Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Heroes of Tolkien by David Day

 The cover of The Heroes of TolkienI wanted to like this book, but instead I had to fight the urge to chunk it against the wall much too often. Nevertheless, there were some good things among the bad and the ugly.

The good:

  • Fancy binding and paper and gorgeous illustrations; it is visually a beautiful book.
  • The included charts can be useful, especially as a quick reminder of various relations (but you can’t rely on them for spelling and dates.)
  • Some intriguing takes and interesting comparison with various mythologies and real historical events/personages (although the latter is basically calling Tolkien’s work allegory, which he was strictly and explicitly against, without actually calling it so) and I have learnt some new things about the sources of Tolkien’s ideas and etymology and was reminded of some things I had forgotten. 
  • But mostly, it just made me want to reread actual Tolkien’s works yet again.
The bad:

  • The Heroes of Tolkien is a misleading title, since the book only deals with a selection of the most notable heroes from Tolkien’s works.
  • Equally misleading is the blurb, promising an examination of the complexities of Tolkien’s portrayal of good and evil and then doing no such thing.
  • The subject matter is dealt with superficially, without any in-depth insight into Tolkien’s heroes, so if you expect that, you will be disappointed and better off going for The History of Middle Earth (although I have yet to read it myself.)
  • The writing is all over the place, jumping from one topic to another, with out-of-place asides, and often repetitive. The effect is that of a collection of notes on historical, mythological, and literary similarities and connections, rather than a cohesive treatment of the subject in the title.
The ugly:

  • Many factual errors, confusing the reader and thus rendering the book useless as reference.
  • Day cannot keep the names straight – I know, it is hard with there being so many of them, but if one is writing a book about Tolkien’s heroes, I would consider getting the names right the bare minimum.
  • The Silmarillion in particularly is not Day’s strong point, but the book does improve with Parts VI and VII when he gets to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so perhaps he should have just stuck with those.
On the whole, I found The Heroes of Tolkien mostly a pretty package with insubstantial content, since it is not informative enough for beginners without some pre-existing familiarity with Tolkien’s work and feels lacklustre to someone who is a bit of a Tolkien nerd like me.

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