J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings": Real Places May Have Inspired Middle Earth

Tolkien himself wrote that "as for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised ‘dramatically’, rather than geologically, or paleontologically.”

J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings": Real Places May Have Inspired Middle Earth

Middle-earth. J.R.R. Tolkien’s invented mythology centered on an epic story of the struggle between Good and Evil, but it also included an elaborate backstory, a complex of languages, genealogies, cultures and peoples – and a map.


Created by Tolkien somewhere in the 1930s, the map shows the ‘mortal lands’ of Middle-earth, which according to Tolkien himself is part of our own Earth, but in a previous, mythical era. At the time of the events described in ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Middle-earth is moving towards the end of its Third Age, about 6.000 years ago.

Tolkien didn’t create Middle-earth ex nihilo: ancient Germanic myths divide the Universe in nine worlds, inhabited by elves, dwarves, giants, etc. The world of men is the one in the middle, called Midgard, Middenheim or Middle-earth. That term doesn’t thus describe the entirety of the world Tolkien thought up. The correct term for the total world is Arda – probably derived from German Erde (‘Earth’) and only first mentioned posthumously in the Silmarillion (1977); and Eä (for the whole Universe).

The Hobbits are described as inhabiting ‘the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea’, and therefore it’s tempting to associate their home with Tolkien’s own, England. Yet, Tolkien himself wrote that ‘as for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised ‘dramatically’, rather than geologically, or paleontologically.” Elsewhere, Tolkien does admit “The ‘Shire’ is based on rural England, and not any other country in the world.”

Tolkien at least compares his ‘Old World’ with Europe: “The action of the story takes place in the North-West of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean (…) If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy.”

But, as Tolkien states in the prologue to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, it would be fruitless to look for geographical correspondences, as “Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed…” And yet, that’s exactly what Peter Bird attempts with the map here shown. Bird, a professor of Geophysics and Geology at UCLA, has overlapped the map of Middle-earth with one of Europe, which leads to following locations:

• The Shire is in the South-West of England, which further north is also home to the Old Forest (Yorkshire?), the Barrow Downs (north of England), the city of Bree (at or near Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and Amon Sul (Scottish Highlands).
• The Grey Havens are situated in Ireland.
• Eriador corresponds with Brittany.
• Helm’s Deep is near the Franco-German-Swiss border tripoint, close to the city of Basel.
• The mountain chain of Ered Nimrais is the Alps.
• Gondor corresponds with the northern Italian plains, extended towards the unsubmerged Adriatic Sea.
• Mordor is situated in Transylvania, with Mount Doom in Romania (probably), Minas Morgul in Hungary (approximately) and Minas Tirith in Austria (sort of).
• Rohan is in southern Germany, with Edoras at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. Also in Germany, but to the north, near present-day Hamburg, is Isengard. Close by is the forest of Fangorn.
• To the north is Mirkwood, further east are Rhovanion and the wastes of Rhûn, close to the Ural mountains.
• The Sea of Rhûn corresponds to the Black Sea.
• Khand is Turkey
• Haradwaith is the eastern part of North Africa, Umbar corresponds with the Maghreb, the western part of North Africa.
• The Bay of Belfalas is the western part of the Mediterranean.

This map taken here from professor Bird’s page at UCLA.

There are 5 eras in the universe's lifecycle. Right now, we're in the second era.

Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.

Image based on logarithmic maps of the Universe put together by Princeton University researchers, and images produced by NASA based on observations made by their telescopes and roving spacecraft

Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi
Surprising Science
  • We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
  • If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
  • Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
Keep reading Show less

Dark energy: The apocalyptic wild card of the universe

Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.

Videos
  • The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
  • Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
  • The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists find unique "hot Jupiter" planet without clouds

A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.

Illustration of WASP-62b, the Jupiter-like planet without clouds or haze in its atmosphere.

Credit: M. Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
  • Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
  • Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast