|Created by J. R. R. Tolkien|
Type Fantasy world
Creator J. R. R. Tolkien
|Other name(s) Endórë, Ennor, the Hither Lands|
Notable locations - [large regions] - Eriador Gondor Harad Mordor Rhûn Rohan Wilderland - [notable First Age places] - Almaren, Beleriand, Cuiviénen, Gondolin, Thangorodrim, the Two Lamps - [other notable places] - Arnor, Barad-dûr (the Dark Tower), Erebor (the Lonely Mountain), Fangorn, Isengard, Khazad-dûm (Moria), Lindon & the Grey Havens, Lothlórien, Minas Tirith, Mirkwood, the Misty Mountains, Mount Doom, Rivendell, the Shire
Notable characters Eru Ilúvatar Valar Maiar Wizards (Istari) Elves Men Dwarves Hobbits Ents Eagles Dragons Orcs Trolls
Middle earth meaning
Middle-earth is the setting of much of J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. The term is equivalent to the term Midgard of Norse mythology, describing the human-inhabited world, i.e. the central continent of the Earth in Tolkien's imagined mythological past. Tolkien's most widely read works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, take place entirely in Middle-earth, and Middle-earth has also become a short-hand to refer to the legendarium or its "fictional universe".
- Middle earth meaning
- Tolkiens legendarium
- Use by Tolkien
- Extended usage
- The First Age
- The Second and Third Ages
- Maps of Middle earth
- Correspondence with the geography of Earth
- The Beginning of Days
- The Second Age
- The Third Age
- The Fourth Age
- Other races
- Middle earth works by Tolkien
- Middle earth in other works
Within his stories, Tolkien translated the name "Middle-earth" as Endor (or sometimes Endórë) and Ennor in the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin respectively, sometimes referring only to the continent that the stories take place on, with another southern continent called the Dark Land.
Middle-earth is the north continent of Earth (Arda) in an imaginary period of the Earth's past (Tolkien placed the end of the Third Age at about 6,000 years before his own time), in the sense of a "secondary or sub-creational reality". Its general position is reminiscent of Europe, with the environs of the Shire intended to be reminiscent of England (more specifically, the West Midlands, with Hobbiton set at the same latitude as Oxford).
Tolkien's stories chronicle the struggle to control the world (called Arda) and the continent of Middle-earth: on one side, the angelic Valar, the Elves and their allies among Men; on the other, the demonic Melkor or Morgoth (a Vala fallen into evil) and his minions, mostly Orcs, Dragons and enslaved Men. In later ages, after Morgoth's defeat and expulsion from Arda, his place was taken by his lieutenant Sauron.
The Valar withdrew from direct involvement in the affairs of Middle-earth after the defeat of Morgoth, but in later years they sent the wizards or Istari to help in the struggle against Sauron. The most important wizards were Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. Gandalf remained true to his mission and proved crucial in the fight against Sauron. Saruman, however, became corrupted and sought to establish himself as a rival to Sauron for absolute power in Middle-earth. Other races involved in the struggle against evil were Dwarves, Ents and most famously Hobbits. The early stages of the conflict are chronicled in The Silmarillion, while the final stages of the struggle to defeat Sauron are told in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings.
Conflict over the possession and control of precious or magical objects is a recurring theme in the stories. The First Age is dominated by the doomed quest of the elf Fëanor and most of his Noldorin clan to recover three precious jewels called the Silmarils that Morgoth stole from them (hence the title The Silmarillion). The Second and Third Age are dominated by the forging of the Rings of Power, and the fate of the One Ring forged by Sauron, which gives its wearer the power to control or influence those wearing the other Rings of Power (hence the title The Lord of the Rings).
In ancient Germanic mythology, the world of Men is known by several names, such as Midgard, Middenheim, Manaheim, and Middengeard. The Old English word middangeard descends from an earlier Germanic word and so has cognates in languages related to Old English such as the Old Norse word Miðgarðr from Norse mythology, transliterated to modern English as Midgard.
The term "Middle-earth"; also commonly referred to as "middle-world," was therefore not invented by Tolkien. It is found throughout the Modern English period as a development of the Middle English word middel-erde (cf. modern German Mittelerde), which developed in turn, through a process of folk etymology, from middanġeard (the g being soft, i.e. pronounced like y in its modern descendant "yard"). By the time of the Middle English period, middangeard was being written as middellærd, midden-erde, or middel-erde, indicating that the second element had been reinterpreted, based on its similarity to the word for "earth". The shift in meaning was not great, however: middangeard properly meant "middle enclosure" instead of "middle-earth"; Nevertheless, middangeard has been commonly translated as "middle-earth" and Tolkien followed this course.
Use by Tolkien
Tolkien first encountered the term middangeard in an Old English fragment he studied in 1914:
Éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men.
This quote is from the second of the fragmentary remnants of the Crist poems by Cynewulf. The name Éarendel was the inspiration for Tolkien's mariner Eärendil, who set sail from the lands of Middle-earth to ask for aid from the angelic powers, the Valar. Tolkien's earliest poem about Eärendil, from 1914, the same year he read the Crist poems, refers to "the mid-world's rim".
The concept of middangeard was considered by Tolkien to be the same as a particular usage of the Greek word οἰκουμένη - oikoumenē (from which the word ecumenical is derived). In this usage Tolkien says that the oikoumenē is "the abiding place of men"; by this he means it is the physical world in which Man lives out his life and destiny, as opposed to the unseen worlds, like Heaven or Hell.
"Middle-earth is ... not my own invention. It is a modernization or alteration ... of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the oikoumene: middle because thought of vaguely as set amidst the encircling Seas and (in the northern-imagination) between ice of the North and the fire of the South. O. English middan-geard, mediaeval E. midden-erd, middle-erd. Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another planet!"
The term Middle-earth is not, however, used in Tolkien's earliest writings about his created world: writings that date from the early 1920s and which were later published in The Book of Lost Tales (1983-4); nor is the term used in The Hobbit (1937). Tolkien began to use the term "Middle-earth" in the latter part of the 1930s, in place of the earlier terms "Great Lands", "Outer Lands", and "Hither Lands" that he had used to describe this region in his stories. The term Middle-earth appears in the drafts of The Lord of the Rings, and the first published appearance of the word "Middle-earth" in Tolkien's works is in the Prologue to that work: "...Hobbits had, in fact, lived quietly in Middle-earth for many long years before other folk even became aware of them."
The term Middle-earth has also come to be applied as a short-hand for the entirety of Tolkien's legendarium, instead of the technically more appropriate, but lesser known terms Arda which refers to the physical world, and Eä, which refers to the physical reality of creation as a whole.
