Mirkwood is a name used for two distinct fictional forests in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. Forests play an enormous role throughout the invented history of Tolkien's Middle-earth and are inevitably an important episode on the heroic quests of his characters. The forest device is used as a mysterious transition from one part of the story to another.
The term is taken from William Morris, who borrowed it from the forest Myrkviðr of Norse mythology. Projected into Old English, it appears as Myrcwudu in Tolkien's The Lost Road, as a poem sung by Ælfwine (King Sheave, The Lost Road and Other Writings:91)
In The Silmarillion
, the highlands of Dorthonion
north of Beleriand
eventually fell under Morgoth
's control and was subjugated by creatures of Sauron
, then Lord of Werewolves. It was renamed Taur-nu-Fuin
, the "Forest under Deadly Nightshade". Beren
who, along with Lúthien
, is a fundamentally foundational character of Tolkien's legendarium
becomes the sole survivor of the men who once lived there as subjects of the Noldor
. Beren ultimately escapes the terrible forest that even the Orcs fear to spend time in.Tolkien translated this name as Mirkwood
in English. Beleg
pursues the captors of Túrin
through this forest in the several accounts of Túrin's tale. Along with the rest of the region west of Ered Luin
, this forest disappeared after the cataclysm of the War of Wrath
, although a few of its peaks may have survived as an island far off the coast of Lindon
In The Hobbit
, The Lord of the Rings
, and associated writings, an expansive forest named Mirkwood
was located in Rhovanion
, east of the Anduin
. In this instance, the name is supposedly a translation of an unknown Westron
name. Within the forest was the Woodland Realm, a kingdom of Silvan Elven
ruled by the Sindarin lord, Thranduil
, who established his halls around the Second Age, 1000, when Mirkwood was still known as Greenwood the Great
). Around the year 1050 of the Third Age
, 'the shadow of Dol Guldur
' fell upon it, and men began to call it Taur-nu-Fuin
(Sindarin: forest of great fear
). The shadow was the power of Sauron, who under a concealed identity established himself at the hill-fortress of Dol Guldur on Amon Lanc
. The presence of Sauron's minions drove Thranduil and his people further northward, so that by the end of the Third Age
they were a diminished and wary people who had entrenched themselves beyond the Mountains of Mirkwood
, formerly the Emyn Duir
or "Dark Mountains"). The Old Forest Road
or Old Dwarf Road
crossed the forest east to west, but due to its relative proximity to Dol Guldur, the road was mostly unusable. The Elves
made a path farther to the north, which ended somewhere in the marshes south of the Long Lake
In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, along with Thorin Oakenshield and his band of Dwarves — minus the Wizard, Gandalf — ventured into Mirkwood during their quest to regain Erebor from the Dragon Smaug. During their passage through Mirkwood, the party encountered and were captured by many Giant Spiders, descended from Shelob. Shortly after the dwarves' escape they were taken prisoner by the Elves and brought before Thranduil, who imprisoned the dwarves. While unclear, it was shortly after or possibly even during these events, that the White Council flushed Sauron out of Dol Guldur, and as he fled to Mordor his influence in Mirkwood diminished for a while.
Years later, Gollum, after his release from Mordor, was captured by Aragorn and brought as a prisoner to Thranduil's realm. Out of pity, they allowed the creature some freedom to roam the forest (under close guard). Gollum escaped custody during an Orc raid, and fled south to Moria in search of the One Ring.
After Sauron's destruction at the conclusion of the Third Age, Mirkwood was cleansed and became known as Eryn Lasgalen, Sindarin for the Wood of Greenleaves.
Mirkwood lies east of the Misty Mountains' rain shadow and has a humid-continental climate; winters are cold throughout but much longer in the north, while the south has hotter summers.
Mirkwood contained one of the few remaining Elven settlements of the Fourth Age. It was inhabited by Silvan elves, who were more reluctant to depart Middle-earth than their Noldorin kin. Those from Lothlórien who did not accompany Galadriel to the West migrated to the forest during the early Fourth Age.
Legolas, a member of the Fellowship of the Ring and Thranduil's son, was also from the elf realm in Mirkwood.
References and footnotes