Book Review: The Origins Of Tolkien’s Middle-earth For Dummies

The Origins Of Tolkien’s Middle-earth For Dummies, by Greg Harvey

As someone who has read a few books in this particular series [1], and other series like it, I often ponder whether such a book like this is necessary.  I mean, it was certainly a good read, and it covered areas of the legendarium of the world of Middle Earth that I did not know well, despite having read quite a bit of material in that universe from Tolkien.  And by quite a bit, I mean the Fall of Gondolin and the Children of Hurin as well as the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and various other reference materials.  There are enough fans of Tolkien who would be interested in knowing some of the larger context of that world and how it connects with Tolkien’s own religious beliefs and personal life that this book is certainly one that has a lot of readers.  And so it is likely that the profitability of the book and its sizable possible audience is justification enough to write a book like this one.  Books have been created for far worse reasons than this one was, and with far less achievement, it should be remembered.

Coming in at more than 300 pages, this book is a bit heftier than it first appears, and it is divided into six parts and 26 chapters, each of which has a hilarious cartoon on it for the reader to appreciate.  After a foreword and introduction, the first part contains two chapters that deal with the geography of Middle-earth (I), with the worlds (1) and lands (2) of that universe.  The second part spends a great deal of time discussing the various beings of Middle-earth (II), with chapters focused on the divine Ainur (3), elves (4), humans (5), dwarves (6), hobbits (7), wizards (8), neutrals like Beorn, Tom Bombadil, and Treebeard (9), and Sauron and his minions (10).  After that there are two chapters about the history of Middle earth (III) dealing with the Valerian ages (11) and the first three ages and then some (12).  The author discusses the languages of Middle-earth (IV) by looking at Tolkien’s appreciation of languages in general (13) and the tongues he invented (14).  Several chapters fill the author’s discussion of the themes and mythology of Middle-earth (V), including the struggle between good and evil (15), immorality and death (16), the heroic quest (17), chivalry and true love (18), fate and free will (19), faith and redemption (20), the mythos of the ring (21), ecological themes (22), and sex and gender (23).  Finally, the book ends with the usual part of tens (VI), including battles in the War of the Ring (24), online resources about Middle-earth (24), and differences between the books and movies (25), as well as an index.

A few things are very clear from the way the author went about this particular work.  For one, the author is certainly a big fan of Middle-earth and very familiar with its diverse texts, and has a high degree of praise for the way that Tolkien was so dedicated about creating not only a series of novels but also placing into it linguistic puns and a great deal of serious study and his own religious worldview.  It is also clear that the author wishes to promote a certain agenda of his own, including some criticism of the generally traditional gender roles portrayed in the series and a certain amount of Buddhist thought and practice that the author wants to support, and even gnostic ideas about God and various emanations.  If this book is not perfect, and if there are some parts of it that I find problematic, there are certainly many aspects of this book that were very enjoyable to read and that will help someone to better understand the world of Middle-earth.  This book accomplishes what it sets out to do.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Book Review: The Origins Of Tolkien’s Middle-earth For Dummies

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