Before the Changing of the World, anyone could get to Valinor by simply sailing west. Even the hostile, invading army of Numenor landed there without much difficulty, it seems.

Then Eru stepped in, and...

...responded by creating an enormous rift between Númenor and the Blessed Realm, into which Ar-Pharazôn's fleet and, ultimately, his land were swept. Meanwhile, the flat world bent back upon itself and met at this rift. The final result was a round planet of which Aman and Tol Eressëa were no longer a physical part. After the Changing of the World, only the Elves could find the Straight Way and reach the ancient West by ship.

So what does that mean for Men sailing west in the Third Age? Would they just pass innocently through the "rift" that the Elves could penetrate, sail around the world like Magellan and land on the far eastern shore of Middle Earth without noticing anything was amiss? Or is there a danger to sailing that course, some risk to approaching that rift if you are not an Elf (or being escorted by one, like Frodo)?

Obviously Middle Earth is supposed to become our world, so at some point any discernible "border" would have disappeared, but given that Third Age maps of Arda are still radically different from modern Earth, such a "seam in the world" could easily have been removed once all the Elves had left.

Do we ever get any indication about the ability of Men to sail west? Were they forbidden, or cautioned not to attempt the voyage, as part of the punishment for Numenor's indiscretions? Or would they just pass harmlessly over the waves, oblivious to the experiences of their Elven counterparts?

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    I would highly recommend you to read Yeskov's "The Last Ring-Bearer". It's of course not canonical - but addresses the geophysics of Arda in an amazing way (and designed to do so). Jan 18, 2014 at 2:26
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    Actually, it isn't supposed to become "our world" - though I used to think so too. It is something akin to a parallel Earth and its history, rather than a history of our own Earth version. Jan 18, 2014 at 2:34
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    @balancedmama Actually yes, that is how Tolkien envisioned it
    – Izkata
    Jan 18, 2014 at 4:37
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    @Izkata, like I said, I used to believe that too. Just because there is another question and answers here with the same notion it negates my statement. Wikipedia is helpful but full of inaccuracies and lost bits as well. Tolkein's description of things is, contradictory and sometimes he described it both ways, but I distinctly remember a quote he gave in an interview or letter where he indicates it is not actually the Earth but a kind of "other Earth" on an imaginary plain kind of like how he saw the land of Faery. I don't know if I'll be able to find it online, but I'll see. Jan 18, 2014 at 16:33
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    @balancedmama: Tolkien often referred to it his "his imaginary mythical world" or "mythical pre-history", but he clarified in 183 that "Middle-Earth is not an imaginary world[...it is] the objectively real world, in use specific ally opposed to imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen words (as Heaven or Hell)[...] but the historical period is imaginary." I think you could say it's our world, but with a wink that it's mere myth and not literally true, as fiction. It that sense, you could say it's a parallel Earth, but I don't think that's what he meant.
    – Shamshiel
    Jan 18, 2014 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


After the Downfall of Numenor, Men could and did sail west. But they found themselves back where they started - the world was round.

And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like the old lands, and subject to death. And those who sailed farthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: 'All roads are now bent.'

Well, almost all men.

And tales and rumors 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 Avallone, 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.

(Quotes from the Akallabeth)

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    Good answer, but you should say where those quotes are from. Jan 18, 2014 at 8:54
  • I've edited to add the source for the quotes. @Shamshiel - feel free to roll-back my edit and source them yourself if you wish.
    – user8719
    Jan 18, 2014 at 17:25

After the 'bending of the world', one now travels in a circle on the spherical world. But the Elves were able to hold to the original path, the straight non-spherical path.

Like a laser, the Elves would point west- sail straight- and upon reaching a certain point would lift off the spherical world and head straight to their destination... keeping with the original path, (a straight line).

The Western Lands are now rendered inaccessible by the inhabitants of the world and are safe from invasion anymore.

  • Great answer, and welcome to the site!
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 17, 2015 at 19:13
  • not to nitpick but Valinor was not in any danger of attack from anyone except Morgoth who they booted out in the void
    – user60260
    Jun 3, 2016 at 16:52

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