Tolkienology is a term used by Tolkien fans to describe the study of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien treating Middle-earth as a real world and using academic techniques to determine if 'chronicler' Tolkien has left enough clues to come to some fitting conclusions.
Subjects are treated from several viewpoints: politics, demographics, society, economy, linguistics, geography, cosmology, folklore, etc. As in every other fandom, studies are made with internal logic. Explanations based on literary or narrative reasons are not satisfactory.
Common subjects have been:
- History (of Elven kingdoms, Arnor and Gondor, Rohan or the more unknown lands)
- Tolkienian linguistics and writing systems, and possible reconstruction of them
- Morality issues such as whether an omniscient and omnibenevolent Ilúvatar would destroy Númenor, if the 'bad' Dunlendings had any right rivalling the 'good' Rohirrim and if Gondor made genocides.
- What is Tom Bombadil, if balrogs have wings, why the Eagles didn't help on the Quest etc.
- Genealogies of Hobbit families and kings
- Possible census of population about each race.
- The accuracy of Tolkien's calendars and how can they be used today
- Astronomic descriptions in the books (moon phases, positions of stars), and what can we infer about Middle-earth geography from them.
- Strategies of wars and battles, if they were right and what alternatives might have been
- Possible folkloric impressions Hobbits had about places of the Shire and other whereabouts, determined by translating placenames.
- Study of Elvish languages and Tengwar, and possible reconstruction for everyday use (a really huge "Tolkienologic" branch on its own right).
This way of thinking is more common when someone is trying to justify some character's motivation in the tales, or find explanation for some less obvious aspects, like 'How old is Legolas?' or 'What is the origin of the Lossoth?'.
Studies have revealed sometimes the great amount of care Tolkien did show to every imaginable detail, even things that are not visible at first, like hair and eye colours... but some have also found some inconsistencies, goofs and bloopers in the writings, however most of them can be explained internally.
One such very 'deep' mistake (that can be discovered only by thorough over-analysis) is in the Hobbit: In Tolkien's description, the moon rose too late the day the dragon Smaug died, in relation to the season of the year, which is inferred only by careful study of all the astronomic details throughout the whole book.
As a product of geek sub-culture, Tolkienology is often frowned upon by outsiders. The main claim is of course that there is no point wasting energy and time on something completely imaginary, like constructed languages, instead of something more real and useful. This way of thinking is criticised even by Tolkien fans, who say that such an analysis ruins the magic of the story and Tolkien wouldn't approve this kind of treatment to his work.
Tolkienologists on the other hand say that since Tolkien`s work was based on European languages, roots, mythology and history, Tolkienology is a simulation of an actual science. It helps fans delve deeper in more serious aspects and get familiarised with real linguistics (e.g. Welsh and Latin, on which the Elvish languages were based) and European folklore. Students of Elvish claim that learning of Welsh seemed simpler after understanding Sindarin.
Tolkienists also claim that all they are doing is thinking as Tolkien did while writing his complex works by reverse engineering: since Tolkien took care about details such as the moon phases described in the books, according to the season and geography he had in mind, likewise we can guess his mind and intentions by studying such details. After all, Tolkien originally wrote The Lord of the Rings as an academic exercise; his primary intention was to create a believable, yet fictional, world. As a university professor, debate was part of his working life; Tolkienists would say that he would have been disappointed if no one had analysed his writing more fully.