Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Middle Earth Cartography, part 1

(translation and partial rewrite of the articles in the Finnish Tolkienist's-forum Kontu)

The Geographical Transformations in the 4th Age


“The northwestern parts of the Middle-Earth correspond to the Europe and its ancient past”. This we have been told since the 1950s, when J.R.R. Tolkien got his translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, also know as the Book of Thain, completed. We have also been told some details of the more exact locations of European places on the map of the Middle-Earth. This makes it very intriguing to try to find a good projection to match the two the best possible way, as this could allow the history of earth to be connected to the history of Middle-Earth, so that the former would follow the latter.

As Middle-Earth has seen some large geological transformations in the earlier ages, instigated by Eru or the Mighty Ones, Valar, I see no reason why these kinds of seemingly sudden transformations should stop right after the history described in the Lord of the Rings. There’s though no doubt that f.e. the Fall of Numenor has been a cataclysmic event, but there are some doubts of the Sinking of Beleriand, was it fast or did it happen gradually during the early 2nd age? What has happened, geologically, to the Walls of the Sun, during the Rounding of the Earth? This study won’t touch these matters, but instead, tries to find a new way to connect Europe to Midde-Earth, as many have tried before.

There are several difficulties in achieving this task. For one thing, the Roman maps locating and describing the structures on Iberian Peninsula make it difficult to believe the transformations would be medieval. There’s nothing resembling Iberia in the standard maps of Middle-Earth. Thus the ”modernization of the northwestern Endor” would need to be placed to the prehistorical or very early historical period. One excellent example of this has been published in the paper Mallorn (, and this has even been accepted to en.wikipedia as a source. In the following, I’ve taken this dating of the War of the Ring as a fact. The periodization of later Ages has been changed here to conform the common C.E. counting of years, to get normal years, count forward from 3012 B.C.E.

Part I

As was stated in the preface, the Valar and Eru were the sole source of geomorphology in the Middle Earth. Indeed, if we compare the shapes of northwestern parts of Endor and the current Europe, the overlay is pretty poor. Thus it seems likely some great changes have happened after the end of the Third Age (T.A), and as the modern science has been lacking the ability to connect these, the likely mediators of the changes that would have had to happen would likely be the same.

On most of the maps we have on Middle Earth there’s a scale drawn. The scale on most of these is drawn by miles, by which we can estimate the travelling distances of the Nine Companions, or compare the speed and endurance of Shadowfax to the modern day horses. That Shadowfax clearly runneth, at it’s best, at the approximate speed of a steam-powered local train during the early 1900s, would indicate the magic on our days has waned. There’s though another explanation for the speeds measured this way. That is, the measurement systems have changed from those days of the Unified Kingdom, when the original maps of Middle Earth have been made. There are other possible sources of errors in the maps, many of which I’ll source in this explanation of the geological developments during the Fourth Age (4.A)

I’ll highlight two of these here:

1. On various translations other archaic measures of lengths are used, f.e. the Finnish translation uses the word ‘virsta’ (rus:versta) which historically has been almost anything from 1067 m to 1784 m and may have sometimes been double of that. Can we be sure that the Translator had got the lengths of the Middle Earth measures correct?
2. The relative sizes of the Peoples inhabiting Middle Earth. Could it be that they used their own measurement systems, i.e. was the elbow-length (that is, ell or cubit) of hobbits the same as it was for the men, let alone ents? The same would go for the longer measures of length. Are the measurements in Gondor the same as in Shire? Are the peoples in Lord of the Rings talking by their own measurements or by a common standard?

We all know of the maps of Middle-Earth projected on Europe, in which the adaptation has used the given measures, be it in current miles or ‘virsta’s, pretty much exactly. Here depicted is one of them [1] . On another attempt, the projection of the map has been mathematically altered somewhat [2] . For one, the Misty Mountains do not conform to anything in the modern day Europe. Thus it might be better to seek the least amount of changes necessary, to get the current map of Europe from the map of the Middle-Earth. But, these kinds of maps are of course ok, if you assume Eru has almost completely reworked the northwestern parts of Endor after 3102 BC.

J.R.R. Tolkien was English, but a catholic. As an Englishman, the natural choice of miles, as a measure of distance, is given. But, as a catholic, he might have had mixed feelings of the metrification process happening during his lifetime in most catholic countries. Only Ireland continued to use the imperial measurement system. Thus it might be, he used miles on the areas using miles, and changed to using kilometers as miles as the Nine Companions had traveled far enough from the countries depicting England. If we use the scale given by Tolkien, but so we make a kilometer-scale to the map, and then change the word ’kilometers’ back to ’miles’, we get the the European map to shrink by c. 38% of the real. Said another way, we should multiply the map of Europe by 0,62. Already, this alters the look of the fit between the two and changes the position of current countries projected to the Middle Earth map, considerably. The following map depicts the size of Europe to Middle Earth calculated this way. As we see, vast areas of the east get covered by the map of Middle Earth way better than before, and we can even see some of the features of the maps conform pretty well to each other. The most notable of these is the form and size of Ered Nimrais, which resembles the Alps pretty well. Much of Eriador seems though to have sunk under water, more of this later on. . [2, Laichalaf]

It is still though evident that Europe does not fit well to Middle Earth, thus we know a Godly intervention has happened. Especially, the formation of Adriatic Sea would need to be explained by direct intervention by Eru.

As said, the differences between the current Europe and the prehistorical Middle Earth, can be explained by the interventions by Valar and Eru. They have though been rather hesitant to use their force and might all through times. Even, to defeat the manifestation of evil in the Third Age, Sauron, they sent in Maiar-spirits, though they likely could have fast, efficiently and easily defeated Sauron themselves. It is possible they did not want to shake the minds of the peoples to become like the peoples adopting the Cargo-cults in the far-east. Why do anything, if a supreme power, be it machines, supreme culture, or Godly one, shows this to be unnecessary, useless or done in vain? The bravest, most active and noblest peoples of Middle Earth might have become similar aboriginals, selling local handwork to passing tourists or gods. I for one wouldn’t want to see the Dwarf smiths living on shacks by the roads selling bad copies of Nauglamir to the passing British soldiers or their fiancĂ©es. Nor, see Aragorn to perform a traditional Bulgarian sword folkdance imitating the capture of the bride in the marriage ceremony, and afterwards asking a direct donation, to support local cultures or to get money to feed ‘the modern Eldarion’.

Hrmm-hmm-huum, got a bit carried away there. In the next installment I’ll describe some of the changes that occurred during the 4th Age in the southern parts of the northwestern Middle Earth, and start to provide an explanation of why there are very few historical accounts of these.

(This might still be reworked to include the images, working links and the text might also be worked somewhat)

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