Christopher Tolkien died last week at the age of 95. The third of J.R.R. Tolkien’s four children, he was his father’s literary executor and the editor of his posthumous works. He whipped The Silmarillion into publishable shape (with the assistance of a young Canadian philosophy student named Guy Gavriel Kay, whom we would hear more from later) and edited volume after volume of his father’s early drafts and other fragmentary tales.
But before that, Christopher Tolkien was his father’s first reader—and his cartographer. And while his obituaries mention the fact that he drew the first published map of the west of Middle-earth, which appeared in the first edition of The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954, they do so in passing, the map overshadowed by his later editorial and curatorial work.
I think that’s a mistake. Christopher Tolkien’s map proved to be a huge influence on the fantasy genre. It helped set the norm for subsequent epic fantasy novels; indeed it became the norm. Epic fantasy novels would come with maps—were supposed to come with maps—and in many cases those maps would look a lot like the one drawn by Christopher Tolkien.
So it’s worth taking a closer look at this map…