Manuscript prepared for Journal of Hobbitlore 2016

A New Synthesis on the Geology of Middle-earth: Genesis, Orogeny and Tectonics

Chris Ingles and Lindy A. Orthia Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, The Australian National University.

Correspondence to: [email protected]

Abstract. In this paper, we discuss and body of work sits within a wider context of critique existing hypotheses about the geology scientific engagement with Tolkien’s work, of Middle-earth in light of current geological with physicists, biologists and climatologists theories of planetary formation, mountain also academically exploring it (for example, building (orogeny) and plate tectonics. We Coombs and Read, 1995; Larsen, 2007; dispute the prevailing tectonic explanation for Radagast the Brown, 2013). Larsen notes that the major geological features of Middle-earth a relationship has developed between the and Arda on the basis of evidence as yet not Tolkien-faithful and scientists, with scientific fully considered about the formation of the researchers promoting their disciplines by planet Ambar. We propose novel hypotheses encouraging readers to think scientifically to explain many of the features, including by about a topic they otherwise know well, and drawing on recent discoveries of lunar Tolkien appreciators generously encouraging geological formations, and identify questions the research and engaging with the scientific that remain unanswered. debates about the works they love. In some quarters this has gone further, with Kuhn, for example, providing examples of how the geosciences in particular should utilise 1 Introduction Tolkien’s work. Yet in all that time, most geological For nearly 50 years geologists have attempted studies of Middle-earth have been based on to decipher the riddle that is Middle-earth. only a subset of Tolkien’s work. Specifically, The first paper to be published on the topic scientists have ignored potentially critical was released in 1967 (Howes, 1967), and was geological information from followed by a small boom in studies in the and the Ambarkanta (Shaping). Of course, early 1970s (Mason, 1975; Reynolds, 1974 these works were not made available to McIntosh, 1973). The topic was then largely geologists until after the 1970s boom, but ignored until the 1990s (Fonstad, 1991; those scholars publishing since the 1990s Sarjeant, 1995), with interest reviving in have still tended to dismiss the works as mere recent years (Kuhn, 2012; Hynes 2012). This “geomythology,” thus designating them 2 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth unworthy of serious scientific consideration something that happens, it is a symptom of (see Hynes, 2012 for a discussion of this). something larger - it has underlying This seems something of a betrayal of the processes, structures and causes that result in compact between Tolkien appreciators and it happening. To determine if or when scientists. continental drift did begin, the complete In this paper, we take the approach that we geological sequence of Middle-earth and Arda can only reach a comprehensive geological from beginning to end needs to be understanding of Middle-earth if all Tolkien’s established. This means we cannot rely solely works and notes are considered. We contend on the Third Age map of Middle-earth for our that the act of marginalising Silmarillion and geological studies. We must reconstruct the Ambarkanta information as merely “intended lands and the planet in earlier times to to be mythical” is a lazy approach to the understand how the Third Age geological and challenge of explaining Middle-earth geology. geographical configuration came to be. Outside of geology, there were , This paper therefore, offers a new talking trees and trolls in Middle-earth, all of geological synthesis, by incorporating old which could equally be dismissed by Earth theories about Middle-earth geology with scientists as “too hard to explain.” But to recent Earth-based geological research, and eliminate the implausible - Ambarkanta, all the available works of Tolkien. While wizards and all - leaves bleak literature and some elements remain difficult to explain little to discuss. On the other hand, bringing using current Earth science, we clearly scientific approaches to bear upon the identify what those elements are, and rely on challenge of explaining Middle-earth geology Earth science to interpret the rest. We first in a way that is consistent with all of discuss the genesis and macro structure of the Tolkien’s work can help us narrow down planet Ambar/Arda. We then devote exactly what elements seem to conflict with considerable space to discussing the processes current scientific knowledge, and what we can that contributed to mountain building on the plausibly hypothesise. Science at its best is planet, in particular in the Middle-earth hailed for its ability to disregard anything region, since these processes have been previously thought if new, certain information closely associated with plate tectonics by is discovered. We have considered the previous scholars. Finally we return to the posthumous releases of Tolkien’s work in that question of what, if any, impact plate light. tectonics has had on other aspects of Middle- As we will show, taking the Silmarillion earth geology and geography. and Ambarkanta data seriously results in some profound challenges to received wisdom on Middle-earth geology. Most significantly, 2 Middle-earth’s genesis it challenges previous authors’ detailed theories on how plate tectonics shaped Arda To construct Tolkien’s world geologically it and its lands. A known geology-enthusiast, is first necessary to deconstruct it. The Tolkien is believed to have followed the geology of