Mapping Tolkien’s Middle-earth: A Timeline


While looking through the timeline created by Michael Friendly and Daniel J. Denis, Milestones in the History of Thematic Cartography, Statistical Graphics, and Data Visualization, I was drawn to the earliest maps and atlases. From there, I thought it would be interesting to create a timeline of maps from Middle-earth*, the fictional world created by J.R.R Tolkien.  

Maps played an integral role in Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth.  According to the Tolkien Estate he even wrote to his publisher about his process for creating his stories, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, writing, “In such a story one…must make a map and make the narrative agree.“   As a fan, I wanted to showcase the maps, which helped bring Middle-earth to life.


For this project, I used Knight Lab’s Timeline JS, an open- source tool that can be used created an interactive timeline.   

In order make the timeline, I followed the steps given on the Knight Lab’s website. I copied the Google sheets template that provided the what data was needed for the creation of the timeline which included dates, the content (headlines and text), and media options. The spreadsheet also allowed for some customization through the use of HTML tags along with background choices.

After filling in the spreadsheet, I then published the Google sheet to the web. Finally, I copied the URL and entered it into the Knight Lab generator which created a link and embedded code needed to share the timeline.

For the data needed in order to create the timeline, I relied on better-known fan websites dedicated to Tolkien and his works. Predominantly used was Tolkien Gateway and Middle-earth Xenite.  Wikipedia pages dedicated the timeline’s subject was also used. Due to the passionate nature of Tolkien’s fandom and cross checking the information, I felt confident with the data (dates and images) I used in the timeline. I was also able to use personal copies of Tolkien’s books as references, albeit not first editions.


The publication of the works about Tolkien’s Middle-earth was very much fan driven, most of it being published posthumously and edited by his son Christopher.  Because of this, I wanted the timeline to mimic when the different maps of MIddle-earth became available to fans. In order to create this narrative I used the year of publication of the map, and the corresponding book it was published in, as my dates in the timeline.

Two exceptions were made for entering dates on the timeline. One being, the “Annotated Map”, which was never published. This was due to a discussion with some fellow classmates about creating a clearer narrative and the year it created was used (instead of the found date of 2016, when it was made public). The second being the Interactive map, which is an online fan-made project, where the date used is the copyright date of the website.   

I decided to use the thumbnail media option to showcase the cover art of the first edition of the book a map was published in. I felt that this was important as Tolkien’s works have gone through many printings, revisions, and editions. Due to the obstacle of not having access to primary resources, I also used this function as an alternative to linking references.

When entering data into the fields on the spreadsheet I took advantage of HTML customization such as the <em> tag in order to italicise book titles and <a ref> tag to link online references.

Click on the image above to view the interactive timeline.

Future Direction

If I had more time to work on this project, I would like to textually expand upon each of the maps found in the timeline.  I feel like this would have taken a lot more research and expertise due to the enormity of scope of Tolkien’s world building. I did not want to do a poor job and alienate folks who were unfamiliar with Tolkien and his work by getting bogged down in too much detail that I, as a fan, would take for granted.

I would have added more fan made maps. This would reinforce how passionate Tolkien’s fans are and the important role they played for publications on Middle-earth.

I think it would have been interesting to be able to include more details on how the Lord of the Ring Project was actually made, perhaps by emailing the creator for details.

Lastly, I would fine-tooth comb edit the timeline for spelling and grammatical errors along with adding more <a ref> tags for references.

*Please note: I am using the name Middle-earth throughout this report to lessen confusions for readers not familiar with Tolkien’s work. Middle-earth is actually just one continent of Tolkien’s fictional world but because it is the setting where most of his legendarium takes place is most well known.