خانه - کتابخانه - مقالات انگلیسی

مقالات انگلیسی

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Four

این مقاله به فارسی نیز وجود دارد. در اینجا آن را مطالعه نمایید.

-Written by Mohammad Reza Kamali
-Edited by Allacin Morimizu

As we said in parts 1-3 (see links at the end of this article), the assumption that Tolkien wrote all his stories based on inspirations from his favorite regions and cultures is not well founded. As a creative and knowledgeable scholar, Tolkien was completely free to write his stories as he saw fit.

To find out whether Europe or anywhere else was really the source of inspiration for Tolkien’s work, we need to have documented evidence. The most famous evidence from Tolkien’s writings about comparing our earth to Middle-earth is his famous Letter 294:

The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean… If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be 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.

But as we saw in detail in part 1 of this article series, Tolkien’s note on the annotated map that was discovered fairly recently helps us understand he is not saying in Letter 294 that he was inspired by Europe itself in creating his Middle-earth map, but that he was using well-known European locations to illustrate the position and dimensions of Middle-earth.

We have talked many times about Letter 294 in my article series because has long been considered the greatest enemy of my research, which considers Tolkienian influences further east than Europe. Because of this letter, for years my research has been quickly dismissed almost as a joke, and few took it seriously. But when the annotated map notes were found, the situation suddenly changed. Let’s look at the situation afresh.

What exactly is Letter 294?

It comes from the numbering of letters in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, written by the great Tolkien researcher Humphrey Carpenter. The letter is addressed to Charlotte and Dennis Plimmer, who interviewed Tolkien for the Daily Telegraph Magazine. Their article was later published as “The Man Who Understands Hobbits.” At that time, the Plimmers sent a draft of the article to Tolkien to find out what he thought about it and to correct any flaws. In response, Tolkien sent them a letter with the amendments he intended. This is the famous letter 294!

 

Dear Mr and Mrs Plimmer,

Thank you for your courtesy in sending me a copy of the preliminary draft of your article. It is evident that I presented some difficulties to you during the interview: by my swift speech (which is congenital and incurable), my discourtesy in walking about, and my use of pipe. No discourtesy was intended. I suffer from arthritis and my knees give me pain if I sit for long. It is one alleviation of being interviewed if I can stand. I should forgo smoking on these occasions, but I have found being interviewed increasingly distasteful and distracting, and need some sedative.

The copy came to this address the day before I returned hoping to get on with my proper work; I have now found time to consider it. There are one or two points which I should prefer to see altered, and some inaccuracies and some misunderstandings that have, no doubt partly by my own fault, crept into the text. Among my characteristics that you have not mentioned is that in fact I am a pedant devoted to accuracy, even in what may appear to others unimportant matters. I have not had time to state these points clearly and legibly, and I hope that the revision and cutting of your article can still wait a day or two. I will try to send them off to reach you by Friday.

In one point I fear that I shall disappoint you. I am informed that the Weekend Telegraph wishes to have your article illustrated by a series of pictures taken of me at work and at home. In no circumstances will I agree to being photographed again for such a purpose. I regard all such intrusions into my privacy as an impertinence, and I can no longer afford the time for it. The irritation it causes me spreads its influence over a far greater time than the actual intrusion occupies. My work needs concentration and peace of mind.

Yours sincerely

J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien then lists 13 parts of the article that he thinks should be amended, and writes below each section his objections to that part. There are some interesting points in these objections, from the description of Tolkien’s height to his relationship with C .S. Lewis. In the seventh objection, he objects to this sentence:

Middle-earth … corresponds spiritually to Nordic Europe.

The following words in (parentheses) are from Tolkien himself, and the words in [brackets] specify what he is obviously referring to:

Not Nordic, please! A word I personally dislike; it is associated, though of French origin, with racialist theories. Geographically Northern is usually better. But examination will show that even this [Northern Europe] is inapplicable (geographically or spiritually) to ‘Middle-earth’. This [Middle-earth] is an old word, not invented by me, as a reference to a dictionary such as the Shorter Oxford will show. It meant the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean. The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense. If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be 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.

Auden has asserted that for me ‘the North is a sacred direction’. That is not true. The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man’s home should. I love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; but it is not ‘sacred’, nor does it exhaust my affections. I have, for instance, a particular love for the Latin language and among its descendants for Spanish. That it is untrue for my story, a mere reading of the synopses should show. [In my stories] the North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil. The progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a ‘Nordic’.

Honestly, the general meaning of the text we have just read is not what we have ever heard about Tolkien’s Letter 294 at all. Until now, Letter 294 had been said to clearly indicate that Europe is Middle-earth in Tolkien’s opinion. But when we pay careful attention to what Tolkien says about how his upbringing influences his interests, it seems he is saying something like this:

I may be interested in Northern Europe, Northwestern Europe, Latin and Spanish languages, but I have not based my stories on them because I do not write my stories based on my interests!

The meaning of the text seems to have changed completely, but why? Problems always arise when sentences are not considered in their context. Now that you have read the full text, why do you think the two sentences about Europe and Middle-earth are usually separated from the rest of the text?

Both at the beginning and at the end of Letter 294, Tolkien explicitly denies  being influenced by Northern Europe, Northwestern Europe, and even in general  by his favorite subjects, citing Spanish as an example. But unexpectedly, in the middle of this explanation, he suddenly talks about how Middle-earth relates to Europe.

As previously mentioned, those two sentences do not really refer to the issue of what inspired him. But even when realizing that Tolkien said “equal in latitude,” not “equal,” the question still arises why Tolkien, in the middle of his explanation to the Plimmers, suddenly decides to talk about map latitudes.

Let’s go back to the opening part of the letter:

Among my characteristics that you have not mentioned is that in fact I am a pedant devoted to accuracy, even in what may appear to others unimportant matters.

Tolkien was a very precise man. As a pedant myself, I can testify that Professor Tolkien is one of the most pedantic authors I have ever encountered in the literary world, which is one reason I like him so much. In addition to his alphabets and languages, he created chronologies, family trees, and even numerous calendars for the various races of his creatures. The Shire calendar is one of the most beautiful and regular calendars I have ever seen. I do not think that the order and accuracy in his works are merely the imaginings of a fantasy writer, but are also the efforts of a superb researcher. It is true that Tolkien was a fantasy writer, but he himself did not live in a fantasy world. He relied not only on his powerful imagination and ingenuity to create his fairy stories, but also on his diligence, patience, and thorough research. He struggled for years with every detail in those stories to make them believable.

Going forward, you will see things about Tolkien’s accuracy that fully justify this praise. For now, we can believe he is confident in what he is saying.

We turn now to the main part of the letter for our purposes, Tolkien’s opposition to Middle-earth’s being equated spiritually with Northern Europe. Let us carefully examine each segment of Tolkien’s objections:

Not Nordic, please! A word I personally dislike; it is associated, though of French origin, with racialist theories.

Tolkien explains why he does not like the word Nordic, and then adds that, contrary to the Plimmers’ article, Middle-earth has nothing to do with northern Europe:

Geographically Northern is usually better. But examination will show that even this [Northern Europe] is inapplicable (geographically or spiritually) to ‘Middle-earth’.

This is an issue he emphasizes three more times:

But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense.

Auden has asserted that for me ‘the North is a sacred direction’. That is not true.

The North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil. The progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a ‘Nordic’.

After emphasizing what the Plimmers misunderstood, Tolkien begins to explain the origin and true meaning of the word Middle-earth:

This is an old word, not invented by me, as a reference to a dictionary such as the Shorter Oxford will show. It meant the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean.

What is the exact meaning of that statement?

