- Names: Mount Doom, Mountain of Fire, Orodruin (Sindarin: “fiery red mountain), Amon Amarth (Sindarin: “hill [of] doom”).
- Location in Peter Jackson films: Mount Ngauruhoe, Te-Ika-a-Māui, New Zealand; Mount Ruapehu, Te-Ika-a-Māui in some shots.
- Description: a stratovolcano in northwestern Mordor, looming over the plains of Gorgoroth, the birthplace and the grave of the One Ring, and by corollary the setting of the Third Age in its entirety. Cartographer Karen Wynn Fonstad asserts that Mount Doom “seemed to be the only active volcano” in “that land of vulcanism,” further describing it as “a composite or strato-volcano, formed of alternating layers of ash and lava.” At its core is Sammath Naur, the Cracks of Doom, which could be either the forge of Sauron, the hall into the Mountain, or the steaming fissures and their magma emissions. On the north and west lies a path, upon which Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee take the final steps of their quest to destroy the One Ring. Tolkien’s imprecision in his descriptions of his geography come into play as ever.
Why enter Middle-earth in Tolkien’s hell? The answer is simply that Nowhere and Back Again is a psychogeography rather than a straightlaced tour of Middle-earth. Pushing against the grain gets us off to the start we need. Tolkien, a devout Catholic with anarcho-monarchist politics, wrote an 1,100-page novel about the war against Mordor. Dante’s soteriological odyssey Divinia Comedia doesn’t begin with Paradiso. As Mordor is the embodiment of evil in Tolkien’s corpus, it’s useful to weigh Tolkien’s values against it by directly engaging with his geographic theodicy.
Middle-earth, a bricolage of European aesthetics, is essentially a white supremacist fantasy. It’s far from a utopia, as it’s full of corruption, avarice, and threats of Yellow Peril, but it is ultimately a world based on the nobility of that which Tolkien’s colleague and one-time confidante C. S. Lewis deemed “northernness.” Striving to present a truly English mythology (Tolkien considered the Arthurian myths inadequately British), Tolkien spoke of excavating legends of his own, as opposed to inventing them:
“I have long ceased to invent (though even patronizing or sneering critics on the side praise my ‘invention’): I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the ‘Treebeard’ chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is.The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, 180
“[…] I am old enough (alas!) to take a dispassionate and scientific, properly so-called, interest in these matters, and cite myself simply because I am interested in mythological ‘invention’, and the mystery of literary creation (or sub-creation as I have elsewhere called it) and I am the most readily available corpus vile for experiment or observation.”
Tolkien’s Roman Catholicism was crucial to his understanding of evil and theodicy.…