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The Atlas of Middle Earth 307

J.R.R.Tolkien succeeded both in creating fabulous new worlds and rendering them utterly believable. Reading his trilogy has become a rite of passage for many in several generations. An updated atlas of Middle -Earth provides a definitive guide through hundreds of maps and drawings. (In advance of the movie Lord of The Rings scheduled for release in December, we'll be writing and talking about the trilogy itself as well as other works the original books have inspired.)

The Atlas of Middle Earth
author Karen Wynn Fonstad
pages 210
publisher Houghton Mifflin
rating 8
reviewer Jon Katz
ISBN 0-618-12699-6
summary The Geography of Middle-Earth

If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it's my wonder and delight in the earth as it is," Tolkien told an interviewer, "particularly the natural earth." He also wanted to provide a new, Brit-centric mythology for the world, so he took the literal earth and changed it just enough to make it "faerie."

With the cinematic trilogy of his books under production -- three separate films are scheduled for release over the next two years -- Middle Earth is going mainstream. These films will probably be nearly as big as Star Wars, if they're half as good, touching mythological and creative nerves that revolve around what we like to call science fiction in its varied forms.

As is often the case with culture The Lord Of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion -- provided comfort, stimulation, and escape for a particular sub-set of the human species, especially young, enchanted brainiacs growing up apart from the mainstream and eager -- desperate, maybe -- for other worlds to explore.

If you want to enter Tolkien's world, the best way is to read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the The Silmarillion. For hard-core Tolkien lovers who have already done that, I'd highly recommend -- there's plenty of time before the first movie in December -- The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Houghton Mifflin), by Karen Wynn Fonstad, a University of Wisconsin cartographer who has drafted unbelievably detailed maps of Middle Earth from the First Age through the Third, including thematic and other maps, guides, places and events (the mapping of the The Silarillion is astounding).

Tolkien created the details of Middle Earth for himself, for his own creativity and intellectual exercise. He was, Fonstad writes, envisioning his world much as our medieval cartographers viewed our own.

Fonstad's descriptions of the pain-staking process she used to create these hundreds of details maps are almost as interesting as the stories upon which they're based. The atlas is a composite of the physical surface with the imprint of the "Free Peoples." A number of basic map types are included -- the physical, including landforms, minerals, and climate; the political (spheres of influence); battles; migrations (closely tied with linguistics); the traveller's pathways and finally, situation maps -- towns and dwellings, all arranged roughly in sequence. Fonstad even includes detailed pathway tables -- the distance Frodo spent on his pony on dozens of trips, the length of marches, the treks of elves, the flights of refugees.

Fonstad concedes that an almost endless series of questions, assumptions and interpretations were necessary in creating these maps. But each line has been drawn with a reason behind it, she says. And she explains the reasoning.

Middle Earth was the creation of a world, and is deserving of its own geography. Fonstad's atlas is well and clearly written, even for the casual fan of Tolkien. And the hundreds of maps she created offers a new prism through which to look at these works. This is by no means a book for everybody, and even die-hard fans of the trilogy might ask why they need to know so much. The hard-core fanatic will know.

You can purchase this book at Fatbrain.

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The Atlas of Middle Earth

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  • Get all the book and get into the story. You will not be sorry.
  • Atlas (Score:2, Informative)

    by vacamike ( 248725 )
    I bought the Atlas about three years back and loved it. The Atlas contains amazing detail and history. I especially liked how it contained topography of not only middle earth during the time that the trilogy is set in but also maps from the Silmarillion's time.
    Well worth the money in my opinion.

    • I am just reading the trilogy for the first time (I know and I'm sorry) and was given the atlas at the same time. It is excellent and having the maps infront of me has really helped me understand what's going on and what's the big deal. I'd say a must for first timers and die hard fans alike.
  • but when you say "middle earth" I think Magma...
  • by Xpilot ( 117961 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:23AM (#2230007) Homepage
    Whaddya say, CmdrTaco?
  • we'll be writing and talking about the trilogy itself as well as other works the original books have inspired.

    Katz is going to re-interpret Tolkein now? No doubt with particular attention to such groundbreaking authors as Merceded Lackey...


    • >No doubt with particular attention to such
      >groundbreaking authors as Merceded Lackey...

      You give him too much credit.

      I would expect him to focus more on such "authors" as Terry Brooks.



    • Re:Other works... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ian Wolf ( 171633 )
      Didn't you know that Sauron personifies rampant corporatism in 1930's England. And, the Nine represent the nine largest "Company Men" of the day.

      I think Jon's starting to get to me.

