Middle Earth Map annotated by JRR Tolkien acquired by Bodleian Libraries

By Richard Moss | 03 May 2016

The Bodleian has scooped the definitive version of Middle Earth - a map annotated by JRR Tolkien

A hand drawn map with the word Mordor and handwriting around it
Detail of the map of Middle-earth, annotated by JRR Tolkien and Pauline Baynes© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
Tolkien’s Middle-earth – the invented land where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place – has long been debated, pored over and theorised by legions of fans of the author.

Now the Bodleian Library in Oxford has acquired the definitive version of the mythical place, offering an exciting new resource for Tolkien scholars full of linguistic and topographic details about the author’s fantasy world.

A working document, the map was annotated in 1969 by the great author together with the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes, who was commissioned to produce a poster map of Middle-earth.

At the time, The Lord of the Rings had never been illustrated. Tolkien, who was deeply concerned with the portrayal of his invented world, was keen to ensure Middle-earth was accurately depicted.

Copious notes and markings can be seen in green ink or pencil on the map, most notably Tolkien’s comments equating key places in Middle-earth with real world cities. "Hobbiton is assumed to be approx. at [the] latitude of Oxford," wrote the author.

a photo of an annotated map
A map of Middle-earth, annotated by JRR Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. This was the working document that the author and artist used during their collaboration on the production of Baynes’ iconic poster map of Middle-earth, published in 1970© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
The annotations were made on a map originally drawn for publication in 1954 by Tolkien’s youngest son, Christopher, and included in the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings as a folded leaf at the back of the books. The map was pulled out from one of her own volumes of The Lord of the Rings by Baynes and then annotated with Tolkein.

Unseen for decades, it first emerged in October 2015, when Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford put it on display and offered it for sale – triggering waves of excitement among fans, collectors and the media.

Having belonged to Baynes until she passed away in 2008, the rare piece of Tolkien ephemera now joins the Tolkien archive at the Bodleian, the largest collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world.

“The creation of maps was central to Tolkien’s storytelling and this particular map provides a glimpse into the creative process that produced some of the first images of Middle-earth, with which so many of us are now familiar,” says Chris Fletcher, the Bodleian’s Keeper of Special Collections.

a detail of a hand drawn map with annotations in pen
The map is full of fascinating annotations© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
“We’re delighted to have been able to acquire this map and it’s particularly appropriate that we are keeping it in Oxford. 

"Tolkien spent almost the whole of his adult life in the city and was clearly thinking about its geographical significance as he composed elements of the map. It would have been disappointing had it disappeared into a private collection or gone abroad.”

The working document reveals how the creatures which enliven the final poster map - wolves, horses, cattle, elephants and camels - were all suggested by Tolkien. Baynes even drew the animals in the exact locations he specified.

“Elephants appear in the Great battle outside Minas Tirith (as they did in Italy under Pyrrhus) but they would be in place in the blank squares of Harad – also Camels,” wrote Tolkien.

Other fascinating insights include Tolkien’s specification for the colours of the ships and the design on their sails: “Eleven-ships small, white or grey...Numenorean (Gondor) Ships Black and Silver...Corsairs had red sails with black star or eye”.

a detail of a map with mountains drawn on it and annotations in pen
Tolkien worked on the map with the illustrator Pauline Baynes© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
Tolkien’s also clarified place names, adding many names which are not mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954. As they are mostly in his Elvish language, Sindarin, he also gave an explanation of their meanings.

He inserted a new place name for the area west of Minhiriath and provided a translation from the Elvish, “Eryn Vorn [= Black Forest] a forest region of dark [pine?] trees”.

Geographical notes include information about the climate of various places, making Baynes’ drawings of flora and fauna accurate, and how “Minas Tirith is about [the] latitude of Ravenna [northern Italy] (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton more near Belgrade). Bottom of the map (1400 miles [from Hobbiton]) is about latitude of Jerusalem.”

The purchase of the map was funded with assistance from the Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Bodleian. It joins the Bodleian’s extensive collection of Tolkien material, which has been housed at the Libraries since 1979. The map also complements the Libraries’ existing works by Baynes, which include the paste-up and the original watercolour of her poster map of Middle-earth.

The Library plans to put the annotated map on display soon.

an illustrated map of Tolkien's Middle eath with creatures and figures around a central map of the lands
Pauline Baynes’ iconic poster map of Middle-Earthm published in 1970© HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 1970
a detail of a hand drawn map of Tolkien's Middle Earth with annotations
The map they annotated was a printed map that Baynes pulled out from one of her copies of The Lord of the Rings© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016
a photograph of JRR Tolkien with a walking stick and his hand resting on the trunk of a large tree
JRR Tolkien on August 9 1973. This was the last photograph taken of Tolkien in the Botanic Garden, Oxford, next to his favourite tree, the Pinus Nigra. He died less than a month later© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1977
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