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".
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.
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."
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 Eä, 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".
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 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.
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.
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.
"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.
"'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..."
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.lysator.liu.se/tolkien-games/ .
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.