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Middle Earth Geology

CMackintosh
The Shire

Jun 16, 7:46am

Post #1 of 13 (1806 views)
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Middle Earth Geology Can't Post

I've been re-reading tLotR and thinking about the geology of Middle earth as I do so. I dont know if anyone else has yet analyzed Middle Earth geologically, so here goes.

It seems obvious to me that the Misty Mountains are the result of a couple of tectonic plates meeting. Then we have the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains, and they're connected with a plateau, Lamedon, so South Gondor plate has encountered the Eriador plate and the Eastern plate and the White Mountains are the result. It's probable that the White Mountains stretched over to the Mordor region, as there is a range of foothills tailing away into the Plateau of Gorgoroth.
Mordor's an interesting question. Ered Lithui I have assumed are volcanic in origin, so there is a hot spot there, not unlike that beneath and responsible for the Hawaiian Islands. It accounts for Orodruin, Mt Doom. I suspect it accounts for the former crater lakes Udun and the Emyn Muil. It's likely that the land to the north of the Emyn Muil is a lava shield site, like the Deccan Traps in India, where there has been a vast outflowing of lava. Ephel Duath seems to be a result of fracturing of the Eastern plate at that point, and the consequent running into the Southern Gondor plate. I assume that the same plate fracturing that raised the Plateau of Gorgoroth also stretched the plate further south, which accounts for the Sea of Nurnen. Ephel Duath south of Nurnen appears more foothills than mountains, so it appears the initial stretching petered out at that point.

I assume the Brown Lands are the result of a concentration of subsurface toxic compounds and gasses.
Erebor is an extinct volcanic cone, which accounts for its mineral richness. It's likely that Ered Mithrim and the Iron Hills are also the result of the volcanic activity that raised Erebor, though it's probable that Ered Mithrim is the younger formation. Mount Gundabad is likely to be the easternmost result of that period of volcanic activity.
Ered Luin is an old formation, older than the Misty Mountains. It does not appear to have anything above the snow line, hence its name the Blue Mountains.
Just my 0.02c worth.
Has anyone else done anything more professionally on Middle Earth Geology?


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 16, 1:16pm

Post #2 of 13 (1760 views)
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Karen Fonstad? [In reply to] Can't Post


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Has anyone else done anything more professionally on Middle Earth Geology?


You might want to check out the late Karen Wynn Fonstad's notes in her Atlas of Middle-earth. She speculates on the geology of various locations in Middle-earth.

"I reject your reality and substitute my own." - Adam Savage


grammaboodawg
Immortal


Jun 16, 1:32pm

Post #3 of 13 (1757 views)
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Very Neat! :D [In reply to] Can't Post

What a great breakdown of the various (and iconic) areas! I agree with nearly every single deduction and comparison... but the Brown Lands I've assumed suffered a different fate. Since it's near Mirkwood, I always imagined it as once green and fertile and having been blasted by some devastating attack by Melkor rather than a result of the land itself.

I especially like your deduction of Erebor. I hadn't even thought of its origin... and it makes a lot of sense :D

Thank you for this! Fantastic! I'll definitely be more aware of the elements of the various lands as I read from now on!



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squire
Half-elven


Jun 16, 7:03pm

Post #4 of 13 (1735 views)
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You might enjoy this counterpoint article on the impossibility of Middle-earth's plate tectonics [In reply to] Can't Post

In the Reading Room not too long ago we were talking about Tolkien's uses of mountains, and NoWizardMe linked us to this 2017 article from tor.com. The phrase of the author that stuck with me was "mountains don't do right angles." But I don't know enough real geology to criticize his assumptions or speculations.

Not to discourage fun speculation about Middle-earth's reality, but I do know that Tolkien devised his maps without the slightest concern for such things. Even before plate tectonics were developed, when he was writing his epics, much was known about mountain range formation and setting that he ignored. To him, mountains were obstacles to a journey, providing hardship, adventure, and drama. Single mountains - which can only be volcanoes - were more like symbols of power and evil than active expressions of hot spots. And so on. If I remember, after this recent discussion we went on to find a similar critique of the rivers and watercourses of our favorite fantasy world!



