SO … you heard Amazon’s working on a Lord of the Rings TV series or a Middle-earth TV Series, or something, and now you want to be ‘read and ready’ when the show premiers (sometime later this year, we hope!). But you don’t know Tolkien from Tookish? Get your pens, pencils, or pixels handy! This is your Reading List to help you prepare! With the understanding that this list will go way beyond the scope of what Amazon has purchased the rights to work with, here’s what you Need to Read:
The Lord of the Rings: Especially allll that stuff after the story ends, known as the Appendices. VERY IMPORTANT! The Appendices are the source from which Amazon is generating, or on which they are basing, their storytelling; but reading them on their own will be of little worth if you have no context or passion for Middle-earth.
[Ed’s note – if you have a REALLY short amount of time, your ‘Cheat’s guide’/last minute revision is Appendix A I (i) ‘Numenor’ and Appendix B ‘The Tale of Years – The Second Age’.] [Amazon.com]
As we prepare to hang up our stockings on Christmas Eve, hoping for a visit from a certain gentleman dressed in red, let’s take a closer look at a wonderful, festive book for Tolkien fans of all ages.
Released in time for the 2020 holiday season, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has followed the path of its British cousin Harper Collins in publishing a striking new edition of the Letters from Father Christmas. Hitting the American market in late October, this oversized hardback beauty boasts 208 pages of colorful Christmas chronicles first designed to enchant Tolkien’s growing family with seasonal tales from the North Pole. This is the first three-digit milestone for the Tolkien corpus: as a “Centenary Edition”, the publication date marks the 100th anniversary of the first letter from Father Christmas reaching three-year old John Frances Reuel Tolkien in December 1920. These letters would continue over the next 23 years, welcoming Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla into the society of Father Christmas, the Great (Polar) Bear and his two sidekick nephews, Paksu and Valkotukka, and an elvish secretary, as they cope with everything from goblins to general clumsiness.
This latest (and more affordable) edition, like the slipcase “Deluxe Edition” published in 2019 by Harper Collins, contains transcriptions and facsimile pictures of the entire collection of “F.C.” letters, along with their assorted envelopes and stamps so characteristic of Tolkien’s meticulous attention to detail. It also includes an introduction from the book’s editor and Tolkien’s daughter-in-law, Baillie Tolkien, who married Christopher in 1967. Also included is a personal note from the Professor himself, reproduced for the first time.
Tolkien likely began these letters as a whimsical family flourish, designed to make Christmastime a bit more magical for his children. But as with most of his projects, the tale grew in the telling. The letters began with a simple note of less than 100 words to his firstborn, accompanied by an iconic Father Christmas “self-portrait” and picture of his house.
Over the years, these evolved into occasional notes to each of his children, much lengthier epistles, occasional poetry, a more extensive cast of recurring characters, and assorted annual calamities to be overcome: from a plumbing disaster, to a broken North Pole, to reindeer on the loose, to an unexpected visit from the Man in the Moon. Occasionally, there is even a faint early echo from Middle-earth, with the appearance of elven aid “Ilbereth”, a single vowel away from his more famous star-kindling forebear; extensive new languages and calligraphy for multiple races, and a great (polar) bear fighting off goblin hordes in ways that would make Beorn proud.
The art of The Father Christmas Letters proves to be the most engaging element of the books, including meticulous hand drawn stamps and envelope decorations, spidery handwriting in Tolkien’s favorite black and red mix (nearly illegible in some cases), and above all the host of water color illustrations that surely captivated the imagination and speculation of Ronald and Edith’s young family, even as they continue to do for us (especially for any who have had a chance to see some of the originals under glass at recent exhibitions in Oxford, New York, or Paris).
This combination of text and illustration is a likely contributor to the Letters’ complicated publishing history. They first appeared three years after Tolkien’s death with a greatly abridged 1976 edition that focuses on pictures (not always reproduced in their complete form), partial texts, and only token reproductions of the original and elaborate written and decorated letters.
Even in this premier edition, there are hints from Baillee Tolkien that we were only getting a sampling of a richer treasure. Further editions followed, largely keeping to a similarly abridged approach.
