I didn’t discover Tolkien until much much later, and since then I have never stopped loving the world he conjured up.
Much like many younger fans at the time, I didn’t know of J. R. R. Tolkien until Sir Peter Jackson transported me to this magical land called Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, full of wizards, Dark Lords, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and many other strange creatures! At the heart of this feat of imagination drawn up by professor Tolkien, a man who lived and died well before my time, is a tale of friendship and love that resonates even today, and quite possibly until the end of civilization as we know it.
The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and all the deep lore of Middle-earth is such a monumental and seminal influence on the genre of fantasy itself. Reading these tales is such a comfort, may they be tales of friendship, love, treachery, war, or grief. Tolkien paints on a sweeping canvas, drawing inspiration from the history of the world, and his own. The attention to detail, and even the lack of it at points, almost assure us that this indeed is a lost history of the world.
My love for Middle-earth began about the time I saw The Lord of the Rings films back to back after they were all released. Since then I have collected and delved deep into the books, starting with the one that began it all for Tolkien, The Hobbit, whose simple yet endearing first words still captivate millions of readers; “In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…” To a novice of Tolkiendom, The Hobbit is clearly the starting point, to ease into a mythical land but to not be overwhelmed by its grandness or complexity.
Tolkien is heavily restrained, intending it to be a children’s book, so his much grandiose ambitions for Middle-earth, which well precede the writing of The Hobbit are only mentioned in passing. We experience the adventure from the vantage point of a home-adoring, peace-loving Hobbit, who is swept off on a grand adventure by this ‘Wizard’ who looks and feels very much like the archetypical wizard from fairy stories, and ‘historical’ legends. Little did we know, (neither did Tolkien at the time of writing) that these characters would unravel stories and legends built into the mythos of Middle-earth, such as the One Ring and a necromancer, who turns out to be a Dark Lord in exile. While Tolkien may have embarked upon what eventually became The Lord of the Rings as a whimsical sequel to The Hobbit (because the publisher and the readers were demanding to hear more about Hobbits) – it took off in ways that he never imagined. The tentative title ‘The Magic Ring’ became ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Also, the magic ring that was barely mentioned in The Hobbit became a mighty weapon of a Dark Lord, who in the elder days was the chief lieutenant of an even more powerful Dark Lord. As captivating and enduring as The Lord of the Rings might be, it is but the tip of the iceberg of what is true ‘Middle-earth.’
This is where The Silmarillion comes in, edited by Christopher, Tolkien’s youngest son, which many readers still complain to be an inaccessible tale told in a literary and almost biblical tone. But people who have read it know otherwise. This mythological, legendary tale goes all the way back to where the universe was created by an all-powerful ‘God’. It refers to the creation of immortal beings that hold immense power as well as how their struggle for power and order created the tumultuous history of Arda, of which Middle-earth is a continent.
Before Sauron, the chief villain of The Lord of the Rings was his master Morgoth ruling from the cold wastes and iron hells of the lands to the North. It is chronicled how he ever laboured to corrupt and enslave the people of Middle-earth and how his brethren the immortal ‘gods’ – the Valar and Maiar ever maintained balance.
Elves, who are introduced to us in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as peaceful, noble, and fair beings are almost impossible to find in the elder days of Middle-earth. The mighty tale of Elves is drenched in treachery, enmity, doom, kin-slaying, and death among all their mighty deeds of craft, heroism, and sacrifice. In their tales are told of a mortal man falling in love with an Elven princess, braving the unthinkable for her hand. Another mighty man of a cursed noble lineage looking for his destiny in the wild – facing off a vile dragon, a mighty city hidden from the world and its equally mighty fall. These tales appear later on in their own expanded and stand-alone book form as Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, The Fall of Gondolin, collecting the texts from Tolkien’s various iterations of editing and revisions. Christopher Tolkien spent his life bringing these works and the even more detailed and expanded ‘The History of the Middle-earth’ 12-volume series, which heavily explores Tolkien’s immensely deep mythology and its evolution. Also related is his edited work of ‘Unfinished Tales’ which spans the first three Ages of Middle-earth and stories that Tolkien began but left unfinished with the exceptions of rough draft form in many cases.
Accompanying these are celebrated and must-have companion books such as The Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (as a glossary and an encyclopedia) by Robert Foster, The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad as a geographical visualization of Middle-earth. There have been countless publications that explore Middle-earth, its languages, Tolkien’s inspirations, his life, and his own art. Film adaption books explore the art and creation of the films, both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, which show sumptuous art by Alan Lee, John Howe and talented concept artists at Weta Workshop.
These books comprise my Tolkien section of a humble personal library. Of course, Tolkien’s literary career didn’t just start and end with Middle-earth, he also authored multiple other books based on fantasy and academic analyses, of which Roverandom, Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún are a few. There are many dedicated collectors whose aim is to collect various beautiful, rare editions of all his books, but as for me, I prefer having a solid hardback edition of a novel, and an illustrated edition of the same book to accompany it as a visual companion. There is an immense variety of editions to choose from, and for all sorts of budgets. The gold standard of Tolkien illustrations comes from Alan Lee, John Howe, and Ted Nasmith, and between them, they have illustrated all of Tolkien’s main Middle-earth works. But my bookshelf is not quite finished yet. The thick volumes of The History of Middle-earth I have yet to explore, and the latest and upcoming illustrated editions I have yet to acquire. Collecting is an obsession and not a light one on a modest budget. Much of my own goes into collecting works of Tolkien and pieces of art from the film trilogies, made by the creative artists at Weta Workshop. Since the time of the original release of The Lord of the Rings films, Weta Workshop has launched a series of collectibles in the forms of busts, statues, and dioramas, which simply bring the films to life. Since then, even more, companies have joined in, producing ever more detailed works of art, even collectible weaponry.
My modest collection is still in progress, and as a collector, I always look for pieces that represent the characters that I love the most, especially Frodo Baggins, Bilbo Baggins, and Aragorn. I own replicas of Sting, the sword of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and Andúril, the legendary sword of King Elendil, later reforged for his descendant Aragorn.
While there are so many other collectables one could collect, I am quite satisfied with the ones I admire the most, and I have a special love for sculptures in particular. There are busts and statues of the kings and lords at the battle of the Last Alliance as well as the Dark Lord Sauron himself, which are some of my favourites. There are the nine companions of the Fellowship in statue-form among the heroic warriors of Rohan: King Theoden, Lady Eowyn as well as some of the sinister personas like Saruman the wizard, Balrog of Moria. Some of my favourite places of Middle-earth such as Bag End are represented as collectable environments. Miniature swords of many other characters, some incredibly detailed miniature helms, Life-size replicas of the One Ring, pipes of Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf, Elven brooch given to the Fellowship, the crown of King Elessar, The Ring of Barahir, The Key to Erebor, posters from the original theatrical releases, postcards and photo prints of characters, maps of the Shire, floor plans of Bag End surround and saturate me with a sense of Middle-earth realism… Now to take a breath! It is by no means a great collection, or comparable to some amazing collections out there. But I know that sometimes less is more if you love what you collect.
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