Best Tolkien maps?

Someone must know the best source for useful maps of the Tolkien books.

I’ve always had trouble finding maps claiming authority that also work well as a visual reference for any of the books, something receiving general acceptance among knowledgeable fans and serious critics. Most maps are too stylized to be useful (yes, I realize it’s a Quest fantasy, but it’s also a work of literary merit with much geographical detail, and geography is often a key part of the story).

My understanding is that Tolkien never produced such maps, but that his son and some others have done work on this.

Is there today something approaching an accepted canon of maps? If not, where can I find the best working examples?

Fan based book: The Atlas of Middle Earth

I like that one.

Online, I found this site that claims these were maps drawn by one of the Tolkiens:

Yes, I would say this is the one to get.

The maps produced by Fostad were done in contact with with JRRT when he was alive. I don’t know that they have his “blessing”, but the author certainly sought his guidance. IMO they’re a very good attempt to reconcile the text of the book against geographical features in ME. Recommended.

Barbara Strachey also did a similar book called Journeys of Frodo, which has the actual routes she’s worked out with milages, etc. marked in red on the 50 maps which I don’t think the other atlas has. But the Fonstad atlas is more comprehensive overall.

Yep, those look like the official maps as drawn by Christopher Tolkien. The books were released with several maps. The Hobbit has had up to three maps, one of the Shire, one of Wilderland (both drawn by Christopher for his father), and third one of the lonely mountain drawn by JRR himself. The various Lord of the Rings books have contained the Shire map, a map of Middle Earth and a topographical style map of Gondor and Mordor. All of these were also drawn by Christopher. And the main Middle Earth map was edited and re-drawn after JRR’s death in the 70s to clean it up. The Silmarillion also has traditionally had a Christopher map of Beleriand. All of Christopher’s maps were all black line art. Some had red lettering.

There have been any number of fan based maps since then. The Karen Fonstad atlas is very good, but has been criticized by other fans for minor discrepancies and the like. None of these should bother you at all. There are also a number of maps that are derivatives of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) products from the 80s and 90s. For some reason they significantly widened Christopher’s maps and enlarged Mordor by quite a bit. Unfortunately most later products and fan maps derive from the MERP maps instead of going back to Christopher’s originals. The most recent commercial product are a series of poster maps by Daniel Reeve. They were produced for the Movies and are used throughout. They are pretty and faithful to the original maps. I’ve got a framed copy of the Shire above my PC right now. But they are getting harder to find as the years pass.

Thanks for all the good answers and commentary on this. I appreciate it very much.

Karen Wynn Fonstad is the gold standard for fantasy atlases (she also published atlases of Pern, Thomas Covenant’s The Land, Krynn (Dragonlance) and Forgotten Realms (D&D)). Sadly, she passed away in 2005.

This thread is actually kind of timely since Fonstad’s Middle-Earth atlas is my current leaf-through book for when I’m smoking.

At Marquette (where a lot of JRRT original manuscripts are kept), one of the coolest things I saw was JRRT’s travel time / distance / moon phase tables
(on the back of a Oxford menu)