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The Atlas of Middle-earth

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The Atlas of Middle-Earth
The Atlas of Middle-earth.jpg
AuthorKaren Wynn Fonstad
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Released29 May 1981
1991 (revised edition)

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.

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 were published, and thus some maps are based on Tolkien's early works, which were revised in later writings.

Errors and criticism

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.

  • Page 12 and page 53: Dorthonion and Himring are located slightly above parallel J. However much later, Tol Fuin and Himling are seen much northern, above parallel I.
  • Pages 38 and 41: Belegost has been moved 150 miles further south than previously shown to the middle of the southern Blue Mountains.
  • Pages 39 and 88: 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 53: Caras Galadhon is written "Caras Galadon".
  • Pages 53, 76, and 80: On page 53, Rhosgobel is located near the border of Mirkwood well south of the Old Forest Road, due east of Moria. On pages 76 and 80, Rhosgobel is still at the edge of the forest, but north of the Old Forest Road. One or the other location should have been used, not both.
  • Page 71: Tuckborough is written "Tuckburrow".
  • Page 92 and 93: The location of Lithlad is given as being 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 and it was revealed that the elves and the men had the Arkenstone, and Thorin expelled Bilbo from the Lonely Mountain. On the next morning, Dáin arrived.[6] Fonstad had Dáin arriving in one day, the text of The Hobbit had him arriving 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 113: The leader of the goblins is named "Borg". It should be Bolg,[6] which is twice printed correctly on the preceding page. (Corrected in 2nd edition.)
  • Page 125: The map of Bree and the surrounding towns, 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]
  • Page 135: In the map of Orthanc, the last peak is named "Mathedras" instead of "Methedras".
  • Page 148: Gamling the Old is called "Gambling the Old".
  • Page 189: The language of the Dwarves is labeled "Khazâd" instead of Khuzdul.

The usage of early concepts of the The Book of Lost Tales Part One alongside the established canon, are also arguably controversial. In Aman, Fonstad identified the early name "Hanstovánen" and also she points out the dwellings of the Valar in Valinor. The same happens with Tol Eressëa whose (tentative) maps portray Tavrobel and Kortirion as well as some places in Gondolin.

Post-publication Canon

Since the Atlas was published before the publication of the final three volumes of The History of Middle-earth and did not take Tolkien's letters into account, her maps bear some contradictions to later established canon concerning Middle-earth's geography.

  • 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 - 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. The Orocarni in the East are approximately 800 to 1700 miles away from the Misty Mountains.
    • 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.
    • The Peoples of Middle-earth also indicates that the distance between the Orocarni in the East and the Misty Mountains, specifically Gundabad, was said to be as great or greater than that of Gundabad's distance to the Blue Mountains in the West.[9]
  • Pages 38 - 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.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, "V. The Ambarkanta: Of the Fashion of the World" p. 239
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, Index, "Map"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari", Note 4
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "A Thief in the Night"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Clouds Burst"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "Of Dwarves and Men"