TOLKIEN1.TXT - Tolkien: Frequently Asked Questions 1/2

From: (William D.B. Loos)
Newsgroups: rec.arts.books.tolkien,,rec.answers,alt.answers,news.answers
Subject: Tolkien: Frequently Asked Questions (1/2)
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Date: 8 Feb 1995 20:21:32 GMT
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Summary: Frequenty Asked Questions about the author J.R.R. Tolkien: 
        questions commonly raised by the first reading of _The Hobbit_ 
        or _The Lord of the Rings_; details of the background mythology 
        and invented history which relate directly to the stories; 
        biographical matters.
X-Last-Updated: 1994/03/29
Originator: faqserv@bloom-picayune.MIT.EDU
Xref: rec.arts.books.tolkien:15752 rec.answers:10050 alt.answers:7366 news.answers:34710

Archive-name: tolkien/faq/part1
X-Last-Updated:  1994/03/28

Posting Frequency: 28 days

      The Tolkien Frequently Asked Questions List (FAQ), is the first of 
two informational files on J.R.R. Tolkien and his writings, the other 
being the Less Frequently Asked Questions List (LessFAQ).  The division 
of questions follows several general criteria.  The FAQ leans towards 
questions of interest to people who have read only _The Lord of the 
Rings_ and _The Hobbit_, together with most questions on Tolkien himself 
and on topics which seem fundamental to his worldview (his linguistic 
games in particular).  The LessFAQ contains questions of a more obscure 
nature, most questions arising from posthumous works, and in general 
aspects of the nature and history of Middle-earth which are important 
but tangential to _The Lord of the Rings_.  There is also an element of 
personal arbitrariness.  All available sources have been used for both 
lists.  Criticisms, corrections, and suggestions are of course welcome.

                                            William D.B. Loos



   Questions numbered thusly:  1)  are in their final form. 
   Questions numbered thusly:  1]  remain unrevised. 
   Sections/questions marked:  *   have been revised since the last 
                               **  are new since the last release.

                        Table of Contents

   I. Changes Since the Last Release (*)

  II. Acknowledgements

 III. Note on References and Conversion Table 

  IV. Commonly Used Abbreviations

   V. Frequently Asked Questions

    A) Tolkien And His Work
      1) Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway?

      2) Were the languages presented in _The Lord of the Rings_ real 
      3) What does it mean when people (or Tolkien himself) speak of him 
        as having been the "editor" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ?
      4) How thoroughly realized was Tolkien's fiction that he was the 
        "translator" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ?
      5) Why is Tolkien's work, _The Lord of the Rings_ in particular, 
        so difficult to translate (into other languages of our world)?

      6) Did the events in _The Lord of the Rings_ take place on another 
        planet or what?
      7) Was the northwest of Middle-earth, where the story takes place, 
        meant to actually be Europe?
      8) Was the Shire meant to be England?

      9) What were the changes made to _The Hobbit_ after _The Lord of 
        the Rings_ was written, and what motivated them?

    B) Hobbits
      1) Were Hobbits a sub-group of Humans?  
      2) Did Hobbits have pointed ears?  
      3) When was Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday?  To what date on our own 
        calendar does it correspond? 
      4) Was Gollum a hobbit?

    C) Elves
      1) Did Elves have pointed ears?  

    D) Dwarves
(*)   1) Did Dwarf women have beards?   

    E) Istari (Wizards)
      1] Who were the Istari (Wizards)?
      2] Of the Five Wizards, only three came into the story.  Was 
        anything known about the other two?
      3] What happened to Radagast?

    F) Enemies
      1] What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins?

    G) Miscellaneous
      1] Who or what was Tom Bombadil?
(*)   2) What became of the Entwives? 



      Starting with this release the Less Frequently Asked Questions 
List is abbreviated as "LessFAQ" rather than "LFAQ".  The desire is that
its abbreviation should match its archive name, which was chosen for the
sake of clarity.

      The changes indicated in the Contents were those needed to bring 
various sections to their final form.  Unless otherwise noted, questions 
marked as revised were changed by the addition of references and of 
contributors (and stylistically: some were to some extent re-written)
but not in content.

  -- Question D (1) (beards of dwarf-women) has been somewhat expanded.
  -- Question G (2) (Entwives) has been substantially expanded.



