FAQ / What and where is Middle-earth

What and where is Middle-earth?   
Did Tolkien invent Middle-earth?   
Where does Tolkien state this?   
Comments and Suggestions   

What and where is Middle-earth?    

Middle-earth is supposed to represent the region inhabited by men on our planet Earth in ancient times.

Did Tolkien invent Middle-earth?    

No, he probably was inspired by old Germanic and Norse myths, namely the Older- or Poetic Edda where Miđgarđ (Middle-earth) is first mentioned in the "Vọluspá" ("The Wise-Woman's Prophecy")

4. Then Bur's sons lifted | the level land, Mithgarth the mighty | there they made; The sun from the south | warmed the stones of earth, And green was the ground | with growing leeks.
Poetic Edda - Vọluspá

or the "Grímnismál" ("The Ballad of Grimnir"),

41. Mithgarth the gods | from his eyebrows made, And set for the sons of men; And out of his brain | the baleful clouds They made to move on high.
Poetic Edda - Grímnismál

but it is also present in the Younger- or Prose Edda:

But on the inner earth they made a citadel round about the world against the hostility of the giants, and for their citadel they raised up the brows of Ymir the giant, and called that place Midgard.
Prose Edda - Gylfaginning

Where does Tolkien state this?    

Tolkien made a few references in the LotR (e.g. Prologue, or the calendars in the Appendix D), that invite the reader to this conclusion, but he was even more explicit in his Letters:

'Middle-earth', by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we live in. It is just a use of Middle English middel-erde (or erthe), altered from Old English Middangeard: the name for the inhabited lands of Men 'between the seas'. And though I have not attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to what geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imaginatively this 'history' is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet.
Letters #165

'I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. The name is the modern form (appearing in the 13th century and still in use) of midden-erd > middel-erd, an ancient name for the oikoumenē, the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven or Hell). The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time.
Letters #183

But most revealing, in my opinion, is Letter #211 (I apologize for the lengthy quote):

May I say that all this is 'mythical', and not any kind of new religion or vision. As far as I know it is merely an imaginative invention, to express, in the only way I can, some of my (dim) apprehensions of the world. All I can say is that, 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 (I p. 12). I could have fitted things in with greater versimilitude, if the story had not become too far developed, before the question ever occurred to me. I doubt if there would have been much gain; and I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap in time*) between the Fall of Barad-dűr and our Days is sufficient for 'literary credibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known or surmised of 'pre-history'.

I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place. I prefer that to the contemporary mode of seeking remote globes in 'space'. However curious, they are alien, and not lovable with the love of blood-kin. Middle-earth is (by the way & if such a note is necessary) not my own invention. It is a modernization or alteration (N[ew] E[nglish] D[ictionary] 'a perversion') of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the oikoumenē: 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, medićval E. midden-erd, middle-erd. Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another planet!

*) I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as SeA and ThA. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.

Letters #183

Also, the footnote of the last quoted letter gives some information about Tolkien's idea of the age the LotR is taking place. This statement is - seen on a historical plane - rather curious, because it would place the events of the LotR in the Stone Age (or Neolithic Period) of Europe, which is - in my opinion - a clear contradiction to the culture and civilization Tolkien presents us with.

Comments and Suggestions    



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