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The Age of Men is over. The Time of the AI has come.
ChatGPT Considers If The People of Middle-earth Poop, Jordan Peterson Reads The Hobbit (sorta), and An Error in The Two Towers Extended Edition
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This week in Jokien with Tolkien we’re talking about The Lord of the Rings and AI. Specifically, I’m highlighting a few ways that people are using artificial intelligence to interact with Middle-earth that came to my attention this week.
Today we’ve got ChatGPT trying to deduce whether the denizens of Middle-earth defecate, ElevenLabs' AI software simulating Jordan Peterson reading the opening of The Hobbit, and then (not AI-related at all) an ERROR in the LORE (gasp!) that I caught in The Two Towers extended edition.1 Let’s get to it.
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We’ve Gone Number One, Yes. What About Number Two?
There are very good arguments2 the internet is on the cusp of another revolution akin to the leap to Web 2.0. This next evolution of the internet very likely will be powered by AI. You’ve doubtless seen many examples of this sort of thing happening over the past few weeks and months, as AI has been utilized for everything from instantly composing essays to generating resumes and from simulating chats with historical figures to generating weird art:
Of course, it didn’t take that long for someone to put this new technology to some ACTUAL use and attempt to answer some hard-hitting questions, such as “Do the people of Middle Earth poop?”
You might think the answer is obvious! Surely the people of Middle-earth poop! Not so fast.
So how did it go? Let’s follow along with this thread from Andrew White:
Ok, strong start. We’re using the text of The Lord of the Rings and using an AI to generate an answer.
Aaaand we’re already in trouble. “Not many relevant passages to work with,” eh?
hahahaha I have no idea what Gollum “chewing and slavering” has to do with using the restroom, but I guess it goes to show that there really is a paucity of passages to work with. “Not clear what he is chewing on” means this doesn’t help much.
I’m not following ChatGPT’s logic here, as “food that would require them to poop” is surely not just “worms or beetles or something slimy out of holes” but…any food? Such as
Eat ‘em, poop ‘em, flush ‘em down the drain! Ok, tangent over. Back to ChatGPT
Ok, again, not sure how relevant this is, especially since it’s a false implication! Ents eat no food, drinking only ent-draughts. The very next line after Gimli says “This Treebeard at any rate has not starved you” is Merry saying, “He has not….But Ents only drink, and drink is not enough for content.” Gimli assumes that they have eaten solid food, but the point is that Tolkien is demonstrating the wondrous effects of the ent-draught on Merry and Pippin, who have eaten just a few crumbs of their remaining lembas while with Treebeard and yet look “in the bloom of health” because they drank the ent-draught.
So far this all reminds me of many an essay I wrote during my years of education where I really had nothing great to say but just had to hit a word count so I used a lot of words to say nothing much at all and dropped in quotes I didn’t really use correctly in their context. Can the AI bring rescue this argument with a strong finish?
“They are not seen relieving themselves.” Ok, this is the strongest argument so far: no explicit mention of pooping in LOTR! And yet…it’s an argument from silence. Not the strongest, especially as the only real argument. Perhaps they are simply a private bunch, these peoples of Middle-earth, and Tolkien is a prim sort of narrator on this subject.
We’re clearly seeing the limits of this experiment, as ChatGPT only had the text of The Lord of the Rings to work with, not Tolkien’s entire legendarium, and also is working deductively rather than inductively. Without any specific passages that give strong evidence either way, deductive reasoning can’t get us very far. But working inductively, we regular intelligences could say (for instance) that the people of Middle-earth do almost everything else that people in the primary creation do: they eat, sleep, reproduce, speak, walk, feel emotion, etc. etc. etc. Specifically the eating similarity would strongly suggest that there needs to be some corresponding way to eliminate the waste generated.
For what it’s worth, bathrooms in Bag End are mentioned on opening page of The Hobbit:
No going upstairs for the hobbit [he did it! he said the title of the book!]: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes [narrows eyes in has-read-Narnia-before] (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed in the same passage.
Surely Hobbits wouldn’t use a bathroom only to bathe?
So after all that, what are we left with, then? A fun and interesting experiment, but one that needs more data or further development of the capabilities of the AI in order to generate any meaningful conclusions.
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12 Rules for Living in a Hole in the Ground
For our second intersection of AI and LOTR, a twitter follower trained an AI to read like Jordan Peterson and then had it read the opening chapter of The Hobbit. It's good and scary at the same time. Scary good. But mostly scary. Take a listen:
An Inaccuracy in The Two Towers Extended Edition?!?
While doing some research for a tweet3 I discovered an error in the extended edition of The Two Towers (GASP!). In the infamous stew scene, Éowyn asks Aragorn how he could have ridden to war with Thengel—her grandfather and Théoden’s father—since he doesn’t appear to be over 50. Surprised by his affirmation of the truth of her father’s story and spurred on by his slight grin and silence as she guesses his age, she guesses higher and higher until Aragorn at last confesses that he is 87 years old.
Which isn’t true!
Yes, he begins the story of The Lord of the Rings at age 87. But Aragorn’s birthday is March 1st, which is also the date that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli meet Gandalf the White in Fangorn Forest after tracking Merry and Pippin there.
Aragorn’s (created for the films) conversation with Éowyn here happens after that meeting, therefore he is actually 88!
How dare they!? Have they no respect for the Professor and his works? What a travesty to ruin the books by making changes like this! Or is it that they just don’t care at all?? (end sarcasm)
Now, this is a rather trivial mistake in the grand scheme of things, BUT it did get me thinking about that meeting in Fangorn Forest. Did Legolas and Gimli not know it was Aragorn’s birthday? Did they know and FORGET? (Gandalf gets a pass, he didn’t even remember people called him ‘Gandalf’ even though he said he had already seen and talked to Merry and Pippin. Did they not call him Gandalf a single time before he was called that by Aragorn??) Did ARAGORN forget his own birthday?
OR…was it supposed to be a surprise party for Aragorn that went very, very poorly?
An Unexpected Party
*Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli enter Fangorn Forest*
GIMLI: I hope the wizard is on time. And that he remembered the cake!
LEGOLAS: Do not worry, Mithrandir will be there. I hope.
ARAGORN: Hey, what are you guys talking about?
LEGOLAS: um, nothing! *stares daggers at Gimli*
ARAGORN: someone approaches
GANDALF, LEGOLAS, and GIMLI: SURPRISE!
ARAGORN: what can this surprise be?
GANDALF: I was supposed to tell you…something. And bring you…something. But I forgot what it was. Ah well!
GIMLI: *cursing in Dwarvish with a few intelligible mentions of ‘cake’ sprinkled throughout*
ARAGORN: *whispering* thanks for forgetting my birthday
GANDALF: your birthday? oh yes, it was your birthday today. if only someone had planned something to celebrate you. what a shame.
With February already coming to a close, next week will be a Five Faves roundup post of things I’ve been enjoying lately!
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I’m sure many others have noticed it before. I had just never noticed it myself or heard anyone mention it before.
The linked newsletter is from, an excellent substack that's all about the internet and being online.