Guide to Middle-earth – part one
Middle-earth has been on my mind quite a lot lately – all thanks to The Rings of Power by Amazon. Last week I was celebrating my birthday and as part of the celebrations, MM and I watched all the episodes that were available. So, this new series was inevitable. Welcome to Middle-earth! Today we will talk about creation and geography.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Naturally, Tolkien came to my life in the form of movies – I will never forget watching Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, back in 2002. Yes, it came out a bit later in PL, give us a break. The first installment was breathtaking. My brother fell in love so deeply, he devoured all the books in the matter of one week. I was 9 and he was 11. Entering Middle-earth was spectacular.
My (then) tiny brain was not yet accustomed to fantasy – I was only beginning to like Star Wars. Growing up with such amazing series was something different. Watching LOTR was… Still is a family tradition. MM and I are watching the director’s cuts (14 hours of absolute perfection); my parents prefer the theatrical releases.
To this day, I cry, laugh and relive the events as if it was the first time. But I am also a big fan of the source material – right after we watched these 7 episodes, I started reading the trilogy again. It’s calming me these days. Yet another familiar world to mend my anxiety.
Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.
So, since I wanted to do another series that is not SW or ST and Marvel is on a slippery slope lately, I chose Middle-earth. This post will serve as part one to the general introduction and then I will do the fans favorite: run-down!
And where do we begin? Let’s talk about the basics. Long story short: Tolkien first created a language (as a matter of fact, a lot of elvish languages) and then… The world of Middle-earth. The best-known languages are: Quenya, of which Tolkein wrote:
The ingredients in Quenya are various, but worked out into a self-consistent character not precisely like any language that I know. Finnish, which I came across when I had first begun to construct a 'mythology’ was a dominant influence, but that has been much reduced [now in late Quenya]. It survives in some features: such as the absence of any consonant combinations initially, the absence of the voiced stops b, d, g (except in mb, nd, ng, ld, rd, which are favoured) and the fondness for the ending -inen, -ainen, -oinen, also in some points of grammar, such as the inflexional endings -sse (rest at or in), -nna (movement to, towards), and -llo (movement from); the personal possessives are also expressed by suffixes; there is no gender
and Sindarin, which was not described in much detail in the books, however Tolkien said:
A precise account, with drawings and other aids, of Dwarvish smith-practices, Hobbit-pottery, Numerorean medicine and philosophy, and so on would interfere with the narrative [of the Lord of the Rings], or swell the Appendices. So too, would complete grammars and lexical collection of the languages. Any attempt at bogus 'completeness’ would reduce the thing to a 'model’, a kind of imaginary dolls house of pseudo-history. Much hidden and unexhibited work is needed to give the nomenclature a 'feel’ of verisimilitude. But this story [The Lord of the Rings] is not the place for technical phonology and grammatical history. I hope to leave these things firmly sketched and recorded.
If the language was the foundation, and the stories were written to provide the world for them… This is the level I aspire for. Just imagine: being so brilliant to build an entire universe around made-up words…
I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.
So, how did the world – Arda -got created? There was no big bang, that’s for sure. When everything was plunged in the darkness, there was a sagacious Being, who lived completely alone in that vast emptiness. He was initially called “Eru the One”, however the Elves later named him Ilúvatar.
Tolkien tells this story in the first book of The Silmarillion – Ainulindalë. Ilúvatar was the source of all creation – Tolkien explains how the rudimentary thoughts of the Being became the race of gods called the Ainur (literal meaning: Holy Ones) granted with eternal life.
For the race of gods, Ilúvatar built in the void a place called the Timeless Halls. In the Halls, Ilúvatar taught the Ainur how to sing (bear with me, it’s fantasy) and became somewhat of a heavenly choir. So, Arda was literally SUNG into existing. With, of course, the mighty power of Ilúvatar and the Flame Imperishable.
All that to make the World that Is. A Vision created by Ainur was given a substance and reality. Now, most of the Ainur remained in the Timeless Halls with Ilúvatar. Some entered the spheres of the world and of these we know much more. On newly created Arda, these previously bodiless spirits took on physical forms, much like Norse or Greek gods.
