As the Fellowship departed from the Rivendell, all the seasoned adventurers knew they will not follow Frodo to Mount Doom. So, the optimistic version is Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin going to the Mount Doom, far away from the Shire they have never left before. The reasonable thing to do is to teach Frodo how to use a map and give him a good map (or at least teach him about the way to Orodruin.) Despite that, in the book we can see that the last time Frodo has seen a map was in Rivendell (before the council, when he had no idea he was going to Mordor.)

The further Frodo and Sam go, the more lost they get, and don't even know how much they can eat, as written in Book 6, Chapter 2, "The Land of Shadow":

‘Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo,’ he said, ‘but have you any notion how far there is still to go?’

‘No, not any clear notion, Sam,’ Frodo answered. ‘In Rivendell before I set out I was shown a map of Mordor that was made before the Enemy came back here; but I only remember it vaguely. I remember clearest that there was a place in the north where the western range and the northern range send out spurs that nearly meet. That must be twenty leagues at least from the bridge back by the Tower. It might be a good point at which to cross. But of course, if we get there, we shall be further than we were from the Mountain, sixty miles from it, I should think. I guess that we have gone about twelve leagues north from the bridge now. Even if all goes well, I could hardly reach the Mountain in a week. I am afraid, Sam, that the burden will get very heavy, and I shall go still slower as we get nearer.’

Sam sighed. ‘That’s just as I feared,’ he said. ‘Well, to say nothing of water, we’ve got to eat less, Mr. Frodo, or else move a bit quicker, at any rate while we’re still in this valley. One more bite and all the food’s ended, save the Elves’ waybread.’

We can see that the Fellowship had no maps with them when they departed from the Rivendell (I assume that, if he had one, Gandalf would show Pippin a map instead of telling him 'you could have seen some maps few days ago'):

‘We have reached the borders of the country that Men call Hollin; (...)

‘But the mountains are ahead of us,’ said Pippin. ‘We must have turned eastwards in the night.’

‘No,’ said Gandalf. ‘But you see further ahead in the clear light. Beyond those peaks the range bends round south-west. There are many maps in Elrond’s house, but I suppose you never thought to look at them?’

Why was Frodo not given a map and told in more detail about the way to Mordor, despite the fact that he told the Council that he does not know the way?

EDIT: Note, that he had no idea whether he will have any company at the gates of Mordor.

  • 11
    Maybe it was assumed that Gandalf had no need of a map, and if Gandalf ever became seperated from the group they were pretty doomed anyway. The plan was for their guide to lead them right up to the cracks of doom and for the ring to be thrown in. Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:24
  • 30
    They weren't very good at preparing in other ways too. No one packed sufficient food. Or water. Or ropes. Or... They were all kind of newbs at "adventuring" really.
    – CaM
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:28
  • 66
    "Here, take this map just in case" -In case what? "Elrond points at Gandalf and makes the finger across throat motion, while sticking tounge out" Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:30
  • 37
    the huge volcano you can see from across the river isn't a good enough waypoint for you? ;)
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 17:12
  • 84
    I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though…I do not know the way. He asked for a map, but nobody took the hint... and then it was all my sword this, my axe that and he felt too awkward to clarifiy
    – xDaizu
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 7:06

8 Answers 8


They didn't feel that there was a need.

I think your assumption that:

"all the seasoned adventurers knew they will not follow Frodo to the Mount Doom"

is flawed.

This is the very reason that there were only 9 in the fellowship, to be able to slip in where an army could not.

`And I will choose you companions to go with you, as far as they will or fortune allows. The number must be few, since your hope is in speed and secrecy. Had I a host of Elves in armour of the Elder Days, it would avail little, save to arouse the power of Mordor.

The Fellowship of The Ring - The Ring Goes South

To this effect, there were 3 who would be expected to know the way to Mordor.

  • Gandalf - being learned, wise and well-travelled,
  • Boromir - living as he does on the border of Mordor
  • Aragorn - having travelled across most of Middle-Earth, including living in Gondor for some time.

