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Middle-earth refers to the fictional lands where most of the stories of author J. R. R. Tolkien take place. Tolkien's stories chronicle the struggle to control the world (called Arda) and the continent of Middle-earth, between the angelic Valar, the Elves and their allies among Men; and the demonic Melkor or Morgoth (a Vala fallen into evil) and his minions, mostly Orcs, Dragons and enslaved men. In later ages, after Morgoth's defeat and expulsion from Arda, his role is continued by his acolyte Sauron. The Valar withdrew from direct involvement in the affairs of Middle-earth after the defeat of Morgoth, but in later years they sent the wizards or Istari to help in the struggle against Sauron. The most important of these were Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. Gandalf remained true to his mission and proved crucial in the fight for Sauron's destruction. Saruman however, became corrupted, and sought to establish himself as a rival to Sauron for absolute power in Middle-earth. Other races involved in the struggle against evil are Dwarves, Ents and most famously Hobbits. The early stages of the conflict are chronicled in Tolkien's work The Silmarillion, while the final stages of the struggle to defeat Sauron are dealt with in his works The Hobbit and the main text of The Lord of the Rings.

A recurring theme in the stories is that the focus of conflict is on the possession and control of precious or magical objects. The First Age of Middle-earth is dominated by the doomed quest of the Elf Fëanor and most of his Noldor clan to recover the three precious jewels called the Silmarils (hence the name Silmarillion), stolen from them by Morgoth. The Second and Third Age are both dominated by the forging of the Rings of Power, and in particular by the fate of the One Ring forged by Sauron, which grants the power to control all the others wearing the nine rings given to men or seven given to dwarves to its wearer (hence the name The Lord of the Rings).

Tolkien prepared several maps of Middle-earth and the regions of Middle-earth in which his stories took place. Some were published in his lifetime, though some of the earliest maps were not published until after his death. The main maps were those published in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Most of the events of the First Age took place in the subcontinent Beleriand (left), which was later subsumed by the ocean at the end of the First Age; the Blue Mountains at the right edge of the map of Beleriand, are the same Blue Mountains that appear on the extreme left of the map of Middle-earth described in the Second and Third Ages (right).

Tolkien said that his Middle-earth is located on our Earth, but in a fictional period in the past, estimating the end of the Third Age to about 6,000 years before his own time. He was later to refute this notion, and state that Middle-earth was not at a physically distant time, but rather "at a different stage of imagination".

Historical conceptions

In ancient Germanic myths, the world of Men (known by several names, such as Midgard, Middenheim, and Middengeard) lay in the centre of the universe, while Bifröst, the rainbow bridge, extended from Middle-earth to Asgard, the land of the gods. Beneath Middle-earth lay Hel, the land of the Dead. The universe as a whole was believed to consist of nine physical "worlds" joined together. The precise arrangement of these worlds is uncertain. According to one view, seven worlds lay across an encircling sea: The lands of Elves (Alfheim), Dwarves (Niðavellir), Gods (Asgard and Vanaheim), and Giants (Jotunheim and Muspelheim). Other Norse scholars place these seven worlds in the sky, in the branches of Yggdrasil the "World Ash Tree".


The term "Middle-earth" was therefore not invented by Tolkien. It occurs in Early Modern English as a development of the Middle English word middel-erde (cf. modern German Mittelerde), which developed in turn from Old English middanġeard (the g being soft, i.e. pronounced like y in "yard). By the time of the Middle English period, middangeard was being written as middellærd, midden-erde, or middel-erde. A slight difference of wording, but not general meaning, had taken place as middangeard properly means "middle enclosure" instead of "middle-earth". Nevertheless middangeard has been commonly translated as "middle-earth" and Tolkien followed this course.

Middangeard descends from an earlier Germanic word and so has cognates in languages related to Old English such as the Old Norse word Miðgarðr from Norse mythology, transliterated to modern English as Midgard.

Use by Tolkien

Tolkien first encountered the term middangeard in an Old English fragment he studied in 1914:

éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men.

This quote is from the second of the fragmentary remnants of the Crist poems by Cynewulf. The name Earendel was the inspiration for Tolkien's mariner Eärendil. who set sail from the lands of Middle-earth to ask for aid from the angelic powers, the Valar. Tolkien's earliest poem about Eärendil, from 1914, the same year he read the Crist poems, refers to "the mid-world's rim".

The concept of middangeard was considered by Tolkien to be the same as a particular usage of the Greek word οἰκουμένη - oikoumenē (from which the word ecumenical is derived). In this usage Tolkien says that the oikoumenē is "the abiding place of men; by this he means it is the physical world in which man lives out his life and destiny, as opposed to the unseen worlds, like Heaven or Hell.

"Middle-earth is ... not my own invention. It is a modernization or alteration ... of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the oikoumene: middle because thought of vaguely as set amidst the encircling Seas and (in the northern-imagination) between ice of the North and the fire of the South. O. English middan-geard, mediaeval E. midden-erd, middle-erd. Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another planet!