  • I have this book! (Score:4, Informative)

    by cavemanf16 ( 303184 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:26AM (#2230020) Homepage Journal
    I have had this book for at least five years now, and I have to agree with Katz on this one. It is really detailed (far more detailed than I could have imagined just reading Tolkien's books), and offers a lot of help when reading through Tolkien's books, especially the Silmarillion. I'm a die-hard Tolkien fan (just got The Hobbit millenium edition, and the Lord of the Rings is on the way!), so I'm very familiar with the history and imagery of Middle-Earth, but the Atlas reviewed here really does justice to the series. It might be interesting to note that Karen Wynn Fonstad has done lots of other fiction cartography work for other popular book series' out there (I think D&D and other related stuff), so she's pretty good at giving the fantastical flair to her work (at least I think so). Get this book and reread through the Silmarillion. It's a much better read with maps like this in hand (The Silmarillion maps do take up approximately 1/2 of the Atlas of Middle Earth - IIRC).
    • I couldn't get on with Tolkien for just this reason. Well, that and the fact that I found the whole thing very boring (I'm more of a sci-fi fan than fantasy). In my opinion if you need additional visual material in order to make sense of the story then it doesn't work as a book. I never have any problem visualizing the worlds that Clarke, Bear et al create though.
    • I also own a copy of this book; it adds immeasurably to the pleasure of re-reading Tolkien's works. Fonstad has also written The Atlas of the Land [], The Atlas of Pern [], and atlases for both Forgotten Realms [] and Dragonlance [].

      I also have The Atlas of the Land, which details the world described in the Thomas Covenant books by Stephen R. Donaldson. This is an excellent and extremely well done reference.

      • The Atlas of Pern is incredible! Like Tolkien's work, McCaffery's work leans heavily on a detailed geography. I'm re-reading the Dragonriders series right now and using the Atlas alongside of the books adds so much to the experience. I'm not depending on a convolutued description of the geography, I can see it and form a better mental image of the area.

        The only problem with Pern is that McCaffery has added so much to the original story that the maps are incomplete. The Atlas covers only the original Dragonriders trilogy, the Harpers trilogy, and the Moreta book. A revised version would be much appreciated (and three times as thick.) At least with Middle Earth, the canon is closed and the Atlas can be considered complete.


    • Re:I have this book! (Score:3, Informative)

      by DHartung ( 13689 )
      I've got one as well -- the first edition, from about 20 years ago.

      At first it just seemed like more supplementary material for the ravenous fan, but I came to appreciate that while Fonstad obviously simply began to merge her own geography skills with her love for Tolkien's world, it went far beyond that. Certainly by the time she began to prepare these maps she had taken a much more analytic and critical approach to the material.

      Katz didn't mention it, but the original maps were done as her master's thesis in cartography! That tells you right off this isn't a casual work.

      Fonstad begins by telling us that Tolkien himself was unhappy with the geography of his world. The original map was done by Christopher Tolkien from his father's notes and sketches around the time of the 2nd printing of the trilogy [sic], as I recall, and the trouble was that the map sketches dated from very early in Tolkien's own conception of the stories. Remember that Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion first, partly while inhabiting a trench in WWI (!), and the Hobbit came much later. He wasn't even sure they were part of the same universe, so to speak (without the experience of modern marketing of sf/fantasy universes, this was not a trivial question). The LoTR maps had to conform to the Hobbit map more than anything, but there was at least one major problem: scale.

      Fonstad's careful textual analysis of the Hobbit and the Rings books showed that, for example, the Fellowship {Rings} made its way to Rivendell on foot at a speed roughly 50-100% faster than the Grey Company {Hobbit} on ponies. Tolkien, of course, hadn't made any such detailed effort to conform these accounts (nor does Fonstad suggest he should have). Instead this is just another example of how the Rings stories evolved organically over the course of Tolkien's lifetime.

      Other important and useful things Fonstad does include developing workable hypotheses for the types of geologic history that could have produced Middle-Earth, and on a more detailed level, geographic descriptions that tell us how the types of areas that the characters traverse came to be. What are the Barrow-Downs, really? Why does the Anduin come to an escarpment and flow down a great falls at Rauros? What could have produced the arid region of Mordor so close to verdant Ithilien?

      The answers to these questions are not always wholly satisfying, but they do help the careful reader get a sense of a more realistic world and underscore just how much information and observation Tolkien gave us. I've always thought that he's a terrifically visual writer (one reason the story should make a great screenplay). This brings out the colors in his story and makes them more vivid.
  • 102-7400559-9156934
  • Cool! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Stormie ( 708 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:29AM (#2230045) Homepage

    It's always great to discover a new author, and now that Katz has told me about this Tolkein chap, I'll be certain to check out some of his books! I'm a little surprised that this "Lord Of The Rings" book is out already, though, normally novelisations aren't released until after the film hits the cinemas..

    • p.s. I doubt that this "Lord Of The Rings" movie will be half as good as Star Wars, I don't think that anyone can create as detailed and richly rendered a world as the "galaxy far far away". Rumour has it that George Lucas spent years working on star charts, alien races, even alien languages! before ever penning a word of the Star Wars screenplay. I'm sure Middle Earth is quite simplistic compared to such background detail..

      • I agree with Captain Frisk that this appears to be a bad take-off on a bad parody of a flame-baiting troll, but it is amazing how many readers of fantasy (even high-quality fantasy) don't know (a) how much modern fantasy owes to JRRT and TLOTR (b) how incredibly detailed the world of TLORT is in terms of history, politics, economy, etc.

        After I gave my 10 y.o. LOTR, his first comment was "it's a lot like Redwall". It took me a while to convince him that LOTR came first, and that without it Redwall probably wouldn't exist. (Luckily he saw the light and now counts RotK as one of his favorite books).

        Similarly, while George Lucas acknowledges many sources for SW:ANH, Tolkein is not least among them.

