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Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth

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The range of J. R. R. Tolkien’s talents is remarkable. Not only was he an accomplished linguist and philologist, as well as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature and Norse folklore, but also a skillful illustrator and storyteller. Drawing on these talents, he created a universe which is for many readers as real as the physical world they inhabit daily.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth explores the huge creative endeavor behind Tolkien’s enduring popularity. Lavishly illustrated with three hundred images of his manuscripts, drawings, maps, and letters, the book traces the creative process behind his most famous literary works—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion—and reproduces personal photographs and private papers, many of which have never been seen before in print.

Six essays introduce the reader to the person of J. R. R. Tolkien and to main themes in his life and work, including the influence of northern languages and legends on the creation of his own legendarium; his concept of “Faërie” as an enchanted literary realm; the central importance of his invented languages in his fantasy writing; his visual imagination and its emergence in his artwork; and the encouragement he derived from his close friend C. S. Lewis and their literary group the Inklings.

The book brings together the largest collection of original Tolkien material ever assembled in a single volume. Drawing on the extensive archives of the Tolkien collections at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, which stretch to more than five hundred boxes, and Marquette University, Milwaukee, as well as private collections, this hugely ambitious and exquisitely produced book draws together the worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien – scholarly, literary, creative, and domestic—offering a rich and detailed understanding and appreciation of this extraordinary author.

This landmark publication, produced on the occasion of a major exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford in 2018 and at the Morgan Library in New York in 2019, is set to become a standard work in the literature on J. R. R. Tolkien. 

416 pages, Hardcover

First published July 15, 2018

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About the author

Catherine McIlwaine

6 books12 followers
A Tolkien Archivist at the Bodleian Libraries, where she has worked on the Tolkien archive since 2003. She curated the Bodleian’s summer exhibition 2018, ‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth’, and wrote the accompanying catalogue Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, and the associated publication, Tolkien: Treasures.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 76 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
August 9, 2018
[Original review, Jul 5 2018]

OMG. Well, I started off thinking I should do my best to maintain a critical distance and point out certain structural weaknesses and so on and so forth, but, really, what's the point? Tolkien brings out the fanboy or fangirl in a startling number of readers, and I am not ashamed to count myself a member of the same group as, just to name a few of the more prominent examples listed here, Terry Pratchett, Joni Mitchell, Iris Murdoch, W.H. Auden and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. The last of whom wrote to the Master and humbly begged him for the inestimable favour of being allowed to illustrate an edition of his works; her artwork was good enough that permission was duly granted.

If, like me, you are a moderately enthusiastic amateur Tolkienist who's read The Lord of the Rings perhaps five or six times and knows a little Sindarin and less Quenya, there is no end to the number of discoveries you will make in this beautifully produced picture book. The original maps of Middle-Earth, creased and falling apart after being literally read to pieces while the book was composed, are the least of it: I knew in advance that they'd be there. But I hadn't anticipated learning that the crucial scene with Bilbo and Gollum was substantially changed between the first and second published editions of The Hobbit in order to make it consistent with the sequel, or that Fangorn, in the original draft, was an evil creature in the service of Sauron. I couldn't have guessed that the line "Seven stars and seven stones and one white tree" had occurred to Tolkien before he imagined the Palantíri. It had certainly never crossed my mind that the name "Eärendil", together with its identification with the planet Venus, might be a borrowing from an obscure Old English poem.

And above all, the Elvish languages, which are the true, mystical heart of Tolkien's legendarium. Everywhere you look, there are words, lines, quite often whole paragraphs, in Tolkien's gorgeous Tengwar script. (You'll even find one page with a passage in Sarati, Tengwar's archaic ancestor; I'd never heard of it). Tolkien started inventing the Elvish tongues when he was still a teenager, and he never stopped working on them: their grammar, their vocabulary, their literature, their historical development. He was not just fluent in several languages he had made up himself. He seems to have been an accomplished writer in these languages. It simply defies belief. Where did all this magical inspiration come from? I wish we knew more about Tolkien's mother, Mabel, who schooled him at home when he was small and taught him languages and philology, calligraphy and drawing. She was a beautiful woman who died suddenly when he was only ten. In her photograph, she looks like an Elven princess. And her unusual handwriting is strangely reminiscent of Fëanorian letters.

