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J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium location
Other name(s)Wilderland; the Land Beyond
Typelarge inland region
Notable locationsDale, Dimrill Dale, Dol Guldur, the Emyn Muil, Fangorn, the Gladden Fields, the Great River, Lake-town, the Lonely Mountain, Lothlórien, Mirkwood
First appearanceThe Hobbit,
The Lord of the Rings
Locationnorth-west Middle-earth

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In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, Rhovanion or Wilderland was a large inland region of north-west Middle-earth. It is the scene of action for much of The Hobbit and some episodes of The Lord of the Rings.


Tolkien generally uses the name 'Wilderland' rather than 'Rhovanion'. Wilderland was introduced in The Hobbit, where Rhovanion does not appear at all. In The Lord of the Rings Rhovanion appears on the Middle-earth map and in the appendices, but nowhere in the main narrative body. In the main story, Wilderland is mentioned several times, including by wise characters such as Gandalf and Treebeard.

Tolkien stated that Wilderland is an "invention ... based on wilderness ... Supposed to be the CS [​Common Speech​] name of Rhovanion (in the map, not in the [main] text), the lands east of the Misty Mountains (including Mirkwood) as far as the River Running."[1]

Middle-earth narrative[edit]


The large region of Rhovanion extended to the east as far as the inland Sea of Rhûn; north to the Grey Mountains and Iron Hills; west to the Misty Mountains; and south to a meandering line marked by the Limlight river, Anduin, Emyn Muil, Dagorlad, and the Ered Lithui.[2]

Important rivers in Rhovanion included the Anduin or Great River, the Celduin or River Running, and the Carnen or Redwater. The vast forest of Mirkwood (originally known as Greenwood the Great) dominated central Wilderland. Other notable geographic features of Wilderland included the Long Lake, the Lonely Mountain and the Brown Lands.[2]

General history[edit]

First Age[edit]

In the First Age, during the Years of the Trees, the Elves passed westwards through Rhovanion on their Great Journey.[3] However some Elves turned aside from the Journey and settled in Wilderland.[2]

The race of Dwarves awoke in Middle-earth after Elves. One Dwarf-clan, Durin's Folk, arose in Mount Gundabad (one of the Misty Mountains) on Wilderland's north-west corner, and thus appear to be the only truly native people of the region. From Gundabad they proceeded south along the Misty Mountains (Wilderland's western border) to found the great city of Khazad-dûm (later known as Moria); they also founded settlements on Wilderland's northern margins (notably in the Grey Mountains and Iron Hills).[4] The Dwarves built the first roads of Middle-earth; one of these ran virtually right across Wilderland, beginning in the west at the High Pass of the Misty Mountains, and passing all the way through the vast forest of Mirkwood (at that time known as Greenwood the Great).

The Atanatári (Fathers of Men) awoke long after the Dwarves. However Men tended to follow the pattern of the Elves, with many migrating westwards through Wilderland, and with some turning aside in Wilderland to settle there. These Mannish settlers included the ancestors of the Northmen[5] (the people of Beorn, Éothéod, Dale, Lake-town, and the Third Age's Kingdom of Rhovanion). When and how the ancestors of the Hobbits appeared in Wilderland is unstated by Tolkien; he gives us the conceit of them not being mentioned by the records until the Third Age.

Second Age[edit]

In the Second Age the Sindarin (a group of Elves) lords Oropher and Amdír established two Silvan Elf kingdoms in Wilderland: one in Northern Greenwood, and the other in Lórinand (Lothlórien).[6]

During the second half of the Second Age, much of Wilderland was subject to the Dark Years of Sauron.

Dagorlad, the great battlefield of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men against the host of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, lay in the south of Wilderland.[2]

Third Age[edit]

The Disaster of the Gladden Fields, a battle in western Wilderland in the second year of the Third Age, saw the death of Isildur (the High King of Gondor and Arnor) and the loss of the One Ring in the Great River Anduin.

In the Third Age Rhovanion was well-populated by Elves, Dwarves, and Men.[7] The Elf-kingdoms in northern and western Wilderland were ruled by Thranduil and Amroth respectively (they had succeeded their fathers Oropher and Amdír, who had been killed in the war against Sauron at the end of the Second Age). Easterlings from Rhûn often invaded the region, starting from the 490th year of the third age.

Sauron entered the Greenwood around 1000 of the third age and built his fortress Dol Guldur near the Anduin in the southern reaches of the great wood. From this time the Greenwood began its descent into blackness and evil, eventually becoming known as Mirkwood. Hobbits who had lived along the Anduin began migrating west over the Misty Mountains to escape the evils of Wilderland, though a group of Stoors remained near the Gladden Fields for many years.[8]

As the Third Age progressed, several tribes and princes of Northmen occupied areas of Rhovanion, living in the Vales of Anduin, around and in the great forest, and across the grassy plains. By 1250 one of these princes, Vidugavia, claimed the title "King of Rhovanion", though his realm lay only between Mirkwood and the River Running. Vidugavia allied himself with Gondor (which claimed much of the southern part of Rhovanion); his daughter Vidumavi married into Gondor's royal house, and his grandson Vinitharya became King Eldacar of Gondor in 1432.[9][2]