The term Middle-earth is not, however, used in Tolkien's earliest writings about his created world, writings that date from the early 1920s and which were later published in The Book of Lost Tales (1983-4), nor is the term used in The Hobbit (1937). Tolkien began to use the term "Middle-earth" in the later part of the 1930s, in place of the earlier terms "Great Lands", "Outer Lands", and "Hither Lands" that he had used to describe this region in his stories. The term Middle-earth appears in the drafts of The Lord of the Rings, and the first published appearance of the word "Middle-earth" in Tolkien's works is in the Prologue to that work: "...Hobbits had, in fact, lived quietly in Middle-earth for many long years before other folk even became aware of them."

Usage and misunderstandings

The term Middle-earth can be also applied as a nickname of the entirety of Tolkien's creation, instead of the more appropriate, but less known terms Arda which refers to Tolkien's world (including celestial bodies), and , which refers to the universe. This is seen also in the title of books such as The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, The Road to Middle-earth, The Atlas of Middle-earth, and in particular the series The History of Middle-earth, all of which cover areas outside of the strict geographical definition of the term Middle-earth. Tolkien himself used the term loosely at times.

A possible explanation is that the word Arda is never mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, and it was not until the 1977 publication of The Silmarillion that readers learned of the word.

The term "Middle-earth" is sometimes mis-capitalised as "Middle-Earth and the hyphen is sometimes incorrectly omitted as well, as in "Middle Earth", "Middle earth" and "Middleearth".


Within the overall context of his legendarium, Tolkien's Middle-earth is part of his created world of Arda, which itself is part of the wider creation called .

Middle-earth cosmology

The easiest way to understand Middle-earth's place in Tolkien's complex system is to see his whole creation as a series of worlds within worlds. At the outer layer is the whole universe itself, called by Tolkien . Within Eä are many mysterious and unknown worlds, but the events of his stories take place in the world called Arda. Arda is what we would call earth, called by Tolkien Imbar or Ambar (meaning 'the Habitation') and the sun, moon and stars which revolve around it. Within Arda are the continents of Aman, and Middle-earth, which are separated from each other by the Great Sea Belegaer. Within his stories, Tolkien translated the name "Middle-earth" as Endor (or sometimes Endórë) and Ennor in the Elfish languages Quenya and Sindarin respectively. The western continent, Aman, was the home of the Valar (and the elves called the Eldar). An uninhabited Eastern continent is also mentioned, but does not figure in the stories. The island of Númenor lay in Belegaer between Aman and Middle-earth, but was later drowned. In later ages Aman was also removed by the creator Eru Ilúvatar from Arda completely to prevent men from trying to reach it.

In the beginning Ambar was supposed to be a "flat world", in that its habitable land-masses were all arranged on one side of the world. Tolkien's sketches show a disc-like face for the world which looked up to the stars. However, according to accounts in both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, when the king of Númenor called Ar-Pharazôn invaded Aman to seize immortality from the Valar, they laid down their guardianship of the world and Ilúvatar intervened, destroying Númenor, removing Aman "from the circles of the world", and reshaping Ambar into the round world of today. Akallabêth says that the Númenóreans who survived the Downfall sailed as far west as they could in search of their ancient home, but their travels only brought them around the world back to their starting points. Hence, before the end of the Second Age, the transition from "flat Earth" to "round Earth" had been completed.

A few years after publishing The Lord of the Rings, in a note associated with the unique narrative story "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" (which is said to occur in Beleriand during the War of the Jewels), Tolkien equated Arda with the Solar System; because Arda by this point consisted of more than one heavenly body.

The Beginning of Days

Middle-earth or Endor originally conformed to a largely symmetrical scheme which was marred by Melkor. The symmetry was defined by two large sub-continents, one in the north and one in the south, with each of them boasting two long chains of mountains in the eastward and westward regions. The mountain chains were given names based on colours (White Mountains, Blue Mountains, Grey Mountains, and Red Mountains).

The various conflicts with Melkor resulted in the shapes of the lands being distorted. Originally, Arda began as a single flat world and the Valar created two lamps to illuminate it, Illuin and Ormal. The Vala Aulë forged great towers, Helcar in the furthest north, and Ringil in the deepest south. Illuin was set upon Helcar and Ormal upon Ringil. In the middle, where the light of the lamps mingled, the Valar dwelt at the island of Almaren. When Melkor destroyed the lamps of the Valar which gave light to the world, two vast seas were created, but Almaren and its lake were destroyed. The Valar left Middle-earth and went to Aman, where they created their home called Valinor. The northern sea became the Sea of Helcar (Helkar). The lands west of the Blue Mountains became Beleriand. Melkor raised the Misty Mountains to impede the progress of the Vala Oromë as he hunted Melkor's beasts during the period of darkness prior to the awakening of the Elves. It is also possible that during this time the inland sea of Helcar was drained.

The First Age

Most of the events of the First Age took place in the land of Beleriand and its environs. Beleriand included within its bounds the hidden Elven kingdoms of Doriath, ruled by King Thingol and Gondolin founded by Turgon. Also important was the fortress of Nargothrond founded by the elf Finrod Felagund. In the Blue Mountains to the east were the great dwarf halls of Belegost and Nogrod. Beleriand was split into East and West sections by the great river Sirion. In East Beleriand was the river Gelion with its seven tributaries, which defined the Green-elf kingdom of Ossiriand. To the north of Beleriand lay the regions of Nevrast, Hithlum and Dor-lómin, and the Iron Mountains where Morgoth (Melkor) had his fortress of Angband. The violent struggles during the War of Wrath between the Host of the Valar and the armies of Melkor at the end of the First Age brought about its destruction.

The Second and Third Ages

In the Second and Third Ages the Western regions of Middle-earth contain the lands of Eriador, Gondor, the Misty Mountains, and the vales of the great river Anduin. Eriador is bordered by the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains to the west, which border the sea and the Grey Havens (or Mithlond). To the east of Eriador lie the Misty Mountains which run from the far north to Isengard, home of the wizard Saruman, in the south. The Misty Mountains contain the great Dwarvish hall of Khazad-dûm or Moria. Within Eriador first lay the kingdom of Arnor, founded by men who had fled the destruction of Númenor. It later split into the kingdoms of Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur. These kingdoms too had long since passed into history by the time of The Lord of the Rings. Eriador also contains The Shire, homeland of the Hobbits, and the nearby settlement of Bree. Rivendell or Imladris, the home of the Half Elf Elrond also lies in Eriador, close to the western side of the Misty Mountains. East of the Mountains lies the land called Rhovanion and the great river Anduin and on its western side, under the eaves of the mountains lies the Elvish kingdom of Lothlórien, home of the Elf Galadriel, and the forest of Fangorn, home of the Ents. To the east of the Anduin lies the great forest of Mirkwood, (formerly Greenwood), and further east again is the Lonely Mountain or Erebor, home of the dragon Smaug, and the town of Dale. South and East of the Misty Mountains is the kingdom of Rohan, inhabited by the allies of Gondor, and further south is the kingdom of Gondor itself, founded by those Men who escaped the destruction of the island of Númenor. East of Gondor, and surrounded by high mountains is Mordor, home of Sauron in his fortress of Barad-dûr. South of Gondor lies the land of Harad, traditionally hostile to it, and under the sway of Sauron.

Maps of Middle-earth

Tolkien never finalized the geography for the world associated with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In The Shaping of Middle-earth, volume IV of The History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien published several remarkable maps, of both the original flat earth and round world, which his father had created in the latter part of the 1930s. Karen Wynn Fonstad drew from these maps to develop detailed, but non-canonical, "whole world maps" reflecting a world consistent with the historical ages depicted in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

Maps prepared by Christopher Tolkien and J.R.R. Tolkien for the world encompassing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were published as foldouts or illustrations in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Early conceptions of the maps provided in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings were included in several volumes, including "The First Silmarillion Map" in The Shaping of Middle-earth, "The First Map of the Lord of the Rings" in The Treason of Isengard, "The Second Map (West)" and "The Second Map (East)" in The War of the Ring, and "The Second Map of Middle-earth west of the Blue Mountains" (also known as "The Second Silmarillion Map") in The War of the Jewels.

Correspondence with the geography of Earth

Tolkien described the region in which the Hobbits lived as "the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea", which indicates a connection to England and the north-western region of Europe (the Old World). However, as he noted in private letters, the geographies do not match, and he did not consciously make them match when he was writing:

"As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleontologically.

"...if it were 'history', it would be difficult to fit the lands and events (or 'cultures') into such evidence as we possess, archaeological or geological, concerning the nearer or remoter part of what is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance, is expressly stated to have been in this region.

In another letter, he made correspondences in latitude, not equations, between Europe and Middle-earth:

"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 at 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.

He did confirm, however, that the Shire, the land of his Hobbit heroes, was based on England:

"'The Shire' is based on rural England and not any other country in the world...

In the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes: "Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed..."


In The Silmarillion the history of Arda is divided into four great time periods, known as the Ainulindalë, the Years of the Lamps, the Years of the Trees and the Years of the Sun. In Middle-earth recorded history did not begin until the First Age and the Awakening of the Elves during the Years of the Trees - the time prior to that is simply known as the Beginning of Days. During the First Age the awakening of Men coincided with the first rising of the Sun and the beginning of The Years of the Sun, which have lasted from the First Age, through the Second, Third and Fourth Ages to the present day.


In Tolkien's universe God is called Eru Ilúvatar. In the beginning, Ilúvatar created spirits named the Ainur and he taught them to make music. After the Ainur had become proficient in their skills, Ilúvatar commanded them to make a great music based on a theme of his own design. The most powerful Ainu, Melkor (later called Morgoth or "Dark Enemy" by the elves), disrupted the theme. In response, Ilúvatar introduced new themes that enhanced the music beyond the comprehension of the Ainur. The movements of their song laid the seeds of much of the history of the as yet unmade universe and the people who were to dwell therein.

Then Ilúvatar stopped the music and he revealed its meaning to the Ainur through a vision. Moved, many of the Ainur felt a compelling urge to experience its events directly. Ilúvatar therefore created Eä, the universe itself, and some of the Ainur went into the universe to share in its experience. But upon arriving in Eä, the Ainur found it was shapeless because they had entered at the beginning of time. The Ainur undertook great labours in these unnamed "ages of the stars", in which they shaped the universe and filled it with many things far beyond the reach of Men.

