The History of the Hobbit/ The Lord of the Rings, A Reader’s Companion (books, various, 2008)

Magazines never have enough space to run reviews of every book they receive. One way around this is to cram two or more books on a similar subject into one review. This example of said is from Death Ray 13.

The History of the Hobbit

Part one and two

John D. Rateliff/HarperCollins/£9.99each


The Lord of The Rings, A Reader’s Companion

Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull/HarperCollins/£12.99


A pedant’s feast of minutiae for the most ardent of Tolkien fans.

There are some brands of knowledge that seem utterly pointless, and for all but the most obsessive Tolkien fanatics, the information contained in these three books is of that brand. It is so detailed, so relentlessly comprehensive that it robs the subject of its magic. The level of information, for example, in The Lord of The Rings Reader’s Companion goes as far as cataloguing an instance where Tolkien contradicts himself in his letters on the date he started the Moria sequence.

Though they share the collector’s desire to pin every butterfly fact to the boards of posterity, the books are slightly different. The History of the Hobbit contains the first draft of the Hobbit, and expends most of its energy on a comparative study of it and the published work, and the development of the former to the latter. It is the more interesting, and the less portentously written. The Lord of The Rings companion does not contain the novel’s text, for obvious reasons of space. It is instead intended to be useful alongside any edition of the novel, ticking off unusual vocabulary and The Lord of The Rings’ internal referencing of Tolkien’s mythos page by page, with extra detail provided by mini-essays. It’s comprehensive, but does a book that is delivered in the dense style of academia then need to explain the words ‘raiment’ or ‘mantle’? Its discussion of Middle-earth place names and Tolkien’s linguistic playfulness are more appropriate, and you do get a feel, here and there, for Tolkien’s state of mind. But it is all rather dry, and a far better insight into Tolkien as a man is to be had from the many biographies about him.

Impressive achievements, they get points for their sheer exhaustiveness. However, they are likely to prove only exhausting to the casual reader. For the academically interested or hard-core fan only.

Did you know?

Gandalf was originally the name of the Dwarf Thorin. The wizard’s original handle was Bladorthin


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