Where on earth is Middle Earth?

by , Tuesday March 24, 2015
Where on earth is Middle Earth?

@MERECAT explores J.R Tolkien's World...


Over the years of Peter Jackson’s film adaptions we’ve all become accustomed to New Zealand providing the beautiful scenery of Middle Earth but the truth is that much of Tolkien’s inspiration came from the parts of England he grew up in and his experiences there…


The Shire: Although Tolkien denied that Middle Earth was taken directly from any existing locations he did admit that the Shire was “inspired by a few cherished square miles of actual countryside at Sarehole” Tolkein grew up in Birmingham after moving from South Africa at the age of four and he described Sarehole as “a kind of lost paradise” saying “Sarehole Mill dominated my childhood… The old miller of my day and his son were characters of wonder and terror to a small child.” It is not hard to see where he got his inspiration for Sandyman – the Hobbiton miller!



Star-crossed Lovers: Tolkein and his wife Edith’s shared gravestone refers to the couple as “Beren” and “Luthien.” This reference to Middle-Earth mythology links Tolkien’s stories of love affairs enduring obstacles and great distances to his own personal life. As a Catholic and three years younger than the Protestant Edith his father tried to prevent them from seeing each other and, at the age of twenty one Tolkien rushed across England to win her back from the verge of marrying another man.


Rohan: Many have speculated that the men of Rohan are based on the Anglo-Saxons but Tolkien claimed that the characters did not resemble “the ancient English... except in a general way due to their circumstances.” However George Sayer explained that, while hiking together in the Malvern Hills, Tolkien “lived the book as we walked, sometimes comparing parts of the hills with, for instance, the White Mountains” that marked the border between Rohan and Gondor. It has also been noted that many of the names come from Mercian dialect, Mercia being an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the Midlands.


Battles: As a soldier in WWI, Tolkein experience some of the most brutal and destructive warfare in history which no doubt inspired his description of the many battles of Middle Earth. He participated in the Battle of the Somme (July 1916) took over 1,000,000 lives and destroyed the landscape whilst achieving nothing strategically. This battle is echoed by the war and death throughout Tolkien’s stories. He hated the way that individuals were reduced to dispensable components in clashing political ‘machines’ and similarly the Lord of the Rings denotes the struggle to free Middle earth from the rule of dark overlords who want to enslave and control all individual thought. Tolkien also explained that the landscape of the Dead Marshes, where Frodo Baggins is transfixed by corpses lying in pools, and the approach to Mordor's Black Gate “owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”


Samwise Gamgee: It is not just desolate scenes and dramatic battles that were inspired by WWI but characters. Frodo’s loyal friend Sam was inspired by the British soldiers (‘Tommies’) and the servants (‘batmen’) who were assigned to officers to look after their kit.


Rivendell: While hiking in the Swiss Alps in 1911, Tolkien wrote to his son Michael “We went on foot carrying great packs practically all the way from Interlaken, mainly by mountain paths, to Lauterbrunnen and so to Mürren and eventually to the head of Lauterbrunnenthal in a wilderness of morains.” Tolkien’s illustration of the view into Rivendell is almost identical to a view of Lauterbrunnen Valley.


The Two Towers: Growing up in the Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston, the skyline of Tolkien’s childhood would have been dominated by two towers Perrott's Folly and the Waterworks Tower. Furthermore, the clock tower from the University of Birmingham is speculated to be inspiration for either the Eye of Sauron or Isenguard.


Caves: Tolkein’s honeymoon in 1916 included a visit to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. Tolkien wrote later that the caves provided the basis for the jewelled caverns that lay in the White Mountains behind Helm’s Deep in Rohan.


Mordor: It is possible that Mordor was inspired not only by the war but by an smog-filled industrial landscape closer to his childhood home. Northwest of Birmingham was an area known as the Black Country which had become totally polluted by the coal mines, iron foundries and steel mills of the Industrial Revolution.


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