Rare map of Middle-earth goes on display at the Bodleian Libraries

13 June 2016

Tolkien fans, scholars and members of the public will have a unique opportunity to view a recently-discovered map of Middle-earth as the Bodleian Libraries puts this rare piece of Tolkien ephemera on display on 23 June.

Image of Tolkien's annotated Middle-earth map

The map, which is annotated by JRR Tolkien, was acquired by the Libraries earlier this year and will go on display for just one day at the Bodleian's Weston Library in Oxford. Visitors can see Tolkien's copious notes and markings on the map, which reveal his vision of the creatures, topography and heraldry of his fantasy world where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place.

Image of Tolkien's Middle-earth poster artworkThe map went unseen for decades until October 2015 when Blackwell's Rare Books in Oxford offered it for sale. It had previously belonged to Pauline Baynes (1922-2008), the acclaimed illustrator who was the only artist approved by Tolkien to illustrate his works during his lifetime. The map was a working document that Tolkien and 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 was keen to ensure that Middle-earth was accurately depicted. His copious annotations 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.' He also specified the colours of the ships to be painted on the poster map and the designs on their sails as well as notes about where animals should appear, writing 'Elephants appear in the Great battle outside Minas Tirith.'

The map has joined the Bodleian's Tolkien archive, the largest collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world. It was purchased with assistance from the Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Bodleian, and the display coincides with the Annual General Meeting of the Friends of the Bodleian.

The map will be on display from 9.30am-5pm on Thursday, 23 June in the Bodleian's Weston Library (near the exhibition galleries).

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

MS. Tolkien Drawings 132

Back to top