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I keep running across the following quote from Tolkien's Letter #211 concerning the time between the destruction of the ring at the end of the third age and the present day:

I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as 2nd Age and 3rd Age. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the 6th Age, or in the 7th.

Ages One through Three are accounted for. Tolkien presumably imagined the Sixth Age ending with World War II or a final showdown with Communist Russia. Since he was a devout Christian, I suppose the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been the end of the Fifth Age. This leaves the end of the Fourth Age unaccounted for.

Are there any writings or quotations pertaining to the events that brought about the end of the Fourth Age?

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    Altough Tolkien Myth applies to our world I do not think the reverse is intended by the author, in that you can relate events like WWII to Tolkien Mythology. See this answer, and this additional one. Although, I like to add, that some contradictions exist between initial draft, letters, etc, especially in this subject. – Nuno Freitas Sep 6 '12 at 9:27
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    @Nuno, I would add that C.S.Lewis' portion of the story of Numinor, which was done in collaboration with Tolkien, took place in modern times. The third book, That Hideous Strength, was set sometime after WWII, and makes a number of mentions of Numinor, as I brought up in this answer. I talk about Tolkien's part of the collaboration here. – S. Albano Sep 6 '12 at 23:48
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The short answer is no, there isn't any published information as to what he may have considered the ending of each Age. Tolkien was even relatively inconsistent on the time elapsed since the events of the Lord of the Rings, as in History of Middle Earth he noted:

The moons and suns are worked out according to what they were in this part of the world [i.e. England or thereabouts] in 1942 actually.... I mean I'm not a good enough mathematician or astronomer to work out whare they might have been 7,000 or 8,000 years ago, but as long as they correspond to some real configuration I thought that was good enough.

A different period again! Given the combination of the two comments, however, it is probably reasonable to assume Tolkien may have considered WWII to be the end of the Sixth Age. After all the end of previous Ages were marked by the defeat of evil:

  • the First Age ending with the War of Wrath and defeat of Morgoth.
  • the Second Age ending with the Last Alliance and the (first) defeat of Sauron.
  • the Third Age ending with the defeat of Sauron.

So what could the Fourth and Fifth Ages be, if that speculation was correct? In a Biblical sense, the Exodus from Egypt and death of Christ could be candidates. In a historical sense, the founding of Rome, the founding of the Catholic Church, the East-West Schism, the First Crusade or the Reformation may all be candidates.

If Tolkien's statement of 6,000 years but that the Ages have quickened, I don't think it's unreasonable to assign the death of Christ and the founding of the Catholic Church to the end of the Fourth. That may make the Napoleonic Wars the end of the Fifth, given the threat of conquest from those, giving lengths of 4,000, 1,700 and 250 years to the Ages. Definitely quickening, but you could pick any two appropriate times to assign to the ends of the Ages and have it make equivalent sense.

There is an article published in the Tolkien Society's newsletter that attempts to calculate out the beginnings and ends of Ages without factoring in the potential quickening. It places the end of the Fourth to have just passed, in 2004.

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    Or perhaps the Reformation for the end of the Fifth, given his Catholicism? – Daniel Roseman Sep 5 '12 at 7:20
  • Neat answer! I would lean towards the Fifth Age ending at Jesus' death rather than the Fourth, just because the ~4000 year gap seems long. That would tend to break things into ~2000 year chunks, though it would loose the acceleration. – S. Albano Sep 5 '12 at 23:45
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Shouldn't the end of the Fourth Age be connected to the vast catastrophes which reshaped the world and created the modern geography? Then the Fifth Age could be all the time up to the 1950s when Tolkien wrote.

But if each age was about 3,000 years long the Fourth Age would have ended about 1000 BC which is too recent for world changing catastrophes. Then maybe the catastrophe which changed the shape of lands and seas could have been during the Fourth Age but long before the end, just as the Second Age lasted over a century after the Fall of Numenor.

Or maybe the ages are shorter now. Maybe the Fourth Age ended with the world changing catastrophe, the Fifth Age saw the beginning of recorded history up to the Birth or Crucifixion of Christ, and the end of the Sixth Age and beginning of the Seventh Age is in the recent past or near future.

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This is my first post here. I think that the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations, which resulted in 400 years or so of "dark ages" could be a good candidate for the end of the Fourth Age. I have just read Eric H. Cline's 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed ,so that is the main source of my opinion. The Egyptian New Kingdom, Hittite Empire and Mycenaean Greeks were the three major players who all but disappeared at this time. The traditional reason (with which Tolkien would have been quite familiar in his lifetime) is the raids of the mysterious Sea Peoples. The ensuing Dark Ages were a time when literacy and many other achievements nearly disappeared.

For a fascinating introduction to the complex reasons for the calamity, check out Dr. Eric H. Cline on YouTube, https://youtu.be/hyry8mgXiTk.

And here is a link to Dr. Cline's world class credentials on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Eric-H.-Cline/e/B001HCVOR8/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1457122287&sr=1-3.

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    Welcome to the site! For most answers, it's best to clearly indicate what's canon and what's speculation; you might consider clarifying and linking to the sources you mention. – Milo P Mar 4 '16 at 19:38
  • Thank you Milo. I have now tried to do that. Will improve, I promise. – Deirdre1230 Mar 4 '16 at 20:18
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I think that it was the flood of the Persian gulf. Because it caused the men therein to flee to the comparatively desolate north of Mesopotamia which was the catalysts for Babylon for Assyria and Egypt. Sargon imposed time upon us then and the work day. The Persian gulf was back then named differently, it was Edin or Eden for which the four rivers United to form the great headwater of paradise. Unlike other ages the fourth ended by a natural rather than a Melkorite catastrophe. However now ages only end by our hand Christ's betrayal and the Bomb. We humans are now the Dark lord and there is nothing to stop us. We must see the light and halt our expansion.

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