        • I agree with Captain Frisk that this appears to be a bad take-off on a bad parody of a flame-baiting troll

          Actually, it was intended as a sarcastic rejoinder to Katz's breathless "I've just discovered this kewl new piece of 'sci-fi' which might, just might, be almost as good as Star Wars!" tone. I wasn't seriously trolling, although it does seem that I got a few bites.

          but it is amazing how many readers of fantasy (even high-quality fantasy) don't know (a) how much modern fantasy owes to JRRT and TLOTR

          Truly. Although I disagree with the common line of reasoning that if [some work of fantasy] would not be around without Tolkien's pioneering, it follows that [some work of fantasy] must necessarily be an inferior work.

          (b) how incredibly detailed the world of TLORT is in terms of history, politics, economy, etc.

          ..sadly combined with incredibly weakly realized characters and horrible dialog..

          It took me a while to convince him that LOTR came first, and that without it Redwall probably wouldn't exist.

          What's a Redwall?

          Similarly, while George Lucas acknowledges many sources for SW:ANH, Tolkein is not least among them.

          Don't tell Katz that! Lucas is influenced by nothing other than his own godlike intellect and creativity! SW is 100% original! Also, don't tell him that the hobbits aren't really a metaphor for the oppressed geeks of the earth, bullied by the orcs (=jocks), Sauron (=Bill Gates) and Saruman (="The Man") !!

      • I don't think that anyone can create as detailed and richly rendered a world as the "galaxy far far away".

        You're kidding right? Lucas has nothing on Tolkein. I'm assuming you read LOTR right? And The Hobbit? And the Simarillion? And Lost Tales (Volumes 1- whatever they are up to now? And the Atlas's? You get my point.

        Lucas actually created very little, it's all those other people that are writing books like I, Jedi etc. They are the ones populating the Star Wars universe, not Lucas. It was my understanding that Lucas intentionally left things vague so that he would retain ultimate control over what goes on in the universe. What happens to all these Bantam Publishing boots when the next movie starts contridicting what happened? I always wonder if Lucas signed off on Luke becoming a dark Jedi...

    • I seriously hope that this was a parody of a flamebait post. Just in case, The Lord of the Rings is an old work. It is most certainly not a novelisation.
  • Get it at Amazon (Score:3, Informative)

    by throx ( 42621 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:31AM (#2230053) Homepage
    Go to Amazon - it's $16.80 there as opposed to $19.20 at Fatbrain.
  • ... but I do have the Forgotten Realms atlas at home by Fonstad, and I have to say it's lovely. The maps contain an incredible amount of detail and are amazingly easy to read considering, and it's a pleasure to have maps that haven't been drawn by the author with little triangles for mountains :)

    Also the maps depicting important scenes from the books really serve to make things clearer, especially during confusing scenes which occur over wide or tangled geographical areas. I can only imagine the effort that went into making these as consistent as possible with the books, especially in this case as the author cannot be contacted...

    I'm not a huge Tolkien fan, but I might get this anyway just to look through. Maps are great, and I wish there were more books like this for all my favourite worlds :)

  • I've never read the LOTR books, first time I even heard of them was when everyone started going ape-shit over the movies in development.

    I browsed the summaries on Amazon but i havent really felt the urge to buy the series. I like Sci-Fi (trek, B5, etc) but some fantasy novels just try too hard and end up making me bored. Should I even try to make it through LOTR?

    • You are in the wonderful position of still being able to read TLOR for the first time. Yes, some fantasy novels do try to hard... but not these. Tolkien produced the original. All the others are just trying to recreate his masterpiece.

    • by tarsi210 ( 70325 ) <> on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:46AM (#2230143) Homepage Journal
      Tolkien is to fantasy what Plato was to philosophy: a pioneer, a definer, a methodologist. Although parts of LOTR are, frankly, boring (although they are few and nicely bounded by excitement), Tolkien has done an amazing job at making a fantasy world.

      The word "world" here not only encompasses the environment in which the characters live and interact, but the entirety of the existence of all characters. If any one character may know about a certain place, event, or person, that object is not only mentioned but defined, elaborated, and links seamlessly into the other aspects of the world.

      Good fantasy has very few inconsistencies in the history and events of the worlds, as well as personal interactions, race definitions, language definitions and modes, and cultural aspects. Tolkien, being a linguist, was primarily interested in the language aspect of his worlds and so you can find extensive studies and documents of the Elven languages, as well as Dwarven and such. There are quite a few people in the world who speak one of the Elven languages Tolkien created, just because they were done so well!

      LOTR is a must-read for any sci-fi/fantasy lover, if nothing else for the simple fact that it is a definitive book in the genre. And if you're fortunate, like myself, it will become one of your favorite novels of all time. I distinctly remember crying at the end of the first read of LOTR, not so much because I was empathizing with the characters, but because I didn't want the story to ever end.

      • At first I found some parts of the story boring, but on future readings, it got more and more interesting. It turned out that the boring parts were the ones I did not understand at first. Now, the only boring part (for me) is Tom Bombadil, I never liked the guy anyway. I'm happy he hasn't made it to the movie..:)
    • Since LOTR is the archetype for the majority of today's quest based fantasy (which is not to say ALL of today's fantasy is quest based), it's hard to be sure whether to recommend it to you or not. On one hand, I've seen people who have read and decided they don't like current quest fantasy and had exactly the same reaction to LOTR; on the other hand, Tolkien did go into a LOT more detail and I never got the feeling that he was "trying too hard"--Middle Earth was just real as he described it. Silmarillion reads more like history books, but LOTR still stands above the vast majority of its imitators.
    • There is so much in the speculative fiction world that borrows from Tolkien. These books are great. At least read Lord of the Rings, maybe The Hobbit (if you do, you should read it first). Read my other post to find out part of why I love these books so much (too lazy to find post url (-:).

