J.R.R. Tolkien was nothing if not exact. The famous author behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings built his fantasy world by paying close attention to its language, culture, and geography. This care is evident in a recently discovered map of Middle-earth, currently on display in Oxford and available for 60,000 pounds from Blackwell’s Rare Books.
The map was discovered in a copy of The Lord of the Rings owned by illustrator Pauline Bayes, who used it as reference for her poster of Middle-earth. Tolkien made sure to give her everything she needed, supplying Baynes with suggestions for flora and fauna, edited names of locations, and even drawing some doodles.
Most interesting, he also supplied real-life reference points for his fictional locales. The Shire is sometimes interpreted as a nostalgic ode to the beauty of the English countryside, and indeed Tolkien told Baynes in his notes that the town of Hobbiton “is assumed to be approx. at latitude of Oxford.” Other suggestions included Belgrade, Cyprus, Jersualem, and the Italian city of Ravenna — that last for the Gondorian capital Minis Tirith. The document is a remarkable addition to Tolkien scholarship.
“One of the points of interest is how much of a hand Tolkien had in the poster map; all of his suggestions, and there are many (the majority of the annotation on the map is his), are reflected in Baynes’s version,” Blackwell’s modern first editions specialist Henry Gott told The Guardian. “The degree to which it is properly collaborative was not previously apparent, and couldn’t be without a document like this. Its importance is mostly to do with the insight it gives into that process.”