Mordor

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Mordor
J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location
Flag of Mordor SVG.svg
Flag displaying the Red Eye of Sauron, Lord of Mordor[T 1]
Location of Mordor 3019 TA.svg
Mordor (red) and its sphere of influence (pink) within Middle-earth, T.A. 3019
First appearanceThe Lord of the Rings
Information
TypeRealm and base of operations of Sauron.
RulerSauron
Notable locationsBarad-dûr (the Dark Tower), Mount Doom, the Morannon (Black Gate), Cirith Ungol, Gorgoroth, Udûn
Other name(s)the Land of Shadow, the Black Land, the Nameless Land
LocationEast of Gondor
LifespanSecond AgeFourth Age
FounderSauron
CapitalBarad-dûr

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional world of Middle-earth, Mordor (pronounced [ˈmɔrdɔr]; from Sindarin Black Land and Quenya Land of Shadow) is the realm and base of the evil Sauron. It lay to the east of Gondor and the great river Anduin, and to the south of Mirkwood. Mount Doom, a volcano in Mordor, was the goal of the Fellowship of the Ring in the quest to destroy the One Ring. Mordor was surrounded by three mountain ranges, to the north, the west, and the south. These both protected the land from invasion and kept those living in Mordor from escaping.

Commentators have noted that Mordor was influenced by Tolkien's own experiences in the industrial Black Country of the English Midlands, and by his time fighting in the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War. Another forerunner that Tolkien was very familiar with is the account of the monster Grendel's unearthly landscapes in the Old English poem Beowulf. Others have observed that Tolkien depicts Mordor as specifically evil, and as a vision of industrial environmental degradation, contrasted with either the homely Shire or the beautiful elvish forest of Lothlorien.

Geography[edit]

Sketch map of Gondor and Mordor in the Third Age

Overview[edit]

Mordor was roughly rectangular in shape, with the longer sides on the north and south. Three sides were defended by mountain ranges: the Ered Lithui ("Ash Mountains") on the north, and the Ephel Dúath on the west and south. The lengths of these ranges are estimated to be 498 miles, 283 miles and 501 miles respectively, which gives Mordor's area as roughly 140,000 square miles (362,600 km²).[1]

To the west lay the narrow land of Ithilien, a province of Gondor;[T 2] to the northwest, the Dead Marshes and Dagorlad; to the north, Wilderland; to the northeast and east, Rhûn; to the southeast, Khand; and to the south, Harad.[T 3]

The Black Gate[edit]

In the northwest, the pass of Cirith Gorgor led into the enclosed plain of Udûn. Sauron built the Black Gate of Mordor (the Morannon) across the pass, adding to earlier fortifications: the Towers of the Teeth, guard towers which had been built by Gondor to keep a watch on this entrance.[T 4] The passage through the inner side of Udûn into the interior of Mordor was guarded by another gate, the Isenmouthe. Outside the Morannon lay the Dagorlad or Battle Plain, and the Dead Marshes.[T 3]

The Mountains of Shadow[edit]

The Ephel Dúath ("Fence of Shadow") defended Mordor on the west and south. The main pass was guarded by Minas Morgul, a city built by Gondor as Minas Ithil.[T 5] The fortress Durthang lay in the northern Ephel Dúath above Udûn.[T 6] A higher, more difficult pass, Cirith Ungol, lay just to the north of the Morgul pass. Its top was guarded by a tower, built by Gondor. The route traversed Torech Ungol, the lair of the giant spider Shelob.[T 7][T 8]

Inside the Ephel Dúath ran a lower parallel ridge, the Morgai, separated by a narrow valley, a "dying land not yet dead" with "low scrubby trees", "coarse grey grass-tussocks", "withered mosses", "great writhing, tangled brambles",[a] and thickets of briars with long, stabbing thorns.[3]

Interior[edit]

The interior of Mordor was composed of three large regions. The core of Sauron's realm was in the northwest: the arid plateau of Gorgoroth, with the active volcano Mount Doom located in the middle.[T 9] Sauron's main fortress Barad-dûr was on the north side of Gorgoroth, at the end of a spur of the Ash Mountains. Gorgoroth was volcanic and inhospitable to life, but home to Mordor's mines, forges, and garrisons.[T 6][T 4] Núrn, the southern part of Mordor, was less arid and more fertile; Sauron's slaves farmed this region to support his armies,[T 10] and streams fed the salt Sea of Núrnen. To the east of Gorgoroth lay the dry plain of Lithlad.[T 4]