The following individuals made suggestions and contributions to these
FAQ lists:  (Wayne Hammond Jr)   (Carl F. Hostetter)
paul@ERC.MsState.Edu  (Paul Adams)   (Bill Taylor) (Craig Presson)     (Simen Gaure)
abalje47@uther.Calvin.EDU (Alan Baljeu) (SAHDRA KULDIP) (Bill Sherman)   (Mark Gordon)  (Peter Hunt) (Robert Rosenbaum)


                        NOTE ON REFERENCES 

      There is a certain amount of cross-referencing among the questions 
on both the FAQ and the LessFAQ lists.  Any questions so referred to are 
specified by the list, section, and question number.  Thus, the first 
question in the Hobbit section of the FAQ, "Were Hobbits a sub-group of 
Humans?" would be referenced as (FAQ, Hobbits, 1).  Note that the 
section "Tolkien And His Work" is referred to merely as "Tolkien" and 
the section "General History of Middle-earth" is referred to merely as 
"General".  E.g. the question "Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway?" is (FAQ, 
Tolkien, 1) and the question "What exactly happened at the end of the 
First Age?" is (LessFAQ, General, 1).

      Sources for quotations have been provided in the form of volume 
and page numbers; the specific editions utilized are listed in the next
paragraph.  For those occasions when the proper edition is not available 
(and the conversion table below is not applicable) the page numbers have 
been roughly located according to chapter, sub-section, or appendix, 
whichever is appropriate.  For example,  RK, 57-59 (V, 2) refers to 
pages 57-59 of Return of the King and further locates the pages in 
chapter 2 of Book V.  PLEASE NOTE the distinction in the case of _Lord 
of the Rings_ between *Volumes* and *Books*.  LotR is comprised of three 
Volumes (FR, TT, and RK) and of six Books (I - VI), which are the more
natural divisions of the story into six roughly equal parts.  There are
two Books in each of the Volumes.  Other sample references are below.

      References to _The Hobbit_ are from the Ballantine paperback (the 
pagination has been the same since the 60's.  All other references are 
to the HM hardcovers.  Sample references follow:

      Hobbit, 83 (Ch V)  ==   Hobbit, chapter V

      RK, 408 (App F, I, "Of Men", "Of Hobbits")  ==
                             p 408 in Part I of Appendix F, the sections 
                                      entitled "Of Men" and "Of Hobbits"

      Silm, 57 (Ch V)  ==  Silmarillion, chapter V  (BoLT and _The 
                              Annotated Hobbit_ treated similarly) 

      UT, 351 (Three, IV, iii)  ==  Unfinished Tales, Part Three, 
                                      Chapter IV, sub-section iii 
                                    (the Biography treated similarly)

      Letters, 230 (#178)  ==  letter number 178.  

      RtMe, 53-54 (3, "Creative anachronisms")  == 
                                 The Road to Middle-earth, in Chapter 3, 
                                     sub-section "Creative anachronisms"


      In _The Atlas of Middle-earth_, Karen Wynn Fonstad provided a 
Houghton-Mifflin-to-Ballantine conversion table, which is reproduced 
below.  The "table" is actually a set of formulae by which HM page 
numbers may be converted to Ballantine page numbers via arithmetic 
involving some empirically determined constants.  Since these are 
discrete rather than continuous functions the results may be off by 
a page or so.  

[NOTE: in the Fall of 1993, Ballantine issued a new edition of the mass 
market paperback of LotR in which the text has been re-set, thereby 
changing the page on which any given quote is located.  Thus, the 
following table will no longer work with the latest printings, which may 
be identified by the change in the color of the covers (the pictures are 
unaltered): in the previous set of printings all the covers were black; 
in the new set FR is green, TT is purple, and RK is red.]

