Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ Mythical Realms, Inspired From The Real World

J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical universe with all of its realms as depicted in four of his high fantasy novels, namely ‘The Hobbit‘ (1937) and ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy (1954–1955), was actually inspired from real world locations in Europe and its vicinity. A superimposed detailed map of the Middle Earth and of the European continent created by professor Peter Bird at UCLA clearly sheds light on the fact that Tolkien’s legendarium was inspired from the real world.

Tolkien was tremendously inspired by mainly Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Finnish mythologies (but to a smaller extent also by other mythologies of the world), creating thus a fictional world known as the Middle Earth in which humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs dwelt, each with their own culture and language.

Sauron's ring of power. Image source:

Sauron’s ring of power. Image source:

According to the author himself, the epic saga of events that unfolded throughout ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was set in a previous state of our own world, roughly 6,000 years ago. Additionally, all these events preceded the Fourth Age of the Middle Earth, the age that will have seen the rise of the humans and the downfall of all other races of the other realms.

In Tolkien’s universe, the name of the seen world is Arda, but it was firstly mentioned in a posthumous work entitled ‘The Silmarillion‘ (1977) which was edited by his son, Christopher. For his entire fictional universe, the term is Eä.

The author, however, referred to the Middle Earth as ‘the Old World’ and did not hesitate to compare it on more than one occasion with the real world. The commonalities are evident with respect to the Shire, which draws inspiration from Tolkien’s native England, while the Grey Havens are situated in modern day Ireland.

Nonetheless, given the timeline in which the action is set, it would be very hard to thoroughly spot all the locations (or even only the major ones) without doubts, since these presumed events took place about 6,000 years ago, as the author points out in the prologue.

Map of the Middle Earth overlapped on that of Europe by professor Peter Bird at University of California in Los Angeles. Image source:

Map of the Middle Earth superimposed on that of Europe by professor Peter Bird at University of California in Los Angeles. Image source:

Legend of the above map (highlighting only some of the major locations of the Middle Earth):

  • Ruins of Beleriand corresponds to present-day Denmark and southern Sweden as well as southern England;
  • Hithlum is located in present-day Sweden;
  • Eriador is located between Aquitaine and Brittany in contemporary France;
  • Mordor is situated in Transylvania, present-day Romania;
  • Gondor is situated south of the Italian Alps;
  • Rohan is situated in present-day southern Germany as well as parts of Switzerland and Austria;
  • Rhûn is located in the European part of contemporary Russia;
  • Sea of Rhûn is the Black Sea;
  • Umbar and Haradwaith are located in northern Africa.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien is among the best selling book series of all time, with an estimated 150 million units sold worldwide to date. Furthermore, both the trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ were made into films by Peter Jackson, being filmed integrally in New Zealand. To date, Peter Jackson’s films based on Tolkien’s novels are among the highest-grossing film series of all time.

Documentation sources and external links:

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