When Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings
and its prequel, The Hobbit
, he did not simply write a story. Tolkien created a place that was so alluring, so vivid, that many were to find themselves drawn inexorably into its dells, hollows and glens, journeying many a furlong into the mysteriously winding ways and wastes of his imagery and poetry. That place was called Middle Earth, one of the continents of a planet called Arda. Arda is still frequently visited, placing Tolkien 5th on the American business magazine Forbes
2009 list of top-earning dead celebrities.
A re-creation of Middle Earth
Image: billiederamos, Pixabay
Tolkien was a philologist, fascinated with the development of languages and linguistics. Born in South Africa, he drew on this place in naming his creation Arda; in Afrikaans the word for the Earth is "aarde." This link with the Earth-as-we-know-it is not idle. Tolkien claimed many times in his letters that Middle Earth was not an alternate reality, but our planet in a former state of development: "The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live," Tokien wrote, "but the historical period is imaginary." More specifically, Tolkien claimed in his letters that Middle Earth was located in almost the exact area we now call "the Euro-zone," or Europe on our human maps.
Tales of Middle Earth became a cornerstone of the psychedelic revolution's mythology during the late 1960s, an influence that did not take long to bleed into the era's music and poetry. One could not be a respectable hippy without having read LOTR
. In his 1969 book, The Making of a Counter-Culture
, historian Theodore Roszak wrote that "Hippies who may be pushing thirty wear buttons that read 'Frodo Lives' and decorate their pads with maps of Middle Earth…"
Led Zeppelin in particular took up Tolkien's mantle with songs like "Ramble On" on the album Led Zeppelin II
(1969), and "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Battle of Evermore" on Led Zeppelin IV
(1971), which is the third best-selling album in U.S. history, having gone platinum 23 times. Vocalist Robert Plant's poetic voyages to Middle Earth were fully in line with the preoccupations of the era (mythology, occultism and mysticism), which must have contributed to the album's popularity and success in the charts.
"The Battle of Evermore" features the predominantly earthbound folk-idle Sandy Denny, vocalist of Fairport Convention until her death in 1978. This is the only song in the Zeppelin oeuvre with a guest vocalist, but Denny's voice perfectly fits the folky troubadour-sound created by Jimmy Page's distinctive mandolin lick. The song is thought to recreate the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, an epic siege in the third book of the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, in which the pivotal city of Minas Tirith is attacked by Sauron's armies, his forces led by the primary ringwraith, the Witch-king, who is killed in the battle.
Tolkien's brand of high/epic fantasy was solely responsible for the resurgence and continuation of this genre, and for this reason he is rightly considered to be the father of modern fantasy literature (with C.S. Lewis clasping at his coat-tails). If this isn't enough to prove the influence of this place on our own world, we could pretty much guarantee that without Middle Earth there would be no Harry Potter. And, by the way, for anyone that thinks that fantasy is a waste of time and energy, J.K. Rowling (according to Forbes
in 2011) has a net worth of over one billion dollars.Douglas MacCutcheon
May 27, 2012
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