First Age[edit]

In The Atlas of Middle-earth, Karen Wynn Fonstad assumed that the lands of Mordor, Khand, and Rhûn lay where the inland Sea of Helcar had been, and that the Sea of Rhûn and Sea of Núrnen were its remnants. This was based on a First Age world-map drawn by Tolkien in the Ambarkanta, where the Inland Sea of Helcar occupied a large area of Middle-earth between the Ered Luin and Orocarni, its western end being close to the head of the Great Gulf (later the Mouths of Anduin).[4][b]

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

Sauron settled in Mordor in the Second Age of Middle-earth, and it remained the pivot of his evil contemplations. He built his great stronghold Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, near the volcano Mount Doom (Orodruin), and became known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. He discovered how the Rings of Power were made from the Elves of Eregion in Eriador, and secretly forged the One Ring in Orodruin. He then set about conquering Middle-earth, launching an attack upon the Elves of Eregion, but was repelled by the Men of Númenor.[T 11]

Over a thousand years later, the Númenóreans under Ar-Pharazôn sailed to Middle-earth to challenge Sauron's claim to be "King of Men". Sauron let them capture him and take him back to Númenor, where he caused its destruction. He at once returned to Mordor as a spirit and resumed his rule.[T 12]

The Last Alliance and Third Age[edit]

Sauron's rule was interrupted again when his efforts to overthrow the surviving Men of Númenor and the Elves failed. The army of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men advanced on Mordor; in a great battle on the Dagorlad ("Battle Plain"), Sauron's forces were destroyed and the Black Gate was stormed. Barad-dûr was then besieged; after seven years, Sauron broke out and was defeated on the slopes of Orodruin. Sauron fled into Rhûn, and Barad-dûr was levelled. Gondor built fortresses at the entrances to Mordor to prevent his return, maintaining the "Watchful Peace" for over a thousand years.[T 11]

The Great Plague in Gondor caused the fortifications guarding Mordor to be abandoned, and Mordor again filled with evil things. The Ringwraiths took advantage of Gondor's defeat to re-enter Mordor, conquered Minas Ithil, and took over the fortresses. At the time of Bilbo Baggins's quest in The Hobbit, Sauron returned into Mordor from Dol Guldur, feigning defeat, but readying for war.[T 11]

War of the Ring[edit]

The Council of Elrond decided to send the Ring to Mount Doom to destroy it and Sauron's power. It was carried into Mordor by two Hobbits, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee;[T 11] they entered by the pass of Cirith Ungol. In the War of the Ring, Sauron attempted to storm Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, but was defeated by Gondor and Rohan in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The victors sent an army to the Black Gate to distract Sauron from the Ring. He responded by emptying Mordor of its armies, sending them to the Black Gate. As a result, the plain of Gorgoroth was left almost deserted and Frodo and Sam were able to travel across it to Mount Doom. During the Battle of the Morannon, the One Ring was destroyed in Mount Doom, along with Sauron's power, Barad-dur, and the morale of his armies.[T 11][T 9] This ultimate defeat of Sauron ended the Third Age. Gorgoroth became empty as its Orcs fled or were killed. The land of Núrn was given to Sauron's freed slaves.[T 10][5]

Languages and peoples[edit]

At the time of the War of the Ring, Sauron had gathered great armies to serve him. These included Easterlings and Haradrim, who spoke a variety of tongues, and Orcs and Trolls, who usually spoke a debased form of the Common Speech. Within Barad-dûr and among the captains of Mordor (the Ringwraiths and other high-ranking servants such as the Mouth of Sauron), the Black Speech was still used, the language devised by Sauron during the Dark Years of the Second Age. In addition to ordinary Orcs and Trolls, Sauron had bred a stronger strain of Orcs, the Uruk-hai, and very large Trolls known as Olog-hai who could endure the sun. The Olog-hai knew only the Black Speech.[T 13]

Naming[edit]

Within Tolkien's fiction, "Mordor" had two meanings: "Black Land" in Sindarin, and "Land of Shadow" in Quenya. The root mor ("dark", "black") also appeared in Moria, which meant "Black Pit", and Morgoth, the first Dark Lord.[T 14]

Popular sources have conjectured or stated directly that "Mordor" came from Old English morðor, "mortal sin" or "murder".[6] Against this, Helge Fauskanger notes that Tolkien had been using both the elements of the name, "mor" and "dor" (as in Gondor, Eriador) for decades before assembling them into "Mordor".[6]