      Read them. they will change your view of the world.
    • You definitely should read LoTR, if you're interested in good reading.

      What I personally like in LoTR is the beauty of the author's work, that is the combination of an intricate and deep plot, with masterful writing (Tolkien was a professor and a life-long scholar of the English language).

      LoTR is second to none in aesthetics and style, and it is definitely the best book that I've ever read.

    • As I kiss some karma goodbye...

      I started reading the LOTR series when I was 8. Couldn't get through more than a couple of chapters. I tried again when I was 12, 16 and 20, and then tried for the last time this year, at 22. I finally made it through the books, and, sadly enough, I consider it poorly spent time.

      As you pointed out in your post 'some fantasy novels just try too hard... mak[e] me bored.' LOTR is one of these books. Tolkien is longwinded, almost to the point of incomprehensibility; his sentance structure is overly complex for what I consider to be recreational reading and the story, IMHO, just isn't that good.

      I am a scifi man, as well, and you pointed out my biggest beef with the fantasy genre: a lot of the novels don't recognize thier place. But I digress. I found LOTR to be boring, overly complicated (both structurally and storyline-wise) and althogether a less-than-enjoyable read. If you want something fun to read, go pick up a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's _Love_in_the_Time_of_Cholera_ (/randombookreccomendation)

    • Keep in mind that The Hobbit was written more as a children's novel. It also provides a really good introduction to Middle Earth and its inhabitants. Not only that, but there are references in LOTR to The Hobbit that are important, and Tolkien wrote LOTR with the idea that the reader would already be familiar with The Hobbit.

      Also, after reading about Bilbo Baggins, you will want to know what happens to him and the ring... you will get hooked into reading LOTR.
      • He didn't make that assumption. LOTR is a standalone work and reading 'The Hobbit' first is totally unnecessary. An analogy might be to say that Unix knowledge is necessary if one is to learn Linux.
        • OK, I'll admit that you don't NEED to read The Hobbit in order to understand LOTR, but it does provide background material regarding Dwarves, Hobbits, the men of Laketown, and how Hobbits ended up with the one ring of power. Frodo also comes across the petrified Trolls, and there are some other references to events and places from The Hobbit.

          I also think that if you aren't ready for some "meaty" reading material that The Hobbit is also a good starting point. I would recommend The Hobbit for an introduction to Middle Earth for children who are still beginning readers that may get lost with LOTR. I also know friends who turned in a book report for LOTR in elemtary school, getting it rejected because the teacher thought that the student couldn't have possibly read the book because it was too difficult for her to read it.

          BTW, knowing how to operate Unix OS shells is certainly useful to running Linux, and it also helps to know the history of Unix if you are going to try and make some changes to the Linux kernel. I would like to see somebody make a substantial kernel changes without knowing at least in thumbnail another Unix system. If you are refering to a "novice" computer user... you may be more correct, but it would still help to know general Unix commands (which are quite a bit different from non-Unix based OS's like VMS, CP/M & dirivatives (including MS-DOS), Amiga OS, etc.)
    • A bit of advice (Score:2, Informative)

      by InfoVore ( 98438 )
      1st What order should you read the books?

      Most people recommend that you start with The Hobbit and then continue on with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, Return of the King). They are separate stories, though they are closely coupled. If you don't normally like fantasy, then I suggest you defer reading The Hobbit until after reading the trilogy (if you finish it at all). Why? Two reasons: a) The Hobbit is mostly backstory to the larger and more epic story in the trilogy. While helpful, it is not really necessary for reading the Lord of the Rings. b) The Hobbit was originally written by Tolkein for his children. The storytelling style is very much in the mode of a children's fairy tale. It is a ripping good yarn and well worth the time for adults, but its distinctly juvenile style can seem a little "cute" at times. Please note that a little of this style rubs off on the first few chapters of Fellowship. The style seems to "mature" rapidly as the principles get farther from home, so it may be seen more as a literary device than anything.

      2nd Do read the books before Fellowship is released in the theaters.

      From all that I have read Peter Jackson and his team are doing superb job of adapting the story to the screen, but it is STILL an adaptation. There is a depth and breadth to Tolkien's prose that cannot be captured on film no matter how good the director or the production. This richness comes from Tolkien himself. He was one of the premier philologists (historian of languages) of his time. He had a decades long fascination with creating languages and mythologies/histories to describe them. From these deep roots grew Lord of the Rings. No author before or since has been able to match the scope and depth of this story. To do so would take the two things Tolkien had: genius and a long lifetime of hard study.

      3rd Remember, Lord of the Rings was not written yesterday.

