Middle-Earth is the setting where the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The geography changes significantly from its creation to the Third Age when the story takes place, though this article will mostly cover how it is during the books.
Not to be confused with New Zealand, though the country has rebranded itself as the real Middle Earth.
Middle-Earth is not the name of The World of the Tolkien's mythos, the term for that would technically be Arda. Middle-Earth refers to the general landmass where the events of the books take place (hilariously enough, another name for Middle-Earth used by the elves was Endor, possibly a subtle reference by George Lucas). At the same time Arda is not an alien planet or alternate universe but rather a lost era of our world with Middle Earth being roughly where Europe was (and yes, that does mean that there are analogs to the Americas, Africa and Asia in Lord of the Rings). This is in it's way quite sad when you think about it since it would mean that after the events of the books where our heroes sail off to Valinor all the cultures of Gondor, Rohan, Laketown and so forth that our heroes have fought to save in various ways gradually falter and fail totally, leaving only cave men. An major driving element of the mythos is that the magic of the world is gradually winding down. However, the books do say that the line of Finwe (the ancestor of Elrond and Aragorn) will always endure, so their descendants would still be alive today.
Arda used to be a flat world until the later 2nd Age with the destruction of Numenor and "the bending of the roads". Said event also turned a flying sailing ship into Venus.
Located in the northwest, Eriador is generally remote and isolated from most of the goings-on of Middle-Earth. It was once home to the human kingdom of Arnor and the elven kingdom of Eregion, but both collapsed by the time The Hobbit takes place. What's left is a mostly depopulated and rustic region. Typically, the only travelers to the region are Dwarves on their way to the Blue Mountains, or Elves going to the Grey Havens.
- The Shire - Here be Hobbits. Described as being geographically and ecologically similar to England, it is a peaceful rural country divided into the four farthings, with a recently colonized fifth called Buckland. At the center is Hobbiton, where the Baggins family is from.
- Bree - A small settlement surrounded by a few sattelite hamlets populated by men and hobbits living together in harmony, and one of the few settled towns in the region.
- Old Forest - One of two remants of a primeval forest. Its trees are sentient and full of malice, and will try to direct all trespassers to Old Man Willow. However, Tom Bombadil and his wife also live here, and will guide travelers to safety.
- Barrow-Downs - Formerly part of Arnor, but all that's left now are tombs. It has since become haunted after the Witch-King of Angmar sent evil spirits to inhabit the dead bodies and created the Barrow-Wights.
- Rivendell - Imladris in Sindarin. It is a small town hidden in a valley within the Misty Mountains and is populated by elves belonging to the House of Elrond.
- Amon Sul - Known by locals as Weathertop. A ruined watchtower where Frodo got stabbed by the Nazgul.
- Grey Havens - The Westernmost part of Middle Earth, and the last remnant of the elven kingdom of Lindon. At this harbor, elves leave for the Undying Lands.
The kingdom of the Horse Lords, Rohan is a wide open plain that was gifted to the Rohirrim by Gondor. To the west is the Gap of Rohan where Isengard is located, and where Dunland lies just beyond.
- Edoras - Capital city of Rohan. Its center is the Golden Hall.
- Hornburg - Rohan's main fortress, built into the White Mountains. Its keep leads into a cave system into the mountains, and is defended by a long wall.
- Dunharrow - A refuge in the White Mountains where the Rohirrim mustered for the Battle of Pelennor Fields. The valley behind it leads directly to a haunted region known as the Paths of the Dead.
- Fangorn Forest - The other remnant of the primeval forest. This one is populated by the Huorns, trees capable of movement, and the Ents, the tree-herders.
- Isengard - A fortress on Rohan's western border that watches the river Isen (hence the name). In the center is the tall black tower of Orthanc. Sauruman was using it as a base of operations as he plotted his betrayal.
- Dunland - Just west-northwest of Rohan proper, Dunland was populated by primitive tribesmen, known as Dunlendings or Wildmen, who were often at war with Rohan. They coveted the lands of Rohan, as they were the original native inhabitants of it before the Rohirrim came. Sauruman had allied with them in his war against Rohan, but they were granted clemency after Saruman's defeat.