Read this book! It will make you want to appreciate trees more, and write poetry, and learn Icelandic, and simply become a better human being. And if, for reasons I can't quite comprehend but nonetheless respect, you are one of those strange people who don't much like Tolkien, you certainly must have a parent or child or lover or friend who does. In which case, if I may point out the obvious: birthday present solved.
[Update, Jul 24 2018]

If you thought "make you want to learn Icelandic" was poetic exaggeration, I present solid evidence here. Trust me, this is a magical book.
[Update, Aug 9 2018]

Add Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury to that list of fanboys. BTW, note that he also has some remarks about Mabel Tolkien's unusual handwriting.
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews269 followers
May 18, 2020
The Most Gorgeous Book, Showing the True Genius and Humanity of Tolkien's Imagination
My family was lucky enough to visit the Bodleian Tolkien Exhibition in 2018 and get this truly handsome volume from the Bodleian Library at University of Oxford. It was a truly impressive collection of his illustrations, maps, letters, writings, and photographs, and you essentially get all of those reproduced in high-quality pages accompanied by comprehensive commentary spanning six essays by Tolkien scholar Catherine McIlwaine. Not only that, but on the train to Oxford we met a lovely couple who were also Tolkien fans and formed a lasting friendship as a result.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth draws you deeply into the life and imagination of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his lifelong obsession with his imaginarium that spawned his many Elvish Languages, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Sillmarillion, The Book of Lost Tales, The Children of Hurin, and many more obscure volumes of materials that fleshed out his world, more than any other imagined creation in the literary canon (unless you include religious writings, but I won't go there).

Though I bought the book two years ago, it being such a hefty coffee-table volume, I hadn't really sat down and read it through properly until the coronavirus outbreak at the outset of 2020. Since the lockdown here in London, I've finally had the time and opportunity to sit down and pore over this masterpiece of Tolkien scholarship. As a result the family watched the entire Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, watched the biographical film Tolkien (not great, to be honest, but still worth watching if you are a Tolkien fan).

