Dr. Kristine Larsen is an astrophysicist from Central Connecticut State University, and she has decided to use her obviously giant brain for geek good and apply her knowledge to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. She has written over thirty papers and articles on the relationship between Tolkien and astronomy and has, over the years, given numerous talks on the subject at conventions and conferences.
One of her most impressive projects has been to recreate the astronomy of Tolkien’s fictional world, extrapolating from evidence in Tolkien’s various texts. That’s right. She figured out Middle-earth’s solar system.
According to Larsen’s paper on Middle-earth’s astronomy, “astronomical lore and knowledge played a significant role in the shaping of Middle-earth, both figuratively and literally” and “astronomy helped, and haunted, Tolkien as he set out to develop his universe.” Tolkien wrestled with creating a believable world in which his stories could take place, paying attention to every tiny detail from the stars to the phases of the moon. While he made occasional errors (requiring occasional massive rewrites), Middle-earth’s heavens are remarkably complete and the characters’ journeys coordinated around them nearly flawlessly. Larsen has used Tolkien’s writings to draw conclusions about how his fictional celestial bodies correspond to our real-life sky. After all, Tolkien wrote that Middle-earth was intended to be our familiar world in a time before recorded history.
Larsen’s work is more evidence of just how complicated and well-planned Tolkien’s universe is. Even 40 years after the author’s death, readers are still finding more to explore in the world that he created. From linguistics to religion to astronomy, there’s always something new to find, and you can count on fans to find it.
What I’m trying to say here is that J.R.R. Tolkien + A Lady Scientist + Fan Scholarship = Awesome.