By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be sat at the airport waiting to board a plane to New Zealand – well technically to Dubai, then Sydney, then New Zealand! It’ll be the furthest I’ve ever been from home and the first time I’ve ever flown on my own. And it’ll be a hell of an adventure. Touring both the North and South islands my friend, Flora, and I will be visiting places like the Waitomo Caves, Abel Tasman, and more importantly the Tongariro National Park, which holds Mount Ngauruhoe, or Mount Doom!
To me, no fantasy world comes close to that of Middle Earth, which is why I’m so excited to be able to visit its real-world setting. So I thought I’d talk a little about why I think this it is the best fantasy world!
Firstly, Middle Earth is ridiculously complex and detailed, it’s hard to believe that a single man managed to create such a vivid landscape. As a language and linguistic nerd, I especially find the languages incredibly interesting and telling of the historical and social world of Middle Earth. Tolkien was a linguist himself – writing one of my favourite non-fiction books A Secret Vice all about constructed-languages and mythology creation.
His linguistic work in Lord of the Rings was colossal, to say the least. Tolkien created 15 art-languages, two of which – Quenya and Sindarin – possess enough grammar, vocabulary, and even dialects to be classified as usable languages. In addition, these languages said so much about the cultures of various communities within Middle Earth; for example, Quenya was held in the same esteem as Latin was within Europe throughout the Middle Ages, so the Elvish speakers of it were seen as educated and all-powerful. I mean, how cool is that?!
Moreover, Lord of the Rings is the quintessential high-fantasy story. The story and the world in which it’s set were genre-defining, Tolkien took from Arthurian legends and Greek epics and made something new whilst rooting it in traditional fantastical elements. I think this is why, despite its slow burn narrative, the books and films are so accessible.
Add to that the fact that the story itself is based around very human themes such as death, friendship, and nature vs technology – the latter being one of my favourites since it introduces to Treebeard and the other Ents. All of this provides Middle Earth with a rich lore that makes the world feel so luscious.
The whole world that Tolkien created feels familiar, being loosely based on an older version of our own, and yet alien. Even within Middle Earth itself, the regions have their own distinct features whilst all fitting into one another naturally. The history and topographical features of places such as Khazad-dûm or Mirkwood (previously known as Greenwood the Great) were thought out and executed with such care, it’s amazing to think that Middle Earth is only a part of Tolkien’s larger world, Arda, which in turn is only one part of his cosmos. That’s right, cosmos!
Still, the chief reason Middle Earth is the best fantasy world in my book is that you can go visit it and sink into a totally different world. Now hear me out! Harry Potter’s Wizarding World is one of the best fantasy worlds but since it’s grounded in our reality, our present world, you can only sink yourself in it so far; visiting London or visiting Alnwick Castle isn’t too different from a National Trust day out (although that still sounds wonderful!).
Then there’s the Star Wars Universe, a.k.a space, which is another one of the best fantasy worlds out there, with more than 50 million inhabited systems. Unlike the Wizarding World, Star Wars is certainly nothing like our own world. However, the problem here is that it would be pretty difficult to visit space and the movie locations are all so scattered, you’d have to book an around-the-world ticket to cross them all off your list. And then you have Middle Earth; a world that is far from our own but whose locations are relatively self-contained and immersive! This won’t necessarily be the case for Kiwis who can call Middle Earth their home, but to me, New Zealand is Middle Earth and even if that’s kind of cheating in terms of why I think Middle Earth is the best fantasy world, it’s still true!
I’ll be posting some brief updates of my adventures whilst I’m away, so keep your eyes open for those, but otherwise let’s remember that “not all who wander are lost”, although I’m sure I’ll lose my way more than once!
Images © Backpack diary, New Line Cinema