A charming guide to Middle Earth

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Barbara Strachey Journeys of Frodo:
an Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Unwin Paperbacks 1981

Based on Tolkien’s descriptions in The Lord of the Rings and his original paintings and drawings of Middle Earth, Journeys of Frodo tracks the routes taken by the hobbit and his companions of the Fellowship all the way to Gondor and, in the case of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, back to the Shire. Barbara Strachey had long wanted more detailed maps to follow the action and, failing the provision of a definitive atlas, embarked on the task herself despite having no background in cartography.

At the time this was published this felt to me like groundbreaking stuff with its chronologies and lunar phases, cross-referencing and discussion of inconsistencies to accompany the maps Strachey drew. In many ways it remains authoritative, if also of its time. The fifty-odd hand-drawn maps detailing each part of Frodo’s (and the others’) routes in two colours are complemented on a facing page by summaries of the related sections of the narrative, along with the author’s comments and reflections. To have the relevant pages at hand when reading the work rather than constant referral back to Tolkien’s original maps (or the re-drawn versions) in another part of the volume is certainly very useful and manageable.

The original atlas appeared in 1981, and was later republished with revisions in 1998. Nowadays I suspect that the maps would be re-jigged by professional cartographers, the chronologies dissected by Christopher Tolkien and the discussion edited by a committee. I might well buy this hypothetical new version, but for now Journeys of Frodo is a charming as well as useful guide for Middle Earth lovers embarking on their first or umpteenth reading; it certainly is less bulky and more accessible than some of the illustrated encyclopaedias I’ve seen. In view of the renewed interest in Tolkien’s world-building as the film trilogy of The Hobbit gets rolled out it’s just a shame Strachey never produced Journeys of Bilbo as a companion volume.

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10 thoughts on “A charming guide to Middle Earth

  1. Isn’t it amazing that a work of fantastic imagination can strike such creative streaks in others as well?
    Tolkien was amazing. I have a beautifully illustrated version of ‘The Children of Hurin’ which I must certainly give more attention to.

  2. My husband is a devoted Tolkien fan and has just about every book related to Middle-Earth, including this one. I’m not a huge fantasy reader in general but I do love Tolkien also and find this book very charming.

  3. Many years ago I came across Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-Earth, which serves the same purpose as the one reviewed here — my book-side reference each time I visit Tolkien’s world.

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