The Short Version: Not Good, Good, Great, or Awesome? It’s great. This book is not only beautiful and bursting with Tolkien art, but it also gives a chronological, detailed overview of the state of Tolkien interpretive art to date. Lovely and informative, with only a few things that I wish could have been improved.
Cut to the Chase: Do You Want This Book for Christmas? Absolutely, you do!
The Longer Version: Gorgeous, absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. That was my first thought when this book arrived on my doorstep. The wonderful cover is by Wes Talbott and is composed of a view of Bag-end and one of Smaug, both reminiscent of stained glass. The whole book is likewise beautiful to look at and to hold, right down to the subtly sparkling bronze endpapers. I haven’t seen such a beautiful book about Tolkien’s work since the older Tolkien’s World, Realms of Tolkien, and Atlas of Middle-earth, and in its way this book is more comprehensive than these, since it encompasses the art of many artists and photos from many productions and periods.
Middle-earth Envisioned takes the reader not only through illustrative art, but also through audio presentations (mostly radio, with a brief mention of notable audiobooks), small-screen and large-screen efforts, live stage productions, and games both living-room and video. After giving short synopses of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien’s own life, the book divides into one section on each story individually, covering all modes of art surrounding that story, one section covering movies of both stories, and one final section on fan art, music, and fan film.
The result is nicely capsuled chronologies of how Middle-earth has been portrayed in each of the various media over time. Particularly interesting to me were the accounts of the multiple radio and filmed productions—the principal players and how each work came to be. Even though the authors necessarily only scratch the surface of the process that went into these works, the reader begins to see the personalities of the people who envisioned bringing Middle-earth to life outside the printed page.
There are only three things that detracted from the overall success of the book. Firstly, the copy editing is quite bad. Punctuation is garbled, there are a few typos, and in a couple cases, the text itself is a bit misleading (“Fan-Inspired Art” is really the art of inspired fans, not art inspired by fans). It’s a shame the editing detracts from, rather than enhances, the authors’ text, because the text itself is hearty and substantively informative. Secondly, the authors have provided several in-depth looks at various topics in each section, such as the LEGO sets modeled on Tolkien’s work. These segments, separate and apart from the primary authors’ text, are quite interesting in themselves, but they are studded seemingly at random throughout each section, interrupting the flow of the primary text. They would have been better placed at the ends of sections. Thirdly, and of less concern, is that while quite a lot of the book is filled with illustrations by various artists, there is not enough written about these artists in the primary text. While each artist is represented in an index, sometimes there will be a terrific painting on a page, with the name of the artist, but no other information about that art or artist in the text, which is talking at that point about something quite different. While I understand that the authors must have been pressed to cover everything in detail in the page space that they had, still, the disconnect of any particular artist’s work from the accompanying text can be jarring at times.
But on the whole, this book is a great addition to your Tolkien materials and will give you insight into many things you might never have known about and some you already did. And it’s a terrific starting point for learning more about some wonderful artists whose Tolkien work you may not yet have had a chance to see. This book will be a good Christmas gift for any Tolkien lover on your list.