Misty Mountains

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Misty Mountains
Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Other names Hithaeglir, Towers of Mist
Description Mountain range
Location Between Eriador and Wilderland
Founder Melkor

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth, the Misty Mountains are an epic mountain range, and one of the most important features of Middle-earth's geography.[1] The mountain-chain is less well known by its Sindarin name of Hithaeglir (mist-peak-line[2])—misspelled as Hithaiglin on the original Lord of the Rings map—and as the Mountains of Mist or the Towers of Mist.[3] The range stretched continuously for some 900 miles[4] (1440 kilometres) from Carn Dûm in the north[5] to Dol Baran in the south, and was a formidable barrier between the Middle-earth regions of Eriador and Rhovanion.

The Misty Mountains were introduced to the world in Tolkien's 1937 book, The Hobbit. A vision of the mountains is invoked in the first chapter: "Far over the misty mountains cold..."; they are encountered directly in chapter 4. Further information about the mountains was added in Tolkien's subsequent publications.

Middle-earth narrative[edit]

Geography[edit]

The northernmost section of the Misty Mountains, which ran from Carn Dûm to Mount Gundabad, was known as the Mountains of Angmar. Mount Gundabad was where Durin awoke according to legend, though it was later an abode of Orcs. Mount Gram, another Orc nest, was not far away. Mount Gundabad was on the eastern side of the range, where it nearly joined the westernmost extremity of the Grey Mountains. The strategic gap was about 10 miles wide.

The greatest Dwarven realm in Middle-earth, Khazad-dûm, was located at the midpoint of the Misty Mountains. The area's three massive peaks - the Mountains of Moria - were Caradhras (Redhorn and its pass), Celebdil (Silvertine) and Fanuidhol (Cloudyhead). Under Celebdil was the main part of Khazad-dûm; it included the Endless Stair, which the Dwarves built from the foundations of the mountain to summit.

The southernmost peak of the Misty Mountains was Methedras (end-horn); from here the great range finally subsided into foothills, the last being Dol Baran. Here the southernmost foothills of the Misty Mountains looked across the Gap of Rohan to the northernmost foothills of the White Mountains.

The Misty Mountains had very few passes. The most important of these were the High Pass and the Redhorn Pass; there was also a pass at the source of the Gladden. There were actually two alternative routes in the High Pass; the lower pass[6] was more prone to being blocked by Orcs; hence most travellers used the higher pass, except during those rare interludes when the Orcs were suppressed.

Some of Middle-earth's notable valleys and dales lay in or close to the Misty Mountains. Rivendell was hidden in the foothills near the western end of the High Pass. Further south the eastern end of the Redhorn Pass led into the great Dimrill Dale in the arms of the Mountains of Moria; this dale led on into Lothlórien: the Valley of Singing Gold. At the southern end of the Misty Mountains, Fangorn forest reached right up into the eastern foothills; the deep dales there were filled with an ancient darkness. Nearby lay Nan Curunír (the Wizard's Vale), where Isengard was built. It faced the Gap of Rohan.

Rivers originating in the Misty Mountains (north to south):

History[edit]

The Misty Mountains were raised by Melkor (Middle-earth's first Dark Lord) in a primeval epoch of the First Age, no later than the War of the Powers. He hoped to impede Oromë, a god who often rode across Middle-earth hunting. The Mountains were far taller in those days and had a more dreaded appearance.[8]

Cirith Forn en Andrath, illustration by Matěj Čadil

However Oromë established the High Pass, also called the Pass of Imladris[9] and Cirith Forn en Andrath (S. 'cirith'=pass, 'forn'=north, 'andrath'=long climb).[10] He did this to assist the Eldar to cross the mountains on their Great Journey to the West. Even so, the Misty Mountains were still viewed as too formidable by a large number of the Elves; they forsook the great migration, and dwelt east of the mountains (i.e. in Rhovanion). This was a major sundering of the Elves; the group who remained behind became the Nandor.

Dwarves began to use the High Pass later in the First Age. They connected their roads (the Great East Road and the Men-i-Naugrim through Mirkwood) with this pass, which reinforced it as the major gateway between Eriador and the regions to the east.

The great Dwarf realm of Khazad-dûm had been established beneath the Misty Mountains earlier in the First Age, and flourished for thousands of years, until the unearthing of the Balrog (Durin's Bane) in T.A. 1980. The Dwarves then deserted Moria, and it came to be occupied by Orcs and other creatures.

In the year 3434 of the Second Age, the High Pass was used by the army of Gil-galad and Elendil when they marched east to Mordor in the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. After this war (which ended the Second Age), Isildur was slain by Orcs watching the way back towards the pass.

