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Your post-graduate syllabus of Middle Earth (4.5 stars)
on 3 December 2003
I highly recommend this book for Middle Earth enthusiasts -- ones who've read (and continue to reread) Professor Tolkien's works. Knowledge of "The Silmarillion" and the appendices to "The Lord of the Rings" is essential. Otherwise you're likely to find this (or any other volume in the History of Middle Earth series) tedious, confusing and/or inscrutable.
This volume and its companion piece, "Morgoth's Ring" describe the founding ideas and backstory to the Silmarillion, Tolkien's Middle Earth mythology (and my favorite book). Here is both a study guide to the events of the First Age and a chronicle of the professor's imaginative processes -- from a more complete account of the Grey Annals to Tolkien's exploration of the different natures of Elves and Men. There are also additional stories, lore and events that demonstrates Tolkien's gift of being able to bring very human (or elvish) experiences into the sweep and majesty of his tales.
In all, it's an enriching book for those wanting to delve more deeply into the Elder Days.
As a side note: this UK paperback edition is far superior in cover design and quality to what we're offered in the States. It was worth spending the few extra dollars, er pounds, for this volume, as well as "Morgoth's Ring" as they are handsome additions to my Tokienalia.