      Why is this important? Sometimes readers dismiss perfectly good books because they consider the style or the story archaic. If you do really enjoy SF, like Babylon 5, then you should give Tolkien a chance. You will recognize some very familiar themes and stories and characters. No author writes in a vacuum. Epic fiction, whether it is Beowulf or LOTR or Babylon 5, has similar themes. Later authors will often borrow and reshape much older stories, if only subconciously. Tolkien drew on the mythologies of Beowulf and the Der Ring des Nibelungen, and created a world. Strazynski drew on Tolkien and Doc Smith and a dozen other sources to expressed his own ideas about the future. All I am trying to say is that you will see familiar faces, if in a different form, if you choose to make the journey. It is worth it.

      Now go grab a copy and READ!!!


      • "b) The Hobbit was originally written by Tolkein for his children. The storytelling style is very much in the mode of a children's fairy tale. It is a ripping good yarn and well worth the time for adults, but its distinctly juvenile style can seem a little "cute" at times. "

        Actually, it was written when his children were quite young. He said later in life that if he knew at that time what he learned later about children, he wouldn't have "dumbed down" The Hobbit.

    • Try reading real sci-fi. No, back away from the serials, they are the spawn of the devil. Real authors, the ones who started in the 70's or earlier. Star-Trek is not sci-fi, any more then Star Wars is sci-fi. I'm not saying its bad (big fan of TNG and DS9 here) but its just sooo made-up. Star Trek is for kids and the undereducated, who don't realize they're making things up as they go along. Read some Niven, Brin (Uplift, not Postman), Bova, or maybe Gibson if that's more up your alley.

      Real science fiction doesn't get movies and TV shows made about them, because the populace wouldn't understand the stories. Sci-fi is supposed to make you think. B5 is much closer to real science fiction, although the problem is that it has a tendency to be very hammy and crappy - plus the tendency to go totally paranormal (day of the dead) keeps it slightly in the realm of fantasy. I believe B5 is a very well laid-out series and JMS is a genious, but whatever writers he's got working for him are boobs. Still, its damn good sht.

      Ah well, I'm just talking out of my ass. Anybody who believes me already reads the good stuff.

      Whatever, read Tolkien. B5 already feels like it as is in a lot of ways (Tolkien quote in B5: "do not trifle wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger" or something like that)
    • What else do you read? If you only read Star Wars and Star Trek novels, or Pratchett, you're likely just looking for some light entertainment. LotR is emphatically not that. Not that there's anything wrong with reading SW/ST/Pratchett (I love Pterry's work), just that comparing them is like comparing Shakespeare and a Hollywood action film - both may be fun/interesting, but they've got very different styles!

      Try your hand at "Cryptonomicon" or "Snow Crash" by Neil Stephenson (or "Interface" by the same author, writing as Stephen Bury). If you hate the detail in them, the way that the story branches fractally to cover odd corners of each character's experience, culture or technology and then resumes the main story a page or two later, then you'll not manage LotR. If OTOH you can deal with the complexity of Cryptonomicon, then LotR is definitely for you.

      One warning - the language in LotR is intentionally "old-fashioned", since it was modelled on old Saxon/Norse fantasies. This may make some of the conversations sound stilted - it requires a little suspension of disbelief to imagine that ppl would actually talk that way, the same as reading/watching Shakespeare.

    • I read the Hobbit because I had gone through everything else that looked interesting on my sister's bookshelf. I loved it, simply loved it. Later I discovered the other Tolkein books, and read them (I was 10 or so at the time). I didn't like them as well -- my 10 year old imagination wanted faster action.

      Coming back to the books when I was in my late teens, however, the texture was completely different. I loved the complexity, the background, the depth the books had.

      If you've read a bunch of people who say "Tolkein changed my life, he's my God", I'm afraid the books may not live up to your expectations... very little can with a build-up like that.

      If you intend to watch the movies, I recommend reading the books first, so you won't be colored by the movies' take on Tolkein's vision.

  • The book J.R.R. Tolkien by Tom Shippey is another interesting read for Tolkien fans. He reviews Tolkien from several literary perspectives: as myth, as related to Tolkien's life, as related to lingustics, and as story. Tolkien reviewers usually fall into either love or hate category with little middle ground. Shippey is in the love category.

    Here will you find the mythic story relationships and linguistic relationships between Beowolf (the OE epic) and the Hobbit. There are also philological relationships between story, placenames, and character in the real british isles and their use in LOTR. This adds another dimension to the re-reading of LOTR.

  • Not just the maps... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gregoyle ( 122532 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:37AM (#2230083)
    I have been in love with Tolkien's work since I was 11 or 12 years old, and the love hasn't ceased growing yet. Some comments:

    Although the great maps Tolkien obviously created to detail the civilizations, migrations, and geography/geology of his world(s) have a huge impact on their shocking reality, I think there are many other factors that contribute as much or more. First of all is the languages. Look at the appendices of Return of the King if you want to know what I mean. These languages are in depth, realistic, and utterly amazing. Many of them closely parallel structure and syntax of North-Germanic languages (e.g. Norwegian, Danish, Old English). They parallel them enough that it isn't entirely inconceivable that the Common which is spoken in Middle Earth is in fact written as it sounds. It sounds just like English. Notice how Tolkien doesn't use very many words of Latin origin (which can often give a clinical feel to speech). This gives the books a hominess (sic?) and a feeling of old beauty.

