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The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R.…
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The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien created a new mythology (edition 2005)

by Tom Shippey

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7181020,858 (4.03)23
"The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey's classic work, now revised and expanded in paperback explores J. R. R. Tolkien's creativity and the sources of his inspiration. Shippey shows in detail how Tolkien's professional background led him to write The Hobbit and create a timeless charm for millions of readers. He argues convincingly that the source of Tolkien's inspiration lay not just in his love of fable but in his love of language. While examining the foundations and literary structures of Tolkien's most popular work, The Lord of the Rings, in rich detail, Shippey also discusses the contribution of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales to Tolkien's great myth cycle, showing how the more "difficult" books can be fully appreciated. He goes on to examine the remarkable twelve-volume History of Middle-earth, written by Tolkien's son and literary heir Christopher Tolkien, which traces the creative and technical processes by which Middle-earth evolved."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Member:hnn
Title:The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien created a new mythology
Authors:Tom Shippey
Info:HarperCollins (2005), Edition: Revised, Enlarged Third edition (Reissue), Paperback, 432 pages
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The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Summary: A study of Tolkien's methods in creating the narratives of Middle-Earth, including words, names, maps, poetry, and mythology.

For most of us who have read (and re-read) J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other stories, we marvel at the world Tolkien creates, complete with fascinating names, a variety of languages with poetry and mythologies of beginnings, and the entry of evil into their world. Creatures who previously only inhabited the fairy tales of childhood come alive: dwarves, elves, trolls, wights, and orcs, as well as Tolkien's unique creation, those lovable hobbits. One wonders, how did he do all that? We might wonder where Christopher Tolkien, his son, has gotten all the material for twelve volumes of Middle-Earth history and more.

Tom Shippey's book helps answer that question, and is a boon to those who wish to delve (an appropriate word) into the depths underneath the stories we love. Shippey begins with what it meant for Tolkien to be a philologist. It was a time when the field of English studies was riven between "lit versus lang." Tolkien was a philologist. He loved languages, particularly the languages from which modern English came. Shippey observes that for Tolkien, the story arose from the language and the world he created provided a place for the languages. The book traces all of this, the people and place names, the poetry and song, the map of Middle-Earth and a mythology to make sense of it all.

He analyzes the stories and what he calls "interlacement" as a series of different stories intersect in this grand story. He also unfolds Tolkien's lifetime work of establishing the history behind The Lord of the Rings, including the account that made up The Silmarillion, finished by Christopher Tolkien. Tolkien worked for decades on various pieces of the history, developing languages, drawing on Old English and other languages to come up with words, and then going back and forth, harmonizing his account. He would devise stories and characters like Tom Bombadil and then try to fit them into his growing narrative. Names changed over times as Trotter became Strider and Aragorn. It appears that Tolkien often could be drawn down rabbit trails as he sought to elaborate the bones of the history of Middle-Earth. The story "Leaf by Niggle" is a parable of Tolkien's creative process. It is a story of an artist so meticulous that he only paints one leaf. Oh, what a leaf Tolkien painted, even if he left much unfinished work to Christopher!

The book includes several afterwords, the most interesting of which is a comparison of the text of Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson's version, underscoring what can be done with text versus film, and the plot choices Jackson made, sometimes illuminating, sometimes questionable.

If all the poems and strange names in Lord of the Rings are off-putting to you, this probably isn't the book for you. Shippey plunges deeply into all of this and Tolkien's creative process that resulted in the story. It can be heavy wading, and is probably done best after reading Lord of the Rings several times and having the text at your side. If you love all this stuff, you will love this book and won't mind some of the sections which get fairly technical with lots of unfamiliar words.

Tolkien probably started developing the ideas that led to The Lord of the Rings around 1914. The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 and 1955. His other major work, The Silmarillion, was published posthumously in 1977. In an era where some fan fiction writers crank out a work every year or two, Shippey helps us understand why it took so long to produce these works and why these works are considered so great by so many. Shippey makes the case that in creating this mythology in the English language, Tolkien was "The Author of the Century." Tolkien did not merely create a story. He created a world. ( )
1 vote BobonBooks | Sep 18, 2019 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2304185.html

This is not a book for beginners - it's a text in dialogue with Tolkien (a letter from him to the author is quoted and deconstructed at the very start of the book), with many other critics, with Shippey's own Author of the Century, and with its own previous editions, which were published before the History of Middle Earth came out - Shippey is frank about where his guesses about Tolkien's creative processes have been disproved by later revelations (and new material keeps appearing).

This is all solid and fascinating stuff. An early chapter looks into what it meant for Tolkien to be a philologist rather than a "Lit." scholar, and how he felt that his chosen branch of scholarship had not really succeeded in fighting off the competition. He got his revenge in other ways, of course, but Shippey shows just how unreasonable some of Tolkien's critics have been often appealing to idealised concepts of what great literature should be and declaring that LotR fails to pass muster. There are lots of other interesting insights too - "bourgeois" and "burglar" both come from the same root, which gives us some further insights into Bilbo and the original concept of hobbits (which of course moved on as the story developed). The one very minor point of disappointment is that the version of the essay on the Peter Jackson films here is different from that in the Zimbardo and Isaacs collection - the latter is more detailed, the one here a bit more fannish. But that is also a little exhilarating. ( )
2 vote nwhyte | Jun 9, 2014 |
Being the huge Lord of the Rings fan that I am, I've taken it upon myself to read more about Tolkien and his influences. Quite conveniently, I already have a vast collection of books about Tolkien and his influences, most of which I've dipped into over the years, but never actually sat down to read from cover to cover.