Fortunately, Tolkien gave us a detailed etymology of the word Middle-earth in Letter 211. He says it comes from the Old English word middan-geard, which changed to midden-erd and later to middle-erd in the medieval period. Tolkien modernized the spelling to Middle-earth.

Tolkien explains in Letter 294 that Middle-earth means “the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean.” In Letter 165, he describes Middle-earth this way:

The name for the inhabited lands of Men ‘between the seas’.

Here’s an illustration of what the professor is talking about:

Mercator Projection

Mercator Projection, Wikipedia

This is the vast and inhabited land of our planet between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which includes the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. So far, Tolkien has denied a direct connection between Northern Europe and Middle-earth, and explained that Middle-earth is an old name that has nothing to do with him personally. This is Tolkien’s argument:

You have assumed that Middle-earth is my invention, and since I am interested in and a product of Northern culture, you have probably concluded that Middle-earth spiritually corresponds with Northern Europe, but that is not true. Middle-earth existed as a word and concept long before my time.

Tolkien then proceeds to explain Europe’s relationship with Middle-earth:

The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense.

As we saw in the map above, Middle-earth on our earth refers to the three continents in the white boundaries between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. But where is Middle-earth in Tolkien’s stories?

Arda Map in Second Age Drwan by J. R. R. Tolkien

© The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission.

This is the map of Arda in the second age as drawn by J. R. R Tolkien. The area inside the white box shows Middle-earth. But what is this depicting?

Middle-Earth Map by Christopher Tolkien

© The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission.

This map shows only the northwestern part of Middle-earth, which is most familiar to us because most of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit stories take place in this section. As shown in Arda map, Middle-earth in Tolkien’s world, like its Old English inspiration, is a large land surrounded by seas. This is what Tolkien said about that in Letter 211:

I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place. I prefer that to contemporary mode of seeking remote globes in ‘space’.

He said something similar in Letter 183:

The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.

But when you equate our middle earth with Tolkien’s Middle-earth, you may logically conclude that the most important part of Middle-earth, its northwest, is probably equivalent to the western coast of Europe. Tolkien raises this issue in our main letter, 294:

The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean.

But what does that have to do with the misinterpretation of the Plimmers that he was trying to correct in the main part of this famous letter? Its relevance is specified in the following sentence:

But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense.

That sentence is always removed from quotations of Letter 294 and replaced by three dots because so many writers think it has nothing to do with the previous and following sentences, but they are making a mistake! To fully understand the meaning of Tolkien sentences, we must take them in the order he intentionally gave them:

It meant the habitable lands of our world, set amid the surrounding Ocean. The action of the story takes place in the North-west of ‘Middle-earth’, equivalent in latitude to coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean. But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense.

With the help of Tolkien’s previous explanations of the meaning and roots of Middle-earth, we can understand him to be saying essentially this:

My Middle-earth is equivalent to the Old English middle earth, meaning the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The northwest of my Middle-earth is geographically equivalent to northwestern Europe, but that is a mix of diverse countries, ethnicities, cultures, languages, and myths far beyond Nordic Europe. Then Tolkien, who gives a reason for each claim, also proves to the Plimmers that his Middle-earth does not include Nordic Europe:

If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be 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.

Those sentences do not at all show that those European cities inspired Tolkien to write Middle-earth equivalents in his Legendarium. Instead, they are a continuation of Tolkien’s previous statement that the dimensions and boundaries of northwest Middle-earth roughly correspond to those of northwestern Europe in terms of latitude.

As we saw in part 1 of this article series, citing Tolkien’s notes to his map illustrator, Pauline Baynes, Tolkien changes the destination city from Florence to Ravenna and then to Belgrade to determine the dimensions of the map more precisely for Baynes.

Tolkien went on to write in Letter 294:

Auden has asserted that for me ‘the North is a sacred direction’. That is not true.

What is the story behind this sentence? In 1966 The New Yorker magazine published a report on the American Tolkien Society meeting. The famous English poet W. H. Auden was the guest speaker. He said in his speech:

Tolkien is fascinated with the whole northern thing. People seem to divide—they’re attracted by either the Northern thing or the Southern thing, by Scandinavia or the Mediterranean—and for Tolkien north is a sacred direction.[i]

Why did Tolkien refer to Auden’s speech in his letter to the Plimmers? He may have guessed that the Plimmers made their erroneous assumption based on what that influential poet wrongly stated. Tolkien then gave a strong reason to show that the North was not sacred for him:

The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man’s home should. I love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; but it is not ‘sacred’, nor does it exhaust my affections.

He is saying that although he naturally and appropriately appreciates the land of his ancestry, his affections and interests range far beyond it.  Tolkien is humble enough not to assume that whatever he happened to grow up with is automatically best or sacred. Tolkien is declaring his independence from his favorite subjects, saying do not confuse “my stories” with “my favorite subjects.” I do not have to write stories based merely on my favorite subjects; like any human being, I can love other things too!

He goes on to give a different example because he probably guessed that the Plimmers and others would not believe that he was not directly inspired by northwestern Europe! This is Professor Tolkien’s  primary area of expertise, linguistics:

I have, for instance, a particular love for the Latin language and among its descendants for Spanish. That it is untrue for my story, a mere reading of the synopses should show.

He did not rely merely on his memories, feelings, and interests to create his stories and worlds; he was a researcher-writer who gave himself the right to research any subject, character, story, or place in the world that he considered appropriate to write or draw about.

He then reiterates that the North is not sacred to him because the North is not a good place in his stories:

The North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil [called Melkor and Morgoth in The Silmarillion].

This last sentence in our portion of Letter 294 is probably in response to Auden’s dividing people into Nordic and Mediterranean groups. According to Tolkien, his stories are more Mediterranean than Nordic:

The progress of the tale ends in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a ‘Nordic’.

Now that we’ve examined all the parts, let’s re-examine the whole to bring this matter to a close:

Not Nordic, please! A word I personally dislike; it is associated, though of French origin, with racialist theories. Geographically Northern is usually better. But examination will show that even this [Northern Europe] is inapplicable (geographically or spiritually) to ‘Middle-earth’. [Careful examination reveals] this is an old word, not invented by me, as a reference to a dictionary such as the Shorter Oxford will show. It meant the habitable lands of our world [the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe between the Atlantic and Pacific], set amid the surrounding Ocean. 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. But this is not a purely ‘Nordic’ area in any sense [but a mix of different countries and cultures]. If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be 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.

Auden has asserted that for me ‘the North is a sacred direction’. That is not true. The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man’s home should. I love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; but it is not ‘sacred’, nor does it exhaust my affections. [Since you may not believe me, I give you an example:] I have, for instance, a particular love for the Latin language and among its descendants for Spanish. That it is untrue for my story, a mere reading of the synopses should show. [To prove that North is not sacred to me, remember that in my stories] the North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil. [Contrary to what Auden said,] the progress of the tale [is more Mediterranean than Nordic because it ends] in what is for more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a ‘Nordic’.

Throughout this part of the letter, Tolkien is proving his point and correcting the misunderstandings that the Plimmers had about his stories. He clearly rejects Northern Europe as the inspiration for them for three strong reasons:

  1. Middle-earth is not my invention at all, so my natural interest in northern Europe could not have inspired me to create it!
  2. The western part of Middle-earth is equivalent to northwestern Europe and the northern shores of the Mediterranean, not just northern Europe.
  3. I do not write stories based on my personal background and interests!

In Letter 294 he focuses on the lack of connection between his stories and his favorite topics. Nowadays, however, almost every search for comparing our earth to Arda or Middle-earth leads only to the two famous sentences that at a surface view seem to equate Middle-earth with Europe. I think we need to end this fragmentary approach to Letter 294! Those sentences are part of a longer statement that Professor Tolkien carefully crafted, conveying a different meaning from what is usually assumed.

