If the people of Middle-Earth made a map of their world or an area of it, did they put west on the top of the map? Or did they have north on the top like the map in the Lord of the Rings looks like? If the former, are there any modern day maps of Middle-Earth that put west on the top?

  • 1
    What makes you think they put west on top? – Molag Bal Jun 11 '16 at 6:45
  • 21
    They all put west on top, but they spell it north to keep things simple. – Major Stackings Jun 11 '16 at 6:48
  • 4
    I have no idea why you'd think west would be on top of their maps. Tempted to VTC as unclear what you're asking, but I'd rather wait for an explanation. – Wad Cheber Jun 11 '16 at 6:53
  • 3
    I think you might be saying that since Paradise was in the West, they would put it at top, much as Medieval European map-makers sometimes put East at top due to the presumed location of the Garden of Eden. Is that correct? – Adamant Jun 11 '16 at 7:04
  • 3
    If you were implying that Valinor would be at the top of the map, and Valinor was West, could you edit that into your question? It would definitely improve clarity, but I don't want to do it in case I misunderstood your reasoning. – Adamant Jun 11 '16 at 7:20

Thror's map (as hand-drawn by Tolkien) had a Eastward slant

enter image description here

Other maps of Middle-Earth seems to have had a more common Northward-pointing compass rose

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 5
    I suspect the first one you posted is the only one that answers the question, since it is the only one we know existed in-universe. – Wad Cheber Jun 11 '16 at 7:03
  • 1
    @WadCheber - Yeah, the others are more to compare/contrast. – Valorum Jun 11 '16 at 7:07
  • Were any of the other maps discovered by Tolkien? The whole set of books was written based off of writings he found, right? (in-universe) – Molag Bal Jun 11 '16 at 7:08
  • 1
    I wonder whether the Eastward slant is in imitation of medieval maps, which placed Eden in the place of prominence. Middle-Earth does have a similar geography, and Cuivenen is eastish, as Wad noted. – Adamant Jun 11 '16 at 7:09
  • 2
    Even if the first is in-universe, it has been translated into English, presumably from the Common Tongue! – PJTraill Jun 11 '16 at 11:42

Almost certainly, yes.

Not always (witness the Dwarven map with east at the top), but it was evidently the usual orientation in the West-lands.

Appendix E to The Lord of the Rings:

The names of the letters most widely known and used were… númen, hyarmen, rómen, formen=west, south, east, north…. These letters commonly indicated the points W, S, E, N even in languages that used quite different terms. They were, in the West-lands, named in this order, beginning with and facing west; hyarmen and formen indeed meant left-hand region and right-hand region (the opposite to the arrangement in many Mannish languages).

Now, this doesn't explicitly say that maps were drawn with west at the top, but "south = left, north = right" very strongly implies it!

Additionally, there is an implied contrast (which Tolkien was probably hinting at with that "Mannish languages" remark) with medieval European maps, which customarily had east at the top (hence the use of "orient", or "east", as a verb meaning "to point towards"). This "facing east" was more than just a language convention, it was a cartographic one too; and so we can infer that the same goes for Middle-earth.

  • 3
    Well spotted, Tim Pederick. As to Thror’s map, it was perhaps for private use and convenience rather than conforming to cartographic conventions. – PJTraill Jun 11 '16 at 11:43
  • 1
    "Orient" comes from the Latin word for "rising," as that is the direction from which the Sun rises. I believe the "point towards" meaning came later. – jwodder Jun 12 '16 at 2:19
  • 2
    Mannish example: the Sanskrit word cognate to dexter can mean ‘south’ among other things. – Anton Sherwood Jun 12 '16 at 3:17
  • 1
    @jwodder: Exactly. Even in Latin, oriens "rising" also meant "east", but my Latin dictionary, at least, doesn't have the sense "point towards", which suggests that it only entered in with descendant languages–so definitely later. – Tim Pederick Jun 12 '16 at 6:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.