The Shaping of Middle-earth

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The Shaping of Middle-earth
EditorChristopher Tolkien
AuthorJ. R. R. Tolkien
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThe History of Middle-earth
SubjectTolkien's legendarium
GenreHigh fantasy
Literary analysis
PublisherGeorge Allen & Unwin (UK)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages400 (paperback)
Preceded byThe Lays of Beleriand 
Followed byThe Lost Road and Other Writings 

The Shaping of Middle-earth – The Quenta, The Ambarkanta and The Annals[1] (1986) is the fourth volume of Christopher Tolkien's 12-volume series The History of Middle-earth in which he analysed the unpublished manuscripts of his father J. R. R. Tolkien.[2]



There is an inscription in the Fëanorian characters (Tengwar, an alphabet Tolkien has devised for High-Elves) in the first pages of every History of Middle-earth volume, written by Christopher Tolkien and describing the contents of the book. The inscription in Book IV reads: "Herein are the Quenta Noldorinwa, the History of the Gnomes, the Ambarkanta or Shape of the World by Rúmil, the Annals of Valinor and the Annals of Beleriand by Pengolod, the Wise of Gondolin with maps of the world in the Elder Days and translations made by Ælfwine the Mariner of England into the tongue of his own land".


Diagram of of the documents comprising Tolkien's Legendarium, as interpreted very strictly, strictly, or more broadlyThe HobbitThe Lord of the RingsThe SilmarillionUnfinished TalesThe Annotated HobbitThe History of The HobbitThe History of The Lord of the RingsThe Lost Road and Other WritingsThe Notion Club PapersJ. R. R. Tolkien's explorations of time travelThe Book of Lost TalesThe Lays of BeleriandThe Shaping of Middle-earthThe Shaping of Middle-earthMorgoth's RingThe War of the JewelsThe History of Middle-earthLanguages constructed by J. R. R. TolkienTolkien's artworkTolkien's scriptsPoetry in The Lord of the Ringscommons:File:Tolkien's Legendarium.svg
Navigable diagram of Tolkien's legendarium. The Shaping of Middle-earth sketches out his mythology and contains the more developed account, Quenta Noldorinwa.

In The Shaping of Middle-earth the gradual transition from the "primitive" legendaria of The Book of Lost Tales to what would become The Silmarillion is described, and it contains a text which could be seen as the first "Silmarillion": the "Sketch of the Mythology".

Three other parts are the Ambarkanta or "Shape of the World", a collection of maps and diagrams of the world described by Tolkien; and the Annals of Valinor and Beleriand, chronological works which started out as timelines but gradually turned into full narratives.

  1. Prose fragments following the Lost Tales — brief, uncompleted texts which continue on from The Book of Lost Tales
  2. The earliest "Silmarillion" — also referred to as the "Sketch of the Mythology", this is the start of the Silmarillion proper
  3. The Quenta Noldorinwa — a further developed version of the "Sketch", the first full narrative since the legends and the only instance where Tolkien completed it. It is notable for having the latest full narrative of the story of Tuor and the fall of the hidden Elven city of Gondolin.
  4. The first "Silmarillion" map — a reproduction of the first map of Beleriand
  5. The Ambarkantacosmological essays, maps, and diagrams
  6. The earliest Annals of Valinor
  7. The earliest Annals of Beleriand

The Annals of Valinor and Annals of Beleriand show the earliest outline of the chronology of the First Age as envisaged in the early 1930s. The next volume in the series, The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987), outlined revisions to both texts made c. 1937 as "The Later Annals of Valinor" and "The Later Annals of Beleriand".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (2002) [1986]. Christopher Tolkien (ed.). The History of Middle-earth. Vol. 4: The Shaping of Middle-earth: The Quenta, The Ambarkanta and The Annals. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-261-10218-4.
  2. ^ Whittingham, Elizabeth A. (2017). The Evolution of Tolkien's Mythology: A Study of the History of Middle-earth. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-1174-7.