Middle-Earth gets a Geological Makeover

As if J. R. R. Tolkien wasn’t brilliant enough with his creation of Middle-Earth, it appears that using his numerous maps and illustrations provided, supplemented by observations from within the texts themselves, a geological reconstruction can be achieved! I recently came across this old article from the Proceedings of the J. R. R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, Oxford, England, 1992, and figured it was worth sharing.

The first attempt at a geological history of Middle-Earth was Margaret Howes in 1967 in a piece entitled “The Elder Ages and Later Glaciations off the Pleistocene Epoch”. Here, she endeavoured to recapitulate the successive geomorphologies from the time when Morgoth (the real bad guy in Middle-Earth) was overthrown to beyond the time when Aragorn adopted rule over Gondor. However, this work has been recognised as being too far adrift from Tolkien’s original creations, drawing in too much from Earth’s own recent geological history.

This work was truly over-shadowed by that of Robert Reynolds, who in 1974 wrote his “The geomorphology of Middle-Earth”. This actually incorporated the theory of plate tectonics to the entirety of Middle-Earth (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Reynold' tectonic reconstruction of Middle-Earth (click for larger image)

The extension of this by the authors of the article is presented in Figure 2. They revise the number of tectonic plates, as well as apply modern boundary terminology (e.g., strike-slip, triple-junction etc.). The result really is quite a nice read of the fusion of a modern day description of tectonics with a seminal creation that has inspired generations, and hopefully will inspire more to come. It’s great to come across Mount Doom being described as a “hotspot” – it really adds a slant to the old “volcano lair” for bad guys. It also helps to answer questions which I’m sure plagued geologists throughout the books and films, such as ‘where did the mythril come from?’, and ‘how did the mountains surrounding Mordor get such a weird shape?’. All in all, it’s an impressive article that successfully increases the dimensionality of a masterpiece.

Fig 2. Current interpretation of the principal tectonic features of Middle-Earth (click for larger image)

If anyone would like the complete original article, I’d be happy to send a scanned version – it really is quite a spectacular piece of Middle-Earth metadata.

Howes, M. M. (1967) The Elder Ages and the later glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch, Tolkien Journal, 3(2), 3-15

Reynolds, R. C. (1974) The geomorphology of Middle-Earth, The Swansea Geographer, 11, 67-71

Sarjeant, W. A. S. (1992) The geology of Middle-Earth, Proceedings of the J. R. R. Tolkien Centenary Conference

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84 thoughts on “Middle-Earth gets a Geological Makeover

  1. I would really love a copy of the scanned article. And by any chance do you have the older ones? I have access to libraries, but mostly medical!

  2. I, too, would appreciate a scanned copy. I have been studying Tolkien for most of my adult life – and been involved in practically all translations of his works in Brasil. An addition to my library, please? :-)

  3. Pingback: The Geology of Skyrim: Project Impossible? | Geo-HeritageScience

  4. This is so awesome. I’m a geology student and Tolkien’s beautiful Middle Earth is one of my inspirations to become a geologist! Could you email me the a copy of the article(s)?

  5. I too am studying geology & planetary science with the Open University – but I’ve read Tolkein since I was a little girl – I would love a scanned copy please. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. this article his truly interesting clearly Tolkiens world knows no bounds and continues to inspire people from all disciplines.
    could you please send me the copy of the full article thanks.

  7. I am certainly intrigued as a Geologist (well, student) and long term fan of tolklin and his works. Can I also request a scan of the original article(s)? Thanks!

  8. Please email me a copy while you’re at it :). I just finished my first year of Geology and would love to share this with some of my classmates.

  9. Like a lot of others, I’d be interested in a copy as well — perhaps uploading it to Dropbox or something would be better than individually sending it out to people? :)

  10. Pingback: Maps - Page 4 - Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles: forums

  11. Pingback: Plate Tectonics and Middle Earth

  12. Oh my gosh! I would love a copy of all three of the articles, if you have them. Never knew there were so many other Tolkien-fan geologists out there!

    Got here via EarthScope’s facebook page, and have bookmarked your new blog location! :)

  13. Very interesting and I love what they’ve done. I’ve always wondered why Mount Doom is there all alone in the middle of nothing and being a hotspot has crossed my mind before; and obviously I wasn’t the only one!

    i’d love to read the scanned article(s), if you still have them! Thanks.

  14. Pingback: Middle-Earth gets a Geological Makeover | GEOGRAPHY EDUCATION

  15. I would also love to get a copy of these articles. I study earth science at UC Santa Cruz, and think this is pretty awesome!
    kekepania875 AT yahoo DOT com

  16. Pingback: Geological Maps of Middle Earth | prettyawfulthings

  17. I’m a geology student and am trying to make my own geological interpretation of Middle Earth, and would love a copy of any of this article (and the other 2 mentioned, if you have them) for comparison. Thanks!

  18. Hello! could you send me the article? Much appreciated. stratfordj [at] gmail.com. I see a future where the maps are framed in the hallway of my future apartment much to the confusion of visitors..

  19. After looking at a number of the articles on
    your site, I honestly appreciate your technique of writing
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  20. I would love a scanned copy emailed to me as well if it isn’t much trouble!
    One does not simply come across an old article from the Proceedings of the J. R. R. Tolkien Centenary Conference.
    Thank you! This is amazing!
    Bob
    hinagatamasami [at] yahoo.it

  21. Greetings! This is fashionably late, but I would love to have a copy of the article if it’s not too much trouble. I kind of suspected I was the only person who sat around making up (very amateurish) geophysical ideas about Middle-earth involving such terms as “Belegaer plate.” How great to be proven wrong.

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