Places in Middle-earth
Type: Forests, Fields, Plains
Region: Rhovanion/Misty Mtns
Other Names Greenwood the Great, Eryn Lasgalen (beginning T.A. 3019), the Woodland Realm.
It was also noted in Appendix F of RotK as Taur-e-Ndaedelos "forest of the great fear;" and in Unfinished Tales as Taur-nu-Fuin "forest under night."
Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch I, The Disaster of the Gladden Fields
Location: East of the River Anduin in Rhovanion, it stretches from the Grey Mountains south nearly to the Brown Lands.
Description: Mirkwood was the name given to Greenwood the Great after Sauron established a stronghold in Dol Goldur, in the southern part of the forest.
It was the largest of all the forests in Middle Earth, and home to wood-elves in the north.
Now of old the name of that forest was Greenwood the Great, and its wide halls and aisles were the haunt of many beasts and of birds of bright song; and there was the realm of King Thranduil under the oak and the beech. But after many years, when well nigh a third of that age of the world had passed, a darkness crept slowly through the wood from the southward, and fear walked there in shadowy glades; fell beasts came hunting, and cruel and evil creatures laid there their snares.
Then the name of the forest was changed and Mirkwood it was called, for the nightshade lay deep there, and few dared to pass through, save only in the north where Thranduil's people still held the evil at bay.
The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
By the afternoon they had reached the eaves of Mirkwood, and were resting almost beneath the great overhanging boughs of its outer trees. Their trunks were huge and gnarled, their branches twisted, their leaves were dark and long. Ivy grew on them and trailed along the ground.
The Hobbit, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings
The entrance to the path was like a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks. Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind, and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along while all the trees leaned over them and listened. As their eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom, and it soon ceased altogether.
There were black squirrels in the wood. As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive eyes got used to seeing things he could catch glimpses of them whisking off the path and scuttling behind tree-trunks. There were queer noises too, grunts, scufflings, and hurryings in the undergrowth, and among the leaves that lay piled endlessly thick in places on the forest-floor; but what made the noises he could not see. The nastiest things they saw were the cobwebs: dark dense cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from tree to tree, or tangled in the lower branches on either side of them. There were none stretched across the path, but whether because some magic kept it clear, or for what other reason they could not guess.
About four days from the enchanted stream they came to a part where most of the trees were beeches. They were at first inclined to be cheered by the change, for here there was no undergrowth and the shadow was not so deep. There was a greenish light about them, and in places they could see some distance to either side of the path. Yet the light only showed them endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall. There was a breath of air and a noise of wind, but it had a sad sound. A few leaves came rustling down to remind them that outside autumn was coming on. Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.
The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders
"There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood," said Haldir. "It is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the trees strive one against another and their branches rot and wither."
The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 6, Lothlórien
Mirkwood is not an invention of mine, but a very ancient name, weighted with legendary associations. It was probably the Primitive Germanic name for the great mountainous forest regions that anciently formed a barrier to the south of the lands of Germanic expansion. In some traditions it became used especially of the boundary between Goths and Huns. I speak now from memory: its ancientness seems indicated by its appearance in very early German (11th c.?) as mirkiwidu although the *merkw- stem 'dark' is not otherwise found in German at all (only in O[ld] E[nglish], O[ld] S[axon], and O[ld] N[orse]), and the stem *widu- > witu was in German (I think) limited to the sense of 'timber,' not very common, and did not survive into mod[ern] G[erman]. In O.E. mirce only survives in poetry, and in the sense 'dark', or rather 'gloomy', only in Beowulf [line] 1405 ofer myrcan mor: elsewhere only with the sense 'murky' > wicked, hellish. It was never, I think, a mere 'colour' word: 'black', and was from the beginning weighted with the sense of 'gloom'....
It seemed to me too good a fortune that Mirkwood remained intelligible (with exactly the right tone) in modern English to pass over: whether mirk is a Norse loan or a freshment of the obsolete O.E. word.
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 289 to Michael George Tolkien [his grandson], 29 July 1966
The name Mirkwood, as a great forest with similar associations, was used earlier in a novel that Tolkien knew well: A Tale of the House of the Wolflings (1888) by William Morris.
The Annotated Hobbit, Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson, Ch 7, Queer Lodgings, Note 10
Contributors: Moriel 7.29.03, Lyllyn 7.29.03, Added Lothlorien quote from FoTR: Elena Tiriel 1.21.04; added etymology: ET 5.24.04; added direct Letter quote: ET 6.23.04; added Woodland Realm: Elena Tiriel 7.1.04