Book Cover
Title Meditations on Middle-Earth
Series ---
Editor Karen Haber
Illustrated By John Howe
Publisher St. Martin's Press - 2001
First Printing St. Martin's Press - 2001
Category Essays
Warnings None

Main Characters


Main Elements Wizards, elves, hobbits

  • Preface - Karen Haber
  • Introduction - George R.R. Martin
  • Our Grandfather: Meditations on J.R.R. Tolkien - Raymond Feist
  • Awakening the Elves - Poul Anderson
  • A Changeling Returns - Michael Swanwick
  • If You Give a Girl a Hobbit - Esther M. Friesner
  • The Ring and I - Harry Turtledove
  • Cult Classic - Terry Pratchett
  • A Bar and a Quest - Robin Hobb
  • Rhythmic Pattern in Lord of the Rings - Urusla K. LeGuin
  • The Longest Sunday - Diane Duane
  • Tolkien After All These Years - Douglas A. Anderson
  • How Tolkien Means - Orson Scott Card
  • The Tale Goes Ever On - Charles de Lint
  • The Mythmaker - Lisa Goldstein
  • "The Radical Distinction" - A Conversation with Tim and Greg Hildebrandt - Glenn Hurdlin
  • On Tolkien and Fairy Stories - Terry Windling

When J.R.R Tolkien created the extraordinary world of Middle-Earth and populated it with fantastic archetypal denizens, reinventing the heroic quest, the world hardly noticed. Sales of The Lord of the Rings languished for the better part of two decades, until the Ballantine editions were published here in America. By the late 1950's, however, the books were selling well and beginning to change the face of fantays...forever.

A generation of students and apsiring writes had their hearts and imaginations captured by the rich tapestry of the Middle-Earth mythos, the larger-than-life heroic characters, the extraordinary and exquisite nature of Tolkien's prose, and the unending quest to balance evil with good. These young readers grew up to become the successful writers of modern fantasy. They created their own worlds and universes, in some cases their own languages, and their own epic heroic quests. And all of them owe a debt of gratitute to the works and the author who first set them on the path.

In Meditations on Middle-earth, sixteen bestselling fantasy authors share details of their personal relationships with Tolkien's mythos, for it inspired them all. Had there been no Lord of the Rings, the would also have been no Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin; no Song of Ice and Fire saga from George R.R. Martin; no Tales of Discworld from Terry Pratchett; no Riftwar stories from Raymond E. Feist; no Legends of Alvin Maker from Orson Scott Card. Each of them was influenced by the master mythmaker, and now each reveals the nature of that influence and their personal relationships with the greatest fantasy novels evern written in the English language.

If you've never read the Tolkien books, read these essays and discover the depth and beauty of his work. If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, the candid comments of these modern mythmakers will give you new insight into the subtlety, power, and majesty of Tolkien's tales and how he told them.

At this point, I'd read most of the cord Middle-earth books over the past few years. But I had this book tucked away in my closet unread. At first I had thought they were tales written in the Middle-earth world, but in fact it is a collection of essays about how Tolkien influenced many authors (most of whose works I have read) which made this book even more interesting than if it were a collection of stories.

I think the one that reflected my personal feelings of re-reading Lord of the Rings last year was the one by Michael Swanwick. For him, reading it to his children, it was no longer just a grand adventure, it was a tale about loss. I guess after experiencing my great-uncle's alzheimers I have a new appreciation for things that fade away (elves, magic, ents, etc), and the inability to ever go back to way things were (Frodo). Even if you win you still lose. Though Sauron is defeated, nothing is the same and the ending is very sad, even if most of the characters in fact survive. There is a cost to being the hero that goes beyond simply risking your life, you will change your life.

The one I liked the least is Ursula K. LeGuin, who seemed to have missed the point of this collection and instead of writing about her personal reactions to the book instead wrote an essay on the technial aspect of the prose. It's a perfectly good essay, just didn't belong in this collection. If I wanted a literary analysis of one chapter of Lord of the Rings, I'd have looked on up. Not a word on how it inspired her to write Earthsea.

Another essay reminds us that Tolkien didn't write an allegory of the second world war, or anything else that is consider "literature". He just wrote a story that should be fun to read, it didn't really have a point per-se. And because of that, people who do a literary anaylsis of the book always end up stumped, because they are digging for deeper, hidden meanings, and well, there are none. So they stick up their noses and claim the book is not literature, it's just fluff, even though it is beautifully written and frankly, has a much larger reader base than a lot of stuff classic. Not everything has to have a secret agenda for the reader to ferret out. Sometimes a good book is just what is presented to the reader, nothing more.

Overall it was a pleasure to see how all these various authors had similar, and yet uniquely personal experiences reading Lord of the Rings. And a few of them included some of their other influences (Jack Vance's Dying Earth for example) which I think will influence my reading choice for a while as I hunt down those other fantasy classics.

Posted: December 2016


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