… at the 14th annual Tolkien in Vermont Conference at UVM:
Far-away places with strange-sounding names: Endonyms (autonyms), exonyms (xenonyms), and the romance of Tolkien’s toponymy of Middle-earth; or, On the redundancy of Bree-hill, the heady topper of the Brandywine, and how the discovery of Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth by Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford extricates Pauline Baynes’s cartographic reputation from the fens of Nîn-in-Eilph
For forty-five years, we have speculated about 1970’s “A Map of Middle-earth” painted by Pauline Baynes: even Christopher Tolkien himself has weighed in on the question! Dorwinion? R. Swanfleet? Glanduin? Tumladen? Trees in Ened[h]waith? Quite a few locations and features mentioned in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit — unmarked on the Tolkiens’ published maps of the ’30s and ’50s — can be found on the Baynes map; but how much was merely her own invention, and how much was directed by J.R.R. Tolkien? The credulous have long held that the Baynes map is fully “canon,” for we know that Baynes did consult with Tolkien. The skeptical have argued that we have not known specifically what information he gave her. Much was made clear by the discovery in 2015 of the published map upon which Tolkien made notes for Baynes, but R. Swanfleet, at least, may still hold a mystery. Is it coëxtensive with Glanduin (which also appears for the first time on the Baynes map), but rendered in Common Speech? Or is it in fact Nîn-in-Eilph, the swamp Christopher Tolkien added in his 1980 re-drawing of “The West of Middle-earth at the End of the Third Age,” translated into Westron? And what’s with all the doubled names on the maps, anyway: why both Hithaeglir and Misty Mountains? As with so much else in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s toponymy comforts us when we’re at home in the Shire, puts us on edge as we venture further afield, gives Tolkien an excuse to create layer upon layer of linguistic wordplay, and provides much interesting ambiguity for us to consider.