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The Nature of Middle-earth

Review

The Nature of Middle-earth

written by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Carl F. Hostetter

» Click here to read Stephen Hubbard's review.

 

Review #1 by Ray Palen

THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, which explores the foundation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, is dedicated to his son Christopher, who we lost in January 2020. Christopher had spent much of his life fully realizing his father’s vision of a complete and detailed history of Middle-earth. The result is a deep exploration into things that were not captured in his most famous work, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The literary ball has been picked up by Carl F. Hostetter, one of the world’s leading Tolkien experts and respected head of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (yes, such an organization actually exists). THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is primarily aimed at readers of Tolkien and aficionados of Middle-earth. Typically, you would not want to exclude potential readers when releasing a book, but this particular work has no qualms stating that a complete knowledge and understanding of THE SILMARILLION, UNFINISHED TALES and Volumes X–XII of The History of Middle-earth are required to fully appreciate what is contained here.

"THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a treat for the serious Tolkien reader and scholar, with so much detail packed in that it gives a taste of the impressive scope of Tolkien’s vision for his beloved Middle-earth realm."

THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is like reading an Advanced Placement work with many parts of it resembling the details you might find in a Calculus textbook. In order to make the text more readable with minimal editorial intrusion, Hostetter expands abbreviations and supplies punctuation, conjunctions and other minor connecting words, while Tolkien, writing in greater haste, had omitted them.

Much of this work is consumed with the concept of time --- both literally and from the perspective of how certain types of Middle-earth denizens age in relation to each other. For instance, the growth age of 12:1 (in comparison with mortal years) was maintained until an Elf-man reached “age 24.” Perhaps the most famous of Tolkien’s Elves was Elrond, who was born 58 years before the end of the First Age in the overthrow of Morgoth. But he was born in Middle-earth, so he inherited from the beginning the rate of 100:1. When he left Middle-earth, he was 6,520 Elvish years --- 65 years old in human terms and full of vigor.

The exploration of age in relation to the Elves would cause some problems for Tolkien, making characters like Elrond and Galadriel rather older in the later ages, and cause difficulties with Arwen and Aragorn (the latter of whom was mortal). "Body, Mind and Spirit" is an important and vital section of THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH. Consideration of bodies and spirits, and the closely related matters of minds, continued into the last years of Tolkien’s life, and ran in both metaphysical and mundane directions: the nature of being and identity, the relation of free will to divine foreknowledge, thought communication, and the manner and mode of Elvish reincarnation.

The metaphysics of Middle-earth as reflected here is firmly Catholic: that is, it is clearly informed by the metaphysics espoused by St. Thomas Aquinas, which enjoyed a dramatic reaffirmation by the Catholic Church during Tolkien’s youth, under Pope Leo XIII. However, it is the great and memorable characters that are the lifeblood of Middle-earth: Gandalf, an Immortal and emissary of the Valar; Legolas, Elvish Prince of the Sindarin race, tall and strong as a young tree; Hobbits, or Halflings, which were derived from the Númenórean name for them (in Sindarin, Periannath); and Gollum, who, according to Gandalf, was one of the riverside Hobbit people --- and therefore, in origin, a member of a small variety of the human race.

Tolkien was greatly concerned with achieving astronomical and chronological verisimilitude in The Lord of the Rings. He expended great effort, for example, to make the movements of the various members of the separated Fellowship realistic, in terms of distance covered on foot or mounted each day (matters of which, as a former British Army officer with equestrian training, he had much experience). THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a treat for the serious Tolkien reader and scholar, with so much detail packed in that it gives a taste of the impressive scope of Tolkien’s vision for his beloved Middle-earth realm.
 


 

Review #2 by Stephen Hubbard

J. R. R. Tolkien first began scribbling down his vision of the backbone of Middle-earth just prior to and while serving in World War I. As a professor, he would jot down notes on any scrap of paper he could find. His opening line for THE HOBBIT was scrawled on a blank exam sheet turned in by a student. And while he would set off to telling the story of Bilbo Baggins going there and back again, he already had laid immense groundwork for the legendarium that would become Middle-earth and the creation story therein. Much of what had been written and saved on those scraps and in collected stories was tucked away in trunks, and it fell to Tolkien’s son, Christopher, to gather, sort and edit them in the wake of his father’s passing in 1973.

Now Christopher has passed, but once more we are permitted to look behind the curtain and see what the wizard was working on. With THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH, editor and Tolkien expert Carl F. Hostetter has composed a work that serves to illuminate Tolkien’s creative process and provide a better understanding of the ins and outs and the why for many of the foundational elements that bring his Middle-earth so wholly to life.

"There is enough that is new here that it will engage and delight those who seek answers to some of those questions always left hinted at within the texts."

While some of the items included here have seen the light of day in prior releases, there is much that is new and never before seen. In many ways, parts of the book rightfully could be called the final volume of the extraordinary collection known as The History of Middle-earth. The only drawback is that it doesn’t appear as refined and as fully focused as those entries, instead presenting a wide-ranging assortment to tease the palate across myriad subjects. A reader will embrace such explorations as how elves age, how time is measured in Arda, Elvish reincarnation, the notion of fate and free will, an examination of Númenórean power and fate, a deeper look at Galadriel and Celeborn, and what powers the Valar hold. This is but a sliver of what is to be discovered.

These are not just straightforward stories, mind you. These are revelations of the thought process of the author. In some cases, they seem to be discussions that he himself has set to the page in order to work out his creation and evolution of these ideas to make them what they are required to be to fill their place within Middle-earth. In that, they line up very well with the prior History installments.

Ultimately, THE NATURE OF MIDDLE-EARTH is a treasure for those who seek to further enlighten the fantastical world that Tolkien created. There is enough that is new here that it will engage and delight those who seek answers to some of those questions always left hinted at within the texts. Here, seeing the legendary author himself debate and refine those answers, the mythology of the land of Middle-earth shines all the more.

Reviewed by Ray Palen and Stephen Hubbard on September 11, 2021

The Nature of Middle-earth
written by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Carl F. Hostetter

  • Publication Date: September 2, 2021
  • Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358454603
  • ISBN-13: 9780358454601