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The Fourth Age is one of the divisions of history in J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional world of Middle-earth. Because most of his fiction deals with earlier ages, there is relatively little material on the ages that followed the Third Age.
The Fourth Age followed the defeat of Sauron and the destruction of his One Ring, but did not officially begin until after the Bearers of the Three Rings left Middle-earth for Valinor, the 'Uttermost West'.
Some events of the first centuries of the Fourth Age can be gleaned from the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings, and follow below.
Commencement of the Fourth Age
"The Third Age was held to have ended when the Three Rings passed away in September 3021, but for the purposes of records in Gondor F.A. 1 [the first calendar year of the Fourth Age] began on March 25, 3021."
Realms of Men prospered, as the reunited Númenórean kingdoms in exile (as the Reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor) under King Elessar and later his son Eldarion. Elessar (who reigned until year 120 of the Fourth Age) rebuilt the once-ruined northern city of Annúminas and often dwelt there although his throne remained in Gondor. Allied realms such as Rohan and Dale also prospered, as did the protected enclaves of the Shire and the Woses of Ghân-buri-Ghân.
Despite the fall of Sauron, there were significant kingdoms of evil Men that had to be dealt with before the White Tree could grow in peace. In the appendices Tolkien states that Éomer fulfilled the oath of Eorl by riding with Elessar to war on the plains of Harad and beyond the Sea of Rhûn, so it is clear that fighting continued with at least some of the Men who had allied with Sauron in the past. It has been suggested that ultimately these campaigns were successful, as the Easterlings and Haradrim were at least subdued, or even became part of the Reunited Kingdom. Many former slaves of Sauron were freed and were given land in Mordor, around the Sea of Núrnen, for their own.
After repulsing assaults from Dol Guldur and destroying it with the power of Galadriel's ring during the end of the War of the Ring, the elves of Lothlórien and Mirkwood subsequently managed to rid the great forest of all the forces of evil. Thranduil and Celeborn then met in the midst of the forest and renamed it Eryn Lasgalen, or Wood of Greenleaves, and divided it among several parties. Thranduil's kingdom remained in the northern part of Mirkwood, from the northern edge to the Mountains of Mirkwood while Celeborn expanded Lothlórien into the southern portion of Mirkwood and named it East Lorien. The forest between the two elven kingdoms were given to men, although this area probably expanded as the elven realms diminished with their populations gradually departing to the West.
However, the elves continued to depart to the West, as the Fourth Age marked the beginning of the Age of Men. By the time of King Elessar's death, the elven realms of Rivendell and Lorien became mostly abandoned as the last elven ships set sail to Valinor. The few elves who remained eventually faded and became invisible spirits to all of Middle-earth.
Mining expeditions were sent to Khazad-dûm where mithril was again mined, used to restore the gates of Minas Tirith, but Khazad-dûm was not immediately recolonized. There are, however, indications that a Durin the Last later did rebuild this Dwarf-kingdom, returning Durin's Folk to their ancestral homes.
Apparently Dwarves as a race began to dwindle by the end of the Fourth Age, for their women made up less than a third of their population. Often, the women would not desire to marry, or want a husband that they couldn't have. Similarly, many male Dwarves were too engrossed in their crafts and did not have the time to take a wife and have children.
The ultimate fate of Dwarves is unclear. Tolkien lamented they were "a race abandoned to folk-tales, where at least a shadow of truth is preserved, or at last to nonsense-stories in which they have become mere figures of fun."
Aragorn, crowned King Elessar, ruled the Reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor until his death in the 120th year of the Fourth Age. He ruled with his Queen Arwen, and their son Eldarion succeeded Aragorn on his death. Aragorn and Arwen also had multiple daughters; Arwen later travelled to the ruins of Lothlorien and there died.
Of the remaining members of the Fellowship, it is recorded that Samwise Gamgee became Mayor of the Shire, and was an advisor of King Elessar. His daughter Elanor became one of Arwen's handmaidens. Near the end of his life he is believed to have left for Valinor on one of the last ships of Círdan, as he too was a Ring-bearer, having borne the One Ring during Frodo's captivity by orcs.
Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took became Master of Buckland and Thain of the Shire respectively in due time. They remained in close friendship with the royal houses of Rohan and Gondor. When of advanced age they departed for Gondor and Rohan together, and both died around Spring F.A. 63. They were buried in Rath Dínen with the greats of Gondor.
Legolas is said to have, after the death of King Elessar in Fourth Age 120, built a ship and finally sailed to the West. According to an entry in the Red Book of Westmarch, Gimli left with him — the only Dwarf to ever do so, evidently due to their strong friendship and out of his desire to once more see Galadriel.
Orcs and Trolls fled to the far east, and never fully recovered. Either during the end of Eldarion's rule (or 100 years after) or near the end of Aragorn's, there was some talk of "Orc-cults" although these seem to have been founded and run by humans.
The future of the Ents and Huorns is unclear. Aragorn granted them Fangorn Forest as an enclave and gave them permission to expand the forest again west into the vast wastes of Eriador where once a vast primeval forest had spread, but Treebeard lamented that while the forests may spread again the Ents would not, as the entwives had not been found up to date (nor would likely ever be found). Over time they dwindled off and more of them became increasingly "tree-ish" and it does not appear that they ever enter into the affairs of other races again (it is unclear if a non-communicative tree-ish Ent can be considered "dead" or if in a sense they persist to the present day).
Dragons will be still present but they will not interfere until later ages according to letter 144 of Tolkien. Some stray answers. Dragons. They had not stopped; since they were active in far later times, close to our own. Have I said anything to suggest the final ending of dragons? If so it should be altered. The only passage I can think of is Vol.I p. 70: ‘there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough’. But that implies, I think, that there are still dragons, if not of full primeval stature���.-
Tolkien's writing does not provide information on more than the first few centuries of this age, so it is not known when it ended. It is stated that the Fourth Age was when Men became dominant and powerful in Middle-earth, and the Fading of the Elves began. As such, the Fourth Age marks the bridge from the fantastic fictional prehistory of earth to the real history. He notes elsewhere in The Silmarillion, however, that the Elves count their own dwindling from the time of the first rise of the Sun, and some epithets for the Sun by the Elves refer to it in that context.
Tolkien said that he thought the time between the end of the Third Age and the 20th century AD was about 6,000 years, and that in 1958 it should have been around the end of the Fifth Age if the Fourth and Fifth Ages were about the same length as the Second and Third Ages. He said, however, in a letter written in 1958 that he believed the Ages had quickened and that it was about the end of the Sixth Age/beginning of the Seventh.
Speculation concerning later ages
While Tolkien originally described Middle-earth as a fictional early history of the real Earth he later adjusted this slightly to describe it as a mythical time within the history of Earth. This 'mythical' distinction served to remove the stories of Middle-earth from any specific time period where they might contradict known details of actual history. He made references to his story taking place as "... a brief episode in History" of Earth as late as 1971.
Determining the epoch of a Fifth Age is important for those who apply the Tolkien calendar to present dates. For example, Issue 42 of Mallorn, the journal of The Tolkien Society (August 2004), carried a lengthy article analyzing Tolkien's works as well as his possible Theosophist beliefs, concluding that the Years of the Sun began on March 25, 10160 BC, the Second Age on December 26, 9564 BC, the Third Age on December 24, 6123 BC, and the Fourth Age on March 18, 3102 BC. On this scheme the Fifth Age is equivalent to the Anno Domini system of dating.
Notes and references
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix B S.R. 1421–1422, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix A, p. 313; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1955), The Return of the King, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, Appendix F part II p. 413; ISBN 0 04 823047 2
- As recorded in The New Shadow, the abandoned sequel to The Lord of the Rings.
- Letters 256, 338
- Letters, nos. 144, 338
- Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, #211 pg 283 footnote, ISBN 0-395-31555-7
- Letters, nos. 325, 328, and p 457.
- The Chronology of Middle-earth (article from Mallorn 42)