While most of us were waiting for "The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide", which has been announced already several times (also on this site), we first got a different book by the same authors, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. The two internationally acclaimed Tolkien scholars must have been very busy. Next to the editorial work on the 50th anniversary edition of tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", the production of a new index for the same book, the gathering of information for the second edition of Wayne Hammond's "J.R.R. Tolkien: A descriptive Bibliography", completing "The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide", they also announced to write a book about Paulina Baynes (which I truly look forward to already) and now also managed to publish "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion".
This book is the definitive annotated companion to The lord of the Rings and was originally intended to be only 400 to 450 pages in length. Yet it turned out to be about 900 pages in total as it lies now in front of me.
The book can be bought as a separate volume in both paper- and hardback, but it is also included in a four volume box set together with the three volumes of the fiftieth anniversary edition of "The Lord of the Rings".
Of course, when the book arrived this morning I got truly excited. Having read the other standard reference works written or edited by the authors (J.R.R. Tolkien Artist & Illustrator, Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham,... Just to name a few) I was expecting a work of the same quality and interest.
It must be said, even after spending only two days of reading and working through the book (I'll explain the working later); I'm convinced that "A Reader's Companion" is truly amazing and will become a book quoted by many from this day on.
Although I had expected it to be more like an annotated "The Lord of the Rings", like we have "The annotated Hobbit", the authors followed a different approach. As explained in the preface of the book, an annotated "The Lord of the Rings" would have been very complex to make, it would have become very expensive and very big. At some 1.200 pages "The Lord of the Rings" is a much larger work then "The Hobbit".
Also, now that it became a separate volume of notes, we can use "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" not only with the newly published three volume 50th anniversary edition of 2005 (which has the same pagination as the previous 50th anniversary edition, in one volume, of 2004), but also with the standard editions, first published in 1966 and further revised in 1967 (but with the same pagination).
Since the book is especially of interest to people who already read "The Lord of the Rings" (and these people will probably already have a version of "The Lord of the Rings" on there bookshelves) it is very good that the "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" can be bought as a separate volume. Although I must admit when I look ate the paperback and the hardback four box sets they really look wonderful.
I do not know whether it was intended by the publishes, but the dust jacket of the hardback edition of "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" not only matches with the new three volume 50th anniversary edition, but also with the previously published on volume edition of 2004. Both of them look quit fabulous and feature a design by Tolkien. They have the same copper color used for the typography and have a similar dark grey background.
What I do know is that "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" became exactly what Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull promised us it would be in May 2004. In the note on the 50the anniversary edition, published in 2004, they wrote the following:
"So many emendations to the Lord of the Rings, and such on extensive review of its text, deserve to be fully documented. Although most readers will be content with the text alone, many will want to know more about the problems encountered in preparing the new edition, and their solutions (where solutions have been possible), especially where the text has been emended, but also where it has not. To this end, and to illuminate the work in other respects, we are preparing a volume of annotations to the Lord of the Rings in 2005."
As we can see, they held there promise and prepared for us "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion". In the same note Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull also gave us a good overview of what the book is all about:
"This will allow us to discuss the various textual cruces of The Lord of the Rings, to identify changes that have been made to the present text, and to remark any alterations to the published work throughout its history."
Little did they know then, that in the 2004 setting still further errors, old and new, would be discovered. "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" gives us, as promised, in detail all the changes to the editions of 2004 an the newly published edition of 2005.
The detailed description of changes and corrections to the text may not be interesting for all readers of "The Lord of the Rings", that is probably why this chapter was placed last (just before a very interesting list of works consulted and an index to the book).
All the chapters before (covering about 800 pages) are the real interesting ones. The biggest part of the book can be seen as a large collection of notes to "The Lord of the Rings". We can now read "The Lord of the Rings" and follow with the companion, chapter by chapter, to get more information or explanations of the words and phrases used by Tolkien.
I worked my self through the prologue and chapter one (a long-expected party) and was really surprised how lovely this companion is. At first it seemed rather unhandy and I easily missed some notes. Luckily the companion always quotes the first few words of each paragraph which contains text that is basis for a note , and is accentuated in bold. After some practice, it became very fast a fun and interesting project to undertake.
The notes vary from a short explanation or clarification of the text used, to a long extensive note with complete quotes about the subject. The come from other books written by J.R.R Tolkien, like for example "The Hobbit", Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, personal correspondence with C. Tolkien, or works by other writers.
While it is at start a difficult task to read through two books at the same time, that is why I prefer to call it 'work trough the books', it is all very enriching and the companion provides us a truly unique insight and offers us very detailed information.
Next to the notes "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" offers us even more! For example, it starts with a brief history of "The Lord of the Rings", which is very interesting on its own already. It gives us a short, but fascinating, article on the maps of "The Lord of the Rings", a complete chapter about the moon cycle used by Tolkien, extracts from maybe the most interesting letter Tolkien ever wrote (to Wilton Waldman, previously published by Michael Devaux in French) and also the Nomenclature by J.R.R. Tolkien.
I'm convinced many people will now, because of "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" start to re-read "The Lord of the Rings". And so many people will come to a greater enjoyment and appreciation of tolkien's magnificent achievement. Many thanks to Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull.
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