I know some people don’t like my analysis of Tolkien’s maps, letters, and writings. These are the kinds of comments I’ve received: Why are you so engrossed in his conversations and writings? What is the benefit of this? Why not just enjoy his stories? You are ruining our dreams!

The most important reason why I think it is necessary to analyze Tolkien’s statements and understand exactly what he was saying is that this was important to him. He was unusually—and brilliantly!—precise in what he wrote so we should make the effort to understand how he used every word if we are interested in knowing him and his works.

Letter 294 clearly shows the Professor was dissatisfied with people connecting things to his stories that he did not consider relevant, an error he tried to correct clearly and vigorously. In part 3 of my article series, we saw what strange interpretations of Tolkien’s stories there are. When we allow ourselves to relate Tolkien’s stories to our favorite subjects, or subjects we guess he was interested in without any proof, we are doing the very thing he disliked.

Like all fans, I love Tolkien and his stories, even more than analyzing his letters and maps. But I love truth more than anything, especially truths about Tolkien! It seems that with Tolkien and his works, as with many other beloved authors and creative efforts, the perceptions, conjectures, and aspirations of their fans inadvertently transform masterpieces into things they are not. That is a problem from which J.R.R. Tolkien himself apparently suffered greatly.

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part One

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Two

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Three

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Four

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Three

نقشه توضیح گذاری شده تالکین 3

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

این مقاله به فارسی نیز وجود دارد. در اینجا آن را مطالعه نمایید.

-Written by Mohammad Reza Kamali
-Edited by Allacin Morimizu

In part 1 and part 2 of these series of articles, I have tried to show step by step the similarities between Middle-earth and our own green earth. I think these similarities are so precise, it is practically impossible for them to be just a simple coincidence. Nevertheless, it is still possible to consider these similarities as some kind of accident or even as a “deliberate making of similarities.” This is a belief I have encountered many times, and those who believe it have their reasons. One is they believe this research has never provided any “real evidence” for these similarities. What constitutes “real evidence” for these individuals is only if Professor Tolkien mentioned these similarities in his notes, letters, or interviews. No such statement has yet been found. Does that therefore mean that my claim is unsubstantiated?

No. Our most important documents are the Professor’s maps of Middle-earth.

Some may not consider maps as evidences, but that is not right. Maps are shapes, and shapes can be one of the most important considerations for examining any subject. For example, the sciences of geography, archeology, mathematics, paleontology, and medicine are based on the comparison of shapes and conclusions drawn from those comparisons. When researchers see similarities between two shapes, they have the right to think that there may be a connection between the two shapes and to look for more similarities. If they find more evidences, they now have a professional duty to take the connection between the two shapes seriously and to seek a reason for those similarities. We have authentic documents from J. R. R. Tolkien, maps drawn by Professor Tolkien himself and his son Christopher. The mere absence of a statement about similarities between our earth and Middle-earth does not mean the absence of a document.

Therefore, Middle-earth maps are strong evidences for the validity of this theory. On the other hand, this point itself raises another question: Why is there so much insistence that we must find textual evidences about the existence of these similarities? Why are the maps of Middle-earth not deemed acceptable or satisfactory for some as a convincing reason? I think it’s because Tolkien is known primarily as a writer, not a cartographer, even though his art has received more well-deserved attention in recent years.

Tolkien was a linguist, the creator of several fictional languages, professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, a poet and the author of one of the greatest novels in history. Everything we know about him principally points to literature and poetry— in one word: Words! Every biography describes Tolkien as a writer, poet, and linguist, not a great cartographer or illustrator. The Lord of the Rings is a great literary work, not a classic comic strip, like the book series Tintin; Tolkien is a great writer, not a great writer-illustrator, as Herge. Is it therefore probable that this fact subconsciously led to the belief that verbal documents left by Tolkien were more acceptable than documents in the form of maps?

Like with other literary works, to understand Tolkien’s stories, we must first read the text of the book, and if we need more explanation—for example, if we want to understand the path the Fellowship took or the location of Fangorn Forest with regard to Isengard, we refer to the maps. The images and maps of Middle-earth serve as tools to help us better understand the story, but that does not mean they are of secondary importance to the text. Professor Tolkien himself tells us so:

I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities, and in any case it is weary work to compose a map from a story — as I fear you have found.” (Letter No.144 to Naomi Mitchison)

Contrary to what many readers assume, he began his magnum opus with maps. He showed the same precision in creating his maps as in creating the languages ​​and historiography of his lands. The idea that his texts are more important than his pictures is not accurate at all. Citation of his maps as evidences, therefore, is perfectly reasonable. This point raises another issue: how is it possible that Tolkien created maps of his lands from real-world maps, but the connection between the two has not been made until recently?

The most important and well-known researchers of Tolkien and his works are specialists in literature, not illustration and cartography. Most of the researches on Tolkien’s world, especially in the fields of etymology and inspiration, are related to the world of his words and stories, not to the world of his pictures! It is natural that literary scholars, seeking to trace the origins of Tolkien’s world, first will search literary works, historical stories, and ancient and mythological texts related to them. If you give one of Tolkien’s created words to a linguist, he or she will eagerly find the root of the word in Old English, Welsh, Hebrew or Finnish. Tell the story of one of his wonderful characters to a mythologist, and you surely will hear about striking parallels to heroes or villains from Nordic or Greco-Roman mythology.

As a civil engineer, I have a corresponding interest in Tolkien’s maps; as a cartoonist, I pay close attention to his wonderful illustrations. I cannot ignore the similarities in map contours of Middle-earth and Google maps any more than an historian or theologian can ignore the ancient textual basis of the creation of the world by Iluvatar’s song. So when I talk about undeniable similarities, I do not mean deliberate or forced similarities. The map similarities exist, and I consider it my professional duty to make them clear to others.

Great works have already done on the maps of Middle-earth, such as Karen Wynn Fonstadt’s ‘Atlas of the Middle-earth’ and ‘The of Art of the Hobbit‘, ‘The Art of the Lord of the Rings’, and ‘J. R. R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator’‘ by Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond. Outstanding also is a collection of articles on the tor.com website, in which Alex Acks as a geologist shows the geological flaws of Middle-earth maps, flaws that my research will explain the reasons. None of the above, however, traced the origins of Middle-earth maps to our own world geography. And there was no reason for that because, as I explained in the first article of this series, I stumbled upon the striking similarities for the first time by accident.

The question naturally arises why Professor Tolkien, who—like some of his characters—loved riddles, would put these riddles only in his maps. The good news is these riddles are also present in Tolkien’s literature. In fact, Tolkien’s verbal riddles are a confirmation of his visual riddles! Let’s start with a name:

Gondor

نقشه توضیح گذاری شده تالکین 3

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

Gondor is the southern portion of Middle-earth settled by the exiles from the ancient island kingdom of Númenor, led by Elendil and his famous sons Isildur and Anárion. You will soon see that the word Gondor is related to the areas corresponding with Gondor in our world: those adjacent to the Himalayas and the countries of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan!

Professor Tolkien tells us that Gondor is a word in the Sindarin language consisting of gond, meaning stone, and dor, meaning land: land of stone. This new kingdom came to be characterized by magnificent cities built with native stones. Now remember Gondor’s position on the map of Middle-earth: west of Mordor and the Ephel Duath Mountains, and let’s take a closer look at similar areas in our world:.

نقشه

Map by Google Maps

Searching the history and geography of the region we find that for centuries in the western Himalayas, exactly in areas similar to Gondor’s position in the Middle-earth, a kingdom ruled with a culture as great and glorious as the kingdom of Gondor: a kingdom called Gandhara!

