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Middle-earth is a fictitious land created by J. R. R. Tolkien where the action of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion takes place. Tolkien wrote extensively about the mythology and history of the land, which form the back-story for these stories. Most of these writings, with the exception of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, were edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher. Notable among them are the multiple volumes of The History of Middle-earth, which describes a larger cosmology which includes Middle-earth as well as Valinor, Númenor, and other lands.

Tolkien's mythological tales of Middle-earth are meant to be taken, fictitiously, as an ancient history of the Earth, particularly of Europe, from several thousand years before the lands took their present shape. In fact, three of the works claim to be the life work of Bilbo Baggins. Like Shakespeare's King Lear, they occupy a historical period that could not have actually existed.

The term "Middle-earth" was not invented by Tolkien; it occurs many times in Middle English (Middel-erde) and Old English writings (Middangeard). It occurs half a dozen times in Beowulf, and is cognate to Midgard in Old Norse. It is consistently misspelled as 'Middle Earth' by journalists.

In fact, 'Middle-earth' has two meanings. One - likely the original one - refers to a continent on this fictional ancient earth, representing what we know as Eurasia and Africa. In addition, this term has been used to refer to the entire universe described by Tolkien, for he failed to provide an adequate term of his own.

Table of contents

A note on "truth" and canon It is remarkably difficult to speak of what is true in the context of Middle-earth, perhaps more so than for any other fictional world, such as Greek mythology. The reasons for this are three:

  • Tolkien worked on Middle-earth over the course of decades, making substantial changes. Readers may remember, for example, the differences between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with regard to Gandalf and the Elves. In order to maintain consistency, it is necessary to discard many books. For instance, the Encyclopedia of Arda considers only The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion to be canonical.
  • Tolkien's writing is laden with details and hints, which tend to be contradictory. They cannot be trusted against explicit statements elsewhere, but they do add confusion.
  • In some cases, Tolkien intentionally wrote inconsistencies into his works. For instance, Tom Bombadil simply does not fit into Middle-earth cosmology. In a letter, Tolkien said that any good mythological system - which Middle-earth is - needs a certain amount of mystery.

A map of the Northwestern part of Middle-earth after the end of the First Age, courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arda (http://www.glyphweb.com)

Historical periods

  1. Years of the Lamps
  2. Years of the Trees
  3. Years of the Sun
    1. First Age
    2. Second Age
    3. Third Age
    4. Fourth Age




In Middle-earth proper

Countries and other large places are shown in italics; cities and other small places are shown in standard font.

Outside Middle-earth proper

Major languages




Role-playing Games

The works of Tolkien have been a major influence on role-playing games along with others such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock. Although the most famous game to be inspired partially by the setting was Dungeons & Dragons, there have been two specifically Middle-earth based and licensed games. These are the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game from Decipher Inc.[?] and the Middle Earth Role Play game (MERP) from Iron Crown Enterprises.

Computer Games

The computer game Angband is a free roguelike D&D-style game that features many characters from Tolkien's works.

External links

  • Encyclopedia of Arda (http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/default.htm) - the best online source for the names and facts of Tolkien's imaginary history. It has been used as a source.
  • Ardalambion (http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf) - This is a great site for anyone who wants to delve into the languages of Middle-earth. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn Quenya.
  • The Tolkien Wiki (http://www.thetolkienwiki.org) - The first wikiweb dedicated to the literary works of J. R. R. Tolkien. Contains a compendium, book-descriptions, essays, FAQ, etc..
  • A History and Complete Chronology of Numenor (http://members.ozemail.com.au/~sdgeard/hccnum) - A detailed chronology of Numenor , its successor states and their rulers.
  • Serious students should invest in a copy of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster, the best book on the subject.

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