Review + Mediocre photography by yours truly
An Encyclopedia of Tolkien starts off with a dictionary. It’s not as exhaustive as one might hope, but it still has great and new information. There’s detailed entries for significant people, places, things, and events, plus info about the possible or confirmed historical sources Tolkien drew from. Whilst perusing you’ll discover juicy tidbits such as:
- Details of the Witch King of Angmar were partially inspired from Shakespeare, specifically Macbeth and Julius Caesar. Which is ironic, since Tolkien hated Shakespeare (page 337!).
- Tolkien based the character of Treebeard the Ent after his good friend CS Lewis.
- The epic of Beren and Luthien was based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but with the female/male roles reversed and a happier ending.
- Athelas, or kingsfoil, is basically basil.
Scattered throughout are over 200 black and white illustrations, and two gorgeous paintings on the inside covers. My meager iphone camera skills do not do them justice.
Then we get to the best part, CHARTS. Can’t keep your Elven genealogies straight? There’s a flow chart for that. Wondering who the Valar counterparts are in the Norse and Greek pantheon? That graph is on page 450! There’s also chronologies (37,000 years worth!), battle plans, and tables of various flora and fauna.
The Mythology behind it all
Included at the end of the book is a section with the three primary ring legends that inspired, in part, The Lord of the Rings. Includes the Norse Völsunga Saga, the German Nibelungenlied and Wagner’s The Ring of Nibelung. Besides being fascinating epics on their own, it’s illuminating seeing the bits and pieces that Tolkien took, adapted, and in many cases improved upon. Except incest. Tolkien kept in all the incest. Looking at you, Turin and Niënor.