Last chapter we looked at the mysteries of Tolkien’s writings, and I was reminded that even though I had touched on some pretty in depth material, I hadn’t yet done a chapter on the basics.
So without further ado……
Where better to start than the beginning? It’s a safe bet everyone reading this will have heard of Middle Earth, however the professor seemed to have a lot of confusion regarding his choice of words. What exactly does ‘middle earth’ mean?
Tolkien actually didn’t create the term middle earth, it comes from the word middle erd, which in itself comes from the word middangeard, the name of the inhabited lands of men between the seas. It also bears resemblance to the norse word midgard, the world of living between heaven and hell.
The confusion arises that many people think that middle earth is a fantasy world created by Tolkien, in which he places his dragons, balrogs, elves and so on. This is in fact incorrect and middle earth is our world in which we sit today.
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But no, Middle Earth is not a planet in a galaxy far far away (sorry couldn’t resist), but to use that last famous line as reference, what it is, is a long time ago.
Tolkien specifically stated that he didn’t think himself as writing fantasy. What he called it was mythopoeia-creating myths inside our own earth.
And indeed, taking this new fact, if Middle Earth is our earth, then the only fantasy that Tolkien ever created was the pre-history timeline.
To put this clearer, everything that happened in Middle Earth- Melkor, Sauron, the rings, Frodo, Gondor, Elves, hobbits, happened in our earth, just a very long time ago. How long ago? Well……(these are according to my sources- from books and other websites- not editable wikis, though if you have other numbers that are backed up id like to hear them, as ive known authors to be wrong before on dates.)
From the creation of the world, known as Arda (which includes middle earth and the undying lands)-to the events of the war of the ring, there is approximately a gap of 37 000 years. After the events of the trilogy finish and the 4th age starts, there is a gap of around 6000 years until Tolkiens’s time- ie the 20th century. This would place the war of the ring around 4000bc in our years, and the creation of Arda around 41 000 bc.
So if middle earth is our earth, then where would all of Tolkien's locations be now placed on a map? Well, if you look at a map of middle earth, it loosely represents the area of north western Europe. We know that Tolkien based his inspiration for The Shire on the Midlands of England, placing Bag End near Birmingham. Also Rivendell is sometimes loosely associated with Oxford. Gondor can be seen as Italy, and in some places- The Roman Empire (the splitting of the roman empire into Rome/Constantinople looks alot like the north/south realms of Arnor/Gondor), and Rohan can be seen as the various Germanic tribes. Mordor can be seen as the Black Sea and the lands about. (it would also put the colder north farthing of the shire around the lake district which is where I’m at….yeah gotta love being in the shire :D)
Of course there is a glaring problem here with matching locations on our maps, to locations on a middle earth map. They obviously can't be transposed directly. If Bag End is Birmingham, then id challenge anyone to travel due east for about 300 miles to get to oxford, and they’d most likely end up in the North Sea. But we must remember that Tolkien is not saying these places are their earth counterparts. They are more based on them. Tolkien himself states that it would be pointless looking for geological references as the days of the third age are long past, and the lands much changed. Here Tolkien is of course referring to the world's geological change from one super continent to those we know today.
Taking this we can say for certain that Tolkien is not trying to be geologically correct, as the shape of middle earth of course could not possibly change to our continents in a mere 6000 years. Here Tolkien is speeding up continental shift by many thousands of years.
So it can be said that Tolkien's creations are more of an 'alternate reality' or to be more precise, an 'alternate timeline,' as we actually knowin our reality what was happening 6000 years ago, however according to Tolkien it is much different. Not to mention us having proof that the world is much older than the 43 000 years Tolkien is proposing. Also none of the places that we encounter in the hobbit, or the trilogy, or the silmarillion, existed in the same time as their counterparts- they couldn’t possibly have- we already know that 6000 years ago none of the places that Tolkien uses as inspiration would have existed.
If we look at the writings of Tolkien in this new light, then we only begin to see how clever he really was. For instance, take the downfall and sinking of the island of Numenor in the 2nd age. It has always been clear that the inspiration for this was of course the legend of Atlantis. But seeing as everything that happened in middle earth happened in our earth, then Tolkien is in fact saying that Numenor was Atlantis. It is Numenor that in fact fuelled that legend that we call Atlantis today, not the other way round.
Other examples are the Barrow Wights. The Barrows in England did not inspire Tolkien to write such material. The Barrow’s creators thousands of years ago were actually inspired by true events that happened many thousands of years before that. The same can be applied to almost every part of what was previously called Tolkien’s sources of ‘inspiration.’ This is how mythopoeia works.
So we can see here how Tolkien really pushed the boundaries of making his works ‘realistic.’ Not many writers after him (I can’t think of many, can you?) have made such a bold claim as to state their creations were the pre-history of our own earth.
Ok that’s it for this chapter. Next chapter I intend to look at goblins, orcs, half orcs, goblin men, uruk hai, snaga, and the confusion that is sometimes concerned with them., and if I can manage to physically write it, the icky sticky topic on how do orcs reproduce.