While it’s true that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is more than half a century old, that doesn’t lessen its cultural impact in the slightest. It’s a seminal part of the fantasy genre, a trendsetter in more ways than one - and audiences the world over were reminded of that fact with the blockbuster movie trilogy of the early 2000s. Still, it all started with the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, and by extension the writer’s sharp wits. As it so happens, fans of his work may have found one of the biggest insights into his writing process to date.

The insight in question comes from a map Tolkien himself scribbled on furiously - but not a map he worked on alone, or even claimed full ownership of.

The annotated map was found in a copy of The Lord of the Rings owned by Pauline Baynes, a British illustrator who worked on art for dozens of prolific books; she ended up doing art for Tolkien’s works, but did so via close collaboration with the author. As a result, the map stayed hidden from prying eyes for ages. With Baynes’ passing in 2008, the map - and the book that hid it - made its way into Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford; Tolkien and Baynes’ project has since gone on sale for nearly $92,000, but the information it contains is still priceless.

There and back again

With a weighty trilogy to his name, Tolkien likely had no shortage of details to divulge. That shines through with the map he annotated alongside Baynes, in addition toa number of other important facets.

According to the notes, several of the areas that appear in Middle-Earth are loosely based on sites in the real world. For example, Hobbiton - a village in the Shire, and home to the hobbits - has the same latitude as Oxford; Belgrade, Cyprus, and Jerusalem are all used as reference points, while Italian city Ravenna served as the inspiration behind the capital city of Minas Tirith.

On top of all that, Tolkien’s furious notes reveal that he took the flora and fauna of each area into consideration.

Even though the annotated map was a collaborative process, Tolkien’s handiwork has proven overpowering. Baynes offered suggestions, naturally, but the names of places were added and corrected liberally, and a slew of suggestions appear on the map.

Baynes mentioned in diary entries that Tolkien could prove difficult to work with, and the recent find shows exactly why: his near-obsessive attention to detail would have likely driven any normal man to madness. Despite that, the process belongs in full to Tolkien, and now there’s an in-depth look at his creative process.

It wasn’t sheer luck that Tolkien’s works became the global tour de force that they are today. With the map on full display and ready for sale, even a casual fan has more proof of that than ever.

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