"Tolkien Mythology" and "the legendarium" are terms for the system of connected, fantastical stories imagined and written of by J.R.R. Tolkien, and make up the entire extensive background to The Lord of the Rings, its final tale. This legendarium was developed in evolving stages over many decades of his life.
The stories comprising Tolkien's mythology are not true, but many of them are founded in some sort of fact about the natural world or as a way of explaining natural phenomena. In fact, Tolkien imaginatively intended them to be a creative legendarium for the continent of Europe, and they are meant to be taken fictitiously as an ancient history of the Earth (particularly Europe), from several thousand years before the modern era.
Tolkien's legendarium can be described as "a single, imaginary, fanciful world", so use of the grander and wider term "fictional universe" should be halted. In use, the legendarium refers to what includes both the final, canonical lore of Arda and lore that can be considered "precanonical", such as Tolkien's writings of Eriol.
For an explanation of the variants of the qualifiers "canon" and "precanon" on this Wiki, see LOTR:Canon.
Mythological roots of the legendarium
It is a well-known fact that Tolkien had an interest in the mythology and linguistics of Northern Europe, specifically the pagan mythologies of the Norse and English peoples. The other main influence was Finnish Mythology - it played a major role in the creation of The Silmarillion, and the Quenya language was modeled mostly after the Finnish language. Two other examples of linguistic influences were Rohirric, the language used for the Rohirrim which was substituted by Old English (from which English is chiefly derived), and the language spoken in Dale and Esgaroth, equivalent to Old Norse, which is the language of the epic sagas and poems of the Norse.
Many significant events of Middle-earth's history - such as Smaug's awakening and rampage, the finding of the Ring, and the reforging of Narsil - all have parallels in Germanic Mythology. The epic poetry of Northern Europe's past, such as the epic poem Beowulf and 'Völsungasaga', have also been cited as influencing Tolkien and his legendarium. The rampage of Smaug could in fact be seen to be inspired by Beowulf, in which a cup is stolen from the sleeping wyrm who then leaves his cave for revenge. (His revenge is the climax of the story, and the demise of the protagonist Beowulf).
The One Ring is said by many to have been inspired by the ring in the Norse saga of the Völsungs and its later German version, the High Medieval Nibelunglied; however comments by Tolkien make it unclear as to whether it was a reference to the Völsungasaga. Alternatively the Ring could have been based on a ring of invisibility from Greek Mythology.
The name of the chief continent of Arda, Middle-earth, has its origins in Norse Mythology also. The name derives from the Old English Middanġeard (meaning "middle enclosure") which later became the Middle English term Middel-erde (meaning now "Middle-earth" rather than the older sense of "Middle-yard"). This name for our world has cognates in the various other Germanic languages: Miðgarðr in Old Norse (rendered as "Midgard" in Modern English), and Mittelerde in Modern German.
The Creation of Arda
Main article: Ainulindalë
The Creation of Arda and all of the known world is attributed to Eru Illuvatar, "the One". He speaks the universe into existence, with the word Eä meaning "It is". Eä is thus the original term for and name of Arda, counting the Earth, the Void, and different specific regions of the skies and heavens.
Eru had produced from his thought angelic spirits, all good in nature, named the Ainur, asking them to sing to Him a melodious tune, to which he added his own splendorous themes. The music of this defined the changes and events that would take place on Arda after its approaching manifestation. One of the Ainur was Melkor, whose name later became Morgoth, who was evil, from whom all evil would stem in Middle-earth and Arda as a whole. Melkor introduced his own evil discords into the main musical theme, disrupting its harmony. In this instance Eru put a stop to the music at once, and manifested all of Eä immediately.
Some Ainur were surprised by the grandeur of this new creation and longed for experience in it - so did Melkor, but with wholly different purposes. Eru granted the Ainur with the choice of living in Arda or staying with him in the Timeless Halls, free of physical form and time itself. Some of the Ainur chose to enter Arda, and so did Melkor. Eru's first intentions during the "Ainulindalë", or the music created by the Ainur, also called the First Music of the Ainur, was to create a somewhat symmetrical world, flat in nature. But Melkor's discords marred it beyond repair and is supposedly what created the vast mountain ranges and hills.