If all three of those great men were no longer with the fellowship then what hope would a Hobbit have had to finish the task, alone.

We know in hindsight that this is exactly what happened, but that is beside the point.

It was only after losing Gandalf, and seeing the strain the lure of the Ring was having on the Fellowship that it become obvious to some (Frodo, Aragorn and possibly the other Hobbits), that the fellowship would need to be split. Culminating in Frodo making the decision after Boromir's attempted theft on Amon Hen.

As you stated Frodo made it clear that he did not know the way. While Elrond did not give Frodo a map, he did give him companions that knew the way, it can be assumed that these were in place of a map, and that at least one would be going all the way to Mount Doom with Frodo.

To attempt to answer the edit to the question

Assuming that Boromir and Aragorn were going to continue with their plan of only going to go to Minas Tirith and then part ways with those of the company that wish to follow Frodo to Mount Doom.

Boromir, Aragorn and Gandalf should have between them enough knowledge of the surrounding lands to get them to Gondor. That they do have enough knowledge is shown by them getting the fellowship to the lands of Gondor, past the Argonath and to Amon Hen before the fellowship split. This includes them taking diversions and discussion various other options of reaching their destination. They may in fact know more than a map could show as their information would be more up to date and contain things impossible, or considered to small and trivial to be shown on a map. Also a map cannot "think on it's feet", you have to take time out to consult a map to find the best route, in the heat of the moment Gandalf, Aragorn or Boromir may know the best route, at least in the short term to get out of danger.

Once the fellowship reaches Minas Tirith if Boromir and Aragorn decide to stay.

Frodo would still have Gandalf with him, his fall in Moria was unknown whilst they were in Rivendell, and his intentions can be assumed to be to go all the way with Frodo without any contradictory evidence.

One could also assume there would be the opportunity here to pick up a map or maps for the final part of their journey. It may even be argued that Gondor would have better maps of Mordor and the surrounding areas as they occupied it for many centuries following the Battle of Dagorlad and the Siege of Barad-Dûr.

They would not have to pick everything up in Rivendell, taking up valuable space, if they believed they had the knowledge within the party, and that they could pick it up further along on their journey.

  • 10
    Aragorn and Boromir always planned to go to Gondor, only Gandalf's fall in Moria changed it.
    – user46509
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 21:02
  • 3
    There was also a quote maybe you could add, where they were in Rivendell. Something abt Aragorn and Gandalf discussed their route a lot, and Frodo sometimes went with them, but in general, he was 'content to lean on their guidance', basically showing that he expected to have at least one, maybe both of them for most of the journey :)
    – ASH-Aisyah
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 9:28
  • 3
    @ASH-Aisyah - Victim of Circumstances answer has this quote, i'd feel like i was stealing his answer if i added this now. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 9:29
  • 2
    Good points, technically one can go further to say why didn't gandalf summon the eagles and have it all be done with in a matter of a week or 2? I know that takes out the argument of an adventure but follows similar logic of why was there no map. Adventure stories are about getting lost and finding your way. Any maps Bilbo made would not be useful because Frodo only expected to go to Rivendell, not around the world.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 17:53
  • 1
    Nice answer, learned a lot. :> I also always answered it myself that way: 1. maps are rare, also in times of war the borders and passes are changing any time. 2. getting a map would involve another guy knowing something about it - security issue. 3. if the map somehow fell into the hands of the enemy, their cover's blown up.
    – Trollwut
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 8:54

Book II, Chapter 3: The Ring Goes South (with my emphasis):

Aragorn and Gandalf walked together or sat speaking of their road and the perils they would meet; and they pondered the storied and figured maps and books of lore that were in the house of Elrond. Sometimes Frodo was with them; but he was content to lean on their guidance, and he spent as much time as he could with Bilbo.

Frodo didn't bother with a map because he was quite content for others to look after that aspect of planning the journey.


Apparently, maps were very rare and valuable. They would not have been given away and it would have been very unusual to carry them around. They would have been kept in the equivalent of a scriptorium (library of scrolls) and brought out only rarely to be seen by normal folk.