Fauskanger writes that there are however several words that sound like "mor" with connotations of darkness. Italian moro (cf. Latin maurus, black, and Mauri, a North African tribe) means a Moor, and the adjective means "black"; Tolkien said that he liked the Italian language.[6] Greek Μαυρός (mauros) means "dark, dim".[6] He notes, too, the possible connection in Tolkien's mind with Mirkwood, the dark Northern forest, from Norse myrk "dark", cognate with English "murky".[6] He adds that words like "Latin mors 'death' or Old English morðor 'murder'—further darkened the ring of this syllable."[6] Finally, Fauskanger mentions the Arthurian names like Morgana, Morgause, and Mordred; the Mor- element here does not mean "dark", possibly being connected to Welsh mawr "big", but Tolkien could have picked up the association with Arthurian evil.[6]

Origins[edit]

Grendel's wilderness in Beowulf[edit]

Tolkien's descriptions of the Dead Marshes and the grim Morgai have been compared to the Beowulf poet's account of Grendel's dangerous moors.[7] 1908 illustration by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Tolkien, a scholar of Old English, was an expert on Beowulf, calling it one of his "most valued sources" for Middle-earth.[T 15] The medievalists Stuart D. Lee and Elizabeth Solopova compare Tolkien's account of Mordor and the neighbouring landscapes to the monster Grendel's wilderness in Beowulf.[7] In particular, they compare Frodo and Sam's crossing of the Dead Marshes and what Gollum called its "tricksy lights", with Beowulf's "fire on the water"; and their traversal of the parched Morgai, full of rocks and vicious thorns, with Grendel's dangerous moors.[7] Lee and Solopova write that the Beowulf description both emphasises the coming horror, "play[ing] on ideas of desolation, wintry landscapes and the supernatural",[7] and like Tolkien giving realistic descriptions of nature. At the same time, they write, both the Beowulf poet and Tolkien incorporate "an element of fantasy": Grendel's moor is both full of water and a "craggy headland .. inhabited by supernatural evil",[7] while Tolkien fills the landscapes in and around Mordor with "similar ambiguity and sense of unease".[7]

Lee and Solopova's comparison of Beowulf landscapes with Mordor[7]
Grendel's wilderness
in Beowulf II.1345-1382
Translation Landscapes around Mordor
... ... ... ... Hie dygel lond
warigeað, wulfhleoþu, windige næssas,
frecne fengelad
... ... ... ... They a secret land
watch, wolf-infested slopes / windy headlands
dangerous moor-path
The Morgai: rocks, thorns,
"grassless, bare, jagged ... barren",
"ruinous and dead"
wudu wyrtum fæst / wæter oferhelmað.
þær mæg nihta gehwæm / niðwundor seon,
fyr on flode. ... Nis þæt heoru stow!
Well-rooted trees / overshadow the water
There one may each night / a horrible wonder see:
fire on the water, ... This is not a safe place.
"wide fens and mires...
Mists curled and smoked
from dark and noisome pools".
"Candles for corpses"
(lights in the Dead Marshes)

'Black Country' of the West Midlands[edit]

Mines, ironworks, smoke, and spoil heaps: the Black Country, near Tolkien's childhood home, has been suggested as an influence on his vision of Mordor.[8]

An art exhibition entitled "The Making of Mordor" at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery (2014) claims that the steelworks and blast furnaces of the West Midlands near Tolkien's childhood home inspired his vision of, and his name Mordor. This industrialized area has long been known as "the Black Country".[8] Philip Womack, writing in The Independent, likens Tolkien's move from rural Warwickshire to urban Birmingham as "exile from a rural idyll to Mordor-like forges and fires",[9] The critic Chris Baratta notes the contrasting environments of the well-tended leafy Shire, the home of the hobbits, and "the industrial wastelands of Isengard and Mordor."[10] Baratta comments that Tolkien clearly intended the reader to "identify with some of the problems of environmental destruction, rampant industrial invasion, and the corrupting and damaging effects these have on mankind."[10]

First World War's Western Front[edit]

Tolkien stated that his trench warfare experience with his regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers, on the Western Front influenced his account of the landscape around Mordor.[11]

The New York Times on the other hand related the grim land of Mordor to Tolkien's personal experience in the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War.[12] Jane Ciabattari, writing on the BBC culture website, calls the hobbits' struggle to take the ring to Mordor "a cracked mirror reflection of the young soldiers caught in the blasted landscape and slaughter of trench warfare on the Western Front."[11] In one of his letters in 1960, Tolkien himself wrote that "The Dead Marshes [just north of Mordor] and the approaches to the Morannon [an entrance to Mordor] owe something to northern France after the Battle of the Somme".[11]