Middle-earth is best studied by progression of continental drift from an examining the initial state of the planet and untrustworthy hypothesis to an accepted truth the realm in which it resides. The planet (Hynes, 2012). Consequently many scholars Ambar is alleged to have been created by the have assumed that all of Middle-earth’s music of angels. Typically, geologists geological processes were the result of plate attribute the formation of planets to the tectonics. But continental drift is not just accretion of space dust, however the music of Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 3 angels, like many theological suggestions, regional maps, he drew few maps of the does not alter any geological processes that Hitherland supercontinent that became have begun since the planet’s formation. Middle-earth, but Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle- What is of greater concern for a geologist is earth consolidated Tolkien’s maps and that upon formation, the planet was relatively geographical descriptions and provided flat. Tolkien’s Ambarkanta Diagrams I and II representations of Ambar through the ages. (Shaping 244, 246) show early Ambar was a However, she inaccurately described the hemisphere shape, with life residing on the formation of the mountains, claiming that flat top. A thin layer suggesting a crust “The Grey Mountains may originally have aligned the flat top, with what must be solid been part of the extensive Iron Mountains” mantle comprising the remainder of the (Fonstad, 1991: 78). While this would appear hemisphere. to be the case geographically, Tolkien’s A hemisphere-like shape alone debunks a Ambarkanta Map IV, which is also space-dust accretion model for Ambar’s reproduced in Fonstad’s Atlas, has the Iron formation. In addition, the fact that early Mountains in the Northland and the Grey Ambar was not spherical means it breaks one Mountains in the Southland. In the of the universal conventions for what Ambarkanta, Tolkien also detailed the constitutes a planet (International formation of most of the earliest mountains: Astronomical Union). However, it can be classified as a celestial body, like an asteroid. For their further protection the Valar thrust Since there are no further details to suggest away Middle-earth at the centre and how it formed this way, unexplainable crowded it eastward, so that it was bended processes initiated by the music of angels will … And the thrusting aside of the land suffice. caused also mountains to appear in four Ambarkanta Maps IV and V (Shaping, ranges, two in the Northland, and two in 250, 252) show aerial views of a relatively the Southland; and those in the North were level world, both drawn from a perspective the Blue Mountains in the West side, and above the supercontinent that became Middle- the Red Mountains in the East side; and in earth and surrounds. Map IV is a closer view the South were the Grey Mountains and the and set prior to the appearance of the sun and Yellow. (Shaping 239) moon, shortly after the fall of the Lamps. Without a sun to orbit, Ambar again breaches Furthermore, the Grey Mountains cannot a planetary convention and raises questions have come from the Iron Mountains as the about heat sources to support life. Regardless, latter were formed at a later date by the evil Map IV depicts a Northland and Southland of spirit of the time: “Melko fortified the North Middle-earth, while Map V displays the entire and built there the Northern Towers, which flat planet, labelling the Middle-earth are also called the Iron Mountains, and they supercontinent as Hitherlands. look southward” (Shaping 239). As Maps IV and V represent a very early From their positions in Ambarkanta Map Middle-earth they can assist in establishing IV, the most notable changes were to the how the world evolved geologically. Tolkien Yellow and Grey Mountains. The Yellow identified the early Ambar mountain ranges, either disappeared or joined the Red so these provide reference points that can be Mountains to become the Orocarni (Eastern tracked through time. The mountains of Mountains), best depicted by Fonstad. The interest are the Blue, Grey, Iron, Yellow and Grey Mountains shifted from a North-South Red Mountains. Although Tolkien drew many trend in the west Southland to an East-West 4 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth trend in the Northland, parallel and adjacent Radagast the Brown), it is highly unlikely that to the new Iron Hills. The explanation for this Middle-earth became Earth. Instead, another seemingly impossible shuffle is suspected to possibility for a “distance in time” is a tangent arise from later land contortions initiated by from the timeline, being the same planet in a the inhabitants of Arda: different time. Alternatively, and more likely due to the different planetary conventions, And the Earth was again broken in the Middle-earth could be our Earth in a different second battle, when Melko was again universe and therefore different time. overthrown … But the greatest change Multiverses is a hypothesis that our uni-verse took place, when the First Design was is the mother, daughter or twin of another destroyed, and the Earth was rounded. universe. Endless possibilities exist regarding (Shaping 240) the physical laws of another universe, which could potentially even result in the formation While little was written about it, by the of hemispherical planetary bodies. Coombs end of the Second Age, Ambar had been and Read reached a similar conclusion of altered to become a complete sphere. Assured wormholes and parallel timelines while of a globular shape, geologists can begin to attempting to determine the physics of analyse Ambar’s structure and composition. Middle-earth. The