J. R. R. Tolkien is quite correctly praised as the father of the modern fantasy genre. Without his books and his work, it’s highly likely that there wouldn’t be a STARBURST Magazine for you to enjoy and the world of genre fun would be very different. So it makes sense that there’s a lot of interest in his life. Tolkien - The Maker of Middle-earth is an anthology of essays about the writer as well as a collection of artefacts from his life. The book is inspired and was created in conjunction with the recent exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. If you can’t make the exhibition (it runs till October 2018), this is the next best thing. It’s also a very pretty looking book that is a pleasure to peruse.
The work skilfully brings together over 300 images; drawings, maps, letters, and family photos. Each one of these pictures tells a story about the Professor’s life and allows the reader to gain a further understand as to who Tolkien was and where the world of Middle-earth came from.
The book contains intricate and detailed examples of Tolkien’s linguistic work, as well as prints of his various notes. These are a fascinating insight into the building blocks of his literary work. We get an understanding as to how he imagined what the ‘faerie’ was. There are also letters from friends, allies and fans. In addition to the (almost compulsory) letter from CS Lewis, we get fan letters from a young Terry Pratchett, correspondence from the likes of Auden and Ransome and a particularly amusing letter from a gentleman called Sam Gamgee who felt compelled to write to the author.
It wouldn’t be a Tolkien book without maps, and this substantial ‘coffee table’ book contains plenty. We get a powerful idea as to where the world comes from and how the author visualised his world. Other treasures include early cover designs for his books (many of which are very familiar), doodles on newsprint and an understanding of his formative years. This is detailed and comprehensive work that is both intimate and informative. There’s a substantial biography as well, which is filled with little gems for those with a thirst for an extensive Tolkien library.
The essays are interesting and useful, and the accompanying notes for each of the images are perfectly balanced; they entertain and teach in equal measure. The tone is playful enough to be engaging but highly respectful of the source material and meticulously assembled and researched.
This is a near-perfect collection and an utter delight for those who love Middle-earth. Anyone who has ever raised a glass to the Professor’s good name will be delighted by this work. If you have ever wondered what a bookish version of Blu-ray extra content would look like for one of the world’s most famous authors, this is it. Recommended.
TOLKIEN: THE MAKER OF MIDDLE-EARTH / AUTHOR: CATHERINE MCILWAINE / PUBLISHER: THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW