J.R.R.Tolkien succeeded both in creating fabulous new worlds and rendering them utterly believable. Reading his trilogy has become a rite of passage for many in several generations. An updated atlas of Middle -Earth provides a definitive guide through hundreds of maps and drawings. (In advance of the movie Lord of The Rings scheduled for release in December, we'll be writing and talking about the trilogy itself as well as other works the original books have inspired.)
If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it's my wonder and delight in the earth as it is," Tolkien told an interviewer, "particularly the natural earth." He also wanted to provide a new, Brit-centric mythology for the world, so he took the literal earth and changed it just enough to make it "faerie."
With the cinematic trilogy of his books under production -- three separate films are scheduled for release over the next two years -- Middle Earth is going mainstream. These films will probably be nearly as big as Star Wars, if they're half as good, touching mythological and creative nerves that revolve around what we like to call science fiction in its varied forms.
As is often the case with culture The Lord Of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion -- provided comfort, stimulation, and escape for a particular sub-set of the human species, especially young, enchanted brainiacs growing up apart from the mainstream and eager -- desperate, maybe -- for other worlds to explore.
If you want to enter Tolkien's world, the best way is to read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the The Silmarillion. For hard-core Tolkien lovers who have already done that, I'd highly recommend -- there's plenty of time before the first movie in December -- The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Houghton Mifflin), by Karen Wynn Fonstad, a University of Wisconsin cartographer who has drafted unbelievably detailed maps of Middle Earth from the First Age through the Third, including thematic and other maps, guides, places and events (the mapping of the The Silarillion is astounding).
Tolkien created the details of Middle Earth for himself, for his own creativity and intellectual exercise. He was, Fonstad writes, envisioning his world much as our medieval cartographers viewed our own.
Fonstad's descriptions of the pain-staking process she used to create these hundreds of details maps are almost as interesting as the stories upon which they're based. The atlas is a composite of the physical surface with the imprint of the "Free Peoples." A number of basic map types are included -- the physical, including landforms, minerals, and climate; the political (spheres of influence); battles; migrations (closely tied with linguistics); the traveller's pathways and finally, situation maps -- towns and dwellings, all arranged roughly in sequence. Fonstad even includes detailed pathway tables -- the distance Frodo spent on his pony on dozens of trips, the length of marches, the treks of elves, the flights of refugees.
Fonstad concedes that an almost endless series of questions, assumptions and interpretations were necessary in creating these maps. But each line has been drawn with a reason behind it, she says. And she explains the reasoning.
Middle Earth was the creation of a world, and is deserving of its own geography. Fonstad's atlas is well and clearly written, even for the casual fan of Tolkien. And the hundreds of maps she created offers a new prism through which to look at these works. This is by no means a book for everybody, and even die-hard fans of the trilogy might ask why they need to know so much. The hard-core fanatic will know.
You can purchase this book at Fatbrain.