The Atlas of Middle-earth

From Tolkien Gateway
The Atlas of Middle-Earth
The Atlas of Middle-earth.jpg
AuthorKaren Wynn Fonstad
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Released29 May 1981
1991 (revised edition)
ISBN0395286654 (1981 1st edition)

0395535166 (1991 revised edition)

0618126996 (2001 reprint)

The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad is an atlas of various lands in Arda. It includes specific maps for The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, for which it is intended as a reading companion.


The maps are treated as if they are of real landscapes, and are drawn according to the same rules that a real atlas is drawn: for each area the history of the land is taken into account, as well as geography on a larger scale and from there maps are drawn. Discussion includes suggestions as to the geology that could explain various formations, and points that are contradictory between multiple accounts.

City maps and floor plans for important buildings are also included; these are very often useful for making sense of the narratives, especially in The Lord of the Rings. As well, many battles such as those of Beleriand, the Last Alliance and the War of the Ring are illustrated.

The book was published in 1981, but in 1991 a revised and updated version was published, which took information from The History of Middle-earth into account. In 2001, the publishers issued a reprint of the 1991 revised edition with a new cover (pictured) but identical contents.

Fonstad also made a bold attempt to fill the gaps by using early conceptual work, mainly from The Book of Lost Tales Part One and the Ambarkanta, combining the later known maps with the sketches used by Tolkien to provide "world maps" of Arda in its entirety and show Aman, Beleriand's position relative to Eriador, and the place of Númenor in the Sea.

It was, however, published before the final three volumes of The History of Middle-earth, and thus some maps are based on Tolkien's early works, which were revised in later writings.

Errors and criticism[edit]

Despite being a thoroughly researched and well-respected reference book, the Atlas is known to contain several errors. However, a number of these were corrected in the revised edition, as noted below.

Inconsistencies with earlier publications[edit]

  • Pages 4 and 5: The Grey Mountains are shown in western Haradwaith south of the Great Gulf rather than in the Southlands.[1]
  • Page 13: Nogrod is shown north of Belegost, and both south of Mount Dolmed. The Silmarillion states that Nogrod was the more southerly of the two. The Shaping of Middle-earth states that Gabilgathol (Belegost) was "north of the great height of Mount Dolmed".
  • Pages 39 and 88: On both pages, Drúwaith Iaur is shown north of the Ered Nimrais and south of the Angren, and on page 39 extending east below the Adorn. In the Unfinished Tales map, Drúwaith Iaur is in the narrow area between the ocean and the southern Ered Nimrais, south of the mouth of the Angren.[2]
  • Page 71: Hardbottle is shown in the Southfarthing rather than the Northfarthing.[3] Sackville, shown in the Southfarthing, is entirely invented (compare the Sackville Family).
  • Page 89: Tarnost is shown as a city separate from Ethring though it may be a discarded name for the latter from early drafts.[4]
  • Pages 92 and 93: Lithlad is shown in the south of Mordor rather than the northeast.
  • Page 99: It is written that Bilbo gave the Arkenstone to the Elvenking and Bard on 22 November, then Dáin arrived in the early morning on 23 November. In The Hobbit, Bilbo gave away the Arkenstone and then returned before midnight to wake up Bombur.[5] The next day, there was a new parley, it was revealed that the Elves and Men had the Arkenstone, and Thorin expelled Bilbo from the Lonely Mountain. On the next morning, Dáin arrived.[6] Fonstad's timeline has Dáin arrive in one day, while the text of The Hobbit has him arrive in two days. Either Dáin must have arrived on 24 November or Bilbo must have handed over the Arkenstone late on 21 November.
  • Page 106: In The Hobbit, the Dwarves saw a fire off in the woods. "The light was ahead of them and to the left of the path".[7] In Fonstad's map the dwarves left the path to the right. (Corrected in 2nd edition.)
  • Page 125: Combe is shown laying to the northwest of Staddle on the east side of the Bree-hill, while in fact Combe should lie a little east of Staddle's location.[8]

Inconsistencies with later publications[edit]

Both the first and second editions of the Atlas were written before the final three volumes of The History of Middle-earth were published, so at certain points it is contradicted by this later material. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which was published between the first and second editions of the Atlas, is not taken into account in the revision.

