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On Christopher Tolkien's map of Middle-earth, one feature has always caught my eye, and to my knowledge has never been explained: The mass in the middle of the Sea of Rhûn:

Image depicting 'Sea of Rhûn' and feature in question

Has this ever been talked or written about? Is it an island? Is it a rocky outcrop? Are they supposed to be trees? Sand? Marshes? Whatever it is, it appears to be very deliberate.

I've also noticed that many fan-made maps just ignore this feature altogether.

What is this feature in the middle of the Sea of Rhûn?

  • It's probably an island and there is a reference in HoMe 7 but I don't have time to dig it out right now. – user8719 Dec 23 '14 at 17:16
  • I'd always just assumed it was a marshy area which was much shallower than the rest of the sea. – maguirenumber6 Apr 18 '15 at 10:43
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As far as I remember, there isn't any name for it. It is an unnamed island.

The LotR Wikia says the same:

The sea also contains an unnamed island that is about thirty miles along the southeastern and northwestern coasts and twenty upon the northeastern and southwestern coasts.

Also, it must have been wooded. (thainsbook).

There has been a similar discussion on TheTolkienForum. A user contacted The Tolkien Society with the question, and here is the answer:

Hello. Sorry about the delay. A staw poll revealed that in a very early version of the map, the Sea of Rhun had a large island in the middle. (Unfeasibly large, given the scale of the Sea, which is very big.) By the time the map hit publication, this had vanished and the dots appeared.

Those who have looked carefully at the various maps point out that there are similar dotty effects at the Mouths of Sirion and near Balar (Silmarillion), and references to "sands" in the Sil. The dots in the Sea of Rhun (on scale) could quite easily represent a constellation of small islands, but are more likely to mean sands, swamp or sand bars. (Actually small islands would make better geography on that scale.) There appears to be no actual reference to what is going on there.

There is a discussion of this also at TheOneRing.net which adds some details worth having. I don't however understand Quickbeam's reference to CRT "finding later manuscripts etc." as CRT drew up this map in co-operation with JRR while JRR was still alive and well and writing the books - there have AFAIK been no revisions by CRT to these maps on the basis of stuff he found after his father's death, when he started editing the unpublished mss. Indeed, it would be against his whole attitude of respect for his father's decisions to start "editing" LotR material subsequent to publication. I have asked QB what he means, but have not had a reply. As this was some time ago and you are waiting, this is my conclusion!

I would say "be careful of taking any craft with deep draft through these waters. You may get stuck."

Helen

Which, TBH, doesn't add much more than that there is no name to the island.

The discussion Helen references may be worth quoting for posterity:

I’ve been wondering about this for years, and now have found a few bits of evidence in the History of Middle-earth Volume VII that gives us a better clue.

Most all of the maps we see in today’s editions of LOTR come from the hand of Christopher Tolkien; redrafted from his father’s originals. Professor Tolkien altered and added to his maps as his work on the story progressed. His original working map (the "First Map") was a conglomeration of sections and glued bits of paper that he fussed with for many years: "It represents an evolution, rather than a fixed state of the geography." There was a later version called the "1943 map" that Christopher created.

Comparing these two maps, Christopher points out a well-forested island his father drew in the middle of the Sea of Rhûnaer, which would later be called the Sea of Rhûn. "The island in the Sea is coloured green on the First Map, and on the 1943 map is marked as wooded." That’s your island right there, but in later maps it seems to have vanished, replaced with an array of dots.

I don’t know exactly why Christopher changed it, but I suspect that later manuscripts and maps he found showed the removal of the island. Perhaps the discrepancy caused him to leave the dots to indicate what was a "questionable area."

This seems to be the clearest answer, if still vague.

  • 5
    I don't understand "Unfeasibly large, given the scale of the Sea, which is very big.)" -- Madagascar, British Isles, Japanese Isles, Greenland, etc. are very large islands, no real limit up to continent size... ? Sicily is a large island in a sea. – zipquincy Dec 23 '14 at 17:38
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    @zipquincy Madagascar, British Isles, Japanese Islands, and Greenland are all technically in oceans, not seas. I would venture that Sicily is in a much larger sea than the Sea of Rhun. I take the statement to mean that the island was originally too large for that particular sea, and was later reduced in size to be more appropriate. – Dave Johnson Dec 23 '14 at 17:57
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    I think Helen might have meant to write "(Unfeasibly large, given the scale of the Sea, which isn't very big.)" – Martha Dec 23 '14 at 19:55
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    hmmm... is there a geological principal which constrains the size of an island in relation to the body of water that contains it? just cause this earth doesn't have a good example doesn't mean it's impossible. //sorry, being pedantic, as you were – zipquincy Dec 23 '14 at 21:02
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    @zipquincy: AFAIK, there isn't, and there do exist examples of islands that are almost as big as the body of water surrounding them. Some of those, like Lake Manicouagan, are impact features or old volcanic pipes, but some also occur just by chance. Here's a small example quite near to where I live. The best large-scale near-example I can think of would be the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea, which is almost an island except for a narrow isthmus. – Ilmari Karonen Dec 23 '14 at 21:41
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The 1954 map included in the first edition of LotR was completed in haste. Christopher Tolkien was brought in almost literally at the last moment to produce a single colour line map for the printed edition. Not surprisingly, there were errors and short cuts taken in the process to complete the map. The presentation of this island was one of those. There should be a forested island there.

  • This may be true regardless, but this would be a stronger answer if you provided some sources. E.g. as per the Silmarillion, p. 200, there should be a forested island there. Or the Tolkien biography by — says that Christopher was brought in at the last moment. – Brythan Jun 15 '18 at 3:36
  • Some sources here would really help us appreciate that this is a reliable answer. – Django Reinhardt Jun 15 '18 at 10:08

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