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09th May 2016

Tolkien annotated map of Middle-earth acquired by Bodleian library

A map annotated by JRR Tolkien (1911, Classics and English) has been acquired by the University of Oxford’s Bodleian library. The map is of Tolkien’s fantasy world “Middle-earth”. It will join a large collection of material relating to Tolkien’s work – the largest in the world, in fact – including the manuscripts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The annotations give an insight into how vividly Tolkien pictured Middle-earth in his mind. They include a series of geographical pointers about the latitude of key locations: “Hobbiton is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford,” he wrote. “Minas Tirith is about latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton more near Belgrade). Bottom of the map (1,400 miles) is about latitude of Jerusalem.”

The annotations were for the benefit of Pauline Baynes, an artist who was creating an illustrated map of Middle-earth. Her poster map, published in 1970, was bordered with illustrations of Tolkien’s characters and locations such as Hobbiton, the Barrow-downs, Minas Tirith and Mordor, but was based on a fold-out map that was published in the first volumes of the 1954 The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Baynes ripped the map out of her own copy of the book and took it to Tolkien, who covered it with notes, including many extra place names that do not appear in the book. Since most were in his own invented Elvish language he helpfully translated some: “Eryn Vorn [= Black Forest] a forest region of dark [pine?] trees.”

Baynes died in 2008, but the map was only uncovered in 2015, inside Baynes’s copy of The Lord of the Rings. Blackwells bookshop put it on display and valued it at £60,000. The Bodleian managed to buy it with support from the V&A Purchase Fund and friends of the library.

Chris Fletcher, the keeper of special collections at the Bodleian and a Fellow of Exeter College, said maps were central to Tolkien’s storytelling, and it would have been disappointing if it had gone overseas or into a private collection.

“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. 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. Photograph: © The Tolkien Estate/Blackwell’s Rare Books

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