Tag Archive for: Tolkien

Tolkien Companion Books


Titles reviewed:
The Atlas of Middle Earth (revised edition) by Karen Wynn Fonstad
J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day

Hello, book fans! It’s fandom week here at the book review, so buckle up as we travel through one of my favorites, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien!

Whether based on authors, individual books, or a series, literary fandoms generate a lot of material to pore over and to dissect. There can be a lot to enjoy and a lot to ponder beyond a book’s basic plot. When world building is involved, that amount of material can increase dramatically. When the world is as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, it’s an exponential jump.

What to do with all of this information? Organize it, of course! One of my favorite fandom creations is the companion book–a title created specifically to aid the reader in exploring the fictional world that sparked the fandom. Companion books can take a variety of approaches to the original work–atlas of the fictional world, dictionary of terms or characters, encyclopedia, character genealogy, etc. They are generally very helpful books aiding in enjoyment of the original work and often entertaining in their own right.

The first time I binge-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy I had just seen the Peter Jackson films and had that visual reference vividly with me. Years later when I read the series again, I had a companion book nearby with a detailed map of Middle-Earth, character genealogies, a glossary, and other tools that added so much more to the experience..

Every journey needs a map, and a trip with Tolkien is no exception. (One does not simply stop in Mordor to ask directions.) The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Revised Edition) by Karen Wynn Fonstad is a great resource for the casual and hardcore Tolkien reader alike. Fonstad was an American cartographer whose methodical, thorough approach offers an opportunity for casual readers to dip in and out of the sections they want without being overwhelmed.

The atlas begins with chronological divisions showing the history of Middle-Earth then follows with a chapter of regional maps (including the Shire) and maps covering The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings topped off by thematic maps such as climate, vegetation, and languages. Each map is accompanied by explanatory text that may prove helpful for casual fans navigating the books and movies and interesting throughout (particularly the history section) for superfans. The sepia-toned maps with their minimalist precision lend an old-school feel resembling Tolkien’s original drawings.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull delves into the body of pictorial works across Tolkien’s lifetime from childhood paintings to final sketches. A deeeeeeep dive into Tolkien’s art, this title is great for readers intensely interested in the history of book illustration or all things Tolkien. The book is laid out chronologically, generously filled with 200 reproductions of his designs–the majority of them in full color–and just over 200 pages of thoughtful, in-depth text. It’s the academic tone of the highly detailed text that moves the book to the realm of die-hard fans although absolutely worth a flip-through for the mid-level enthusiast.

Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day welcomes a range of Tolkien fans by pulling together a variety of details about the fictional world and its inhabitants. Arranged like a traditional encyclopedia, Day’s work provides detailed-yet-easily-digestible information on Tolkien himself and the history, geography, sociology, natural history, and biography of Middle-Earth. Each entry offers background and description of its subject matter in clear, concise terms and provides context within Tolkien’s writings. The encyclopedia is heavily illustrated throughout using a wide assortment of art styles, most in full color. Its design is accessible and engaging, making it easy for a casual user to find what they need. The varied art produces a welcoming, slightly groovy vibe that meshes well with the text, creating a delightful companion on the journey through Tolkien’s imagination.

Speaking of Tolkien’s imagination, Hobbit Day refers to the shared birthday of characters Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and is observed on September 22 by many Tolkien fans. This year, the Joplin Public Library and the Empire Market have teamed up to bring a piece of Middle-Earth to Joplin for Hobbit Day! Kick off the free, all-ages fun at the Library on Friday, September 22, 11am-6pm, with a scavenger hunt, crafts, and more, then visit the Empire Market on Saturday, September 23, 10am-2pm, for awesome activities plus special food and merchandise from market vendors. Costumes are always welcome. See you there!