Doubtlessly one of the most intimidating aspects of tackling Tolkien’s universe for many newcomers is the overwhelming sense of having to be familiar with an entire continent that doesn’t really exist. Middle-earth, though modeled after real European areas, is completely a work of fiction along with its names and landmarks. Tolkien devised entirely new languages to name his landscapes and that can make familiarizing oneself with the environment a little difficult. Below I’ve compiled an annotated map with key locations marked and explained. There are surely many others that have done this before me, and are more in-depth, but I just wanted to lightly touch on some of the more important places and events of the Third Age.
(It may be helpful to click the picture to enlarge it and place it in a new tab or window and see the numbers easier.)
The map above is covered with numbers over key locations that are roughly in chronological order of the events in The Lord of the Rings, though after number 7 events begin happening simultaneously, as the Fellowship splits.
- The Shire— Home of the hobbits; mostly sheltered from outside troubles and its inhabitants live lives of peace and quiet for the most part; all five main hobbit characters are from here (including Bilbo)
- Old Forest, Barrow Downs, Bree— just east of the Shire, the hobbits pass through the Old Forest, which some say is related to Fangorn far to the south; here, the hobbits encounter the evil Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil. After this, they venture to the Barrow Downs, run into trouble, get saved by Tom, and make their way farther East to Bree
- Weathertop— led by Strider (Aragorn) the hobbits continue East towards Rivendell and the Misty Mountains. They camp at the ancient watch tower called Weathertop where they face the Black Riders and Frodo is injured.
- Ford of Bruinen and Rivendell— the Party meet Glorfindel on the road to Rivendell, he aids them in getting Frodo across the Ford and they all come safely to Rivendell, the Last Homely House in Middle-earth
- Moria— leaving Rivendell, the Company follows the Mountains South and find the gates to the ancient, abandoned mansions of the dwarven kingdom of Moria. Passing in from the West Gate, they make their way through to the East Gate, losing Gandalf along the way.
- Lórien— exiting Moria, the Fellowship arrives in the heart of elvendom on Earth, Lórien. They meet Galadriel and Celeborn here and rest for about a month before continuing on. Celeborn gives them boats to follow the Great River south as far as they wish.
- Falls of Rauros, Emyn Muil— the Company goes as far in the boats as they can and end up at the great Falls within the rocky land of the Emyn Muil. Here, the Fellowship splits and the numbers on the map follow first the journey of Merry and Pippin, as well as Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn until they come to the Black Gate some time later. Frodo and Sam’s story picks back up at point 16, though their events happen during the events of the rest of the Company.
- Rohan, Fangorn— Merry and Pippin are captured by orcs and taken West towards Isengard at the southern end of the Misty Mountains; Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, the Three Hunters, follow their trail across the land of Rohan and their chase end at Fangorn forest, home of the Ents, led by Treebeard. Merry and Pippin journey with him for a while and he leads the Ents to destroy Isengard to the southwest.
- Edoras— The capital of Rohan is Edoras; after meeting the resurrected Gandalf, the Three travel south with him to talk with King Théoden.
- Helm’s Deep— The newly-healed Théoden leads his army to the great fastness of Helm’s Deep to meet the armies of Saruman at the advice of Gandalf. A large battle is held here and victory is assured when reinforcements are led by Gandalf and the Huorns of Fangorn.
- Isengard— After the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Gandalf leads the important characters to face Saruman. They find Isengard destroyed and Saruman locked in Orthanc, his mighty tower in the midst of the Circle of Isengard.
- Dunharrow— After the encounter with Saruman, the Rohirrim rides to Edoras then to Dunharrow, their refuge in a large cleft in the White Mountains to the South. Many thousands of horsemen gather here and Aragorn decides to take the Paths of the Dead to summon the cursed Army of the Dead to aid Gondor. Théoden leads the Rohirrim along the northern border of the White Mountains to the East towards Gondor and Aragorn leads his followers through the Haunted Mountain to the South to come to the Stone of Erech where he summons the Dead Army.
- Pelargir— Aragorn leads the Dead Army along the southern side of the White Mountains and comes to the great ports of Pelargir on the Anduin where the Corsairs of Umbar are gathering; they are evil men under the influence of Sauron. The Dead Army helps to overtake the ships and are released at Aragorn’s command.
- Minas Tirith— The White City of Gondor is its capital, where the King would reside and where the Steward held his place for many years. Aragorn leads the ships up the Anduin and his forces meets with the Rohirrim in the battle of Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith’s walls. After the victory there, the great Captains of the many armies that fought agree to challenge Sauron at his Gate and leave to do that.
- The Black Gate— Marching southeast then North to the Black Gate, called the Morannon, the Captains of the West prepare for the Final Battle to draw Sauron’s attention away from his land.
- Dead Marshes— Here we pick back up with Frodo, though the events happen immediately after those at Rauros. He and Sam encounter Gollum, leave the Emyn Muil, and cross the Dead Marshes; images of the Men and Elves and orcs that died in the Battle of Dagorlad can be seen in the waters of the Marsh.
- Ithilien— Frodo, Sam, and Gollum travel South, away from the Black Gate, and pass through Ithilien, considered something of a garden of Gondor as it is very beautiful and not yet corrupted by Sauron. Here they are captured by Faramir and are taken to his people’s hideout Henneth Annûn, the Window of the Sunset.
- Minas Morgul— Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to a secret way into Mordor that is guarded by the ancient city of Minas Morgul, a former city of Gondor corrupted by Sauron. They follow him up the Mountains of Shadow and come to the Lair of Shelob, the great spider. Frodo is injured by her, captured by orcs, Gollum departs, and Sam is left to try to rescue Frodo from the tower of Cirith Ungol, also a former tower of Gondor, captured by Sauron’s forces long ago.
- The Morgai, Udûn— After Frodo’s rescue, he and Sam make their desperate way to Mordor across the Mountains and head North following the inner Mountains of the Morgai towards the Black Gate, hoping to find a road to lead them towards Mount Doom. Udûn is a place between the arms of the two mountain ranges that enclose Mordor. It lies in the northwest corner of the land between two out-thrusts of the mountains, behind the Black Gate. Here, after getting mixed up in some orc troops, Frodo and Sam find a road that leads back to the East.
- Mount Doom— Also known as Orodruin, Mount Doom is the ultimate goal of the Ring-bearer, in the heart of Mordor. Here, many events happen but the Ring is destroyed and Frodo and Sam are rescued by Gwaihir, the Lord of the Eagles.
Many events take place after the Ring is destroyed, but they happen in locations already marked. Hopefully, though it is long, this list of descriptions and annotated map can help some get familiar with Middle-earth and the events and travels of the characters will make more sense.
Extra: the blue circle in the northeast portion of the map is the Lonely Mountain, featured in The Hobbit, for reference.
[Credit to Jack Moore for proofreading and corrections.]