      HM Page            Subtract            Divide By            Add
   -------------         --------            ---------          -------
   FR 10 to 423             9                  .818                18
   TT 15 to 352            14                  .778                16
   RK 19 to 311            18                  .797                18
   RK 313 to 416          312                  .781               386
    H 9 to 317              8                 1.140                14
   Silm 15 to 365          14                  .773                 2

Reference:  Atlas, p. 191 (first edtion), p. 192 (revised edtion)


                       COMMONLY USED ABBREVIATIONS


      JRRT          J.R.R. Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
      CT, CJRT      Christopher Tolkien (son; editor of most posthumous 

      A&U, AU       George Allen & Unwin (original British publisher)
      UH            Unwin Hyman (new name for A&U c. 1987(?))
      HC            HarperCollins (purchased UH c. 1992; current British 
      HM            Houghton Mifflin (American publisher)

      M-e           Middle-earth
      SA            Second Age
      TA            Third Age
      SR            Shire Reckoning

Middle-earth Works:

      H             The Hobbit
      LR, LotR      The Lord of the Rings
      FR, FotR      The Fellowship of the Ring
      TT, TTT       The Two Towers
      RK, RotK      The Return of the King

      TB, ATB       The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
      RGEO          The Road Goes Ever On
      Silm          The Silmarillion
      UT            Unfinished Tales
      Letters       The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
      HoMe          History of Middle-earth
      BLT,BoLT      Book of Lost Tales 
      Lays          The Lays of Beleriand
      Treason       The Treason of Isengard
      Guide         The Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings
                                      (published in _A Tolkien Compass_)

Other Works:

      FGH           Farmer Giles of Ham
      TL            Tree and Leaf
      OFS           On Fairy-Stories
      LbN           Leaf by Niggle
      HBBS          The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son
      SWM           Smith of Wootton Major
      SGPO          Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo
      FCL           The Father Christmas Letters

Reference Works:

      Biography     J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography; by Humphrey Carpenter
                    (published in the US as Tolkien: A Biography)
      Inklings      The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles 
                    Williams, and Their Friends;  by Humphrey Carpenter
      RtMe          The Road to Middle-earth;  by T.A. Shippey
      Scholar       J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in
                    Memoriam; edited by Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell
      Atlas         The Atlas of Middle-earth;  by Karen Wynn Fonstad



1) Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway?

      John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Englishman, scholar, and storyteller 
  was born of English parents at Bloemfontein, South Africa on Jan. 3, 
  1892 and died in England on Sept. 2, 1973.  His entire childhood was
  spent in England, to which the family returned permenantly in 1896 
  upon the death of his father.  He received his education at King 
  Edward's School, St. Philip's Grammar School, and Oxford University.
  After graduating in 1915 he joined the British army and saw action in 
  the Battle of the Somme.  He was eventually discharged after spending
  most of 1917 in the hospital suffering from "trench fever".  [It was
  during this time that he began The Book of Lost Tales.]

      Tolkien was a scholar by profession.  His academic positions were:
  staff member of the New English Dictionary (1918-20); Reader, later 
  Professor of English Language at Leeds, 1920-25; Rawlinson and Bosworth 
  Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (1925-45); and Merton Professor of 
  English Language and Literature (1945-59).  His principal professional 
  focus was the study of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and its relation to 
  linguistically similar languages (Old Norse, Old German, and Gothic),
  with special emphasis on the dialects of Mercia, that part of England 
  in which he grew up and lived, but he was also interested in Middle 
  English, especially the dialect used in the _Ancrene Wisse_ (a twelfth 
  century manuscript probably composed in western England).  Moreover,
  Tolkien was an expert in the surviving literature written in these
  languages.  Indeed, his unusual ability to simultaneously read the 
  texts as linguistic sources and as literature gave him perspective 
  into both aspects; this was once described as "his unique insight at
  once into the language of poetry and the poetry of language" (from 
  the Obituary; Scholar, p. 13).

      From an early age he had been fascinated by language, particularly
  the languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern.  From this 
  affinity for language came not only his profession but also his private 
  hobby, the invention of languages.  He was more generally drawn to the
  entire "Northern tradition", which inspired him to wide reading of its 
  myths and epics and of those modern authors who were equally drawn to 
  it, such as William Morris and George MacDonald.  His broad knowledge
  inevitably led to the development of various opinions about Myth, its 
  relation to language, and the importance of Stories, interests which
  were shared by his friend C.S. Lewis.  All these various perspectives:
  language, the heroic tradition, and Myth and Story (and a very real
  and deeply-held belief in and devotion to Catholic Christianity) came 
  together with stunning effect in his stories: first the legends of the
  Elder Days which served as background to his invented languages, and 
  later his most famous works, _The Hobbit_ and _The Lord of the Rings_.

References: Biography; Letters; RtMe (esp. ch 1, on philology); 
            Inklings; Scholar.