The Beginning of Days

In time, however, the Ainur formed Arda, the future abiding place of the Children of Ilúvatar, Elves and Men. Melkor and his followers entered Eä as well, and they set about ruining and undoing whatever the others did. The fifteen most powerful Ainur are called the Valar; Melkor was the most powerful, but Manwë was the leader. Each of the Valar was attracted to a particular aspect of the world that became the focus of their powers. Melkor was drawn to terrible extremes and violence — bitter cold, scorching heat, earthquakes, rendings, breakings, utter darkness, burning light etc. His power was so great that at first the Valar were unable to restrain him, until the Vala Tulkas entered Eä and tipped the balance. Driven out by Tulkas, Melkor brooded in the darkness at the outer reaches of Arda. The Valar settled in Arda to watch over it and help prepare it for the awakening of the Children.

The Years of the Lamps began shortly after the Valar finished their labours in shaping Arda. Arda began as a single flat world and the Valar created two lamps to illuminate it, Illuin and Ormal. In the middle, where the light of the lamps mingled, the Valar dwelt at the island of Almaren. This period, known as the Spring of Arda, was a time when the Valar had ordered the World as they wished and rested upon Almaren, and Melkor lurked beyond the Walls of Night. During this time animals first appeared, and forests started to grow. The Spring was interrupted when Melkor returned to Arda, and ended completely when he destroyed the Lamps of the Valar. Melkor's destruction of the two Lamps marked the end of the Years of the Lamps.

The Years of the Trees began after Melkor's destruction of the two lamps, when the Valar retreated to the extreme western regions of Arda, where the Vala Yavanna made the Two Trees named Telperion and Laurelin to give light to their new homeland of Valinor in the land of Aman. The Trees illuminated Aman, leaving the rest of Arda (in what is now Middle-earth) in darkness, illuminated only by the stars.

The First Age

At the start of the First Age the Elves awoke beside Lake Cuiviénen in the east of Endor (Middle-earth), and were soon approached by the Valar. Many of the Elves were persuaded to undertake the Great Journey westwards towards Aman, but not all of them completed the journey (see Sundering of the Elves). The Valar had imprisoned Melkor but he appeared to repent and was released on parole. He sowed great discord among the Elves and stirred up rivalry between the Elven princes Fëanor and Fingolfin. He then slew their father, king Finwë and stole the Silmarils, three gems crafted by Fëanor that contained light of the Two Trees, from his vault, and destroyed the Trees themselves.

Fëanor persuaded most of his people, the Noldor, to leave Aman in pursuit of Melkor to Beleriand, cursing him with the name Morgoth. He and his sons swore an oath to recover the Silmarils, whatever the cost. Fëanor led the first of two groups of Noldor. The larger group was led by Fingolfin. The Noldor stopped at the Teleri port-city, Alqualondë, but the Teleri refused to give them ships to get to Middle-earth. The first Kinslaying ensued when Fëanor and many of his followers attacked the Teleri and stole their ships. Fëanor's host sailed on the stolen ships, leaving Fingolfin's behind. The second group had little choice but to cross over to Middle-earth through the deadly Helcaraxë (or Grinding Ice) in the far north. Subsequently Fëanor was slain, but most of his sons survived and founded realms, as did Fingolfin and his heirs. Meanwhile, the Valar took the last two living fruit of the Two Trees and used them to create the Moon and Sun, which remained a part of Arda, but were separate from Ambar (the world).

The Years of the Sun began when the Valar made the Sun and it rose over the world, Imbar, and thereafter time in the First Age was counted from the date of its rising. After several great battles, a Long Peace ensued for four hundred years, during which time the first Men, the Edain, entered Beleriand by crossing over the Blue Mountains. When Morgoth broke the siege of Angband, one by one, the Elven kingdoms fell, even the hidden city of Gondolin. The only measurable success achieved by Elves and Men came when Beren of the Edain and Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, retrieved a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. Afterward, Beren and Lúthien died, and were restored to life by the Valar with the understanding that Lúthien was to become mortal and Beren should never be seen by Men again.

Thingol quarrelled with the Dwarves of Nogrod and they slew him, stealing the Silmaril. With the help of Ents, Beren waylaid the Dwarves and recovered the Silmaril, which he gave to Lúthien. Soon afterwards, both Beren and Lúthien died again. The Silmaril was given to their son Dior Half-Elven, who had restored the Kingdom of Doriath. The sons of Fëanor demanded that Dior surrender the Silmaril to them, and he refused. The Fëanorians destroyed Doriath and killed Dior in the second Kinslaying, but Dior's young daughter Elwing escaped with the jewel. Three sons of Fëanor — Celegorm, Curufin, and Caranthir — died trying to retake the jewel.

By the end of the age, all that remained of the free Elves and Men in Beleriand was a settlement at the mouth of the River Sirion. Among them was Eärendil, who married Elwing. But the Fëanorians again demanded the Silmaril be returned to them, and after their demand was rejected they resolved to take the jewel by force, leading to the third Kinslaying. Eärendil and Elwing took the Silmaril across the Great Sea, to beg the Valar for pardon and aid. The Valar responded. Melkor was captured, most of his works were destroyed, and he was banished beyond the confines of the world into the Door of Night.

