Was Middle Earth named thus because Tolkien was inspired by Norse mythology?

I got this idea after reading this.

  • 1
    yes, it's almost certainly named after "Middangeard"
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 10:29

1 Answer 1



Although the term does appear in Norse mythology, the very specific item that was the starting point for Tolkien was the Old English poem Crist; particularly these lines:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended

This translates as:

Hail Earendel brightest of angels
Above Middle-earth sent unto men

This is noted as the source in Letter 297, confirmed in HoME 2 and 9, and in fact Quenya Aiya Eärendil, elenion ancalima! (which Frodo uses in Shelob's Lair) is just a translation of the first line.

The name - or more specifically Tolkien's use of the name - therefore does not come from Norse mythology but from Old English religious poetry.

  • In 1914 (so this year is an anniversary) Tolkien wrote his first Earendil-poem, which was the first ever work he'd done on his mythology, and which was inspired by these lines.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 11:53
  • Good answer, but just to add to this, the poem was written by the Anglo-Saxon Christian poet Cynewulf (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynewulf ), and the Anglo-Saxons descended from Germanic tribes whose religion before they adopted Christianity was probably fairly similar to that of the Norse people, so that explains why they would use the similar term "Middle-Earth"--see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_paganism for more
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 14:59
  • @Hypnosifl - I had a feeling someone might mention that :) In truth both the English and the Norse descended from a common Germanic source, so it's more likely to have origins in that common Germanic source than in the Norse (unless there was some subsequent cultural intermingling). It would be still incorrect to attribute the influence on Tolkien to the Norse: it's either the Old English version or the more ancient Germanic via the Old English (i.e that the Norse had it too is not really relevant so far as influence on Tolkien is concerned).
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 15:39
  • ...so I guess that what I'm saying is that for the purposes of the question the answer is no, Tolkien wasn't inspired by Norse mythology. However, both Norse mythology and the OE poem (that Tolkien was inspired by) were likely derived from the same common source.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 16:28
  • yes, I think that's a good way of putting it. And I'd also say that although Iguana was wrong in a literal sense, he/she was on the right track--Iguana may just not have known that the mythology of Odin (or Wotan)/Thor/Midgard etc. was broader than "Norse mythology", if he/she had known that the question might have been phrased differently.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 17:13

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