Today Middle-earth turns 100 years old! On September 24, 1914, Tolkien wrote the poem “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” while staying with his aunt at Phoenix Farm in Gedling. He was twenty-two years old and studying at Oxford.
Shortly after he wrote the poem, Tolkien admitted to a friend that he didn’t really know what it was about, but he would “try to find out.” He’d spend the next six decades on that.
The poem introduced Earendel the character, as well as the idea of him becoming the Morning Star. It was the first writing to have anything to do with what would eventually become Middle-earth.
Neither the name Earendel nor the term Middle-earth were invented by Tolkien. Both came from the Anglo-Saxon poem “Crist”:
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Middle-earth to men sent,
and true radiance of the Sun
bright above the stars, every season
thou of thyself ever illuminest.
Earendel actually meant “morning star” in Old English (in a round about way, I guess). And Middle-earth (translated from middangeard) was the term used for the parts of the land where people could live.
Curiously, Tolkien did not use the term Middle-earth right away. In fact, it wasn’t until (probably) 1937, when writing the Fall of Numenor, that he used it. Prior to that, he called it various things like Great Lands, Hither Lands, Outer Lands, and even middangeard. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that Middle-earth was conceived today, born in 1917 and then finally named in 1937. But really, that’s splitting hairs.
You can read the poem here.
Also, you can read quite a bit about all of this at John Garth’s blog.
About the Photo
What better way to illustrate a poem about the ocean from 1914 than a photo of the ocean taken with a camera that was made in 1914 using film that expired in 1964? This was taken a week and a half ago at Ruby Beach along the Washington coast. Usually even film this old is in better condition, but there’s not much you can do about things like that.