User:Edrastel/Round World Thesis

From Tolkien Gateway


Within this section of my user page, I will elaborate on my idea of how the history of Arda plays out as a round world abiding by our real-world knowledge of the fashion of the earth and our solar system, as well as my explanations as to the origins of the sources of the legendarium. Keep in mind, none of this is meant to be considered absolute truth, but merely my own personal theory on what the truth may be within the legends of Middle-earth.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Ever since the first ideas of Middle-earth and the great tales of its inhabitants were conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien during the Great War, the stories of Arda describe the world as a flat slab of earth amidst an Encircling Sea. Between the Encircling Sea and Arda, the lower airs which we breathe covered all the lands and seas, with the upper airs covering the continent of Aman and holding the many stars and heavenly bodies of Varda.[1] This very small and confined cosmogony of the universe remained even after the world was made round with the downfall of Númenor, as can be seen in Diagram III of the Ambarkanta maps.[2] Evidently, the residents of Middle-earth held to this concept of the universe as well, such as Elendil who wrote the Akallabêth. Even the mysterious Tom Bombadil makes reference to this flat world of the Elder Days.

"When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under stars when it was fearless - before the Dark Lord came from Outside."
Tom Bombadil

However, in the latest years of his life, Tolkien felt that this mythology was no longer suitable in a world that we knew to be round and adrift in the incomprehensible vastness of space,[3]:370 Therefore, he considered rewriting the cosmogony of his world to fit with our knowledge of the universe. His first attempts began with a rewritten section of the Ainulindalë and an alternate telling of the Akallabêth from Man's perspective.[4] Further writings into the possibilities within this Round World legendarium were published in Myths Transformed, the fifth and final section of Morgoth's Ring. In these writings, it becomes clear that Tolkien was firm in his conviction that the legendarium must undergo a drastic cosmological transformation, but the task was simply too great to undertake at such a point, and all attempts were left unfinished.[3]:369

In his stead, I will here propose my idea, supported by Tolkien's own writings, of how a Round Arda can exist without getting rid of the Flat World tales found in The Silmarillion and other such books of lore.

The Silmarillion: Númenórean Legend[edit | edit source]

Firstly, it must be said that Tolkien himself already solved this dilemma of a Flat World mythology in a Round World reality. Later in his life, it was Tolkien's belief that The Silmarillion, the famous book of lore concerning the Elder Days and their effect on the days of later tales, was in fact written by Men and not Elves. The tales of the Elder Days would be taught by the Elves to the Edain in Beleriand upon the meeting of the two peoples in the First Age. Shortly afterwards in Beleriand, and in Númenor, and even in Arnor and Gondor, these tales would become "blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas".[3]:373 This flawed conception of the universe must have lasted as the commonly accepted belief of Men, which is evident in Elendil's inclusion of Flat World allusions in his writings concerning the Downfall of Númenor: the Akallabêth.[5]

"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.' Thus in after days, what by the voyages of ships, what by lore and star-craft, the kings of Men knew that the world was indeed made round [. . .]"
Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor

Undoubtedly, Tolkien states, the Elves must have known of the true composition of the solar system and had their own tales of Arda's youngest days.[3]:370 Therefore, it was his task to put these tales of Arda's true history into writing.

The First War[edit | edit source]

It is made clear in Tolkien's revised version of the Ainulindalë that the Sun and Moon existed first and foremost of all lights of Arda.[6]:40 The Sun existed even before the coming of the Valar into Arda, while the Moon was artificially created. Two origins are proposed, and both are equally plausible. In the Ainulindalë Version C*, the Moon was made when Melkor attempted to destroy the planet of Arda, seeing that if he could not rule it then no one should. He failed in this attempt, but a great mass of Arda was lost in the process which became a stronghold of Melkor. Afterwards, the Valar cast Melkor out of his abode on this little world and sent it further away from the earth.[6]:41 - 42 The other possible origins tells of the Valar creating the Moon of their own design to bring light into the darkness of night to ward off Melkor.[3]:376 In either case, both the Sun and Moon precede the creation of the Two Trees, and the Two Lamps are entirely absent altogether.

How then can the legends of the Two Lamps of the Valar exist if there were no Lamps in Arda's history to begin with? This is where Tolkien's hypotheses end and mine begin. I believe that during the westward journey undertaken by Men after their departure from Hildórien, some early tribes of Edain must have discovered the Inland Sea of Helcar and marveled at its great size. I believe these tribes may have been a part of the Haladin, who did not appear to follow the northerly route of the first and third houses of the Edain. Over a millennium later, when the Númenóreans began to sail the seas and plot out the coasts of Arda's landmasses (with the exception of Aman),[5] they would no doubt encounter the East Sea of Ringil in the southern regions of Middle-earth. The Edain would wonder at the origins of these two great bodies of water and devise legends as to what created the seas of Helcar and Ringil. Thus, the legend of the Two Lamps would be devised and in later days included in their account of legends, The Silmarillion.

As for the events that took place in the Mannish "Years of the Lamps", Tolkien devised a new mythology which would have been held in the memories of the Elves. The First War between Melkor and the Valar in the earliest days of Arda corresponds roughly with the earth's primeval epochs before this world became habitable for organic life.[3]:376 [Cont.]

  • Time before the awakening of the Elves cannot be known with certainty beyond the word of the Valar.

The Years of the Trees[edit | edit source]

  • The darkness of these Years were due to Melkor's dark arts and not the absence of a Sun or Moon.
  • Dome of Varda

The Great Journey of Man[edit | edit source]

  • Men awake in Hildórien in the far east and are subdued by Melkor shortly after the awakening of the Elves.
  • The Mountains of the Wind must have survived into the time of Man's awakening for it to appear in the Ambarkanta.

The Ambarkanta: the Cartography of the Exiles[edit | edit source]

  • The Númenóreans were limited in their knowledge of the world due to the Ban of the Valar; they could not venture west.

References[edit | edit source]