In fact, when I first read The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade and it forever hooked my on fantasy (and later science fiction), I then went on to try The Silmarillion, thinking it would be a cohesive adventure story, and being so frustrated and disappointed as it was instead a collection of legendary tales from the Second Age of Middle Earth, intended to provide greater background and depth to his imagined world. For the past 30+ years I've always thought I would need to revisit this book at some point, and thanks to this book and the myriad background details I now know about Tolkien's life and thought process in developing his imaginarium, I think it' time to give it a go, this time in audiobook format.
Profile Image for Alex Matzkeit.
298 reviews21 followers
July 22, 2018
I have read Tolkien's fiction several times and dived into the genesis of his works with the "History of Middle-Earth" books, but I have never actually engaged with JRR Tolkien, the person. This was perfect for filling that gap, allowing me to discover both the man and the artist along a catalogue of wonderful items, superbly annotated by Catherine McIlwaine. It's a shame I could not visit the exhibition in Oxford, but this is the next best thing.
Profile Image for Tom.
136 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2018
A marvelous overview of the man and the many facets of his work.
Profile Image for Ivan.
676 reviews121 followers
December 27, 2018
It’s hard to overstate the influence of the Inklings on the shape of today’s cultural and imaginative life. While we grieve that we only have one surviving member of the original group—Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who in the last several decades has edited much of his father’s posthumously published work (don’t miss this exquisite profile of Christopher Tolkien)—latter-day Inklings can rejoice at the publication of Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, which draws together essays on Tolkien’s life, influences, and philology, and reproduces personal photographs and private papers. Tied to this publication, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City will showcase a Tolkien exhibitionfrom January 25 through May 12, 2019. Not many of us will be able to visit, but this beautifully executed book is a satisfying alternative.
Profile Image for Anamaria.
83 reviews10 followers
October 20, 2018
Fascinating—Tolkien himself, more so (for me) even than his work.
Profile Image for Barbara Zimotti.
55 reviews11 followers
November 9, 2019
I bought this book after visiting the major exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford and in my opinion it is a milestone publication. Having a book is not the same as seeing the original material, but it is completely worth it.
In this large collection of Tolkien material (images of his drawings, manuscripts, maps, pictures and letters) with six essays a comprehensive portrait of Tolkien is produced: the scholar, the professor, the storyteller, the illustrator, the man.
It is a volume that can be read by both fans and by people who never read Tolkien's works, because it is a journey to get to know the person and his stories. The former ones will know some background facts such as Frodo found out that Fangorn, in the original draft, was an evil creature in the service of Sauron or that the most important scene with Bilbo and Gollum was changed between the first and the second publication of "The Hobbit" in order to have the right coherence and cohesion with "The Lord of the Rings"; the latter ones will know something about him, for example the fact he started inventing Elvish tongues (grammar, history of the languages and developement, literature, vocabulary) when he was young, that he made language trees, and that he always started from a worldbuiling and the story always came later and the hardest part was connecting both parts. Or that he loved using watercolors and painted the first covers of his books and the Elvish heraldry symbols (such a great use of colors!).
Everybody will know that the Professor always had lots of fans in the world, from a young Terry Pratchett who was astonished while reading "Smith of Wootton Major" (he thought that it would be similar to "Farmer Giles of Ham" but he was pleasantly surprised), to Joni Mitchell who invented the same word that Tolkien invented and used in his Legendarium ("wilderness") and to Queen Margrethe II of Denmark who wrote to the Professor and begged him of being allowed to illustrate an edition of his works (and some of her illustrations can be found in the artwork of the Danish band called "The Tolkien Ensemble"). He was a fan of crosswords as well and he loved finding patterns in them using different colors.
I believe that this book will make you appreciate more Tolkien's works or his persona as an artist or man (even though he was catholic he never put a Christian teaching in his stories, a thing he reprimanded Lewis in his Narnia production - this is a thing I totally loved, because I don't like when the authors put in the stories their morality, art is above personal morality) and maybe (maybe, who knows!) give his stories a shot, not necessarily the ones belonging to the Legendarium.
Profile Image for Tara .
440 reviews51 followers
January 15, 2019
A beautiful collection of drawings, drafts, maps, and family photos, this book is well worth the hefty price tag. The chapters are divided into different elements of Tolkien's life and writings, such as his experiences fighting in WWI, his language development, and various versions of illustrations for his books. If the forthcoming Morgan Library exhibit is half as good, it will be amazing!
Profile Image for Juli Anna.
2,542 reviews
May 19, 2019
A beautiful volume. I was fortunate enough to see the accompanying exhibition at the Morgan Library this spring. I read several of the enlightening essays in this book and thoroughly enjoyed the high-quality print reproductions of Tolkien's illustrations. All fans of LOTR, etc., should take a look at this lovely book!
Profile Image for Ellen.
289 reviews3 followers
January 15, 2021
Ahhh, such a great book. It's filled with lots of one page essays about a particular artifact from Tolkien's creative process, with a photographic reproduction of the item, whether that be a sketch, a watercolor, a hand drawn map, a timeline, etc. There are also letters from publishers, fans, other writers, and some nice family photos. There are notes from early drafts written on old exam papers, language trees, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting. It is a really wonderful collection of items with short essays to go along with them. I feel like I just spent a whole day at a fabulous museum exhibition of his work and life!
18 reviews
July 21, 2023
A magnificent piece and a true feast for everybody hungry for anything Tolkien.
Profile Image for Gabriel Benitez.
Author 21 books17 followers
July 12, 2018
Un libro precioso e indispensable para los fans y los estudiosos de la figura y la obra del profesor Tolkien. Extrañamente recibimos el libro ANTES de que saliera a la venta formalmente. Es un libro grueso lleno de fotografías privadas de Tolkien y su familia, así como fotografías de las cartas que el profesor enviaba y recibía (¡entre ellas una foto de una carta de Terry Pratchett cuando estaba jovencito al profesor!) también están sus ilustraciones propias, los mapas desarrollados por él para sus historias, su relación con los inklings... todo ello lleno de información e imágenes. El libro es parte de un catálogo en exhibición que se mostrará en Nueva York. ¡Vaya que vale la pena!
Profile Image for Vivian Wiltshire.
369 reviews2 followers
September 20, 2018
I have to say I really enjoyed this book. I learned so much about Tolkien the person and a lot about how middle earth all came about...totally fascinating! The letters and photos were amazing and the art work was beautiful. I enjoyed this book so much I am now going to the-read Lord of the Rings this fall. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars!
419 reviews
September 14, 2018
Worth a read for the photographs, featuring elements from the Bodleian Library exhibit. Original artwork by Tolkien, family photographs, fan letters, and more are included.
Profile Image for JD Shaffer.
174 reviews4 followers
August 23, 2018
A simply wonderful book, masterfully arranged and created -- a sincere delight for the eyes of any Tolkien fan!
Profile Image for Kam Yung Soh.
726 reviews35 followers
September 11, 2020
The Bodleian Libraries put up a Tolkien exhibition in 2018 and this book was released as a companion book to the exhibition. For those who went (and those, like me, who didn't or couldn't), the book is the best way of looking at what the exhibition featured, namely the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The book starts with a series of introductions covering Tolkien's life, his relationship with the famous group, the Inklings (which includes C.S. Lewis), his concept of the Faerie (as opposed to Fairies), his invention of the Elvish languages, his fascinating with the mythology of the Northern world and, finally, his artistic side.

