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on December 29, 2009
A few previous reviewers have attempted to sully this product with claims of inaccuracy; one in particular (Mr. Martinez) has stayed on this item's main page for years and is considered helpful by 85% of responders. He rants in two separate reviews and with multiple paragraphs that Fonstad didn't do her homework and that this is overall a "bad" piece of work. Despite these claims staying largely unsubstantiated even after Mr. Martinez's second review (he names a few of these errors in both reviews, but claims there are too many errors to tabulate), many other reviewers have referenced Mr. Martinez's review as if it is authoritative; that, along with the fact that many hundreds of others have clicked the little button that says Mr. Martinez's comments have been helpful to them (indicating perhaps that they have not purchased this book thanks to Mr. Martinez) is what urges me to write this review.

Since I am not a cartographer nor a Tolkien expert I cannot comment on the veracity of Mr. Martinez's claims; his overall picture, however, is so negative that once I had this item (the only one like it on the market currently) I spent some time comparing the book to the Lord of the Rings itself, and used it as a guide on my first complete read-through of The Hobbit since I was a child. I have walked away totally satisfied by Fonstad's book, with only a few minor criticisms. As a Tolkien fan who is working his way through a casual Tolkien survey, I can say that Mr. Martinez's vitriolic critique is totally wrong-headed. His error lies in his presuppositions: 1) that Middle-Earth is a complete and real thing, not something created by a man; he therefore assumes that Middle-Earth is always consistent and requires no interpretive work as regards its geography, and 2) that the only audience for this book is scholarly, and therefore scholarly exactitude is required in marking its worth.

On the first point, Mr. Martinez assumes that there is a "right answer" to the geography of Middle-Earth, and that clearly Fonstad has not got it. Fonstad is sweeping in her scope and level of detail, but she is upfront about her assumptions and guesses, never presenting herself as anyone more than a skilled cartographer trying to make as much sense of this varied world as possible. The amount of time Tolkien spent creating his universe, from the early 1900s to his death, should indicate that HIS errors were unavoidable without major revision. See also The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion for details on Tolkien's mistakes (geographical and otherwise), which do not destroy his work, but nonetheless do exist.

Fonstad's book is in many ways putting pieces together that weren't made to fit, and for this it should not be considered authoritative unless considering the absence of any competing atlases. Certainly someone should make a competing Atlas, but considering the contradictions inherent in Tolkien's works, it would be no more "correct" on many points than Fonstad's (though I'm sure many errors could be removed). It is in this sense that any atlas of Middle-Earth (as any illustration of Middle-Earth) should be considered "interpretive."

As for the second point, Mr. Martinez rates the product as 2 out of 5 stars and says "Tolkien readers need a new cartographical reference. Hopefully, one will come along some day that doesn't look this bad." Here Mr. Martinez is specifically speaking about Tolkien readers, not scholars; he writes his review as if the average or even enthusiastic Tolkien reader could not garner any joy from this book. Fonstad doubtless has made mistakes, especially considering that she published her revision prior to Christopher Tolkien releasing the entire "History of Middle-Earth" series. I noticed one or two general mistakes myself, though nothing that has destroyed my confidence in the general quality of her book; I must again reiterate that Fonstad consistently states where she draws her conclusions from, and therefore the reader is encouraged to test her words against Tolkien's text. Mr. Martinez's time would be better spent listing and compiling these mistakes rather than dissuading readers from consulting the only available Middle-Earth atlas.

Fonstad's book really is a work of criticism, pointing out the grandeur, the consistency, and occasionally the mistakes in Tolkien's work. When shining a light on The Hobbit, Fonstad's book shows us how truly inadequate its geography and timeline is when compared to the Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien was much more consistent. It is immeasurable how valuable Fonstad's book has been for readers like me. This is without mentioning that the scholars Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull reference her work three times in their authoritative The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion.

