Mapping Middle-earth

Since The Map Room started at the end of March 2003, the about page has said, “from medieval Mappæ Mundi to satellite imagery, and from topo maps to Tolkien.” I’ve done posts on all of these subjects save one: I’ve never done a post on maps of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Part of the problem — my own legendary powers of procrastination aside — is that there really isn’t very much out there that’s online, and still less that’s any good. Maps of Middle-earth are hard to come by on the Web, probably because the Tolkien Estate refuses to licence them. Them that exist are either flouting copyright or are operating under fair use.

Those in the former category sometimes aren’t very good: the level of detail is usually less than that you’d find in an endpaper map in one of the books. The quality of execution is often surprisingly bad: you can tell in some cases that the software used to create the map was, in fact, MS Paint. These vector maps are better than most I’ve seen.

In the end, your best option in terms of Middle-earth maps is the venerable Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. And even then I feel left wanting. Fonstad’s a bona fide cartographer, but the two-colour maps are essentially line drawings. I probably want the impossible: a full, atlas-quality relief map, providing a level of detail that Tolkien himself never imagined.

There are, though, a couple of interesting maps online that even the Tolkien Estate would have to concede are excellent examples of fair use.

This page puts Middle-earth on a meridional grid, and superimposes that grid on a map of Europe. It’s an amazingly effective way of grasping the scale of the map in relative terms:

If we assume Hobbiton at the location of Oxford, this superimposes the LR map on the geographic territory between Scotland and Crete, and between Ireland and Kiew. Minas Tirith and Osgiliath are getting submerged in the Adriatic Sea at 43 deg. N, 17 deg. East, somewhat South of the Croatian city of Split. Barad-dûr is found in Western Serbia, not very far from Belgrade.

Finally, I blogged Matthew White’s maps early in the history of The Map Room; he was, in fact, the fourth post ever on this blog. In his section on surreal histories, he’s got a page describing Tolkien’s “lost sequel” to The Lord of the Rings, which projects Middle-earth into an overindustrialized modern age:

Discovered in Tolkien’s papers long after his death were the notes for a new story. It was to be set in a new age of Middle Earth, long after the dwarves had been rounded up and herded into to bleak, rural reservations, long after the elves were no longer to be seen anywhere outside the Museum of Mythical Creatures. The new Middle Earth was a quiet, no-nonsense world of airports, malls and sitcoms, but then Bonnie Baggins found a ring of power in her grandmother’s attic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work on my Middle-earth map for Railroad Tycoon II — I’ve got a hankering to run some troop trains to the Black Gate behind Númenórean 2-8-2 Mikados …