Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Saturday, 22 October 2011

How Lord of the Rings Can Help Solve China's Population Crisis

It's a simple question so I'll get right to it. Elves are immortal and apparently reproduce in the same way that humans do, so why aren't they crammed into Middle Earth like sardines ? Clearly they all get along with each other without reproducing much, so I reckon that if we figure out how they do it we'll be well on the way to finding a solution for China's population problem. Plus, we'll be able to stop worrying about what will happen when someone invents a cure for ageing.

You might wonder why elves have been singled out here. What about Middle Earth's other long-lived races ?

  • Ents. Live for thousands of years, but lost the Entwives (seriously ? Entwives ? Well that's what you get from a Professor of English at Oxford University), hence, no more Entings. Problem solved. That's probably not a good solution for China though.
"Perhaps they're all hiding in here. Well, you never know."
  • Dwarves. No idea how long these angry little dudes live. All we know is that the women have beards, and - if we allow Pratchett to interject at this point - most dwarf courtship consists of trying to determine the other's gender, which takes a very long time. Giving everyone a great big bushy beard might work for China, but the whole world ? That would be an odd place to spend eternity.
It is indeed the dwarves that go swimming with little hairy women. Good luck with that.
  • Wizards. There are only 5 of them, at least one of them is gay and the rest are probably male amyway. Reducing China's population to 5 old men is a move probably even more radical than they would be prepared to accept.
"I told you NO means NO !"
  • Orcs. A seriously misunderstood race. It's no-wonder they're so angry given that they're obviously overloaded with testosterone, given training that makes even the Libyan rebels look competent, only fed "maggotty bread" and - just to make them really enraged - they're all male. Again this is not a solution that will help China much.

  • Dunedain. Long-lived, but got their proverbial and literal asses' kicked long ago, so not many left. Though you would think that would be motivation enough to repopulate the species (or sub-species, or race, or whatever). Anyway. as far as I can tell, they lived so long because of really good breeding, and seem reluctant to corrupt their bloodlines. Eugenics, anyone ?
Yes, I'm going to recycle that picture wherever possible. Because I can.
  • Spiders. It's not clear why, but Shelob is apparently the last of the giant spiders, even though spider broods are hundreds strong. Answering this one would require reading the Silmarilion, which I've just not prepared to do.

Which means that the options for the survival of a long-lived species boil down to massacring an entire gender, ludicrous facial hair, killing all but 5 of the populace, or becoming Nazis. Well, let's put those on the "maybe" pile, and hope the Elves have a better solution. They must have come up with something... right ?

Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that the elf birth rate exactly matches the elf death rate. Now elven medicine is a tad mysterious but apparently very effective, so we can safely assume very low infant mortality. Which means that each elf couple will produce at least 1 child per year. That means that 1 in 2 elves must die each year to balance it out. Clearly this is preposterous, especially since elves can live to be over 3,000 years old. But at that death rate, any one elf only has a 1 in 1x10^903 chance of living that long, so their initial population must have been many orders of magnitude larger than the number of atoms in the Universe.

On the other hand, maybe they've all just got... bored. They've had at least 3,000 years to practise things so wantonly perverted they would make the Internet itself blush, and have run out of ideas. And since they seem to have pretty good memories, it's not like they can forget what they did and re-learn it years later. Moreover, it takes like 17 pints for an elf to get even slightly drunk, making elven orgies perhaps a trifle dull, by the general standards of orgies.

"Wait, I feel something. I slight tingling in my -"
However, this explanation lacks credibility, because none of the elves seem remotely interesting enough to ever have had a hidden life as a sex fiend. Maybe, instead, they have some incredibly effective method of contraception, and only procreate when their population diminishes. But that doesn't seem to likely either, because Liv Tyler (unaware of Aragorn's fascist tenancies) seemed pretty eager to get on with making babies.

Which means we're left with a long-lived population of more or less stable, well-adjusted (if extremely ponsey) people who want to have children, but don't. Only one explanation remains - Elves are reverse tribbles. Instead of being born pregnant, they're almost all born sterile. No wonder Liv Tyler was so keen to turn in her sword for innumerable evening's spent watching Ben and Holly (which in Middle Earth is probably considered a documentary).

Does this help China ? Umm.... no. It doesn't. So the title of this post is, in fact, a lie. Oh well.

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