question arises, however, Fortunately, Tolkien provided a clue to which universe came first, and without Ambar’s interior in a letter to a fan (Letters delving into the intricacies of multiverse 183) and later reiterated it in a BBC interview theory, it seems too time-expensive for a (Gueroult and Tolkien). In both instances geologist to pursue. Tolkien advised that the planet of Ambar is While the “time” riddle remains unsolved, our planet - in a different time. geologists can rejoice that if Ambar was/is our planet, then the geological processes Middle-earth is not an imaginary world … occurring on Middle-earth by the Third Age the theatre of my tale is this earth, the one are the same as those occurring on Earth. This in which we now live, but the historical importantly includes weathering, a hydrologic period is imaginary … Naturally it feels cycle, differentiation, and presumably familiar, even if a little glorified by the continental drift. enchantment of distance in time. (Letters Summarising the genesis of Tolkien’s 257) world, the spherical realm of Arda was first created with a single, terrestrial planetary Worth briefly exploring is the often body, Ambar. Ambar comprised Arda’s debated puzzle of the “distance in time”. A bottom hemisphere, with life existing on its constant in our universe, time can be plotted flat top. Mysterious alterations later resulted as a line for which one end represents the past in Ambar becoming a spherical planet. This and the other, the present or future. A distance initiated geological processes similar to those in time could therefore imply the length on Earth – with exceptions. between two points, suggesting x amount of time has passed since Middle-earth existed on Earth. This appears to be the consensus 3 Middle-earth orogeny among many online Tolkien appreciators and also Howes. However, as discussed by A delightful term used by geologists, McIntosh, despite similar landmass borders orogeny, refers to crustal deformation that (and similarities in climate as discussed by results in raised land (mountain building). As Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 5 one piece of Earth’s crust collides with elaborated that the Forlindon Plate has been another, mountains arise. This process was “drawn down into a subduction zone at the the basis of the work of two geologists, continental margin, its materials Reynolds and Sarjeant, who both attempted to reincorporated into the earth’s mantle.” If the reconstruct the geology of Middle-earth. world is not round, tectonics cannot be Reynolds, writing in the early 1970s, was present, or implicated in mountain building. the first to use the mountains of Middle-earth Nor can any comparison be made between as geological clues and proposed tectonic Arda’s early history and “earth’s mantle”, plate margins around them. With the theory of when the Ambarkanta Diagrams vividly show tectonics evolving and continental drift still a significantly different planet. To subduct a contested at the time, Reynolds’ hypotheses piece of crust into the brittle mantle of a flat were later updated by Sarjeant in 1992. Both planet seems equivalent to breaking a Reynolds (page after 68) and Sarjeant (1995: shortbread biscuit, taking a bite, then 337) constructed detailed geological maps of perfectly repairing it. Where does the Middle-earth, and both were built on the subducting biscuit go in a brittle, hemisphere usually safe assumption that geographical planet? features were clues to geological processes. Reynolds’ and Sarjeant’s proposed But neither incorporated information about presence of at least four individual plates the genesis and hemispherical shape of comprising one continent is further puzzling, Ambar, discussed above, into their in that continents on Earth mostly reside on hypotheses. While Reynolds can be forgiven individual plates. Two notable exceptions are as the Ambarkanta had not been released, California, partly separated from the rest of Sarjeant viewed Tolkien’s posthumous North America by the San Andreas Fault, and release as the “equivalent of a geologist’s the Indian subcontinent, which collided into field notes – unrevised and not to be trusted” the Eurasian plate to form the Himalayas. To (Sarjeant, 1995: 334). While discrediting field contend that several Californias and Indias, all geologists is debatable, Tolkien also on different tectonic plates, comprise the referenced the world becoming round in The majority of central-west Middle-earth seems Silmarillion: “And those that sailed furthest highly unlikely. Australia, for example, is one set but a girdle about the Earth and returned continent residing on a single tectonic plate, weary at last to the place of their beginning; and the mainland of Europe, possibly a base and they said: ‘All roads are now bent’” (S of design for Middle-earth, also resides on a 136). single tectonic plate, which it shares with With two Tolkien sources, then, any most of Asia. proposed explanation of Middle-earth Perhaps then, some of Reynolds’ divisions geology should take into account the fact that may be a case of out-dated language. Sarjeant Ambar was partly flat at some time. suggested so, stating that the use of the word Sarjeant’s interpretation of the geology of “plates” by both was “in modern terminology Middle-earth in fact contradicts Tolkien. … terrans” (Sarjeant, 1995: 336). However, Sarjeant asserted that “collision” between the terranes, as they are now known, are the result Forlindon and Eriador Plates “caused the of subduction, where the falling plate sticks orogeny” that formed the Blue Mountains, material to the non-subducting plate. Terranes despite the Ambarkanta advising the Blue, therefore imply subduction, which