  • 24
    With the fate of the world at stake, I think a member of Elrond's household could have been given the task to make at least one copy of any relevant maps in the months between the Council and the Fellowship's departure. Getting to Mordor wasn't exactly a problem; getting into and navigating within Mordor was. There's little reason to believe any useful maps of the interior existed.
    – chepner
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 19:44
  • 9
    @MatthewRead, pretty much up until the invention of the printing press, paper and written anything is extremely rare and even more valuable. It's rare and valuable because making it is entirely very skilled labour using rare and expensive materials. Making a map at a scale that would be useful could easily take months of effort.
    – Leliel
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:01
  • 7
    @MatthewRead continuing.. this assumes that there's anyone available that actually knows the geography of mordor at all well. Given that mordor has been closed to the west pretty much entirely since the rise of sauron in the second age, that's rather a little while for anyone to forget the details of geography, if there's even anyone still alive that's actually been there.
    – Leliel
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:04
  • 3
    Pretty sure Elrond had been to Mordor (with Gil-galad at the end of the First Age). Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 13:11
  • 6
    @user76377 The first age was a fair few millennia before Frodo's little adventure. Quite a bit can change in those millennia, I wouldn't trust a map that old to have more than the mountains in the right place.
    – Leliel
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:49

The map he saw was likely framed on a wall, and too big to carry even without a frame. Or it was made into a table top. Or, even if it was small enough to be portable, maps were exceedingly difficult to make, and therefore rare and valuable. But with the fate of Middle Earth at stake, any price is worth it... And finally, maps were made with ink on parchment, which is fragile and both ink and parchment susceptible to the elements. Think of all the bogs and rivers. First dunking and parchment comes out as a blob of mush. Edit: Parchment is more durable that I considered when writing the post.

This all misses the point. Mordor is ridiculously easy to find, assuming Gondor as a starting point. You can SEE it. With two great captains AND a wizard, surely a way would be found to get inside the enemy's territory... As it was, Aragorn basically pointed the way to Mordor in a general way, once they made landfall and before the events that broke the Fellowship into parts. Any of the party could have followed those directions to get to the edge of Mordor.

And finding Mount Doom once inside Mordor is no problem either. It was very difficult for Sam and Frodo to stay out of sight of Mount Doom once they were inside. There were times when it could be seen even from outside Mordor.

My point is, even though they had 3 people who knew how to get to within sight of Mordor, nobody knew a guaranteed way to get inside once they got to the border.

Therefore, why risk a rare, expensive, and fragile map to get to a territory which almost anyone can find, and which nobody knows how to get inside unnoticed?

  • 1
    Actually, parchment made from skin is MUCH more durable than paper. It would not "come out as a blob of mush" if it fell in the water. Traditional Jews use parchment for many things, and they are still written on by scribes. I handle it every week. It's tough. (My congregation reads the Torah from a scroll dated at approximately 400 years old.)
    – user6297
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 17:20
  • Fair enough. Still, it could come out of a dunking with the ink smeared or washed off and the map illegible. Not something to be carried for rough travel.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 20:03
  • 2
    Actually, the ink gets absorbed into the parchment, and once dry, can only be removed by scraping or rubbing the parchment to remove those layers of the parchment into which the ink has penetrated. Yes, the ink can be smeared, but only while it is wet, and once dry, most inks can't be extracted with water. The scribe writes the text (which, by the way, is SCRIBED into the parchment, meaning that it is scratched in,) then pours sand over the writing to absorb the remaining ink, then brushes it off. The only thing left by a dunking would be a water stain on the parchment; the ink stays legible.
    – user6297
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 21:06

My take on the council of Elrond (at Rivendell) apparently leaving the actual route to Mt. Doom to chance:

With a planned roadmap, the others of the party susceptible to the ring could have "turned" and lay in ambush for Frodo. Even the council members were tempted by the power of the ring (although at least one was in denial, right? - which was obvious to some of the others), so as a reader, I made the assumption that the wisest choice was not to over-plan the operation.

