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Lord Of The Rings: What Is Outside Of Middle-Earth?

Many see Middle-earth as J.R.R. Tolkien's world, but the truth is, it's just one small piece of a massive universe the Oxford professor developed over his lifetime. "The Silmarillion" goes into detail about the creation of that realm of time-bound space. Tolkien called it Eä — a term for the created universe as a whole. Even within that universe, Middle-earth is just a tiny dirt patch within a larger realm called Arda. The index of "The Silmarillion" describes Arda by saying, "'The Realm', name of the Earth as the Kingdom of Manwë."

Manwë is one of a group of angelic guardians called the Valar (basically counterpoints to spiritual villains like Sauron and Morgoth). The Valar originally exists outside of time and space, and these beings see Arda for the first time after its creation by Ilúvatar (the God-like Creator in the Christian author's world). The text describes the world as a physical phenomenon. It is a light-filled, colorful expansion of iron, stone, silver, and gold. Water, in particular, is highlighted as special.

Arda is depicted in multiple ways. For instance, "Arda Unmarred" is the Garden-of-Eden-esque iteration of the world right after its creation. It consists of a single continent (including Middle-earth) before it's broken by war and strife — something called "Arda Marred." "Arda Healed" refers to the prophesied healing of the world at the end of days. Outside of Arda, you get the celestial bodies of the Sun, Moon, and stars, all three of which have distinct origin stories and purposes in Tolkien's legendarium.

Aman, Dark Land, and the Land of the Sun

While Eä is the universe and Arda (specifically Arda Marred) includes the larger world J.R.R. Tolkien fans know and love, there are many uniquely identified land masses and bodies of water outside of Middle-earth, encircling the continent where Tolkien's primary narrative action takes place. The most well-known of these is called Aman. Fans are more likely to recognize the continent by its more popular monikers of the Blessed Realm, the "Undying Lands," or Valinor — a name that has even made its way to Mars. Technically speaking, Valinor refers to an area of the western continent inhabited by Ainur and Elves. The Blessed Realm and Undying Lands are names for the continent as a whole, which is located directly to the west of Middle-earth across a massive sea.

Aman and Middle-earth are the two continents that figure most prominently in Tolkien's writings, but they aren't the only land masses in Arda. Some of his more backed-out maps, especially earlier ones, also include a continent to the east. In the book "The Shaping of Middle-earth," Tolkien describes this land mass, saying, "And beyond the Eastern Sea lies the Eastern Land, of which we know little, and call it the Land of the Sun." The author added that it has massive mountains called the Walls of the Sun, but apart from its alpine features, there is little to tell about the area. There is also an even less well-known continent to the southeast of Middle-earth called the Dark Land.

The rest of Middle-earth

While there is little to tell of continents like the Dark Land or the Eastern Land, there are other areas on and around the Middle-earth continent itself that J.R.R. Tolkien developed with more detail, including the regions and kingdoms of Rhûn, Khand, and Harad. Rhûn is the eastern area of the continent, where many tribes of Men and Dwarven clans live. While soldiers from Rhûn fight in Sauron's armies in "The Lord of the Rings," their land is a mystery that Tolkien did little to unravel. Still, Amazon Studios' "The Rings of Power" is set to address some unanswered questions in the Rhûn region in Season 2. And if you go back far enough, these distant Eastern regions of the continent are where the races of Elves and Men initially awake and begin wandering into the West.

Khand is another area on the edge of the classic Middle-earth map. This district lies to the southeast of Mordor and has vibes similar to those of nearby Rhûn. The Men of Khand also serve in Sauron's forces during the War of the Ring, although virtually nothing is known about their culture.

There is also Harad, which means "south." This is, unsurprisingly, the region at the bottom of and directly below the iconic Middle-earth map. This area is depicted as yet another mashup of different human kingdoms. Some are from native inhabitants, while others are settled or ruled by the Númenóreans (ancestors of the Men who settled in Gondor). "The Silmarillion" explains that the men on the island of Númenor sail far and wide across Middle-earth, making settlements. "But the King's Men sailed far away to the south; and the lordships and strongholds that they made have left many rumours in the legends of Men," the book added.

There's also water, lots of water

Middle-earth may be land-locked on the north, south, and east. But its western border is one continual run of coastland. This expansive body of water is called Belegaer or the Sundering Seas. It is the ocean where the island of Númenor exists in the Second Age and the area where the Elves make their hallowed crossings to the Undying Lands.

There are other waters that surround Middle-earth too, even if they don't touch it directly. The Sea of Ringil, for instance, divides Middle-earth from the Dark Land to the south. The self-defining East Sea lies between Middle-earth and the Land of the Sun. And then there is the Encircling Sea, which the Elves call the Ekkaia. This is the body of water that surrounds all of Arda. "The Silmarillion" describes this distant aquatic barrier thusly: "How wide is that sea none know but the Valar; and beyond it are the Walls of the Night."

Water is also closely connected to two distinct areas of geography — one next to and the other part of Middle-earth. The former is Númenor, the Atlantis-like island of Men that eventually sinks beneath the waves off of the coast of Middle-earth. The latter is Beleriand, the northwesternmost portion of Middle-earth that is sunk beneath the Sundering Seas at the end of the First Age (shortly before Amazon Studios' "The Rings of Power" story takes place.)

The Middle-earth map changed over the years

Middle-earth changes dramatically, both during its history and Tolkien's lifetime. For instance, early in his creative process, J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned Middle-earth as a flat world floating on water shaped like a ship. Over time, that vision evolved into the canon version, in which the world starts as a single land mass and is broken, splitting into different continents.

Depending on the version of the story you're reading (Tolkien wrote countless iterations, many of which were collected and posthumously published by his son, Christopher), Middle-earth is either near the real Earth or closely mirrors Earth itself. While the professor generally stuck to the concept that his fictional world stood on its own, he did write in a letter in 1956, "The toponymy of The Shire...is a 'parody' of that of rural England, in much the same sense as are its inhabitants: they go together and are meant to." He made similar real-world references to other areas of Middle-earth at times, as well. In a letter in 1958, for instance, Tolkien said, "In many ways [the Númenóreans] resembled 'Egyptians' – the love of, and power to construct, the gigantic and massive." And in their great interest in ancestry and in tombs."

The biggest change to the world surrounding Middle-earth occurred toward the end of the Second Age when Númenor sinks beneath the waves. When that happens, "The Silmarillion" says the Undying Lands are removed from the circles of the world, which is "bent" into a circular shape with new lands (which could have been Tolkien hinting at North and South American continents). At that point, the world becomes an enclosed space for mortals to wander, separated from the Blessed Realm, which only the Elves in the know can still reach.