Set in the fictional universe of Middle Earth, the Lord of the Rings trilogy follows the hobbit Frodo Baggins and company, and their journey to destroy the One Ring. The fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, and there is incredible pressure for Frodo to get to Mount Doom and destroy the ring as quickly as possible. In a shifting sociopolitical, physical, and fantastical landscape it can be difficult to find the best path to take to reach your destination. The goal of this project was to apply GIS analysis to Frodo’s path to determine the most efficient safe path for him to take.

To do so, we first need to represent as many of the factors affecting his route as possible. The more complete our model, the more “realistic” our results. After modelling the various social and physicals factors affecting the hobbits’ travel speed, we then performed a least-cost path analysis of his journey. The friction surface for the least-cost path analysis was calculated from the magnitude of the reduction in the hobbits’ travel speed, with a higher reduction in travel speed meaning a higher friction value.

Frodo’s journey was reconstructed in two stages, the first being from the Shire to Rivendell, and the second from Rivendell to Mt. Doom. To account for the fact that Middle Earth is a dynamic environment in which the socio-political factors influencing Frodo’s path are continuously changing over time, we re-calculated his trajectory after every two weeks spent traveling. Re-calculating his trajectory means re-creating the friction surface with the updated locations of armies, Nazgul, and hostile creatures.

We found that not only did Frodo and the Fellowship take a sub-optimal route in the original story, but that the optimal path would have more than halved their total travel time.

To tell you the truth, these three have been a bit odd lately. I mean, more than usual. They’ve taken to locking themselves in the GIS labs. They spends hours and hours poring over old maps when they think I’m not looking. 

– Frodo Baggins, 3018

Jim Hodgson      Deanna Shrimpton      Maegan Poblacion