The Silmarils were recovered at a terrible cost, as Beleriand itself was broken and began to sink under the sea. Fëanor's last remaining sons, Maedhros and Maglor, were ordered to return to Valinor. They proceeded to steal the Silmarils from the victorious Valar. But, as with Melkor, the Silmarils burned their hands and they then realized they were not meant to possess them and that the oath was null. Each of the brothers met his fate: Maedhros threw himself with the Silmaril into a chasm of fire, and Maglor threw his Silmaril into the sea. Thus, one Silmaril ended in the sky, worn by Eärendil, a second in the earth, and the third in the sea.

The Second Age

Thus began the Second Age. The Edain were given the island of Númenor toward the west of the Great Sea as their home, while many Elves were welcomed into the West. The Númenóreans were blessed by the Valar with long life, three times that of lesser men. They became great seafarers, and in their days of glory, came to Middle-earth to teach the lesser men great skills. However, the Númenóreans grew jealous of their immortal brethren, the Elves. At the height of their power (if not wisdom), the Númenóreans ruled over the Men of Middle-earth, instead of helping them. After a few centuries, Sauron, Morgoth's chief servant, began to organize evil creatures in the eastern lands. He persuaded Elven smiths in Eregion to create Rings of Power, and secretly forged the One Ring to control the other Rings. But the Elves became aware of Sauron's plan as soon as he put the One Ring on his hand, and they removed their own Rings before he could master their wills. During this time, the Shadow grew over Númenor, as kings no longer laid down their lives when they had lived to the fullest, but rather clung greedily to life. Númenor, ever thankful to the Valar and Eru in the past, now neglected to pay tribute, growing ever more restless about the Doom of Man, the curse of mortality. The people of Númenor became divided between the King's Men, those who would see the power and dominion of Númenor grow and their gratitude towards the Elves and Valar wane, and the Faithful, who still maintained their ties with the Elves, and still paid heed to the words of Eru.

With his newfound might and growing dominion over Middle-earth, Sauron claimed that he was the King of Men. Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenor, thinking that none but he should have this title, sailed to Middle-earth with an army to challenge Sauron's claim. Sauron, seeing the might of Númenor at its noontide, knew that he could not stand against them. So he allowed himself to be captured and taken back to Númenor as a hostage. Soon, Sauron's deceit and fair-seeming words won him favour with the King. He lied to the King, and told him that Melkor, Lord of Darkness, was the true God and that Eru was but an invention of the Valar. Thus began the persecution of the Faithful, who were sacrificed in the name of Melkor. Finally, as Ar-Pharazôn grew old, Sauron, using the power of the One Ring, told the King that none, not even the Valar of Valinor, could challenge the might of Númenor, and that the King should assail Valinor, and by setting foot on the Undying Lands, achieve immortality. Ar-Pharazôn, fearing death, assembled a massive fleet and set sail for the Undying Lands. Amandil, chief of those still faithful to the Valar, remembering the embassy of Eärendil, set sail to seek mercy from the Valar. To disguise his intent, he sailed first to the east, and then sailed west, but was never heard from again. His son Elendil and grandsons Isildur and Anárion kept the Faithful out of the coming war and made preparations to flee by ship.

Before the end of the Second Age, when the Men of Númenor by the deceits of Sauron, Morgoth's most powerful servant of all and chief captain, rebelled against the Valar, Ilúvatar destroyed Númenor, separated Valinor from the rest of Arda, and formed new lands, making the world round. When the King's forces landed on Aman, the Valar called for Ilúvatar to intervene. The world was changed, so that Aman was removed from Imbar. From that time onward, Men could no longer find Aman, but Elves seeking passage in specially hallowed ships received the grace of using the Straight Road, which led from Middle-earth's seas to the seas of Aman. The mighty fleet of Ar-Pharazôn and the land of Númenor, were utterly destroyed, and with it the fair body of Sauron; but his spirit endured and fled back to Middle-earth. Elendil and his sons escaped to Endor and founded the realms of Gondor and Arnor.

Sauron soon rose again, but the Elves allied with the Men to form the Last Alliance and defeated him. In a siege that lasted years, Gil-galad, High King of the Elves, Elendil, the ruler of Gondor and Arnor, and Anárion, son of Elendil, were slain, as was Sauron's body. Elendil's other son Isildur finally cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with his father's sword, thus diminishing Sauron's power, making his spirit flee once again, and achieved victory and peace for a time. But Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, against all advice, and took it as a weregild for his father and brother. However, the Ring soon betrayed him, as it abandoned him during an ambush of Orcs at the Gladden Fields; Isildur was slain and the Ring was lost in the Anduin for a time.

The Third Age

The Third Age saw the rise in power of the realms of Arnor and Gondor, and their decline. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron had recovered much of his former strength, and was seeking the One Ring. He learned that it was in the possession of a Hobbit and sent out the nine Ringwraiths to retrieve it. The Ring-bearer, Frodo Baggins, travelled to Rivendell, where it was decided that the Ring had to be destroyed in the only way possible: casting it into the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo set out on the quest with eight companions—the Fellowship of the Ring. At the last moment, he failed, but with the intervention of the creature Gollum—who was saved by the pity of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins—the Ring was nevertheless destroyed. Frodo with his companion Sam Gamgee were hailed as heroes. Sauron was destroyed forever and his spirit dissipated.