  • Page viii: Middle-earth dominates much of the northern hemisphere of Arda made round, with Forochel being high in the polar regions of the world and Umbar laying more than halfway southward between the northern pole and the equator.
    • In Letter 294, Tolkien confirms that Hobbiton is intended to be at the latitude of Oxford, with Minas Tirith 600 miles south being near to the latitude of Florence. With this information, it is clear that Middle-earth would be hardly as large as it appears on the Atlas map of a round Arda.
  • Pages 4 and 5: The Sea of Helcar is seen to cover the area of future Mordor, Khand, and Rhûn, and the Sea of Rhûn and Sea of Núrnen are shown as its remnants.
    • In The Peoples of Middle-earth, there are references to the Sea of Rhûn existing in the First Age, as well as the forest to its northeast and the hills to its southwest, indicating that it must be separate from the Sea of Helcar.
  • Pages 38 and 39: The western shores of Lindon and the Ethir Anduin are shown to exist in the Second Age of the world as they did in the Third Age.
    • The Peoples of Middle-earth tells that during the Downfall of Númenor, Lindon lost much land to the advancing shores, while the eastern and southern portions of the Bay of Belfalas retreated back, putting the city of Pelargir, which had been only a few miles from the coast, much farther inland.

Internal inconsistencies[edit]

Typographical errors[edit]

  • Page 2: Sea of Ringil is written as "Sea of Ringol".
  • Page 7: Ezellohar is written as "Ezollahar". Ilmarin is written as "Ilmaren". Eressëa is written as "Erresëa". Hyarmentir is written as "Hyamentir".
  • Pages 6 and 38: Avallónë is written as "Avalónnë" and "Avalonnë" respectively.
  • Pages 7 and 38: Alqualondë is written as "Aqualondë" and "Aqualóndë", respectively.
  • Page 13: Gabilgathol is written as "Gabilgathod".
  • Page 53: Caras Galadhon is written as "Caras Galadon".
  • Page 71: Tuckborough is written as "Tuckburrow".
  • Page 113: Bolg is written as "Borg".[6] (Corrected in 2nd edition.)
  • Page 135: Methedras is written as "Mathedras".
  • Page 148: Gamling the Old is written as "Gambling the Old".
  • Pages 189 and 190: Khuzdul, the language of the Dwarves, is labeled as "Khazâd".

Use of early sources[edit]

Fonstad uses early names from the Book of Lost Tales era of Tolkien's development of the legendarium for some locations, particularly in Aman and Tol Eressëa.

In Aman, Fonstad identifies the place where Mandos delivered the Doom of the Noldor with the early name "Hanstovánen" rather than Araman. She also describes various dwellings of the Valar in Valinor. In the Second Age map of Tol Eressëa, she uses the early names Tavrobel and Kortirion, rather than the later names "Tathrobel" and "Cortirion" for the same places.[11] In the map of Gondolin, she identifies several landmarks that are only said to exist in the earliest works.

Incorporation of these names and places on equal footing with those from later in the legendarium's evolution is questionable, but Fonstad seems to have been aware of the potential issues and explicitly notes in the accompanying text the speculative nature of the maps of the Undying Lands.

"Dor Daidelos"[edit]

One clear error relating to use of early materials appears on the maps of the far north of Beleriand in the First Age printed on pages 4, 5, and 15. In the Atlas, the lands at the foot of Thangorodrim are labeled "Dor Daedeloth (Land of Shadow Horror)" on various maps, while the wide region north of the Ered Engrin is labeled "Dor Daidelos (Region of Everlasting Cold)" (the p.15 map uses "Regions" plural).

However, the published Silmarillion uses "Dor Daedeloth" (Land of the Shadow of Horror) as the name for the northern lands under the control of Morgoth without distinguishing the regions north and south of the mountains.[12] The name "Daidelos" for the lands north of the Ered Engrin was used only on Ambarkanta Map V; in other draft material this was changed or corrected variously to "Dor-na-Dhaideloth ('Sky-roof')," "Daideloth ('High plain')," "Dor-Daidelos," "Dor-Daedeloth," and, ultimately, "Dor Daedeloth" as it appears in the published Silmarillion.[13] It seems clear from this documented evolutionary process that Tolkien intended "Dor Daedeloth" to be equivalent to, and a replacement of, the earlier term "Daidelos," not for the two to be separate coexisting regions.

As such, the label "Dor Daidelos" is in error in three ways: First, the lands north of the Ered Engrin should share the name "Dor Daedeloth" with the lands in the shadow of Thangorodrim to the south. Second, the spelling "Dor Daidelos," unhyphenated, never appears in any primary source material. Third, the translation "Region(s) of Everlasting Cold" is entirely unattested and appears to be Fonstad's own invention.