This is going to be one of those things that’s my favorite confluence of literature, geology, and over-analyzing things. Over the past few years I’ve used my comparatively professional knowledge of geology to argue with my friends and fellow Tolkien-buffs regarding the geology of his famous constructed world: Middle-earth.

Middle-earth is rife with long and dramatic mountain rages, roaring volcanoes, and all manner of terrain with sweeping changes in geology and geography over an area about the size Europe (According to Tolkien’s notes and letters and fan projections. See:


And we will be examining exclusively that part of the continent that has been commonly and extensively mapped, excluding the more variable parts of Arda explored by the Silmarillion and the Atlas of Middle Earth.

Part of this is for the sake of scope (Middle-earth is already a big place) and partly for consistency. There are, however, a few problems to see to when examining such a fictional world from a geologic perspective. Namely, Middle-earth, like the rest of Arda, was not formed by natural processes but rather sung into existence by divine powers. Though there is a lot of room for interpretation, in terms of measuring time, the world of Arda only appears to be around 10,000 years old, and it wasn’t even round for all of it! That’s a blip on the geologic timescale, it’s paltry.

Though again that timescale is questionable (How do you measure years without the sun?), Middle-Earth has not been around for a tremendously long time and that is going to determine the perspective with which I choose to define it. namely, Middle-earth is operated by natural processes (It is -supposed- to be our world after all…possibly) but it’s only just been ‘turned on’. Everything was formed more or less where it was and then all the tectonics, volcanism, and sedimentation began as normal about ten to fifteen thousand years ago.

So this will be a multi-post series, and I will likely keep coming back to it. But for now I want to add a few disclaimers. I am neither a Tolkien Scholar nor a professional tectonic geologist (My specialty is more in Paleontology). So while my hypotheses will try to be as accurate as possible there may be mistakes. Finally, this is applying a very complicated real-world science to a fictional world that literally used to be flat until the Second Age when Eru Iluvatar decided to punish the Numenoreans. So try not to take things TOO seriously.

We’ll begin in earnest tomorrow or Saturday with the Misty Mountains and the enduring question: Why isn’t Mirkwood a desert?


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