The end of the Third Age marked the end of the dominion of the Elves and the beginning of the dominion of Men. As the Fourth Age began, many of the Elves who had lingered in Middle-earth left for Valinor, never to return; those who remained behind would "fade" and diminish. The Dwarves eventually dwindled away as well, and they also returned in large numbers to Moria and resettled it. Under King Elessar (Aragorn of the Arthedain), peace was restored between Gondor and the lands to the south and east.

Languages and peoples


Middle-earth is home to several distinct intelligent species. First were the Ainur, angelic beings created by Ilúvatar. The Ainur sang for Ilúvatar, who created Eä to give existence to their music in the cosmological myth called the Ainulindalë, or "Music of the Ainur". Some of the Ainur then entered Eä, and the greatest of these were called the Valar. Melkor (later called Morgoth), the chief personification of evil in Eä, was initially one of the Valar. The Ainur only inhabited Middle-earth in the very early days of its creation, although Morgoth continued to live there until his expulsion at the end of the First Age. The language of the Ainur was Valarin.

The other Ainur who entered Eä are called the Maiar. In the First Age the most active Maiar was Melian, wife of the Elven King Thingol. There were also evil Maiar, called Umaiar, including the Balrogs and the second Dark Lord, Sauron. Sauron devised the Black Speech (aka Burzum) for his slaves (mainly Orcs) to speak. In the Third Age, five of the Maiar were embodied and sent to Endor to help the free peoples to overthrow Sauron. Those are the Istari (or Wise Ones) (called Wizards by Men), including Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Alatar and Pallando.


The Elves are known as the first born of Ilúvatar: intelligent beings created by Ilúvatar alone (Men are the Second Born). There are many different clans of Elves, but the main distinction is between the Calaquendi (or Light Elves) and the Moriquendi (or Dark Elves). Tolkien's work The Silmarillion tells of how the Valar came to Middle-earth shortly after the awakening of the Elves, and invited them to come and live with them in their home in the land of Aman. Those elves who accepted and began the Great Journey to Aman from their birthplace of Cuiviénen were called the Eldar. The elves who completed the journey were called the Light Elves, (or High Elves) because they saw the magical Light of the Two Trees (the source of light in Aman). Those elves who refused the offer (called the Avari), and the Eldar who tired of the long journey west and remained behind in Middle-earth were called the Dark Elves because they did not see this light. Generally Dark Elves were considered less noble and powerful than Light Elves, but the term 'Dark' did not imply they were in any way evil. In later years some of the Light Elves (chiefly the Noldor clan) returned to Middle-earth, mainly on a quest to retrieve precious jewels called the Silmarils, stolen from them by Morgoth.

Originally elves all spoke the same ancestral tongue , but after the long separation of thousands of years it diverged into different languages. The two main Elven languages were Quenya, spoken by the Light Elves, and Sindarin, spoken by the Sindar, the Dark Elves who stayed behind in Beleriand (see above). Tolkien compared the use of Quenya in Middle-earth as like Latin, with Sindarin as the common speech.


Man were the second born of the Children of Ilúvatar, who awoke in Middle-earth much later than the elves and (probably) also after the dwarves. In appearance they are much like elves, but unlike them they are mortal, ageing and dying quickly. The men involved in Tolkien's stories are mainly the three tribes of Men who allied themselves with the Elves of Beleriand in the First Age, called the Edain. As a reward for their loyalty and suffering in the Wars of Beleriand, the descendants of the Edain were given the island of Númenor to be their home. But as described in the section on Middle-earth's history, Númenor was eventually destroyed and a remnant of the Númenóreans established realms in the northern lands of Endor. Those who remained faithful to the Valar found the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. They were then known as the Dúnedain, whereas other Númenórean survivors, still devoted to evil but living far to the south, became known as the Black Númenóreans.The languages spoken by men include Adûnaic – spoken by the Númenóreans , Westron – The 'Common Speech' – represented by English , and Rohirric – spoken by the Rohirrim – represented in The Lord of the Rings by Old English


The Dwarves are said to have been created by the Vala Aulë, who offered to destroy them when Ilúvatar confronted him. When Ilúvatar saw that the seven Dwarf fathers were alive, He forgave Aulë's transgression and adopted the Dwarves as his own. His only condition was that they were not allowed to awaken before the elves. Therefore, the Dwarves' creator Aulë laid them to sleep in hidden mountain locations until the elves awoke. These dwarves were known as the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, who (along with their mates) went on to found the seven kindreds of dwarves when they awoke. The first dwarf to awake was Durin the father of the Longbeards, the oldest and wisest kindred of Dwarf, and the main focus of Tolkien's stories. Durin founded the greatest Dwarf kingdom called Khazad-dûm, later known as Moria in the Misty Mountains. The Dwarves spread throughout northern Endor and each kindred founded its own kingdom. Only two other of these kingdoms are mentioned by Tolkien, Nogrod and Belegost in the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains. These were the home of the Firebeards and the Broadbeams, who were allies of the Elves of Beleriand against Morgoth in the First Age. The language spoken by the Dwarves is called Khuzdûl, and was kept largely as a secret language for their own use. The dwarves are mortal like Men, but live much longer, usually several hundred years. A peculiarity of dwarves is that both males and females are bearded, and thus appear identical to outsiders.


