Tom Shippey is a scholar of medieval literature and Old English. He specializes in the representation of medieval elements in modern culture and is the author of several books and articles on J.R.R.Tolkien and his mythology. If you’ve seen the Appendices documentaries on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit DVDs, you’ll have seen him, he’s the bald-headed, well-spoken gentleman who gives the most interesting answers on the Tolkien- and book-related questions.
“The Road to Middle-Earth” is his book on Tolkien’s life-long preoccupation with Old English culture and language and the mythology that emerged almost as a by-product out of this passion.
In a sweeping, yet thorough and precise overview of most of Tolkien’s work, ranging from the early poems to his late allegories on philology, the readers are presented with an amazing array of insights into the works we love (and thought we knew well) as well as interesting and appetite-whetting information about old Norse mythology and the delicate processes of language development and the history of the academic research into language.
I know, I know, many of you probably aren’t THAT deeply interested; just because you like reading about dwarves and elves and hobbits and dragons doesn’t mean you are interested in the parallels between the Shire and England at a certain point in history, or in the Christian symbolism in the story, or in Tolkien’s thoughts on hope and death. But I assure you, knowing these crucial details, often not even details, but essentials, only makes the reading experience so much more gratifying.
Another plus: the book doesn’t read like a book on academic stuff at all. It’s more like a conversation with the friendly senior member of your local fan club, or like your favorite professor’s lecturing after he’s had a few at the local pub.
So listen: If ever there was a book on reading other books you should read, it’s this one. It does so many things. It gives you an appreciation for authors and their struggle. It immerses you in English culture both present and older. It makes you see depths you didn’t know were there. And it makes you curious for more. Please, if you’ve read all the Tolien books and feel a loss, like there’s nothing more, grab this book and prepare to be happy!
Bottom Line: A gem of a book. Learned and intellectual, yet utterly entertaining. It’s like having a a fireside chat with the next best man to Tolkien. It will enhance your Middle-Earth experience by the factor of ten. Read and re-read.