Gandhara

Wikipedia, Kingdoms and cities of ancient India, with Gandhara located in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent, during the time of the Buddha (c.500BC)

This map shows Gandhara. This might look small compared to Gondor on Tolkien’s maps, so let’s look at another map to gain a fuller perspective:

Map of Gandhara in age of Kushan Empires

Wikipedia, Map of Gandhara in age of Kushan Empires

Now that’s more like Gondor! It represents Gandhara at its height during the Kushan Empire.

Gandhara is an ancient kingdom that had ruled this region of the world for thousands of years. If you have never heard of it, it is probably because of its geographical location among the three major neighboring countries: India, China, and Iran. Although Gandhara was not a small country, being among the three great powers in the region influenced it culturally, politically, and militarily. The name Gandhara appears in maps today in the form of the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan. But that is not the only thing left of Gandhara, for the images you see are artifacts of this ancient civilization.

Smaller Bamyan Buddha from base, Afghanistan

Wikipedia, Smaller Bamyan Buddha from base, Afghanistan

Standing Bodhisattva (1st–2nd century)

Wikipedia, Standing Bodhisattva (1st – 2nd century)

Marine deities Gandhara

Wikipedia, Marine deities Gandhara

Doing something like this with Gondor is not strange at all for someone as brilliant as Tolkien, for he did the same thing before with Atalantë, the name given to the island of Númenor after its sinking. It means The Downfallen in Quenya. Let us briefly review the downfall of Númenor: its island inhabitants tried to invade the land of the gods and the gods drowned their island as just punishment. If you tell this story to any archaeologist, mythologist, or fantasy lover, they will have no doubt that you are talking about the lost island of Atlantis! According to Plato, Atlantis was an island nation of unknown location filled with proud people of an advanced civilization who angered the Greek god Zeus by attacking other lands. He punished them by drowning their island in a storm. The resemblance between downfall of Númenor and Atlantis is indisputable. But Professor Tolkien’s answer to the often-asked question whether the name of his island, Atalantë, had anything to do with Atlantis is:

A happy accident!

Tolkien derived Atalantë from the root of the Quenya verb talat, meaning to fall down. Some may disagree with me, but I think this is one of the times Tolkien seems to be joking with us! It would be no surprise for him to do something fun like this by turning Gandhara into Gondor. This is not at all strange or impossible for someone who has enough initiative to start a story with a map.

Let’s go on to another example: Anduin is made up of And meaning long or great and Duin meaning river, which together means The Great River. Here Tolkien seems to have used the initial letters of the Indus River (Ind) to make And, only changing the letter I to A. Most of the Indus River is in Pakistan, but India was named after this river. It means the land adjacent to the Indus River. So if my assumption is correct, then the word Anduin will probably have a similar meaning to Ind-Duin or The Indian River.

I think now is probably the right time to ask an important question, a question that has probably occupied the minds of many: Why India? Why Tibet and the Himalayas? Why Afghanistan and Pakistan? And why the East? Why would Tolkien be inspired by such places for his stories of Middle-earth?

An objective source of inspiration

Professor Tolkien clearly spent his life focusing on European culture, but its geography did not suit all his stories. In that case it would be no surprise for this learned man to consider other parts of the globe as a basis for the maps he made to further his tales. His borrowing from Eastern maps does not therefore mean the East was his source of inspiration. Let me explain with an example.

About the same time Tolkien was writing LOTR Hergé was working on Tintin, a series of stories that take place in Belgium, Britain, the United States, India, China, Egypt, the Middle East, and South America. Does that indicate Hergé had bittersweet memories in South America or that he taught Hindi? Of course not. Like Tolkien, he was a creative and knowledgeable writer who placed his characters wherever he saw fit. When creating the lands of Middle-earth, Tolkien was completely free to think of wherever he liked and to create whatever he liked because Tolkien the fantasy author was not functioning as Tolkien the Oxford professor who had to teach a certain course. He was not writing an academic book on European mythology; he was writing a fantasy story. Therefore, it is possible that European and other themes Tolkien was interested in may or may not be found in his books. To discern his sources of inspirations we need to rely on similarities, signs, and documents, not Tolkien’s psychology or personality because we can never guess what really went through Tolkien’s mind when he wrote his stories.

We should not expect to find a statement from Tolkien that the Himalayas were his source of inspiration for the creation of Mordor because the Himalayas and other lands on real-world maps do not represent Tolkien’s sources of inspiration. They are simply places he noticed that helped him make his Middle-earth maps more believable, which was very important to him. As he explains in his essay On Fairy-Stories, he believed the author of such stories should seek to serve as a sub creator of realistic secondary worlds.

We do not need to delve into Tolkien’s psyche or personal experiences, but instead consider the unique geographical features of the Himalayan mountains and Indus River valley of our world that would well convey his story in LOTR. This is an objective approach to understanding why the Professor drew his maps the way he did.

Irresponsible re-symbolization

This objective approach I’m proposing for interpreting Professor Tolkien’s maps is much better than fanciful ideas of this beloved author’s inspirations based on perceptions of his psychology and beliefs. Such ideas tend to tell more about the psychology and beliefs of the person doing the perceiving! For example, it has been speculated that the story of The Lord of the Rings is a symbol of World War I and the British war against Germany and the Ottomans in the East because of Tolkien’s difficult experiences as an officer serving in that war. The 2019 Tolkien biopic, for instance, placed us inside young Tolkien’s mind, transforming horrific images of trench warfare into monster-shaped creatures. But would the Professor himself want us to assume Sauron, Smaug and the Ringwraiths are subconscious perceptions of fire, chemical weapons, and otherwise hellish conditions of the Somme battlefields? He himself wrote in the forward to the second edition of LOTR,

An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience, but the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of experience are extremely complex, and attempts to define the process are at best guesses from evidence that is inadequate and amibigious. It is also false, though naturally attractive … to suppose that the movements of thought or the events of times common to both {author and interpreter} were necessarily the most powerful influences.

Dragon in Tolkien (2019)

Young Tolkien sees a flamethrower as a dragon. — ‘Tolkien (2019)’, Twentieth Century Fox

Let me give you another strange LOTR interpretation, this time from my own country, Iran. Now we have many devoted admirers of Professor Tolkien’s works there, but some readers are jaded by Iran’s long history of pessimism towards the West. That came from British quasi-colonial behavior in Iran and Iran’s not-so-friendly relations with the United States over the past four decades. “It’s an English job!” is a famous saying of a popular fictional character in Iran who assumes an English conspiracy is behind the scenes of everything. That has led some Iranians to assume LOTR is an insult to the peoples of the Middle East and a continuation of European colonialism!

Uncle Napoleon TV Series

Uncle Napoleon, the fictional character of the popular book and TV series of the same name. He sees himself as a hero against the British Army and has become a lasting symbol of people who see conspiracy theories behind everything

Some in Iran actually believe that the East in Tolkien’s stories is a symbol of the Middle East, for they assume that the dark-skinned Haradrims are a symbol of Muslims. Therefore, they feel insulted. And who is the author of the book? An Englishman. These irresponsible symbolists would say that proves it’s an English job!

Here is another example of irresponsible symbolism: I have been carefully studying the comments of Tolkien fans in virtual groups for a long time to understand their views on the meaning and concept that the stories and characters create for them. What I realized since the beginning of the war in Syria and ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe, the belief that LOTR symbolizes some kind of battle between the Christian and Islamic worlds has become popular among some of Tolkien Christian readers too. Why are there such strange and contradictory ideas about hidden meanings in The Lord of the Rings? Some readers of Tolkien’s works irresponsibly allow themselves to put their own perceptions in the place of Tolkien himself.