The main human kingdom of the setting; Gondor was once a mighty kingdom that is now failing, having endured centuries of political strife and decay. The last king has long ago disappeared with no heir, leaving it under the rule of the house of Stewards. It has become increasingly militarized to deal with threats from the East, at the expense of its former cultural and intellectual advances. Gondor used to stretch all the way east to the Sea of Rhun and South to Harad, but they have since been beaten back and lost the eastern side of the Anduin river, where Ithilien and Minas Ithil were located.
- Minas Tirith - Formerly Minas Anor. The current capital of Gondor, this city is built into the White Mountains and is built around seven concentric circles with seven gates.
- Osgiliath - The former capital of Gondor. It straddled the Anduin river, but was abandoned due to plague and became a contested region when Mordor conquered Ithilien.
- Dol Amroth - A principality of Gondor, from where Imrahil and his Swan Knights come from.
- Pelargir - One of the first settlements of Gondor and its biggest port city. Came under attack by Umbar during the War of the Ring.
- Ithilien - The easternmost province of Gondor, right up against the mountains on Mordor's western edge. Ithilien was abandoned when Sauron returned to Mordor, but the Rangers of Gondor maintained a presence through secret camps to harass any invading armies.
A long mountain range that runs North-South. It represents a major obstacle as only a few safe passages exist. Various kingdoms have also been set up here as well.
- Pass of Caradhras - The route the Fellowship attempted to take, but were waylaid by Wargs and avalanches.
- Moria - Formerly Khazad-Dum, the greatest Dwarven city in Middle-Earth. It was the sole source of Mithril, but the city was destroyed when the Dwarves accidentally awoke the Balrog known as Durin's Bane. It has since been taken over by Orcs.
- Goblin-Town - A Goblin settlement situated on the High Pass. Gollum lived in the deepest part of the cave with the One Ring until he was found by Bilbo.
- Angmar - A kingdom that was ruled by one of the Nazgul, and destroyed Arnor. Angmar itself was destroyed when a retaliatory force drove him back.
- Mount Gundabad - The mountain where the first Dwarves awoke, considered a holy site for their race. Later taken over by Orcs in the second and third ages. The antagonistic Orcs of The Hobbit originated from here.
A former land mass West of Eriador. It was here that the first elven and human kingdoms were built in the First Age, though they had to contend with many invasions by Morgoth and his allies from the East. Eventually things got so bad that one of the inhabitants, a half-elf named Earendil, sailed all the way to the Undying Lands and petitioned the Valar to intervene. The resulting battle basically broke Beleriand apart and it sank into the sea; the survivors either moved Eastward, or traveled to the new island of Numenor.
- Gondolin - The biggest and most impressive kingdom of the Noldor Elves. It was hidden deep within the mountains until the city was betrayed by an incestuous elf prick who was jealous that his cousin married a human (No seriously, look it up). The weapons Sting, Orcrist, and Glamdring were forged here.
- Doriath - The kingdom of the Sindarin elves, ruled by Elu Thingol. The capital, Menegroth, was hidden deep within a large forest and protected by Thingol's demigoddess wife Melian. When Thingol got his hands on a Silmaril, he got the brilliant idea to add it to the most beautiful necklace ever made. The dwarves of Nogrod did the job, asked for the improved necklace as payment, and killed him after he insulted them. Grieving, Melian returned to Aman, and the dwarves of Nogrod sacked the defenceless, leaderless city, avenging the extermination of the petty dwarves and centuries of insults besides. Nogrod failed to recover the necklace, but the sons of Feanor had little trouble destroying the much-diminished kingdom afterwards.
- Angband - Morgoth's fortress to the North. It was described as an impregnable fortress within an inhospitably cold region and guarded by a massive three-peaked mountain. Angband was destroyed along with the rest of Beleriand.
The large stretch of land that lies East of the Misty Mountains, and North of Rohan. Many realms exist here, though they are frequently exposed to attacks from Rhun.
