The Atlas of Middle-Earth, by Karen Wynn Fonstad – I’ve always enjoyed when books had maps in them, and while it took me a while to actually finish the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, I remember being fascinated by the detailed maps that I found there. I actually remember coming across this book at a bookstore when I was a kid, but it took me a while to get around to finally reading it. There’s a lot to be said about J.R.R. Tolkien’s geography, and Fonstad covers quite a bit of it here, from the development of Middle-Earth from the First through Fourth Ages to detailed diagrams of places visited in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I was particularly interested in the maps that showed Middle-Earth in relation to the rest of Arda, the Earth as Tolkien envisioned it in his works. It’s roughly equivalent to Europe, and while quite different in some ways, a world where supernatural battles affect the landscape and acts of God are quite literal is one that’s subject to significant change.
I’ve written before about the parallels between Middle-Earth and real-life Europe, and I mentioned that some websites equated Mordor with either Asia Minor or Transylvania. According to Fonstad, Tolkien himself “once commented that Mordor corresponded more or less with the Mediterranean volcano basin; and Mt. Doom, Stromboli.” Sounds tasty! No, seriously (or at least as seriously as you can get when discussing fantasy), maps of the First Age show the area that would eventually become Mordor as an inland sea. Even back then, though, I suppose one did not simply swim into Mordor.
As far as lands beyond Middle-Earth itself, the continent of Far Harad to the south looks a lot like Africa, and it’s where the elephants originate. Rhun is roughly equivalent to Asia, but I’m not sure what the Dark Land to the southeast would correspond to. The location of Arda and Valinor to the west was likely inspired by the Fortunate Isles and other paradises said to lie in that direction. After Arda was changed from flat to spherical in order to prevent humans from reaching Valinor, it would only be accessible by a magical path; and Tolkien made some references to this creating a new land that would be the equivalent of America.
I seem to recall someone on an Oz mailing list suggesting that L. Frank Baum’s fairyland could be located on Arda.