Contributors: WDBL, Wayne Hammond Jr


2) Were the languages presented in _The Lord of the Rings_ real 

      Most certainly they were, especially the Elven languages Sindarin 
  and Quenya.  "[These were] no arbitrary gibberish but really possible 
  tongues with consistent roots, sound laws, and inflexions, into which 
  he poured all his imaginative and philological powers..." (Obituary, 
  in Scholar, p. 12).  Furthermore, they were both derived from a 
  "proto-Elvish" language, again in a linguistically realistic manner.  
  [Sindarin was the "everyday" elvish language while Quenya was a kind 
  of "elf-latin"; therefore, most Elvish words in LotR were Sindarin.  
  Examples: most "non-English" (see FAQ, Tolkien, 4) place-names on the 
  map (e.g. Minas Tirith, Emyn Beriad) were Sindarin, as was the song 
  to Elbereth sung in Rivendell; Galadriel's lament was in Quenya.]

      The language of the Rohirrim *was* a real language: Anglo-Saxon 
  (Old English), just as their culture (except for the horses) was that 
  of the Anglo-Saxons.  (It was, however, not the "standard" West Saxon 
  Old English but rather the Mercian equivalent (RtMe, 94).)  Most of
  the other languages in LotR were much less fully developed: Entish, 
  Khudzul (Dwarvish) and the Black Speech (the language of Mordor, e.g. 
  the Ring inscription).  Adunaic, the language of Numenor, developed in 
  1946 while he was finishing up LotR, was said to be his fifteenth 
  invented language.

References: Biography, 35-37 (II,3), 93-95 (III,1), 195 (V,2);
            Letters, 175-176 (#144), 219 (footnote) (#165), 380 (#297);
            RtMe, 93 (4, "The horses of the Mark");
            Scholar, 12 (Obituary).

Contributor: WDBL


3) What does it mean when people (or Tolkien himself) speak of him as
  having been the "editor" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ?

      The fiction Tolkien sought to maintain was that _The Lord of the 
  Rings_ (and _The Hobbit_ and the Silmarillion) were actually ancient 
  manuscripts (written by Frodo and Bilbo, respectively) of which he was 
  merely the editor and translator (a situation identical to much of his 
  scholarly work).  He never stated this directly but it is implicit in
  the way in which many sections of LoTR outside the story are written.
  Thus, the Prologue is plainly written as though by a modern editor 
  describing an ancient time.  Other examples are the introductory note
  to the revised edition of _The Hobbit_, the Preface to _The Adventures
  of Tom Bombadil_, and parts of the Appendices, especially the intro-
  ductory note to Appendix A, Appendix D, and Appendix F.  Most inter-
  esting of all is the Note on the Shire Records, where Tolkien further 
  simulates a real situation by inventing a manuscript tradition (the 
  suggestion was that Frodo's original manuscript didn't survive but 
  that a series of copies had been made, one of which had come into 
  Tolkien's hands).

      This entire notion was by no means a new idea: many authors have 
  pretended that their fantasies were "true" stories of some ancient 
  time.  Few, however, have done so as thoroughly and successfully as
  did Tolkien.  The most effective component of his pretense was the 
  linguistic aspects of Middle-earth, for he was uniquely qualified to 
  pose as the "translator" of the manuscripts (see FAQ, Tolkien, 4).

References: introductory note to _The Hobbit_ (precedes Ch I); 
            FR, Prologue, Note on the Shire Records; 
            RK, Appendix A, Appendix D, Appendix F; 
            ATB, Preface.

Contributor: WDBL


4) How thoroughly realized was Tolkien's fiction that he was the 
  "translator" of _The Lord of the Rings_ ?

      Very thoroughly indeed.  The scenario was that "of course" hobbits 
  couldn't have spoken English (the story took place far in the past --
  see FAQ, Tolkien, 6); rather, they spoke their own language, called 
  Westron (but often referred to as the Common Speech).  Tolkien "trans-
  lated" this language into English, which included "rendering" all the 
  Common Speech place-names into the equivalent English place-names.  
  The object of the exercise was to produce the following effect: names 
  in the Common Speech (which were familiar to the hobbits) were 
  "rendered" into English (in which form they would be familiar to us, 
  the English-speaking readers); names in other languages (usually 
  Sindarin) were "left alone", and thus were equally unfamiliar to the 
  hobbits and to us.  Since the story was told largely from the hobbits' 
  point of view, that we should share their linguistic experience is a 
  desirable result (especially for Tolkien, who was unusually sensitive 
  to such matters).

