Skip to content

A Narcissus at Christmas: Received: The Complete Guide to Middle Earth

Photo by Tobias Stonjeck / Unsplash

Robert Foster: The Complete Guide to Middle Earth.

My sons pooled their money to buy me this deluxe edition of Robert Foster’s classic Middle Earth reference book. I’m not even sure where they found it, but it’s a beautiful book.

After opening it, I said, “Wow, I love it. I don’t even want to take it out of the cellophane.” My son replied, “It’s meant to be read.” I nodded.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Robert Foster’s dictionary had been a staple in my library since my teenage years and, though I honestly love the gift, I’m loathed to soil it with my haphazard reading habits. Instead, I’d prefer to continue to use the beaten-up paperback that I’ve used for years so I can preserve my new edition in its pristine condition, though I am very curious to see what the actual pages look like so I might cave in and unwrap it.

Foster’s book is, like I said, a “classic” and a “staple,” but you know what work might be even more impressive, albeit not terribly useful? JEA Tyler’s The Tolkien Companion. I normally don’t endorse anyone with four names, but he’s a Brit and probably eccentric, so I let it slide.

Anyway, this poor bloke put together a Middle Earth reference book (1976) before the Silmarillion came out (1977). Without The Silmarillion, any Middle Earth reference book is woefully incomplete. I remember that, after I bought it, I puzzled why the First Age references were so sparse. I didn’t piece together the publication chronology until years later.

But regardless, Tyler did an impressive job piecing together Middle Earth, relying solely on the pre-1977 Tolkien corpus. He seems to have gotten most things from the First Age correct, which would’ve required a close reading of LoTR (plus any information he could glean from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and The Road Goes Ever On).

If you want to read an anachronistic oddity, check out poor Tyler’s book. If you want the definitive guide, however, Foster’s is the choice.