My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I liked this book a lot better than I thought I would. I picked it up cheap in the first book shop I found open since the corona virus lockdown began, and having just re-read the first three Harry Potter books for third or fourth time I wanted to read something I hadn't read before, even if it was about books that I had read before.
It does what it says it does in the title.
If you have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and you want to know a bit more about the books and their author, and how they came to be written, then this is the book to read. It's not a book for Tolkien scholars, or for people who are studying the place of Tolkien's work in 20th century literature. It's an introduction, a brief guide, though its brevity runs to 278 pages. It has an index, a bibliography of books by and about Tolkien, but no journal articles.
Perhaps the best way to indicate what it contains is to list the Table of Contents.
Introduction: The man and the myth
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hobbit
Journey to Middle-earth.
Living in Middle-earth
The inhabitants of Middle-earth
The Characters of Middle-earth
The Languages of Middle-earth
The one thing it doesn't have is maps, for those you must go to the books themselves.
Flaws? Yes there are some.
One, which is not the fault of the author or publisher, is that an undergraduate student of English literature who had one of Tolkien's major books as prescribed reading could easily get away with reading the plot summaries in this book rather than the works themselves.
The second fault, for which I do blame the author and publisher, is that there are numerous typographical and spelling errors, especially in the names of the characters. The author himself makes the point that Tolkien was
...scrupulous about names. They needed to make sense and have some reasonable derivation no matter how obscure. He was always critical of earlier fantasy writers, such as Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, who seemed to pick names at random. For Tolkien names had to be fashioned by sound linguistic rules.
In view of that the publishers could at least have tried a bit harder to get the spelling of the names right.
Another thing I wasn't sure what to make of was the disclaimer on the front and back cover and the title page:
The Unauthorised Guide to the Author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
I wasn't sure what message this is meant to send to the reader. Could it be saying that it gives the real information that the authorised editions all suppress, or that it doesn't, because only authorised writers are allowed access to that material? At any rate the information it give seemed generally pretty good to me.
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