I was very lucky to be able to read a review copy of the book and I sort of 'devoured' it. In a few hours I had finished the book. This only happens to me when the book is of high interest to me and is very well written. In this case it is both, so from the moment I opened up the review copy (initially to flip through it) until late in the night when I finished reading the book I followed the thinking of the author Michael Muhling. The book has a very smart structure and brings us a very fascinating tale. For starters, the book starts by pointing out that Tolkien denied many of the sources of inspiration attributed to his work, or that they were actually an inspiration for The Hobbit or The Silmarillion rather than The Lord of the Rings. It is known that Tolkien began working on The Lord of the Rings in 1936 when he was asked to write a sequel to The Hobbit, but he had stated that he was devoid of inspiration. When ideas did begin to flow, Tolkien did not recognize the source of his ideas. Years later he talked about linguistic invention, something that has remained largely ignored.
Mr Muhling argues that for decades a substantial gap has remained in our understanding of Tolkien because his inspiration came from an unexpected source – the Abyssinian Empire (modern day Ethiopia). Why Abyssinia? Muhling’s ideas started when he noticed the remarkable similarities between Tolkien’s realms introduced for The Lord of the Rings with Ethiopia’s top historical sites: Gondor/Gondar, Rohan/Roha, Barad-dûr/Bahir Dar, and Harad/Harar. He began investigating the Abyssinian connections over eight years ago, and sincerely tested the logic of the theory for about seven years before cementing it as it is today. This thinking proces can be followed throughout the book, so that the reader is left to decide for himself if the case stands or not. For the most part the key issues fall into place nicely and make a lot of sense. Some of the details in both histories are so similar that even the defenders of other 'inspirational sources' will find it difficult to not see this.
Michael Muhling insists there is a lot more to his theory than some similar names and builds up a very strong case. He makes four key arguments as to why Tolkien’s unconscious mind resonated sharply with this ancient realm, and highlights the fact that Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia caused an international out-cry in 1935 immediately prior to Tolkien’s work. He manages to show us that it might be possible that Tolkien could have known about Abyssinia, even on a sub-conscience level, for example through the books from Sir. Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge. This was especially exciting for me, since in my collection there is a book from Wallis Budge that belonged to JRR tolkien's personal library (so we know Tolkien did read Budge's works). Muhling identifies extensive and detailed connections between Middle-earth and Abyssinia, including incredible comparisons between the kings of Númenor/Gondor with Abyssinia’s three thousand year old Solomonic dynasty and if you read the book and come to the page where we can see a picture of the stelae of Axum you will just scream 'Isengard'. Of course you should read the book for yourself but the reign of stewards and the return of a true king in both histories is just 'to good to be true'...
There is a rich and simple logic to this theory. The Ethiopian-Italian war in 1935 created international outrage immediately before the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien had four personal reasons to take a significant interest in it. No such connections exist with The Hobbit that was written prior to the Ethiopian-Italian war. And when you have read Michael Muhling's book you will see that the connections that are there are in fact the skeletal background to The Lord of the Rings.
Importantly, the theory explains and provides new insight into Tolkien’s use of linguistic invention and secondly gives us another possible inspirational source for a book we all love, but also introduces to a lesser know history that is very fascinating and interesting!
The Real Middle-earth: Discovering the Origin of The Lord of the Rings reveals fascinating insights into Tolkien and the ancient realm of Abyssinia, and makes connections between them that will leave you astounded.
The Real Middle-earth: Discovering the Origin of the Lord of the Rings is an intriguing and controversial book – a must read for all Tolkien fans. It can be purchased through most major on-line outlets as an e-book. I'm certain this book will be the kick-starter of many discussions and with an open mind you might even see that this theory makes a lot of sense as well.
One thing is certain, I can only thank the author, not only did I have one of the better evenings in a very long time, but it did make me to start talking about The Lord of the Rings again. Discussing the theory is what this book is all about. It does not claim to bring 100% bullet proof answers. In fact the author is apologetic from the introduction to the final afterword, always reminding us that this is the theory he reads in the books because of his fascination with Ethiopia and that we have to make up our own mind about the theory. Well, I would say... buy yourself a copy and come and discuss with me! I'm waiting!
Michael Muhling began reading The Lord of the Rings when he was ten years old, and has been a fan of Tolkien ever since. He subsequently became an avid reader of the Fantasy genre, but Tolkien remained his favourite author because of the depth and detail in its histories.
Several years ago Mike and his wife began taken a keen interest in Ethiopia, and in 2005 Mike identified the connection between Tolkien and Ethiopia (Abyssinia). Since then they have travelled to Ethiopia three times, thoroughly enjoying its history, culture and hospitality. Mike lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and two children.
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