Bodleian Libraries acquires rare map of Middle-earth annotated by Tolkien

3 May 2016

The Bodleian Libraries has acquired a recently-discovered map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien, which reveals his remarkable vision of the creatures, topography and heraldry of his imagined world where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place.

Image of Tolkien's Middle-earth poster artwork

The map was a working document that Tolkien and acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes both annotated in 1969 when Baynes was commissioned to produce a poster map of Middle-earth. At the time, The Lord of the Rings had never been illustrated so Tolkien, who was deeply concerned with the portrayal of his invented world, was keen to ensure that Middle-earth was accurately depicted. His copious notes and markings can be seen in green ink or pencil on the map, most notably his comments equating key places in Middle-earth with real world cities, for example that 'Hobbiton is assumed to be approx. at [the] latitude of Oxford.'

Image of Tolkien's annotated map of Middle-earthThe map that Tolkien and Baynes annotated was a printed copy that Baynes had pulled out from one of her volumes of The Lord of the Rings. The map was drawn for publication in 1954 by Tolkien's youngest son Christopher and was included in the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings as a folded leaf at the back of the books.

The annotated map went unseen for decades until October 2015 when Blackwell's Rare Books in Oxford put the map on display and offered it for sale. News of the map's discovery caused a wave of excitement among fans, collectors and the media. The map had previously belonged to Baynes, who passed away in 2008. This rare piece of Tolkien ephemera now joins the Libraries' Tolkien archive, the largest collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world. The map is an exciting new resource for Tolkien scholars, providing new linguistic and topographic details about the author's fantasy world.

Image of Tolkien's Middle-earth poster artworkChris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections

'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,' said Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries. '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 annotated map shows just how closely Baynes followed Tolkien's suggestions in the creation of her iconic poster map of Middle-earth, published in 1970, which many fans will recognise. This working document reveals that the creatures which enliven the final poster map - wolves, horses, cattle, elephants and camels - were all suggested by Tolkien and that Baynes 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.

Tolkien also specified the colours of the ships to be painted on the poster map and even the design on their sails, writing: 'Elven-ships small, white or grey...Numenorean (Gondor) Ships Black and Silver...Corsairs had red sails with black star or eye'.

Although he gave clear instructions for these pictorial elements, Tolkien's main concern was the accuracy of the place-names on the map. He added many names which are not mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954 and 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'.

Image of Tolkien's annotated Middle-earth map

Tolkien's geographical notes on the map were designed to give Baynes an idea of the climate of various places, so that her drawings of flora and fauna would more accurately represent his imagined world but it also provides a fascinating insight into Tolkien's whole conception of Middle-earth and its relationship to the real world. In addition to the reference to Oxford, he notes that '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.'

Image of JRR TolkienWhile Baynes was heavily instructed by Tolkien, she put her creative mark on the poster map through the ten vignettes of key places at the edges of the map and the header and footer illustrations which show the Fellowship and their pursuers. These were entirely her own invention and were not seen by Tolkien before publication.

Baynes (1922-2008) was the only artist approved by Tolkien to illustrate his works during his lifetime. They first became acquainted in 1949 when she submitted illustrations for his faux-medieval story, Farmer Giles of Ham, and she worked with him several times over the years. Tolkien introduced her to his friend and colleague, C.S. Lewis, in 1949, and she went on to illustrate all of Lewis' Narnia books.

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 Bodleian hopes to put the map on public display in the near future.

Image credits (in order they appear on the page)
  1. Pauline Baynes' iconic poster map of Middle-earth that was published in 1970. © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 1970
  2. A map of Middle-earth, annotated by JRR Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. © The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016.
  3. Pauline Baynes' iconic poster map of Middle-earth that was published in 1970. © HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 1970
  4. A map of Middle-earth, annotated by JRR Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. © The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016.
  5. A portrait of JRR Tolkien taken on 9 Aug 1973. © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1977
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