    Also, the mythology. My favorite Tolkien book of all is the Silmarillion because of the great mythology it presents for Middle Earth. Also look how closely it mirrors our own mythologies, particularly Norse, Greek, and Christian. The stories are so rich and so human (even though many of them take place before humans are invented :-)), we could almost accept them as our own natural mythos rather than one invented by a telented writer. Harry Harrison's "Warriors of the Way" trilogy has opened up some new intellectual doors for me regarding Asgardian myth (particularly the role of Loki), and I plan to re-read as much of Tolkien's work as I can to look into the topic further. This stuff never ceases to amaze me.
    • First of all is the languages. Look at the appendices of Return of the King if you want to know what I mean. These languages are in depth, realistic, and utterly amazing. Many of them closely parallel structure and syntax of North-Germanic languages (e.g. Norwegian, Danish, Old English).

      There's a perfectly good reason for this. JRRT was by profession a philologist and lecturer at Oxford University. His academic specialities were Norse, Old English and Saxon saga-form stories. [1] The development which became the Lord of the Rings began with a dream he began having prior to WWI of a great tidal wave engulfing an island, with a norse-style long-ship sailing out of the destruction. This dream later saw the light as the original stories which became, during the 20's, the tale of the Fall of Numenor.

      He began evolving a mythology and language for the elves of a semi-Norse alternate past during the twenties, and his aim was to make his experiment in language theory (the intentional creation of working, practical language) as full as possible, by creating the things which influence language: myth, stories and 'history'.

      He then wrote a story, which grew out of his enduring love for the Warwickshire and Oxfordshire countryside and the people therof, called The Hobbit. To his eternal surprise, it was a huge success, and he began to be plagued with requests for further stories about Hobbits. While discussing this with Stanley Unwin, he came up with a way he could bring his Hobbits into the world he had begun to create as a setting for his philological experiments, and this he proceeded to do on and off for the next 35 years.

      If you're interested in where I got all of that from, the places to start are 'The Book of Lost Tales' (parts one and two, ed. Christopher Tolkein) and 'Tolkein's Letters' (which is an absolute must-read if you're interested in Tolkein himself as well as his middle-earth fiction).


      [1] His translation of Beowulf was a set text when my sister was studying at degree level in 1994. It's a very good translation.

      • Thanks for the info!!

        Is Tolkien's Letters published under Christopher Tolkien as well? That's one of the few I don't have. The Book(s) of Lost Tales are great though, I haven't read them in a few years, but those are some of the ones I'm planning on rereading.

        If you like Book of Lost Tales, you'll probably also like Unfinished Tales, I forget if it's published under John or Christopher. But then you seem pretty in to this, so you probably have that one, too :-).
      • One tidbit I read somewhere was that Tolkein's reading of Beowulf in it's original dialect was always a well-attended event, too, even though he was not known as a good speaker (seems he usually kept his pipe in his mouth while talking or lecturing)
  • Is it just me, or do all ./ book reviews get a rating of 8? Good enough to care about covering, not as good as we would have done it ourselves.

  • ...but a little strange.

    "If you want to enter Tolkien's world, the best way is to tLotR, the Hobbit, and The Silmarillion." People do not read the Silmarillion - they struggle through it. Recommending it as an entry level book for Middle Earth is madness.

    "For hard-core Tolkien lovers who have [already read the books]..": how can you be a hard-core fan without having read the books.

    "[it's] well and clearly written, even for the casual fan". I can't figure out what this means - I think he is looking for understandable, but I could be wrong.

    "Offers a new prism through which to look at these works". Erm - trying to read though a prism will not be very productive.

    And, finally, the subtle nuance which separates the die-hard fan from the hard core fanatic is lost on me. Are these more or less fanatical than the hard-core Tolkien lovers?

    Is anybody who read this any the wiser as to whether the book is worth buying?

  • Delorme will also be offering Middle Earth Atlas 1.0 for Windows which will enable you to navigate through middle earth easily and accurately. It has a GPS option for realtime tracking, but they haven't quite figured out how to make it work underground yet. I've been using the beta and have avoided a lot of mine shafts and molten rock pockets. No word on a Linux port.
    • "Delorme will also be offering Middle Earth Atlas 1.0 for Windows which will enable you to navigate through middle earth easily and accurately. It has a GPS option for realtime tracking, but they haven't quite figured out how to make it work underground yet."

      Technically not impossible, since JRR said that the Shire is located in north-central England. However, that would put Isengard about at the endpoint of the boot of Italy, meaning most of the interesting parts are underwater today. Perhaps this occured at the time Atlantis sank? Hard to say.

  • I of course am one of those who will be reading at least the first book of the trilogy prior to the movie this fall, but while I know that the series goes in the order of The Hobbit, LOTR Trilogy, Silmarillion chronologically, what order should i read them in? I'm on the impression that The Hobbit is something of a children's book and if it's nicer as a "prequel after the fact" then I'd rather get into a meatier book, rather than waste my time and perhaps get discouraged by the childishness of The Hobbit. Any tips?


    • Don't dismiss "The Hobbit" offhand as a children's book, any more than you'd do the same for "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" (CS Lewis was a close friend of Tolkien, BTW), "Wind in the Willows" (and the sequels by William Horwood), the Harry Potter series or Pratchett. All of these are children's books, or at least were originally written as children's books.

      "The Hobbit" has quite a lot of light entertainment in it which makes it less heavy going than some of the children's books above (TL,TW&TW is definitely older children only!) but there's still some bits which are darker than usual, which gives it the depth many children's books (and adults' books, for that matter) are sadly lacking.