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CMackintosh
The Shire

Jun 18, 8:07am

Post #5 of 13 (1688 views)
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Middle Earth Impossibilities [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks. I enjoyed reading those. I think the most improbable thing is that the Ered Luin (formerly Ered Lindon) and the Misty Mountains share the same orientation for most of their length, but as that is seen in real Earth locations as far apart as North America (Rockies and Appalachians) and New Guinea (Central Highlands Cordillera and the Torricellis), it's not such a big deal. Many comments pointed out various real Earth sites where the approximations to right angles between intersecting mountain ranges did occur.

Of course, as many people pointed out, it is fantastic literature, not realistic, so he can be excused somewhat, but I think we could at least take him at his word when he talks about fairy tales incorporating reality (in On Fairy Tales). I did get somewhat irate when I (for a story of my own) researched volcanism and realised that events such as the pall of cloud and ash from Orodruin during the War of the Ring was as a matter of plain fact, a common occurence during many volcanic eruptions, and even entered the mythology of New Guineans - and Tolkien had treated it purely as a matter of the War of the Ring, and barely understood its implications for the botany of Middle Earth. (Volcanic ash tends to enrich the soil; I could tolerate Anfauglith as a desert only under the assumption that Morgoth suppressed plant growth because it would've encouraged his enemies the Noldor-Sindar alliance.)


And I think I can account for the straightness of Anduin from the North to the Emyn Muil. If there were two Deccan Trap lava outpourings, one in the North, the other in the South, they would've made the subsoil hard and would've raised the average land level several hundred metres. This when worn down would've provided fertile soil for Mirkwood. It also would've channeled any resulting creeks, rivers, etc, flowing east from Mirkwood between the uplifted mountains and the lava outpourings. So it's likely that the Mirkwood mountains were worndown volcanic cones, rather like the volcanic cones that litter Auckland, NZ.


(This post was edited by CMackintosh on Jun 18, 8:08am)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 18, 2:13pm

Post #6 of 13 (1331 views)
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The River Anduin [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
And I think I can account for the straightness of Anduin from the North to the Emyn Muil. If there were two Deccan Trap lava outpourings, one in the North, the other in the South, they would've made the subsoil hard and would've raised the average land level several hundred metres. This when worn down would've provided fertile soil for Mirkwood. It also would've channeled any resulting creeks, rivers, etc, flowing east from Mirkwood between the uplifted mountains and the lava outpourings. So it's likely that the Mirkwood mountains were worndown volcanic cones, rather like the volcanic cones that litter Auckland, NZ.


Well, the relative straightness of the Anduin does have some real-world precedents. The most obvious one to me is the Mississippi River. And it's possible that a closer look at the course of the Anduin might reveal much more variance than we see on the more general maps.

"I reject your reality and substitute my own." - Adam Savage

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Jun 18, 2:14pm)


VeArkenstone
Lorien

Jun 21, 8:01pm

Post #7 of 13 (517 views)
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Neat. [In reply to] Can't Post

 

Please, call me Ve.


CMackintosh
The Shire

Jul 18, 9:45am

Post #8 of 13 (348 views)
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Silmarillion geology [In reply to] Can't Post

I've just been re-reading the Silmarillion, and naturally filtering the map through my geology filters.
One very interesting feature: you notice that Ered Wethrin and Dorthonion/Taur-nu-Fuin form a somewhat interrupted arc around a central point that is well off-screen? I think Utumno (well off-screen) and Angband (likewise off-screen but nearer) are the central points of massive meteor craters that gave rise to volcanic conglomerations, notably Thangorodrim. Ard Galen/Anfauglith is volcanic and it's likely that Hithlum is a plateau, though lower than Dorthonion.
For a good part of the Silmarillion, Melkor/Morgoth is a volcano god, as well as an ice god (god of the ice ages). I wish Tolkien had read Polynesian mythology - Pele's quite a character. Of course, the irony is that YHWH in the Hebrew Bible appears several times as a volcano god and god of earthquakes. Just some things to ponder ...


