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Journeys of Frodo: Atlas of J.R.R.Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" - Barbara Strachey

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Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Author: Barbara Strachey / Edition: New edition / Paperback / 112 Pages / Book is published 1998-11-20 by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

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      06.02.2010 17:33
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      A labour of love

      I have long had a bit of a love-hate relationship with "The Lord of the Rings". JRR Tolkien's masterpiece it most assuredly is, and a great deal more accessible to less intense readers than the likes of "The Silmarillion", but I can never quite make my mind up about it. One problem I've always had is in trying to follow the geography of the story as the action jumps around from place to place so much. Barbara Strachey's "Journeys of Frodo" has gone some way to clearing up some of that confusion.

      There are at least two editions of this book around. The late-1980s one I have is published by Unwin Paperbacks, the descendants of that Allen & Unwin which published Tolkien's work and is now part of Rupert Murdoch's enormous HarperCollins empire. It is a fairly simple production, in "cartoon omnibus" format (think of a Giles cartoon annual) and with the cover taken up by a map from inside the book (with much more colour added). It looks fine, but not particularly striking. On the other hand, there is also a reissue from 1998 which is graced by a stunningly coloured painting showing scenes from Middle-Earth; this is the cover shown by Dooyoo.

      Barbara Strachey is not a name that means anything to me beyond the fact that she wrote this book, but the biographical note on the back cover tells us that she is not a cartographer or professional artist, but simply a long-standing lover of the story who wished she could have better maps to accompany them and in the end decided to draw them herself. Her careful study of Tolkien's words as well as the pictures he himself drew over the years has certainly paid off, as although you would not mistake the maps for those of a specialist they are useful throughout.

      There are 51 maps in all, arranged so that they follow the story of "The Lord of the Rings" in as close to chronological order as is practically possible. All are drawn entirely by hand, and despite a minimum of colour (red and black are the only inks used) are clear and accurate. Accompanying each map is a scale of miles - important, as the areas covered on each page differ greatly - as well as a graphical guide to the phase of the Moon at that point. On the map is shown the route taken by any important characters in the story at that point, including spots where they camped, met other characters or fought.

      Opposite each map is a description of what was happening at that point, with frequent references to the chapter of the story in question and a strong emphasis on geography. Strachey does not hold back from speculation where it might be useful: for example, the page showing the Misty Mountains mentions that to the map has been added a stream running southward, even though this is not explicitly mentioned in the story, since "in the old days Eregion was a fruitful land, so I imagine there must have been water there". She also points out the (rare) occasions on which Tolkien's own stated distances are inconsistent.

      I was very glad to happen across this book and I still make sure that I have it by my side whenever I do knuckle down and read "The Lord of the Rings" from cover to cover. Those two-colour maps do perhaps look just slightly old-fashioned nowadays, and I think you will get more out of the book if you already enjoy looking at maps for the fun of it, as I do. However, as a simple, readable guide without too much in the way of gimmickry and written by a person who clearly knows her stuff, I think it's a pretty good effort.

      Unfortunately it appears that the book has been allowed to fall out of print. You should beware the inflated prices asked by some sellers: I've seen one vendor on Amazon Marketplace ask over £50, which is quite ridiculous. A copy of the paperback in reasonable condition should be acquirable for less than a tenth of that! The hardback is a little less common, but again there's no need to go overboard: a tenner should do it.

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