Mapping Middle-earth: tracing environmental and political narratives in the literary geographies and cartographies of J.R.R Tolkien's Legendarium
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/06/2021
In 1954, shortly before the publication of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to friend and author Naomi Mitchison, “I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit” (Letters 177). This reciprocal relationship between map and story is integral to understanding broader narratives about the interaction between humans and their environment in Tolkien’s legendarium. Tolkien’s corpus of maps acts as far more than paratextual material for the external reader’s understanding of the narrative; rather, it indicates a subcreated tradition of cartography that articulates particular power dynamics between the map maker, the map reader, and what is being mapped, that are expressed both through the maps and in the wider legendarium. Tolkien positions cartography as an inherently political act that embodies a desire for totalising understanding and control of its subject matter; this problematizing of external control then enables a critique of harmful contemporary engagements with land that intersect with but also move beyond cartography, namely environmental damage, human-induced geological change, and the natural and bodily costs of political violence and imperialism. Using historical, ecocritical, and postcolonial frameworks, this thesis argues that Tolkien employs particular generic characteristics such as medievalism, fantasy, and the interplay between image and text, in order to highlight and at times even correct his contemporary socio-political context and its destructive relationship with the wider world, through both narrative and cartographic expression.