They can do amazing things with geographic information systems, these days. My local county government lets you look up all kinds of useful geographic information on line. This one came across the Twitter feed this morning: look up your family name, and find out where they live on a map of the UK. Obviously it’s intended for real people, not fictional ones, so let’s start with reality. Here’s my maternal grandfather’s name:
I see two hot-spots. One is in Manchester, the other in Birmingham. Family lore says we’re Scottish, but family lore says lots of things and believing them is not always advisable. (That castle in Toulouse turned out not to exist, dommage.)
Enough reality. From what I know of Professor Tolkien’s biography, there’s an intriguing overlap here. His old stomping grounds were near Birmingham, and he wrote it into his tales. That got me to looking up hobbit names. Surprise, it worked! Took, Burrows, Bolger, Baggins, Underhill … Lots of them have hot-spots around Birmingham. Maybe my grandfather comes from good Hobbiton stock. The Cottons are a bit to the north, like us.
Lots of other hobbits aren’t there. Sandyman and Brandybuck can’t be found in the modern UK at all. All the Grubbs are over in Lincolnshire, on business of their own that doesn’t concern me. Sackvilles are in Gloucester and Leicester, which makes me wonder if I ought to be skipping the pronunciation of some letters in the middle of their name.
So, nearby hobbits have Birmingham names. Strange half-foreign types like Bucklanders are completely fabricated. The bad guys are from “far-away” places. All this makes perfect sense, if we imagine that JRRT was trying to create an idealized version of his childhood surroundings in the Shire. Except for one glaring exception.
Samwise and his Gaffer seem to be Londoners. In Tolkien’s day they could have taken the train (making a noise like a firework dragon) but how the family ended up with jobs in the Shire is a mystery to me.
In any case, I love maps as much as old Bilbo did. Even if they don’t immediately open up new vistas for the digital humanities, they give me things to ponder. It’s not impossible to imagine a study of subcreated worlds that draws on maps of this one, but I can’t see it yet.