returns to Grey, Iron, Yellow and Red Mountains were Sarjeant’s impossible, missing biscuit formed by the thrusting aside of land on a flat scenario. Furthermore, by the Third Age, planetary body. Sarjeant (1995: 336) further most of the mountains of Middle-earth had 6 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth already formed, leaving not enough future 3.1 Mountains of instances of orogeny to create the many depicted terranes. A significant orogenous anomaly in Middle- If we agree that, at the very least, a theory earth is the suspiciously square-like shape of of Middle-earth geology requires a map with the mountains around Mordor that appeared updated terminology, the next question is after Ambar became round, and therefore where all the geological boundaries lie. possibly formed as the result of plate Reynolds (1974) and Sarjeant (1995) both collisions. Comprised of the Mountains of constructed impressive geological maps of Shadow, Ash Mountains and , Middle-earth, however both were constructed they continue to baffle geologists due to their on an assumption involving tectonic plates near perfect shape not seen on Earth. and orogeny. By assuming all the mountains Collectively known as the Mordor Volcanics, in Ambar were built by crustal collisions, the Reynolds (1974) proposed that the square-like terrane/plate boundaries Reynolds and formation was the result of “another small Sarjeant propose are consequently inaccurate. continent or oceanic fragment caught between Whether suggesting four or six plates or the two orogenic phases represented by the terranes in Middle-earth, if the mountains of mountains ringing it to the north and south.” the First Age were raised in the middle of flat Reynolds then expanded that, “continued land, they cannot represent the boundaries of pressure from the south caused a re- either terranes or plates. Consequently, they orientation of the direction of plate must be similar to fold-mountains, where the movements” (Reynolds, 1974: 68). This crust has buckled upwards from perpendicular implies one tectonic plate was squashed force. The previously flat land - later to between two others, forming two parallel become Middle-earth and its surrounds - was mountain ranges, before changing direction to much more likely all within one single plate form a near perpendicular, connecting, third than cut through by plate borders. mountain range. This is certainly not seen on To establish if any collisions did occur Earth, as plates drift away from seafloor between different terranes and plates in spreading, becoming older and colder and Middle-earth, we must definitively explain eventually subducting below a collision zone. the formation of all Middle-earth’s mountain Three orogenous events and a change of plate ranges. As discussed above, the Blue, Grey, direction, all credited to continental drift Iron, Yellow and Red Mountains were all within a short time, is therefore implausible. formed before plate tectonics, not from McIntosh took a more convincing orogeny, and therefore cannot represent plate approach to the shape of the Mordor or terrane boundaries, even taking into Volcanics, claiming “the mountains around consideration later alterations such as the Mordor were deliberately built as a fence” movement of the Grey Mountains across the (McIntosh, 1973: 6-7). This is consistent with supercontinent when the world was made Tolkien’s work in that, during the Second and spherical. But there were other mountains not Third Ages, did claim Mordor as in existence on the flat surface of Ambar: the home for his protection. Potentially then, the Mountains of Mordor, the Misty Mountains, Mordor Volcanics could have been and the White Mountains. These invite further established before the Second Age, and thus investigation. before tectonic plates. With only one prior tenant to Sauron, under this hypothesis Mordor’s shape would likely be the result of land-contortionist, Melkor/, who is Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 7 known to have raised other mountains for While one protection during the First Age: “I am the explanation for rimas is that they are former, Elder King: Melkor, first and mightiest of all collapsed lava tubes, geologists are not sure the Valar, who was before the world, and how they formed into these striking angles made it” (CH 29). Prior to his capture, and shapes (Meyer, 2014). In the case of freedom and subsequent renaming, it is Mordor, it seems plausible that Morgoth known Melkor/Morgoth (hereafter, for could have directed a stream of lava into a simplicity’s sake, Morgoth) “reared the square shape himself, with assistance from threefold peaks of Thangorodrim, and a great whatever natural processes helped form the reek of dark smoke was ever wreathed about Moon’s rimas. them” (S 36). These volcanos were raised to Alternatively, adjacent to Rima Krieger is become Morgoth’s first home in the Iron the Krieger crater, which appears to be a Mountains. It therefore seems highly probable polygonal caldera, or large volcanic crater that Mordor was also created by Morgoth to (see images in Meyer, 2014, provide protection for his new home, as Drawing a alluded to by McIntosh prior to the release of parallel with this, Mordor could conceivably The Silmarillion and Ambarkanta. Without have been a supervolcano, similar to Olympus natural occurrences of rectangle mountain Mons of Mars, that collapsed in on itself after ranges on Earth, however, obtaining a erupting. Sarjeant came to a similar geological explanation for the formation of conclusion, labelling it a caldera “like that of the Mordor Volcanics seems bleak. Unless, Krakatoa” (Sarjeant, 1995: 336), however that is, we draw comparisons from out of this then