- Mirkwood - A massive dark and spooky forest that's become inhospitable. The Northern part is relatively safer and is part of the Woodland Realm, a Sindarin elf kingdom. The southern part is dominated by Dol Guldur, an ancient fortress controlled by Sauron. He hid here before revealing himself and taking control of Mordor.
- Lothlorien - A mystical forest realm controlled by Galadriel and her husband Celebron. At its center is Caras Galadhon, a Sindarin elf city. All of the houses are built upon the unique Mallorn Trees.
- Erebor - The dwarven kingdom located within the Lonely Mountain. Smaug had driven the dwarves out, but they reclaimed the city after Smaug was killed.
- Dale & Laketown - Dale was a human kingdom allied with Erebor, until it had been destroyed by Smaug. The survivors fled to the lake and built Laketown, which was also destroyed when Smaug re-emerged. The survivors would go on to rebuild Dale and named Bard the Bowman king for killing Smaug.
- Amon Hen - Another ancient watchtower, it was here that the fellowship separated and where Boromir was killed by Orcs. The river descends down a waterfall into Gondor proper.
- Emyn Muil - A foggy and craggy land where Frodo and Sam got lost, and encountered Gollum.
- Dagorlad - The swamp past Emyn Muil where the Last Alliance fought against Mordor. The fallen soldiers have been somehow preserved in the water.
One does not simply walk to Mordor. A wasteland where Sauron built his kingdom, defended by three mountain ranges and a generally inhospitable landscape. It does not meet EPA standards.
- Udun - The valley beyond the Black Gate, where Sauron's armies muster. The Black Gate is the only passage where large armies can pass through. Nearby is Barad-dur, Sauron's main fortress.
- Gorgoroth - The volcanic plain beneath Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam had to cross this way from Cirith Ungol to reach their goal.
- Nurn - The only inhabitable region of Mordor. Nurn is fertalized by Mt. Doom's volcanic ash and the waters from Nurnen, and is used to grow food for Sauron's armies. It was inhabited by slaves, but Aragorn gifted the region to them after freeing them from the Orcs. Given Sauron's MO it would probably be something to the effect of vast fields scattered with barracks were slaves were kept penned up when they were not working with orcish overseers driving them and sending off supplies to feed the workers and the armies.
- Minas Morgul - Formerly Minas Ithil, it was a city of Gondor until Mordor conquered Ithilien, and has hence become the Nazgul's stronghold. It is a horrifying place of sorcery.
- Cirith Ungol - The only other way into Mordor is up a tall stair across the mountains, and into Shelob's Lair. On the other side is the tower of Cirith Ungol, which is guarded by Orcs. Also a pretty good band.
- Mount Doom - Also known as Orodruin and Amon Amarth (the latter of which is the name of another pretty awesome band), Mount Doom was where the One Ring was forged by Sauron. Essentially, it is a huge volcano, and is connected to Barad-Dur through via road. Mordor is known as the Land of Shadows primarily because of the eruptions of this mountain.
- Barad-Dur - The Dark Tower, and primary fortress of the Dark Lord Sauron. It is the tallest structure in Middle-Earth until its destruction at the end of the War of the Ring. Typically, it is described as being made of black steel and iron.
A general name for the East, Rhun is not covered in much detail. It has many kingdoms and tribes of Wicked Men that have allied themselves with Sauron and worship him as a god. The Easterling armies fought in the War of the Ring, and even put up a tough fight after Mordor had been defeated at Pelennor Fields. Four of the dwarves clans live in Rhun, though many escaped west after Sauron’s takeover of the East. Even before the War of the Ring, these assholes were always trying to raid and conquer Gondor and Rhovanion. Extra-canonical adaptations cannot seem to make up their mind as to whether Easterlings are Mongol-type nomadic peoples or barbarians. Some of the historic peoples of the east include the Wainriders, the Balchoth, and the Swarthy Men of the first age who followed Ulfang the Black.