May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
Now, things get interesting here. The Ainur who came to Arda were divided into two, let’s say, orders: the Valar and the Maiar. These should ring a bell, right? Especially after The Rings of Power. The former were gods, the latter – demi-gods. Of all the notable Valars, here are the best-known: Manwë (King of the Valar, King of Arda, Lord of air, wind, and clouds), Ulmo (Lord of Waters), Aulë (Lord of matter, Master of all crafts), Varda (Queen of the Stars), Yavanna (Giver of Fruits), Lórien (Master of Visions and Dreams).
And of course, there was Melkor, who was later renamed Morgoth – the Dark Enemy. Oh yes, Sauron was not the first “baddie”. Melkor was actually the first Ainur created by Ilúvatar. He caused the discord in the Music of Ainur. The spiritual brother of Manwë, he was the most powerful of the Valar, as he was the only one who possessed all aspects of Ilúvatar’s thought…
Of the Maiar, there were “plenty”, but only few were actually named in Tolkien’s works: Eönwë the Herald of Manwë, lmarë the Handmaiden of Varda, Ossë (of the Waves) and Uinen (of the Calm Seas) – spirits who ruled the seas and act under the Lord of Waters Ulmo.
Melkor corrupted many Maiar, including Sauron the Ring Lord and Gothmog the Lord of Barlogs (yup, that demonic thingy with fiery whip). They were described as more dangerous than dragons.
But Maiar were also our favorite wizards, sent by the Valar: Olórin (Gandalf the Grey / The White), Curunír (Saruman of Many Colors), Aiwendil (Radagast the Brown) plus two Blue wizards – Alatar and Pallando.
Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.
Since for the greater part of Arda’s history there was no moon or sun to measure time, Tolkien provides the chronological measure of Valarian Year and Valarian Ages. Each Valarian Year equals ten years as we know them; each Valarian Age is 100 Valarian Years. Meaning… It is a thousand mortal years.
And even though there are many overlapping system and variations in events and dates in various Tolkien’s writings, we still have enough consistency to do an estimate that the time elapsing the Creation of Arda to the end of the Third Age of Sun (which is shortly after the War of the Ring) was 37 Valarian Ages. Which is… Exactly 37063 earthly years.
So, now that we know the brief history of the creation of the Earth, Middle-earth was the main continent. Tolkien’s stories tell the story of the struggle to control the world and Middle-earth between: the Valar, the Elves and Men vs. Melkor (Morgoth), his followers and subjects (mostly Orcs, Dragons and enslaved Men).
I want to save the wars for another post maybe, but the important thing is that the Valar withdrew from any direct involvement in the affairs of Middle-earth after the defeat of Morgoth. Later, once Sauron became evil, the Valar sent the wizards (or Istari, OMG IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST EASTER EGGS FROM The Rings of Power or what?) to help with the struggle.
I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge.
Middle-earth as we first knew it on the big screen was set at the end of Third Age. We get to know much more in The Rings of Power. However, back in the books, Middle-earth was a flat world surrounded by ocean. It was composed of the Undying Lands of Aman and Eressëa. Aman and Middle-earth were separated from each other by the Great Sea Belegaer.
Now, the Undying Lands were home to Valar, Maiar and Eldar. Since all of them were immortal, the name was pretty damn right. The Undying Lands were made up of two realms: Valinor and Eldamar.
After the destruction of Númenor near the end of the Second Age, Arda was remade as a round world. The Undying Lands were “removed” from Arda, beyond mortal reckoning. The immortals could reach it by sailing in the magical, white ships that took them past the Spheres of the World.
You can only come to the morning through the shadows.
So, what are other, more physical lands of Middle-earth? The events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit take place in the north-west part of the continent. Let’s talk about them!
- The Shire – green, pleasant land of four farthings. Visually, it looked like an English countryside. The Shire was fully inland, quite convenient, as most hobbits feared the Sea. Most notable areas that I want to mention: Buckland a.k.a. East Marches east to Shire, across the Brandywine River; Bree which was located east of the Shire. There was an inn called The Prancing Pony; Hobbiton a.k.a. the most famous village of the Shire – it was home to Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.
