Here is an excerpt:
Although it may seem obvious that Middle-earth is “the world in which J.R.R. Tolkien sets his Elf and Hobbit stories”, that is not precisely the case. There are Elf stories which are not part of the world of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. I speak of the Elves in The Father Christmas Letters and Smith of Wootton Major. Of course, there are similarities between these worlds. Like a run on bad puns, Tolkien kept resurrecting old ideas and giving them new form. Hence, the Elves help Father Christmas fight off the goblins, and Smith sees Elven warriors returning from strange and foreign wars when he is visiting Faerie. Middle-earth, which Tolkien said is our world in some imaginary time in the past, is distinct from the other worlds.
But Middle-earth itself is a hodge-podge of literary worlds, borrowing extensively from the original Hobbit (which Tolkien drew into the Middle-earth canon by proposing a second edition for the book in 1947) and a bit from the 1937 “Silmarillion” text, which itself was a rewrite of an earlier “Silmarilion” which in turn was a complete rewrite of the themes Tolkien had used for The Book of Lost Tales. Númenor came straight out of a science fiction time travel story, “The Drowning of Anadune”. And then The Lord of the Rings itself produced new terrain and peoples: Rohan and the Ents, Gondor and Arnor, and the mysterious Eregion whose Elven people only the stones could recall.
And, of course, behind these stories lay the older, non-Tolkienien myths and folklore which inspired him to create his own myths and folklore in the first place. Tolkien grew up on stories of Greek gods and heroes, and he discovered the primal beauty of Gothic and Anglo Saxon verse and poetry. His devotion to Catholicism and Christianity ensured he would absorb Biblical traditions, and his curiosity led him to explore the traditions and sciences of Finland, Egypt, Babylon, and other sources of western civilization.
A recurring theme in Tolkien seems to be the clash between civilization and barbarism. The Elves’ civilization collides with the barbarous Mannish tribes, and the tribes eventually replace the Elves. The Numenoreans’ civilization returns to Middle-earth, where it becomes mingled with the barbarism of the Numenoreans’ Edainic cousins. And in the end, the high civilization of Arnor descends into a semi-barbarism which reaches out to the remnants of high civilization in Gondor far to the south.
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