Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Watling Street?

— Kristine Larsen

21 December 2021 | Mallorn, Winter, 2021, 41

Tolkien’s masterful integration of astronomical allusions into his crafting of Middle-earth is well known. From creating elvish versions of the constellations to poetic explanations for the phases of the moon and eclipses, the legendarium is rich with observations of the night sky and the objects visible therein. It is therefore uncharacteristic of Tolkien to have apparently neglected one of the most awe-inspiring objects visible under dark skies: the Milky Way. This hazy band of light crossing the night sky — the combined light of billions of stars mingled with clouds of gas and dust — traces the plane of our galaxy and its spiral arms. Before the advent of artificial nocturnal illumination (Thomas Edison’s scourge of humanity), some part of the Milky Way was visible in the night sky from every location on earth. Throughout most of Tolkien’s life, light pollution in England had not yet progressed to the extent that it would have completely robbed him of the ability to see it from Oxford, and during the pivotal decades that he was first creating the grand mythology of Middle-earth it would have been impossible to ignore it in the night sky (Larsen, And the Stars Were Hidden,” p. 17).

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date recorded 📅2022-01-01
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