- Rivendell – in the Second Age, High Elves built a refuge of Rivendell in the steep, hidden valley of Imaldris in easternmost Eriador, at the foor of the Misty Mountains. There, was hidden the great House of Elrond. It was also considered the “Last Homely House East of the Sea”.
- Rohan – name means “horse lands”. It was founded in the Third Age of the Sun (more on all the Ages soon), kingdom of Men. Its territory is mostly grassland, horse plains and farmlands bordered by the River Anduin in the east, the White Horn Mountains in the south, the Misty Mountains and the Fangorn Forest in the north.
- Gondor – described as the greatest realm of Men. Situated in the west of Middle-earth, was founded by Elendil of Númenor and jointy ruled by brothers Isildur and Anárion, exiled from the downfallen kingdom. Gondor’s capital is Mians Tirith (Tower of guard).
- Mordor – the most vicious and gloom, dark realm and base of the evil Sauron. It lay to the east of Gondor and the great river Anuin, with Mirkoowd to the south. One of the most recognizable things in Mordor was Mount Doom – a volcano, a goal of Fellowship’s quest. Mordor was “heavily” guarded with two unassailable mountains: the Ash Mountains in the north and the Shadowy Mountains in the west and south.
- Moria (Khazad-dûm) – the great city of the Dwarves. The city’s prosperity was founded on its mines, which produced… Mithril – a metal of boundless beauty and strength. Essentially it was a vast labyrinth network of tunnels, chambers, mines and halls under the Misty Mountains.
I could probably give you more description or more places from the Middle-earth we know, but Gosh! This post would be soooo loooong, and my purpose is to give you a taste – so you can discover these lands yourself.
End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Now, since The Rings of Power opened up a whole new door for a lot of fans (I am well aware that not everyone reads the books. It’s a tricky material and I struggled with them, too. So, safe space here, Lot!), let me give you some information about places mentioned in the show:
- Númenor – after the First Age of the Sun, Edain (of the race of Men) allied themselves with the Elves in the War of the Jewels against Morgoth. As a reward for their courage, the Valar raised a great island in the midst of the Western Sea. This island was Númenor. The Men of Númenor were given a lifespan many times that of other mortals, along with great powers of mind and body. Now, this might be my favorite piece of information about this place: the island of Númenor was also called… Andor, meaning Land of Gifts. I MEAN….
- Lindon –its name means Land of Song – all because the Laiquendi Elves, famous for their singing, had from the earliest time made these woodlands their home. We got to know it as a capital to High Elves. The most important city of Lindon was Mithlond – the Grey Havnes.
- Rhûn – this was just name-dropped really, but it got my attention instantly. It’s a land to the north-east of Mordor. Rhûn was the land of Easterlings who were ever under the influence of Sauron. Many of the greatest servants were recruited among the kings of Rhûn.
- Eregion – in Elvish it means Land of Holy. It was a land of Elven Smiths. These Smiths, along with Sauron (this is the plot twist, trust me) forged the Rings of Power. The most notable mention in terms of citizens would be Celebrimbor.
- Rhovanion – the wide, wide lands between Misty Mountains and the Sea of Rhûn. It encompassed all lands south of the Grey Mountains and north of Gondor and Mordor. This included Mirkwood, Erebor, Lothlórien, Fangorn and the Brown Lands.
A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.
I told you a little about the Creation and Shaping of Arda, so a short word about further chronology of Middle-earth and Undying Lands:
- Ages of Lamps
- Ages of Trees (Era One; Undying Lands)
- Ages of Trees (Era Two; Undying Lands)
- Ages of Darkness (Middle-earth)
- Ages of Stars (Middle-earth)
- Ages of Sun (Undying Lands)
- Ages of Sun (Middle-earth)
… which will be the second installment of this series. Coming very soon, that I promise! I know I am far behind on my Twin Peaks rewatch, but since I got myself a DVD set for my birthday… Guess what will happen in the winter!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little history lesson on the creation of Arda and the geography of Middle-earth. I find it extremely interesting to see how Tolkien’s world kept changing with every Age – from flat, to round.