- Cuiviénen: located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Helcar, this was where the first elves awoke and lived before migrating west towards Aman. Due to the extreme old age of this journey, we’re unsure of where exactly it would be located; Christopher Tolkien himself speculated that the seas of Rhun and Núrnen might be all that’s left of the Sea of Helcar, indicating that the geography of the East changed dramatically since the elves left. Whether any of the Avari (elves who didn’t migrate west) still live here is unknown, though by this point they’d either be living in hiding or exterminated by Sauron’s allies.
- Hildorien: south of the Red Mountains and Cuiviénen, the homeland of men faced the easternmost sea. Here, Morgoth tricked men into believing that they were made mortal by Illuvatar as some sort of divine punishment. Those who refused to follow Morgoth became the Edain and were the first to move West, eventually reaching Beleriand. Those who came after became the ancestors of the people of Rhun and Harad, though some men who were distantly related to the Edain but didn’t enter Beleriand became known as the “Middle Men.”
The realm south of Gondor; Harad is home to various tribesmen know as Southrons living in the deserts and jungles.
- Harondor - The southernmost province of Gondor, arid but still livable, constantly changed hands between the Wicked Men of the South and Gondor.
- Near Harad - A big desert that runs along Mordor's southern mountain range and stretches south until it meets the completely unlivable Haradwaith.
- Haradwaith - An even larger desert that makes up the center and east of Harad, a completely desolate and arid wasteland.
- Far Harad - A jungle far, far, far to the South. This was where the Oliphaunts came from. Also apparently of great size and analogous to Africa.
- Umbar - A bay that had been settled by the Black Numenoreans who built a great port town, and remained enemies of Gondor ever since. Over time the original Numenoreans either died out or interbred with the Southrons. The city became a pirate scourge after traitors who lost the civil war known as the kin-strife in Gondor fled to Umbar with a large portion of Gondor's navy, thus creating the Corsairs of Umbar, who mercilessly raided Gondor for the rest of the third age.
- Khand - Just East of Harad and South of Mordor. Very little is known about Khand except that it has nomadic horsemen that raided Gondor and is home to Wicked Men known as "Variags".
Regions that are technically not Middle-Earth, but are important to the story
Known to mortals as "The Undying Lands," this is where the Valar live, and where elves go when they cross the sea. Aman used to be connected to Middle Earth via a dangerous ice bridge known as the Helcarxe, literally "grinding ice." After Numenor attempted to invade Aman (it's considered a big no-no for Mortals to try to enter) Illuvatar separated Aman from Middle-Earth and turned the formerly flat Arda into a sphere; elves can still travel there via the "straight road" but cannot return. Only a handful of mortals are known to have ever lived in Aman; the ring-bearers Frodo and Bilbo, and possibly Samwise Gamgee and Gimli the Dwarf.
- Valinor - The main kingdom of the Valar. Populated primarily by the Vanyar elves, and was formerly home to the Two Trees of Light.
- Tirion - A large city built by the Noldor elves in the mountain gap separating Valinor from the sea.
- Tol Erresea - An island off the cost of Aman that had been used to ferry the elves across the sea. The Falmari elves settled down here.
Middle-earth's Atlantis, the Valar created Númenor as a reward for the Men who fought against Morgoth during the First Age. In time, Númenor became a mighty sea empire that rivaled the Elves. Its first king was Elros Tar-Minyatur, the half-elven son of Eärendil and Elwing. Like his brother Elrond, the Valar had Elros choose whether to live as an Elf or as a Man. Though Elros chose the Gift of Men, he lived for over five hundred years. His descendants would inherit his vitality, though it dwindled as it passed down the generations; his most well-known descendant, Aragorn Elessar, lived for 210 years.
Sauron used that lack of immortality as the wedge to turn Númenor into his pawns against the Valar when its last king invaded Middle-earth and took him prisoner. He convinced Ar-Pharazôn that he could defy the Ban of the Valar, sail into the West, and use his nation's military might to force the Valar to grant immortality to Men. As soon as Ar-Pharazôn set one foot on the soil of Aman, Illuvatar reshaped the world, removing any physical path to the Undying Lands that the inhabitants of Arda could take to reach it; the upheaval also caused Númenor to fall into the sea.
When Elendil's fleet washed ashore on Middle-earth after Númenor sank, these refugees would go on to found the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.