      In portraying the linguistic landscape of Middle-earth he carried 
  this procedure much further.  The main example was his "substitution" 
  of Anglo-Saxon for Rohirric.  The "rationale" was that the hobbits' 
  dialect of Westron was distantly related to Rohirric; therefore, when 
  hobbits heard Rohirric they recognized many words but the language
  nevertheless remained just beyond understanding (RK, 65 (V,3)).  Thus, 
  Tolkien attempted to further "duplicate" hobbit linguistic perceptions 
  by "substituting" that language of our world (Anglo-Saxon) which has 
  (more-or-less) the same relation to English that Rohirric had to the 
  hobbit version of Westron.  

      There were many other nuances in the intricate and subtle linguis-
  tic web he devised (always, he carefully explained, in the interests 
  of "reproducing" the linguistic map of Middle-earth in a way that 
  could be easily assimilated by modern English-speaking readers). Thus:

    a) Archaic English roots were used in those Common Speech place-
      names which were given long before the time of the story (e.g. 
      Tindrock, Derndingle; see Guide).

    b) Some of the Stoors (who later settled in Buckland and the Marish) 
      dwelt in Dunland at one time (Tale of Years, entries for TA 1150 
      and 1630 (RK, App B)); the men of Bree also came from that region 
      originally (RK, 408 (App F, I, "Of Men", "Of Hobbits")).  "Since 
      the survival of traces of the older language of the Stoors and the 
      Bree-men resembled the survival of Celtic elements in England" 
      (RK, 414 (App F, II)), the place-names in Bree were Celtic in 
      origin (Bree, Archet, Chetwood) (see also Guide).  Similarly, the 
      names of the Buckland hobbits were Welsh (e.g. Madoc, Berilac).

    c) Among hobbits some of the older Fallohide families liked to give 
      themselves high-sounding names from the legendary past (an example
      of hobbit humor).  Tolkien "represented" such names by names of 
      Frankish or Gothic origin (Isengrim, Rudigar, Fredegar, Peregrin).

  These matters and much else is explained in detail in Appendix F.

References: RK, Appendix F;
            Letters, 174-176 (#144), 380-381 (#297);
            RtMe, 88-89 (4, "Stars, shadows, cellar-doors: patterns 
                  of language and of history").

Contributor: WDBL


5) Why is Tolkien's work, _The Lord of the Rings_ in particular, so 
  difficult to translate (into other languages of our world)?

      Because his interest in, skill with, and love of language are man-
  ifest at every level and indeed in almost every word of LotR, thereby
  producing a result difficult if not impossible to duplicate.  

      The previous question describes how Common Speech names were 
  "rendered" into English.  The Guide to the Names in _The Lord of the 
  Rings_, Tolkien's instructions for translators, does attempt to 
  address this.  In it he goes down the list of names in the index and 
  specifies which should be translated (being Common Speech) and which 
  should be left alone.  It would require skillful translation to get 
  even this far, but that would only be the beginning.  Reproducing the 
  other linguistic intricacies described in the previous question would 
  be well-nigh impossible; for example, Rohirric would have to be 
  replaced with some ancient language whose relation to the language of 
  translation was the same as that of Anglo-Saxon to modern English.  

      On another level, there is the diction and style of everything 
  said and told.  The language used has a strong archaic flavor; it is 
  not an exact recreation of how Anglo-Saxon or medieval people actually 
  spoke but rather is as close an approximation as he could achieve and
  still remain intelligible to modern readers.  This was not accidental 
  but rather was deliberately and carefully devised.  (See Letters,
  225-226 (#171)).

      There were, moreover, variations in the style in which characters
  of different backgrounds spoke the Common Speech ("represented" as 
  English) (e.g. at the Council of Elrond, FR, II, 2; see also RtMe 
  90-93).  There were variations in the style of individual characters 
  at different times (RK, 412 (App F, II)).  There was even an attempt 
  to indicate a distinction between familiar and deferential forms of
  pronouns (which doesn't exist in modern English) by use of the archaic
  words "thee" and "thou" (RK, 411 (App F, II); for an example, see the
  scene with Aragorn and Eowyn at Dunharrow, RK, 57-59 (V, 2)).