Tolkien identified Hobbits as an offshoot of the race of Men. Another name for hobbit is 'Halfling' as they were generally only half the size of Men as men in those times usually grew to 6 foot tall at the age of 30 so a hobbit at the age of 50 (approximately in men ages about 18 years old) would be 3 or 4 foot tall. In their lifestyle and habits they closely resemble Men, except for their preference for living in holes underground. Although their origins and ancient history are not known, Tolkien implied that they settled in the Vales of Anduin early in the Third Age, but after a thousand years the Hobbits began migrating west over the Misty Mountains into Eriador. Eventually, many Hobbits settled in the Shire and in nearby Bree. Tolkien says that there were three kinds of Hobbit: the Stoors, Fallowhides and Harfoots. The hobbits who appear most prominently in Tolkien's stories are Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo Baggins, who each have an important role in the quest to destroy the One Ring of Power forged by Sauron. Another creature with possible hobbit heritage who is central to the story is Sméagol, who took the One Ring after it was found in the Anduin. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo is told by Gandalf that Sméagol was part of a hobbit-like riverfolk. Long possession of the ring corrupted and deformed Sméagol into the creature Gollum. By the time of The Lord of the Rings Hobbits had long spoken the Mannish tongue Westron, though their dialect of Westron indicates that they formerly spoke a language akin to that of the Men of Rohan.

Other races

Another important race mentioned by Tolkien are the Ents, shepherds of the trees. They were created by Ilúvatar at the Vala Yavanna's request to protect trees from the depredations of Elves, Dwarves, and Men. Despite this, the elves first taught them to speak, as when they first awoke, the elves 'desired to converse with all things'. In The Lord of the Rings, the Ents, led by the oldest of them, Treebeard, are instrumental in defeating Saruman by destroying his fortress of Isengard. The Ents had their own peculiar language 'Entish', which was impossible for other races to learn due to its long descriptive nature for even the smallest things, involving complex shades of sound and tone. Nevertheless, the ents could learn other races' languages and were able to communicate with others that way.

Orcs and Trolls are evil creatures bred by Morgoth. They are not original creations but rather "mockeries" of the Children of Ilúvatar and Ents, since only Ilúvatar has the ability to give being to things. The detailed origins of Orcs and Trolls are unclear (Tolkien considered many possibilities and frequently changed his mind). It seems most likely that the Orcs were bred largely from corrupted Elves or Men or both. Late in the Third Age, the Uruks or Uruk-hai appeared: a race of Orcs of great size and strength that, unlike ordinary Orcs, are not hurt by daylight. Tolkien also made mention of "Men-orcs" and "Orc-men"; or "half-orcs" or "goblin-men" , but it is not clear if these are the same as the Uruks, or are some other breed. Trolls were apparently made out of stone as the Ents were made out of trees as a rival to them. The Ent Treebeard describes them in The Lord of the Rings as "mockeries of Ents, they are stupid creatures, foul mouthed and brutal". If they were struck by daylight they turned to stone. In an episode of The Hobbit, three trolls catch Bilbo and his Dwarf companions, and plan on eating them. However they are turned back to stone by the light of dawn before they had a chance. Tolkien also describes a race of trolls bred by Sauron called the 'Olog-hai' who were larger and stronger than ordinary trolls, and who could endure daylight.

Sapient animals also appear, such as the Eagles, Huan the Great Hound from Valinor and the wolf-like Wargs. The Eagles were created by Ilúvatar along with the Ents, and the Wargs were possibly descendants of earlier werewolves, but in general these animals' origins and nature are unclear. Some of them might have been Maiar in animal form, or perhaps even the offspring of Maiar and normal animals. The giant spiders such as Shelob were descended from Ungoliant, who is possibly an Ainu.


The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are presented as Tolkien's retelling of events depicted in the Red Book of Westmarch, which was written by Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and other Hobbits, and corrected and annotated by one or more Gondorian scholars. Tolkien wrote extensively about the linguistics, mythology and history of the world, which provide back-story for these stories. Many of these writings were edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher.

Notable among them is The Silmarillion, which provides a creation story and description of the cosmology that includes Middle-earth. The Silmarillion is the primary source of information about Valinor, Númenor, and other lands. Also notable are Unfinished Tales and the multiple volumes of The History of Middle-earth, which includes many incomplete stories and essays as well as numerous drafts of Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology, from the earliest forms down through the last writings of his life.

Middle-earth works by Tolkien

Tolkien died in 1973. All further works were edited by Christopher Tolkien. Only The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin are presented as finished work — the others are collections of notes and draft versions.

  • 1977 The Silmarillion
    • The history of the Elder Days, before The Lord of the Rings, including the Downfall of Númenor
  • 1980 Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
    • Stories and essays related to The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, but many were never completed.
  • The History of Middle-earth series:
    • 1983 The Book of Lost Tales 1
    • 1984 The Book of Lost Tales 2
      • The earliest versions of the mythology, from start to finish
    • 1985 The Lays of Beleriand
    • 1986 The Shaping of Middle-earth
      • Start of rewriting the mythology from the beginning
    • 1987 The Lost Road and Other Writings
      • Introduction of Númenor to the mythology and continuation of rewriting
    • 1988 The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.1)
    • 1989 The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.2)
    • 1990 The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.3)
    • 1992 Sauron Defeated (The History of The Lord of the Rings v.4)
      • The development of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron Defeated also includes another version of the Númenor story.
    • 1993 Morgoth's Ring (The Later Silmarillion, part one)
    • 1994 The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion, part two)
      • Post-Lord of the Rings efforts to revise the mythology for publication. Includes the controversial 'Myths Transformed' section, which documents how Tolkien's thoughts changed radically in the last years of his life.
    • 1996 The Peoples of Middle-earth
      • Source material for the appendices in The Lord of the Rings and some more late writings related to The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.
    • 2002 History of Middle-earth: Index
      • This book has completely integrated all of the indices from the previous twelve volumes into one large index.
  • 1974 Bilbo's Last Song
    • Poem
  • 2007 The Children of Húrin
    • Retelling of one of the three "Great Tales" of the Silmarillion (the other two being the story of Beren and Lúthien and the story of the Fall of Gondolin) as one single work, meant to increase readability and give more details compared to the briefer retelling in The Silmarillion.



