The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey’s classic work, now revised 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 how he created a timeless charm for millions of readers. Examining the foundation of Tolkien’s most popular work, The Lord of the Rings, Shippey also discusses the contribution of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales to Tolkien’s great myth cycle, showing how Tolkien’s 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.
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.
This is not necessarily for the casual fan who's read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings once. The central core of the book is a discussion of the Silmarillion and other of Tolkien's more obscure Middle-Earth works; I read the Silmarillion as a child and was somewhat lost reading this section, and someone who's never even picked it up would be even more bewildered. But for the serious Tolkien fan who wants to take the next step, this is an essential read.