt he gave them the attention we do.

Either way, I'd think the older warbow is more logistically correct, given available lumber (lots!) and glues (presumably hide glue and others less suited to the climate).

As an aside... last time out I gave a go at stump shooting at longer ranges. I really noticed how limiting a sub-50 lb bow is both in terms of flight time and range. I'd imagine hunters of crafty orc would much prefer to take heavier bows if they could draw them.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Kortoso » Fri Apr 21, 2017 10:57 pm

Elleth wrote:
So then he knew the Victorian longbow, which I understand was a little different from the "Mary Rose" warbow in shape. Can anyone confirm?


Coincidentally, Mr. Easton just did a video on that. (Or is that what prompted your comment? :) )

Indeed it is, thank you for jogging my memory. :D

As for your ideal draw weight, there's this:
The weight of a hunting bow should be from fifty to eighty pounds. One should start shooting with a bow not over fifty pounds, and preferably under that. At the end of a season's shooting he can command a bow of sixty pounds if he is a strong man. Our average bows pull seventy-five pounds. Though it is possible for some of us to shoot an eighty-five pound bow, such a weapon is not under proper control for constant use.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Ursus » Sat Apr 22, 2017 1:11 pm

Elleth wrote:
. I really noticed how limiting a sub-50 lb bow is both in terms of flight time and range. I'd imagine hunters of crafty orc would much prefer to take heavier bows if they could draw them.



Bingo.

As Greg mentioned above a 45 lb bow can pierce maille, but I would say that it would have to be butted and have a hard backing at close range to be successful. I've had riveted maille with a gambeson backing laugh at my warbow in tests, at least when using broadsheads. Bokins were another matter.

My advise, use a heavier stave if you can manage but be safe. It takes a good amount of time, training, and exercise to draw a heavy pound stave. Also be prepared to make or buy a newer heavier bow every six months or so if you are a regular shooter. Or the more econaomical option- Mark Stretton built a special machine to help condition the body for heavy draw weights. I built one back in the day, think I've got the plans somewhere if I can dig them up.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Manveruon » Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:11 am

I'd love to see those plans, Ursus! I have been woefully neglectful of my shooting over the last year or so, but I'd like to get back to it. Currently I shoot a 50# longbow, but someday I would love to be able to get up to somewhere around 70. I don't know if I would ever care to go above that, but I figure 70 or so is a nice compromise between a modern sport bow and the war bows of old, especially for someone like me who is far from an avid high-fidelity re-creationist in that sense.
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Re: Bows of Middle Earth - what's really right?

Postby Kortoso » Mon Jul 17, 2017 4:22 pm

I shoot with a number of my brothers. We all have self-bows, but most of them use modern recurved bows with shelves (I think that's what you call them). I have a 45-lb longbow and I shoot wooden arrows. These are heavier than the carbon arrows that some of my brethren shoot. These lighter arrows shoot much straighter than my wooden arrows, driving me to consider getting a heavier bow.
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