Appendix A: Lands and Seas and Maps
Events in Words of the Faithful occurred in our world, though its landscapes, rivers’ courses, and seas will be much changed during the year that witnessed Izilba’s sailing to the lands of promise, in craft bearing Zhera’s Izilbadariel. That year was reckoned 3319 of the Second Age. We have only the first part of the greater tale, however, and much remains to be told.
We know not yet whether those blessed daughters will find Eressëa, and live among her elves, kin by adoption to Asenath. We don’t know whether the daughters of Asenath will return, and if so, in what manner. We know nothing of the fate of Joseph-Tal-Elmar, nor his companions Thingol and Ki-Abroam, handy with an ax. Yet Izilba and Zhera’ with their kin and friends did sail in barges from somewhere, and do land elsewhere; so the matter of lands, seas, and rivers should be taken up, at least in an appendix.
I cannot here explain all that I surmise about the changes undergone by our world in what we call “human pre-history,” nor can I locate for you on today’s maps the exact place to go looking for Doriath or Amon Ereb. Yet I can outline the most important parts of this tale, as they relate to those told by Tolkien concerning the lands of the First Age and those of the Third Age.
One of the misunderstood details of Tolkien’s world concerns the maps from the First Age published in The Silmarillion, and how they relate to maps of the Third Age found in Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien drew many maps, and Christopher often created the maps published with his father’s writings. The son has said little about the place of Middle-Earth, except to admit that to him, its settlements and ports, realms and forests were more familiar than those of ancient history, he being raised in his father’s imagination.
Those maps never connected Beleriand of the First Age with Middle-Earth of the Third Age. There are no maps of the Second Age. And Words of the Faithful describes some features of landscape and place-names that contravene the traditional arrangement of Tolkien’s maps, as decided by careful scholars and fans alike. Those generally thoughtful and often scientifically trained readers fail to integrate in their arrangement the historical likelihood that during Tolkien’s First Age, vast ice sheets would’ve covered much of the land depicted on maps of the Third Age, as published in Lord of the Rings.
Concerning the First Age, the lay of the lands relevant to Words of the Faithful can be given pretty much as you’ll find depicted in Silmarillion. The exiled Noldor arrive on the cold coasts of Hithlum, and from there take up realms throughout Beleriand, excepting the central forests of Doriath where Thingol and Melian reign. And in the far north is Thangorodrim, the Hell of Melkor, separated from Doraith by the Gorgoroth. This range ran east from Himlad to Nan-Dun-Gortheb on the western edge of Doriath. At the far west of that range, surrounded by the peaks of Crissaegrim, was the hidden mountain realm of Gondolin. Between Gondolin on the west and the coastal ranges of Hithlum ran the river Sirion, that gathered waters of Esgalduin from Doriath, the Narog in West Beleriand, and Aros from East Beleriand before reaching the sea in the southwest. Silmarillion maps out these places as I’ve described, and you can turn to it for reference.
As told there, during the War of Wrath, the hosts of the West came against the monsters of Melkor’s North. Many lands were broken, heaved up and trodden down, and sunk under the waves of the in-rushing sea. Most fan-scholar maps attempting to reconcile the lands of the First Age with those of the Third Age simply bury all the lands of Beleriand, excepting a few promontories standing as isles of the sea. The far eastern range called Ered Luin at the back of Ossiriand then becomes a starting point for Third Age maps, whose events all are made to occur to the east of this range. But such maps are wrong, for neglecting glaciation and for depicting a total drowning of the lands of the First Age.
The lands of Beleriand were variously sunk or raised up during that War of Wrath, yet only West Beleriand was mostly drowned, as stated in Silmarillion (and suggested by Treebeard as well). Thus the new coast of the Second Age came near to the White Mountains along a strand running upon the northern rim of what was West Beleriand. The coast also cut deep into the east, so far as making visible from the sea the peaks of Crissaegrim. In consequence, Sirion came to the sea sooner, without ever joining the waters of Esgalduin and Narog.
Of course, at the conclusion of the Second Age, much of the land was altered during the devastation that came of Pharazon’s assault upon Aman and Eressëa, as the gods were removed from Arda-Earth, and new lands rose up from the depths (e.g., our Pacific coasts). The landscapes of Middle-Earth not only were altered by gods and demons (delivering forces unrecognized by science, of course), but the lands warmed and waters changed their courses throughout the Second Age, following the Ice Ages of Melkor. Consequently, the rock isle of Tol Morwen was found by Zhera’ in the vast bay formed when West Beleriand was drowned. It was eventually concealed by sea levels that continued to rise from the end of the Second Age into the Third Age, as the retreating Ice Age pulled back glacial tundra nearer the poles, releasing water into the oceans. But sea levels were not as high as they are today, and during the end of the Second Age, a brief cooling of temperatures seems to have again locked up some of the sea in ice, thus revealing at low tide the chamber of Gurthang, if only for a few centuries.
