Exactly thirty years ago, Christopher Tolkien introduced us to what he called “the First Map of The Lord of the Rings.” Though now it’s a world traveller, showcased in climate-controlled library exhibitions such as “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” and 1990’s “J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend,” the map had a rough early life, in “constant use,” according to Christopher Tolkien, from its initial construction right up until his father began writing Book V of LotR in (probably) late 1946.
An examination of the map’s initial construction and subsequent alterations shows imperfections and inconsistancies in its reference base, often offsetting nearly five or ten miles of mapped Middle-earth terrain; Tolkien worked around these as he drew, taking them into account. But these are as nothing when compared to the “continental drift” caused by constant creasing and folding and subsequent repair work. As Christopher Tolkien writes, “it is wrinkled, creased, and broken from constant use, so that connections are lost.…” Indeed, misalignments and gaps in many places are 25 miles wide.
With diligent work, we can digitally realign misaligned sections of the map, correcting some of the injuries and misrepairs of the map’s later years while not ourselves hyper-repairing the map’s initial faults. This can give us a much clearer picture of what this map looked like at the end of its active life, as well as insight into how it looked at various earlier stages of its development.