Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Book 12 of 2012: Tolkien A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings

Book twelve is Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord Of The Rings, by Lin Carter (although my version is the updated edition with extra bits by Adam Roberts). I'd been looking to reading this book as it was one of the last one of the books about Tolkien on my bookshelf. I've had it for ages, having bought it in a charity shop at the same time that I managed to pick up a very old single volume copy of Lord of the Rings (so old it doesn't have any appendices in the back).

Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed by it.

The book was originally published in the sixties, but it was obviously republished and updated to take advantage of the Lord of the Rings interest following the films. Once again, it was intending to look at Tolkien's inspirations, which I suppose could have been a point against it from the start as I have read rather a lot about this recently. But that didn't really bother me, it's kind of nice to read things from a different perspective.

What did bother me was that it was written by someone who is supposed to be very knowledgeable about the subject, so presumably is a bit of a fan of Lord of the Rings, but mid way through they described Eowyn as Theoden's daughter. I realise this is probably a bit of a minor thing to pick at (for those who don't know, Eowyn is Theoden's niece, she is referred to as his sister-daughter but this is just another term for niece, the fact that Theoden's only child has died is a bit of a plot point), but the problem is, if you're going to tout yourself as a reliable source, you kind of need to make sure you've got your facts right. There was also a bit of confusion in the bit that discussed how Smeagol came by the Ring.

The thing that bugged me more about the fact that I spotted the mistakes was that there were vast sections of the book talking about ancient texts and documents, which gave summaries of what they were about, which I have never read. Once I found the mistakes in Lord of the Rings I couldn't help but doubt what the author was telling me about the other texts, which was frustrating.

Regarding the other texts that were mentioned, I couldn't always see exactly what influence they had on The Lord of the Rings. Aside from the fact that they were examples of texts which were part of our literary history which when all added together helped to lead Tolkien to write the way he did. I felt like it was a book of summaries about other texts, which I couldn't really be sure I could trust because of the gross errors in the bits that I was familiar with.

There were also four whole chapters taken up giving a detailed summary of what happened in The Hobbit and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, which felt rather redundant. I understand that someone might be reading it never having read the books before, but it can kind of be assumed that they'll have a passing knowledge of them. I'm not saying it shouldn't have had any summary, but four whole chapters of the book was a little bit of overkill.

I feel like I'm doing nothing but picking holes in the book, but looking back, I can't really think of much positive about it. I wouldn't say I really disliked it, but I don't feel like I got anything out of it. I think I would like to read it without the updated bits because I felt like I could pick those out (one particular paragraph seemed to contradict something mentioned earlier, presumably because it was tacked on afterwards without amending the earlier bit). I wonder if the earlier edition would have been more to my liking.

I'm glad I've read it, because it's been hanging around for ages, but I can't say I'm in any great hurry to revisit it, which is a bit of a shame as it was something I was looking forward to. It's so annoying when I feel like that about books.

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