The Great Plague of 1635-1636 began a long period of decline in Rhovanion. The Plague arrived from Rhûn] in the winter of late 1635, and was heavily felt in this land. By its end it had killed roughly half the people and half of their horses.[10] When the Wainriders came from the east and assailed the people of Rhovanion in 1851, most of their kingdoms were destroyed and the remaining people enslaved. Gondor withdrew its north-eastern border to the Anduin. About this time the Éothéod formed in the lower Vales of Anduin from people fleeing west from the Wainriders. A revolt against the Wainriders in 1899 was suppressed. When the Wainriders were finally defeated by Gondor and the Northmen in 1944, eastern Rhovanion was so exhausted that it makes few appearances in the later history of the Third Age.[11]

Angmar was an evil realm located in and around the northernmost Misty Mountains. Although based outside of Wilderland, its control extended into Wilderland's north-west corner, where the sources of the Anduin were located. In 1975 Angmar was defeated, and two years later the Éothéod moved north into the part of Wilderland formerly controlled by Angmar.[12][13]

The emergence of the Balrog in Moria in 1980 triggered further developments in western Rhovanion. Dwarves fled from Moria and Elves from Lothlórien;[14] with the disappearance of Amroth, Galadriel and Celeborn returned to take the rule of Lothlórien.[15] Dwarves from Moria founded the Kingdom under the Mountain at Erebor in 1999} (later, in 2210, they left for a time for the Grey Mountains).[12] The Mannish realm of Dale grew up near Erebor.

Wilderland benefited directly from the Watchful Peace. This was the period (T.A. 2063-2460) in which Sauron temporarily abandoned Dol Guldur and left Wilderland altogether, and based himself in faraway Rhûn.

Not long after Sauron's return to Dol Guldur, he was followed from Rhûn by his allies the Balchoth, a numerous and hostile people who subjugated much of southern Wilderland, and who began to destroy the last Northmen in that area.[16] The Balchoth then turned their attention further south: to Gondor. Gondor was only saved by the entry of the Éothéod into the Battle of the Field of Celebrant (2510). Wilderland was now free of the Balchoth, however the Éothéod left Wilderland to establish Rohan in an area which Gondor ceded to them.[13]

In 2590 the Dwarves returned to Erebor from the Grey Mountains. This period is remembered in The Hobbit as a time of prosperity. The Kingdom under the Mountain grew fabulously wealthy through extensive trade with Men and Elves throughout Rhovanion. By this time (possibly much earlier) Lake-town had grown up on the Long Lake south of Erebor, and Men, notably the Beornings, still lived around the forest.

The Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of Dale were destroyed and scattered when the dragon Smaug took Erebor in 2770.[12] Even after the destruction, the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Lake-town traded down the River Running, with, among others, the land of Dorwinion. Dorwinion was the source of fine wine prized by the Elves of Mirkwood; it lay (according to Pauline Baynes's version of the map of Middle-earth, our only cartographic source for this) along the River Running just before it enters the Sea of Rhûn.

Toward the end of the Third Age, the Kingdoms of Erebor and Dale were restored after the death of Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies. In the same year the White Council drove Sauron from Mirkwood and he withdrew to Mordor.[17] During the War of the Ring the Elves and Men of Rhovanion held off an invasion by Sauron's forces, and after Sauron was defeated Mirkwood was cleansed again, and renamed Eryn Lasgalen, or the "Wood of Greenleaves".[18]

Kingdom of Rhovanion[edit]

The Lord of the Rings location
Other name(s)Rhovanion
Created byJ. R. R. Tolkien
GenreHigh fantasy
Ethnic group(s)Northmen
Language(s)northern tongue akin to Dalish and Rohirric

The Kingdom of Rhovanion, a realm of Northmen, came to prominence in the mid-13th century of the Third Age. About this time Vidugavia, "the most powerful of the northern princes",[9] called himself King of Rhovanion, though he directly ruled only the part of Rhovanion that lay between Mirkwood and the River Running. Esgaroth (Lake-town) was a significant settlement in this area, and possibly the capital of the kingdom.

Vidugavia and his kingdom attracted the attention of Gondor, which lay far to the south. In 1248 Minalcar, the Regent of Gondor, led a great expedition into Rhovanion and utterly defeated an invasion of Easterlings, with substantial help from the Northmen, and from Vidugavia in particular.

Vidugavia became Gondor's strong ally, and in 1250 Minalcar sent his son Valacar as ambassador to Vidugavia. But Valacar, much taken with the culture of the North, "far exceeded his father's design"[9] by marrying Vidugavia's daughter Vidumavi, and their son Vinitharya was raised among the Northmen.