This wider use is presumably derived from book titles such as The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, The Road to Middle-earth, The Atlas of Middle-earth, and in particular the series The History of Middle-earth, all of which cover areas outside of the strict geographical definition of the term Middle-earth. Tolkien himself used the term loosely at times.
The term "Middle-earth" is sometimes mis-capitalised as "Middle-Earth" and the hyphen is sometimes incorrectly omitted as well, as in "Middle Earth", "Middle earth" and "Middleearth".
Within the overall context of his legendarium, Tolkien's Middle-earth was part of his created world of Arda (which includes the Undying Lands of Aman and Eressëa, removed from the rest of the physical world), which itself was part of the wider creation he called Eä.
Aman and Middle-earth are separated from each other by the Great Sea Belegaer (analogous to the Atlantic Ocean). The western continent, Aman, was the home of the Valar and the Elves called the Eldar. An uninhabited Eastern continent is also mentioned, but does not figure in the stories.
Tolkien prepared several maps of Middle-earth and of the regions of Middle-earth where his stories took place. Some were published in his lifetime, though some of the earliest maps were not published until after his death. The main maps were those published in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales.
Most of the events of the First Age took place in the subcontinent Beleriand, which was later engulfed by the ocean at the end of the First Age; the Blue Mountains at the right edge of the map of Beleriand are the same Blue Mountains that appear on the extreme left of the map of Middle-earth in the Second and Third Ages. Tolkien's map of Middle-earth, however, shows only a small part of the world; most of the lands of Rhûn and Harad are not shown on the map, and there are also other continents.
In Tolkien's conception, Arda (Earth), was created specifically as "the Habitation" (Imbar or Ambar) for the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). It is envisaged in a flat Earth cosmology, with the sun, moon and stars revolving around it. Tolkien's sketches show a disc-like face for the world which looked up to the stars. However, Tolkien's legendarium addresses the spherical Earth paradigm by depicting a catastrophic transition from a flat to a spherical world, in which Aman was removed "from the circles of the world".
Middle-earth or Endor originally conformed to a largely symmetrical scheme that was marred by Melkor. The various conflicts with Melkor (as well as by the action of the Valar on one occasion) resulted in the shapes of the lands being distorted.
Originally, Arda began as a single flat world and the Valar created two lamps to illuminate it, Illuin and Ormal. The Vala Aulë forged great towers, Helcar in the furthest north, and Ringil in the deepest south. Illuin was set upon Helcar and Ormal upon Ringil. In the middle, where the light of the lamps mingled, the Valar dwelt at the island of Almaren in the midst of a Great Lake. When Melkor destroyed the Lamps of the Valar, two vast inland seas (Helcar and Ringil) and two major seas (Belegaer and the Eastern Sea) were created, but Almaren and its lake were destroyed.
The Valar left Middle-earth and went to the newly formed continent of Aman in the west, where they created their home called Valinor. To discourage Melkor from assailing Aman, they thrust the continent of Middle-earth to the east, thus widening Belegaer at its middle and raising five major mountain ranges in Middle-earth which adopted a relatively symmetrical distribution, namely the Blue, Red, Grey, Yellow Mountains and the Mountains of the Wind. This act, however, ruined the symmetry of the shape of the continents and their intervening seas.
Many centuries after Valinor was established, Melkor raised the Misty Mountains to impede the progress of the Vala Oromë as he hunted Melkor's beasts during the period of darkness in Middle-earth prior to the awakening of the Elves.
Additional changes occurred when the Valar assaulted Utumno, some years after the Awakening of the Elves. The North-west of Middle-earth, notably the regions west of the Blue Mountains (named Beleriand) wherein Melkor met the Valar host, was "much broken". Belegaer, the sea between Middle-earth and Aman widened further, creating among other bays one which was the Bay of Balar, the confluence of Sirion. The highland of Dorthonion and the mountains about Hithlum were also a result of the battles.
In the central region of Middle-earth, a Great Gulf (of Belegaer) was formed (the precursor to the later Bay of Belfalas). To the far south, the Inland Sea of Ringil expanded greatly and separated the southernmost part of the continent from the mainland, in effect forming the Dark Land (Hyarmenor) and the Inner Sea, linking by straits the previously separated Belegaer and Eastern Sea.
The First Age
As told in The Silmarillion, most of the events of the First Age took place in the land of Beleriand and its environs. Tolkien placed within the bounds of Beleriand the hidden Elven kingdoms of Doriath, ruled by King Thingol, and Gondolin, founded by Turgon. Also important was the fortress of Nargothrond, founded by the elf Finrod Felagund. In the Blue Mountains to the east were the great dwarf halls of Belegost and Nogrod. Beleriand was split into eastern and western sections by the great river Sirion. In East Beleriand was the river Gelion with its seven tributaries, which defined the Green-elf kingdom of Ossiriand. To the north of Beleriand lay the regions of Nevrast, Hithlum and Dor-lómin, and the Iron Mountains where Morgoth (Melkor) had his fortress of Angband. The violent struggles during the War of Wrath between the Host of the Valar and the armies of Melkor at the end of the First Age brought about the destruction of Angband, and changed the shape of Middle-earth so that most of Beleriand vanished under the sea.
The Pelóri were also raised in the early First Age, along with the Enchanted Isles, to make Valinor essentially impassable save by the fortified Calacirya.
The Second and Third Ages
In the Second and Third Ages, during which Tolkien set the events of the Akallabêth, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, the Western regions of Middle-earth contained the lands of Eriador, Gondor, the Misty Mountains, and the vales of the great river Anduin. Eriador was bordered by the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains to the west, which bordered the sea and the Grey Havens, also called Mithlond. To the east of Eriador lay the Misty Mountains, which ran from the far north to Isengard, home of the wizard Saruman, in the south. The Misty Mountains contained the great dwarvish hall of Khazad-dûm or Moria. Within Eriador lay originally the kingdom of Arnor, founded by men who had fled the destruction of Númenor. It later split into the kingdoms of Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur. These kingdoms too had long since passed into history by the time of The Lord of the Rings. Eriador also contained The Shire, homeland of the Hobbits, and the nearby settlement of Bree. Rivendell or Imladris, the home of the Half-elven Elrond also lay in Eriador, close to the western side of the Misty Mountains.
East of the Mountains lay the land called Rhovanion and the great river Anduin. On its western side, between Anduin and the Misty Mountains, lay the Elvish kingdom of Lothlórien, home of the elf Galadriel, and the forest of Fangorn, home of the Ents. To the east of the Anduin lay the great forest of Mirkwood, (formerly Greenwood), and further east again were the Lonely Mountain or Erebor (seized from the dwarves by the dragon Smaug), the town of Dale, Dorwinion, and the Iron Hills. South and East of the Misty Mountains was the kingdom of Rohan, inhabited by the allies of Gondor, and further south the kingdom of Gondor, founded like Arnor by men who escaped the destruction of the island of Númenor. East of Gondor, and surrounded by high mountains was Mordor, home of Sauron in his fortress of Barad-dûr.
