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The Lord of the Rings Maps: The Real History

October 17, 2011 at 11:36 am by xoanon  - 

Lydia writes: TheOneRing.net very kindly posted a press release I submitted on June 20, 2010 entitled ‘British artist, who drew the maps for J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ visits the USA’ and I am writing hoping that you will upload another article.

I am the daughter of Stephen Raw, (said British artist) and have been tasked to promote the limited edition copies of the original maps. Looking on your blog, I am astounded that the real story of the map does not appear to be common knowledge among your readership. In a bid to change this I have written the following article in response to a posting from September of 2010, ‘Why are there no ‘towers of a distant city‘ by Ringer Squire.

This is in part a response to the essay posted on this site in September of 2010, ‘Why are there no ‘towers of a distant city’ on the map of Middle-earth. In his piece, Ringer Squire shares his surprise at how Tolkien, despite his visual talents, failed to use the maps to their full potential, describing them as ‘a rather unsatisfactory use of space’. He explains that his disappointment steams from the idea that Tolkien ‘resisted seeing a map as another excellent way to sub-create a world. [Rather they] were always just organizers: they only echoed the text, they never extended it. They don’t tell us, all by themselves, that further stories exist’

In response to this critique, one blogger seeks to explain why Tolkien ‘decided’ to omit place names that were not paramount to the narrative of the story, saying that Tolkien was limited by the technology available to him that would have helped him fill in the blanks (‘Phil’). Similarly, those justifying Tolkien’s ‘simple’ maps point out that, reassert that while Tolkien was not a bad artist, his real talents was writing (‘Keith Moon Lives’). Perhaps, most convincingly, this same source reminds us that, if the maps added the place names of other worlds not included main story, the vast majority of the readership would be alienated, finding it ‘cluttered and difficult to sort through’.

My understanding is none of the above. Rather it seems obvious that the simplicity of the maps must have been dictated by the capabilities of the printing press at the time the book was first published – small enough to fit in a standard 6×9 paperback book, and of course black and white. Therefore to agree with Keith Moon Lives, Tolkien appeared to be looking after the majority of his readership by creating maps that could accompany every copy of the text. Looking at the style of maps also reinforces my theory, recognizing that the symbols used are themselves simple but unique. An experienced reader has probably become slightly desensitized to the funny little trees, mountains and shading of the sea that are actually quite unusual. The maps are, therefore in my mind, the perfect guide for new and old readers to navigate their way thought Tolkien’s world while at the same time satisfying the demands of J.R.R Tolkien’s first publishers who must have been acutely aware of the limits of mass printing.

The following is true about the maps in The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien did not draw the maps to accompany The Lord of the Rings, rather he commissioned his son, the much less gifted artist, Christopher Tolkien. They were originally added as a fold out end paper probably four pages wide by two or three pages in height and were originally produced in black and red. Clearly this edition did not last long. As the books became increasingly popular and printing techniques became more advanced, the previously expensive method of attaching the maps to the back of edition was ditched. In their place reproductions of Christopher Tolkien’s original maps were reduced in size and quartered so they could be reproduced yet again and fit in the back of the paperback edition. During this process, as is always the case when reproducing printing, certain details were lost and the images became distorted over time. For example the original hatching that Christopher first drew on the mountains started to appear solid, partly caused when the images were reduction in size but also due to the ‘fluffy’ paper used in paperback publications.

In a bid to recapture these details and to provide the reader with a high quality and clear guide, Haper Collins publishers commissioned Stephen Raw to redraw the maps under the tutelage of Christopher Tolkien himself. The brief was to keep the original ‘feel’ of the map while making sure that legibility, when reproduced at the size of a paperback maintained. The project took over a year to complete. During that time size trials were made and corrections and questions went to and fro between Stephen Raw and Christopher Tolkien. Through hand written letters they confirmed small details, constantly ensuring that the new maps were bound to the Tolkien legacy. Finally, in April 1994 the final artwork for all seven maps was delivered to the publishers. The new edition of The Lord of the Rings, published later that year, was printed with the new maps and all subsequent English editions have included them. Christopher Tolkien wrote ‘A Note on the Maps’ (page 1140 of the one-volume edition) in which he gives an explanation of the background to the maps.

In light of this, it is difficult to imagine what J.R.R. Tolkien’s real intentions were for the maps at all. If he did not draw the original, it is impossible to say why he omitted certain details and added them elsewhere. The real mystery is why J.R.R. Tolkien, as an accomplished artist and cartographer himself, asked his son to produce the books most important illustrations. Perhaps it was because he was concentrating on his writing.

Written by Lydia Raw, daughter of Stephen Raw, cartographer of all printed The Lord of the Rings Maps, since 1994.

A strictly limited edition of the maps for the new edition of the book ‘The Lord of the Rings’ have been printed with the kind permission of the J R R Tolkien Estate and are available to purchase for $550 plus P&P. Please visit www.tolkienmaps.com for more information or contact tolkienmaps@gmail.com to order a set.

Posted in Lord of the Rings, Merchandise, Other Merchandise, Tolkien on October 17, 2011 by