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Presumably at least partially destroyed at the end of the First Age1
The far North of the world, bridging the lands of Aman and Middle-earth
Other names


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  • Updated 21 August 2023
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Narrow Ice

Bilbo’s name for the Helcaraxë

Map of the Narrow Ice

During the Elder Days, when the western continent of Aman was still present in the world, it was, for the most part, separated from Middle-earth by the wide waters of the Great Sea. In the far frozen North, however, the lands to the West and East bent together, and between them lay only a narrow strait. There the waters of the Great Sea mingled with those of the Outer Sea beyond, and the two landmasses were separated only by a field of frozen, shifting hills of ice. This was the Helcaraxë, the Grinding Ice, also known poetically as the Narrow Ice.

This field of jagged ice provided a means by which those with sufficient power could pass from the West into the Hither Lands. After the Darkening of Valinor, Melkor and Ungoliant travelled to the Narrow Ice as they fled from the Valar. From the mist-shrouded land of Oiomúrë they crossed onto the ice (which indeed said to have been formed in part by the work of Melkor in the ancient past) and so passed into Middle-earth, coming ashore far northward of the Firth of Drengist.

For lesser beings, however, the sheer ice presented much greater peril, and indeed it was thought to be impassable by the Elves. As the Noldor departed from Aman and made the long journey to return to Middle-earth, their leader Fëanor sailed across the northern straits in the vessels of the Teleri, but he chose to burn those ships and leave the following of Fingolfin stranded on the western coasts.

Refusing to abandon the journey, the people of Fingolfin wandered for a time among the cold mists of Oiomúrë, but eventually determined to attempt the deadly crossing of the ice. Led by Fingolfin, Finrod and Galadriel, they set out into the Narrow Ice and marched to Middle-earth. As they began their journey, behind them the Moon first rose from Valinor into the sky.2 The crossing proved to be deadly indeed, and many of the Noldor were lost on ice fields, perhaps most notably Elenwë the wife of Fingolfin's son Turgon. Nonetheless the Noldor endured their harrowing struggle to cross the Narrow Ice, and as they set foot in Middle-earth at last, the Sun first appeared to bring light across the world.

After the passage of Fingolfin and his people into Middle-earth, the Narrow Ice does not appear again in the legends of the Silmarillion. According to Bilbo Baggins' "Song of Eärendil", recited long afterward in Rivendell, Eärendil the Mariner voyaged so far north that he approached the Narrow Ice in his journey to find a way to Valinor, before eventually reaching the more southerly coasts of Aman and asking the aid of the Valar. Indeed, this poem by Bilbo Baggins is the only recorded use of the name 'Narrow Ice'; in the Silmarillion, the frozen strait is more usually referred to by its Elvish name of the Helcaraxë, or by its more direct translation of the 'Grinding Ice'.



In the upheavals at the end of the First Age, Beleriand was sunk beneath the Sea, and thus the eastern end of the Narrow Ice must have been lost, or at least broken away from the landmass of Middle-earth. If any part of the Ice survived this cataclysm, that remnant would presumably have been lost when Aman (to which it was connected at its western end) was taken away from the world at the time of the Downfall of Númenor in II 3319.


Quenta Silmarillion 11, Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor, goes into some detail about the Sun and the Moon and their relation to the march across the Narrow Ice. It's said there that the Moon rose as Fingolfin blew his trumpets and set out on the journey, and that it crossed the sky seven times before the Noldor reached the eastern shore, as the first dawn appeared in the western sky. Chapter 9 (Of the Flight of the Noldor) gives a slightly variant account, in which the host of Fingolfin '...blew their trumpets in Middle-earth at the first rising of the Moon.' There's an apparent contradiction here (chapter 11 says that the Moon rose as they set out, while chapter 9 apparently has it rise as they reached the eastern shore). The story in chapter 9 is much abbreviated, however, so we can take it that 'at the first rising' there actually means something like 'in the time soon after the first rising'.

The timing discussed here also raises the question of scale, as we have no maps of the Narrow Ice, and no definitive statement about the times and distances involved. The account in the Silmarillion suggests that the Narrow Ice was indeed relatively narrow, and could be crossed within a few days. In that account, the burning of the ships at Losgar is visible across the Sea in Aman, and during the crossing the Moon traverses the sky seven times. With the Sun yet to rise, it is difficult to translate this count exactly, but it seems that the entire journey across the ice seems to have taken about a week to complete.

It should be mentioned that other sources offer differing timescales. Notably, an account reproduced in The Nature of Middle-earth suggests that the journey took very considerably longer than a week - an entire yén. The Elvish word yén is difficult to translate without wider context: it may suggest that the crossing took a (solar) year, but a more literal translation would make this a full yén of (a remarkable and barely conceivable) 144 years of the Sun. These longer timescales are difficult or impossible to reconcile with the references to the Moon and the Sun in the Silmarillion account, but they give some idea of just how challenging the journey across the Narrow Ice must have been.


About this entry:

  • Updated 21 August 2023
  • This entry is complete

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