South of Gondor lay the lands of Harad and Khand, and the port of Umbar. In the far East beyond Rhovanion was the Sea of Rhûn, on the eastern side of which dwelt the Easterling peoples. The inhabitants of all these lands were traditionally hostile to Gondor, and allied with Sauron at the time of The Lord of the Rings.
Maps of Middle-earth
Tolkien never finalized the geography for the world associated with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In The Shaping of Middle-earth, volume IV of The History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien published several remarkable maps, of both the original flat earth and round world, which his father had created in the latter part of the 1930s. Karen Wynn Fonstad drew from these maps to develop detailed, but non-canonical, "whole world maps" reflecting a world consistent with the historical ages depicted in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.
Maps prepared by Christopher Tolkien and J.R.R. Tolkien for the world encompassing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were published as foldouts or illustrations in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales, as well as in poster format as "A Map of Middle-Earth." (The maps of 'Middle-earth' only show the north-west of the continent, as indicated on the revised map published in Unfinished Tales.) Early conceptions of the maps provided in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings were included in several volumes, including "The First Silmarillion Map" in The Shaping of Middle-earth, "The First Map of the Lord of the Rings" in The Treason of Isengard, "The Second Map (West)" and "The Second Map (East)" in The War of the Ring, and "The Second Map of Middle-earth west of the Blue Mountains" (also known as "The Second Silmarillion Map") in The War of the Jewels.
The Tolkien Estate maintains the position that the geographical layout of Middle-earth or any other places in the imaginary universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien was the intellectual property of J.R.R. Tolkien and subsequently is that of his heirs. The Tolkien Estate has therefore restricted the publishing of maps to those authorized by the Estate and legally pursues anyone who publishes any maps, including self-made works, on the Internet.
Correspondence with the geography of Earth
Tolkien described the region in which the Hobbits lived as "the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea", which indicates a connection to England and the north-western region of Europe (the Old World). However, as he noted in private letters, the geographies do not match, and he did not consciously make them match when he was writing (with the exception of a newly discovered annotated map, see below):
"As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleontologically."
"I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. The name is the modern form (appearing in the 13th century) of midden-erd>middel-erd, an ancient name for the oikoumene, the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven or Hell). The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by enchantment of distance in time.(Letters, no. 183)
"...if it were 'history', it would be difficult to fit the lands and events (or 'cultures') into such evidence as we possess, archaeological or geological, concerning the nearer or remoter part of what is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance, is expressly stated to have been in this region...I hope the, evidently long but undefined gap* in time between the Fall of Barad-dûr and our Days is sufficient for 'literary credibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known as 'pre-history'. I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place. I prefer that to the contemporary mode of seeking remote globes in 'space'. However curious, they are alien, and not loveable with the love of blood-kin...(Letters, no. 211)
In another letter, Tolkien made correspondences in latitude (not equations) between Europe and Middle-earth:
"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."
He did confirm, however, that the Shire, the land of his Hobbit heroes, was based on England:
"'The Shire' is based on rural England and not any other country in the world..."
In the Prologue to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes: "Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed..."
The Appendices make several references in both history and etymology of topics 'now' (in modern English languages) and 'then' (ancient languages);
The year no doubt was of the same length,¹ [the footnote here reads: 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds.] for long ago as those times are now reckoned in years and lives of men, they were not very remote according to the memory of the Earth.
Nodded to both in Appendices and Silmarillion (with supporting information within the HoME series) there are constellations and stars that correspond to the astronomy seen in the northern hemisphere of Earth, including references to the Sun, the Moon, Orion (and his belt), Ursa Major and other planets (described as "stars"; thus Carnil is "Mars").
A map annotated by Tolkien, discovered in October 2015 in Pauline Baynes' collection, places Hobbiton on the same latitude as Oxford, but also corresponds Minas Tirith with Ravenna, Italy. The author also used Belgrade, Cyprus, and Jerusalem as other reference points. (This map is the source of locations on Baynes' poster map that aren't included on the maps printed in the books, such as Framsburg and Dorwinnion.)
In The Silmarillion the history of Arda is divided into four great time periods, known as the Ainulindalë, the Years of the Lamps, the Years of the Trees (the Valian years) and the Years of the Sun. In Middle-earth recorded history did not begin until the First Age and the Awakening of the Elves during the Years of the Trees - the time prior to that is simply known as the Beginning of Days. During the First Age the awakening of Men coincided with the first rising of the Sun and the beginning of The Years of the Sun, which have lasted from the First Age, through the Second, Third and Fourth Ages to the present day.
In Tolkien's universe, God is called Eru Ilúvatar. Tolkien created a cosmogony in which the genesis of the world was musical: in the beginning, Ilúvatar created spirits named the Ainur and taught them to make music. After the Ainur had become proficient in their skills, Ilúvatar commanded them to make a great music based on a theme of his own design. The most powerful Ainu, Melkor (later called Morgoth or "Dark Enemy" by the Elves), disrupted the theme. In response, Ilúvatar introduced new themes that enhanced the music beyond the comprehension of the Ainur. The foundation of Tolkien's creation is that the movements of their song, and the conflict in themes between Melkor and Ilúvatar, laid the seeds of much of the history of the as-yet-unmade universe and the people who were to dwell therein.
Then Ilúvatar stopped the music and revealed its meaning to the Ainur through a vision. Moved, many of the Ainur felt a compelling urge to experience its events directly. Ilúvatar therefore created Eä, the universe itself, and some of the Ainur went into the universe to share in its experience. But upon arriving in Eä, the Ainur found that it was shapeless because they had entered at the beginning of time. The Ainur undertook great labours in these unnamed "ages of the stars", in which they shaped the universe and filled it with many things far beyond the reach of Men.
The Beginning of Days
In time, however, the Ainur formed Arda, the future abiding place of the Children of Ilúvatar: Elves and Men. Melkor and his followers entered Eä as well, and they set about ruining and undoing whatever the others did. The fifteen most powerful Ainur are called the Valar; Melkor was the most powerful, but Manwë was the leader. Each of the Valar was attracted to a particular aspect of the world that became the focus of their powers. Melkor was drawn to terrible extremes and violence — bitter cold, scorching heat, earthquakes, rendings, breakings, utter darkness, burning light etc. His power was so great that at first the Valar were unable to restrain him, until the Vala Tulkas entered Eä and tipped the balance. Driven out by Tulkas, Melkor brooded in the darkness at the outer reaches of Arda. The Valar settled in Arda to watch over it and help prepare it for the awakening of the Children.
