I recently came across a particular essay by the author of The Last Ringbearer, which states:

The Middle Earth has several built-in physical defects, and there’s no getting away from that. In his well-known essay Must Fantasy Be Stupid? Pereslegin provides a detailed classification of errors commonly committed by fantasy authors. He uses Tolkien’s work as an example of one of them, an “irreversible professional error”: “It occurs in a geologically unstable world....[]”

(To explain: if a planet has a single continent – Middle Earth.... []

....[] It turns out that all the seeming contradictions of Middle Earth’s natural history can be resolved with a single assumption: that Tolkien is describing only the northwestern part of the local landmass, rather than the whole thing.

(emphasis mine)

Now, this assumption had always been fact to me, so much that I assumed that I definitely did read it somewhere in the letters / HoME etc. Can someone point me to a definite source of this info from Tolkien's own pen? And if possible, a date on when that info became publicly available?

ETA: The info in specific referring to anything Tolkien himself mentioned about

  • whether or not the lands that we see in the maps of ME drawn by Tolkien are all that exist in that world

  • any correlations to real world geography (that it is / is not supposed to be referring to Western Europe as per Tolkien's conceit of 'Middle Earth is our world in the mythic past')

  • 1
    The question and the question title seem to be two completely different things.
    – Lawton
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:05
  • Could you clarify? I am looking for an official source on information about how Middle-Earth corresponds to real life geography. What seems inconsistent?
    – Shisa
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:07
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    Isn't what you are actually looking for is a source demonstrating that the maps and stories of middle earth are all taking place in the northwest of some landmass? Your question suggests that ME somehow matches up with a part of the real world, like western Europe or something. I think its the word "counterpart" that is confusing specifically.
    – Lawton
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:14
  • Also trying to apply real life geography to a world that originally was written to be flat and not spherical is pretty silly
    – Lawton
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:15
  • Eh, as for 'real life geography' I didn't think the fact that JRRT's intent for ME was to be a mythic tradition for the 'real world' needed to be stated here? I'm pretty sure the preface of The Hobbit mentions quite clearly the whole 'Hobbits are rare but still existent!' bit of conceit. I will add more clarification on what I'm looking for in my question tho - thanks for pointing that out.
    – Shisa
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


Let me introduce you to Ambarkanta Map V, published in History of Middle-earth 4, The Shaping of middle-earth:

enter image description here

This map was designed before LotR was written, so you won't see any of the familiar geography from that on it, but all of the Silmarillion geography is present and correct and you can see that yes indeed, the action is confined to a relatively small region in the north-west of the world.

At this stage it's necessary to quote from Letter 131:

actually the North-West is the only part clearly envisaged in these tales

Moving on, you'll also see that Middle-earth is not the only continent in the world and that there are also western, eastern and southern continents. For correlations to real-world geography have a look at southern Middle-earth (the area where the word "Hither" is written) : remind you of Africa?

Additionally, with this being a First Age map, it actually represents the original flat-world cosmology, so considerations relating to real-world geography should probably be ignored. This was a magical and mythical age, so it seems wrong to try to find a real-world basis for anything you see here.

Finally, the world was made round at the end of the Second Age, which created new lands and new continents, so it's necessary to quote from the end of the Akallabeth:

And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest 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.'

  • 2
    It's only fair to warn you that a lot of what's considered to be "Tolkien lore" is actually little more than "fanon with an attitude problem", arises from a time before HoME was published (or from those who haven't read HoME), can be directly contradicted by material that Tolkien actually did write, but yet has somehow ascended to become the accepted view of things. One really does need to filter out the crap, and quite carefully.
    – user8719
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 17:39
  • As always Jimmy's answer goes into great depth, and while there is not much in the way of information to add, if you're interested in reading more on the topic Letter 131, as quoted by Jimmy, covers this as well as much more. In general if you're interested at all in the geography of Middle Earth, or Lord of the Rings in general that letter is, in my opinion, one of the best short pieces of reading you can do.
    – Byron Felt
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 19:25
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    @JimmyShelter Was there a letter or piece that Tolkien wrote which related somewhere in Middle Earth to Oxford? Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 8:25
  • @Simon - Lettter 294: "If Hobbiton and Rivendell are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence. The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about the latitude of ancient Troy."
    – user8719
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 8:36
  • 1
    Thank you JimmyShelter for the great answer. And thanks Byron and Simon for the extremely relevant follow ups. This is exactly the info i was looking for
    – Shisa
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 10:55

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