Most striking to readers familiar with Tolkien’s writings may be the depiction in Words of the Faithful, describing Mordor as being built upon the foundation of Doriath, in mockery of Thingol and Melian. But it is correct. If we take Gondolin’s location in the First Age, and overlay it with the circle of Udûn set at the northwest corner of Morder, as depicted on maps of the Third Age, we have a starting point for reconciling Tolkien’s maps. There is not only a geographic reason, but a narrative logic to anchoring the maps’ overlapping here. As recounted in Silmarillion, the rule of Gondolin was promised to Maeglin by Melkor, in reward for his revealing the secret of its location. And as I surmise from Words, the hosts of Melkor destroyed Gondolin, eventually building there Udun-Hell, to be the gates of Mordor. It’s master was indeed the traitor Maeglin, who in the Second Age would become Nazgul, being bound to his deed and its reward; even as the six unrepentant sons of Fëanor would become bond-wraiths by the power of their own foolish oath concerning the silmarils.
Moreover, Sauron built up Mordor during the Second Age, as some lands warmed, being apparently underscored by widespread volcanic activity, while swamps spread from the sinking soils and faltering rivers. Thû-Sauron built it upon the ruins of Doriath, even as Thingol retreated far underground into his deepest halls, where he maintained a castle of safekeeping for wandering spirits. But Thû didn’t build all that would become Mordor. In Words of the Faithful an assault upon Gothmog, as a great fire concealed under the mountains of Gorgoroth, is mentioned. And the assault was carried out by divine Vanyar, elves of splendor tantamount to gods. In their rushing up the Esgalduin to uncover the Lord of Balrogs, and at last destroy it, they cast up the mountain range that would become the western mountains of Mordor. In so doing, the Esgalduin was prevented from passing to the seas south, and was turned back east, so Joseph and Thingol escaping upon that river discovered a new inland salt marsh that would become by the Third Age, Mordor’s Sea of Nurnen. Moreover, in the charge of these friends upon Barad- dur, that tower was cast down, and only a remnant foundation would stand until the Third Age.
The hobbits’ Shire of the Third Age was only pulled out from under the freezing tundra during that age, becoming fresh lands free of curses and wraiths. With the rise of Nazgul again in that age, however, and the spread of Angmar’s realm in the far north of those lands, wraiths and wights spread throughout the hills and forests, possessing barrows and bitter willows (as the hobbits discover). Gondor was not yet built in the Second Age of this tale, nor had the general warming trend cultivated the temperate zones to its south and west, creating deserts throughout Harad and east of Mordor.
I’ve already mentioned the mountains Gorgoroth, the only range whose name is found on maps of both the First and Third ages, further justifying their overlap at Gondolin-Udûn, and Doriath-Mordor. Other important ranges, passes and forests remained from Second to Third ages, among them the Paths of the Dead carved through the White Mountains. Taken by Izilba to the recovery of Miriam, later these were trod by Aragorn and his company as they recovered from darkness the spirits of men cursed by Isildur for their failure to keep allegiance with him during wars at the end of the Second Age. Those men are revealed in Words as practicing great wickedness, in ambition to bring forth a prophesied “Aragorn u Arwenna,” the Great Scion of High Lady, by inseminating maidens while worshiping Melkor in their casting of infants into the sea. Moreover, the Forests of Lothlorien in the Third Age, where the fellowship rests after the ordeal of Moria, was a remnant of the greater Lothien. Thither spirits of good men wandered, being drawn by the light of Elves resplendent in glory, chief among them Glorfindel (as told here). The eastern realm of Ossiriand remained mostly uncorrupted by Nazgul in the Second Age, and it was here that Izilba and Miriam waited out a winter upon the western face of the Blue Mountains. They floated with Zilpharon down the river Gelion, which ran far to the south, pouring out into the seas that reached deep inland from the east. This Inland Sea ran out east through what we call the Red Sea, thence into the Great Sea.
A narrow neck of land in that Second Age separated western and eastern seas (when united, we have the Mediterranean Sea). That neck ran through the Peloponnese, where Kiliath was hidden in what today remains a gorge on the island of Krete. This neck of land thus connected the Eurasian continent with that of Africa’s eastern horn, the latter being separated from Arabia by that Inland Sea. The African continent had not yet in Izilba’s day been bent northward as today it stands, so a vast sea many times the size of the Mediterranean once separated Middle Earth from western Africa (and some mountain ranges in Europe had not yet been raised up; or, like the Carpathians, been twisted as they appear today).
In that Second Age, the waters and coasts were dominated by Numenor, while inland many fiefs gave tribute in slaves and material resources. Its dominance will leave us, after a great many thousand years, some few Mediterranean inheritors, among them maybe the ancient civilization of Sumer, a progenitor of Babylon, Egypt, Palestine, and Greece.