The following is an excerpt from the introduction to A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth by Matthew Dickerson.
“Middle-earth,” by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we live in.
—J. R. R. Tolkien
Finding Meaning in Fantasy
In October 1958, three years after J. R. R. Tolkien’s long labors writing and revising The Lord of the Rings had reached fruition with its third and ﬁnal volume at last in print, the author wrote a long and interesting letter to a fan named Rhona Beare. Miss Beare had posed a series of questions about the languages, history, and cultures of Middle-earth. In his response, Tolkien makes what for some readers may seem a very curious claim: Middle-earth, he explains, is our own world, and the tales told in The Lord of the Rings are in some sense connected to our own history.
Now Tolkien acknowledges in this letter that the geology of Middle-earth doesn’t match in details with the geology of our world. As he tells Miss Beare, he considered trying to make these details ﬁt with greater verisimilitude. Before he thought of attempting this, however, the story had already progressed too far. It would have taken too much time and too much work to rewrite his story in order to make Middle-earth more closely tied physically to our world. Despite these geological dissimilarities, however, Tolkien goes on to explain, “I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place.” And, dismissing the idea put forth by many reviewers that Middle-earth was some other planet, he adds, in clariﬁcation of his point, “Middle-earth is . . . a modernization . . . of an old word for the inhabited world of Men” (Letters, 283). What we might say, then, is that Tolkien’s great legendarium—the corpus of all his stories, legends, and histories of Middle-earth, which many readers and scholars alike consider the preeminent work of otherworldly literature—was not about another world at all, but about our world.