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In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, Arda is the name given to the Earth in a period of prehistory, wherein the places mentioned in The Lord of the Rings and related material once existed. It included several seas and oceans, and the continents of Middle-earth, the Dark Lands, and Aman, as well as the island of Númenor and other lands, left largely unnamed by Tolkien.
- Main article: Middle-earth
Because the Sun, Moon, stars, and other objects orbited the planet in the cosmology of Middle-earth they were considered part of Arda, leading to Arda sometimes being called the 'Solar System' of Middle-earth. The term for the Earth itself, excluding these celestial bodies, was Ambar or Imbar.
Originally the Earth (Arda) was flat, the continents were surrounded by a mighty ocean (or perhaps by space), Ekkaia or Vaiya, the Encircling Sea, and separated by Belegaer, called the Great Sea and the Sundering Seas. In the First Age, the area in the northwest of Middle-earth was occupied by the country of Beleriand, but this was destroyed during the War of Wrath.
There was also a separate continent south and east of Middle-earth called the Dark Land. Another separate continent to the east of Middle-earth was the relatively small Land of the Sun, so called because when the world was flat the Gates of the Sun were near there, and it would be scorched.
Information regarding both was vague. To the south were the Hither Lands including Harad, though "Harad" means "South" and while properly used for the region immediately south of Gondor and Mordor was often loosely used to refer to every land to the south. There were many stretches of sun-scorched desert in Near Harad, but there was supposedly a jungle beyond it which few had ever ventured to, from which the great Oliphaunts were found. Men of Far Harad are also described as being black skinned. The vast lands East were collectively referred to as Rhûn, though this may have only referred to those immediately east of the Sea of Rhûn and River Running. The Easterlings, like the Haradrim, were a diverse collection of many races. There was even less knowledge of the extreme eastern end of Middle-earth, where the land was supposed to stop at another sea. It is known that in ancient times the great chain of the Red Mountains ran north to south near here, and was roughly analogous to the Blue Mountains of the west (the world was once symmetrical at the dawn of time). The race of Elves first originated near here, though their original home of Cuiviénen no longer existed by the Third Age. It is not known if the Red Mountains survived into the Third Age, either intact or in some reduced form (like the Blue Mountains). It is said that the Blue Wizards went far into the east of Rhûn and beyond to stir up rebellions against Sauron in the lands he held sway over, though the tales of these struggles never reached the west in detail.
In the Second Age, Númenor was raised in the Great Sea for the Edain. This island existed through most of the Second Age, but was destroyed as a result of the pride of the Númenórean people in defying the Ban of the Valar and sailing to Aman in the west.
After the destruction of Númenor, Arda was made round. Aman (The Undying Lands) was taken out of the world, and could only be reached by the Elves, following the straight road that was granted to them. As Aman was taken away from Arda, new lands and continents were created east and west of Middle-earth.
Tolkien derived the Quenya word Arda from prehistoric Elvish *gardā, Quenya regularly losing initial G and shortening long final vowels. The term basically meant "any more or less bounded or defined place, a region. Its use as a proper name for the World was due to V[alarin] Aþāraphelūn". This word from Valarin was said to mean appointed dwelling, referring to the Earth as the abode of the Valar and/or Elves and Men. A common noun arda "realm" turns up in Tolkien's writings on Elvish from the 1930s, but there is not yet any hint that he conceived it as a Quenya name of the world. This seems to be a later usage in the real and the imaginary timeline alike.
In real-world terms, Tolkien's inspiration for the word Arda may be certain cognates of the English word "Earth" in the other Germanic languages, specifically the Afrikaans "Aarde" which has equivalent pronunciation and meaning, and unsurprising in use given Tolkien's South African origins. Other Germanic cognates include the Dutch Aarde, and German Erde, though these are not direct sources, but rather tangential linguistically. Also similar is the Arabic word أرض arḍ which means land or earth. It may be that Tolkien conceived the Elvish word Arda as the fictional pre-historic source of such words in later Mannish languages.
Various states of Arda
The original world as built by the Valar is called Arda Unmarred (Quenya, Arda Alahasta). This world was effectively destroyed by the wars of the Valar and Melkor, and only Valinor still resembled it in part. Arda Unmarred was a flat symmetrical world with everlasting light.
Arda Marred (Quenya, Arda Hastaina) is the name given to the world as it is: the world after the wars of the Valar and Melkor, and the dispersing of Melkor's fëa in the entire world. It is this world from which are formed the hröa of the Children of Ilúvatar, and therefore it is at times a cruel and evil world with plagues, extreme colds, heat, and other concepts which do not exist in Arda Unmarred.
Arda Marred also broke the design of Elvish immortality: in Arda Marred Elves slowly fade, until at last they are naught but wraiths. Only in Valinor was this fading delayed, which is one reason all Elves had no choice but to go to Valinor in the end. One of the special abilities of the Rings of Power was that they could delay time, and as such were used by Elrond and Galadriel to preserve their realms. After the loss of the One Ring the Elves had no choice left and therefore in the Fourth Age the last Eldar left for Valinor.
After the Dagor Dagorath, Morgoth will be slain, and the world broken; a new world will then be created, which will be Arda Healed (Quenya, Arda Envinyanta). This world will resemble Arda Unmarred, but will be even better, since it will also incorporate all the good aspects of Arda Marred.
- Bolintineanu, Alexandra (2006). "Arda". in Drout, Michael D. C.. J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 24–25. Template:Hide in printTemplate:Only in print.