Stromboli[edit]

Tolkien was reported in the science fiction fanzine Niekas to have "caught a glimpse of Mount Doom"[13] when sailing past the volcano of Stromboli off Sicily.[14][13]

Evil[edit]

The critic Lykke Guanio-Uluru sees Mordor as specifically evil, marked by Sauron: a land that is "dying, struggling for life, though not yet dead",[15] evil being able to disfigure life but not to destroy it completely. It is contrasted, writes Guanio-Uluru, with the beauty of Lothlorien, and marked by negative adjectives like "harsh, twisted, bitter, struggling, low, coarse, withered, tangled, stabbing, sullen, shrivelled, grating, rattling, sad".[15]

Allusions in other works[edit]

In film[edit]

Mordor as seen in Peter Jackson's film The Return of the King, with a shattered volcanic landscape for the plain of Gorgoroth as Frodo and Sam approach Mount Doom under its red glare and the ever-watchful Eye of Sauron from his tower of Barad-dûr, all rendered using digital technology[16]

Mordor features in all three films of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the first film, Sean Bean, playing Boromir, the warrior from Gondor, declares to the Council of Elrond that "one does not simply walk into Mordor".[17] In the second, Andy Serkis's digital Gollum guides Frodo and Sam to the Black Gate.[18] In the final film, Frodo and Sam struggle across the shattered volcanic plain of Gorgoroth to Mount Doom,[16] dressed as orcs, under the red glare of the volcano and the watchful Eye of Sauron from an exaggeratedly Gothic Barad-dûr,[19] while the Army of the West gathers for the final battle in front of the Black Gate and witnesses the cataclymic destruction of everything Sauron had built when the Ring is destroyed.[16]

In Womack's view the 2019 biopic Tolkien explicitly connects Mordor to trench warfare: "riders become bloody knights; smoke billows and turns into the form of dark kings."[9]

In other media[edit]

The third verse of Led Zeppelin's 1969 song "Ramble On" by Jimmy Page features a "bizarre" Middle-earth including a Mordor where one can meet beautiful women: "Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor / I met a girl so fair / But Gollum, and the evil one crept up / And slipped away with her".[20][21]

In Chapter 10 of Outlaw Platoon (2012), U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnel's war memoir describing his service in Afghanistan, he observes: "Looks like we're at the gates of Mordor out here", inspiring the chapter's title "The Gates of Mordor".[22] In Warsaw, the Służewiec Przemysłowy neighbourhood of Mokotów district, where many international Corporations own buildings, is commonly called Mordor.[23] In 2016, Google Translate's Ukrainian to Russian function translated "Russia" as "Mordor". Google claimed this to be a "technical error" and issued an apology.[24]

The 2014 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a third-person open world action-adventure video game set in Middle-earth.[25]

In 2015 NASA published photographs taken as the New Horizons space probe passed within 7000 miles of Pluto. A photo of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, shows a large dark area near its north pole. The dark area has been unofficially called Mordor Macula.[26]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ David Day describes the "Brambles of Mordor" as "hideous, with foot-long thorns as barbed and sharp as the daggers of Orcs".[2]
  2. ^ The atlas was however published before The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996), in which the Sea of Rhûn and Mordor exist already in the First Age.

References[edit]

Primary[edit]

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ The Return of the King, ch. 10, "The Black Gate Opens": "A single banner, black but bearing on it in red the Evil Eye"
  2. ^ The Two Towers, book 4, ch. 7 "Journey to the Cross-Roads"
  3. ^ a b The Return of the King, Map of Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor
  4. ^ a b c The Two Towers, book 4, ch. 3 "The Black Gate is Closed"
  5. ^ The Two Towers, book 4, ch. 8 "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol"
  6. ^ a b The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 2 "The Land of Shadow"
  7. ^ The Two Towers, book 4, ch. 9 "Shelob's Lair"
  8. ^ The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 1 "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
  9. ^ a b The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 4 "The Field of Cormallen"
  10. ^ a b The Return of the King, book 6, ch. 5 "The Steward and the King"
  11. ^ a b c d e The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  12. ^ The Silmarillion, Akallabêth
  13. ^ The Return of the King, Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age"
  14. ^ Letters, #297 to Mr. Rang, draft, August 1967
  15. ^ Letters, #25 to the editor of The Observer, signed "Habit", published 16 January 1938