The Years of the Lamps began shortly after the Valar finished their labours in shaping Arda. Arda began as a single flat world and the Valar created two lamps to illuminate it, Illuin and Ormal. In the middle, where the light of the lamps mingled, the Valar dwelt at the island of Almaren. This period, known as the Spring of Arda, was a time when the Valar had ordered the World as they wished and rested upon Almaren, and Melkor lurked beyond the Walls of Night. During this time animals first appeared, and forests started to grow. The Spring was interrupted when Melkor returned to Arda, and ended completely when he destroyed the Lamps of the Valar. Melkor's destruction of the two Lamps marked the end of the Years of the Lamps.
The Years of the Trees began after Melkor's destruction of the two lamps, when the Valar retreated to the extreme western regions of Arda, where the Vala Yavanna made the Two Trees named Telperion and Laurelin to give light to their new homeland of Valinor in the land of Aman. The Trees illuminated Aman, leaving the rest of Arda (in what is now Middle-earth) in darkness, illuminated only by the stars.
The First Age
The First Age in Tolkien's history of Middle-earth began when the Elves awoke beside Lake Cuiviénen in the east of Endor (Middle-earth). The Elves were soon approached by the Valar, who requested that they come to Aman to live beside them. Many of the Elves were persuaded to undertake the Great Journey westwards towards Aman, but not all of them completed the journey (see Sundering of the Elves). The Valar had imprisoned Melkor, but he appeared to repent and was released on parole. He sowed great discord among the Elves and stirred up rivalry between the Elven princes Fëanor and Fingolfin. He then slew their father, King Finwë, destroyed the Two Trees themselves with the aid of Ungoliant the spider, and stole the Silmarils, three extraordinarily precious gems crafted by Fëanor that contained light of the Two Trees, from their maker's vault.
Fëanor persuaded most of his people, the Noldor, to leave Aman in pursuit of Melkor to Beleriand, cursing him with the name Morgoth, 'Black Enemy'. He and his sons swore an oath to recover the Silmarils at any cost. Fëanor led the first of two groups of the Noldor. The second and larger group was led by Fingolfin. The Noldor stopped at the Teleri port-city, Alqualondë, but the Teleri refused to give them ships to get to Middle-earth. The first Kinslaying ensued when Fëanor and many of his followers attacked the Teleri and stole their ships. Fëanor's host sailed on the stolen ships, leaving Fingolfin's behind. The second group had little choice but to cross over to Middle-earth through the deadly Helcaraxë (or 'Grinding Ice') in the far north. Subsequently, Fëanor was slain, but most of his sons survived and founded realms, as did Fingolfin and his heirs. Meanwhile, the Valar took the last two living fruit of the Two Trees and used them to create the Moon and Sun, which remained a part of Arda, but were separate from Ambar (the earthly world).
The Years of the Sun began when the Valar made the Sun, and it rose over Ambar, and thereafter time in the First Age was counted from the date of its rising. After several great battles, a Long Peace ensued for four hundred years, during which time the first Men, the Edain, entered Beleriand by crossing over the Blue Mountains. When Morgoth broke the siege of Angband, one by one, the Elven kingdoms fell, even the hidden city of Gondolin. The only measurable success achieved by Elves and Men came when Beren of the Edain and Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, retrieved a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. Afterward, Beren and Lúthien died, and were restored to life by the Valar with the understanding that Lúthien was to become mortal and Beren should never be seen by Men again.
Thingol quarrelled with the dwarves of Nogrod and they slew him, stealing the Silmaril. Beren waylaid the dwarves and recovered the Silmaril, which he gave to Lúthien. Soon afterwards, both Beren and Lúthien died again. The Silmaril was given to their son Dior Half-elven, who had restored the Kingdom of Doriath. The sons of Fëanor demanded that Dior surrender the Silmaril to them, and he refused. The Fëanorians destroyed Doriath and killed Dior in the second Kinslaying, but Dior's young daughter Elwing escaped with the jewel. Three sons of Fëanor—Celegorm, Curufin, and Caranthir—died trying to retake the jewel.
By the end of the age, all that remained of the free Elves and Men in Beleriand was a settlement at the mouth of the River Sirion. Among them was Eärendil, who married Elwing. But the Fëanorians again demanded the Silmaril be returned to them, and after their demand was rejected they resolved to take the jewel by force, leading to the third Kinslaying. Eärendil and Elwing took the Silmaril across the Great Sea, to beg the Valar for pardon and aid. The Valar responded. Melkor was captured, most of his works were destroyed, and he was banished beyond the confines of the world into the Door of Night.
The Silmarils were recovered at a terrible cost, as Beleriand itself was broken and began to sink under the sea. Fëanor's last remaining sons, Maedhros and Maglor, were ordered to return to Valinor. They proceeded to steal the Silmarils from the victorious Valar. But, as with Melkor, the Silmarils burned their hands and they then realized they were not meant to possess them, and that their oath was null. Each of the brothers met his fate: Maedhros threw himself with the Silmaril into a chasm of fire, and Maglor threw his Silmaril into the sea. Thus, one Silmaril ended in the sky, worn by Eärendil, a second in the earth, and the third in the sea.
The Second Age
At the beginning of the Second Age, the Edain were given the island of Númenor toward the west of the Great Sea as their home, while many Elves were welcomed into the West. The Númenóreans were blessed by the Valar with long life, three times that of lesser men. They became great seafarers, and, in their days of glory, came to Middle-earth to teach the lesser men great skills. However, the Númenóreans grew jealous of their immortal brethren, the Elves. At the height of their power, the Númenóreans ruled over the Men of Middle-earth, instead of helping them. After a few centuries, Sauron, Morgoth's most powerful servant and chief captain, began to organize evil creatures in the eastern lands. He persuaded Elven smiths in Eregion to create Rings of Power, and secretly forged the One Ring to control the other Rings. But the Elves became aware of Sauron's plan as soon as he put the One Ring on his hand, and they removed their own Rings before he could master their wills. During this time, the Shadow grew over Númenor, as kings no longer laid down their lives when they had lived to the fullest, but rather clung greedily to life. Númenor, ever thankful to the Valar and Eru in the past, now neglected to pay tribute, growing ever more restless about the Doom of Man, the curse of mortality. The people of Númenor became divided between the King's Men, those who would see the power and dominion of Númenor grow and their gratitude towards the Elves and Valar wane, and the Faithful, who still maintained their ties with the Elves, and still paid heed to the words of Eru Ilúvatar.