It was not until 1993 that Tolkien scholars began to appreciate the full extent and complexity of what was still missing from the Father Christmas saga; and inquiring minds wanted to know more.
The first response was a delightful new edition published by Houghton Mifflin in 1995, introducing a novel approach: ten letters enclosed in actual envelopes, sprinkled with recaps and illustration highlights. While still not exhaustive, this latest installment began to recreate some of the delight of actually receiving and opening these annual updates. The book also included three previously unpublished pictures.
Finally, in 1999, we received a new “revised and enlarged” version, with the complete set of more than 30 letters and all of Tolkien’s pictures, some with a lesser quality color reproduction. For the truly deep-pocketed, there was also an opportunity to add to their Easton Press library of well-bound leather books. These were particularly fine editions for those who love distractingly enlarged details as page decorations.
Now that the complete set of letters was finally available to the public, we could enter the era of anniversary editions. The first on the scene came after five more years, in 2004, with fewer pages and illustrations, but at least fewer marginal distractions. The 2009 edition – or 10th anniversary of the complete set – proved that the 1999 version was only mostly complete, adding several omitted pages from letters in 1937 and 1941. An updated version of the same edition in 2012 provided 39 new images covering all but a few pages of the actual letters, and much improved reproductions.
For the truly dedicated enthusiast, the upgraded Collector’s Edition of the Bodleian’s exhibit catalogue, Tolkien, Maker of Middle-earth, includes a facsimile version of the Christmas 1936 letter and its accompanying explanatory picture.
Tolkien’s family tradition ended on a bittersweet note in a 1943 letter (“a grim year”) to a 14-year-old Priscilla. Father Christmas muses, “After this I shall have to say ‘goodbye’, more or less: I mean, I shall not forget you. We always keep the old numbers of our old friends, and their letters; and later we hope to come back when they are grown up and have houses of their own and children.” The 2020 Centenary Edition ofThe Father Christmas Letters offers just that kind of opportunity: to reminisce, to return, to find great hope and cheer in small things, and to consider how we might pass this joy to future generations. Merry Christmas!
Editor Note: Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we are featuring news and resources for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, his worlds and works. Today’s official advent calendar is below!
Exciting news this morning, from US Tolkien publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: a previously unseen collection of Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth will be published June 2021. Here’s the press release from HMH:
‘MIFFLIN HARCOURT TO PUBLISH J.R.R. TOLKIEN’S FINAL MIDDLE-EARTH WRITINGS IN 2021
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media will publish The Nature of Middle-earth, a previously unseen collection of writings by J.R.R. Tolkien, in the U.S. on June 24, 2021. Presented for the first time in one volume and edited by Carl F. Hostetter, the writings will transport readers back to the world of The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Lord of the Rings.
Deb Brody, HMH’s VP and Publisher, says: “It is well known that J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1954–5. What may be less known is that he continued to write about Middle-earth in the decades that followed, right up until the years before his death in 1973.
“For him, Middle-earth was part of an entire world to be explored, and the writings in The Nature of Middle-earth reveal the journeys that he took as he sought to better understand his unique creation. From sweeping themes as profound as Elvish immortality and reincarnation, and the Powers of the Valar, to the more earth-bound subjects of the lands and beasts of Númenor, the geography of the Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor, and even who had beards!
“This new collection is a veritable treasure-trove offering readers a chance to peer over Professor Tolkien’s shoulder at the very moment of discovery: and on every page, Middle-earth is once again brought to extraordinary life.”
The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1954–5. Each has since gone on to become a beloved classic of literature, and an international bestseller in more than 70 languages, collectively selling more than 150,000,000 copies worldwide.
The Nature of Middle-earth will be published subsequently in several languages by numerous Tolkien publishers worldwide.
CARL F. HOSTETTER has for many years been one of the world’s leading Tolkien experts and respected head of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. He has worked as a Computer Engineer for NASA since 1985.’
Harper Collins, the UK based publisher for Tolkien, will also release this new work in June next year. You can read The Guardian newspaper’s article about this highly anticipated publication, here.
