The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Came into existence at the same time as the World of Arda
Location
Surrounding the World, or (in the alternative later usage) Middle-earth
Meaning
Probably so named because the boundary encircled the World
Other names
Equivalent in at least some sense to the Walls of the World or Walls of Night1

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  • Updated 24 July 2017
  • This entry is complete

Circles of the World

The boundaries of the Earth

A general term that seems to refer to the boundaries between the World and the Outer Void, though its usage is vague and does not seem to be completely consistent. In its earlier uses, it appears to be a completely inclusive term, describing the entirety of the World and its surrounding seas and airs, and explicitly including the Undying Lands of Aman. The region beyond the Circles is the place where Ilúvatar dwells (presumably with those of the Ainur who did not descend into Arda), and it is the fate of Men to pass out of the Circles of the World after death.

After the Downfall of Númenor, the term becomes more narrow in meaning. After the Bending of the World, and the taking away of Aman, the lands of the Uttermost West are said to be no longer within the Circles of the World, though they are clearly still part of the World in some sense. After this point, it seems that the Circles of the World are simply the boundaries of the Mortal Lands of Middle-earth.


Notes

1

Both the Circles of the World and the Walls of the World surrounded and enclosed Arda (at least according to the original use of the term 'Circles of the World') so they must presumably have defined the same immense area. The two ideas are never directly addressed in connection with one another, so it's difficult to be sure just how they were related. Based on the fact that the phrase 'Circles of the World' generally seems to be meant figuratively, one workable view might be to take the Circles of the World to be the conceptual limits of the World, while the Walls of Night were the physical barrier separating the World from the Outer Void beyond.

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