decided that it also resides on its own world, for example comparing Mordor with tectonic plate, seemingly entirely surrounded basins, fissures and craters on Earth’s Moon. as an unlikely intra-plate plate. Whatever the Oceanus Procellarum is a basaltic plain on case, a strictly magmatic beginning provides a the Moon (one of the Moon’s mares, or far more plausible explanation for Mordor’s ‘seas’), and, while not an elevated structure, it origins than does continental drift and does display rectangular features visible from subsequent orogeny. Earth (see for example Andrews-Hanna et al., 2014: Fig. 3). While it is unlikely that the 3.2 Misty Mountains Moon provided inspiration for Tolkien’s design, some images of the Procellarum The remaining mountain ranges of Middle- region do show geological similarities in earth to be discussed are the White and Misty shape between it and Mordor. In this instance, Mountains. While nothing was written by basalt, being former lava, has cooled into a Tolkien specifically regarding the formation near square shape. As the Moon has never of the White Mountains, McIntosh was the experienced plate tectonics, it may be the first to suggest that they “may be a relevant comparative to the Mordor contour. continuation south and east of the structure of Also of interest are a number of rimas the Misty Mountains” (McIntosh, 1973: 6). (fissures) that exist on the moon, some of Fonstad was certain that the White Mountains which incorporate 90° shapes similar to the were present since at least the First Age and Mordor Volcanics, and were also formed agreed that they were “quite likely raised at without plate tectonics. Rima Krieger is a the same time as the Towers of Mist [Misty striking rima found amid Oceanus Mountains]” (Fonstad, 1991: 179). The Procellarum, with near 90° angles (see for hypothesis that the White and Misty example images in Meyer, 2014, Mountains were simultaneously raised 8 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth appears hard to disprove due to their almost Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Crust grows seamless connection, broken only by the Gap outwards from the centre of a rift, and as this of , of which they comprise southern happens, the older crust is pushed back, and northern walls respectively. The heaping rock onto both sides of the rift. The formation of the White Mountains therefore question is whether this mechanism would does appear to have coincided with the have been sufficient to form the Misty formation of the Misty Mountains. Mountains. By the Third Age, the Misty Mountains Sarjeant (1995) supported the spreading were the longest mountain chain in Middle- hypothesis along the Anduin river and indeed earth, perilous to the and other labelled it the Anduin Rift. However, Sarjeant creatures that traversed them. Possibly the believed the Anduin Rift was created as a most crucial to understanding the continent result of the collision of two central tectonic geologically, each prior geologist has cited plates (which Reynolds, 1974 had named the different origins for the Misty Mountains, Eriador and Rhovanion Plates) with two despite clear evidence from Tolkien as to their plates on either side of them (the northern formation. Howes was the first to identify a Forodwaith Plate and southern Plate). Misty Mountain mystery. She argued that This would effectively be a convergent turned Middle-earth was geographically ancestral to divergent fault, with two colliding plates Europe, and indeed drew a map in which forming the Misty Mountains, then the Middle-earth’s boundaries were superimposed subducting plate ceasing movement and a over a map of Europe (Howes, 1967: 14). lava spreading ridge appearing adjacently. With respect to the Misty Mountains, Howes Sarjeant further suggested that the Anduin was not entirely clear but claimed that Rift then formed a second triple-junction with glaciers had extended from the north twice to the rift joining the aulocogens. Orogeny aside, influence them. In a potentially historic the primary argument against the existence of analysis, she also claimed to have fossilised an Anduin Rift is the location of the Misty tree samples from a nearby site in Middle- Mountains, which reside partially along one earth that were isotopically dated to between side of the Anduin River valley, then curve 100,000 and 200,000 years old. away in a southwest direction, while the Challenging Howes’ findings, McIntosh Anduin River curves to the southeast. Rifts (1973) effectively disproved the hypothesis are divergent plate boundaries that lead to that Middle-earth evolved into Europe, and continual crustal extension perpendicular to argued, rather, that continental drift was the rift. Generally, continental rifts form responsible for the Misty Mountains. horst-graben-horst sequences (highland- McIntosh elaborated that the unhurried lowland-highland), with the rift spreading collision of tectonic plates squeezed rocks from the graben. If the Anduin area was a rift together, and with “nowhere else to go the valley, the great flat forest of , east rocks went upwards” (McIntosh, 1973: 4). of the Anduin River, would display land Reynolds in contrast did not discuss the build-up. Sarjeant rightly provides evidence formation of the Misty Mountains, however of a horst-graben-horst sequence along the he believed a failed arm of a plate triple- Anduin River, in the form of Emyn Muil, junction, an aulacogen, continued to alter the however this is a very small, localised range. Aulacogens are areas of crustal instance in comparison to the large proposed spreading also known as rifts; a prominent rift and is located to the southeast of the Misty Earth example is the massive East African Mountains. Rift, which forms a triple junction with the Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 9