The best "negative" review on Amazon about this work is by Wade West "Glorfindel" who offers a highly critical four-star review that is qualified by his endorsement to purchase the book. To say it clearly: if you need a LotR map or want help visualizing Tolkien's world, get this book. Like everything else written on Tolkien, it is a start, not an end.
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on May 14, 2000
If you've ever been one flipping to the maps in "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings" , or "The Silmarillion" to see where the action is taking place, then this book is for you.
Karen Wynn Fonstad has done a remarkable job of mapping Middle-earth. The atlas is broken down into various sections, each easy to navigate to find what you're looking for.
The First Age section is perfect for readers of "The Silmarillion", all the important places are mapped along with ample notes and observations.
The Second Age deals with the fall of Numenor, a worthy companion to those reading "Unfinished Tales".
The majority of the book deals with the Third Age. This is where "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" takes place. There are maps showing the kingdoms of the Dunedain as well as the migration of the dwarves and the hobbits.
There are regional maps detailing the Shire, the Misty Mountains, Eriador, and Mordor. Two lengthy sections are devoted to the Hobbit and LotR, showing all the key places in the books. Fantastic maps to look over again and again.
Towards the end of the book are included the thematic maps. Very interesting. These show the landforms, climate, vegetation, population and languages spoken.
Overall, if you're remotely interesting in learning more about Middle-earth, or you're just interested in great maps, pick this up. Enjoy.
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on October 11, 2000
The Atlas of Middle-Earth is an excellent work of geographic reasoning in the great tradition of Eratostenes. The attention to detail, the realism in the drawings, and the breadth of topics in this book are difficult to measure. I am a professional geographer, and I understand how labor-intensive the completion of this book must have been. Literally thousands of decisions made by Mrs. Fonstad had to fit with Tolkien's descriptions and intentions. That Tolkien's descriptions can stand up to such scrutiny of accuracy and internal consistency is a testament to Tolkien's magic (many authors' designed worlds do not).
I also wish to dispell a misconception by an earlier reviewer. The review by Linards Ticmanis from Germany is in error about Mrs. Fonstad's portrayal of the world maps. He suggested that her maps show a world "only half as large as the real earth" and that Tolkien has designed Arda to be Earth (although Tolkien denied that Middle-Earth was Europe in The Lost Road, p. 25). However, the radius of the planet can be calculated from her maps by placing an orthographic projection diagram with lines of latitude and longitude on top of her maps (her world maps are orthographic projections). When a degree of longitude or latitude is compared to its ground distance (supplied by reading Tolkien), it is quite easy to calculate the radius of the planet, approximately 4200 miles (6770 km). This compares to 3963 miles (6378 km) radius for the earth. These two measurements are very similar, and the idea that Mrs. Fonstad's maps show a world that is "only half as large as the real earth" is in error. In any case, the Atlas of Middle-Earth is about as "Tolkien Purist" as you can get; and this adds to its value immensely.
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on December 23, 2002
The Lord of the Rings (LotR) is an incredibly complex story spanning hundreds of people (elves, men, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, etc) and thousands of miles. The geography is immense and it can be a little difficult to keep track of all the places and structures (unless you take notes as you read). The maps presented as part of the appendix is good, but not enough.
The Atlas of Middle-earth is a superb companion not only to The Lord of the Rings, but to The Silmarillion, and to anyone interested in Tolkien. The book is ideally divided into ages (there are 3 ages described), with short descriptions of the significant happenings. The major battles of LotR are presented here, with maps that show major movements of all sides, plus tables that show how many troops were involved. It adds to the richness of LotR by giving the reader a good and firm perspective of the land the people live in, how they lived, and the battles fought. For LotR, you will be able to visulaize the movements of the Fellowship and realize how perfectly each of the separate movements (of the Companions) came together at the end--like an elegant chess movement.
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on December 31, 2002
The last time I re-read LORD OF THE RINGS I kept this book beside me. Every time Frodo's or Aragorn's journey changed I referred to the maps in Fonstad's book. I understood Tolkien's geography so much better that way. And I got a better understanding of distances and travel time (how far *is* Isengard from Rohan??). The maps are detailed, yet easy to read. Fonstad's text is enlightening as well. Not only are geographical maps included, but also architectural maps: Bag End, Rivendell, and more! For the Tolkien aficionado, Fonstad has mapped the Silmarillion and for the Tolkien neophyte she's included maps that accompany The Hobbit. A timeline of RINGS is included as well - very helpful since Tolkien, unlike Peter Jackson's movie, does not "intercut" between Frodo and Aragorn's stories, but instead spends many chapters with each.
Why is this book better than the maps that Tolkien drew himself for the books? Because Fonstad traces the complete journey in several maps that show topography and routes taken.
I highly recommend trying to read Tolkien's books with Fonstad's maps close by for reference.
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on March 23, 2003
I have read the Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy seven times. I have seen all the movies, good and bad, and seen many local productions. I have listened to many radio plays (the 13-CD BBC production is one of my favorites), often several times. I mention those just to say that my standards are high.
Recently, I was looking for some detailed maps online. I looked many places. Most of them were disappointing and none met my needs. When I read the reviews for this book, I was very excited, but tried to keep my hopes in check. There was no need -- this book met my needs and then some.
The maps are done by a professional cartographer and it shows in the excellent quality and care for detail. The two-color (black and red, with shades) maps are drawn clearly and detailed. I never had to squint to read the lettering.
The summary sections are well-informed, with references for more support for the reader, and covering a wide area of time and topic. Look at the table of contents on Amazon and you will see the wide coverage. Split into sections by the different ages, the sections covering the LotR is detailed. Geographical areas are covered as are the travels of the different parties. Even tables of days and distance and speed are laid out very well.
The last section has information on landforms, climate, vegetation, population and languages. Interesting reading that was totally unexpected.
This truly is a work of love and worth every penny.
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on August 12, 2002
I ought to preface this review by saying that I've had the opportunity to meet Dr. Fonstad, who until retiring recently was a cartographer in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, through a talk she gave in an introductory cartography class about her work.
That having been said, if you're looking for a glitzy book of slick pictures of Bilbo, Frodo & Co.'s wanderings, don't buy this book. If you're looking for an exhaustively researched, meticulously prepared visual guide to Tolkien's world, don't look any further. Rather than detract from the Atlas, the hand-drawn plates fit in rather nicely, with a warm, old-fashioned feel, dovetailing nicely with the style of the books.
However, the Atlas is not a slave to Tolkien's words. There are many instances where what is described word-for-word in print is physically impossible, even by Middle-Earth standards. Rather than shoehorn her maps into these impossibilities, Dr. Fonstad chose to preserve Tolkien's vision of a believable world, and created a geographically consistent structure throughout. Far from heresy, this serves to enhance and reinforce the vision presented in the Atlas.
As exhaustive as the information in the Atlas is, it would be very difficult to come up with a perfect layout and presentation. It can be a bit difficult to use and sort through, especially when you first pick it up. But, with a little practice, and a little patience, it will serve you as faithfully as did the little map in the front of your paperback copy of The Hobbit the first time you read it.
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on January 22, 2000
Lord of the Rings is an amazing book. The Atlas of Middle Earth is an amazing companion volume to go with it. Unlike Pern, Middle Earth is far too complex to visualize perfectly, and the atlas of it is a remarkable (and perfectly accurate) resource. All of the maps are annotated and all the sources are quoted on those very pages. Likewise, maps of all scales are provided - from the grand global views to small views of towns and single buildings. Everything is done in a marvelous sepia hue, The book almost passes for an ancient manuscript.
This work is, without argument, the most necessary resource for someone embarking to read any of Tolkien's books.
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on September 3, 2005
To be sure this is an wonderful resource for everyone from the casual reader to the Tolkien devotee. It puts onto paper what so many Tolkien fans must be struggling to visualize in their minds as they read his various works. It is indispensable for the lover of Middle Earth. In recognition of this awesome achievement and the fascinating images readers are made privee to by this atlas I give this four stars. That being said I was dissappointed with the rather large number of errors. No dedicated Tolkien enthusiast would be able to read this without cringing often over some inexplicable and obvious mistakes, some of which must be editorial (names and dates wrong, the text contradicting itself or conflicting with the maps, etc). As it stands the atlas can't be accepted as "canon" to a large degree. Also, while the cartographer/author is a fan of the books and the genre in general, she fails at times to substitute fantasy for logic. The "Primary World" she writes of provides too much inspiration for her while the "Secondary World" is repressed. She also does not seem to have an appropriate sensibility toward the elements of Medieval literature and Norse Mythology which were such an unmistakable impact on Tolkien and his work. For example, she describes the problems of how land forms could have developed quickly not fully granting the Valar the divine powers they deserve. I echo the call of one of the other reviewers for a newer edition. Perhaps I'm too hard on Ms. Fonstad, but she or someone else needs to replace what is currently available.
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on September 9, 2002
Again, this review is addressed to LOTR fans who have wandered onto this page and are wondering whether this book is worth their hard-earned money.
Karen Fonstad brought the eye of a scientist to the art of Tolkien to produce one of the must useful supplements to LOTR and especially the Silmarillion that I've ever found.
Fonstad fills in many of the details of Tolkien's world, using her skills as a cartographer to make incredibly detailed maps and drawings (many taken from Tolkien's own maps and drawings that never made it into LOTR) of the locations in the books. You will now know exactly where everything in the novel is located and what it looks like.
However, this book is not really that much of a complement to LOTR. Tolkein described everything in that story in fairly explicit detail. The REAL strength of this book are the maps and detailed decription of the events BEFORE the journey of the hobbits. It includes many many detailed maps of the world during the first three ages, as well as summations of the history. You will finally know where the wainriders came from, how the war of the Last Alliance was fought, where numenor was, how the War of the Jewels was fought. The section on the Lord of the Rings is actually the least interesting part of the book (which is praising with faint damnation -- the only way you could know more about the journey of Frodo is if he'd been on CNN).
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