The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Middle-earth (Rough Guides Ltd., 2003)

The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings is a very cool book. My 16-year-old caught sight of it, and I have had to hide it till I finish this review. The book is quite small (about 12 cm by 16 cm or 4.5 by 6.25 inches, 304 pages), but stuffed with information, not only about the movie trilogy but about the books it is based on.

The easiest way to show the scope of the book is to reproduce its Table of Contents:

1. Introduction: A rough guide to exactly why The Lord Of The Rings has become the best-read novel of the last century.
2. The Origins: The life and times of JRR Tolkien, and how they led to the creation of his masterpiece.
3. The Books: The making of The Lord Of The Rings, plus the myths, themes, subplot interpretations and reviews
4. The Motion Picture Trilogy: From printed page to movie screen &151; how Hollywood finally turned Tolkien's trilogy into a blockbuster movie.
5. The Characters: Meet the good (most of the hobbits, Aragorn), the bad (Sauron) and the ugly (the orcs, the uruk-hai) inhabitants of Middle-earth.
6. Middle-earth: A sightseeer's to the culture, geography and language of Tolkien's Middle-earth.
7. The Locations: From South Africa to New Zealand via Birmingham: the locations which helped inspire and enrich The Lord Of The Rings.
8. Ephemera: The world of The Lord Of The Rings and Tolkien memorabilia, from first editions to duvet covers and hobbit costumes.
9. The Context: How Greenpeace, 1970s progressive rock, computers and Russian politics were touched by The Lord Of The Rings.

As you can see, this does take in a little of pretty much everything important. Each of these topics has been studied in detail elsewhere (and you'll find reviews of many of these works elsewhere in GMR), but The Rough Guide to The Lord Of The Rings lives up to its promise of giving a thorough overview.

It's hard to pick out any must-reads, but the following caught my attention. Page 143 deals with some of the changes made to the books to adapt them to the movie format. Whether one agrees with Peter Jackson's choices or not, this is undeniably a sensible explanation for them. Unfortunately, The Rough Guide was published just before The Return of the King came out in late 2003, so it missed the enormous controversy about Saruman's fate being left out of the movie. I would have liked to read that explanation.

Also, Chapter 6 includes amusing tourist information for Middle-earth, mirroring the data about tourist sites in our world found in Chapter 7.

The Rough Guide is copiously illustrated, mostly with black and white stills from the movies. There are also screen shots of Web pages and photos of JRR Tolkien and his contemporaries and of various places of interest, samples of merchandise, books, etc. The only coloured illustrations are the inside and outside covers.

What impresses me most about The Rough Guide is its respectful tone. In the 21st century it is fashionable to poke fun at anything that anyone else could take seriously, such as religion or morality. JRR Tolkien's devout Roman Catholicism and its influence on his life and work are taken seriously, without disparagement.

I only have two quibbles with the book: the lack of an index and the disconcerting use of colour. As to the lack of an index, the table of contents is pretty descriptive. As to the colours, well, various words are in bold or in a sort of pale yellow-tan. They look like hyperlinks, but staring hard, or even trying to click with a finger, just doesn't work with printed books. With no index, there is no easy way to follow these links.

Thousands of Web sites are devoted to JRR Tolkien and The Lord Of The Rings. The Rough Guide lists many of them. If you want to find out more about the series of Rough Guides, visit their Web site.

[Faith Cormier]