Review of Tolkien: An Illustrated Encyclopedia

I went to the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales (National Library and Archives) before the holidays. I decided to verify what Tolkien books they might have and I discovered more of them than I could have dreamed of. Among said books, there was Tolkien: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, by David Day. I took it along with volumes 3 and 4 of The History of Middle Earth.

I was quite happy to be able to plunge back into Tolkien’s world. I find his works a bit…how to say? A bit racist, I guess, but I forgive him because he has imagined so many wonderful things and his work is much more than that. The encyclopedia is divided into various sections (Geography, Sociology, Biographies, etc.) containing several articles. As its title says, of course, it also contains several illustrations by several different people. While some are undeniably great, there are many which I simply don’t like. Some of them in particular are so overloaded with detail that my eye has great difficulties distinguishing elements from each other. The images of the Ents are so strangely drawn that they look like evil creatures.

As for the textual content, the main reason for which I chose this book, it actually makes me wonder why I even bothered borrowing a Tolkien encyclopedia, when I can freely access the Encyclopedia of Arda at all times. I could speak for hours of the greatness of this encyclopedia, but I guess this will go into another article. I can however not help making comparisons and I believe what truly makes me prefer the online one is the necessary lack of hyperlinks in the book. Of course, it’s a book and can therefore not have actual hyperlinks in the markup sense of the word.

The problem is that Tolkien invented many languages, each of which often gave its own name to places, races, etc., if not even more than one name, and also made use of English to refer to a lot of these places. For example, the Undying Lands is the English name of Aman, the land in which live the Valar. Most encyclopedias would put all information on the place in only one entry and would write in the other entry to refer yourself to the one that contains the info. This encyclopedia doesn’t and writes slightly different information on each entry, meaning you have to guess that you must refer yourself to the other article for more information.

On the plus side, though, I must mention the wonderful maps that are found at the beginning of the book, in the Geography section. they show how Arda (the world / the earth) has evolved since its creation, as well as various regions of the world in clear and colorful maps.

In brief, I do not recommend this book if you can access the web often enough to refer yourself to the Encyclopedia of Arda instead. The maps are surely accessible through other sources such as Middle Earth atlases.

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