A half-graben could account for mountains volcanos and the Misty Mountains. If we being found only on one side of a river. accept the simultaneous formation of the However, this is also debunked by Tolkien’s White and Misty Mountains, it seems likely maps, which show that the highland and that Morgoth also strategically raised the lowland follow different paths. Furthermore, White Mountains. Doing so would have as the White Mountains were likely formed resulted in only one slim passage through the from the same processes as the Misty centre of Middle-earth, Rohan Gap, which Mountains, it is also unlikely that the Anduin tactically would provide a defensive upper- River represents a convergent or divergent hand in battles taking place between the boundary, for neither could have contributed White and Misty Mountains, for example, that to the coinciding formation of both the White against the Oromë. and Misty Mountain ranges. In any case, the Clearly a powerful being, how Morgoth Anduin Rift theory is based on the assumption was able to raise land or bend crust remains that the Rift formed at least one triple- unknown. However, his mountain-building junction, which necessitates the existence of efforts did involve moving crust upwards, tectonic plate boundaries within the continent which does occur on Earth. The difference - and these intracontinental tectonic plates are here is only in the type of force being applied highly disputable, as discussed above. and probably the direction. Perhaps, as with An alternative explanation was proposed Mordor, Morgoth simply enhanced or by Mason (1975), who went against popular accelerated natural physical processes to build belief and proposed that the Misty Mountains the Misty Mountains. Since subduction was were a “fold-mountain chain” composed impossible at the time because land cannot go mostly of volcanic bedrock buckling upwards downwards, any thrusting aside of crust with regional sediment accumulation. Prior to would cause intraplate folding or collisional continental drift becoming accepted among boundaries where crust can only go up. With geologists, many of the largest mountains on the densest material holding its position, any Earth were believed to be fold-mountains. It horizontal force would then result in a is now known that folds may be responsible collision with the lighter crust being supra- for many hills, but cannot account for ducted or hypo-ducted above. mountain building in high ranges like the Without any further details from Tolkien, Andes or Himalayas. But despite being based it can only be established that mountains were on outdated knowledge, Mason’s hypothesis formed similarly to some of those on Earth, of how the Misty Mountains formed aligns either through folding or other non- most closely with Tolkien’s words: subduction related orogeny. And, rather than plate tectonics, all of the mountains of But the mountains were the Hithaeglir, the Middle-earth were acted upon by an as yet Towers of Mist upon the borders of unexplained force that at present we can only Eriador; yet they were taller and more label “magic.” terrible in those days, and were reared by Melkor to hinder the riding of Oromë. (S 23) 4 Middle-earth plate tectonics

In other words, as well as being the If tectonic movement was not responsible for antagonist of the battles that resulted in the the origin of Middle-earth mountains, can it land contortion that moved the Grey provide an explanation for any aspect of Mountains, Morgoth also raised several Middle-earth geology? Another geological 10 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth phenomenon often associated with plate tectonics did exist, they had very little tectonics on Earth is volcanic hotspots, and geological impact. This further implies that Sarjeant noted that Morgoth’s creation of the orogenous events that occur on Earth over mid-continent volcanos indicates the presence hundreds of thousands of years were yet to of hotspots in Middle-earth. Hotspots are begin on Middle-earth. plume outlets of magma from deep within a The answer to whether or not continental planetary body that burst up through the outer drift did exist may come from Howes, who crust, resulting in mid-plate volcanos. Over proposed sea-floor spreading was occurring time, a hotspot will produce multiple volcanos from a mid-ocean ridge west of the Blue in a linear chain, because the magma that Mountains. Howes advocated the existence of forms them is derived from the mantle the oceanic ridge as part of her theory that underneath the drifting crust. While tectonic Middle-earth had evolved into Europe, plates are moving, the plume through the marking Earth’s Mid-Atlantic Ridge on her mantle is not, and the direction of the plate map superimposing the two lands/worlds. movement is indicated by a line of remnant Fonstad later agreed that the mid-oceanic volcanos on the continental or oceanic crust. ridge did likely exist on Middle-earth and The islands of Hawaii are great examples of subsequently renamed it the “Great Rift,” trackable hotspots, with the same plume presumably to remove any link to our Earth. having built many islands over time, that She concluded that like plate tectonics, the increase in age with distance from the outlet. Great Rift appearance coincided with the end On a map of Middle-earth, however, there of the Second Age or the beginning of the appears to be no evidence that tectonic plates Third. With a consensus among Middle-earth have shifted, as there are no linear hotspot scholars that tectonics did exist at this time, volcanos. Instead, a simple comparison could the Great Rift is likely similar to the Mid- again be made to the Moon, Mercury, Venus Atlantic Ridge on our Earth as suggested by or Mars, all of which have intraplate hotspots Howes. Complications do ensue however, as without tectonic plates. the location of the seafloor spreading is where While a lack of hotspot trails may appear the subcontinent of had previously to defeat the theory of continental drift, the been. The hurdle here is that crust is usually geological timescale proves it does not. created at divergent boundaries, not dissolved Should tectonics exist, these processes likely at them. began toward the end of the Second Age when the planetary body became round. 