Maps Middle-earth Style: By Hand and by ArcGIS

John M. Nelson

Dan Bell’s career drawing maps of real-world places in the style of maps of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth continues apace; a recent piece, a map of San Francisco, got written up in the San Francisco Chronicle, and his website is full of other recent works.

But computer mapping may be about to overtake hand-drawn illustration. John M. Nelson has created an ArcGIS style that does the very thing Dan Bell does by hand: emulate the maps of Middle-earth executed by Christopher Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. The style is called, naturally, My Precious: John explains it here and here, and demonstrates the style with this map of the Americas.

There are, of course, some flaws in this method: a mechanical representation of a hand-drawn style risks falling into the uncanny valley’s cartographic equivalent, especially when mountain and forest signs are clone-stamped over large areas. And to be honest I’m not a fan of the Aniron font: those letterforms were used in the Lord of the Rings movies, but never the books’ maps, and now they’re found on damn near every Tolkien-style map, and we hates it, precious, we hates it forever. But Nelson is basically emulating modern fantasy map practice: modern fantasy maps are invariably done in Illustrator, labels are computer generated rather than hand-drawn, and hill signs are clone stamped. Applying it to real-world maps, and GIS software, is new, but a difference in degree.

Previously: Dan Bell’s ‘Tolkien-Style’ Maps of the Lake District.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.