      Finally, there was Tolkien's poetry, which was often far more 
  complicated than it appeared, and which in many cases is very probably
  untranslatable.  (The extreme case is Bilbo's Song of Earendil, FR, 
  246-249 (II,1); T.A. Shippey has identified five separate metrical
  devices in this poem: RtMe, 145-146).

References: RK, Appendix F, 57-59 (V, 2);
            FR, "The Council of Elrond" (II, 2), 246-249 (II,1); 
            Letters, 225-226 (#171), 250-251 (#190) [on the Dutch 
                  translation], 263 (#204) [on the Swedish translation];
            RtMe, 90-93 (4, "'The Council of Elrond'"), 
                  145-146 (6, "the elvish tradition").

Contributor: WDBL


6) Did the events in _The Lord of the Rings_ take place on another 
  planet or what?

      No.  Tolkien's intention was that was that Middle-earth was our 
  own world, though his way of stating this idea was somewhat unusual:
  he spoke of having created events which took place in an *imaginary 
  time* of a real place.  He made this fully explicit only in Letters,
  but there were two very strong indications in the published _Lord of
  the Rings_, though both were outside the narrative.  

      The first was in the Prologue.  It is there stated: "Those days,
  the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all 
  lands has been changed; but the regions in which Hobbits then lived 
  were doubtless the same as those in which they still linger: the 
  North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea." (FR, 11).  Since no 
  other reference is made to this matter either in the Prologue or in 
  the main narrative, it makes little impression on most readers, but 
  is clear enough once pointed out.

      The second was in Appendix D, which presents lore on calendars in 
  Middle-earth.  The discussion begins as follows: 

       The Calendar in the Shire differed in several features from ours.  
    The year no doubt was of the same length (*), for long ago as those 
    times are now reckoned in years and lives of men, they were not very 
    remote according to the memory of the Earth.

       (*) 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 46 seconds.
                                                       (RK, 385 (App D))

  The quote is clear enough in and of itself, but that the year length
  specified in the footnote is the precise length of our own year must
  surely remove all doubt.

  There follow excerpts from three letters wherein the matter is 
  further discussed.

        'Middle-earth', by the way, is not a name of a never-never land 
    without relation to the world we live in ....  And though I have not 
    attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to 
    what geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imagina-
    tively this 'history' is supposed to take place in a period of the 
    actual Old World of this planet.
                                                     Letters, 220 (#165)

        I am historically minded.  Middle-earth is not an imaginary 
    world. ...  The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which 
    we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.  The essentials 
    of that abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of 
    N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar, even if a little 
    glorified by the enchantment of distance in time.
                                                     Letters, 239 (#183)

    ... I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap(*) in time between 
    the Fall of Barad-dur and our Days is sufficient for 'literary cred-
    ibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known or surmised 
    of 'pre-history'.  

        I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary *time*, but kept my 
    feet on my own mother-earth for *place*.  I prefer that to the con-
    temporary mode of seeking remote globes in 'space'. However curious, 
    they are alien, and not lovable with the love of blood-kin.  Middle-
    earth is ... not my own invention.  It is a modernization or 
    alteration ... of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the  
    _oikoumene_ : middle because thought of vaguely as set amidst the 
    encircling Seas and (in the northern-imagination) between ice of the 
    North and the fire of the South.  O. English  _middan-geard_ , 
    mediaeval E.  _midden-erd_, _middle-erd_ .  Many reviewers seem to 
    assume that Middle-earth is another planet!
                                                     Letters, 283 (#211)

  The footnote in the first sentence of the last-quoted excerpt offers
  a fascinating insight:

        (*) I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now
            at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the 
            same length as S.A. and T.A.  But they have, I think, 
            quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the 
            Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.
                                                     Letters, 283 (#211)

  A final note is that not only is the place our own world but also the 
  people inhabiting it are ourselves, morally as well as physically:

    ... I have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits,
    Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor, any better than men have been or
    are, or can be.  Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary
    historical moment on 'Middle-earth' -- which is our habitaion.
                                                     Letters, 244 (#183)

References: FR, 11 (Prologue);
            RK, 385 (Appendix D);
            Letters, 220 (#165), 239, 244 (#183), 283 (#211).

Contributors: WDBL, Carl F. Hostetter, Bill Taylor