We continue our overview of Tolkien's Legendarium and mythology ahead of the premiere of The Rings of Power, the new Amazon Prime Video series that will arrive on September 2 and will serve as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. After reviewing who is Melkor / Morgoth, Sauron's mentor and first Dark Lord, today we want to focus on the world in which the adventures and misadventures of the British writer take place. And more specifically, in its origin. Because we usually refer to this world as Middle-earth, but it is a mistake because this is only an area of it, a continent. Put away your smartphones and take out a sheet of paper and a pen, please. It's time for a geography and history test.
What is the name of the world of The Lord of the Rings and The Rings of Power?
The world of The Lord of the Rings and The Rings of Power is called Arda and was created by the Ainur. Before going on it should be made clear that Tolkien (1892-1973) was a deeply religious man (like most people and writers of the time, as was CS Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia), so much of his imagery was built on Christian foundations.
At the beginning of time, there was a god, Ilúvatar, whose spirit or soul was known as the Flame Imperishable and gave him the gift of creating new things. In the manner of Voldemort with the Horcruxes (though without murder), Ilúvatar used his spirit to create the Ainur, divine and immortal beings that came in his image and likeness. They also had the ability to create, although with more style, since they did it "by means of the Great Music".
It could be said that when the Ainur got tired of being in limbo with Ilúvatar and wanted to become independent, they took the instruments from which Arda, the physical world, was born.
Middle Earth, also known as... Europe
In Arda, that physical, earthly world created by the Ainur, many continents and regions have existed over the years. Just as it happened with the Earth and Pangaea in real life, its geography has been changing with time, the different ages and their respective events. There was even a time when it was a flat world. In the article on Númenor, Tolkien's Atlantis, we commented on how its sinking turned Arda into a spherical planet. If you are interested in the subject, there are dozens of maps on its evolution that accumulate and overlap one with another.
The one we should care about is Middle-earth, the main continent, also known as Endor. It is here that the events of the Lord of the Rings films and presumably those of The Rings of Power take place. Middle-earth is clearly inspired by Europe and Tolkien himself once unveiled the references for various locations, although he always encouraged not to look for exact geographical correspondences. However, it is often said that Hobbiton would be a sort of Oxford or Yorkshire; Minas Tirith, the glorious capital of Gondor, would be the city of Ravenna in Italy, or perhaps Florence; Mordor would be Turkey, and so on.
But apart from Middle-earth, there are other continents in Arda, such as Valinor (also called Aman, land of Valar and elves), or the uninhabited Land of the Sun, later replaced by the Dark Lands.
Who are the Valar and the Maiar?
Finally, let's clarify who the Valar and the Maiar are, as you have probably heard both names (and you will hear them even more during the broadcast of the series). Do you remember the Ainur we were talking about before? Those divine beings that came from the god Ilúvatar? Well, it's them again. When Arda was created, there were many Ainur who stayed with Ilúvatar, but those who went to live in the physical world were given the names Valar and Maiar.
The Valar were the most powerful, the nobility of the Ainur, and lacked gender and physical body, but were classified as female or male depending on their temperament. At first, there were 15 of them, including Melkor, the first Dark Lord. The Maiar were under their orders, were their entourage and had a lower rank. Some examples are Gandalf, Saruman or Sauron, and even the balrog and dragons are Maia transformed.
The history of Arda is the history of the battles between the Valar and how they moved their pawns (humans, elves, dwarves and other fantastic creatures) by means of their Maiar. All while Ilúvatar and the rest of Ainur just watched.