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Tolkien's Maps

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JRR Tolkien was one of the first great fantasy writers. He did not invent the genre but he certainly made it popular, with his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in particular. Tolkien was interested in details - he insisted on getting everything in his stories absolutely consistent. As an aid to this, and to explain the details to his readers, he started the practice of publishing a map in his books showing the locations visited by the characters of the story. As a result of this, it has become completely standard to provide a map with every fantasy novel and, as Diana Wynne Jones jokingly pointed out, it is necessary for the characters in the novel to visit every single named place on the map.

The Hobbit: Thror's Map

The first of Tolkien's maps to be published was called Thror's map. It was in the front endpapers1 of The Hobbit. Tolkien was quite a talented artist and drew the maps and illustrations for the first edition of The Hobbit himself. Thror's map served a different purpose from all the other maps - it was not a record for the reader of the places that the characters visited. It was an object in the story - a treasure map, showing a secret entrance into a treasure-filled mountain.

The Hobbit is all about a journey led by the Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield to reclaim the Dwarf-city under the Lonely Mountain and its treasure from the dragon Smaug. Thorin was son of Thrain, son of Thror2. Thror had been the King under the Mountain (that is, ruler of the city) when the dragon came and drove the Dwarves out, killing many of them. Thorin, Thrain and Thror all managed to escape. Exiled from their kingdom, they became coal miners.

The map was made in the story by Thror and shows the mountain as he remembered it after the dragon had destroyed much of the surrounding countryside. In typical Dwarf fashion, it has east at the top. There's very little on it other than the mountain itself and the river flowing from it to the south. The ruins of the man-city of Dale are shown, and the wasteland known as the Desolation of Smaug. A tiny bit of the forest of Mirkwood appears at the bottom and a short stretch of the Forest River. There are arrows pointing off the map to the Long Lake, the Elvenking's halls, the Iron Hills and the Grey Mountains.

Underneath the mountain is written 'Here of old was Thrain King under the Mountain'. It's possible that when Tolkien drew the map first he was thinking of Thorin being son of Thror son of Thrain, with Thrain as the King under the Mountain; in early drafts of The Hobbit different names were used for many of the characters. He changed his mind on this, making Thror the King under the Mountain. To make the map consistent, he invented another Thrain who had lived hundreds of years earlier and who had founded the Kingdom under the Mountain.

The map has two inscriptions in runes on it3. The first describes the secret door and is signed '.Þ.Þ.' The symbol Þ is the runic version of 'Th', so these were the initials in runes of Thror and Thrain together4.

The other runic inscription is written in 'moon-letters'. These are supposed to be visible only by moonlight when the moon is in the correct phase. Originally Tolkien had hoped that this inscription might be printed as a watermark5 or with the letters on the other side of the page, so that they could only be seen when held up to the light. Both these options were too expensive and eventually he settled on drawing the moon-letters as outlines of the letters.

The moon-letter runic inscription tells you how to find the hidden doorway and is signed with another runic Þ. Gandalf the wizard described the map as 'made by your grandfather Thror', and it is described as Thror's map so presumably the Þ rune here stands for Thror.

The Hobbit: Wilderland

The back endpapers of The Hobbit featured a map showing Bilbo's journey to the Lonely Mountain (and back again). Since the book described only one major incident between Bilbo's house and Rivendell (the encounter with the trolls), the map doesn't show this part. It starts just to the west of Rivendell and covers all of the journey through the Misty Mountains, across the Great River, through Mirkwood and as far as the Lonely Mountain.

The map bears the title 'Wilderland'. This was Tolkien's name in English for the wild land east of the Misty Mountains which had never been part of any large kingdom such as Arnor or Gondor. In later maps this region was labelled in Elvish as Rhovanion. The map has a line marked at the left (west) side labelled 'The Edge of the Wild'. It is implied that the civilised lands where hobbits live end just about here. By the time Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, he had refined his views on the world of Middle-earth. Now the region west of this line was also a wild land, but had been a civilised kingdom, Arnor, more than a thousand years earlier. The civilised hobbit-lands were only a small part of this bigger area.

Because this is for a children's book, the map has some pictorial details - the forest is full of spiders' webs, and there's a picture of Smaug, the dragon himself, in the Desolation of Smaug.

Just above the Wilderland title, Tolkien signed the map with a monogram - a symbol composed of the initials of his name: J, R and T. For the T he used an Ancient Irish style which looks like a C with a horizontal line on top. This is superimposed on the vertical line of the J and a small R is drawn using the vertical line. The whole is a much simpler monogram than the elaborate one he used in his later works.

The Christopher Tolkien Map of Middle-earth

The Lord of the Rings was first published in 1954-55, as three hardback volumes. The first two volumes included the Map of Middle-earth, a large map printed on a single sheet of paper, folded and glued to the inside of the back cover. This map shows much more of Tolkien's world than that of Wilderland. Not only are all the places visited in the story shown, but parts of the world only mentioned are also included on the map. It was drawn by Tolkien's son Christopher, and is signed with his initials CJRT. It is in black ink with red titles.