With his newfound might and growing dominion over Middle-earth, Sauron claimed that he was the King of Men. Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenor, thinking that none but he should have this title, sailed to Middle-earth with an army to challenge Sauron's claim. Sauron, seeing the might of Númenor at its noontide, knew that he could not stand against them. So he allowed himself to be captured and taken back to Númenor as a hostage. Soon, Sauron's deceit and fair-seeming words won him favour with the King. He lied to the King, and told him that Melkor, Lord of Darkness, was the true God and that Eru was but an invention of the Valar. Thus began the persecution of the Faithful, who were sacrificed in the name of Melkor. Finally, as Ar-Pharazôn grew old, Sauron, using the power of the One Ring, told the King that none, not even the Valar of Valinor, could challenge the might of Númenor, and that the King should assail Valinor, and by setting foot on the Undying Lands, achieve immortality. Ar-Pharazôn, fearing death, assembled a massive fleet and set sail for the Undying Lands. Amandil, chief of those still faithful to the Valar, remembering the embassy of Eärendil, set sail to seek mercy from the Valar. To disguise his intent, he sailed first to the east, and then sailed west, but was never heard from again. His son Elendil and grandsons Isildur and Anárion kept the Faithful out of the coming war and made preparations to flee by ship.
Before the end of the Second Age, when the Men of Númenor rebelled against the Valar due to the deceits of Sauron, Ilúvatar destroyed Númenor, separated Valinor from the rest of Arda, and formed new lands, making the world round. When the King's forces landed on Aman, the Valar called for Ilúvatar to intervene. The world was changed, so that Aman was removed from Imbar. From that time onward, Men could no longer find Aman, but Elves seeking passage in specially hallowed ships received the grace of using the Straight Road, which led from Middle-earth's seas to the seas of Aman. The mighty fleet of Ar-Pharazôn and the land of Númenor, were utterly destroyed, and with it the fair body of Sauron; but his spirit endured and fled back to Middle-earth. Elendil and his sons escaped to Endor and founded the realms of Gondor and Arnor.
Sauron soon rose again, but the Elves allied with the Men to form the Last Alliance and defeated him. In a siege that lasted years, Gil-galad, High King of the Elves; Elendil, the ruler of Gondor and Arnor; and Anárion, son of Elendil; were slain, as was Sauron's body. Elendil's other son Isildur finally cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with his father's sword, diminishing Sauron's power and making his spirit flee once again, and thus achieving victory and peace for a time. But Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, against all advice, and took it as a weregild for his father and brother. However, the Ring soon betrayed him when it abandoned him during an ambush of Orcs at the Gladden Fields; Isildur was slain and the Ring was lost in the Anduin for a time.
The Third Age
The Third Age saw the rise in power of the realms of Arnor and Gondor, and their decline. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron had recovered much of his former strength, and was seeking the One Ring. He learned that it was in the possession of a Hobbit and sent out the nine Ringwraiths to retrieve it. The Ring-bearer, Frodo Baggins, travelled to Rivendell, where it was decided that the Ring had to be destroyed in the only way possible: casting it into the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo set out on the quest with eight companions—the Fellowship of the Ring. At the last moment, he failed, but with the intervention of the creature Gollum—who was saved by the pity of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins—the Ring was nevertheless destroyed. Frodo with his companion Sam Gamgee were hailed as heroes. Sauron was destroyed and his spirit forever dissipated.
The end of the Third Age marked the end of the dominion of the Elves and the beginning of the dominion of Men.
The Fourth Age
As the Fourth Age began, many of the Elves who had lingered in Middle-earth left for Valinor, never to return; those who remained behind would "fade" and diminish. The Dwarves returned in large numbers to Moria and resettled it, though they eventually dwindled away as well. Under King Elessar of Gondor (Aragorn of the Dúnedain), peace was restored between Gondor and the lands to the south and east.
In this age King Elessar bans humans from entering the Shire, allowing the Hobbits to live peaceful and unmolested lives. Elessar and Queen Arwen die at almost the same time, and the kingdom is passed to his son.
Tolkien started a story to be known as the The New Shadow set several generations after King Elessar in which a new evil had arisen, men playing at orcs, and which the protagonist follows one of the cultists to learn more about them, before the thirty pages of the draft abruptly stops. Tolkien never finished the story, as he regarded it merely as a "thriller".
The Ainur were angelic beings created by Ilúvatar. The cosmological myth called the Ainulindalë, or "Music of the Ainur", describes how the Ainur sang for Ilúvatar, who then created Eä to give material form to their music. Many of the Ainur entered Eä, and the greatest of these were called the Valar. Melkor, the chief agent of evil in Eä, and later called Morgoth, was initially one of the Valar.
With the Valar came lesser spirits of the Ainur, called the Maiar. Melian, the wife of the Elven King Thingol in the First Age, was a Maia. There were also evil Maiar, called Umaiar, including the Balrogs and the second Dark Lord, Sauron. Sauron devised the Black Speech (Burzum) for his slaves (such as Orcs) to speak. In the Third Age, a number of the Maiar were embodied and sent to Middle-earth to help the free peoples to overthrow Sauron. These are the Istari (or Wise Ones, called Wizards by Men), including Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Alatar and Pallando.
The Elves are known as the first born of Ilúvatar: intelligent beings created by Ilúvatar alone. There are many different clans of Elves, but the main distinction is between the Calaquendi or Light Elves and the Moriquendi or Dark Elves. Tolkien's work The Silmarillion tells of how the Valar came to Middle-earth shortly after the awakening of the Elves, and invited them to come and live with them in their home in the land of Aman. Those elves who accepted and began the Great Journey to Aman from their birthplace of Cuiviénen were called the Eldar or the Middle-earth Eldar. The elves who completed the journey were sometimes called the Light Elves because they saw the magical Light of the Two Trees, the source of light in Aman. Those elves who refused the offer were called the Avari, and the Eldar who tired of the long journey west and remained behind in Middle-earth were called the Dark Elves because they would never see the Light of the Two Trees. Generally Dark Elves were considered less powerful than Light Elves, but the term 'Dark' did not imply they were in any way evil. In later years some of the Light Elves (chiefly the Noldor clan) returned to Middle-earth, mainly on a quest to retrieve precious jewels called the Silmarils, stolen from them by Morgoth.
Originally Elves all spoke the same Common Eldarin ancestral tongue, but after the long separation of thousands of years it diverged into different languages. The two main Elven languages were Quenya, spoken by the Light Elves, and Sindarin, spoken by the Sindar, the Dark Elves who stayed behind in Beleriand as mentioned above. Tolkien compared the use of Quenya in Middle-earth as like Latin, with Sindarin as the common speech. The Teleri of Valinor spoke Telerin, which was very close to Quenya but generally considered a distinct language and not a dialect.
