Meditations on Middle Earth by Karen Haber (Editor), John Howe (Illustrator)
List Price: $24.95 
Hardcover - 288 pages (November 2001)
St. Martin's Press; ISBN: 0312275366
Review by EJ McClure
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This thought-provoking collection of essays on the works and influence of J.R.R. Tolkien arrives just in time for the holidays. Like a delectable sampler of chocolate bonbons, the 15 selections, temptingly packaged with detailed pencil drawings by John Howe, whet the appetite for great fantasy.

From Ursula le Guin's deft and scholarly piece, "Rhythmic Pattern in the Lord of the Rings," to the humorous essay "If You Give a Girl a Hobbit" by Esther Friesner, these short works are sure to delight Tolkien enthusiasts, be they seasoned fans who first read the books in the '60s, or new converts who fell in love with Tolkien when they saw the live-action movie that hit big screens this month.

Things such as Gollum Happy meals are upon us, as Douglas A. Anderson fears in his essay, "Tolkien After All These Years." But the merchandizing juggernaut of Tolkien Enterprises can not satisfy a new fans' yearning to explore Middle-Earth, so Anderson provides a wonderful "must-read" list, covering in chronological order not only all Tolkien's published works, but also the critical and public reaction to his writing; a valuable perspective for both newcomers and veterans alike.

As George R. R. Martin points out in the introduction, "Fantasy existed long before J. R. R. Tolkien." True enough, but he shaped and defined it for his own generation, and those that followed, a debt that Martin acknowledges in the Introduction.

A common thread through the collection of essays is each author's anecdote about their first encounter with The Lord of The Rings, and the profound impact it had on their lives. Diane Duane's "The Longest Sunday" was particularly poignant. I lived the exultation and frustration of those endless hours between the time she finished The Two Towers on Sunday morning, and the time she was able to buy The Return of the King after school on Monday. Robin Hobb, in "A Bar and A Quest" tells of reading The Hobbit while hidden in the family meat cache one Alaskan summer. Each writer shares something of their journey from the moment they fell in love with Middle-Earth to their own success as a writer or artist, and most tell of passing on the legacy to their own children.

Orson Scott Card reflects on the role of fiction in human society: "It makes us who have read it temporarily, approximately, One. We have memories in common--memories more complex and powerful than any but a few shared rituals can provide." Those who come to Tolkien only after seeing Peter Jackson's movie may forever see Ian McKellen's weathered and kindly face as Gandalf, and we may debate whether Frodo or Sam--as Card would have us believe--is the true hero of the story, but we partake of a common myth. Meditations on Middle-Earth is a wonderful companion-piece that belongs on the bookshelf beside Tolkien's trilogy.

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu