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The third installment of the Hobbit movies, The Battle of the Five Armies, is about to be released, so there’s no better time to check out some maps of Middle Earth.  Three Lord of the Rings movies and three Hobbit movies have taken place there, meaning that this is one of the most familiar fantasy realms for moviegoers in recent years.  But readers of J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic novels have been gleefully jumping into Middle Earth for decades now.  Tolkein is the grandfather of modern fantasy, and the map of the world he created reveals why his stories have managed to captivate the imaginations of so many dedicated fans.  Middle Earth is eerie, mysterious, and magical.  It is just the kind of place that fantasy fans love to step into, if only briefly.

Here is one map of Middle Earth, which was created by Pauline Baynes in 1970.  Not only does it include all the locations from the novels, but illustrations of the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring at the top, and malevolent forces in pursuit at the bottom.

It is a very well-made map for the setting portrayed, because it captures the unique aura of Middle Earth.  There is a strong sense of danger, but also of valor, in this land which plays host to such epic battles between good and evil.

For Tolkein fans who want to get closer to the action, there are also some very cool interactive maps online.   One of them, which is affiliated with Warner Brothers as part of the promotion for the upcoming film release, can be accessed at the following link: http://middle-earth.thehobbit.com/map/.  This link provides not just a large, topographical map which can be explored, but it lets you choose one of the main heroes from LOTR or The Hobbit and follow his journey.  At last, you can follow in the footsteps of a hobbit such as Bilbo or Frodo as they leave the Shire and cross the vast territory of Middle Earth.

At each stop in the hero’s journey, you can zoom in to the location, find out more about what happened there, and even watch film clips relevant to the location.  But there’s even more!  Scattered throughout Middle Earth are several “battlegrounds” which you can join.  Select a character and a race (such as elf or dwarf) and you can fight against computer characters or other players.  I didn’t spend much time playing around with it, but it looks like you can invite friends to build up your own armies to face off against other armies.  Essentially, this is a map which doubles as a videogame.

Now, if you’re looking for an interactive map which doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but lets you view all the paths of all the heroes and the locations of major events all one screen, then I highly recommend this link: http://lotrproject.com/map/#zoom=3&lat=-1315.5&lon=1500&layers=BTTTTT.  The LOTR project lets you select which paths you want to view, scan through timelines of events, and even browse through several detailed demographic charts on the inhabitants of Middle Earth.  How some people are able to compile some of this exhaustive data is beyond me, but then again, I suppose my nerdiness knows some bounds.

Happy mapping!