Round World version of the Silmarillion

From Tolkien Gateway
History of Arda
Music of the Ainur
Timeline of Arda
Days before days
Years of the Trees
Years of the Sun
Ages of Middle-earth
First Age (Y.T. 1050 - Y.S. 590)
Second Age (S.A. 1 - 3441)
Third Age (T.A. 1 - 3021)
Fourth Age (Fo.A. 1 - ????)
Later Ages (up to present day)
Dagor Dagorath
Round World version
of The Silmarillion
Arda in the Third Age by Sage

The Round World version is one of the variants of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium, published in the final volumes of The History of Middle-earth. In this version, the setting of his legendarium is more scientifically realistic and less mythological: the Earth was always round, and Arda was the name for the whole solar system instead of just the Earth.

In the Round World version the Sun and the Moon were not the fruit of the Two Trees, but actually preceded their creation, and the Two Lamps which preceded them all in the Flat World cosmology had never truly existed and were instead a subject of Númenórean legend. The significance of the Trees and the Silmarils was that they preserved the light of the Sun before it was tainted by Melkor when he ravished Arien. The Moon in this tale was instead a remnant of the First War from a time when Melkor sought to destroy all the earth but could not succeed in his attempts, and the Moon is what broke away from Arda in the destruction. However, another tale from this cosmology tells that the Valar wrought the Moon out of the earth to counteract the night when Melkor was most active.

Similarly, the stars were not created with the Awakening of the Elves, but the occluding clouds were removed to reveal them, and it wasn't Varda who kindled them, since her power was limited to Arda while the stars were set in .


Tolkien himself did not believe the earth was flat or had ever been so, but chose to depict the "primeval world" of his legendarium as "flat and bounded" due to his affinity for the myths of "ancient men."[1][2]

Already in the early stages of the Legendarium, while writing Ambarkanta, Tolkien considered making Ambar always a globe, but the known regions were barred within impassable mountain walls that hid the rest of the world.[3]:242 - 243

Tolkien first experimented writing a round world version of the Ainulindalë and The Fall of Númenor, in a time before the writing of The Return of the King. In that draft of the Ainulindale, the Sun already exists. Having sent both the "Flat World" and the "Round World" versions to Katherine Ferrar in 1948, she replied that she preferred the old version better because "The hope of Heaven is the only thing which makes modern astronomy tolerable: otherwise there must be an East and a West and Walls: aims and choices and not an endless circle of wandering". Christopher Tolkien guesses that her commentary influenced his father to return to the flat-earth model, but he didn't totally abandon it.[4][5]

References to the seas being first "bent" after the Fall of Númenor, to the "Sunless Years," and to the trolls of the Twilight survived in The Lord of the Rings.[6][7][8][9] However, these may be interpreted as statements made by characters which reflect their own understanding of their world, rather than authorial declarations of objective fact.

The Round World mythology emerged again in writings between 1958-1960, but it was never developed beyond the stage of drafting and Tolkien didn't continue the revisions. Thus the Flat World version was chosen by Christopher Tolkien for the published The Silmarillion.[10]

Towards the end of his life, Tolkien put forth an alternative which permitted Arda to have been round for the whole history of the Secondary World without rewriting the existing tales. He recharacterized the Quenta Silmarillion as a compilation of "traditions... handed on by Men [...] blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas."[11]

In this late view of Tolkien's, "nearly all the matter of The Silmarillion is contained in myths and legends that have passed through Men's hands and minds, and are (in many points) plainly influenced by contact and confusion with the myths, theories, and legends of Men."[12] Thus, there would be no need for readers in the Primary World or even characters within the Secondary World to accept the story of the reshaping of the world as "geologically or astronomically 'true.'"[13]


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131, (undated, written late 1951)
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 154, (dated 25 September 1954)
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "V. The Ambarkanta"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part One. Ainulindalë: Ainulindalë C*"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Sauron Defeated, "Part Three: The Drowning of Anadûnê, with the Third Version of The Fall of Númenor, and Lowdham's Report on the Adunaic Language"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Three is Company"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Other Races"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed", "[Text] I", p. 373
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XIII. Last Writings", Note 17, p. 390
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 325, (dated 17 July 1971)