MapCarte 247/365: The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937 and 1954


Fantasy maps are increasing in number and scope as more video games take place in imagined worlds and computer power is able to render environments in ever more detail. The world of Minecraft is particularly interesting from a cartographic perspective since users can add worlds. Indeed, Ordnance Survey have added their Minecraft version of Great Britain to the virtual world. More details here.

But imaginary maps, or maps of imaginary worlds, are not new. Take, for example, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. The films of the last decade have brought a new found interest that has seen countless maps and other geo-products developed including the very well produced The Hobbit Journey Through Middle-Earth as a way of teasing the film The Desolation of Smaug. You can see the web map here which uses a mix of sound, visuals and purported satellite imagery and maps that even have dancing clouds. It’s a great example of the current trend for photo-realistic worlds and immersive, interactive content.

Here though, we want to reflect on a much simpler yet more important and cartographically intersting version – the originals drawn by J. R. R. Tolkien himself.


The lead map in this entry and the one above come from the inside front and back covers of The Hobbit published in 1937. They are two colour prints of the world as Tolkein envisaged it without CGI or fancy special effects. It presents the layout of the world with the key places. Mountains are represented in aspect across an otherwise planimetric map though there’s a hint at perspective with far off mountainscapes appearing on the horizon. It’s a sort of progressive projection and Tolkien was clearly a student of cartography enough to replenish his maps with high quality cartographic flourishes.

MapCarte247_tolkienThe final map here is from The Lord of the Rings book The Fellowship of the Ring, published in 1954 and gives us a view of the larger world the characters inhabit. Again, the two colour approach is used which allows highlights to be generated and contrast achieved. The linework is simple but effective and the use of white space hints at a world beyond.

As an inspiration for the landscapes that eventually made it to Peter Jackson’s films it’s easy to see how these original maps inspired the use of the landscape of New Zealand. A great example of the use of the real world to act as a set for an imaginary one.

Beautifully simple maps that bring to life an imagined place and which, along with others, underpin the fantasy maps of today.


MapCarte 129/365: Ice Cream Island by As the Crow Flies cARTography, 2013

MapCarte129_icecreamIs there anything that cannot be mapped? Think about it…the entire world is our mappable object at every conceivable scale from planetary to the atomic. But yet people still find additional themes, objects and thoughts that give them something to make a map from. Cartography extends from reference mapping through to single theme maps, from national map series to a kid drawing his or her classroom and from a cartography student creating their first web map to a boy scout drawing out their imaginary worlds. It’s this last example that demonstrates that really, the fertile imagination innate in us all is often the start of something rather special in map terms.

As the Crow Flies cARTography drew Ice Cream Island to accompany a children’s novel series about a fantasy island of ice cream. The novel itself was to be encased in covers that made it appear as if an ice cream sandwich (chocolate covers with vanilla pages) . The map was to be printed on the inside of the unfolded cover – the wrapper to the ice cream sandwich. What a fantastic approach! But it’s the map that really takes this fantastical place to another level.

There’s a nod to an antique style with raked coastal vignettes, ornate hand-written letter forms and old school hachuring technique on the slopes. It has an antique burnish to the paper to give it age (and authenticity)  and the detail is drawn in a semi-realistic hand-drawn style so we get the feel of swampy areas and forests as well as more geometric depictions of settlement and transportation. The names follow the theme: Messypotamia, Strawberry River Flow, Beaches and Cream and Rocky Road; and there’s even a unique coordinate system comprising longitude and splatitude.There’s even a cherry on top of both the island (which appears to be the inverted cone of the upturned ice cream island) and the north arrow, the slopes mimic a slowly melting sauce and the description both balances the map layout and adds conviction to the story.

This is as well crafted a fantasy map as you’ll find. It’s simplicity helps it not be overly detailed but it resonates because it’s comprised of elements of real maps that we immediately recognise. That helps us immediately understand something of the shape, form and patterns before our eyes. We immediately feel empathy with the place and can easily imagine it to be real.

It’s a well produced map in its own right regardless of the reality or not of the subject matter. If only more ‘real’ maps were this well drafted!

You can see a much larger version of the map (and other similarly styled maps ) on the As the Crow Flies cARTography web site here.