Goodreads: Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth
Published: July 2018
This collection features six essays on different aspects of Tolkien’s work (including his art, his invented languages, and his conception of Faerie) as well photographs of archival materials from the Bodleian Libraries and Marquette University.
Published to coincide with a Tolkien exhibition at the Bodleian, this volume features six essays on different aspects of Tolkien’s work, ranging from his art to his language invention, as well as photographs of letters and archival material, each paired with a lengthy description expanding on the themes of the essays. The essays may be primarily of interest to fans who have not yet read much on Tolkien’s life and work. It is the photographs that truly make the book special. Even well-read fans may know much of the material presented, but it is altogether a different experience to see the photographs, letters, drafts, and objects that have so often been referenced in other texts.
The book begins with six essays by various authors, most of whom will be recognizable as major Tolkien scholars. These essays range from Catherine McIlwaine’s biographical sketch to John Garth on the Inklings to Tom Shippey on Tolkien’s Northern influences. In addition, Carl F. Hostetter writes on Tolkien’s Elvish languages, Veryln Flieger writes on Faerie, and Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull discuss Tolkien’s drawings and paintings. The readability of each varies by author. Personally, I found Garth’s and Shippey’s essays to be of the most interest, while I found Flieger’s prose style excruciating. Readers could conceivably use these essays to determine whether they would like to read any of the authors’ longer works. (I have made a mental note to avoid Flieger for the present. Feel free to try to convince me otherwise.)
However, since I have read a good deal on Tolkien, most of the information contained in the essays was not new to me. I thus enjoyed the book primarily for the pictures, which are organized thematically, so there are sections on Tolkien’s student days, his artwork, his maps, etc. I did learn some new things in this part of the book, such as the fact that Tolkien experimented with Eastern-style art, that he did a series of abstract art pieces conveying feelings, and that he designed heraldic devices for some of his Elven characters. In addition, I enjoyed being able to see such artifacts as Tolkien’s handwritten timeline showing where each of his characters were on any given day and the map he worked from while writing LotR. The photographs are a Tolkien fan’s dream!
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth is an indispensable book for the Tolkien fan. It comes in a large format that allows readers to see the details in the artwork and the handwriting in each artifact. And it showcases an unusual amount of Tolkien’s paintings and drawings, as well as personal treasures such as family photographs, designs submitted by Tolkien for his book covers, and illustrations he wanted but was not able to get approved by his publishers. It is a fine addition to any Tolkien collection.