There's been a boom of "Lord of the Rings" reading in recent years, but there are still quite a few fans who haven't made it past Bree. For fans such as that, there's "The Rough Guide to Lord of the Rings," a little book full of "Lord of the Rings" facts, trivia, and basic outlines.
After a series of movie stills, this extensive little guide plunges into the biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, studies of his family, his friendship with C.S. Lewis and the origins of his writings. The editors give detailed descriptions of each of Tolkien's novels, and authors (Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, J.K. Rowling) who have been influenced by Tolkien.
But they also break the rosy picture by including the comments about the books, ranging from obnoxious (Edward Wilson's blustering remarks about "juvenile balderdash") to adoring (W.H. Auden's "No fiction I have read in the last five years has given me more joy." I knew there was a reason I liked Auden).
Then the editors turn their attention to the late 1990s, when New Zealand director Peter Jackson began turning the wheels of a big-screen "Lord of the Rings" production. There's a study of Ralph Bakshi's disastrous cartoon, a biography of the director, movie legend Christopher Lee, and well-known trivia like how the cast got tattoos, or that Jackson got rugby fans to do Uruk-hai chants. Even a few tidbits of more obscure trivia come through, like Ian McKellen being begged by a fan not to let Gandalf wear "pointy boots."
But this isn't a movie guide: There are plenty of books that detail the movies. And so the editors switch tracks to include character bios, a humorous "travel guide" to Middle Earth, as well as one to New Zealand's "Rings" landmarks. Finally, there's a mixed condemnation/ad for various Tolkien merchandise, and even a subchapter about the history of "Lord of the Rings" and rock music. Obviously there's Marc Bolan and Led Zeppelin, but also Marillion (originally "Silmarillion") and various mediocre metal bands. What IS it about metal bands and Tolkien?
Overall, this is a good little book, packed full of good information and useful trivia bits. There are some "dead" moments in this book, where it seems like filler sidenotes have been included. I mean, really, what is up with that essay on "Lord of the Rings" and old westerns? But fortunately, they tend to informative more often than not.
"The Rough Guide to the Lord of the Rings" is an excellent read for people who want to get a handle on the history and substance of the movies, the books, or both. Definitely a good read.