The rest of the book looks at the various items featured in the exhibition along with an explanation. Chapter One looks at various letters Tolkien received from his readers. Chapter Two features photos, letters and items from his childhood. Chapter Three looks at his student days and includes photos of his activities and friends including his beloved Edith Bratt. Chapter Four features various watercolours and drawings he did of the land of Faerie and other places.

Chapter Five features notes and sketches he did while working on his unfinished book, "The Silmarillion" (on the world of the Elves). Chapter Six looks at items in his study, featuring his working desk, sketches and several of his fascinating 'Father Christmas' letters.

Chapter Eight looks at the sketches, drawings, maps and notes he wrote while working on "The Hobbit". Chapter Nine covers "The Lord of the Rings" and Chapter Ten covers the various maps he and his son, Christopher, worked on while working out the geography of Middle Earth.

For those who enjoyed the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the exhibition would be a must-see event. For those who couldn't see it (and even for those who did), this book is a good companion to the exhibition. The only downside to the book is that the items featured are not the original ones but photo reproductions. Due to their age, some of the writings and sketches have become faint and, while the book does it best, some of it is unreadable without closer examination of the actual item. Otherwise, an enjoyable book to read and see how life might have been for Tolkien while he was working on his famous Legendarium.
Profile Image for Círdan.
74 reviews
February 27, 2022

绪论几位托学大佬的文章很好,John Garth写是的托尔金交游方面的,读到Inklings老成员们因为各种原因不怎么相聚切磋后,刘易斯在给托尔金的信末尾“我非常想念你”,以及托尔金在晚年提到刘易斯时说的“我们彼此亏欠太多”,真是很感慨,不论后来如何冷淡下来,人生能遇上这样的朋友实在幸运。Tom Shippey这次没有介绍太多言学相关容,而是文化相关的内容,高贵北方精神,这篇文章读得人心潮澎湃,大概在样一个时代,尤其需要这样的勇气。Verlyn Flieger还是在关注fairy-story的问题,这个主题不好写,起码从托尔金本人的论文都感觉得到,Fileger却能写得精确明朗,只有说不愧是大佬。Hostetter写的语言学相关内容,我后来才知道原来他本职是NASA的计算机专家,真吃惊。Hammond和Scull这对托学伉俪选择的托尔金的绘画创作的题目。

