Overall, we found that the optimal route through Middle Earth generated using our model least cost path analysis does differ from the route taken in the story by the Fellowship of the Ring. In the books and films, Frodo did not take the optimal route, choosing to prioritize physical factors and for the most part, ignoring social factors and dangers. It took Frodo a total 3 months of travel time to get to Mt. Doom from the Shire in the story. However, using our least cost path, Frodo’s projected travel time is cut down to just over 38 days.
There are a few assumptions that must be acknowledged. Our methods assume that Frodo is slightly omniscient in the world of Middle Earth and knows exactly where his enemies are located at all times. Additionally, we created an arbitrary travel schedule, where the party is traveling for 8 hours a day in the best possibly direction, focusing solely on their goal of reaching Rivendell and Mt. Doom.
Finally, the difference on how our path and the story path deal with mountains is slightly worrying. That our path has seemingly reasonable calculations for the anisotropic slope factors, and yet the hobbits happily cross mountains that they wouldn’t dream of crossing in the story, is slightly worrying. There are three possible explanations for this behaviour:
- The model is correct and the story path simply prioritizes comfort / safety more than they need to.
- The mode is incorrect and mountain slopes pose a much more significant barrier than they do in the model.
- The mountains themselves as represented in the DEM are incorrect, and the locations of the mountain passes in our map do not line up with where they are in the story.
It is likely some combination of all three of these factors. As stated before, one of our most significant challenges is the subjectivity of our data. This makes it exceedingly difficult to draw significant conclusions from this analysis, so we make these conclusions in the full knowledge that they are not necessarily to be taken as truth. In a more complete or more accurate model, with more heavily researched slope functions, we would be able to perhaps make more solidly-founded claims about the best path.
However, outside of the mountain interaction it does indeed seem that the best path takes a fairly different route! He avoids the Nazgul quite handily, as well as Moria and Shelob. This route is in many ways much safer than that taken in the story, and given the final speed is arguably much more efficient.
Finally, when taking our least cost path Frodo travels north of the original route, passing over the Misty Mountains. This implies that they bypass the Mines of Moria, and as a result, Gandalf would not need to die fighting the Balrog. Not only does Frodo take a shorter route to Mt. Doom, but this best path is also clearly safer (Assuming Gandalf the Grey not becoming Gandalf the White doesn’t have negative consequences)!