Three Rings for the Elven Kings
Ella kom ye la! I cried unto these ones, I've wandered through the dark so long! I've waited through the night for the rising sun!



Geography of Middle-earth

When we examine the maps of Middle-earth that appear in Tolkien’s books, and compare them to a modern map of Europe, we find that the major geographical features fall into place very neatly – though it must be borne in mind that the maps in Tolkien’s published works were actually drawn by his son Christopher, so we can afford to stretch them a little here and there if necessary. Tolkien did indeed draw maps of his own, but these were mere sketches that were adapted, sometimes incorrectly, by his son.

Middle-earth as Europe

The Oera Linda Book tells of a great cataclysm of nature in 2194 BC, which continued for three years (see Chronology for a detailed analysis). Mountains sank into the earth and sea, and others were raised. Whole countries were submerged, and rivers changed their courses. Such an upheaval would certainly be necessary to produce the familar shape of Europe as we know it today. Prof. Peter Bird, of the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has prepared a map showing how the contours of Middle-earth, so familiar from The Lord of the Rings, have been twisted and bent into those of modern Europe.

Middle-earth – Europe

Of particular interest is Prof. Bird’s location for Minas Tirith, on the easternmost point of the Alps – which he equates, on etymological grounds, with the White Mountains (Ered Nimrais). This places it on the modern Austrian–Hungarian border, where the city of Sopron now stands. Sopron is today part of Hungary, but is surrounded on three sides by Austrian territory and until 1921 belonged to Austria, under the name of Ödenburg. Prior to this it had changed hands many times thoughout history, and is first recorded by the Romans as Scarbantia.
Gondor corresponds to Austria, Switzerland and Italy, extending into the Adriatic. To its east lies Morder, corresponding to Hungary and, appropriately enough, Transylvania. To the north of Gondor, on the other side of the Alps (Ered Nimrais) is Rohan, situated in southern Germany and the Czech Republic. Heading north from Rohan we reach the Misty Mountains (Hithaeglir), extending from northern Germany, across Denmark and covering the whole of Scandinavia. To their west lies Eriador, corresponding to France and the British Isles, with its distinctive bulge provided by the continental shelf. The Shire, as Tolkien never tired of explaining, corresponds to the Midlands of England.
     Before the bad time came our country was the most beautiful in the world. The sun rose higher, and there was seldom frost. The trees and shrubs produced various fruits, which are now lost. In the fields we had not only barley, oats, and rye, but wheat which shone like gold, and which could be baked in the sun’s rays. The years were not counted, for one was as happy as another.
     On one side we were bounded by Wr-alda’s Sea, on which no one but us might or could sail; on the other side we were hedged in by the broad Twiskland (Tusschenland, Duitschland), through which the Finda people dared not come on account of the thick forests and the wild beasts.
    Eastward our boundary went to the extremity of the East Sea, and westward to the Mediterranean Sea; so that besides the small rivers we had twelve large rivers given us by Wr-alda to keep our land moist, and to show our seafaring men the way to his sea.
     The banks of these rivers were at one time entirely inhabited by our people, as well as the banks of the Rhine from one end to the other. Opposite Denmark and Jutland we had colonies and a Burgtmaagd. Thence we obtained copper and iron, as well as tar and pitch, and some other necessaries. Opposite to us we had Britain, formerly Westland, with her tin mines.
     Britain was the land of the exiles, who with the help of their Burgtmaagd had gone away to save their lives; but in order that they might not come back they were tattooed with a B on the forehead, the banished with a red dye, the other criminals with blue. [...] As our country was so great and extensive, we had many different names. Those who were settled to the east of Denmark were called Jutten, because often they did nothing else than look for amber (jutten) on the shore. Those who lived in the islands were called Letten, because they lived an isolated life. All those who lived between Denmark and the Sandval, now the Scheldt, were called Stuurlieden (pilots), Zeekampers (naval men), and Angelaren (fishermen). The Angelaren were men who fished in the sea, and were so named because they used lines and hooks instead of nets. From there to the nearest part of Krekaland the inhabitants were called Kadhemers, because they never went to sea but remained ashore.
     Those who were settled in the higher marches bounded by Twisklanden (Germany) were called Saxmannen, because they were always armed against the wild beasts and the savage Britons. Besides these we had the names Landzaten (natives of the land), Marzaten (natives of the fens), and Woud or Hout zaten (natives of the woods).
(Oera Linda Book, Ch. 21: This stands inscribed upon all Citadels)

Location of Hobbiton

As for Hobbiton itself, there are some who suppose that this should lie in the same position as Oxford, England – based on a rather vague remark in one of Tolkien’s letters. After studying the evidence, however, it is clear that we should look some 60 miles to the north-west, to Tolkien’s childhood home of Sarehole, in order to find its true historical location. The Open Street Map (below, centre), shows Sarehole as it is today. When Tolkien lived there, during the 1890s, it was a tiny hamlet in Worcestershire, but since 1911 it has been part of the City of Birmingham.