When Minalcar acceded to the throne of Gondor as Rómendacil II, Valacar became the heir to the throne. The mixed ancestry of Valacar's son (known as Eldacar in Gondor) became a matter of contention: many were not prepared to allow as king a man whose Númenórean blood was mingled with that of a "lesser" race, and many feared that he would prove to be short-lived (as his mother's people were, compared with the ruling line of Gondor). This led to the Kin-strife in Gondor, a bloody civil war that decimated the ruling families.[9]

Tolkien makes little further reference to the "Kingdom of Rhovanion". The area was devastated by the Great Plague of 1635-1636. It is clear from his discussion of the early history of the Éothéod in Unfinished Tales[19] that the Northmen in this area were conquered by the Wainriders, who invaded in 1851. The Battle of the Plains (1856) was fought by Gondor and the Northmen against the Wainriders; King Narmacil II of Gondor and the Northman Marhari (a descendant of Vidugavia)[20] were both killed in this battle. Tolkien does not, however, call Marhari "king", nor is there any direct evidence that the kingdom had survived to this point.

Refugees from this defeat were reorganized as the Éothéod on the other side of Mirkwood in the lower Vales of Anduin, under the leadership of Marwhini, son of Marhari.[19] Much later, the history of the House of Eorl recounted in Appendix A[13] states that "The forefathers of Eorl claimed descent from kings of Rhovanion, whose realm lay beyond Mirkwood before the invasions of the Wainriders, and thus they accounted themselves kinsmen of the kings of Gondor descended from Eldacar." Tolkien does not state that the kinship came through Marhwini and Marhari.

Concept and creation[edit]

Rhovanion was created "to resemble what the ancient Romans called Germania: the great northern forest of Europe." Likewise, it has an eastern frontier resembling the Russian steppe with various tribes of hostile invaders coming in waves like the Huns, Mongols or Tatars of the real world.[21] It has been argued that Tolkien intended to use Wilderland as a land of mythical and fantastic creatures such as dragons even in the context of his in-universe settings. This was meant to contrast the "real world" outside Wilderland.[22]

The men of Rhovanion who come to the aid of Gondor in the Third Age and their descendants throughout Tolkien's stories have been interpreted as partly representing "primeval, Garden of Eden types", reminding their Gondorian contemporaries of the early days of Mankind. The names of Rhovanion's royal family, Vidugavia, Vidumavi and Vinitharya are of Gothic origin and are attested in sixth-century chronicles by Cassiodorus, Jordanes and Procopius. Vidugavia has been seen as an almost-certain synonym for Vitiges, king of the Ostrogoths in Italy from 536 to 540.[23]

While Tolkien represents the Rohirrim, who developed out of the Éothéod, by Anglo-Saxon culture and language, their ancestors are given Gothic attributes. This parallel can be found in the relationship of real-world Old English and the Gothic language.[24][21]

The Men of Rhovanion are "Middle Men" or "Men of Twilight" as opposed to the enlightened, highly civilized Gondorians and the men described as evil or wild by Tolkien. Notably these peoples are also the first Twilight Men to come into the stories concerning the One Ring.[25]


  1. J. R. R. Tolkien (1967), Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings, published in Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (2005), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, HarperCollins, p.779; ISBN 0 00 720308 X 00 720308 X Search this book on link= 00 720308 X.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Cawthorne, Nigel (2012). "Rhovanion". A Brief Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien: A comprehensive introduction to the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-1-78033-860-6. Search this book on
  3. The Silmarillion, p. 54.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien (1996), The Peoples of Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, part 2 ch. X p. 302; ISBN 0-395-82760-4 Search this book on .
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien (1996), The Peoples of Middle-earth, Houghton Mifflin, part 2 ch. X pp. 302-303; ISBN 0-395-82760-4 Search this book on .
  6. Unfinished Tales, pp. 240, 258.
  7. Unfinished Tales, p. 259; many references in The Lord of the Rings, Appendices A and B.
  8. The Lord of the Rings, Appendices A and B.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, I (iv) "Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion".
  10. J. R. R. Tolkien (1980), Unfinished Tales, George Allen & Unwin, part 3 ch. 2(i) pp. 288-289; ISBN 0-04-823179-7 Search this book on .
  11. These events from the history of Northmen in Rhovanion and the Éothéod are recounted in Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl", pp. 288–290.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, II "The House of Eorl".
  14. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, T.A. 1981.
  15. Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", p. 245.
  16. J. R. R. Tolkien (1980), Unfinished Tales, George Allen & Unwin, part 3 ch. 2(ii) pp. 296-297; ISBN 0-04-823179-7 Search this book on .
  17. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, T.A. 2941 and T.A. 2944.
  18. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, Text following entries for T.A. 3019.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl", (i) "The Northmen and the Wainriders", pp. 288 ff.
  20. Unfinished Tales, "Cirion and Eorl", note 5, p. 311.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Day, David (2017). "The Northmen of Rhovanion". The Heroes of Tolkien. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-0-75373-271-7. Search this book on
  22. Sundmark, Björn (2017). "Mapping Middle Earth: A Tolkienian legacy". In Goga, Nina; Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina. Maps and Mapping in Children's Literature: Landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 227. ISBN 978-90-272-6546-3. Search this book on
  23. Chance, Jane (2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-0-8131-2301-1. Search this book on
  24. Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, p. 51, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1 Search this book on .
  25. Noel, Ruth S. (1977). The Mythology of Middle-earth. Houghton Mifflin. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-39525-006-8. Search this book on


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