The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Formed at the time of the Downfall of Númenor in II 3319
Origins
The result of the great changes in the World at the time of the Downfall of Númenor
Meaning
A reference to the round shape of the World after the taking away of Aman

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  • Updated 9 September 2019
  • This entry is complete

Bent World

The World after the making of the Straight Road

"For Ilúvatar cast back the Great Seas west of Middle-earth, and the Empty Lands east of it, and new lands and new seas were made; and the world was diminished..."
Akallabêth

A name describing the condition of the world after the destruction of Númenor and the removal of Valinor in the late Second Age; after this, the world was made 'bent' (or 'round') and only the Elves could still follow the Straight Road to the Undying Lands.

Before the Bent World

According to the histories of the Elves, during the early ages of the World it was flat in form. In the West lay Aman, the Undying Lands, while in the East lay Middle-earth, with the two landmasses separated by the Great Sea. During the First Age, a mariner from Middle-earth could make the journey across the ocean to reach the shores of the Blessed Realm. It was a perilous journey indeed, but if a vessel could pass the Enchanted Isles and Shadowy Seas that protected Aman's shores, it could cross to the land of the Valar beyond. Indeed, Eärendil the Mariner made just such a journey aboard his vessel Vingilot, and so brought about the doom of Morgoth.

Thus the First Age passed into the Second Age, and the Valar created a new island in the Great Sea as a reward for the Edain, the Houses of Men who had aided the Eldar in the Wars of Beleriand. Those who settled in the new land of Númenor lived within sight of Tol Eressëa and the Blessed Realm. Fearing that mortal Men would be lured by the Undying Lands, Manwë placed a Ban on them sailing westward out of sight of their own land (though the Eldar of Eressëa could visit the Dúnedain of Númenor, and often did so).

Though the Númenóreans lived in peace for more than three thousand years, Manwë's fears eventually proved well founded. Under the influence of Sauron, King Ar-Pharazôn sailed a vast fleet into the West in an attempt to claim the Undying Lands for himself. At this time Manwë called on Ilúvatar for aid, and the results were cataclysmic. Not only was the isle of Númenor destroyed, but the nature of the World was changed utterly.

The Bent World

At the time of the Downfall of Númenor, the Undying Lands in the Uttermost West were taken out of the World (and so were the little-known Empty Lands that lay eastward of Middle-earth). New lands1 were made, and new seas, and the form of the World was changed. From this time on, a mariner sailing far enough across the new seas would find themselves back at the place where they set out. This seemed extraordinarily strange to the people of that time, who saw the new world as 'bent' (or 'round', to use more modern terminology).

Though the lands of Aman could no longer be reached be a mortal mariner, an exception was made for the Elves who remained in Middle-earth. It was their fate to return into the West, and they were still permitted to do so, sailing along the Straight Road that followed the old course across the Great Sea. A ship of the Elves could thus sail directly into the West-that-was as the curve of the Bent World fell away below it.

For mortals, the Straight Road was closed and they were confined to the Bent World, apart from a few exceptional cases. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, for example, were permitted to travel into the West aboard the White Ship to seek relief from their suffering in Middle-earth. Both Samwise Gamgee and Gimli the Dwarf were also apparently allowed to make the crossing. It's hinted that other mortal mariners, under remarkable conditions, might be permitted to escape the circles of the Bent World and at least come within sight of the shores of the Blessed Realm.


Notes

1

These new lands must presumably have included the Americas, which did not exist in the earlier structure of the World. Further new lands may also have appeared in the East (Australia, for example), but we have very limited detail about the lands eastward of Middle-earth even before the Downfall of Númenor.

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 9 September 2019
  • This entry is complete

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