3-Minute JRR Tolkien: A Visual Biography of The World's Most Revered Fantasy Writer by Gary Raymond
When something with such a built-in cult base as Tolkien books have gets transported into another medium, the manically interested fans have two reactions – to initially scoff at how nothing could compare with the original, and then to try and buy everything worthwhile with even a tenuous link to the object of their affections, while avoiding the mountain of crud that could deluge the unwary. Such it will be until the third movie part of The Hobbit is safely behind us, and the six-film, three-month long Blu-Ray box set is on the shelves. Tolkien enthusiasts of course have a precarious situation – so great do they rightly hold the originals, and so low can the quality of the spin-offs be, there are some who will never be satisfied. But there remains the newcomer, freshly inspired to find out more, and those at least will certainly be able to enjoy this beginner's guide to J R R Tolkien.
|3-Minute JRR Tolkien: A Visual Biography of The World's Most Revered Fantasy Writer by Gary Raymond
|Reviewer: John Lloyd
|Summary: More The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings, but this is still a great primer to the doyen of fantasy writing.
|Date: February 2013
|Publisher: Ivy Press
Its downside is that it looks like a potential banana-skin, and a cheap knock-off. It's not. It does make a great store by the regular, strict formatting of its pages – every double-page spread is text to the left, and image to the right. The writing is constantly set out into three paragraphs, of allegedly a minute's length – hence the title, while every page has a summary, some cross-referencing, and a pertinent quote. The illustrations when I first flicked through seemed to be just generic fantasy background, but are not – read the images at the same time as the writing and they’ve been very well put together, and only really lack a young Mabel (Mrs Tolkien), or the image that ultimately bore Gandalf as mentioned in the text.
Tolkien fans will be able to recite all the facts herein in their sleep, but for the newcomer or mildly curious there is a lot here. I knew the basics, for sure – Oxford, the Inklings, The Silmarillion and how third son Christopher has kept the legacy intact and on form with all the disparate archive of writings and background material that has been published since Tolkien's death. But this despite its formatting and some repetition is quite able to fill in the gaps in its subject's personal life and personality, how he disliked CS Lewis's overtly allegorical fantasies, and a host more.
By the end there is not a naff patch at all in the writing, whether it covers the man and his career, his output or his influence – from billion-dollar-earning movie franchises to dreadful 70s prog rock (a topic which brings out about the only editorialising from the author). I have to repeat this is not as complex as many fans will wish for, and there probably won't be anything new for those at the level of one of the many national Tolkien Societies to learn. But as a general beginner's volume, with a bright selection of relevant illustrations, this does work. I'd remind those willing to denigrate it for a lightness and shallowness, or of being a mere cash-in, that it could have been a heck of a lot emptier and worse.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
Mr Bliss by J R R Tolkien is a fine way of seeing that the man was not just fantasy blockbusters. You might also appreciate How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers by John Freeman.
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