This is the map that defined the shape of Middle-earth. Later, Christopher Tolkien said there were some problems with distances, but these were never resolved in any subsequent map. Later maps merely added details to the same basic shape.

There are two versions of this map - after 1969, three extra names were added to it and later versions all have these names. Christopher Tolkien has said that he has no idea why these three names were added at this time. Unfortunately, while one name, the River Adorn, was correct, the other two names (Glanduin, Swanfleet) were put in the wrong place, and one of them, Glanduin, was misspelled as Glandin.

A Part of the Shire

A map entitled 'A Part of the Shire' was included in the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, at the end of the Prologue. It was drawn by Christopher Tolkien and is initialled CT. Once again it is in black and red ink. It shows the part of the Shire from Hobbiton where the journey started as far as the eastern borders of the Shire and the Old Forest.

It is obvious that only some of the roads of the Shire have been drawn. For example, there are no connecting roads shown between the main east-west road, which passes through Frogmorton and Waymoot, and the one slightly further south that joins Tuckborough to Stock.

The Gondor Map

Published in The Return of the King, this was also by Christopher Tolkien and was printed in black and red ink. Here, the cartographic details were in black, the smaller titles were also in black and the bigger titles were in red. Again it was a folded sheet inserted at the back of the book.

The map shows the eastern end of Gondor, the western part of Mordor and the lands around them. All the action of books 4, 5 and 6 of the novel takes place within this map.

It is the only Tolkien map that uses contour lines instead of pictures of mountains. This makes it much clearer exactly how Minas Tirith, the Pelennor Fields and the Stonewain Valley were laid out. It also shows how Frodo and Sam's route through Mordor was constrained by the mountains, but the details of the two passes across the mountains behind Minas Morgul are still rather unclear.

The lair of the spider, Cirith Ungol, is shown on the map as Kirith Ungol with a K. Tolkien always intended that the sound at the start of the first word was a hard K sound, and he experimented with spelling it this way but later decided to use a C for this sound. This is one example that slipped past his normally very careful edits.

The Paperback Maps

When The Lord of the Rings was finally published in paperback in 1968 as a single volume, it was not practical to include Christopher Tolkien's map as a fold-out paper insert, so the map was divided into five sections, reduced and printed in black and white. The result was very unsatisfactory - the text was almost unreadable and one of the maps showed nothing other than the inland Sea of Rhûn, a part of Middle-earth that didn't feature in the books at all.

The Pauline Baynes Map

Tolkien was looking for an artist to illustrate another of his books, Farmer Giles of Ham. He went to a meeting at the office of his publisher, George Allen and Unwin. He happened to notice a picture which had been sent in on spec by an unknown artist, Pauline Baynes (1922-2008). It was a rather quirky, humorous illustration for a mediaeval manuscript, the Luttrell Psalter. Tolkien immediately liked the style of it and insisted that Baynes should be the illustrator of his book. She went on to produce pictures for many of Tolkien's books, including The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, Tree and Leaf, and (after Tolkien's death) Bilbo's Last Song. Tolkien recommended her to his friend CS Lewis. As a result, she became the illustrator of Lewis's Narnia books, probably her most famous work.

In 1970, Baynes produced a poster map of Middle-earth, intended to be hung on a wall. It was very popular in the 1970s just after the paperback version of The Lord of the Rings first came out, partly because of the inadequacy of the maps in the paperback edition. The Pauline Baynes map allowed the reader to see the whole of Middle-earth in one glance and became the standard reference for readers of the paperback edition.

The basic layout of the map was exactly that of the earlier Map of Middle-earth, but in colour, with many extra names added. Some of these were places mentioned in the books, such as Dorwinion, stated in The Hobbit as the source of the Elvenking's wine. Others were new places not previously encountered, such as the Undeeps, Eryn Vorn, Drúwaith Iaur (Old Púkel-Land), Framburg and Lond Daer (ruins). All of these fleshed out the imaginary world, giving more depth to its history.

In 2008, a copy of Christopher Tolkien's map heavily annotated by JRR Tolkien was discovered in Pauline Baynes's copy of The Lord of the Rings - here we can see where Tolkien explained to the artist where the names were to appear on the map. It is clear that Tolkien kept very tight control of every detail of his creations. This annotated map is now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

It's interesting that among the amendments Tolkien made to the original map was changing the spelling of Enedwaith to Enedhwaith. Since Christopher Tolkien wasn't aware that his father had authorised this spelling change, he continued to use the spelling Enedwaith on his later maps.

Baynes's poster map is a work of art. Not only are many of the names beautifully coloured, but there are also ships in the sea - Elvish ships around the Grey Havens and ships of Gondor and of the Corsairs further south. In the remotest regions where there is not much detail, there are illustrations of animals - horses and cows in the east and camels and elephants in the south. Ten places visited by the hobbits are illustrated in small circular pictures around the outsides of the map, and the locations of these are marked by a coloured dot on the map. These include: Hobbiton, the Barrow-downs, the Doors of Durin (the West Gate of Moria), Cerin Amroth in Lorien, the Argonath, the Teeth of Mordor, Barad-dur6, Minas Morgul, Minas Tirith and Mount Doom.

