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.]

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.

Paper given…

rendering-of-third-map-mordor.jpg

… at the 15th annual Tolkien in Vermont conference at UVM:

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

Paper given…

swanfleet.png

… at the 1 st annual Tolkien Symposium prior to ICMS Kalamazoo:

The river Swanfleet: A journey from the Misty Mountains to flat fenlands and half-way back again; or, How the discovery of Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth by Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford extricates Pauline Baynes’ cartographic reputation from the marsh of Nîn-in-Eilph

Just as Christopher Tolkien’s exacting work in The History of Middle-earth has provided both the basis for and the standard with which we measure research into his father’s Middle-earthly subcreation, so too have his maps of the west of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age long served as both the canonical representation of Middle-earth and the gauge with which we have measured all subsequent Media-terrestrial cartography.

The recent discovery of the map that J.R.R. Tolkien himself annotated for Pauline Baynes’s reference in producing her 1970 poster map, however, now provides a welcome opportunity to explore some issues that J.R.R. Tolkien said “give some trouble,” and which Christopher Tolkien agreed have “bedevilled … representation on the maps.” Of particular interest is the mysterious relationship of “Swanfleet” to the fens of Nîn-in-Eilph and the Glanduin River, about which Christopher Tolkien, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, and Karen Wynn Fonstad have all implicitly or explictly concluded that Baynes “misunderstood.”

This paper demonstrates that Baynes had it right all along, and that this is a rare case where Christopher Tolkien went astray, taking Hammond, Scull, and Fonstad with him. Along the way, we will also make brief excursions to several little-known rivers in Gondor and through the famed vineyards of Dorwinion.

Tolkien anniversaries symposium at Kalamazoo

I’ll be reworking the paper I gave a few weeks ago at Tolkien in Vermont at Brad Eden’s “Tolkien Anniversaries” symposium, held the day before the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University.

“The river Swanfleet: A journey from the Misty Mountains to flat fenlands and half-way back again”; or, “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 marsh of Nîn-in-Eilph

Just as Christopher Tolkien’s exacting work in The History of Middle-earth has provided both the basis for and the standard with which we measure research into his father’s Middle-earthly subcreation, so too have his maps of the west of Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age long served as both the canonical representation of Middle-earth and the gauge with which we have measured all subsequent Media-terrestrial cartography.

The recent discovery of the map that J.R.R. Tolkien himself annotated for Pauline Baynes’s reference in producing her 1970 poster map, however, now provides a welcome opportunity to explore some issues that J.R.R. Tolkien said “give some trouble,” and which Christopher Tolkien agreed have “bedevilled … representation on the maps.” Of particular interest is the mysterious relationship of “Swanfleet” to the fens of Nîn-in-Eilph and the Glanduin River, about which Christopher Tolkien, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, and Karen Wynn Fonstad have all implicitly or explictly concluded that Baynes “misunderstood.”

This paper demonstrates that Baynes had it right all along, and that this is a rare case where Christopher Tolkien went astray, taking Hammond, Scull, and Fonstad with him. Along the way, we will also make brief excursions to several little-known rivers in Gondor and through the famed vineyards of Dorwinion.

The full list of paper titles, scholars, and abstracts may be found in this PDF.