It is rather clear from the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, specifically the "Note on the Shire Records," that the Lord of the Rings account of the third age comes from information primarily in "the Red Book of Westmarch." This book originated as "Bilbo's private diary" and expanded by Frodo "during S.R. 1420-1." There were also "annexed to it and preserved with it ... three large volumes ... that Bilbo gave to him [Frodo] as a parting gift." Then additionally, another book, "a fifth containing commentaries, genealogies, and various other matter concerning the hobbit members of the Fellowship."

So to summarize thus far, the five volumes contained:

  • Vol 1. Bilbo's diary (and Frodo's added story)
  • Vols 2-4. Histories gained from Bilbo
  • Vol 5. Histories related to the hobbits

The prologue also notes that the most important copy of the Red Book was "completed in S.R. 1592 (F.A. 172)," one which was "an exact copy in all details of the Thain's Book in Minas Tirith ... made at the request of King Elessar," a copy of the book delivered to there by "Thain Peregrin when he retired to Gondor in IV 64." The later (IV 172) copy "received much annotation, and many corrections, especially of names, words, and quotations."

So it seems the latest compiling is IV 172, though possibly some annotations later.

Now that is all said to ask about this statement from The Two Towers, Book IV Ch. 4, "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit," where it is noted (emphasis added):

The Mûmak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty.

So who wrote this and when?

  • If this is Frodo's hand, since it is part of his story, then it was written S.R. 1420-1. But would he be using such language as "now in Middle-earth" and "latter days" (and would he even know that no Mûmak still lived in Middle-earth)?
  • If this is a later annotation by a copiest, when was it added?

At what time were the Mûmak effectively extinct from Middle-earth (in the size of their grandeur) to such a point that one actually knew none were left (i.e., they would have been extinct for some time I suspect), and hence what period of time might this note have been added to the history at this point in the story?


As I note in a comment on the first answer to be given, I do not think it is valid to consider this information merely an insertion by Tolkien, for the quote states "the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth" (emphasis added). That phrasing of a "present time" (from the author's perspective) would not be how an insertion phrased by Tolkien would be stated, since his "now" is long past any "now" of Middle-earth (that is, Tolkien exists in Earth, not in Middle-earth). So the reference to what "now" (at that time) was existing in Middle-earth makes no sense as added by Tolkien (the much later translator) nor is it phrased in a way that Tolkien (as omniscient interpreter) would be expected to write it since it has the voice of one living in Middle-earth (rather, if so, rewording something like "and the like of him did not walk in the latter days of Middle-earth, his kin that live still are but memories of his girth and majesty").

So the best explanation is that Tolkien is "translating" an older text written by a Middle-earth dweller that had knowledge of a later period of Middle-earth in which that dweller was then existing in a "now" moment being referenced.

Which is why I asked the question.

  • 1
    Whence? I see someone's been reading their Tolkien.
    – Valorum
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:45
  • @Valorum: Actually, while I have been reading Tokien, the "whence" comes more from my reading of a King James Bible, but it did seem like appropriate vocabulary to fit with the historical nature of this question I was asking about Tolkien's history.
    – ScottS
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:35
  • @ScottS Actually your wording warmed my heart a bit but I was thinking the same as Valorum.
    – Pryftan
    Oct 12, 2017 at 23:30
  • @Valorum You mean to say there are other authors that should be read? (Which really of course means I use the word every so often and I also read The Lord of the Rings quite regularly - that and other works by Tolkien of course; but I'm not sure why I use the word as such. It did warm my heart a little bit though as I said to Scot. Because of what you suggested in fact.)
    – Pryftan
    Oct 12, 2017 at 23:33
  • @ScottS My answer to this very question says that Middle-earth is another name for our Earth, and the setting of LOTR is our Earth thousands of years ago, and before the dawn of history. And see answers to this question: Is Tolkien's Middle-earth in our Universe? Aug 24, 2018 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


I read it with the implication is that this was an insertion by Tolkien himself during the translation process.