In a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien set out his policy regarding film adaptations of his works: "Art or Cash". He sold the film rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969 after being faced with a sudden tax bill. They are currently in the hands of Tolkien Enterprises. The Tolkien Estate retains the film rights to The Silmarillion and other works.

The first adaptation to be shown was The Hobbit in 1977, made by Rankin-Bass studios. This was initially shown on United States television.

The following year (1978), a movie entitled The Lord of the Rings was released, produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi; it was an adaptation of the first half of the story, using rotoscope animation. Although the film was relatively faithful to the story and a commercial success, its critical response (from critics, readers and non-readers alike) was mixed.

In 1980, Rankin-Bass produced a TV special covering roughly the last half of The Lord of the Rings, called The Return of the King. However, this did not follow on directly from the end of the Bakshi film.

Plans for a live-action version of The Lord of the Rings would wait until the late 1990s to be realized. These were directed by Peter Jackson and funded by New Line Cinema with backing from the New Zealand government and banking system.

The trilogy was a huge box office and critical (both critic, reader and non-reader) success. The three films won seventeen Oscars altogether (at least one in each applicable category for a fictional, English language, live-action feature film, except in the acting categories). The films became the 11th, 5th, and 2nd highest grossing films of all time. The films have also helped to increase the impact of Tolkien's works on mainstream pop culture. Jackson and company made numerous changes to the storyline, themes and characters, even adding original scenes which were not condensations of longer plotlines.


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 Playing game (MERP) from Iron Crown Enterprises. A Middle-earth PBM game was originally run by Flying Buffalo and is now produced by M.E. Games Ltd; this play-by-email game was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design's Hall of Fame in 1997.

Simulations Publications created three war games based on Tolkien's work. War of the Ring covered most of the events in The Lord of the Rings. Gondor focused on the battle of Pelennor Fields, and Sauron covered the Second Age battle before the gates of Mordor. The three games above were then released together as the Middle Earth game trilogy. Iron Crown Enterprises published The Fellowship of the Ring, a war/strategy boardgame. The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, a war game based on the Jackson movies, is currently published by Games Workshop. A board game also called War of the Ring is currently published by Fantasy Flight Games.

EA Games has released games based on the Jackson movies for the gaming consoles and the PC. These include the platformers The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the real-time strategy game The Battle for Middle-earth, its sequel The Battle for Middle-earth IIand its expansion The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King-- which puts you in control of the warriors of Angmar, the home of the Witch-King, and the role-playing game The Third Age.

Book-based games (officially licensed from Tolkien Enterprises) include Vivendi's own platformer, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Sierra's own real-time strategy game, War of the Ring, both games that proved highly unsuccessful , and the many games based on The Hobbit.

Turbine released the first Middle-earth-based graphical massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG): The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar in April 2007.

Aside from officially licensed games, many Tolkien-inspired mods and custom maps have been made for many games, such as Warcraft III and Rome: Total War.

In addition, there are many text-based MMORPGs (known as MU*s) based on Tolkien's Middle-earth. The oldest of these date back more than fifteen years (Elendor and MUME - Multi Users in Middle-earth). A related computer game Angband is a free roguelike D&D-style game that features many characters from Tolkien's works. A list of Tolkien-inspired computer games can be found at .

Middle-earth in other works

There are allusions to concepts similar to, or identical to Middle-earth, in other works by Tolkien, and the work of other writers. The oldest example of this is C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, in which Earth is also called Middle-earth. Lewis's novels, set around World War II (with the last novel, That Hideous Strength, taking place in post-war England), specifically bring in references to Tolkien's legendarium (at that time largely unpublished) and treats these references as primary fact within Lewis's fiction. Merlin, of King Arthur fame, is treated as a successor to the Atlantis magic found within "Numinor" (Lewis's unintentional misspelling of Númenor), and similarities can also be found in the Quenya name for Númenor, which is Atalantë, and Lewis specifically references the earth as Middle-earth twice, both in Chapter 14, "They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven on Their Head".

Lewis and Tolkien were part of a literary circle of friends that came to be known as The Inklings. Some of Tolkien's works, including The Lord of the Rings, were read out to the Inklings as they were being written, leading to Lewis's borrowing of the names. Tolkien's unpublished and unfinished time travel stories (The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers), set in England, also connected to his world of Middle-earth and to Númenor.

See also


Further reading

A small selection from the many books about Tolkien and his created world:

External links

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