I mentioned earlier about playing a concert at The Last Bridge. What I didn’t mention was my adventures in actually getting to the place.
Esentially you take The Great East Road out of Bree and keep going. What you don’t do is get distracted and find yourself off the road and in The Midgewater Marshes! What a dump although, to be fair, I did find a few small treasures there and these interested me enough to find out a bit more about the place.
First of all, the name gives you a clue – there are midges. Lots of them. And spiders. And neekerbreekers. And midges. Did I mention them already? I’d draw you a picture of the place but frankly its not very interesting and you can’t see anything anyway through the clouds of midges. Ha, Midges in your Breeches – sounds like a good title for a jig, I will get my friends Aegthil and Beorbrand on it right away.
Geographically, there is a gradual falling of the land, and the hills and grasslands give way to a formidable flat expanse of treacherous bogs opening away northward from the roadway. The whole area is difficult to navigate and the ground is damp and dangerous, in places giving way completely to deep pools of mud and stagnant water. Apart from the creatures mentioned earlier, legends tell of still darker creatures lurking amongst the deep pools and stands of moss-covered trees that crowd the landscape, and it is said that marauding bands of corrupted Men and vile goblins also frequent these lands.
But it does have a history dating back ten centuries and more, waiting to be uncovered. Long ago, the kingdoms of Rhudaur and Arthedain, two of the great kingdoms of Arnor, claimed as their own these lands near the Weather Hills and the great Tower of Amon Sûl (also known as Weathertop). The Witch-king of Angmar, from his dark throne in Carn Dûm, also laid claim to these lands in those days. Great battles were fought in this region, the ruins of which still stand as a testament to the Men who sacrificed all to ensure victory over the evil forces from the north.
Though exploration through the ever-shifting marshes is treacherous to say the least, the abandoned outposts of Arnor and the remains of once-great fortresses and other impressive structures can still be found amongst the fields of reeds and tall grasses, holding their long-forgotten secrets for the bravest of adventures to discover. So that rules me out then. I did not stay long and got back on the road as soon as I could.
Later, I did find some scholarly research on the subject of the marshes which I reproduce below:
There may be no significance in Tolkien’s use of the name of the Midgewater Marsh, but this is a rare use of an English word in central Eriadorian nomenclature. Midge, by the way, is derived from the Old English word “mygg” (gnat).
Two of the Edainic peoples (the Beorians and Marachians, the First and Third Houses) who settled in Beleriand had originally lived in Eriador. Some Beorians and Marachians remained behind while advance groups moved into Beleriand, and some of those who lived in Beleriand eventually returned to Eriador. So, there are ethnic and linguistic connections between early Men of Eriador and the Northmen, including the Rohirrim.
The language of Rohan, of course, was represented by Old English in the stories. So, it would appear that Tolkien intended “Midge” to represent a survival of a related language in Eirador, probably Westron (which was derived from Adunaic, the language of the Marachians, and probably the ancestor of the other Northman languages).
A Westron-based name for the region east of Bree may only imply that the area was once thoroughly Mannish. The Dunedain gave names in Sindarin. The Hobbits and Bree-folk gave names in their own dialects of Westron (represented by modern English).
The name Midgewater itself is historical (describing a region in northern Iceland), and Tolkien probably got it from Landamabok, where a man named Herkolf is said to live at Midgewater (Landnamabok is an account of the settlement of Iceland. Further on, the book says:
Thorstein, the son of Sigmund, the son of Gnup Peaks’-Bard, dwelt first at (Myvatn) Midgewater, his son was Thorgrim, the father of Arnor in Reykjahlid, who married Thorkatla, the daughter of Bodvar, the son of Hrolf from Peakfell; a son of theirs was called Bodvar. Thorkell the High came when young to Iceland, and dwelt first at Greenwater, which branches out from Midgewater.
Iceland’s geography, by the way, may have served as a model for Tolkien’s geography and demography of Numenor. That doesn’t mean you should (or can) lay a map of Numenor beside a map of Iceland and start identifying common features. Rather, there are some things about Iceland’s geography (and demographics) which are similar to how Tolkien described Numenor.
In any event, an Icelandic/Norwegian origin for Tolkien’s Midgewater Marsh would fit better with the use of Orald as a name given by the northern men to Bombadil. Orald is considered by many to be derived from Old English oreald (“very ancient”, “very old”) but it is also found in Norse.
Old English and Old Norse were once very close languages, and there was a time when people living in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England could travel across the northern world and speak freely with other people from Denmark, northern Germany and Holland, Norway, and Sweden. The languages branched away from each other around the 7th century CE.
Tolkien’s use of words which are found in both language for names in Eriador implies he had given some thought to a fourth branch of his northern Mannish languages. The other three branches are Rohirric (represented by Mercian Old English), Dalish/Dalic (represented by Old Norse), and Gladden Stoorish (represented by another dialect of Old English).
The Shire nomenclature represents a mixture of Westron and Dunlendish influences, and Westron itself was influenced by other languages, though its base was Adunaic.