At the top of the map is a picture of the nine walkers of the Fellowship, seen from behind. There's a corresponding picture of the forces of evil at the bottom, including the nine Black Riders, the spider-monster Shelob, Gollum and some orcs.

There's one small mistake. The river Glanduin is also labelled R. Swanfleet as if that was the English translation of Glanduin. In fact Swanfleet was an area of lakes and marshes where the Glanduin met the bigger River Hoarwell, the two rivers combining to make the River Greyflood7.

The New Middle-earth Map

Christopher Tolkien produced a new map in 1979 and published it in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. This corrected a few minor errors in his previous map and also added many names. Some of these were ones which had already appeared on the Pauline Baynes map, others were ones which were only mentioned in Unfinished Tales. To improve clarity, he enlarged the map by 50%, trimming off some unimportant features at the top and bottom. The map was a foldout sheet in the hardback version of the book. Unfortunately, in the paperback version, this map was split into four sections and reduced to get it to fit into the standard paperback pages so the improvements in clarity were lost.

Names included on this map are:

  • Arthedain and Cardolan, which are mentioned in The Lord of the Rings but had been left out of all previous maps
  • The Undeeps, Eryn Vorn, Andrast, Edhellond - all on the Pauline Baynes map
  • The East Bight, a felled area in the southeast of Mirkwood
  • Himling, a small island off the coast of Lindon. Readers of The Silmarillion will recognise this as the Hill of Himring, Maedhros's fortress.
  • Elvish versions of many names which had previously been given in English, such as Amon Sûl for Weathertop.

Christopher Tolkien appears to have distrusted some details of Pauline Baynes's map - in particular the locations of Dorwinion and Framburg and the spelling of Enedhwaith. In his History of Middle-earth Vol III: The Lays of Beleriand, he explicitly said 'Dorwinion is marked on the decorated map by Pauline Baynes, as a region on the North-western shores of the Sea of Rhûn. It must be presumed that this, like other names on that map, was communicated to her by my father'. Despite this, he omitted both Dorwinion and Framburg from his own new map. He makes no mention of the spelling of Enedhwaith and seems to have assumed it was a mistake. The subsequent discovery of the annotated map proved that these details were in fact authorised by Tolkien himself.

The Stephen Raw Maps

In 1994, professional artist Stephen Raw worked with Christopher Tolkien to produce seven new maps for The Lord of the Rings. These were all copies of existing maps or parts of them, but redrawn for legibility. They included the full map of Middle-earth, the map of a Part of the Shire, the Gondor map, and four detailed maps made by dividing the Map of Middle-earth into four quarters. These were exactly the same as Christopher Tolkien's maps but drawn with bigger titles and clearer, simpler mountains to make them legible, particularly when reduced to fit into paperback versions of the book. These have been used in many subsequent editions of the book.

The Map of Beleriand

Another Christopher Tolkien map based on his father's sketches, the Beleriand map was published in The Silmarillion after JRR Tolkien had died. It shows the part of Middle-earth where all the action was in the First Age - Beleriand and the lands around it. These were to the west of the Blue Mountains, in a part of the continent that later sank beneath the sea. The land of Lindon in the other Middle-earth maps is the only part of Beleriand still in existence.

In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the Spring...
I wandered in Summer in the elm-woods of Ossiriand...
To the beeches of Neldoreth I came in the Autumn...
To the pine-trees upon the highland of Dorthonion I climbed in the Winter...
And now all those lands lie under the wave...

– part of Treebeard's song

The Beleriand map is in the same style as the Middle-earth map, in black and red ink. One problem is that it doesn't show Morgoth's fortress Angband at the top - it was probably only a few centimetres off the top of the map, and since it was the centre of much of the action, it should have been included, even at the expense of some uninhabited forests and marshes at the bottom of the map.

Other Maps

Tolkien produced many other sketch maps while he was planning his books. None of these were intended for publication, but some of them have been published in the books by Christopher Tolkien about the works of Tolkien.

1The endpapers are the double-pages formed by the insides of the front and back covers combined with the first and last pages of the book.2In The Lord of the Rings these names were given as Thráin and Thrór with accents.3Tolkien used English runes rather than the Cirth runes of his own devising, because he wanted the book to be accessible to children. English runes could be looked up in encyclopaedias and were also found in other children's books such as Kipling's Just So Stories.4We're told this in the foreword.5A watermark is impressed into the paper during its manufacture while the paper is still wet, causing the structure of the paper itself to change. It is used on paper money.6The hobbits didn't actually visit Barad-dur, but they saw it in the distance.7Although Tolkien actually uses the phrase 'Swanfleet river' (with a small 'r') once in The Lord of the Rings (book VI, Many Partings). This could mean the river that feeds into the Swanfleet.

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