Thanks to six blockbuster movies from Peter Jackson, Middle-Earth is now one of the most recognizable fantasy landscapes ever, but it wasn’t always that way. The Lord of the Rings was first published in 1955, but it took until 1969 before the book was ever illustrated. Author J.R.R. Tolkien commissioned artist Pauline Baynes to create the first-ever illustrated map of Middle-Earth. To make sure she got it right, Tolkien himself annotated the map with all kinds of helpful geographic information (Minis Tirith is about the same latitude as Ravenna, for instance). This Tolkien-annotated copy belonged to Baynes, who died in 2008, and it was only recently unearthed in October, when Blackwell’s Rare Books put it on display.
Now, the map has been acquired by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, joining what is already the world’s foremost collection of Tolkien manuscripts and scholarship.
“ ‘The creation of maps was central to Tolkien’s storytelling and this particular map provides a glimpse into the creative process that produced some of the first images of Middle-Earth,” Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said in a statement. “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.”
Tolkien went to school in Oxford, where he became friends with The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis. In fact, Tolkien was so pleased with Baynes’ work on the Middle-Earth map that he later introduced her to Lewis, and she went on to illustrate the Narnia books as well.