Physically the Elves resemble humans almost identically; indeed, they are arguably the same species, as they can marry and have children (though this is extremely rare and the Half-elven are very famous as a result). However the Elves have a more ethereal and less visceral nature, and their bodies "fade" into their spirits, to the point that any Elves alive today would be totally ghostlike and invisible to most Humans.
The Elves are very agile and quick-footed. They are generally somewhat taller than Men. They are also extremely coordinated, as is evident in The Fellowship of the Ring, when the elves walk across the rope in the woods of Lothlórien. Their eyesight is hawk-like and they are also said to glow with light. Another example is when the Fellowship take the pass of Caradhras, where Legolas of Mirkwood is able to walk across the deep snow without falling through. Though they can be killed, Elves are immortal, and when they reach maturity they appear to cease aging (though they do continue to physically age, just at a rate so slow as to be almost unperceivable, such as in Círdan's case). They are also re-embodied in Valinor if they are slain or die in an accident, and in the first and second ages, had the ability to return to Middle Earth exactly as they were previously, though they very seldom opted to do so. Their ears are pointed only to a slight extent.
In Tolkien's writings the elves have been divided in several subgroups described in English as high elves, light-elves, fair-elves, deep elves, sea-elves, green-elves, wood-elves (sylvan elves), dark elves, grey-elves, and the special category half-elves. In the languages of the Elves there are additional subgroups under the above categories.
Men were the second born of the Children of Ilúvatar, who awoke in Middle-earth much later than the Elves and (probably) also after the Dwarves. In appearance they are much like Elves, but unlike them they are mortal, ageing and dying quickly (usually living 40–80 years, though the Númenóreans lived several centuries), and also are on average less beautiful. The men involved in Tolkien's stories are mainly the three tribes of Men who allied themselves with the Elves of Beleriand in the First Age, called the Edain. As a reward for their loyalty and suffering in the Wars of Beleriand, the descendants of the Edain were given the island of Númenor to be their home. But as described in the section on Middle-earth's history, Númenor was eventually destroyed and a remnant of the Númenóreans established realms in the northern lands of Endor. Those who remained faithful to the Valar founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. They were then known as the Dúnedain. Other Númenórean survivors, still devoted to evil but living far to the south, became known as the Black Númenóreans. The languages spoken by Men include Adûnaic – spoken by the Númenóreans, Westron – The 'Common Speech' – represented by English, and Rohirric – spoken by the Rohirrim – represented in The Lord of the Rings by Old English. In the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth, the King of Gondor is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Other notable men in The Lord of the Rings are Théoden, Éowyn, and Éomer of Rohan, and the brothers Boromir and Faramir of Gondor. The term "Man" is used as a gender-neutral racial description, to distinguish humans from the other human-like races of Middle-earth.
The Dúnedain, due to their more pure Númenórean heritage, tend to live longer than regular humans. But, except in a few houses, the line has weakened both by time and intermingling with the lesser peoples.
Beorn appears in The Hobbit as a huge man with the ability to transform into a bear. Beorn often left home for days at a time to fight the enemies threatening the forest people. His origins lay in the distant past; Gandalf suspected that he and his people originally came from the mountains. Beorn is the ancestor of the Beornings, who live in the north at the end of the Third Age, allied with the Woodsmen of Mirkwood.
The Dwarves are said to have been created by the Vala Aulë, who offered to destroy them when Ilúvatar confronted him. The seven Dwarf Fathers had no true life as created by Aulë, but were tied to his power. When Ilúvatar saw that Aulë had created the Dwarves in an desire to see Ilúvatar's vision fulfilled and not out of a desire for power or domination of Aulë's will, Ilúvatar brought true life to the seven Dwarf fathers. He forgave Aulë's transgression and adopted the Dwarves as his own. His only condition was that they were not allowed to awaken before the Elves. Therefore, the Dwarves' creator Aulë laid them to sleep in hidden mountain locations until the Elves awoke. These dwarves were known as the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, who (along with their mates) went on to found the seven kindreds of Dwarves when they awoke. The first dwarf to awake was Durin the father of the Longbeards, the oldest and wisest kindred of the Dwarves, and the main focus of Tolkien's stories. Durin founded the greatest Dwarf kingdom called Khazad-dûm, later known as Moria in the Misty Mountains. The Dwarves spread throughout northern Endor and each kindred founded its own kingdom. Only two other of these kingdoms are mentioned by Tolkien, Nogrod and Belegost in the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains. These were the home of the Firebeards and the Broadbeams, who were allies of the Elves of Beleriand against Morgoth in the First Age. The language spoken by the Dwarves is called Khuzdul, and was kept largely as a secret language for their own use. The dwarves are mortal like Men, but live much longer, usually several hundred years. A peculiarity of Dwarves is that both males and females are bearded, and thus appear identical to outsiders.
The Silmarillion introduces the Petty-dwarves who were diminutive even by dwarven standards. They had been exiled from several of the Dwarven houses. They were hunted by the elves, leading to their eventual extinction. They had other cultural differences including that they were more unsociable, and freely gave out their Khuzdul names to outsiders.
Of the races, Dwarves are the most resistant to corruption and influence of Morgoth and later Sauron. The seven rings of Power of the dwarves did not turn them to evil, but it did amplify their greed and lust for gold. The Dwarves' resistance to corruption is perhaps explained by their origin as the creations of Aulë and not being created by or original children in Ilúvatar's vision. It is said that very few wilfully served the side of darkness. Of those who did very little was written. Of the seven houses few fought on either side during The Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age, and is known that none from the House of Durin ever fought on the side of evil. During the early parts of the Third Age (or at least in legends of the previous), it is known that in some places wicked dwarves had made alliances with the goblins and orcs. It is suggested by Tolkien in some of his notes that of the dwarves that turned to wickedness they most likely came from the Dwarves of the far eastern mansions (and perhaps some of the nearer ones) came under the Shadow of Morgoth and turned to evil. It is however unclear if these refer to Dwarves beyond Iron Hills (the most eastern known stronghold of the Dwarves) Because Dwarves are not evil by nature, few ever served the Enemy of their own free will (though rumors of Men suggest the total was greater).
