Welcome to Arda

The Atlas of Middle-Earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad – I’ve always enjoyed when books had maps in them, and while it took me a while to actually finish the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, I remember being fascinated by the detailed maps that I found there. I actually remember coming across this book at a bookstore when I was a kid, but it took me a while to get around to finally reading it. There’s a lot to be said about J.R.R. Tolkien’s geography, and Fonstad covers quite a bit of it here, from the development of Middle-Earth from the First through Fourth Ages to detailed diagrams of places visited in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I was particularly interested in the maps that showed Middle-Earth in relation to the rest of Arda, the Earth as Tolkien envisioned it in his works. It’s roughly equivalent to Europe, and while quite different in some ways, a world where supernatural battles affect the landscape and acts of God are quite literal is one that’s subject to significant change.

I’ve written before about the parallels between Middle-Earth and real-life Europe, and I mentioned that some websites equated Mordor with either Asia Minor or Transylvania. According to Fonstad, Tolkien himself “once commented that Mordor corresponded more or less with the Mediterranean volcano basin; and Mt. Doom, Stromboli.” Sounds tasty! No, seriously (or at least as seriously as you can get when discussing fantasy), maps of the First Age show the area that would eventually become Mordor as an inland sea. Even back then, though, I suppose one did not simply swim into Mordor.

As far as lands beyond Middle-Earth itself, the continent of Far Harad to the south looks a lot like Africa, and it’s where the elephants originate. Rhun is roughly equivalent to Asia, but I’m not sure what the Dark Land to the southeast would correspond to. The location of Arda and Valinor to the west was likely inspired by the Fortunate Isles and other paradises said to lie in that direction. After Arda was changed from flat to spherical in order to prevent humans from reaching Valinor, it would only be accessible by a magical path; and Tolkien made some references to this creating a new land that would be the equivalent of America.

I seem to recall someone on an Oz mailing list suggesting that L. Frank Baum’s fairyland could be located on Arda.

Map source

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7 Responses to Welcome to Arda

  1. I love Fonstad’s book as well! Great material in there! As regards Oz, I view it as in the same conceptual realm as Valinor–one of several dedicated fairylands that aren’t really meant for those of us in the outside world. And if the history of Arda is the history of our world, then we’re still living in Middle Earth, just aeons past the days of Elves, Hobbits and Ents (mores the pity).

    • Nathan says:

      The idea of Valinor originally being a physical part of our world but then being separated from it fits in pretty well with how Oz sometimes appears to be part of our world and sometimes doesn’t. I’m not sure when the shift would have taken place, though.

      It looks like Tolkien only used “Middle-Earth” to refer to the part of his world corresponding with Europe, but it’s admittedly somewhat vague. The term comes from the idea that mortals live in a mortal world between the realm of the gods and that of the dead, as with Midgard in Norse mythology. And hey, if Elves are immortal, I guess they’re still around somewhere. People in Iceland and Scandinavia apparently still believe in them.

      • I have a Middle-Earth timeline — “of course you do,” I hear you saying with rolled eyes :D — that includes our known dates for the various ages that Tolkien expounded on (some only vaguely and in his letters). An (Tititi-Hoochoo’s realm) would have been the first realm of Faerie, as the Original Dragon heads there around 50,000 years ago, followed at some point by the various king and queen fairies. Valinor appears to have been the second known realm of Faerie, as that comes about around 25,000 years ago.

        (I say that because the Elves would be vaguely considered a kind of fairy, as even if they’re killed, or die of grief (which I think is a fascinating concept), they’re resurrected in Valinor.

        Interestingly, I’m re-reading GIANT HORSE, and Cheeriobed makes a very bizarre, but telling statement: “We who are magically constructed can be destroyed without pain, but a mortal can be hurt.” In other words, Cheeriobed and his royal attendants, are not human. “Magically constructed” is I think a poor choice of words, as that better suits the Scarecrow. But it’s, in essence, a way of saying “supernaturally created,” which makes them… what? Half fairies? Golems? They don’t fall readily into any of the categories that we know of fairies, even taking into consideration outside concepts (such as Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves). In every way, shape and form, they’re human. But they’re not…

      • Nathan says:

        I know Quox mentions the Original Dragon telling stories about things that happened 50,000 years ago, but the creature might be much older than that. We don’t really know.

        Elves and fairies were pretty much interchangeable in a lot of English-language fantasy. The beginning of Queen Zixi of Ix appears to use the two terms as synonyms. I remember reading that Tolkien originally referred to the Deep-Elves as gnomes, but later changed his mind. In Emerald City, Ozma does refer to the Nomes as elves.

        I have to say I found Cheeriobed’s line to be rather odd as well. Baum established that Ozites can’t die but can be totally destroyed, but never mentioned whether such destruction was painful. Since there’s no indication that Ozites don’t suffer pain, and probably multiple references to the contrary (although I can’t think of any offhand), I’m not sure whether the king is correct in his statement. It’s possible that the Munchkin royal family has some fairy blood, but if I recall correctly, Cheeriobed was talking to unrelated people when he said this.

      • Agreed, I think both terms: fairies and elves are used in a very broad sense, and are removed from their original conception. The real Elves would be horrified to see the Nomes called elves, but language is fluid, and it’s thousands of years later. So, as with the designations of witch/sorcerer/magician/wizard/seer/necromancer in the Oz books, these are fluid descriptive terms that Baum and Thompson just didn’t delineate well.

        As to the Cheeriobed, we’ll have to make that very assumption (that they have fairy blood) because a literal interpretation would make it sound as if he and his family and courtiers were magically created by someone. And why would, say, Lurline, bother doing that?

      • Nathan says:

        Well, the Nomes ARE immortal. Not when it comes to eggs, I guess, but there’s no indication that they can die of grief.

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