Halflings had begun to migrate west across the Mountains by the year 1050 of the Third Age. They were the ancestors of Hobbits.

By T.A. 1300, the Witch-king established the realm of Angmar at Carn Dûm. He was based there at the northern extreme of the mountains for several centuries.

During this time the Orcs spread through the Misty Mountains, and the High Pass became dangerous again. Only with the War of the Dwarves and Orcs (T.A. 2790-93), which nearly wiped out all Orcs of the mountains, did it become safe again for a while. Nevertheless by the time of the Quest of Erebor the goblins of Goblin-town had burrowed their way back to the pass, and thus captured Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield's company of Dwarves.

The Fellowship of the Ring tried to cross the Redhorn Pass (after rejecting the High Pass leading to Rhovanion as being watched by the Enemy, and the Gap of Rohan as taking the Fellowship too close to Isengard), but a blizzard forced the companions to go under the mountains instead of over them. There, in the deserted subterranean realm of Khazad-dûm, the Nine Walkers faced the Balrog, Durin's Bane. Gandalf fell with the Balrog into the uttermost depths of Moria and fought the Balrog all the way up the Endless Stair, finally slaying it by throwing it from the peak of Celebdil, but sacrificing his own life in doing so.

Inhabitants[edit]

Eagles had eyries in the Mountains from the earliest times. It was also anciently the habitat of great bears, who were said to be the ancestors of Beorn.[11] Stone-giants (also called mountain giants) were another race that inhabited the outside of the mountains. Sometimes because of their size, they could be mistaken for the side of the mountain itself; at times these creatures could reach heights of forty feet tall. The only surviving report of stone-giants was made by Bilbo and the thirteen Dwarves, as told in the Red Book of Westmarch in the chapter "Over Hill and Under Hill."

Various races made their homes underneath the Misty Mountains. The Dwarf realm of Moria flourished from the First Age well into the Third. In the early Second Age, escapees from the War of Wrath established subterranean lairs: Orcs (especially at Goblin-town) and (as far as is known) one Balrog (under Moria). The Balrog was destroyed by Gandalf the Grey in T.A. 3019.

Gollum, a key character of the Third Age of the legendarium, was fascinated with the Misty Mountains as a youngster. When exiled from his original home, he followed an unnamed stream into the Mountains, and lived underneath them for over five centuries. His home there was an island in an underground lake near Goblin-town. With him resided the One Ring.

Sources and inspirations[edit]

The genesis of the Misty Mountains lay in the Poetic Edda, which Tolkien was familiar with. In particular, the protagonist in the Skírnismál notes that his quest will involve misty mountains, orcs and giants.[12]

Significant aspects of the Misty Mountains, including their visualization and some of the experiences of Tolkien's protagonists, were inspired by his travels in the Swiss Alps in 1911.[13]

Namesakes and cultural references[edit]

The International Astronomical Union names all mountains on Saturn's moon Titan after mountains in Tolkien's work.[14] In 2012, they named a Titanian mountain range "Misty Montes" after the Misty Mountains.[15]

Works cited[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Karen Wynn Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth, HarperCollins, 1994 edition, Regional Maps, p. 79, ISBN 0 261 10277 X.
  2. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, Index p.335, ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  3. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch.3 p. 54; ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  4. ^ Karen Wynn Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth, HarperCollins, 1994 edition, Regional Maps, p. 79, ISBN 0 261 10277 X.
  5. ^ Robert Foster (1978), The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, Unwin Paperbacks, p. 63, ISBN 0-04-803001-5.
  6. ^ The Annotated Hobbit, p.105, "their main gate used to open on a different pass..."
  7. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, George Allen & Unwin, 2nd edition (1966), ch. 2 p.63, ISBN 0 04 823045 6.
  8. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1977), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, George Allen & Unwin, ch. 3 p. 54, ISBN 0 04 823139 8.
  9. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien, ed., Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 281, ISBN 0-395-29917-9 
  10. ^ Unfinished Tales, p. 271
  11. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1937), The Hobbit, George Allen & Unwin, 4th edition (1978), ch. VII p. 103, ISBN 0-04-823147-9.
  12. ^ Tom Shippey (2003), The Road to Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, ch. 3 p. 70-71, ISBN 0-618-25760-8.
  13. ^ Humphrey Carpenter (1981, editor), Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin, letter 306 p.391-392, ISBN 0-04-826005-3.
  14. ^ International Astronomical Union. "Categories for Naming Features on Planets and Satellites". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Accessed Nov 14, 2012.
  15. ^ International Astronomical Union. "Misty Montes". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Accessed Nov 14, 2012.

External links[edit]