      PS. I know I'll get flamed for mentioning Harry Potter. :-) And I forgot to mention Alan Garner's Wierdstone books as well.
    • I'd give The Hobbit a miss for now unless you enjoy children's writing. The style is much more "cute" than you'll find in Harry Potter, for instance. It wasn't even originally intended to occupy the same universe as The Silmarillion does and Lord of the Rings wound up in, and had to be re-edited to fit properly. So contrary to what some folks in this thread are saying, there's really nothing in it that casts much light on LoTR. You can get everything you need as far as the background it provides from LoTR's prologue.

      After you're through with LoTR, you might want to try The Hobbit, but if you start with it there's a good chance it will put you off entirely. Then go for The Silmarillion -- but that's a different animal entirely. It has no coherent plot, being presented instead as an episodic series of loosely connected legends, and is written in a highly formal style. Although it's indispensible for people who really get into Tolkien's Middle-Earth, it's clearly not for everybody. You can follow up The Silmarillion with Unfinished Tales, which fills in some of the remaining gaps in the histories based on some of Tolkien's more complete fragments. Then, if you decide you're really a Tolkien wonk, go for the History of Middle Earth series, a scholarly assemblage of Tolkien's rough drafts and fragments edited by his son Christopher that traces the development of the entire legendarium from the earliest beginnings in 1914 or thereabouts to his death.

  • Like most fans of his work, I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings at a fairly young age and it changed my world. I tried the Silmarillion, but at 12, I was a bit unprepared for it. I picked up the Silmarillion again a couple of times, but anever got through it...until I got my hands on the Atlas. Using it to help guide me through the Silmarillion worked wonderfully. It's a must for any fan who wants a bit more, or who hasn't enjoyed what I've come to believe is Tolkien's finest work.
  • Details? (Score:3, Informative)

    by JoshuaDFranklin ( 147726 ) <joshuadfranklin.NOSPAM@ y a h o> on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @10:43AM (#2230129) Homepage
    Does anyone else wish there were some details about this? Number of maps? A ToC?

    This is the kind of info that should be IN THE REVIEW.
  • I Love Maps - I always have, they dont have to be
    maps necessarily, I enjoy blueprints too.

    Tolkiens story hit a chord with me. I have a decent collection of his work, including special
    editions of LOTR, his biography, etc. This book
    will, no doubt, be added to the collection as well.

    My love of maps extended nicely into RPG's, I've been gaming for (at least) 15+ years now, and if I am the running a campaign - the players know that there are detailed maps behind most everything, even if they are never privy to any originals (unless of course they have intimate knowledge
    of a locale or region) until after they information can be useful (ie, end of the campaign).

    I tend to take all sorts of variables into account
    in creating maps too - especially natural. For instance, when creating a World map (or known world, as the case usually is in FRPG's), plate techtonics (sp?) is always my first step.

    There is one difference between Europe and America that comes to mind regarding maps, the speed in which roads and towns were formed. Because of this I think, although a very _general_ statement, Americans have a less accurate mental picture of their surrounding countryside, much less the terrain they will encounter on foot from thier hometown to the next.

    Geez, I got so excited about the topic i just started rambling.

  • I'm a pretty big fantasy fiction fan myself. Goodkind, Jordan, Tad Williams and RR Martin being my current favorites. About a year ago I gave a shot at reading LOTR since it was hailed as the epitome of Fantasy fiction. I stalled around the Council of Elrond for about 8 months and read something else. Frankly I found it boring.

    I went on to read some reviews of the trilogy and found one reviewer to say the first 'book' can be pretty hard to get through but after the Council it really picked up. And it did. I found the Two Towers volume to be quite good. 'Book Five' in Return of the King was also really good but again, in 'Book Six', I find myself struggling to finish. While I recognize the brillance of the story and it's ground breaking imagery I have a hard time getting through some of tedious dialog and story. I find myself eying the second book of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn on my desk. This won't be popular with most LOTR fans, but frankly I like some modern fantasy better. To this day nothing has gripped me like RR Martin's Song of Fire and Ice.

    As to the LOTR movie it will be a huge success if the creators stick to the original image of the movie. If the water it down for children, which I'm afraid they will, I will be very disappointed. I want to see heads fly over Minas Tirith! :)

  • J.R.'s son Christopher published at least 16
    Tolkien books from his father's papers after
    his death. These include the Silmarillion,
    Numenor, Tales, Lost Tales, and the tweleve volume
    "History of Middle Earth".
    The latter contains rough drafts of the material
    in LOTR.

    The Silmarillion and the first couple history
    books were interesting. However the later stuff
    is more sketchy and bird cage lining.

  • If you want to enter Tolkien's world, the best way is to read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the The Silmarillion

    Just on the off-chance someone is actually using this to plan out their reading list, it should be noted that The Hobbit precedes The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the story arc, and should probably therefore be read first. Note that it was written as a children's book (unlike the others), and thus has a slightly twee style that some may find a bit off-putting.

    The Silmarillion is a compendium of material concerning events far earlier in Middle Earth's history, but should be read after LotR simply because it's denser, less accessible, and relies heavily on a good understanding of Middle Earth as a prerequisite.

