In early 2018 I had the idea to try and create a Google Maps-type application that would be based on Middle-earth rather than the real world.  As a Tolkien-buff since my teens I had always been fascinated by the maps of Middle-earth at the time of The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and the Silmarillion. I knew I could pull these together using some common locations, but I really wanted to expand to some locations that are written about (sometimes briefly), and fill in many of the gaps.

In the process I attempted to stay as close to the canonically accepted elements of Tolkien’s legendarium as I could.

A Landsat photo of Mount Agung (top) was the basis for Mount Doom (below)

There are two definitive map sources for Middle-earth; the original map (and its revisions) drawn by Christopher Tolkien for his father’s The Lord of the Rings which depicts Middle-earth in the Third Age of the world and a second map (and its revisions) drawn by Christopher Tolkien that shows the far west of Middle-earth in the First Age which was published in The Silmarillion.

Those two published books along with the History of Middle-earth series by Christopher Tolkien and a number of other writings are the basis for Tolkien canon.

In the LOTR map, there were several features off the west coast of Middle-earth that translated to the remains of highland regions of Beleriand before it was flooded. In particular, the island of Himling is actually the remains of the Hill of Himring. Similarly, Tol Fuin is the remains of the highland region of Taur-Nu-Fuin. Only by aligning these features between the two maps could a consistent scale be achieved.

That still left the problem of how to deal with the areas that were not shown in either map, e.g. the extreme north and south of Beleriand and the far east where the Sea of Helcar is situated.

There have been several attempts to map these areas, e.g. in JRR Tolkien’s early sketches or in Karen Wynn Fonstad’s “The Atlas of Middle Earth” published in 1981, but there’s not enough there that could definitely be canonical, certainly at the level of detail I was working at. As a result, I treated these regions with originality with no claim to them being canon.

The final elements that are difficult to resolve canonically are the Ered Luin which appear on both maps and the position of the dwarf cities among them. In attempts that I have previously seen to merge the two original Tolkien maps, there is often insufficient attention to relative scales, but even when applying the correction, the mountains in one map don’t align exactly with the mountains in the other. However, given that there is a great deal of upheaval in that region at the end of the First Age, I don’t see this as a major problem. I just tend to accept the differences in position as being the result of the ruin of Beleriand.

Clearly, there is no Middle-earth to fly satellites over, but if there was it wouldn’t look so different to our own world, so if you took high resolution satellite photos of the Earth and manipulated them, then you could produce a high resolution version of Middle-earth. I therefore downloaded TBs of satellite data from the United States Geological Survey and started work on a Photoshop project that would take 6 months to complete.

I ended up with a 32,768 x 20,480 master file that allowed me to scale down to several lower level resolutions, consistent with a zoomed out view of the world. I split all of these images into 256 x 256 pixel squares and wrote an iOS app around them that would allow users to scroll around and zoom in and out.

Once I’d retired the app from the app store I revisited the original high resolution image, made some improvements and added in more details. The NFTs I’ve created for The First Age are based on a 800 x 800 section of the map at it’s highest resolution, accompanied by a world map showing the target location.

I’ve chosen 60 locations on the basis of three parameters:

  1. Their significance during The First Age
  2. Their geographical interest
  3. Their significance during the Third Age (at the time of LOTR)

This means that although many of the places that are commonly known from LOTR are not yet populated or developed, the underlying countryside is still there and I’ve included many of those locations in the NFTs.