Non-Fiction Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion

(2005/8) Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, HarperCollins, 12.99, pbk, lxxxii + 894 pp, ISBN 978-0-007-27060-6


This is billed as the definitive annotated companion to J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings and as billings go this one is decidedly appropriate. Hammond and Skull have gone through the novel with a fine comb and then related this to a body of author interviews and correspondence. What we end up with is a comprehensive dissection of the work that will enable devotees of the novel discern how Tolkien crafted the story and its setting. Now given that Middle Earth is such a comprehensive creation it is not surprising that a volume of getting on for a thousand pages is required to explain all the people's names, towns, actions, sayings, terminology, family trees and so forth. It is truly a monumental study that must have taken a few years even with two of them at it. This really is a scholarly work.

The companion begins with an introductory preface readers are advised to check out as will help with subsequent navigation and comprehension. Then there is a brief history of how The Lord of the Rings came to be written, then before we get to the meat of the book there are a few more small sections dealing with things like maps of Middle Earth (sadly with no maps reproduced but then the idea is you use this book alongside your own copy of The Lord of the Rings).

The main body of the companion comprises of chapters paralleling chapters in The Lord of the Rings but consisting of notes and points of interest relating to the original work's text. Finally at the companion's ends there are some sections with further background including a letter from J. R. R. and an article on The Lord of the Rings nomenclatures by the man himself. There is even a small section on the 2004-5 edition, which had proofing corrections (and someone seems to have gone through the text with a copy of Fowlers).

Of course it goes without saying that there is a reference list and (fortunately because it really is needed) a comprehensive index at the back.

So who will this work benefit. Well the easy answer is serious Tolkien fans (average fans can easily get by on enjoying Tolkein's books simply for passing enjoyment). However others too can learn much. Fantasy writers constructing epics in invented worlds could gain much by earning how much thought went into The Lord of the Rings: indeed we readers might welcome it if some of the more average of today's fantasy writers did up their game. Similarly those into fantasy role-playing and war games, especially dungeon masters and their analogues in other types of game, would gain considerably in seeing how invented realms are created. Finally those who study fantasy literature. I never was sure as to how much benefit formal courses impart (or whether tax payers' money should be used to support these) but teaching yourself about the genre is another story and possible but help is required. Here, with regards to The Lord of the Rings, such help is at hand.

Jonathan Cowie

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