Fascinated by the vivid and expansive world of J.R.R. Tolkien? Have a fondness for maps, data, and statistics? This blog attempts to merge the two, with map-making of the lands of Middle-Earth, from Lindon to the Sea of Rhun. For those interested in creating maps of your own, this will also be a forum on the technical aspects of aggregating data (in this case Tolkien-related data) and presenting it via mapping software. Step-by-step tutorials and finished products alike will be presented, with your feedback much encouraged!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Welcome to the Middle-Earth Map Project!

By trade, I am a water resources research engineer.  I've also been a Tolkien fan since I was in middle school (I'm now 26). As one of the last groups of people that had no other option than to read the books before the movies (just barely), Tolkien's literature has always been in the back of my mind, and has influenced how I view nature, morality, death, and creativity. This applies to my technical ability as an engineer as well. Reading the Lord of the Rings for the fifth or sixth time, it finally struck me that the water systems of Middle-Earth are not that well known; we get brief glimpses at their behaviors at specific times when characters pass over them, wade down them, or discuss them in brief. That behavior--flow rate, stage, sinuosity, age, water quality, floodplain, riparian vegetation, and velocity--is not easy to characterize.

Streams are complex ecosystems, both on Earth and in Middle-Earth
(Source: http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/monitoring/vms21.cfm)

Examples of stream characteristics (Rosgen 1996)

Through the Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, and others, I'm hoping to make very educated guesses as to what the hydrology of the major water systems on Middle-Earth comprised. This is just the beginning though. By learning about streams, rivers, and lakes, I'm hoping to scale up very quickly. By knowing the general watershed characteristics, topographic information (elevation) can be garnered. 

One of my goals is thus this: produce high-quality 3-D topographic and contour maps of Middle-Earth.

Beyond this, working with collaborators from reddit, The Encylopedia of Arda, and any volunteers who have their own nuggets to share, the possibilities could be endless, as we begin to compile a database of geospatial attributes of Middle-Earth digitally. So while I start small, I hope to, with your help, end, much like the hobbits did, in a world beyond their reckoning, a world much larger than they imagined. 

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

My tools:
  • The works of J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien (duh)
  • ArcGIS (10.0) (importing shapefiles and compiling attributes of various objects)
  • AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012 (digitizing online maps of Middle-Earth)
  • MatLAB (image processing)
  • imgur (to share with 'errbody)
  • reddit.com (my favorite community, obvious point of introduction/collaboration; see sidebar)
As of last night (May 5, 2013), I've digitized the boundaries of Middle-Earth (to scale) thanks to this image found in the Encyclopedia of Arda. Importing into AutoCAD, I can draw a polyline around the perimeter.

Screenshot, AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012
I'm ready to import the shapefile into ArcGIS:

That scale line to the lower left represents 500 miles. Middle-Earth's border is now to scale, and ready for import into ArcGIS, where the magic can begin...more to come (with more refined products!)