4.1 Beleriand: missing Therefore by the Third Age, at most several thousands of years before the Lord of the The western extension of Middle-earth, Rings map, plate tectonics would only have Beleriand, vanished from Tolkien’s maps by been present in Middle-earth for a very short the Third Age, having mostly sunk into the geological time period and not long enough to sea. A curious phenomenon, Tolkien only produce linear hotspots. In comparison, each provided vague clues to explain this: of the individual Hawaiian Islands originated millions of years apart. Of course, Howes did In the Great Battle and the tumults of the claim to date Middle-earth material to over fall of Thangorodrim there were mighty 100,000 years old, and Reynolds also bravely convulsions in the earth, and Beleriand was applied Earth’s geological timescale to broken and laid waste; and northward and Middle-earth rock outcrops. However, over westward many lands sank beneath the such little time, it is highly likely that if waters of the Great Sea. (S 137) Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 11

Despite the mysterious aspects of this still not be disregarded in any geological event, the disappearance of Beleriand is direct construction of Middle-earth. When plotting evidence of a geological event occurring any faults on the Third Age map, Beleriand during the supposedly geomythological era. must be taken into account for it comprised a This is a further argument in favour of large portion of Middle-earth until its incorporating all of Tolkien’s works into downfall at the end of the First Age. The geological theories without being maligned as vagueness of Beleriand’s demise merely adds myth or inaccurate field notes. Before mostly to the mystery. From Tolkien’s Annals of disappearing, Beleriand was bordered by Beleriand, “So ended the First Age of the mountain ranges in the north and adjoined the World and Beleriand was no more” (Shaping entire western edge of Third Age Middle- 311). earth. The Blue Mountains, also referred to as Perhaps then a massive normal fault (a Ered Luin on many of Tolkien’s maps, were fault which results in the landmass on one approximately triple their later length during side sliding downwards relative to the other the First Age, and covered more ground than side) formed during the battles of the Great the Misty Mountains of the Third. War and fall of the volcanoes of Once we expand the map of Middle-earth Thangorodrim. The fault would have to have to incorporate Beleriand (Figure 1), the separated Beleriand from Middle-earth, continent begins to resemble something closer subsuming rather than subducting, and to what might be seen on Earth. Accordingly, resulting in a continental horst-graben. The Sarjeant’s six tectonic plates in Middle-earth resulting displacement, however, after appear further unlikely, for that would suggest dropping a subcontinent into the ocean, would perhaps five more plates in Beleriand. To have noticeably raised sea levels and resulted reiterate, the entirety of Europe practically in great tsunamis. The proposed fault then resides on one tectonic plate, which it shares was likely west of the Blue Mountains, with most of Asia. perhaps along the line of the River Gelion, Analysis inevitably turns to how which is coincidentally the same location of “convulsions in the earth” could cause the later Great Rift. This becomes a plausible Beleriand to become “broken” and mostly hypothesis only if we further assume that the sink into the sea. An impressive feat, the sea level rose sufficiently to also cover the western edge of Middle-earth appears to have land remaining between the east bank of the been subsumed but not subducted. A simpler River Gelion/the normal fault and what was to geological explanation could be that rather become the west coast of Middle-earth. than most of Beleriand sinking, sea levels instead may have risen. Our own Earth is all too familiar with climate change and the 5 Conclusion subsequent thermal expansion of the oceans - the islands of Oceania can further relate to Tolkien intended Middle-earth to align with disappearing land. Howes mentioned that our Earth in many particulars, but his amid suspected ice ages in Middle-earth, great descriptions of early Arda and the glaciers were formed and melted, constantly extraordinary events that ensued suggest the changing the sea levels on Arda, however this geology of Middle-earth (if not its underlying would not cause the earth to “convulse.” It laws and processes) was vastly different from seems there is no straightforward geological our planet. Prior to Ambar becoming answer to the Beleriand conundrum, which spherical, plate tectonics could not have while potentially unappealing to study, should existed, suggesting there may be closer 12 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth sgsfssfs

Fig. 1 The Silmarillion map aligned with map. For continuity the coastline was removed from the Lord of the Rings map and the Anduin and Gwathlo rivers extended to the Harnen River and River Gelion respectively.

Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth 13 resemblances between early Ambar and other References celestial bodies that similarly lack continental drift. Our new synthesis incorporates this Andrews-Hanna, Jeffrey C, et al. “Structure critical information, and in doing so has and evolution of the lunar Procellarum challenged much of the existing scholarship region as revealed by GRAIL gravity on this topic. We have attempted to offer a data.” Nature 514.7520 (2014): 68-71. consistent new set of explanations for the 10.1038/nature13697. geological phenomena observed in Middle- Coombs, Jenny, and Marc Read. “A Physics earth that rely very little upon plate tectonics of Middle-earth.” Proceedings of the J.R.R. and also incorporate new geological Tolkien Centenary Conference, Keble knowledge, for example research into lunar College, Oxford, England, 17-24 August structures. Nonetheless we have still left some 1992. Ed. Reynolds, Patricia and Glen H elements of the big picture unresolved, and GoodKnights. Oxford, England: Tolkien hope that future scholars will be able to Society, 1995. further our understanding of these, perhaps Fonstad, Karen Wynn. The Atlas of Middle- with the help of future geological research Earth (Revised Edition). Boston: Houghton here on Earth or elsewhere in the solar Mifflin, 1991. system. Gueroult, Denys, and J R R Tolkien. “An There are also a number of interesting Interview with J.R.R.T. [Transcript]”. geological phenomena in Middle-earth that 2008. Tolkien Library. 16 October 2015. we have not had space to discuss here, such as . and stone-giants, whose constant hostilities Howes, Margaret M. “The Elder Ages and the with each other must lead to great dispersal of later glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch.” their stone across Middle-earth. These unique Tolkien Journal 3.2 (1967): 3-15. types of rock or mineral have not yet been Hynes, Gerard. ““Beneath the Earth’s dark incorporated into geological surveys of keel”: Tolkien and Geology.” Tolkien Middle-earth. Weathering, differentiation and Studies 9 (2012): 21-36. – many geological anomalies still 10.1353/tks.2012.0005. remain to be explored. International Astronomical Union. Tolkien was a master at language and his “Resolution B5: Definition of a Planet in intricate notes suggest much thought went the Solar System”. 2006. IAU Resolutions. into every aspect of Arda. While the geology 21 October 2015. of Middle-earth may seem obscure in places . contemporary Earth science, just because it is Kuhn, N J. “Teaching with Tolkien: not a simple task does not imply it should be environmental degradation of a fantasy avoided. Importantly, these geological riddles world.” European Geosciences Union should be solved rather than dismissed, General Assembly, Vienna, Austria, 22-27 perhaps purely for Tolkien’s sake, who once April 2012. 2012. remarked when analysing his own work, Larsen, Kristine. “SAURON, Mount Doom, “Much of my own book puzzles me” (Letters and Elvish Moths: The Influence of 183). Tolkien on Modern Science.” 4 (2007): 223-34. 10.1353/tks.2007.0024. 14 Ingles and Orthia: Geology of Middle-earth

Mason, R. “The Geology of Middle-earth.” Mallorn 9 (1975): 12-15. McIntosh, P. “The geology of Middle-earth.” Mallorn 7 (1973): 3-7. Meyer, H. “A Kink in Rima Krieger”. 2014. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. Ed. Arizona State University School of Earth & Space Exploration. 20 October 2015. . Radagast the Brown. “The Climate of Middle- earth”. 2013. . Reynolds, Robert C. “The geomorphology of Middle-Earth.” The Swansea Geographer 11 (1974): 67-71. Sarjeant, William Antony Swithin. “The Geology of Middle-earth.” Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, Keble College, Oxford, England, 17-24 August 1992. Ed. Reynolds, Patricia and Glen H GoodKnights. Oxford, England: Tolkien Society, 1995.