– Something else lies “dark” within Arda …
In the early part of the 20th century, Tolkien wrote a short treatise entitled ‘Ambarkanta’ (found in ‘The Shaping of Middle-earth’), relating the shape and layout of the world (Arda) – sketching a map (amongst several) with all the continents within – namely: Aman, Middle-earth, Harad and the Great Sea.
It also included a mass of land to the south-east of the lands of Middle-earth; stretching almost across the south of Harad towards the central part of the world.
The illustration had a name written on it: “Dark Land (South Land)”.
It is possible that the term “Dark Land” was given to the continent by the inhabitants of Middle-earth – not knowing anything about its occupants or whereabouts, except perhaps its existence in the world.
Let’s not also forget that the Númenóreans, during their dealings with Gil-galad and their establishing havens on the West coasts, had a name for Middle-earth – “the dark lands”. It is easy, therefore, to confuse the two together.
But there is clear evidence on the distinction between the two – not only in the singular and plural wording of the names, but also the above-mentioned reference/map.
Speaking of the Númenóreans, it is very probable that they were the first Men to venture within site of the Dark Land and may have established some sort of settlement.
It is not such a far-fetched concept to think about, considering the long voyages they used to make; not least, Aldarion – who once journeyed for 14 years before returning home (see, ‘The Men of the Sea’ – Part I & Part II).
Surely, as a mighty mariner, he would have gone beyond the southern coasts of Middle-earth and ventured in those uncharted waters.
It may be that the people in Middle-earth were told of its existence by this sea-faring people, during their exchanges in the Second Age.
In fact, there is a reference (in the Akallabêth) to the Númenóreans’ discovery of the Gates of Morning (where the Sun used to rise from under Arda, before it was bent), situated to the farthest East of the world. Well beyond where the Dark Land is supposed to be situated and hence, them stopping there along the way is plausible – if not pretty much confirmed.
There is a third reference of a “dark land” in Tolkien’s legendarium however, and it is more commonly known as the “secondary” name of Mordor.
One can easily start speculating about the possible connection between the two – arguing that the continent of the Dark Land was named so due to it having been somehow influenced or overcome by Sauron.
A wild theory perhaps, but who’s to say it isn’t so?
Ultimately, as to who or what lived there and what purpose it had within Arda and Ilúvatar’s plan, remains unknown.
Nonetheless, it is this mystery that gives any Tolkien fan the thrill of a realistic mythology – the unanswered questions; the hints at something more than what is written on the page; the quests we can take to discover new things; the fresh perspectives we get on characters and places well-established; the rumours, speculations and theories that allow us to discuss with each other – opinions and ideas and what “may have been”, that keep us attached to this ever-evolving fantasy world.
It is these elements which make Tolkien so special – and the mystery of the Dark Land is definitely one of them…
(Maps taken from ‘The Shaping of Middle-earth’ Volume 4; ‘The Encyclopedia of Arda’; ‘The Atlas of Middle-earth’;