TOLKIEN'S WORLD FROM A TO Z: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO MIDDLE-EARTH
by Robert Foster
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Robert Foster's Tolkien's World From A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, has been around since 1974, when, Foster pointed out, The Silmarillion was published, rendering "Tolkien's mythopoesis. . . virtually complete." Of course, since that time, Tolkien's heirs have been mining his notes to produce the multi-volume "Histories of Middle Earth." With the imminent release of the first live action cinematic production of Tolkien's work, Del Rey Books has elected to reprint Foster's guide to the characters, places and events of Tolkien's imaginative world.
Foster's guide is extremely complete for the books which had been published up to that time. Although many of the entries are single lines, they inevitably are cross referenced to other entries which will provide more information. An example opens the book in which the single line entry for "Abyss" refers the reader/researcher/browser to entries for both "Timeless Halls" and "Ilúvater." Either of these entries provide more information, as well as additional cross references.
Furthermore, Foster has included citations for all of his entries, allowing his readers to find where these entries are referenced in the original The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion. Unfortunately, while Foster notes the page number in both the Ballantine mass market editions and Houghton Mifflin hardcover editions, the number of editions has multiplied since this volume was first published and many readers of omnibus editions, trade paperback editions, etc. may find these references more confusing than useful.
While there are numerous short, almost incidental references, Tolkien's World From A to Z really shines when Foster focuses his attention on the major people, places and events of Tolkien's world. His description of "Bilbo Baggins" explains who Bilbo is and what he has done while avoiding giving away too many details of The Hobbit. Places like the Shire or events like the Battle of the Five Armies receive similar treatment.
The book is written with the tone that everything described by Tolkien happened and he was simply writing histories rather than fiction. This conceit allows Foster to take a serious tone in describing the variety with which Tolkien populated his world and adds to the usefulness and enjoyability of the book. Readers who are simply looking for a brief reminder as well as those who are looking for more detailed information will find what they are looking for in Tolkien's World From A to Z.
Del Rey is obviously reprinting this volume at this time to coincide with the release of the first Lord of the Rings film. This event will surely boost sales of this volume to those who are interested in some of the background of the films, as well as those who use the films as a starting place for the original novels and desire to have a handy reference for the complexities Tolkien introduces.
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