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|Location||East of the Misty Mountains, south of Ered Mithrin|
|Realms||Woodland Realm, Dol Guldur|
|Inhabitants||Spiders, Wood-elves, Orcs, Nazgûl|
|Description||Deep, thick, dark forest|
|Other names||Taur-nu-Fuin, Forest of Great Fear, Taur-e-Ndaedelos, Greenwood the Great, Eryn Galen, Wood of Greenleaves, Eryn Lasgalen.|
|Etymology||Anglicized Westron mirk + wood|
|Events||Fall of Dol Guldur|
- "Well, here is Mirkwood! [...] Greatest of the forests of the Northern world. I hope you like the look of it."
- ― Gandalf
Mirkwood (S: Taur-nu-Fuin) or the Forest of Great Fear (S: Taur-e-Ndaedelos) was a great forest in Rhovanion. It was only known by these names in the latter part of the Third Age, having previously been called Greenwood the Great (S: Eryn Galen) and later became the Wood of Greenleaves (S: Eryn Lasgalen).
Mirkwood seems to have had much the same boundaries as it did at the end of the Third Age for most of its history. It was roughly rectangular in shape: stretching from the foothills of the Grey Mountains in the north to the North Undeep in the south, and from the east edge of the vale of Anduin to Erebor.
It was bisected by the ancient Old Forest Road. Later, when this road became unusable, a second path through the forest was made to the north. Between the two paths lay the Mountains of Mirkwood. The Forest River cut through the forest's northern end from its source in the western Grey Mountains, joined in the centre by the Enchanted River which flowed north from the Mountains of Mirkwood.
Originally called Greenwood the Great, the forest presumably once formed part of the vast primeval woodland which covered most of Middle-earth during the Years of the Trees. The Eldar passed through the area on their journey to Valinor and it was first populated at this time by the Nandor, unwilling to cross the Misty Mountains settled in the wooded valleys of the river Anduin. They multiplied and were joined by wandering Avari, becoming known as Silvan or Wood-elves.
The Old Forest Road was constructed very early in Greenwood's history, probably by Dwarves to carry traffic between their eastern and western clans, including the Dwarven colony in Erebor very close to the north-eastern edge of the forest.
Greenwood first appeared to history in recognisable form on the arrival of the Sindar Oropher and his hold at the beginning of the Second Age. Oropher built his halls at Amon Lanc and was accepted as the leader of the Wood-elves of Greenwood, forming the Woodland Realm.
Presumably by this time Men had also settled in and around the forest in small numbers.
The first millennium of the Third Age probably saw the creation of the East Bight by men living in the eastern eaves of the forest. These men may have formed part of the Kingdom of Rhovanion led by Vidugavia. Men, such as the Éothéod, and Hobbits also lived in the vale of Anduin and were likely responsible for the retreat of the forest's western border.
At the beginning of the Third Age Thranduil replaced Oropher as king of the Woodland Realm. Probably as a result of massive losses at the Battle of Dagorlad the Silvan population of Greenwood was diminished and became mainly concentrated in the hills then known as Emyn Duir. This included the abandonment of Amon Lanc, and around the turn of the first millennium Sauron, under the guise of the 'Necromancer', returned to Middle-earth and built a fortress there. The hill and the fortress together become known as Dol Guldur, the "Hill of Sorcery".
Sauron's arrival caused a darkening of Greenwood, and it is at this point it became known as Mirkwood. The children of Shelob, giant spiders, as well as bats and orcs in Dol Guldur's service occupied the forest and it became thicker, darker and covered in cobwebs.
This caused the Silvan population of Mirkwood to retreat even further, residing apparently exclusively in Thranduil's halls at the eastern end of the Forest River. The ancient Old Forest Road was abandoned by men and Dwarves alike, with a new but seldom used path being made further from Dol Guldur and the Hobbits near the forest's eastern border migrated away.
Mirkwood remained a place of fear throughout the Third Age, though the kingdoms of Erebor and Dale flourished briefly in the time of the Kings under the Mountain. This prosperity was ended by the arrival of the Dragon Smaug who brought yet further desolation to the area north-eastern Mirkwood. Small homesteads of 'Woodmen' are also recorded as living in the western edge of the forest south of the old road in T.A. 2941.
The shadow over Mirkwood was lifted, albeit temporarily, in T.A. 2941 when the White Council, prompted by the wizard Gandalf's discovery of his true identity, drove Sauron from Dol Guldur. Gandalf also instigated the Quest for Erebor which resulted in the slaying of Smaug in the same year. The combination of these two events allowed the re-established kingdoms of Erebor and Dale, as well as the Woodland Realm and a confederacy of Woodmen led by the Beornings to flourish for a brief period.
However, only ten years after these events Sauron, now based in Mordor, sent the Witch-king of Angmar and the other Nazgûl to secretly reoccupy Dol Guldur and begin amassing an army of Orcs and Easterlings there. In 3018 these attacked the Woodland Realm, as well as Dale, Erebor and Lórien, in the opening moves of the War of the Ring.
On March 19 3019 Thranduil repulsed Sauron's forces in the bloody Battle Under Trees and mounted a campaign to clear northern Mirkwood of Sauron's servants. At the same time the elves of Lórien led by Celeborn and Galadriel assaulted and destroyed Dol Guldur, and began to cleanse the southern part of the forest. Celeborn and Thranduil met in the midst of the forest on Elven New Year and formally renamed the forest Eryn Lasgalen. They then agreed to divide it between the Woodland Realm from the northern edge of the forest to the mountains, the Beornings from the mountains to the Narrows and East Lórien from the Narrows south.
Though initially they prospered as the darkness was lifted, the elves of the Wood of Greenleaves were destined either to depart for Valinor or fade into rustic forest spirits. The forest probably then ultimately fell under the dominion of men, the descendent of the Beornings and the men of Dale.
The name Mirkwood, anglicized from Myrkviðr, originally came from Germanic legends. In a letter to his grandson Michael, Tolkien says that "Mirkwood is not an invention of mine", and continues to discuss the origin of the name in Old English and Old Norse writings.
Sea-danes and Goths, Swedes and Northmen,
Franks and Frisians, folk of the islands,
Swordmen and Saxons, Swabes and English,
and the Langobards who long ago
beyond Myrcwudu a mighty realm
and wealth won them in the Welsh countries
where Ælfwine Eadwine's heir
in Italy was king. All that has passed.
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Map of Wilderland"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, "Michael George Tolkien 29 July 1966" (letter; partly published as letter 289)
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings: "The Lost Road: (iii) The unwritten chapters": King Sheave and note to line 150
- ↑ Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (HarperCollinsPublishers 2008), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion: "Prologue", p. 13