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One Day Only: A Chance to View One Map to Rule Them All

A rare Tolkien-annotated map goes on display June 23

Tolkien relied on maps to write his books—and cared a lot about how his fans saw Middle-earth. (The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016)
smithsonian.com

“Not all those who wander are lost,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in the Fellowship of the Ring. You likely won’t be lost if you wander into Oxford University’s Bodleian Library on June 23—but if you do, you’ll join a rare fellowship of people who have gazed upon a rare map of Middle-earth annotated by the author himself. As Fine Books and Collections reports, the map will be on public display for one day only, proving that thanks to the magic of archives, adventures never really have an end.

The map is as rare as they come—a working copy that documents the author’s collaboration with the first-ever illustrator of his books about Middle-earth, Pauline Baynes. When she set out to illustrate The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Baynes did so with copious input from Tolkien, who was notoriously controlling and exacting about how his imaginary worlds would be portrayed in both print and images.

Tolkien was initially excited to have Baynes illustrate the series. At the time, she was best known for her illustrations of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. However, though Lewis was publicly supportive of her work during the process, he apparently bashed it behind the scenes. The same would prove true with Tolkien, who was friends with both Lewis and Baynes. Tolkien pushed for Baynes to illustrate some of his books, and she was the only illustrator he personally approved, Lauren Davis reports for io9. After her work was published, though, the author complained that some of her illustrations were “ridiculous.”

A close view of the annotated map reveals Tolkien's obsessive attention to detail. (The Tolkien Estate Limited 2016)

Like it or not, Baynes’ map of Middle-earth became one of her most famous works. It was sold as a poster and brought the fictitious landscape of Tolkien’s trilogy to life, complete with animals, ships and characters from the book. Late last year, Tolkien’s annotations to a working copy of the map were found tucked inside one of Baynes’ copies of The Lord of the Rings. All of Tolkien’s annotations were meticulously transcribed for Tolkien fans, and the Bodleian Library purchased it with grants and donor funds.

“It would have been disappointing had it disappeared into a private collection or gone abroad,” Chris Fletcher, who oversees the library’s Special Collections, said in a statement. The acquisition was particularly appropriate since the Bodleian is one of the most important repositories of Tolkien memorabilia and manuscripts—and it’s located in Oxford, where the author wrote his saga.

Middle-earth Poster
Pauline Baynes' complete map incorporated Tolkien's extensive annotations and was produced as a poster. (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 1970)
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