Christopher Tolkien, the third son of J. R. R. Tolkien and the executor of his literary estate and editor of his posthumous works, died yesterday at the age of 95. But one of his legacies is likely to be overlooked: he drew the map of Middle-earth that appeared in the first edition of The Lord of the Rings. That map proved hugely influential. It helped set the norm for subsequent epic fantasy novels: they would come with maps, and those maps would look rather a lot like the one drawn by Christopher Tolkien.
Christopher Tolkien himself was self-deprecating about the execution of his map, and about the design choices he made. Regarding a new version of the map he drew for Unfinished Tales, he took pains to emphasize that
the exact preservation of the style and detail (other than nomenclature and lettering) of the map that I made in haste twenty-five years ago does not argue any belief in the excellence of its conception or execution. I have long regretted that my father never replaced it by one of his own making. However, as things turned out it became, for all its defects and oddities, “the Map,” and my father himself always used it as a basis afterwards (while frequently noticing its inadequacies).
However hastily it was drawn, it was pivotal all the same.
Bert and I only knew each other online, and that mostly via what we posted. In fact, we made a regular habit of stealing each other’s links. He’d share many of The Map Room’s posts on the WMS Facebook group, and many of my posts had their origins in something Bert posted on the WMS Facebook group.
An obituary and funeral details are still to come.
The influential geographer Waldo R. Tobler died last month at the age of 88. Tobler, who taught at the University of Michigan and UC Santa Barbara, was best known for his First Law of Geography, which he coined in 1970: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” See obituaries from the AAG and UC Santa Barbara.
According to a Facebook post by the Washington Map Society’s Bert Johnson, Rodney W. Shirley, the author of several books of cartographic antiquarian research, including The Mapping of the World, Courtiers and Cannibals, Angels and Amazons, and other titles on early printed maps, died last Saturday. I have not been able to find an obituary or other notice; I will update this post if I do.