Monday, April 13, 2015

I'm not sure why this book is a thing

I have no idea where my copy of The Magical Worlds of the Lord of the Rings (MWLotR for the rest of this post) came from. It's not the kind of book that I would typically buy, it's unlikely that I kidnapped it from my dad's shelves, and I'm not sure who could have given it to me (though I think a gift is the most likely source) but one way or another I have it and I read it.

It's an odd sort of book. I can tell that David Colbert, its author, is a huge Tolkien fan (or at least I would hope so) and is super duper into literature and research. Oddly enough this isn't the kind of book that I would typically read but it really seems like a kind of book that I would write - a fan-made exploration into the literary tradition that lead to the creation of a much-beloved fictional universe.

But that's part of why it's so odd: it seems like the kind of book that can really only appeal to lit geeks while also being simplistic enough that most lit geeks will already know what's in it. Maybe I'm just a very particular kind of weirdo, but I found myself asking "why am I reading this, I already know this," on pretty much every page.

I didn't have to guess that Tolkien was enamored of Finnish - I knew it because ten years ago I read an essay or letter by JRR himself discussing that Finnish inspired Elvish. I didn't have to be told that Aurthurian legends and Beowulf paved the road that Tolkien tried to follow - I would have thought that would be obvious to anyone who's ever read Tolkien, Beowulf, or heard of Excalibur. But then I guess that hardcore Anglo-Saxon scholars don't tend to hang out with Tolkien heads unless they become Anglo-Saxon scholars because they were into Tolkien first.

Honestly I'm pretty fucking perplexed by MWLotR. I understand the book but not its audience. As a best guess I would say it's written for people who like the story of LotR but dislike reading; people who want to know more about the background of Middle Earth but who don't want to do research; or children who lack the vocabulary to read Tolkien but really liked the movies (based on the language this is my strongest contender) and want to read more about them. I'm not sure how many people in the above categories actually exist, but based on the 16 reviews this book has amassed on Amazon since 2002 I'd say not bloody many.

The book is alright-ish. Nothing seems overtly incorrect, the language is simple to understand (and perhaps a bit patronizing), and the illustrations are somewhat shitty. But it's a quick read and good background if you don't want to spend a bunch of time reading Old English poetry and Scandinavian myths but do want to know what inspired Middle Earth. If you've already spent a bunch of time reading Old English poetry and Scandinavian myths (ENGLISH LIT MAJORS FOR LIFE!) then you're probably better off skipping this one or passing it on to a deserving nerdy child.

     - Alli

Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of the Lord of the Rings. Berkley Books. New York:
     New York. 2002.

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