Tolkien has recently been accused of even being a racist! That is an inaccurate and terrible accusation for anyone to make of this good man. I believe this kind of accusation comes from irresponsible re-symbolization, which is redefining and symbolizing a story in the way we want, and then making an arbitrary interpretation of it. However, based on what Tolkien said and what the similarities between the maps show, Tolkien’s stories do not seem to be very symbolic. The similarities we see in the maps are more of a riddle than a symbol of the war of civilizations! Tolkien clearly shows the locations of his stories through maps, so Mordor is neither the Ottoman Empire, nor the Third Reich, nor the Socialist Soviet Union, nor the Islamic Middle East! Mordor’s map is taken from the Himalayas in Asia and has no special political or colonial meaning behind it. The only apparent reason for using it is this area is a unique circular mountainous area quite suitable for difficult access to Mount Doom, making the poor Hobbits work harder.

I hope that with the new information we have about the maps, irresponsible symbolism about Tolkien’s works will be reduced, but on the other hand, I am worried now that some people will link Mordor’s dispute with Gondor to recent tensions between India and China!

Nameless Things in Moria and their real origin

Nameless Things in Moria and their real origin

این مقاله به فارسی نیز وجود دارد. در اینجا آن را مطالعه نمایید.

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he.

The world created by J. R. R. Tolkien is full of wonders and deep themes in which you can find new meanings and contents each time you read it and you can find visible and invisible connection between these themes. At first, this article was going to explain a short but interesting fact about the magical powers of Melian and Sauron, but based on something that people of Middle-earth might would call chance, the author stumbled upon a section of Morgoth’s Ring (10th Volume of The History of Middle-earth) which head read and translated “Arda, Morgoth’s Ring” article before but never made the connection, but today he was looking for something else there and found the answer to what are those Nameless Things in Moria is, which resulted in this article.

In all published material about Legendarium “Nameless Things” which was call by Gandalf are named once, but this doesn’t mean Tolkien never talked about them or there are no other indirect mentions, without us knowing! The only direct mention of them is in The Two Towers (III, 5):

They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Glóin. Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Ancient, evil and horrible creatures which even Gandalf is afraid of talking about them! How I conclude he feared them is based on some passages of The Lord of the Rings which I’m going to explain soon. First sign is when Gandalf says “Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day” in which, if you are familiar with The Lord of the Rings books, you know darkening of light is sign of immense power or huge evil forces which there a lot of examples to mention. We will get to it soon. Second reason for saying Gandalf felt fear is how he explains his confrontation with Balrog but he deliberately leaves out the explaining of those Nameless Things.

Gimli: ‘Come, Gandalf, tell us how you fared with the Balrog!’

‘Name him not!’ said Gandalf, and for a moment it seemed that a cloud of pain passed over his face.

Based on this you can conclude if Gandalf fears explaining dark and painful memories (why he is fearing is in need of another article), he is not going to talk about it. Now let see one instance of darkening of light by evil things in The Fellowship of the Ring (II, 2) when Gandalf reads the inscription of The One Ring in Black Speech in Rivendell; you can find many more of darkening of light as sign of immense power or huge evil forces.

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark.

And based on these the author believes these nameless things must be on a new level of horrible and evil in which Gandalf doesn’t willingly talks about them; He talks about the Balrog and The One Ring inscription though.

Dark Creature of Underworld

As it said before, in all the published materials about Legendarium “Nameless Things” was mentioned only once, but is there any other mention to them? Author believes there is one mention in The Lord of the Rings and one other in The Hobbit about these nameless things which we might have passed them without second thought. First one is “Watcher in the Water”, the creature who attacks the fellowship in front of the west-gate of Moria and we later in the Book of Mazarbul find out he was the cause of Óin’s death. But how the lake was formed? ‘Sirannon had been dammed and had filled all the valley’ (FotR, II, 4). But why the nameless things and the Watcher should be connected to that lake? Let’s read what Gandalf says about them in The Fellowship of the Ring (II, 4):

‘I do not know,’ answered Gandalf; ‘but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.’

What are the dark waters under the mountains? Let see another citation (TTT, III, 5):

‘Long time I fell,’ he said at last, slowly, as if thinking back with difficulty. ‘Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water and all was dark. Cold it was as the tide of death: almost it froze my heart.’

‘Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin’s Bridge, and none has measured it,’ said Gimli.

‘Yet it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge,’ said Gandalf. ‘Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone.

And few lines later we have our first and only citation of Nameless Things. As you can see from the above quote, Gandalf fell in the same waters he mentioned before, under the mountains in which Nameless Things live, as where Watcher in the Water came from or driven out! On a note author believes The Watcher (one of Nameless Things) was driven out rather than just leaving, because Balrog was living there somehow and he knew the place very well, maybe there was a power struggle or something of sort, I leave it to your imaginations. I said balrog knew there and it’s based on the same chapter of citation above:

In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dûm: too well he knew them all.

Now let us read more about the Watcher and the difference between book and Peter Jackson’s adaptation:

Frodo felt something seize him by the ankle … as if a host of snakes were swimming up from the southern end.

Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water. Sam on his knees was now slashing at it with a knife.

The arm let go of Frodo, and Sam pulled him away, crying out for help. Twenty other arms came rippling out. The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench.

Watcher in the Water by Ulla Thynell

Watcher in the Water by Ulla Thynell

Differences you need to focus are there is no head nor body visible for that creature, and there are differences about it arms/tentacles, but that thing in Peter Jackson’s adaptation is more like a gigantic Octopus.

For the second mention, we need to look into The Hobbit (Ch. 5) and see if we can find a connection there or not.

also there are other things more slimy than fish. Even in the tunnels and caves the goblins have made for themselves there are other things living unbeknown to them that have sneaked in from outside to lie up in the dark. Some of these caves, too, go back in their beginnings to ages before the goblins, who only widened them and joined them up with passages, and the original owners are still there in odd corners, slinking and nosing about.

By reading this we find the final connection between Nameless Things and Watcher in the Water and how they are the same, making halls (or gnawing stone), making tunnels and they are slimy like the Watcher.

This question emerges now: What is the real origin of these creatures? They definitely can’t be Elves, Ents, Humans, Dwarves, Hobbits, Werewolves and other more known species that we know of. We know that evil can’t create on it’s own, so no, Melkor didn’t made them. Are they Ainur? It definitely can answer why they are older than Orcs, but this makes a problem, if they are, they have the same age as Sauron and can’t be older than him. Are they something like Tom Bombadil? The answer is still no, Tom is a special character and a mystery which Tolkien intended it to be like that, and besides, we figured out they are evil, Tom is not evil, Tom can’t be evil. Now only two option remains, maybe they are creatures of Void, like Ungoliant; or maybe they are something else, something Tolkien explained later and answers all of these purposefully semi-hidden clues, and maybe when we find it, it can even explain Ungoliant! In Morgoth’s Ring (Myths Transformed, VII, Notes on motives in the Silmarillion, iii) Christopher brought us this note of his father:

Out of the discords of the Music – sc. not directly out of either of the themes,(17) Eru’s or Melkor’s, but of their dissonance with regard one to another – evil things appeared in Arda, which did not descend from any direct plan or vision of Melkor: they were not ‘his children’; and therefore, since all evil hates, hated him too. The progeniture of things was corrupted.

۱۷- The Three Themes of Iluvatar in the Music of the Ainur are here treated as a single theme, in opposition to the discordant ‘theme’ of Melkor.