The council's idea of proper planning was to select the correct ring-bearer, and not concern themselves too much with the trifling details of the physical accomplishment.

The ring knew the way back to Sauron. All the ring-bearer had to know was to go in the general direction. And then have the inner strength to make a left-turn at Mt.Doom instead of falling into Sauron's clutches.

Besides, a map lost or left behind would have allowed the enemy to ambush the route.

Obviously, in hindsight, the council made the optimal decision. But at the time of the decision at Rivendell, I think there are enough clues in the story to justify Elrond's seemingly incomplete directives.

I don't have any quoted passages, so not really expecting much agreement with this notion. I suppose an extensive quote from the meeting in Rivendell would do. Not long on quotations, but about this link? http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Council_of_Elrond

No mention of maps there, so this response does not directly address the OP question. It does remind us that it took two months to finalize the decision. If the decision was made in a short time, the omission of a map could be counted an oversight. Since it took so long, my take is that the lack of a roadmap was a deliberate omission.

It also reminds us that the "content of their character" of each member of the travelling party was the paramount criterion to the decision makers. Isn't reading someone's character considered by some to be a very adequate kind of roadmap? So, in a way, there was a map there all along!


The answer is simple - there would be no map of Middle-Earth, despite the excellent illustrations in the books.

From historical comparisons, there might be riverine and coastline maps based on water trade but little of the interior.

Cartography requires a number of disciplines and tools. There are no positional devices, as I recall - compasses or astrolabes, quadrants, sextants. Magical items like the Palantiri could be used and there may even be bespoke devices but I don't recall any. The positions of stars appears to have been known to Middle-Earthers and presumably would have been surveyed, so some of the knowledge for relative positioning would have existed. But it does appear that the realm was without navigational aids.

Scale and standard units of measurement are also required. Leagues are mentioned as well as some other units of measurement. But most landward maps would be local or a few days journey. The map of the Shire's four farthings is perhaps a good example and would be framed in the Mayor or Thain's house. Maps covering larger areas may exist, for commercial purposes, guarded as secretly and as jealously as mercantile navigational charts in the 17th century.

Tolkien was an academic and linguist and also an Army signals officer rather than a mapmaker. But every good fantasy writer has an inner cartographer! And it would be good to imagine what maps would exist. Elves would not need maps as they had extended lifespans and would remember routes. Dwarves would have carefully guarded maps of subsurface riches and transport routes. Saruman would probably have a map somewhere, unfinished, maybe a futuristic one showing his empire.

  • 1
    But they look at maps of the journey whilst in Rivendell. Also because compasses or astrolabes, quadrants, sextants are not mentioned does not mean they do not exist. Within the books there is no need for any of these to be mentioned as none of the characters are mapmakers Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 11:03
  • @CearonO'Flynn A world map is not very useful when you are trying to decide which of the roads ahead of you is the one you should take.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 12:30
  • @SJuan76 that wasn't the point you were making though. Your first line was there are no maps, when there obviously are. You repeat this, saying elves don't need them, when the maps they talk about are in Rivendell, and most likely are elvish. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 12:36

I think that Mount Doom would have been visible from many miles away as well. So all Frodo needed to do was to head in the approximate direction until he saw the smoking mountain.

  • And yet they went north from Cirith Ungol rather than east. I never did get that part. Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 2:20
  • 1
    Wasn't that when they got caught up with that band of orcs?
    – Amos Fox
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 9:02
  • Yes but they weren't with the orcs for all of their northward move, iirc. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 22:13
  • Mmm, a good excuse to read the books again
    – Amos Fox
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 9:10
  • Or at least a couple of chapters of Book V. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 1:47

In Imladris maps were present in the books of lore which Elrond preserved. These maps could not be given away. Also, Frodo had many great and wise people to assist him on the passage including Aragorn, Gandalf and Boromir who could even guide him to the heart of Mount Doom so he did not even pay attention to the fact that he correctly knew all the way to Mordor or not.

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