Mapping Middle Earth and Beleriand

Mapping Middle Earth and Beleriand

One of the biggest problems in creating NerdNav was finding a way to bring together the maps of Middle Earth and Beleriand so that a single dataset could be created based on Tolkien’s world.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tolkien’s work here’s a potted history. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes creation and the way the world changes over many years. During most of this time activity is largely in Valinor which is in the west of the world, but at the start of the First Age, the action switches to Beleriand which is a large area in the west of Middle Earth. At the end of the First Age, Beleriand is ruined and most of it is plunged beneath the sea. By the time of The Lord of the Rings we are in the Third Age of the world and Beleriand is long-gone.

For NerdNav I wanted to create two separate datasets, one for the First Age including Beleriand, and another for the Second and  Third Ages. However, I wanted them to be consistent, which is why I wanted to create a single map including Beleriand and the rest of Middle Earth.

Creating the map included two challenges.


JRR Tolkien created original maps of Middle Earth to support The Lord of the Rings, but he did not create a map of similar detail for Beleriand to support his larger mythology of the First Age.  It was only when his son Christopher brought together and edited his father’s works for The Silmarillion that a detailed map of Beleriand was created.

These maps had the Ered Luin (Blue Mountains) in common but while there was a scale on the original Middle Earth map, there wasn’t one on the Silmarillion map which made it difficult to pull them together.

In 1981, Karen Wynn Fonstad published The Atlas of Middle Earth which included an updated map of Beleriand, this time with a scale. However, it didn’t resolve the problem, as the scale seemed to be at odds with the scale of the Middle Earth map.

In the original Middle Earth 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. The Encyclopedia of Arda does a good job of explaining.

Having aligned the maps, it remained to include one more main feature. Angband.

It was always a disappointment to me that the original map of Beleriand did not include Morgoth’s stronghold. This was apparently down to some inconsistencies of distance in the writings, so Christopher Tolkien left it off the Beleriand Map.

Fonstad addressed this issue by including it in her Atlas, but once again the scale is open to question.

Combined Map of Middle Earth and Beleriand from 3 separate sources.
Combined Map of Middle Earth and Beleriand from 3 separate sources.

The image above combines three maps to show Middle Earth and Beleriand as a whole as they would have appeared in the First Age. On the right we have Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth. On the left we have the map of Beleriand, and at the top left is Fonstad’s extension showing Thangorodrim and Angband.

As you can see the mountains of Thangorodrim are shown as massive compared to the other mountains in the region or elsewhere in Middle Earth, and Angband is over 100 miles behind them. I felt that both of these were inconsistent with the written text, so for the purposes of NerdNav (which only considers point locations) I’ve put Angband and Thangorodrim closer to Ard Galen.

Round or Flat

In the First Age the world is flat. It is only when Beleriand is ruined and the world is changed that it becomes spherical. As you can imagine this creates a bit of a problem as NerdNav uses a standard Longituge/Latitude approach based on a spherical Earth.

To resolve the problem, both Middle Earth and Beleriand are considered to be on a spherical surface. This does introduce an error when compared to the printed map, but its very unlikely that you’d notice. After all we perceive the Earth as flat even when its not.

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