The Discord of Melkor by kuliszu

The Discord of Melkor by kuliszu

This paragraph is immensely important, because it can answer the question we started to find from the beginning of this article. If these evil things are created the same time as the Music of the Ainur (if you don’t know what Music of the Ainur is, you need to read first chapter of The Silmarillion), this means they were in Eä before Sauron could enter it and as we know Sauron (and other Ainur) where in Timeless Halls (emphasis on Timeless) which means they were out of influence of time, in contrast to things in Eä which are under influence of Time, so they were aging (numerically) and became Older than Sauron or Orcs. And that is description of what kind of creatures that we know of? Yes, Nameless Things! Those who gnaw on earth and live in the deepest of places and even Sauron knows them not, and they are older than him. The same creatures we found them mentioned in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the Watcher and things living unbeknown to Orcs.

As I said in the beginning, originally this article was going to be about something else, and we are going to explain it. Do you think this theme of Music’s dissonance is a new thing? Or we had this concept before? If we look closely at this paragraph in The Silmarillion (Ch. 19):

Beyond lay the wilderness of Dungortheb, where the sorcery of Sauron and the power of Melian came together, and horror and madness walked.

Isn’t it fascinating? We know both Melian and Sauron are experts at singing and Music and out of discord of their Music (just like Eru and Melkor) it wrapped reality so much, almost no one can’t handle it and caused Horror and Madness walking there; Walking is an interesting choice there in my opinion, maybe it created something more and had other effects, more than wrapping reality.

At last if we proceed reading the last citation in the book, we find out beside that Horror and Madness caused by their dissonance of music, the spiders of the fell race of Ungoliant lived there. Why they chose that place? Maybe it was similar to their nature and origin? Maybe they felt home because of it? And maybe they are those progenitures that Tolkien wrote about? And we know who was their mother and she might not be of void, she was created Out of the discords of the Music.

Tolkien tales are full of wonders and the level of attention and small bits of information is what made the joy of reading, immersing and searching in this world, tenfold. A world which has something for almost everyone.

Legendarium Pocket Cosmology

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Two

Tolkien Annotated Map Crop

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

این مقاله به فارسی نیز وجود دارد. در اینجا آن را مطالعه نمایید.

-Written by Mohammad Reza Kamali
-Edited by Allacin Morimizu

When this article began its journey, we saw that some parts of Middle-earth have strange similarities to our own good, green earth.

It became weirder when despite what we always thought about Tolkien’s own words about Middle-earth inspirations, they were not all in Europe, but in unexpected places. The first article included maps from the heart of Asia: of the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and places in India and Pakistan.

Naturally, questions will come after such a claim. Questions about the accuracy of this claim and evidences supporting it, also more important questions of this kind: Why would Tolkien do this? Why use real maps in his fantasy world? Those are right and fair questions that I think are better answered gradually while studying maps to understand the subject better and avoid misunderstanding.

 

The Creative Professor

There is an urgent question to answer: if Professor Tolkien borrowed parts of his world from our real world, does that mean he could not create a fantasy world on his own? Wouldn’t that be essentially accusing him of a lack of creativity? The short answer is no, but let me explain. Writing a fantasy book like The Lord of the Rings is not as easy as writing a poem, an essay, or a novel. A non-fantasy story usually has characters and locations that are not hard for a reader to imagine, such as a white, two-story house with a gable roof. Add a tall man in a raincoat standing behind the door and instantly the images form in one’s mind.

But when you write: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” you have to explain what a hobbit is, the shape of the hole, and how is it possible to live in a hole. It isn’t a big deal if this hobbit just stays in his hole, but if he goes on dangerous quests in an unknown world full of different races and creatures, that is a different matter. When you add in wars, conquests, land changings, and terrible natural disasters, now your story needs locations, buildings, languages, vehicles, dresses, weapons and tools, flora and fauna—perhaps including several tobacco brands. That means you have to invent many of these things. In this case, the story you are struggling with is not just a literary work; it is a literary project requiring strong storytelling and character development, along with a detailed knowledge of History, Geography, Mythology, Architecture, Philology, and even sciences like Geology, Botany, and Zoology. This does not mean the writer needs to have an academic education in all those disciplines, but at least has to have a working knowledge of them to make a believe-able world. Creating a realistic and desirable fantasy world is not an easy work at all, and Professor Tolkien certainly had a difficult job making his imaginary yet serious story’s strange creatures and spaces come alive.

Now I’m claiming that Tolkien borrowed some parts of his maps and backgrounds from our real world, not from his own imagination. Why would he do that—to escape some of the creative troubles I just described? No, far from it, in fact.

Basing a fantasy world upon the writer’s imagination is so much easier than making it with help of real world maps. If you are planning to use imaginary maps and locations in a fantasy world, we saw that you have a difficult job to do. But if you intend to place some parts of our real world into your fantasy world, it will be even harder for the simple reason that you’re losing control over your maps and stories. In the first case you can easily place your mountains, rivers, or cities wherever your story needs them as long as they don’t violate the internal logic of your story. You don’t need to worry about matching it with earthly geographical, geological, or hydrological facts. You can design your map upon your story’s events and add your imaginary world’s map to your book. But if you’re planning to place real maps and locations into your fantasy—the way I think Tolkien did with his—you give yourself a much greater challenge.

Unlike the first case, you need to adjust your story with maps, not just maps with story. It doesn’t mean that maps will change your entire story, but the geographical facts will force you to consider them. At least you have to take them as seriously as you do your story, and that is not easy at all. Mountains, rivers, or lakes may well end up changing the path of your heroes or even change war plans.

If I am right, Tolkien made big trouble for himself by choosing this method. He lost control of some parts of his story to the natural phenomena of lands in Asia and had to make changes in his story to fit with the situation of the region. Maybe Tolkien didn’t just pick a pen, and draw a big U shape on the paper to create Mordor, but he did a more difficult job: he “found” his Mordor. And in a time when there was no internet, no Google, and no Google maps, that was an admirable undertaking!

When I found a U-shaped mountain, exactly at the east- west and not at north- south direction, with a circle-shaped mountain exactly at the north-west corner as in Professor Tolkien’s maps, I wondered if I stumbled upon something the Professor pondered over while gazing at Far East maps. Then I noticed a river on the west side of those mountains, flowing exactly the same direction where the great Anduin River goes. And just like the Anduin, it reaches a gulf in the shape of a semi-circle, and there is an island the same shape and size as Tolfalas on Middle-earth maps. That precise mix of geographical phenomena from our world makes it clear that this is not an accident. Now we have to ask why Tolkien put those similarities to our world in his Middle-earth maps. It makes the most sense to conclude that the good professor wanted those details and similarities to be seen. Perhaps this is one underlying reason we Tolkien geeks love his maps as much as we love his stories.

By the way, finding a circle-shaped mountain is not a usual find: you cannot find any other in our world!

Let’s now go back to the “Great River” to see something interesting.

 

Mouths of Anduin

نقشه سرزمین میانه

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

This wonderful shape is where the mighty Anduin River reaches the sea.

نقشه سرزمین میانه

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

What Tolkien called the Ethir Anduin literally means “Mouths of Anduin.” As you can see by looking at the Middle-earth maps ahead, the Anduin is different from the other rivers as they reach the sea: none of those rivers have such a shape when they reach the sea. The later Middle-earth maps redrawn by Christopher Tolkien show that the Anduin divides into several branches before reaching the sea. In the original Pauline Baynes illustration, there is no dividing and the Anduin, just like the other rivers reaches to the sea with a triangle mouth. Apparently, Baynes mistook Professor Tolkien’s lines and drew contour lines instead of a divided river. But these are not contour lines because if these lines were showing the form of the water, they would have to be drawn like this, like all the other rivers of Middle-earth when reach to the sea:

Or even like the mouth of the combined rivers Serni and Gilrain just beside it:

نقشه سرزمین میانه

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

When rivers reach the sea, contour lines go into the river’s mouth and are shaped like a triangle. If the Anduin were not divided, it should have this shape:

نقشه سرزمین میانه

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

However, the Ethir Anduin is not like this and the contour lines of the river suddenly cut when meeting the sea, and do not go into the mouth, which shows that these are not the river’s contour line and that Anduin is, in fact, divided here. Fortunately, Christopher Tolkien redrew the Middle-earth Third Age map for a 2005 reprinting of Unfinished Tales, and added and corrected some points in the General Map. One of the main corrections of these maps is the exact drawing of contour lines.

