Many a Tolkien fan knows that Middle Earth was forged by the fires of World War I. Some of the Tolkien scholars out there will even know a great deal about what’s in this book. But what will separate this book from others is witnessing how Middle Earth evolves in parallel to Tolkien’s life and service during the war. Sometimes that evolution is followed line by line, such is the detail level of this volume. Literary geeks, this book’s for you.
Casual fans will likely find this book to be easy to follow, but too in-depth for their tastes. If you’re one of the 3% of uber-fans who own, understand, and even recite The Silmarillion, you may be on your way to sharing a drink with the author. I personally fall somewhere in between as someone who appreciates the world and its evolution at all levels, loves the history, but often finds it overwhelming at the same time. That’s part of why I love it, precisely because it is challenging and welcoming at the same time. For me, this book offered some incredible insight into the creative process and filled in a number of gaps in what I thought I already knew. Regardless on where you stand in your geekdom, it would be next to impossible to walk away from this book without having learned something new and deeply personal.
This is one of those books, however, where the narration is average, just average, really average. It’s not bad, just lifeless, which is often the biggest criticism I have when an author reads the work themselves. Some can do it well, most can’t or simply don’t. In a way, it actually fits, seeing as how Tolkien’s readings of his own work were equally as lifeless. I can say that because I’ve actually heard a couple of recordings, and it sounded like he couldn’t wait to break away from the audience and return to world-building. Back to the point, a narrator that doesn’t sound like a first-time news reporter would be a welcome addition to a work like this.