The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad is a 'must-have' companion for every fan of Middle-Earth. It contains a treasure of maps and diagrams from all time periods and locations of J.R.R. Tolkien's created universe. The material in this book provides added depth to the stories, enhancing the reader's empathy for the challenges posed by the physical landscapes within which the characters of Middle-Earth strive.

The Atlas developed out of Ms. Fonstad's love of, and graduate training in, cartography. The project grew as first The Silmarillion was published followed later by the History of Middle-Earth series by Christopher Tolkien. Upon reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings she says:

"...the complexity of history, diversity of landscapes, and proliferation of places were so
overwhelming that I longed to clarify them with pen and ink for my own satisfaction...
" 1
Ms. Fonstad is as good as her word for she has examined even the 'corners' of Tolkien's world and returned with visual guides to help fans explore the many unique pathways throughout Middle-Earth.

There are maps in the Atlas to fit any reader's needs whether focused on the tales of ancient Middle-Earth or on the narratives of Bilbo or Frodo in The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, or The Return of the King. It is separated into several sections. Each section contains detailed maps of landforms, cities, and roadways that pertain to a specific period and location in Middle-Earth. The Atlas provides three dimensional graphic images to the intricate tapestry woven by Tolkien. The maps are drawn based on the published stories of Middle-Earth but rendered according to geographic principles.

Each fan will find personal favorites, but one technique everyone will appreciate is the three dimensional rendering of underground tunnels and caverns. Two examples stand out. The first is a map of Nargothrond, the hidden kingdom of Finrod Felagund. The artwork shows the surface of the surrounding hills and the River Narog while at the same time providing the viewer with an 'x-ray' perspective on the major tunnels and halls below ground. This writer has recently been focused on the story of Beren and Luthien. The map of Nargothrond provides me insight into the events where Luthien is held captive by a couple of the sons of Feanor and the secret door through which she and Huon, the hound of the Valar, escape.

The second 3D rendering shows some of the tunnels of Angband. The distance involved for Beren and Luthien to travel underground to reach the Nethermost Hall of Morgoth is staggering. The tale of Beren and Luthien does not describe the enormity of Morgoth's realm. However, Ms. Fonstad provides increased clarity and value to my experience by rendering these scenes with a geographer's eye.

Other places this three dimensional technique are used include Bilbo and the dwarves journey under the Misty Mountains, Thranduil's Caverns (from The Hobbit) as well as the Glittering Caves at Helms Deep, Orthanc, and Shelob's Lair (from The Lord of the Rings).

A partial list of the table of contents of the Atlas:

  1. The First Age

  2. The Second Age
    • Numenor and its Voyages
    • The Realms in Exile


  3. The Third Age
    • The Kingdoms of the Dunedain
    • The Great Plague
    • Wainriders and Angmar
    • Migrations of Hobbits


  4. Regional Maps

  5. The Hobbit
    • Over Hill and Under Hill: Goblin-town
    • Beorn's Wide Wooden Halls
    • Thranduil's Caverns
    • Battle of the Five Armies


  6. The Lord of the Rings

Every fan of Tolkien's stories should own a copy of The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. She vividly recreates the geography of Middle-Earth that deepens the reader's understanding and appreciation of the epic stories of J.R.R. Tolkien.



Footnotes

  1. The Atlas of Middle-Earth, page ix.

Bibliography

  • Fonstad, Karen Wynn, The Atlas of Middle-Earth, revised edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1991.

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