نقشه سرزمین میانه

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

Now that we have the corrected map to look at, let’s now wonder why Professor Tolkien deliberately drew the Anduin River divided like this in its unique way. Since we found a unique circle-shaped mountain in our world, let’s take a look at the mighty Indus River beside it.

نقشه

Map by Google Maps

Here is the big picture, but we need either eagle eyes or the zoom feature of Google Maps to make much of it.

نقشه

Map by Google Maps

This shows the Indus divided into branches in its mouth. Of course, when you zoom in enough to see the branches, the coasts of the near lands cannot fit into the picture. Why is the Indus suddenly divided in this place instead of going straight into the sea? Let’s zoom in more.

نقشه

Map by Google Maps

What we can see in this picture is the Indus not just divided into several branches, but into a multitude of branches! Let’s use Google Map’s archives to see pictures taken by local photographers of the area to find out what is really happening here.

As you can see, this place is a wide and low-sloped coastal land. In steep areas, rivers run faster and more concentrated with lesser width, but when a river reaches wider and lower areas like here, it slows and spreads in a wide form. In sub-humid areas like here, where lands are made of muds gathered from a river’s alluvium, the river will naturally divide into branches and continue its way with the same shape until reaches steep or stony lands. The reason the Indus River mouth is full of mud is that its main headwaters come from the Himalaya Mountains carrying great quantities of alluvium. In the pictures above and in satellite pictures, it is easy to see that the river’s color is mostly brown, which shows the amount of alluvium in it. Therefore, in the lands near the river mouth, with lower slope and lower speed of water, all that alluvium settles down and gradually forms a huge muddy land. The combination of all those factors–the low slope and wide muddy lands–make the Indus divide into several branches.

Of course Tolkien didn’t access satellite pictures and Google Maps. What of this phenomena is shown in the maps of his time? This is a picture of the same area at the beginning of the 20th century:

1909 map of the British Indian Empire, showing British India in two shades of pink and the princely states in yellow

Oxford University Press, 1909. Public Domain

Here is a particularly beautiful map of from the 19th century that is similar to Professor Tolkien’s map:

Map

George Ramsay & Co, Edinburgh, 1814

The Indus River’s divided shape is clearly seen in these maps. Now our map becomes more complete, and like the picture below, it resembles the Middle-earth Third Age map:

These maps are so similar, I think it is impossible that these similarities are mere accidents. I think it is obvious that Professor Tolkien put this branched shape of the Indus River mouth into his maps on purpose. The reason he drew the Anduin River like he did is that the Indus River has the same shape there. Otherwise, for what specific reason did he insist on drawing the Anduin’s mouth like this? How did it advance his story? Doesn’t it make more sense to view it as a hint for us to see the amazing similarities between the maps and help us be sure we found the right place? Maybe Mordor has a U shape to keep enemies from entering, but what about all the other details surrounding it? What is the use of all of these rivers and islands and all of these formal similarities? Doesn’t it apparently mean that Professor Tolkien’s surprises didn’t end with his unique and amazing stories, and doesn’t it look like he invited us to a riddle game?

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part One

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Two

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Three

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles – Part Four

The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles

tolkien middle earth annotated map

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

این مقاله به فارسی نیز وجود دارد. در اینجا آن را مطالعه نمایید.

Written by Mohammad Reza Kamali-

Edited by Allacin Morimizu-

In 2015 the world was thrilled to learn that a map of Middle-earth with notes by Professor J. R. R. Tolkien for illustrator Pauline Baynes was discovered in a copy of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote comments using green ink to guide Baynes, who back in 1969 was working on a color map of Middle-earth. Tolkien included information about places that inspired him for Hobbiton, Minas Tirith, and other places. This find was intensely interesting to me since I have spent several years researching real places and lands that inspired the professor to create his beloved world. But nothing unexpected in his comments on the newly found map appear –at first glance– since they confirm previous information we have in one of his own letters:

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 (Letters, no. 294 from March 1968).

This is Tolkien’s most famous quote about Middle-earth as it relates to our earth. Happily for me at this point, a friend suggested I take a closer look at Tolkien’s notes. I did and realized this time that Tolkien introduced Ravenna, another Italian city, as Minas Tirith–not Florence. Let’s read what he wrote in the annotated map:

Hobbiton is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford. The green vertical line is marked at distances of 100 miles (2cms to map scale). So you can roughly judge the climate and Fauna/Flora etc. Minas Tirith is about a latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton, more near Belgrade). Bottom of the map (1400 miles) is about a lattitude of Jerusalem. Umbar & City of Corsairs –about that of Cypres. green horizontal is also marked in 100 mile intervals.

Tolkien’s famous quote was from a letter we know was written in March 1968, but the newly found notes were written in 1969. So what happened here? Did Tolkien forget about Florence and write Ravenna instead? Since he was inspired to write of a city as great as Minas Tirith, how is it possible that he writes two different names at different times about his inspiration? It becomes more interesting when he talks about Belgrade. So which one is Minas Tirith: Florence, Ravenna, or Belgrade? Did Professor Tolkien really say anywhere in his letters or comments that Florence was his “inspiration” for Minas Tirith? Let’s go back to the quote.

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.

Does that mean inspiration to you? The answer was always here:

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.

I think Professor Tolkien is talking about distances, not inspirations! If you compare the map of northwest Middle-earth with a map of Europe, you will find that they are really equal in latitude, exactly as Tolkien said. He clearly means Minas Tirith is the same distance from Hobbiton as Oxford is from Florence! To test the idea we need to overlay maps of Middle-earth and Europe. We add the situation of Hobbiton and Minas Tirith to a European map considering Oxford as Hobbiton to get a mixed Middle-earth and European map:

Map by Google Maps

Both vertical distances of Florence and Minas Tirith to Oxford are about 600 miles, as Tolkien said and as you can see in the map. So what about Ravenna? Why did he change the target city? Look at the map. Ravenna is about the same vertical distance from Oxford that Florence is, but is a better choice because it is closer to the Minas Tirith location. This clearly shows that when Tolkien wrote down Ravenna instead of Florence, he didn’t forget what he said about Florence one year before. He wanted to correct what he said previously and guide Pauline Baynes to draw her map more accurately. What about Belgrade?

Minas Tirith is about a latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton, more near Belgrade).

When pointing to Belgrade, Tolkien explains that the horizontal distance between Hobbiton and Minas Tirith is more than horizontal distance between Oxford and Ravenna:

Map by Google Maps

The horizontal distance from Hobbiton to Minas Tirith is about 750 miles according to Tolkien’s map and I drew it with the same distance as shown in the Middle-earth map, but Tolkien says in the comment that it is 900 miles. This helps us realize that maybe the map was not accurate enough, and Tolkien wanted to help Baynes to figure out the real location of Minas Tirith by pointing to Ravenna and Belgrade:

Oxford to Florence is about 500 miles.
Oxford to Ravenna, which is a better choice, is 550 miles.
Both have about the same vertical distance of 600 miles, but are not close to the horizontal distance of 900 miles, so Tolkien points to Belgrade, with a horizontal distance of about 900 miles. You can see in the map below that Minas Tirith, 900 miles distant from Hobbiton, is close to Belgrade. (I show two Minas Tiriths with 750 and 900 miles distant according to map and comment.)