Profile Image for Iina.
400 reviews152 followers
December 3, 2020
Just over two years ago I visited the Bodleian Library's Tolkien exhibition and was utterly enchanted by all the materials and Tolkien's imagination. I also bought this book there, which I then proceeded to put off reading – not entirely sure why – until now. I shouldn't have, as this was a beautiful and comprehensive look into both J. R. R. Tolkien as a person and into the creation of his Middle-earth. Absolutely loved it!
Profile Image for Timons Esaias.
Author 42 books55 followers
September 22, 2021
We were lucky to have slipped into NYC on a non-busy weekday, to see the Tolkien exhibit in person, at leisure. But we quickly decided that we would buy the catalog, so as to have physical records of many of these memorable artifacts.

This is an absolutely first-rate exhibit catalog of an absolutely first-rate exhibit. It functions as an illustrated author biography, a psychological profile, and a manuscript history for some highly influential works of fiction.

What struck me most, when seeing the exhibit in person, was how unrelentingly creative the man was. Yes, he did a great deal of development work, a lot of planning and thinking (and I think my favorite item was the timeline he kept of the dispersing Fellowship), but he was always pulling the creativity trigger. His sketches, paintings, doodles, games, Christmas letters to the family from the North Pole, and so forth were a surprise. I had mostly heard about how few scholarly publications he'd had (though several are definitive classics), and how few fictional publications. So his constant outpouring of art and imagination, even in casual letters or Inkling meetings, or doodles while doing the crossword, well, that gives a whole different impression of the man and his methods.

Being an old typesetter, I was particularly struck by the page of the letters of the alphabet, each one an illustration of a different font, most of them of the illuminating style. I'm aware of how much work goes into creating a single font, so this is mildly mind-boggling.

The most interesting insight, for me, was that in his view the invented languages came first, and the stories were byproducts of that. The languages generated histories for those languages, the histories generated worlds, the worlds produced a few stories. Is the centrality of language the secret to their power and success?? Possibly. It's at least a main vine.

I'll end with a very, very strong recommendation for buying this work. It's special. And let me also say, generally, that much of the most interesting non-fiction reading I've done over the last couple of decades has been museum exhibit catalogs. They tend to focus on an interesting subject, while also setting it in historical context; the illustrations tend to be excellent; there are citations and footnotes to chase if it kicks off a research tangent for you; they tend to be written by people who actually know what they're talking about; and if you avoid overwhelming yourself (because they tend to be overloaded with information) by reading them in two-pages-a-day or four-pages-a-day chunks -- the savoring/immersive method -- they can be nicely enriching experiences.
Profile Image for Daniel A. Penagos Betancur.
192 reviews43 followers
January 2, 2019
This book is the catalog of the homonymous exhibition prepared by the Oxford library to celebrate Tolkien's legacy.

It is a very beautifully edited work that allows those of us who, because of distance, could not be present in the exhibition, to go through the material that was prepared very dedicatedly for such a great event. It also serves as a beautiful souvenir for those who could go through the exhibition and as a reference material to have on hand in a couple of conversations between fans of the teacher's work.

The book is a mix of family photos, photos of personal objects, drawings made by the same hand that Middle Earth imagined and is accompanied by a set of essays written by some of the most respected Tolkien scholars in the world: Catherine McllWaine-Curator of the exhibition-, John Garth -author of Tolkien and the Great War-, Carl F. Hostetter -a key figure of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship-, Tom Shippey -I do not believe that among connoisseurs he needs more presentation than his name, but; author of books like JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century and The Road to Middle-earth- and Hammond and Scull -known by The Art of The Hobbiy and The J.R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide-.

