¿La Cima de los Vientos o la Muela del Diablo? Photo: EFE
Weathertop or The Muela del Diablo? Photo: EFE

Discoverers of 'Tolkien' places: Is Middle Earth in Bolivia?

Generations of passionate Tolkien readers have sought out the landscapes that inspired the fantasy saga. But none of them have dared to put Latin America on…


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"Come and meet Mordor here in Brazil, we have all the Orcs in the government," commented an Internet user on the Facebook of the J. R. R. Tolkien Fan Club in Bolivia after meeting a beautiful, but also delirious initiative: if coronavirus had left them without the possibility of meeting or setting up more gatherings, then they would go all over the country looking for landscapes that could fit in Tolkien's mythical world. 

Soon photos began to arrive at the club from all regions of Bolivia. "The Shire" was located in the vineyards of Tarija, in the south of the country, and even its famous tavern, 'The Green Dragon,' where Frodo goes at the end of the day has a twin in La Paz as a wooden house in the residential area of Sopocachi. Today, it's a themed restaurant of the 'Tolkien' world. 

If you remember Weathertop, where Frodo is stabbed by one of the spectres of the ring, the Muela del Diablo is as or more impressive. It's a huge molar-shaped hill south of La Paz that is told in all sorts of legends about pitched battles between angels and demons, stone dwelling goblins, enchantments and mysterious disappearances. 

After each photograph sent by the fans participating in the contest, more and more similarities were found between the books, movies and the changing Bolivian landscape, with its hills, ravines, and the multitude of stories and superstitions associated with those places. 

A literary, 'role-playing,' touristic and above all virtual exercise devised by these Tolkien fanatics who have turned Middle-earth into a magical and Andean continent. 

"We always had the idea of showing this great richness and diversity we have in the country and comparing it to Tolkien's fantastic world," club president Aaron Galvez told EFE. 

Due to the success of the initiative, the club announced on social media that several videos with photographs can be seen on its YouTube channel. The first is called 'On the Road to Middle Earth.' 

Tolkien on the map

Although J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa, in some of his letters to his editors he commented that he had been inspired by various places in the United Kingdom, where he grew up, to set the scene for his fabulous mythological continent, which he so often said was a reflection of the Earth in different stages.

In fact, the Hobbit's "The Shire" was inspired by Salehole, a village around Birmingham with a mill where Tolkien's family had lived.

"It was more or less a Warwickshire village at the time of the Diamond Jubilee (of Queen Victoria)," said the writer. (Note for 'Tolkien' seekers: the mill is still standing, the rest has been eaten by construction).

Not all of Middle Earth was inspired by his experiences in Birmingham, Tolkien also admitted that the Black Gate of Mordor and the Dead Marshes, where Frodo travels with Sam and Gollum and sees the faces of those who died during the war reflected on the water, "owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme" — the writer fought in the First World War. 

Although every writer is imbued with his own experience, Tolkien often shied away from attempts to define places in his books. But those who sought to make Middle Earth a metaphor for the Earth itself, by situating Gondor in Italy or Mordor in Turkey and the Middle East, or even Rhovanion in the forests of Germany, never pointed to Latin America as one of the possible magical enclaves. Not even the cinema did, which placed it in New Zealand. 

Now that Bolivia has its own Legendarium, the 'Tolkien' club hopes that Amazon executives will shoot even a scene from the Lord of the Rings series in the country. 


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