Coinciding with the release of Peter Jackson’s first instalment of his cinematic interpretation of The Hobbit this book contains a surprisingly comprehensive overview of just how both Tolkien’s, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ have been translated and transformed through mediums such as audio, screen, canvas and theatrical performance. Almost in the spirit of such a venture the book itself is ‘coffee-table’ friendly and lavishly illustrated throughout. By way of introduction the authors briefly illuminate the residue which has gradually seeped from the written page and been moulded into grand spectacle, as well as every related facet in-between. A prologue ensures that any reader not familiar with Tolkien’s name, outside of his accreditation on the opening titles of Jackson’s films, is provided with a distilled account of his life together with summaries of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Part I of the book is under the heading of ‘The Hobbit’ and contains four chapters naturally concentrating on interpretations of that title. Opening with a look at the audio adaptations the subsequent chapters prove quite in-depth while maintaining a textural flavour suitable to the casual reader. Each adaptation is examined – some more than others – in continuity beginning with the 1953 Canadian radio broadcast then roving through Kilgarriff’s 1968 endeavours in some detail, and engagingly written nuggets such as this are peppered throughout the book. A seemingly small aside such as how when the original audio sources of Tolkien reading aloud extracts from his books were later remastered much of the background ambience such as the creak of his chair, or the rustle of papers, were lost. Sounds which would have added an intimate and compelling dimension to the recordings; tragically ‘cleaned up’. A look at Nicol Williamson’s solo renditions close this section. This is then followed by the television adaptations of ‘The Hobbit’ comprising a nostalgic visit to the Jackanory version in 1979 and fascinating coverage and pictures from the Russian television version in 1985 before concluding chapters on the theatrical and operatic versions, as well as sections on the board / video games, comics and toys. Unsurprisingly, Part II is dedicated to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and follows the same chapter subjects as the proceeding Part I. Again there is a satisfying collation of details and anecdotes surrounding the development of a number of the audio adaptations from Tolkien’s involvement with Terrence Tiller’s adaptation in 1956 through to the BBC 1 version. The chapter on television versions concentrates on a Finnish version. Again the chapters in this section concluding with theatrical and musical versions together with comics and games. Part III looks at Middle-earth on film and rather than jumping straight into Jackson’s films there are some intriguing accounts of very early proposals and projects seeking to bring Tolkien’s work to the big screen (those familiar with Tolkien correspondence through his letters will, no doubt, be familiar with the wrangling and somewhat odd ideas of filmmakers, but it is nice to see both sides of the coin in one publication as presented in these chapters. Moving through the animated versions, especially the troubled attempts by Rankin / Bass and Bakshi (the latter while genuine in motivation failed to complete the story – a bolt-on TV movie special ‘Return of the King: A story of the Hobbits’ by Rankin / Bass added the final nail). Peter Jackson’s films then follow with separate chapters for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, respectively. Rather than simply gushing over Jackson’s visual interpretations the authors present an interesting look at conception, production together with rewrites, studio pressure and Jackson’s mindfulness that he would have to make the films accessible to a sizable section of the public who may never have heard of Tolkien, let alone glanced at his books. Thankfully there is a balanced and measured textural stream running through the book resulting in impartial critiques and several interesting ‘mini-sections’, such as ‘Men of the Twilight;’ The Stewards of Gondor in Book / Film / and Audio’ by Dr. Una McCormack. The book closes with a very satisfying section: Part IV The Cultural Legacy which spends some time forty-three pages to Artwork and music inspired by Middle-earth, together with Fan-inspired art, film and music (this latter section provides generous coverage of the genre). Artists, such as David Wenzel, Mary Fairburn, the brothers Hildebrandt as well as more familiar names such as John Howe and Alan Lee are featured in relations to their artistic development and involvement with Middle-earth, as it were - section at the end of the book provides a very inclusive Artist Index containing short bios of each whose art is displayed throughout the book. Fan-inspired film and music finds an overview of groups who have either composed tracks with brief references to Tolkien’s creations (Led Zeppelin) to those whose musical canon seems wholly influenced by Tolkien (Summoning). Films such as ‘The Hunt for Gollum’ and ‘Born of Hope’ also feature along with images from these films; films whereby their creators sought to realise a serious and worthy depiction of aspects of Tolkien’s narrative, and some outside of the narrative.
Given the format of the book it would be easy to dismiss it as another over-sized, glossy tome geared for the hungry fan market generated by Jackson’s films. Happily, the balanced writing, nostalgic flashes and engaging nuances provide the reader with a fairly comprehensive guide to the development of Middle-earth inspired pop-culture. (An added benefit may be the fact that Dr. McCormack read the manuscript of the book and submitted notes on the development of the text.) If you’re interested in these cultural streams which have been fed by Tolkien’s source material then this title ably encapsulates all those under one title.
This is one of the best Tolkien books I now own, what a find! The quality of the book is outstanding with the most wonderful artwork and illustrations many of which I've never seen before. The text is an easy read with lots of interesting facts and snippets about both Tolkien and the various interpretations of his work across a wide variety of media: tv, film, radio and stage. I would recommend this as a must have for die-hard fans and a wonderful present for someone who is interested in Tolkien and would like to find out more.