Tolkien identified Hobbits as an offshoot of the race of Men. Another name for Hobbit is 'Halfling', as they were generally only half the size of Men (Men in those times usually grew to six feet in height, and a Hobbit would be only three or four feet tall). In their lifestyle and habits they closely resemble Men, except for their preference for living in holes underground. Although their origins and ancient history are not known, Tolkien implied that they settled in the Vales of Anduin early in the Third Age, but after a thousand years the Hobbits began migrating west over the Misty Mountains into Eriador. Eventually, many Hobbits settled in the Shire and in nearby Bree. Tolkien says that there were three kinds of Hobbit: the Stoors, Fallohides and Harfoots. The hobbits who appear most prominently in Tolkien's stories are Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo Baggins, who each have an important role in the quest to destroy the One Ring of Power forged by Sauron; another is Sméagol, who took the One Ring after it was found in the Anduin. Frodo is told by Gandalf that Sméagol was part of a Hobbit-like riverfolk, but long possession of the ring corrupted and deformed him into the creature Gollum. By the time of The Lord of the Rings Hobbits had long spoken the Mannish tongue Westron, though their dialect of Westron indicates that they formerly spoke a language akin to that of the Men of Rohan.
The Ents were shepherds of trees. They were created by Ilúvatar at the request of Yavanna, to protect trees from the depredations of Elves, Dwarves, and Men. When the Elves first awoke, they "desired to converse with all things", and taught the Ents to speak. The Ents developed their own peculiar "Entish" language, which was impossible for other races to learn due to its long descriptive phrases for even the smallest things. Nevertheless, the Ents could learn other races' languages and were able to communicate with others that way. Huorns were intermediate in form between Ents and trees: Ents that were "falling asleep" or trees that were becoming wildly active; they bore a deep antagonism toward orcs. By the time of The Lord of the Rings the Ents were a dwindling race, as the Entwives had left the Ents and disappeared. In The Lord of the Rings, the Ents, led by Treebeard, the oldest Ent, were instrumental in defeating Saruman by destroying his fortress of Isengard, and the Huorns destroyed his army of orcs.
Orcs and Trolls were evil creatures bred by Morgoth. They were not original creations but rather "mockeries" of the Children of Ilúvatar and Ents, since only Ilúvatar has the ability to give conscious life to things. The precise origins of Orcs and Trolls are unclear, as Tolkien considered many possibilities and frequently changed his mind, leaving several inconsistent accounts. The Hobbit speaks of Goblins and Hobgoblins, and a note at the beginning of most editions explains that "orc" and "goblin" are synonymous, while "hobgoblin" refers to orcs of larger size. Late in the Third Age, the Uruks or Uruk-hai appeared: a race of Orcs of great size and strength that tolerate sunlight better than ordinary Orcs.
Tolkien also mentions "Men-orcs" and "Orc-men"; or "half-orcs" or "goblin-men". They share some characteristics with Orcs (like "slanty eyes") but are described as looking more like men. Some appear at the battle of Helm's Deep and in the Scouring of the Shire, where it is recalled that similar-looking men were seen earlier causing trouble in Bree.
Trolls were made of stone. The Ent Treebeard describes them in The Lord of the Rings as "mockeries of Ents, they are stupid creatures, foul mouthed and brutal". Daylight turned such "stone trolls" back into stone. In "Roast Mutton" in The Hobbit, three trolls catch Bilbo and his Dwarf companions, and plan on eating them; but they are turned back to stone by the light of dawn before they get the chance. Tolkien also describes a race of trolls bred by Sauron called the 'Olog-hai' who were larger and stronger than ordinary trolls, and who could endure daylight. Other varieties mentioned include cave-trolls, hill-trolls, mountain-trolls (which dwarf all other troll kind), and snow-trolls. In The Hobbit, Gandalf alludes to trolls that have more than one head: "I am afraid trolls do behave like that, even those with only one head each." Some soldiers from Far Harad are described as Half-trolls or troll-men.
Sapient animals also appear, such as the Eagles, Huan the Great Hound from Valinor and the wolf-like Wargs. The Eagles were created by Ilúvatar along with the Ents, and the Wargs were possibly descendants of earlier werewolves, but in general the origins and nature of these animals are unclear. Giant spiders such as Shelob descended from Ungoliant, of unknown origin. Other sapient species include the Crebain, evil crows who become spies for Saruman, and the Ravens, who brought news to the dwarves. Vampires are mentioned briefly in The Silmarillion (possibly equivalent to large bats who aided the Goblins and Wargs in The Hobbit). The horse-line of the Mearas of Rohan also appear to be intelligent and understand human speech. Beorn had a number of animal friends about his house. The Badger-folk are introduced in the Adventures of Tom Bombadil. They are said to live between the Barrow-downs and the Old Forest. In one story they capture Tom Bombadil. In another poem Bombadil speaks with several local animals: Little Bird, the willow-wren; Fisher Blue, a kingfisher, Whisker-lad of the Otter-folk, and Old Swan of Elver-isle.
Stone-giants appear in The Hobbit fighting one another in the valleys of the Misty Mountains. No further reference is made to them in any other of Tolkien's writings. In the Hobbit, Bilbo remembers stories of giants and ogres, and thinks of them when trying to solve one of Gollum's riddles. Giants are mentioned in passing throughout the The Lord of the Rings, sometimes in poetic passages. Frodo mistakes the Argonath for giants before seeing that they are just statues, and both Helm's Deep and Minis Tirith were reputedly built by giants.
In The Two Towers, when Gandalf returns, he mentions nameless things that dwelt along the path he followed under the earth, creatures who gnaw at the roots of the world.
Dragons (or "worms") appear in several varieties, distinguished by whether they have wings and whether they breathe fire (cold-drakes versus fire-drakes). The first of the fire-drakes (Urulóki in Quenya) was Glaurung the Golden, bred by Morgoth in Angband, and called "The Great Worm", "The Worm of Morgoth", and "The Father of Dragons". Glaurung played a decisive part in the battles of Morgoth against the Elves in the First Age, and directed the defeat of Nargothrond, but was eventually slain by Túrin. Winged dragons first appeared in the Great Battle at the end of the First Age, led by Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of that host. In that battle he was slain by Eärendil. Gandalf avers, however, that even the fire of Ancalagon was not sufficiently hot to destroy Sauron's One Ring.
In the Third Age lived Scatha the Worm, "the great dragon of the Ered Mithrin" or Grey Mountains, He owned a large hoard of dwarf-treasure, but was killed by Fram of the Éothéod in the North not long after the dwarves were driven from Moria. The dwarves demanded their treasure back, but Fram gave them only a necklace made of Scatha's teeth. Subsequently, many dwarves settled in the Grey Mountains; but dragons multiplied there, and a great cold-drake killed Dain I (whereupon his heir Thrór, Thorin's grandfather, returned to re-establish the Kingdom Under the Mountain at Erebor). That kingdom was shortly afterwards destroyed by Smaug, a flying fire-drake, who was later killed by Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit. The Hobbit also refers in passing to "Were-worms in the Last Desert" (in the "East of East"), and to stone dragons.
Mewlips are legendary creatures mentioned in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. They said to live in a fortress beyond Merlock Mountains and the Marsh of Tode (though it is not clear if these are actual places). They capture their victims and drag them down into the fortress to feast upon.
