Paper accepted for NACIS!

I’ll be giving a paper this October at the North American Cartographic Information Society annual meeting in Norfolk, Virginia. If you love maps, mapping, or cartography, consider attending — it’s a very welcoming group!

Mapping Middle-earth: Questing for “real facts” in a fictitious world

Fantasy authors nearly always include maps in their books to show the region or world in which their stories take place. These maps are typically drawn by the author or redrawn by a publisher’s artist, and they are accepted by readers as absolute canon. Though most authors probably heed the advice of J.R.R. Tolkien, to start their world-building “with a map, and [make] the story fit, … [since] the other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities,” Tolkien himself did not — and the results were much as he stated.

Join the fellowship as we explore the challenges of making maps where descriptions are the data, where fictional characters’ conflicting accounts are primary sources, where “impressionistic” contour lines are DEMs, and where even the author’s own conceptions of a landscape change over time. The forensic map maker must be wiley, and wary of the lures of conjecture, inference, and imagination. For even with such modern tools as relational databases, normalization of decades-old maps, and vector-based cartography software, making the map of Middle-earth that Tolkien would have made had he had the time is a quest not for the faint of heart.

[Nota bene: No love of — nor indeed even familiarity with — The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or Middle-earth is assumed.]

Two more papers given…

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“Tolkien Art Index” and “Lord of the Rings Citations”: Two Tours

“Lord of the Rings Citations”: A Tour

Lord of the Rings Citations provides a two-pronged solution to the perennial problem of how to cite quotations from The Lord of the Rings. First, it furnishes cross references for the pagination of five common typesettings of LotR. Second, it supplies its own logical citation system suitable for use with any edition of the book, including non-paginated electronic editions. LRC also provides an index to correlated passages in Hammond & Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion and in “Words, Phrases and Passages” found in Parma Eldalamberon 17.

“Tolkien Art Index”: A Tour

The Tolkien Art Index is a new, free, on-line resource for Tolkien scholars and enthusiasts — thus far listing 480 distinct works of mostly Middle-earth related art all painted, drawn, sketched, or mapped by J.R.R. Tolkien. The heart of the Index is its immutable numbering system, but we’ll also explore the site’s structure, including the (nearly) exhaustive publications list available for each piece of artwork; its tagging systems for geography, subject matter, art media, and characters; and its library reference numbers for items in both the Marquette and the Bodleian collections. Finally, there will be an opportunity to suggest future additional features, changes, and expansion to the Index and its site.

Paper given…

… at the 2nd annual Tolkien Symposium prior to ICMS Kalamazoo

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The Tolkien Art Index

The Tolkien Art Index is a new, free, on-line resource for Tolkien scholars and enthusiasts — thus far listing 463 distinct works of mostly Middle-earth related art all painted, drawn, sketched, or mapped by J.R.R. Tolkien. We’ll explore the site’s structure, including the exhaustive publications list available for each piece of artwork; its tagging systems for geography, subject matter, art media, and characters; and its library reference numbers for items in both the Marquette and Bodleian collections. We’ll also take a brief look at how the thumbnail images were produced. Finally, there will be an opportunity to suggest future additional features, changes, and expansion to the Index and its site.

Tolkien’s letter to Baronne A. Baeyens, 1963-12-16

2018-04-28: Well, I’ve been informed that Tolkien’s unpublished letters may be subject to copyright. I would think that unpublished letters would be the one thing that would definitely not be subject to copyright — in fact, the possibility had never even occurred to me.

And so, I’m redacting most of this post. Most of my transcription is already available in other places on-line. I will limit myself to quoting the small portions of the letter that I believe have not been available before.


RR Auction Company, who previously auctioned Tolkien’s letter to H. Cotton Minchin which I wrote about in 2014, now has several more letters up for auction. As before, they have posted lovely scans of the letters1 — affording us the opportunity of transcribing them for posterity.

1 Currently posted here, although previous experience tells me this link will become defunct before long.

I’ll get the ball rolling here with a letter that was previously auctioned in 2009, written by Tolkien on 16 December, 1963, to Baronne A. Baeyens. According to the Tolkien Gateway, the (hopefully temporarily) erstwhile Lord of the Rings Plaza published an extract from this letter at that point, which the Tolkien Gateway has quoted.

My transcription follows and, following that, the one-page “secretarial” letter of the same date to Baronne Baeyens. I welcome queries, comments, and corrections below!

Dear Madame,

I enclose a merely secretarial letter. I am obliged to leave a large part of the letters to a part-time secretary; but I always re-read them before sending any reply, and I felt that your most charming and interesting letter deserved a personal note, though it must be briefer than it should be.

Please give my best wishes to your son. He is of course right and perceptive to pity Gollum. I find still very moving to me the place where Gollum on the brink of repentance is cast back by the brusque and understandable (& not very perceptive) loyalty of Sam.

The drawing I am v. grateful for. It is more than ‘amusing’. I have written quite a lot, after all.

Yours sincerely,

JRR Tolkien

I cannot quite make this last word out. Your thoughts?

Well, I’m back

I don’t, as a rule, discuss personal or family matters here; that’s the role for The Mueller-Harder Family Journal. Nevertheless, I feel I should mention that I’m more-or-less “back” from an unexpected journey health-wise. Details — no doubt too many for some readers, and never enough for others — are at a specialized set of pages at PostHope.com. No more need be said here.

To celebrate, I gave a new paper last week at the Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM, titled “Mapping Mordor: Normalizing Tolkien’s maps as the first step in examining his worldbuilding method of construction-by-revision; or, Yet further confirmation (as if we needed it) that Tolkien had no master plan, did not ‘first make a map and make the narrative agree,’ and, in fact, never did produce a map that exactly portrays what’s described in The Lord of the Rings.” This was not the longest title of the conference!

I’ll also be travelling to Kalamazoo in three weeks to give a paper at the pre-International Medieval Congress Tolkien Seminar in Kalamazoo, Michigan — rather more pithily titled “The Tolkien Art Index” — giving a tour (perhaps obviously) of the Tolkien Art Index. Dr. Anna Smol (whose page giving details of the Tolkien Seminar I linked to above) also has produced a very useful page detailing the Tolkien-related sessions and papers at the congress itself, which I’ll be staying for.

(Thanks to an unexpected travel grant), I plan in July also to attend the Tolkien Society Seminar 2018 immediately preceding the International Medieval Congress at Leeds University. Dr. Dimitra Fimi has provided a page listing Tolkien-related sessions and papers at that congress, which I’ll also be attending. Immediately thereafter, I’ll be able to go to Oxford to visit the Bodleian Library’s exhibition, “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth,” and with luck I should also be able to verify the Tolkien Art Index entries for the Bodleian’s art holdings.

And finally, in October I plan also to attend the North American Cartographic Society annual meeting, this year in Norfolk, Virginia. I had a lovely time this last year in Montréal and learned quite a lot. Several people asked me whether I’d consider giving a paper on Tolkienian cartography this next year. This might just happen.

It’s good to be back. I’ve lost some time, but am looking forward to making some of it back up between the conferences.