    • Note that [The Hobbit] was written as a children's book (unlike the others), and thus has a slightly twee style that some may find a bit off-putting.

      Actually, it has a very twee style until the climactic battle scene, and I think most adults would find it off-putting. I certainly did. I've re-read LoTR many, many times over the years. I just don't have the stomach for The Hobbit.

      There's nothing in The Hobbit you need to know about for Lord of the Rings that isn't in the prologue for the latter. The Hobbit can be skipped entirely unless LoTR piques your interest in it.

  • I must concur that this is an excellent book. I had read Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion before, but a lot of stuff never really "clicked" until I saw the atlas. The atlas stresses stuff that you can easily miss when reading the books. You can actually see how far Aragon, Gimli, and Legolas ran when following orcs in what, 3 days? I think it's almost far as France is wide! The architecture maps give you a much strong feel for what it must really have been like to be in Cirith Ungol, or standing in front of the Black Gate. There are just so many tiny things this atlas illuminates. It was recently out of print I think, but I'm glad they brought it back. It's definitly one of my favorite non-fiction books.

    By the way, if you're looking for more information on the upcoming Lord of the Rings movies, the best site is The One Ring dot Net [] (TORn).

  • by jgaynor ( 205453 ) <jon@gay[ ].org ['nor' in gap]> on Wednesday August 29, 2001 @01:50PM (#2231254) Homepage

    This book seems like an easier to read version of the silmarillion

    Any Tolkien fan will tell you that the of the five books mentioned above, the Silmarillion reads like a cross between the Bible and 1980's VCR instructions. It is heavy with volumes of mythology, unpronouncable names and maps thet Bryce couldn't render. This book seems like an easier to read version of that most enigmatic of JRR's books.

    Think Ill go get it and use it as a companion so I can finally finish teh Silmarillion.

    • The Silmarillion was collected together by one of his sons, based on notes and unpublished stories, and then published posthumously. A large part of the actual prose -- the part that reads like the 1980's VCR instructions -- was actually written by Christopher as glue text. Think of the contents of the Sil. as simply one snapshot from a massive CVS repository. :-) Even Christopher said later that parts of it aren't "true".

      Tolkien's notes were extremely confused and contradictory at the time of his death. I am amazed (and thankful) that Christopher was able to make any sense out of them at all. Tolkien had actually started to make heavy rewrites (again!) in sections of the Middle-Earth mythology that we like to think of as set in stone; Christopher had to deliberately ignore the inconsistencies, and publish the intended changes in a later series of books.

      Keep in mind also that the events of the Quenta Silmarillion and Akallabeth (probably misspelled that second one, it's the atlantis reference with one of the biggest "pun" setups in English literature) were Tolkien's real story; the one he spent his lifetime dreaming about. The Lord of the Rings was intended to just be a Hobbit sequel, but the Sil. was where his soul lived. It was bound to change a lot.

      (One of my favorite aspects of the First and Second Ages is that nearly all the action took place west of the Blue Mountains. If you look at the maps in LOTR, you'll say, "Huh? The Blue Mountains stand on the west coastline! There's no land there!" To which the answer is, "There's no land there anymore...")

  • I love the trilogy dearly & first read it when I was 12 years old. Sadly, as an adult I've come to understand that, if only unconciously, Tolkien has mapped the geography of Middle Earth onto that of Europe, and in the process perpetuates some very vicious racist stereotypes.

    It's obvious from the text that Hobbits live in the British Isles, but look at the map again. It doesn't stop there. The war against Mordor is a transparent retelling of the centuries of conflict between Europe and the Huns (initially), later the Ottoman Empire. It's the same "West (good) vs. East (bad)" myth that fueled the Crusades.

    Mordor == Turkey
    Orcs == Turks
    Rohan = Hungary
    Gondor = Austria
    Minas Tirith == Vienna

    Check out the language (character set) of the orcs & Mordor, and the everpresent stereotypes (filth, cruelty, even curved blades!). Notice how ME is bordered on the West by the sea (divine, the final retreat of the heroes i.e. Avalon) but on the East it's a complete blank. Even the shape of Mordor resembles Turkey (Anatolia, actually).

    There are so many details to support this it would make a decent PhD dissertation. But I don't mean to judge Tolkien or invalidate his work, it's just that as an adult I can't help but place it in the larger historcial and social context. The British Empire had finally triumphed (at hideous cost, e.g. Gallipoli) over the Ottoman at the time of The Hobbit's publication ('37?) but was itself mortally wounded. Rising Arab and Indian nationalism were busily undermining colonial rule, and Sauron was indeed growing in power in Europe's midst. The apocalypse finally arrived in Europe with the same inescapable and terrible violence it did in Middle Earth.

    I look at that map and I see Europe before WWII. It makes me sad, because contained withing one of my most beloved childhood stories is a racist view of the world that persists (in some ways) to this day.

  • Since I haven't seen anyone mention it yet, if you are a LOTR fan, you absolutely must check out this website []. Enjoy!
  • I just got the BBC drama (13 episodes) of LotR and the Hobbit.I haven't heard such a great Sci-fi story in a long time. This really brought me back to the days when i "discovered" Star Wars. I definately recommend getting the CDs to this or at least download them from your favorite file-sharing program.

HELP!!!! I'm being held prisoner in /usr/games/lib!