There are several such insertions through LotR, and more in The Hobbit. Tolkien was generally providing a rather loose translation of the source material, sometimes even replacing personal names with 'appropriate' anglicised alternatives - Merry's actual name in the source material was supposedly "Kalimac Brandagamba", anglicised to Meriadoc Brandybuck.

There are several points in the tale where the narrator seems to step in with an omniscient view to clarify elements of the story and the timeline, providing information that the characters wouldn't have had; for example, in Book Four, Chapter 3:

But they were alone, and Aragorn was far away, and Gandalf stood amid the ruin of Isengard and strove with Saruman, delayed by treason. Yet even as he spoke his last words to Saruman, and the palantir crashed in fire upon the steps of Orthanc, his thought was ever upon Frodo and Samwise, over the long leagues his mind sought for them in hope and pity.

Indeed, much of the narrative 'flavour' seems to have been added by Tolkien himself, and the story is not told in Frodo's first-person voice, but the third-person omniscient voice of the translator.

  • 1
    I originally had thought it a Tolkien insertion also, but there is a word that makes that not plausible, for the quote states (emphasis added) "the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth." That implies an original source from Middle-earth, for the current Earth (of Tolkien's world) is not Middle-earth. So there is a specific time reference when Middle-earth still existed.
    – ScottS
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:29
  • 1
    The text of the Lord of the Rings has some inconsistencies with Tolkien's frame story that are basically irreconcilable. The best known, perhaps, is the account of the fox that passes the sleeping hobbits in the Shire, who nobody involved the recording and recopying of the story could possibly have known about.
    – Buzz
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:47
  • 4
    @ScottS I would disagree, and say that current Earth is Middle-Earth. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/22034/…
    – Werrf
    Nov 15, 2016 at 20:35
  • 1
    @Werrf: I used the same link to support my view :-). That hits on the disagreement between us as to the validity of your answer. Does Tolkien conceive of himself still existing in Middle-earth, such that he would plausibly write "now in Middle-earth" in his own narrative addition to the story. As such, I created a question related to Tolkien's perception of his present time/place and the term Middle-earth. If someone finds evidence favoring Tolkien perceiving himself to still be in Middle-earth, then I'll accept this answer here.
    – ScottS
    Nov 15, 2016 at 22:24
  • @Werrf 'Merry's actual name in the source material was supposedly "Kalimac Brandagamba", anglicised to Meriadoc Brandybuck.' Exactly what source material are you referring to? Because originally he didn't even exist; and he was then named something else entirely before finally being Merriadoc (he was also Marmaduke but vague memory in my mind he was something before that). I don't at all recall that other name you refer to in HoME. Care to clarify?
    – Pryftan
    Oct 12, 2017 at 23:35

Middle Earth is the past of our Earth.

Answers to this question - Is Tolkien's Middle-earth in our Universe? - have Tolkien quotes that prove that Middle-earth is a Middle English phrase meaning the world, and that Tolkien's Middle-earth is fictionally supposed to have been our world thousands of years before recorded history.

And Tolkien was a big fan of Middle English and Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Surely it would be understandable, if old fashioned and pretentious sounding, for someone to refer to Oxford, for example, as being in the land of Logres, or Albion, or Prydain, or Brittania, or it being within the Oikumene. And for a philologist and medievalist like Tolkien it would be no stranger than those examples to refer to Oxford as being within Middle-earth (the Middle English phrase). It is perfectly correct to say that Oxford is within Middle-earth (the Middle English phrase) at the present, though most people who think that Middle-earth refers only to the fictional lands in LOTR would be confused by such a statement.

There would be absolutely no reason why Tolkien, writing as himself the translator, would not write that proboscidians as large as the Mumakil are not now found in Middle-earth (the Middle English phrase). If the text of the Red Book convincingly depicts the Mumakil as being larger than present proboscidians found on Earth (perhaps by saying "three and a half times as tall as a man", for example) it must be an extinct species. And if the Mumakil of Harad is an extinct proboscidian it is perfectly accurate, though rather unusually phrased, to write:

The Mûmak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty.

If the Mumakil was some mammoth extinct proboscidian such a statement is equally correct whether Middle-earth in that statement is believed to be Tolkien's fictional prehistoric age or else the Middle English phrase meaning the world.

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