At the end of last year I read Tolkien's biography and his Letters. Book 6 of this year was The Road to Middle-earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien created a new mythology by T.A. Shippey. It's one of the several that I'd dipped into in the past, but it's always seemed a bit too academic to just sit and read for fun.

I found it much more interesting that I was expecting it to. At first glance it had looked a little bit dry and dusty, but it was really interesting. In fact, there were bits of it, dealing with old languages and Tolkien's influences in that respect, which seemed quite relevant to the linguistics course that I'm doing. I wish I'd marked the pages while I was reading it because I think some of them could be used in future essays.

I did struggle to get into it a little at the beginning. The end, too, was a little heavy going and I did find myself scanning ahead to later pages to see whether it was going to continue in the same vein for a long time. The middle bit was wonderful though. I got through it really quickly, mainly because I didn't want to put it down.

My main complaint with this book, perhaps other editions are better (mine is different to the one pictured above), is that it needs some serious editing. There were some pretty obvious typos that should have been caught, not just minor things either, some really bad things like half a sentence being printed twice at the end of a paragraph.

Shippey makes really valid and interesting points, but he has a very round-about way of saying things. He's clearly really knowledgeable about what he's writing about but some paragraphs and sentences sound rather clumsy. I know I'm hardly one to talk, but as I was reading, I was mentally correcting some sentences to make them sound 'right' in my head.

Despite this, it was a really worthwhile read, one which I would recommend to anyone interested in Tolkien's influences and how The Lord of the Rings came into being. ( )
  ClicksClan | May 13, 2012 |
Does what it says on the tin, really. An engaging discussion of Tolkien and his works, concentrating largely on how language and philology influenced Tolkien and contributed directly to many of his creations. Shippey is occasionally difficult to parse; The Road to Middle Earth leans heavily toward academic parlance, but should prove accessible enough for non-scholars sufficiently interested in the material. ( )
  lycomayflower | Feb 17, 2011 |
Wow. The genius of Tolkien is herewith explained in this biography of the master's mind and thought processes by the professor who took over Tolkien's Chair at Oxford upon his retirement. The best way to explain this book is through examples, that being the origin of the names of Bree, Frodo, Baggins, and Sackville-Baggins. Mind that these are just a small few examples in a fairly large book filled with references to old sagas and poems of the middle ages. Bree is from the villiage of Brill, near Oxford, which is a shortening of Bree-Hill. Bree is Welsh for hill, hence Brill is a contraction of what technically translates as Hill-Hill, and was given life as the town of Bree on Bree-Hill (similar is the nearby town of Chetwode, wood-wood). Baggins comes from an archaic word for a four o'clock tea. Sackville-Baggins is probably the best example of his thought. Tolkien hated 'interloper' French words from after the Norman invasion corrupting his 'precious' Old English. Cul-de-sac is obviously french, but it is nonsense, coming from a time when anything that even sounded french must be better than English (1300's). So, to show his ire and displeasure, Bilbo's despised cousins are the Sac(k)ville-Bagginses. Even the -ville is french. Frodo is from an old Scandanavian saga about Fenja, Menja, and their mill that grinds out gold, peace and prosperity. The king of this time was Froda, apparently a pre-Christian Christ-like figure who reigned over a peaceful friendly time when there was no crime nor interest in crime. Eventually Fenja and Menja grew bored grinding out peace and created a war band to destroy Froda's realm. Destruction ensues, including that of the giantesses Fenja and Menja and their mill, which now sits in the mythic maelstrom at the bottom of the sea grinding out salt. As an aside, much has been written about this myth, from its first known telling in pre-civilization Iran (Ugartic? I don't feel like wandering to the basement to research so I'll trust my memory), through Europe to Norway, and even in Hamlet (derived from the older form Amlodhi or Amhlodi). If you dare, find a copy of the complex 'Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth' by Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. Also, he used the word pipe-weed instead of tobacco because tobacco is a spanish version of a native American word, like potato or tomato, and thus did not fit with his Old English etymology. Hence Sam Gamgee's talk about his Gaffer's 'taters' and not potatoes. Denethor's funeral is copied from the first few verses of Beowulf, Bilbo and Gollum's riddle contest is taken from this saga and Bilbo's interview with Smaug is from that one, etc., etc., etc., and so on. Unless you really enjoy language study or are curious as to the timeless appeal of middle-Earth, this would actually be some pretty dull reading. Luckily, I'm set on both counts. ( )
  DirtPriest | Sep 13, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
"[Tolkien] deserves his full do, and Shippey's appreciative assessment of his unique achievement provides it in full and satisfying measure."
added by thebookpile | editPhiladelphia Inquirer
 
"Shippey is a rarity, a scholar well schooled in critical analysis whose writing is beautifully clear."
added by thebookpile | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune
 
"Professor Shippey's commentary is the best so far in elucidating Tolkien's lovely myth."
added by thebookpile | editHarper's Magazine
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Shippeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Howe, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedicated to the memory of
John Ernest Kjelgaard
lost at sea, HMS Beverley
11 April 1943
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'This is not a work that many adults will read right through more than once.'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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