Map by Google Maps

Notice Tolkien actually says, ”More near Belgrade”–not Belgrade itself. That “more near“ explains everything: he meant distances, not inspirations! Professor Tolkien was helping us understand the approximate size of Middle-earth by guiding Pauline Baynes to draw his map more accurately.

And let’s be honest: Florence and Ravenna and Belgrade are amazing places, but they don’t look like the Minas Tirith that we know! The only thing in common between those three beautiful cities in this analysis is that they have almost the same vertical distance to Oxford.

So if Europe itself was not Tolkien’s inspiration for Middle-earth and we read his quotes wrongly, what was? During my research on Middle-earth with the help of maps, I found that maybe there are real lands could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe. The discovery of this annotated map was like a miracle to me because when I myself discovered real maps with unbelievable similarities to Middle-earth and tried to share that information, most of the times I was answered: “Very clever, but that must be an accident, since Tolkien himself wrote that Europe was his inspiration, not the lands that you think.” Now we know otherwise!

It all started almost by accident when I saw this picture:

Map by Google Maps

Around 2012 I was staring at the picture above of some mountains in Google Maps, and kept thinking that it really looks familiar, like a map I’d seen before—this map:

Middle-Earth - Mordor

The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission©

This, of course, is Mordor, the land of Sauron and dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring. The first picture is a ring of mountains in the heart of Asia: the Himalayas, Pamirs, and Tian-shan mountains. Notice the similarities.

mordor annotated on mimalaya

Map by Google Maps

The Encircled Mountains
At first I thought this was an accident, but then I noticed Professor Tolkien named Mordor’s mountains in the same way the ancient Asians named their mountains. In our world, both the west and south mountains have one name: Himalayas. In Mordor, the west and south mountains have one name: Ephel Duath. Look at Mordor again. We might expect Tolkien to choose one name for the south range and one for the west, but he didn’t. Let’s now look north. In the northwest corner the circle-shaped Pamirs are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor. Udûn is where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor through the Black Gate, so that circle-shaped mountain was useful for making Mordor harder to get into. But why it must be located exactly at northwest corner? Here’s a bigger question: Why did Tolkien give Mordor a U shape? Why not a circle? A circle would be so much safer than a U!

Studying these pictures and thinking about these questions as a civil engineer who always works with maps, I began to realize that my favorite writer may have been inspired by Asia as he fashioned his Middle-earth. Then I started wondering if Middle-earth is rooted in our earth. To help find our answer, let’s look at something as big and as important as Mordor: Anduin, the most famous river of Middle-earth.

The Great River
Anduin, the great river, is the location of some of the saddest and most glorious stories of Middle-earth:

  • Isildur jumps into the Anduin, hoping to flee an ambush, but is killed by Orc arrows.
  • The One Ring is then lost in its waters and Sméagol later comes to possess it after killing Déagol.
  • The Fellowship continues their journey on the Great River after leaving Lothlórien. Boromir is killed in this part of the journey.
  • And at last, the Lord Aragorn and his mighty company ride the Black Ships up the Anduin, rescuing besieged Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
anduin pointd on middle-earth map

© The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission.

Anduin River is much longer than what we see here, for the map above is only the southern part between Gondor and Mordor. Look at the river’s shape: it moves north to south near Mordor but changes its way to southwest before it reaches the sea. Let’s now look at the west side of the Himalayas to see if a river is there:

indus river on google maps

Map by Google Maps

Notice the green S shape to the west? Well, that’s a river!

The green parts are farms and fertile lands around it. And this is no ordinary river since it is as important and famous as the Anduin: the Indus River, from which the country of India took its name. Indus is one of the world’s longest rivers. Notice its shape apart from its green lands:

indus river on google maps annotated

Map by Google Maps

Look again at the direction of the Anduin and Indus Rivers. Both are on the same side of the same shape mountains, and move southwest before they reach the sea.

The River Island

What about Cair Andros Island? Never heard of it? It’s not as famous as the Anduin because in the story nothing much happens there. But it’s on Tolkien’s map a few miles above Osgiliath, where the river has a vertical shape:

cair andros middle earth

© The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission.

Is there any island in the same part of the Indus River? Well, this time if you look at Google Maps you can’t find any island there. I mean you can’t see it now because once there was a big island there! And how is it possible for a big island to disappear? It didn’t: the island is part of a huge dam now! See Wikipedia:

Tarbela Dam on the Indus River in Pakistan is the largest earth-filled dam in the world and second largest by structural volume. It is located in Haripur District…. The project is located at a narrow spot in the Indus River valley, at Tarbelain Haripur, shortly located at the point from where the District Swabi then starts. Here the river formerly split around a large island close to the left bank. The main dam wall, built of earth and rock fill, stretches 2,743 meters (8,999 feet) from the island to river right, standing 148 metres (486 feet) high. A pair of concrete auxiliary dams spans the river from the island to river left.

Here’s the location of Tarbela Dam:

tarbela dam on google maps

Map by Google Maps

We have to zoom in and with our information about the dam, we can distinguish the island. This is our lost island in Google Maps.

tarbela dam on google maps

Map by Google Maps

Here is another view of the island.

tarbela dam

Photo: WAPDA, Pakistan Water & Power Development Authority.

Because of the dam, the shape of the island is now changed. Surely some part of it is under water, and some parts maybe changed because of the construction. Before the dam was built, there was no lake there. The river had the same width as it has in upper places and the island looked bigger; it probably had the same shape that Tolkien drew in his map. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the island’s name, if it had one, or any maps that show it, but I did learn this dam was built during 1968-1976. When Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings and drew the maps from 1937-1949, there was still a big island there!

The Intermittent Island

We found one lost island, so let’s see if we can find another one where nothing much happened: Tolfalas Island, located where the Anduin reaches the sea.

tolfalas

© The Tolkien Estate Limited – used with kind permission.

Let’s now look at Google Maps.

Map by Google Maps

No island visible from this perspective so we will zoom in to be sure.

Map by Google Maps

We need to know more about this place. This area is Kutch, a district of Gujarat province, India. This area in fact is an island! Wikipedia again informs us:

Kutch is a district of Gujarat state in western India…. Kutch literally means“something which intermittently becomes wet and dry”; a large part of this district is known as Rann of Kutch, which is shallow wetland submerged in water during the rainy season and becomes dry during other seasons…. Kutch district is surrounded by the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea in the south and west, while the northern and eastern parts are surrounded by the Great and Little Rann (seasonal wetlands) of Kutch.

That means Kutch is actually an island in rainy seasons! Here is another picture from Google Maps during such a time:

Map by Google Maps

One question, however: would Tolkien know about this in the 1940s? He never travelled to India and obviously didn’t have Google Maps. We need to remember that he was British, and in those times the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were known as the British Indian Empire. This is a standard map from 1909 that Professor Tolkien would have had access to:

Map by Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When we zoom into Kutch on this map, we see it is drawn as an island!

British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India

Map by Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So what do all these geographical facts mean? As I said, this article is part of more extensive research I did about Middle-earth maps. It shows that most of the lands we see in Middle-earth maps actually were taken from our world. Furthermore, I found that this is true not just about mountains, rivers, and islands but also many of the cities, buildings, stories, and even characters of Tolkien’s beloved books. And one other thing, I’m not sure we should call them Tolkien’s inspirations. I think Professor Tolkien preferred to think of them as riddles. That’s why you can’t see them easily because they have been hidden by a clever professor who enjoys riddles!

Part 2: The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles

Part 3: The Tale of the annotated map and Tolkien’s hidden riddles