When J.R.R. Tolkien started writing The Lord of the Rings, he wasn’t just interested in telling a story—he was trying to create a new world. Inspired by the myths and legends of Early Europe, Tolkien invented entire languages, mapped out complex geographies and genealogies, and created mythologies that spanned centuries. But Tolkien didn’t just write about Middle Earth—he drew it. 

He wrote out alphabets in Elvish cursive and Dwarvish runes, drew detailed maps of specific regions, and sketched important locations from the books. For the most part, these drawings weren’t meant for publication—Tolkien was creating a world so complex, he needed his own visual aids to keep things straight. Some of the maps he sketched also charted characters’ movements throughout the story; one early map of the Shire, for instance, showed Frodo, Sam, and Pippin’s route as they made their way through the Old Forest in The Fellowship of the Ring

Until recently, most of Tolkien’s concept drawings of Middle Earth remained unpublished. Now, Tolkien scholars Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull have compiled over 180 drawings, inscriptions, and maps—many never before seen—in a new book called The Art of the Lord of the Rings, which was released this week. The book, which includes plenty of expert commentary from Scull and Hammond, is an amazing resource for fans of the original trilogy or its film adaptations.

Below, we've posted a few sketches from The Art of the Lord of the Rings, showing how Tolkien came up with the imagery for the Mines of Moria and the text of Balin's Tomb (which reads, "Here lies Balin, Son of Fundin, Lord of Erebor"). Check them out: 

The Gates of Moria (Credit:The Tolkien Estate Limited 1973)

The Gates of Moria (Credit: The Tolkien Estate Limited 1976)

Balin'sTomb (Credit: The Tolkien Estate Limited 2015)

Balin'sTomb (Credit: The Tolkien Estate Limited 2015)

[h/t WIRED]