Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth ed. by Catherine McIIwaine


Goodreads: Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth
Series: None
Source: Library
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.

5 stars

9 thoughts on “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth ed. by Catherine McIIwaine

  1. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    This book has been sitting on my coffee table for awhile. I keep sneaking peeks of it (it really is lovely!) but I’m not sure whether I want to read it straight through before or after seeing the exhibit in February. After reading such a positive review, though, I’m tempted to dive in sooner than later!


  2. Michael J. Miller says:

    This reminded me, I have a student who’s planning on using Tolkien as the core of the major paper he’s writing for my World Religions class this year. Naturally, I pointed him towards your blog. There’s no better place to start for Tolkien love or info on all that’s written by and about the man than Pages Unbound :). So thanks no only as a reader but as a teacher for your list of Tolkien resources!


      • Michael J. Miller says:

        Of course and thank you for what you offer here. Both you and Briana do a wonderful job of always being scholarly yet accessible and you write – especially about Tolkien – with the heartfelt passion of a true fan. So your pieces are this great intersection of love, academic analysis, and an honest appraisal all presented in an accessible way. I wish I had these posts to help orient me when I was teaching ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to my Youth Group kids years ago. So thank you for making something as rich and layered as Middle Earth so approachable and inviting.


        • Krysta says:

          Aw, that’s so nice! Sometimes I see other bloggers describe our blog as “scholarly” and I always want to shout, “But readable, right!” Because I can never shake the sense that most of the academic papers I read are saying simple things but with big and/or made-up words to try to sound clever. :/

          Liked by 1 person

          • Michael J. Miller says:

            No, it’s totally readable! That’s one of your blog’s strengths and one of my favorite things about it. It’s scholarly (meaning I feel you and Briana have an educated understanding of what you write about and it’s as anchored in academic knowledge as a general love/fandom) but it’s written so anyone can read it. It’s informed but readable/conversational too. It’s the difference (to use a theological analogy) between reading the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn and someone like Martin Heidegger. Heidegger is a fun academic challenge but no one outside of grad students will care to even try and read him. So he’s brilliant but limited in scope and influence. Whereas the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hahn can be picked up by anyone and they will take something important and enriching from reading them.

            And yes…I guess I just compared reading your blog to reading the Dalai Lama and I’m sticking with it :).


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