Nowhere and Back Again is a psychogeography of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Armed with the framework of the Situationist International and the tenets of revolutionary Christianity, the blog pours over the maps and books of Middle-earth, telling its story through stormy literary criticism of each location in Tolkien’s fictional continent. Tearing sections from the Red Book of Westmarch and scribbling on its pages, Nowhere and Back Again tells a new, spiritually incendiary, politically liberatory tale of Middle-earth, that of the lands themselves and the authors and characters shaped by them.
Names: Nurn (Sindarin: “sad”); Harad, (Sindarin: “south), Haradwaith (Sindarin: “south-people”); Khand (Harad tongue: unknown meaning); Rhûn (Sindarin: “east”); Umbar (unknown pre-Númenórean language)
Descriptions: Nurn is the Sindarin name for the southern region of Mordor; it is greener than the north, and contains Lake Núrnen, where Sauron’s slaves toil. Khand is a largely unexplored region southeast of Mordor. Harad names a greater land than the two former regions; initially home to Númenóreans, by the time of the War of the Ring it is an ally of Sauron. Rhûn, meanwhile, barely appears on maps. The Red Book of Westmarch doesn’t tell us much about that place. Umbar, the City of the Corsairs, homes miscegenated descendants of Númenor.
Tolkien’s legendarium is incomplete by both necessity and intent. On historical grounds,
it is incomplete because Tolkien labored on it for the latter 50 and change years of his life; he simply did not live long enough to harmonize all his disparate writings on the subject. (Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth wisely refrains from attempting such a feat; instead he presents his father’s drafts in their state at the time of his death). In the diegesis of Tolkien’s work, the myths of Arda are written as a reconstruction of earlier texts. The Lord of the Rings’ prologue imparts that the subsequent book is a patchwork text assembled from the Red Book of Westmarch, a tome of historical records and stories compiled by the Hobbits. Throughout the book there are reminders that the work is reconstructed, lending The Lord of the Rings some metafictional qualities (like fellow conservatives T. S. Eliot and H. P. Lovecraft, Tolkien seemed to have no problem pioneering literary Modernism), with the prose sometimes acknowledging authorial gaps in knowledge of the story. Characters’ names are unknown, Eastern lands are often known only by their Sindarin names, and entire plot threads happen offstage (although that latter fact is largely caused by Tolkien’s aversion to figuring out the plots to his books before writing them). The world of Arda is incomplete; maps only show parts of Middle-earth, and anything beyond the scope of Elves and Hobbits is mere whisperings in the text.
Diegetically, the scattershot nature of information on the Southeast of Middle-earth is a feature of the in-universe authors’ perspectives. The Hobbits never travel to Harad or Nurn or Rhûn or Khand or Umbar, and so their stories do not encompass those lands. Similarly, The Silmarillion is a collection of myths about the Elves and Western Men, and the history of the East is only presented when it interacts with the West. To frame literary criticism in purely diegetic terms, of course, would be a massacre of the medium. The notion that Tolkien might have borne the prejudices and perspectives of a white Englishman born in the 1890s has often been dismissed by his most rabid trad fans. They haven’t proposed an alternative to this, whether by suggesting that Tolkien may have had the worldview and values of a 12th century Saracen man, or a 19th century Polish Jew, or an Igbo transgender woman in the 21st century.…