Hobbiton – Sarehole

The house that Tolkien lived in as a child, 5 Gracewell Cottages, is today numbered 264 Wake Green Road. It lies opposite to, and a little to the north of, Sarehole Mill – acknowledged by Tolkien as the inspiration for Sandyman’s Mill at Hobbiton. For comparison, on either side of the modern map of Sarehole are the two detailed maps of Hobbiton from Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth, closely based on Tolkien’s own maps, paintings and descriptions, and showing its layout before, and after, the Scouring of the Shire (above, left and right).
Ignore for the moment the smaller suburban roads on the modern map, mostly dating from the 1930s. Running west to east across its southern part is a much older road, which goes by a variety of names along its length – Swanshurst Lane and Cole Bank Road, for example, and here also follows the 11A/11C Outer Circle bus route. This is Tolkien’s Bywater Road. Sarehole Mill and its Mill Pond are situated at the junction of this ancient route and Wake Green Road – itself an old trackway heading north, then north-west. The No. 5 bus route, marked here in red, turns right into Springfield Road heading towards Sparkhill, which is therefore Tolkien’s Overhill, and in doing so crosses the No. 1 bus route, heading left along College Road towards Moseley Village – passing, on the way, the imposing Gothic edifice of Spring Hill College, part of Moseley School, built in the 1850s atop the highest hill in the area. Spring Hill College is famous locally for its mysterious tunnels, one of which is said to run from directly beneath the tower, under the middle of the college’s cricket pitch (at the far end of which once stood an obelisk inscribed with the words DUX FEMINA FACTI), and down the hill to Sarehole Mill. The hill on which the college stands therefore corresponds to The Hill at Hobbiton, into which Bag End was tunnelled. Tolkien visited Spring Hill College as a child for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, an event that may have inspired his description of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party. While all the original roads in Sarehole are laid out in the same configuration as those in Hobbiton, the River Cole, on the other hand, runs from south to north, whereas The Water at Hobbiton lies parallel to the Bywater Road. The much smaller Coldbath Brook, however – feeding the Mill Pond from Moseley Bog – is located in the correct position, corresponding to The Water.

Sarehole Mill

Despite endless speculation to the contrary, Sarehole – with its now-famous water mill – is the only place ever acknowledged by Tolkien as being an inspiration to him. In his Foreword the the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings (1965), he wrote:
“The country in which I lived in childhood was being shabbily destroyed before I was ten, in days when motor-cars were rare objects (I had never seen one) and men were still building suburban railways. Recently I saw in a paper a picture of the last decrepitude of the once thriving corn-mill beside its pool that long ago seemed to me so important. I never liked the looks of the Young miller, but his father, the Old miller, had a black beard, and he was not named Sandyman.”
The following year, 1966, in an interview with Guardian journalist John Ezard, Tolkien said:
“It was a kind of lost paradise ... There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill. I always knew it would go — and it did.”

By the late 1960s the mill was in such a bad state of repair that Birmingham City Council decided to demolish it. A local campaign was launched to prevent this, to which Tolkien contributed financially from the proceeds of The Lord of the Rings, which was now becoming a worldwide bestseller and cultural phenomenon. So, coming full circle in this way, Sarehole Mill was opened as a working museum in 1969.


Hobbiton at Sarehole Mill

Hobbiton model village at Sarehole Mill. The mill and its adjoining field are today the venue for the annual Middle Earth Festival, which also includes guided tours of Moseley Bog, and other sites associated with Tolkien in different areas of Birmingham. In 2012 and 2013, with a large financial grant from Birmingham City Council, Sarehole Mill underwent extensive renovation, and is now in full working order.
We who of the earth are born will lead you through the healing storm,
t’s time to follow the path of the ancient ones!

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