J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the most celebrated authors of the past century. His epic tales of good and evil, including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, are widely considered to be the greatest fantasy books ever written.
The setting for the majority of his stories is Middle Earth, a continent of Earth which exists thousands of years ago. For anyone who has read Tolkien’s tales the importance of location is clear. The detailed descriptions of mountains, forests, rivers and other geographical features are so elemental to the construction of his tales that the land itself feels like a character of as much importance as any hero or villain.
Recently, fans of J. R. R. Tolkien had the opportunity to see a map, drawn by his son Christopher and annotated by Tolkien himself in green ink. This provides an insight into the creation of Middle Earth. Oxford’s Bodleian Library put the map on display for just two days in June after it bought the map from an Oxford bookshop.
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien reveals that ‘the theatre of [Tolkien’s] tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary.’ Through the Bodleian Map it becomes clear just how the real world shaped Tolkien’s creation. One annotation specifies that Hobbiton should be ‘approximately at the latitude of Oxford’, where Tolkien lived and worked for much of his life. The location of Hobbiton in a place of such personal significance for the author is a charming detail which may have been lost, if not for this map.
However this map’s greatest accomplishment is that it displays the immense creative powers of J. R. R. Tolkien. His annotations highlight the impressive attention to detail which Tolkien is famous for. There are notes added in the Elvish dialect, a language Tolkien invented himself. He has also included animals, given names to ruins, created new features including rivers and towns. Tolkien spent decades creating his world of elves, hobbits and dwarves, and the map beautifully illustrates how immersed Tolkien was in his creation.
The map is a wonderful piece of memorabilia, a true piece of ar,t which not only reveals intricate details about Middle Earth but also charts the success of Tolkien’s tales in real life. The map was a working document which was used by illustrator Pauline Baynes to create the first poster map of Middle Earth. The map is a testimony to the popularity of Tolkien’s tales of wonder as well as a visual celebration of the creative brilliance of this well-loved author.