It has come to light on the Tolkien Collector’s Guide that Harper Collins and Houghton Mifflin have plans to publish a new book titled The Nature of Middle-earth in 2021 containing previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The book has been edited by Tolkien expert Carl F. Hostetter who heads the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. The materials on which the book is based were sent to Hostetter in photocopy by Christopher Tolkien, before his passing, for potential publication.
The details were first released in a catalogue for the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019. The description, excerpted from the catalogue (page 64), follows.
The first ever publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s final writings on Middle-earth, covering a wide-range of subjects, and the perfect next read for those who have enjoyed Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle-earth series and are hungry for more.
The Nature of Middle-earth will comprise numerous late (c. 1959-73) and previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien on the “nature” of Middle-earth, in both chief senses of that word: both metaphysical and natural/historical.
For Tolkien fans, readers, and scholars interested in learning more about Tolkien’s own views on Middle-earth. It will appeal in particular to those readers who enjoyed Unfinished Tales, and some of the later volumes of the History of Middle-earth. Indeed, many of the texts to be included are closely associated with materials published in those places, and were sent to Hostetter, specifically, in photocopy by Christopher Tolkien for potential publication.
Much as Unfinished Tales forms an unofficial thirteenth volume of the History of Middle-earth, this new book will sit very nicely alongside as an unofficial 14th volume. Of particular note, given the impending Amazon series, are several texts detailing the lands, flora, and fauna of Númenor, and the lives of Númenóreans.
Harper Collins Publishers, Frankfurt BookFair 2019, Fiction Translation Rights
Tomorrow is Tolkien Reading Day! And as so many of us are social distancing and staying at home right now, let’s get our copies down off the shelves and share some favourite paragraphs together. Farmer Giles, Roverandom, Father Christmas Letters, The Hobbit – whatever works by the Professor take your fancy, head on over to the message boards or the Facebook group, and post a passage for us all to enjoy.
Our good friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have put together an online kit to inspire you, including maps, trivia, and a complete list of Tolkien’s works. Check it out, here. Let’s escape together into the pages of a book by our favourite author!
Once again, we face that eternal question, “What gift can I buy for the Tolkien fanatic in my life this year?” As always, we here at TheOneRing.net have provided answers to this question, to help make it as easy and painless as possible. So, without further ado, welcome to TORn’s Holiday Gift Guide 2019.
From everyone at TheOneRing.net, we wish you all a safe and peaceful Holiday season.
greendragon recommends: Letters from Father Christmas. A must have for every Tolkien fan. Click here to order.
35 BAGSHOT ROW – CHRISTMAS EDITION. From New Line Cinema, Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. comes J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, brought to the big screen in an epic trilogy. Weta Workshop was thrilled to return to Middle-earth once again, contributing design, specialty props and specialty costumes to all three films. Click here to order.
deej recommends: Badali Jewelry’s The Rings of Men: Umbar. Click here to order.
Weta Workshop; Arwen and Frodo on Asfaloth. Click here to order.
Garfeimao recommends: “Tolkien”, biopic that came out earlier this year. It is a lovely film with some really nice acting and moments of humor that brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s younger years to life. Click here to order.
grammaboodawg recommends: Gandalf Deluxe Statue by Iron Studios for Sideshow. Click here to order.
Frodo Statue by Iron Studios for Sideshow. Click here to order.
Nazgûl Deluxe Statue by Iron Studios for Sideshow. Click here to order.
“Attacking” Nazgûl Deluxe Statue by Iron Studios for Sideshow. Click here to order.
Balrog (Deluxe Version) by Star Ace Toys Ltd. for Sideshow. Click here to order.
Kelvarhin recommends : Funko Pop! Rides: Lord of The Rings – Gwaihir with Gandalf and Funko Pop! Rides: Lord of The Rings – Witch King with Fellbeast. I absolutely love these two collectibles from Funko Pop! I’d be a very happy little tiger if they were left under my tree this year. Click here and here to order.
Kristin recommends: Catherine McIlwaine’s Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth as a great gift for Tolkien fans. Click here to order.
Joel recommends checking out the Bodleian library website for that extra special gift.
All prices are in US dollars, except for the items from the Bodleian, which are in UK pounds.