The Road to Middle-Earth

by Tom Shippey

Hardcover, 1992



Call number




Grafton Books (1992), Hardcover


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.… (more)

Media reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
"[Tolkien] deserves his full do, and Shippey's appreciative assessment of his unique achievement provides it in full and satisfying measure."
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Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Shippey is a rarity, a scholar well schooled in critical analysis whose writing is beautifully clear."
Harper's Magazine
"Professor Shippey's commentary is the best so far in elucidating Tolkien's lovely myth."

User reviews

LibraryThing member jamclash
A well-written and intelligent critical look at myth making and Middle earth, but sometimes you can know too much about something that might otherwise be better off mysterious or magical. Very behind the scenes kinda stuff but interesting and thought provoking nonetheless. Shippey knew Tolkien
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personally. Read this only after you've read LotR about 10 times. Some of the references are obscure (to me anyway)and layered on multiple other references and it's easy to get lost in the trees and forget you're still in a forest.
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LibraryThing member bobshackleton
This is an extraordinarily interesting book. I liked the Tolkien books as a teenager, and enjoyed the movies when they came out. but somehow I never really appreciated the extent to which Tolkien not only created an imaginary world that readers could lose themselves in, but created an entire genre
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that has become one of the most widespread forms of literature in the modern world, and in effect, created a modern mythology that many people find as attractive and comforting as religion. Pretty amazing, when you think about it.
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LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
There's a lot more to this than you'd think -- it's an unapologetic hagiography of Tolkien (the subtitle is "How J.R.R. Tolkien created a new mythology"), with unedifying moments where he says outright that Tolkien's critics are just wrong (although in fairness, some of them are, and very few of
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them can be accused of arguing in good faith), but there's a *lot* in here about the development of linguistics (formerly known as philology), and about the northern barbarians -- the Goths, the Huns, the Saxons, in addition to the obvious subject of the later Norse. And if you thought they were a boring, monotonous collection of Conan types (or worse, Beowulfs), read this book; they mostly were, though they had a fair sight more dignity, but the history of such peoples is fascinating nonetheless. (Particularly the fragment of an impossibly ancient text that points to Proto-Indo-Europeans, or some culture they interacted with, living near the Carpathians, which the Germanic peoples never came meaningfully close to. I don't know -- it felt poignant to me...)
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LibraryThing member DirtPriest
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,
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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.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
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
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academic parlance, but should prove accessible enough for non-scholars sufficiently interested in the material.
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LibraryThing member ClicksClan
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member dhmontgomery
One of those books that's a little hard to read because to many of its findings, novel at the time, have become common knowledge over the years since it was originally published. In this case "The Road to Middle-Earth" is a fantastic and informed history of how J.R.R. Tolkien created his
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Middle-Earth stories, from his roots studying medieval languages through to his final years trying to finish the mythology he had been crunching away at for decades. A lot of what Shippey shares here is well-known to even moderate Tolkien fans, like his interest in philology and languages, how he drew on English and Scandinavian myths, and how the final versions of his works often differed in significant ways from Tolkien's earlier conceptions. But even for an informed fan of the 21st Century, nearly 40 years after Shippey's first edition, this is full of delightful facts, like how until shockingly late in the composition of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn's name wasn't Aragorn, or even Strider, but "Trotter."

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.
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Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — Inklings Studies — 1984)


Original publication date

1982 (first edition)
2003 (revised and expanded version)

Physical description

320 p.


0261102680 / 9780261102682
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