I have really enjoyed each of the pages of the book, I have discovered things of my favorite author that until now I did not know and I have remembered others that for reasons I do not know I had forgotten.

The standard edition, with rigid cover is already a beautiful collection piece with low relief letters and gold on the cover and spine, color pages and a very good quality paper that make the edition worth every penny of dollar.

Without a doubt, all Tolkien fans should get a copy of this book, regardless of whether they have witnessed the exhibition or not. It is a unique piece of its kind.
Profile Image for Petri Volanen.
182 reviews2 followers
August 8, 2019
Älkäätten ymmärtäkö väärin. Luettuani Hobitin ja Tarun Sormusten Herrasta ensimmäisen kerran joskus '80-luvun puolella, enkä ole kyennyt lukemaan muuta fantasiaa enää ollenkaan. Yrittänyt olen, mutta Tolkienin helmet ovat siksi ylivertaisia, että kaikki muut ovat tuntuneet lähinnä halvoilta kopioilta. Myös erinäiset äijän säveltämät sadut ovat upeita kokemuksia.

Siltikin tätä kirjaa lukiessani tuli ajoittain mieleen että palvonnassa on ylitetty jo se raja jonka jälkeen jopa paskasta tulee kultaa, kärjistetysti sanottuna. Hulluinta osastoa tuolla saralla tässä kirjassa edustavat meikäläisen mielestä Tolkienin ristikoita täyttäessään sanomalehden viereisille sivuille piirtämät kuviot.

No, todettakoon kuitenkin että kokonaisuutena kirja on hieno. Etenkin äijän maalaukset ja piirustukset ovat pääosin hyvin, hyvin vaikuttavia. Samoin kirja antaa hienosti taustatietoa noiden klassikkoteosten luomisprosessista, eli kaikille Tolkienin tuotannon ystäville tätä sietää suositella.
Profile Image for Marko Vasić.
459 reviews140 followers
December 31, 2019
When I, by mere chance, perceived this gigantic book on a bookshelf in a local bookstore, I became infatuated with it for an instant! Never before had I seen such brilliant art-book which reveals thus much of the choosen theme. The book is an remarkable and utterly comprehensive chrestomathy of almost all of the Tolkien's illustrations from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (including the three manually carved pages from the Book of Mazarbul), early works and on account of Faery stories. Moreover, in this book I found some private photographies from Tolkien's childhood, school time and old age which wasn't encountered in any other book regarding Tolkien's biography. And all data are organised chronologically and explained briefly but quite amply by different Tolkien's scholars.
320 reviews5 followers
February 1, 2020
Enjoyable. Lovely illustrations, nice essays by Tolkien scholars, generally good commentary on the various exhibition items and other figures.

I did have to laugh a bit at this description of Tolkien's study, at 282, written as if by an anthropologist reporting on an exotic tribe:

"Tolkien always had a study at home. This was essential when he lived at Northmoor Road and had no rooms in college but even after he moved to Merton College and was given a spacious room, he still needed a study at home to accommodate all his books and papers. [...] His study was not a purely private space but one where he received students, researchers and visitors. There were numerous desks and writing tables in the Tolkien family home. Some were in the study and others were in his bedroom, which was really a private extension of his study, with bookcases, a writing desk and tables."

Good heavens, this academic had lots of books and papers, desks and writing tables? And needed places to store them? How extraordinary!
Profile Image for Sarah.
260 reviews5 followers
April 27, 2019
Excellent, but lengthy, resource to all things Tolkien.

4/5 stars
Profile Image for Patrick.
436 reviews6 followers
April 3, 2022
The introductory essays are great and well-illustrated, and the catalogue has a solid collection of interesting and awe-inspiring items.
69 reviews
August 24, 2018
An awesome catalog of the contents of the Oxford exhibition of the same name, in full color, plus bonus content. While it’s not quite the same as seeing the originals, it’s like a highlight reel for the “History of Middle-earth” series.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 76 reviews

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