Middle Earth Party

Where’s the cake shop?

Middle Earth Party

Hmmm, it’s not on the map! But there are dragons and wolves, witches and camels, elephants and orcs, elves and hobbits!

Middle Earth Party

Where does Bilbo get his cakes from? He likes cakes!

Middle Earth Party

Little bears are busy reading Pauline Baynes’ poster map, published in 1970, bordered with the first illustrations of Tolkien’s characters. Pauline Baynes was the only illustrator Tolkien approved, and he also introduced her to his Oxford friend C.S. Lewis, which led to her illustrating all of his Narnia books. Tolkien and Lewis were members of The Inklings group of Oxford authors and academics. They used to meet and read from their latest work in the Eagle and Child pub, according to Oxford legend leading one disenchanted member of the circle to groan: “Oh no, not another #?%! elf.”

Pauline Baynes’ iconic poster map of Middle-earth, published in 1970. Photograph: © The Tolkien Estate
Pauline Baynes’ iconic poster map of Middle-earth, published in 1970. Photograph: © The Tolkien Estate

A map of Middle Earth, heavily annotated by J.R.R. Tolkien, has been acquired by the Bodleian library in Oxford to add to the largest collection in the world of material relating to his work, including the manuscripts of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The annotations, in green ink and pencil, demonstrate how real his creation was in Tolkien’s mind: “Hobbiton is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford,” he wrote.

The map reveals Tokien’s observation that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford. Photograph: © The Tolkien Estate/Blackwell’s Rare Books
The map reveals Tokien’s observation that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford. Photograph: © The Tolkien Estate/Blackwell’s Rare Books

The geographical pointers were intended to give Pauline Baynes guidelines about the climate of key sites in the story. “Minas Tirith is about latitude of Ravenna (but is 900 miles east of Hobbiton more near Belgrade). Bottom of the map (1,400 miles) is about latitude of Jerusalem,” he advised.

“Elephants appear in the great battle outside Minas Tirith (as they did in Italy under Pyrrhus) but they would be in place in the blank squares of Harad – also camels.”

Baynes tore the map out of her own copy and took it to Tolkien, who covered it with notes, including many extra place names that do not appear in the book. Since most were in his own invented Elvish language – spoken fluently by the many devoted fans – he helpfully translated some: “Eryn Vorn [= Black Forest] a forest region of dark [pine?] trees.”

He dictated the colours of the ships and the emblems on their sails: “Elven-ships small, white or grey … Numenorean (Gondor) Ships Black and Silver … Corsairs had red sails with black star or eye.”

The map was found in a copy of the illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Photograph: Blackwell’s Rare Books
The map was found in a copy of the illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Photograph: Blackwell’s Rare Books

After Tolkien’s first novel, The Hobbit, became a major success, he began working on a sequel, which grew into Lord of the Rings. The novels channelled a feeling of loss common throughout post-war Europe. An entire generation of young men had been wiped out in the conflict, leaving many to believe that Europe’s best days were behind it.

World War I broke out while Tolkien was a student at Oxford University. After finishing his degree, Tolkien joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as a second lieutenant.

In 1916 Tolkien was sent to France, where he and his fellow soldiers faced the terrifying new mechanisms of modern warfare — machine guns, tanks and poison gas — fighting in some of the bloodiest battles known to human history. Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme, a vicious engagement in which over a million people were either killed or wounded.

In the trenches of World War I, Tolkien began recording the horrors of war that would later surface in The Lord of the Rings. Later that year he caught trench fever, an illness carried by lice, and was sent back to England. During his convalescence, he began writing down the stories and mythology of Middle Earth, which would form the basis for The Silmarillion.

“An author cannot of course remain wholly unaffected by his experience,” Tolkien acknowledged, but he strongly denied that his story was an allegory for World War I or II. Although The Lord of the Rings was written during World War II and follows the rise of a great evil threatening to envelop the world, the ring was not meant to symbolize the atomic bomb. Likewise, the characters Sauron and Saruman, although both tyrants, are imaginary characters and are not meant to represent Hitler or Stalin.

In the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote, “By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead.” The reader cannot help but notice that the Dead Marshes of Mordor is eerily reminiscent of World War I’s Western Front and its utter devastation of life.

Tolkien’s concern for nature echoes throughout The Lord of the Rings. Evil beings of Middle Earth dominate nature and abuse it to bolster their own power. For example, Saruman, the corrupt wizard, devastates an ancient forest as he builds his army.

The Elves, in contrast, live in harmony with nature, appreciating its beauty and power, and reflecting a sense of enchantment and wonder in their artful songs.

Although born well after the industrial revolution, Tolkien witnessed the lasting effects of industry on the environment, first as a child in Birmingham and later as an adult in Oxford. Handmade products crafted in small-town shops gave way to urban factories and mechanized production. Textiles, shipbuilding, iron, and steel emerged as important industries, and the country’s population increasingly migrated to urban areas to work in the factories. Coal fueled these industries, polluting the air with black smoke and dotting the countryside with mining spoil.

While opinion polls have ranked The Lord of the Rings as one of the most popular literary works of the last century, Tolkien’s publisher initially thought this “work of genius” would lose money. And when Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy initially appeared in 1954-55, it received a mixed critical response.

Some commentators, such as C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden, declared the trilogy a masterpiece. Others, such as Mark Roberts and Edmund Wilson, thought it was juvenile trash. Auden remarked that people seemed to either love Tolkien’s work or hate it. Although there were opposing views, the books sold reasonably well and exceeded the publisher’s initial expectations.

In the 1960s the popularity of The Lord of the Rings exploded when a pirated version became available in America and as themes of resisting political corruption and preserving the natural environment resonated with the challenges readers faced in their own lives. The next explosion in popularity happened in 2001 when the first movie in the trilogy was released.

We’ll have tea cake and watch the movies!

Middle Earth Party

Middle Earth Party

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the 125th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth.

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