I got this beautiful book as a Christmas present from my son, and it’s an excellent read as well as a great addition to my Tolkien library. It’s so cool to study the dramatic evolution of places like Orthanc through Tolkien’s sketches. It’s also fascinating to see the author’s Middle-earth doodles on graph paper, or on a City of Oxford Air Raid Precautions sheet, or in the margin of an Oxford English Course page from 1943.
Tolkien thought that he was a poor artist and that he’d done a bad job illustrating the Hobbit. But you can really see how he’d grown as an artist over the years since the publication of that book (e.g. his awesome drawings of Old Man Willow, Dunharrow, Barad-dur and Lothlorien).
Tolkien was meticulous about the smallest details of his world, from a cutaway showing the twists and turns of Shelob’s lair, to a plan of the buildings in the citadel of Minas Tirith, or even a sketch of a minor character’s abode (Farmer Cotton’s house).
It’s fun to learn (and see) how Tolkien obsessed about creating the perfect rendition of the Tengwar (Elven) inscription on the One Ring that appears in the Fellowship of the Ring; or to see his hand-lettered version of the King of Gondor’s personal letter to Sam (which appeared in an earlier version of the Return of the King).
The book itself is well made, with nice details on the cover boards (a sketch of the Doors of Durin embossed on the back, and the White Tree and Seven Stars on the front). If anybody gives this tome less than a stellar review they’re nowt but a ninnyhammer (as the Old Gaffer Gamgee would say). Authors Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have created another magnificent companion to Middle-earth.
Buy it from your local indie bookseller.