There are three names Tolkien experts will immediately tell you to avoid: Ruth Noel, David Day, and J.E.A. Tyler. Tyler's original Tolkien Companion was filled with so many errors of fact and blatant wild guesses he had to quickly rewrite almost the entire work after The Silmarillion was published.
From A ("Accursed Years") to Z ("Zirak-Zigil"), this book covers people, places, battles, objects and events from all throughout Middle-Earth's history. Taylor includes information from tolkien's famous "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," as well as the Silmarillion, "Unfinished Tales," and some other books. (Unfortunately, he doesn't include all of the history books)
Is "The Complete Tolkien Companion" worthless as an encyclopedia? No, not at all -- it's useful for some quick glances, and Taylor has a pleasant if clumsy style. But as a serious source, it fails. It doesn't have enough information, and what it does have is unbalanced and weirdly conveyed.
One of the most annoying things is that while Tyler will tell some stuff about various characters, events, and items. But in most entries, he doesn't specify which books they appeared in, what pages, or much else. Where is "Khuzdul" revealed to be a secret language? He doesn't tell you. And his handling of the information is clumsy: readers are told that Arwen Evenstar shares the "Doom of Luthien." What does Luthien have to do with her descendent becoming a mortal? Taylor doesn't say.
What's more, Taylor demonstrates a weird tendency to act like the events of tolkien's books are a 10,000-year-old history. He claims in his preciously-worded foreword that he's going to stop, but he doesn't -- a tendency that crosses the line from fervently geeky to unsettling. What is more, he has a tendency to interject his own opinions into the text: he spends a long time explaining how misunderstood Galadriel is, for example.
Good Tolkien analysts don't reinvent Middle-earth the way Tyler, Noel, and Day are wont to do. Although his style may be pleasant to read his research is highly suspect and he will probably never recover from the embarrassment his original Companion caused him. Fans who want to know more about Middle-earth AS J.R.R. TOLKIEN ENVISIONED IT should stick to the Tolkien books.
Critical analyses which have been well-regarded (if not universally agreed with) come from more traditional commentators such as Carl Hostetter, Verlyn Fleiger, T.A. Shippey, Paul Kocher, Wayne Hammond, and Douglas Anderson. These are well-respected scholars and researchers who may have their own priorities but nonetheless treat Tolkien and his world with greater respect than many others.
Although it doesn't cover anything published after The Silmarillion, Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth remains one of the all-time best Tolkien references.
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