Secondary[edit]

  1. ^ Fonstad, Karen Wynn (1992). The Atlas of Middle-earth. HarperCollins. Appendix p. 191. ISBN 978-0-261-10277-4.
  2. ^ Day, David (1993). Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia. Simon and Schuster. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-684-83979-0.
  3. ^ Day, David. A Tolkien Bestiary. p. 49. ISBN 0753704595.
  4. ^ Fonstad, Karen Wynn (1991). The Atlas of Middle-earth (revised ed.). Houghton Mifflin. p. 16. ISBN 0-395-53516-6.
  5. ^ Day, David (2015). "Nurn". A Dictionary of Tolkien: An A-Z Guide to the Creatures, Plants, Events and Places of Tolkien's World. Octopus. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-7537-2855-0.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Fauskanger, Helge K. (2013). Stenström, Anders B. (ed.). Arda Philology 4: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on J.R.R. Tolkien's Invented Languages, Omentielva Cantea, Valencia, 11-14 August 2011. Arda. pp. 124–126. ISBN 978-91-973500-4-4.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Lee, Stuart D.; Solopova, Elizabeth (2005). The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. Palgrave. pp. 238–243. ISBN 978-1403946713.
  8. ^ a b Jeffries, Stuart (19 September 2014). "Mordor, he wrote: how the Black Country inspired Tolkien's badlands". The Guardian.
  9. ^ a b Womack, Philip (4 May 2019). "Why is Tolkien's work so successful, and why did the new film leave out his Christianity?". The Independent.
  10. ^ a b Baratta, Chris (15 November 2011). Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 31–45. ISBN 978-1-4438-3542-8.
  11. ^ a b c Ciabattari, Jane (20 November 2014). "Hobbits and hippies: Tolkien and the counterculture". BBC.
  12. ^ Loconte, Joseph (30 June 2016). "How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front". The New York Times.
  13. ^ a b Tharoor, Ishaan (25 August 2015). "Where on Earth is the real-world Mordor?". Washington Post.
  14. ^ Kilby, Clyde S.; Plotz, Dick (1968). "Many Meetings with Tolkien: An Edited Transcript of Remarks at the December 1966 TSA Meeting". Niekas (19): 39–40.
  15. ^ a b Guanio-Uluru, Lykke (2015). Ethics and Form in Fantasy Literature: Tolkien, Rowling and Meyer. Springer. pp. 51–52. ISBN 978-1-137-46969-4.
  16. ^ a b c Risden, E. L. (2011). Bogstad, Janice M.; Kaveny, Philip E. (eds.). Tolkien's Resistance to Linearity. Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. McFarland. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-7864-8473-7.
  17. ^ Warner, Sam (1 June 2020). "'Lord of the Rings' director reveals Sean Bean was reading iconic Mordor speech on camera". NME. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  18. ^ "Movies The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers". New York magazine. February 2012. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  19. ^ Woodward, Steven; Kourelis, Kostis (2006). "Urban Legend: Architecture in The Lord of the Rings". In Mathijs, Ernest; Pomerance, Murray (eds.). From Hobbits to Hollywood: Essays on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. Rodopi. p. 203. ISBN 978-9-04201-682-8.
  20. ^ Meyer, Stephen C.; Yri, Kirsten (2020). The Oxford Handbook of Music and Medievalism. Oxford University Press. p. 732. ISBN 978-0-19-065844-1.
  21. ^ Greene, Andy (13 December 2012). "Ramble On: Rockers Who Love 'The Lord of the Rings' | A look back at Middle Earth in rock & roll, from Led Zeppelin to Rush and beyond". Rolling Stone.
  22. ^ Parnell, Sean (2012). Outlaw Platoon. 10: The Gates of Mordor.CS1 maint: location (link)
  23. ^ ""Mordor" bez tramwajów. Modernizacja Marynarskiej" ["Mordor" without trams. Modernisation of Marynarska]. Wawa Love (in Polish). Warsaw. 18 August 2016.
  24. ^ Oliphant, Roland (6 January 2016). "Google apologises after labelling Russia 'Mordor'". The Daily Telegraph.
  25. ^ Plante, Chris (1 October 2014). "'Shadow of Mordor' is morally repulsive and I can't stop playing it". The Verge. Archived from the original on 8 August 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  26. ^ The New York Times, July 15, 2015

Sources[edit]