Turtle-fish are a race of giant sea turtles mentioned in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. Fastitocalon, the last of the Turtle-fish, emulates an island, waiting for people to land on his back. Then he turns over, sending them to their deaths in the sea.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are presented as Tolkien's retelling of events depicted in the Red Book of Westmarch, which was written by Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and other Hobbits, and corrected and annotated by one or more Gondorian scholars. Tolkien wrote extensively about the linguistics, mythology and history of the world, which provide back-story for these stories. Many of these writings were edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher.
Notable among them is The Silmarillion, which provides a creation story and description of the cosmology that includes Middle-earth. The Silmarillion is the primary source of information about Valinor, Númenor, and other lands. Also notable are Unfinished Tales and the multiple volumes of The History of Middle-earth, which includes many incomplete stories and essays as well as numerous drafts of Tolkien's Middle-earth mythology, from the earliest forms down through the last writings of his life.
Middle-earth works by Tolkien
Tolkien died in 1973. All further works were edited by Christopher Tolkien and published posthumously. Only The Silmarillion, Bilbo's Last Song and The Children of Húrin are presented as finished work — the others are collections of notes and draft versions.
In a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien set out his policy regarding film adaptations of his works: "Art or Cash". He sold the film rights for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969 after being faced with a sudden tax bill. They are currently in the hands of Middle-earth Enterprises, formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises. The Tolkien Estate retains the film rights to The Silmarillion and other works.
The first adaptation to be shown was The Hobbit in 1977, made by Rankin-Bass studios. This was initially shown on United States television.
The following year (1978), a movie entitled The Lord of the Rings was released, produced and directed by Ralph Bakshi; it was an adaptation of the first half of the story, using rotoscope animation. Although the film was relatively faithful to the story and a commercial success, its critical response (from critics, readers and non-readers alike) was mixed.
In 1980, Rankin-Bass produced a TV special covering roughly the last half of The Lord of the Rings, called The Return of the King. However, this did not follow on directly from the end of the Bakshi film.
Plans for a live-action version of The Lord of the Rings would wait until the late 1990s to be realized. These were directed by Peter Jackson and funded by New Line Cinema with backing from the New Zealand government and banking system.
The trilogy was a box office and critical success. The three films won seventeen Oscars altogether (at least one in each applicable category for a fictional, English language, live-action feature film, except in the acting categories).
The Hobbit (film series), a live-action adaptation of The Hobbit, was made as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, produced in New Zealand under the direction of Peter Jackson. Although Tolkien's novel The Hobbit is a single book, unlike The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit film series is a trilogy like The Lord of the Rings film series. The films were released in December 2012, December 2013, and December 2014.
The works of Tolkien have been a major influence on role-playing games along with others such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H. P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock. Although the most famous game to be inspired partially by the setting was Dungeons & Dragons, there have been two specifically Middle-earth based and licensed games. These are the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game from Decipher Inc. and the Middle-earth Role Playing game (MERP) and Middle Earth the Wizards CCG from Iron Crown Enterprises.
A Middle-Earth Play-By-Mail game was originally created in 1990 by Game Systems, Inc. under license by Tolkien Enterprises and is still produced today. This play-by-email game was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design's Hall of Fame in 1997.
Simulations Publications created three war games based on Tolkien's work. War of the Ring covered most of the events in The Lord of the Rings. Gondor focused on the battle of Pelennor Fields, and Sauron covered the Second Age battle before the gates of Mordor. The three games above were then released together as the Middle Earth game trilogy. Iron Crown Enterprises published The Fellowship of the Ring. A board game also called War of the Ring is currently published by Fantasy Flight Games.
EA Games has released games based on the Jackson movies for the gaming consoles and the PC. These include the platformers The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the real-time strategy game The Battle for Middle-earth, its sequel The Battle for Middle-earth II and its expansion The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King—which puts you in control of the warriors of Angmar, the home of the Witch-king, and the role-playing game The Third Age. Also recently, Pandemic Studios, famous creators of the Star Wars: Battlefront series worked with EA to create The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, a game with a similar system to Battlefront. The game has mixed reviews but overall was successfully accepted. Traveller's Tales games developed Lego The Hobbit and before that Lego The Lord of the Rings. The games were based on the films, but their worlds and characters were almost entirely made of LEGO bricks.
Book-based games (officially licensed from Tolkien Enterprises) include Vivendi's own platformer, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Sierra's own real-time strategy game, War of the Ring, and the many games based on The Hobbit.
To add on to that, some games take place in between Tolkien's two major works (The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings), such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. In this game players take on the role of Talion, a slain Ranger of Gondor, trapped between life and death. He is aided by the wraith of Celebrimbor. Together they must sow chaos throughout the armies and servants of the second Dark Lord, Sauron.
Turbine (now a subsidiary of Warner Bros.) released the first Middle-earth-based graphical massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG): The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar in April 2007. Since then, there have been five major expansions of the game, each adding large portions of the Middle-earth landscape.
Aside from officially licensed games, many Tolkien-inspired mods, custom maps and total conversions have been made for many games, such as Warcraft III, Minecraft, Rome: Total War, Medieval II: Total War, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Moreover, the Middle-Earth DEM Project seeks to create a highly detailed model of middle earth by using various middle-earth maps to map every feasible aspect of the fictional world such as rivers, vegetation and buildings for their dataset compiled for the Outerra game engine.
In addition, there are many text-based MMORPGs (known as MU*s) based on Tolkien's Middle-earth. The oldest of these dates back to 1991, and was known as Middle-Earth MUD, run by using LPMUD. After Middle-Earth MUD ended in 1992, it was followed by Elendor and MUME (Multi Users in Middle-earth).
Middle-earth in other works
There are allusions to concepts similar to, or identical to Middle-earth, in other works by Tolkien, and the work of other writers. The earliest of these in modern English is the poem "The Gray Magician" (1918) by Margaret Widdemer:"I was living very merrily on Middle Earth As merry as a maid may be Till the Gray Magician came down along the road And flung his cobweb cloak on me..."
Another example is C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, in which Earth is also called Middle-earth. Lewis's novels, set around World War II (with the last novel, That Hideous Strength, taking place in post-war England), specifically bring in references to Tolkien's legendarium (at that time largely unpublished) and treats these references as primary fact within Lewis's fiction. Merlin, of King Arthur fame, is treated as a successor to the Atlantis magic found within "Numinor" (Lewis's unintentional misspelling of Númenor), and similarities can also be found in the Quenya name for Númenor, which is Atalantë, and Lewis specifically references the earth as Middle-earth twice, both in Chapter 13, "They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven on Their Heads".