Solicitr
Rohan

Jul 18, 3:35pm

Post #9 of 13 (343 views)
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You [In reply to] Can't Post

can find Thangorodrim/Angband on Tolkien's original Beleriand map; CT left it off his copy for publication because the old man wound up being uncertain where exactly it was.


squire
Half-elven


Jul 18, 7:17pm

Post #10 of 13 (328 views)
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More mundanely [In reply to] Can't Post

Other parts of the Silmarillion map are derived from the English landscape. In her article on the Maps in The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, Alice Campbell (a TORn RR vet, by the way), says this:

Beleriand's geography resembles part of the British Isles. One feature, the Andram cliffs, through which the River Sirion flowed, matches the abrupt line of hills on the boundary of Dorset and Somerset, extending two hundred miles to Yorkshire, marked by a sudden, steep line of cliffs and hills, which forms one of the most recognizable features in Britain. The willow-meads of Tasarinan and the bird-filled lakes at Nevrast are based on Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, and the fen country; and the blighted lands around Angband are based on the northern iron and coal country with mine waste fires and pollution. The use of characteristic English landforms for the large-scale features of Beleriand, and later for the small-scale features of the Shire, is consistent with both Tolkien's dream to create a mythology for England, and with his use of recognizable place descriptions to strengthen the story's illusion of reality. - Campbell, A. (2007). "Maps". J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. 407.




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CMackintosh
The Shire

Jul 23, 8:45am

Post #11 of 13 (239 views)
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Makes sense finally [In reply to] Can't Post

"Other parts of the Silmarillion map are derived from the English landscape."
This makes sense, finally - I had begun to wonder why reading the various maps - The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion - had left me with the feeling that something was decidedly odd - most of the rivers flow from North to South. But if Middle Earth in its various Ages is based broadly on the United Kingdom, that is solved. The United Kingdom's south is on average, lower than the United Kingdom's north.


Hasuwandil
Rivendell

Jul 23, 3:49pm

Post #12 of 13 (229 views)
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Strange rivers [In reply to] Can't Post

I've seen it noted online that some of Tolkien's rivers (particularly the Anduin) have a tendency to hug mountain ranges rather than run away from them, even when there is plenty of apparently flat land in that direction. However, I noticed something very odd on Amazon's maps: There's a mountain range and a forested area far to the east that don't appear on any of Tolkien's maps. However, that's not what's strange. Amazon is free to create new lands in areas that were not covered by Tolkien's maps. What is odd is that there's also a river in that area that appears to start in a forest, head towards some flat land to the south, then turn around north, going between hills and mountains, cutting through a mountain range to the other side, coming out of a forest, then turning away from a mountain range to hug the edge of the forest while heading towards flat land, then turning back towards the mountains and hugging them until going back to flat land in the north. As far as I recall, none of Tolkien's rivers begin in forests, none of them cut through mountain ranges, and none of them go around the edges of forests, although some do go along the edges of forests.

Amazon Maps

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Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jul 23, 4:16pm

Post #13 of 13 (225 views)
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The Mountains of the East [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
There's a mountain range and a forested area far to the east that don't appear on any of Tolkien's maps.


Well, the Mountains of the East (a.k.a. the Orocarni) are referenced in The Silmarillion and do appear in roughly sketched maps of Tolkien's that are reprinted in The Shaping of Middle-earth. Those maps, however, depict Arda in the Elder Days. Generally, though, I think the range is thought to be further to the east than depicted in Amazon's map.



I suggest that the river that seems to begin in the forest in the East actually has its source in the Orocarni and simply passes through the woodland to eventually empty into the Sea of Rhn. There are actually two rivers that originate in the northern Orocarni that merge near the inland sea (much as do the River Running and the Redwater).

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." - DRWolf (after John C. Maxwell)

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Jul 23, 4:26pm)

 
 

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