The Ainur that entered Arda were called the Valar (in singular, Vala). The leader and most powerful of the Valar was Manwë. Melkor, or Morgoth, was also the most powerful Valar during those times until his reign as "Dark Lord" of Arda. Under the Valar were less powerful spirits called the Maiar, amongst whom Sauron was one (the main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings). Maiar were often designated to specific Valar, each Valar having been given a particular skill which the Maiar below him or her would carry out. Sauron was the leader amongst the Vala Aulë's Maiar, whose specific skill was smithery - and from this he would come to have the ability to craft the One Ring an age later.
The physical state of Arda (Eä)
Arda after its creation was originally flat in shape, containing mainly the continent of Middle-earth and Aman to "Extreme West", known as the Undying Lands, where the Valar lived and later on where the Elves lived during the dawn of the Dominion of Men. When the King of Númenor Ar-Pharazôn tried to reach the Undying Lands as a way to become immortal, due to the corrupting powers of Sauron and Morgoth, Eru Illuvatar, at the request of the Valar, removed the entire continent from Arda and reshaped it into a sphere, which is the shape of the Earth today.
Even though Aman was removed from Arda, and all paths on Arda are now bent, there remained a straight path across the sea that only the Elves or those granted special access (e.g. the ring-bearing Hobbits Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, along with Gimli) could travel. In this way those allowed to take this path were able to travel outside the realm of Arda and so pass to Aman. Because this path was only open to the Elves, the mortal races of Middle-earth (Men, Dwarves, Hobbits etc.) were unable to ever again come within sight of the Blessed Realm during life.
- Thus in after days, what by the voyages of ships, what by lore and star-craft, the kings of Men knew that the world was indeed made round, and yet the Eldar were permitted still to depart and to come to the Ancient West and to Avallónë, if they would. Therefore the loremasters of Men said that a Straight Road must still be, for those that were permitted to find it. And they taught that, while the new world fell away, the old road and the path of the memory of the West still went on, as it were a mighty bridge invisible that passed through the air of breath and of flight (which were bent now as the world was bent), and traversed Ilmen which flesh unaided cannot endure, until it came to Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, and maybe even beyond, to Valinor, where the Valar still dwell and watch the unfolding of the story of the world. And tales and rumours arose along the shores of the sea concerning mariners and men forlorn upon the water who, by some fate or grace or favour of the Valar, had entered in upon the Straight Way and seen the face of the world sink below them, and so had come to the lamplit quays of Avallónë, or verily to the last beaches on the margin of Aman, and there had looked upon the White Mountain, dreadful and beautiful, before they died.
The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien said, was a book created with the theme of Death integrated into it. The story gives people a wider perspective into the dangers of greed, malice, lust and power-hunger symbolically through the image of the One Ring.
Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are two of the characters in The Lord of the Rings who show a willful acceptance of death much before their time, seemingly experiencing memories during their travels to Mordor of never having a return journey back, implying their impression of dying after destroying the One Ring in the Crack of Doom. They return, only for Frodo to leave with Gandalf and Bilbo to Aman or the Undying Lands where Frodo passes away, accepting Eru Illuvatar's Gift. Samwise also makes this journey Westward to the Undying Lands, after living a happy life with Rosie Cotton and conceiving many children.
Tolkien tries to imply the fact that every one of us must accept death as a natural part of our lives on Earth, and must not give into the immoral aspects of life brought about due to the dark presences of Morgoth and Sauron. Tolkien even, as mentioned earlier, attributes Arda as not another fictional dimension of the Earth, but a set of actual events happening about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago in our own history.
Tolkien Mythology is manifested in the following books:
- The Silmarillion
- Unfinished Tales
- The Hobbit
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Children of Húrin (2007 publication)
- Beren and Lúthien (2017 publication)
- The History of Middle-earth - a twelve-volume series
- The Fall of Gondolin (2018 publication)
|J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium|