Colin Duriez does a pretty job of creating a guide to the life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien in "Tolkien and Lord of the Rings: A Guide to Middle-Earth." While those who have read Tolkien's assorted books won't find anything new, it's a good introduction to his books for new readers, and a good "refresher course" for those who haven't read them in awhile.
Duriez starts off by introducing the book, describing his reasons for writing it. Then he speeds off into a mini-bio about Tolkien's life, followed by a dissection of the work he did, and its place in his life. And, since Duriez has written a book about literary club the Inklings, he includes quite a bit about Tolkien's friendships and relationships. For further clarification, Duriez includes a very brief timeline.
Then Duriez summarizes the entire plots of "The Hobbit" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, followed by a book-by-book chronology, and an informative chapter on the content of the "Silmarillion," and its connections to the "Lord of the Rings" books. Then he follows up with three A-Z guides -- one to things and people in Middle-Earth, then to themes and concepts in his work (eagles, allegory, theology, quests and so on), and the people and places in his life, such as his family, his friends, the mill he played at as a boy, and the books that influenced his writing. Finally there is a list of summaries, of various books that he wrote.
Duriez has certainly done his research -- he seems very comfortable talking about Middle-Earth, and easily quotes everyone from Peter Jackson to Tolkien himself. What's more, he obviously has a deep respect for Tolkien, and an appreciation for the richness and depth of Tolkien's work. For just about anybody writing this sort of book, that's a must.
What does it not contain? Well, Duriez admits himself in the preface that it's not meant to be in-depth, and Tolkien fans won't come away with anything they don't already know. Most of this is review and recap, with the occasional essay that goes into greater study of Tolkien's work.
However, the book can be very useful -- some people are daunted by the sheer vastness of Tolkien's work, and this makes it hard for them to get into the story. Duriez makes it accessable. His outline of the "Lord of the Rings" plot might be helpful to readers who have trouble understanding what is going on in the books. Ditto with his summaries of "Silmarillion" stories like the tale of legendary lovers Luthien and Beren, or the tragic Turin. It also could be a good "refresher course," for anyone who has forgotten stuff about Middle-Earth.
Colin Duriez, who has made a career writing about Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, pens a pretty decent guide book to Middle Earth and Tolkien's life. It won't reveal anything new, but it's a good introduction to Tolkien's work.