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Meditations On Middle-Earth
edited by Karen Haber
Earthlight paperback £10
review by Debbie Moon
Thanks to a certain film, Tolkien fever is back with a vengeance, and the cash-in industry is in full swing. Admittedly, asking the next generation of fantasy writers about the influence Tolkien's work had upon them is one of the more interesting ideas they've had - far more interesting than the rapturous hagiography on the cover makes it sound.
Picking well known writers leads to a certain conformity of experience as almost everyone in this volume first encountered Tolkien's work in the 1960s, and links it to that decade's preoccupations. However, the elements they choose to discuss vary widely. Ursula Le Guin dissects linguistic patterns in the text; Michael Swanwick's touching essay relates his experience of reading The Lord Of The Rings to his young son. Orson Scott Card takes on modernism, allegory, and the issue of who is the worthiest ring-bearer. Artists Tim and Greg Hildebrandt, in one of the most interesting essays, talk about their experiences creating the 1977 Tolkien Calendar, and the balance between accuracy and artistic interpretation.
In addition, there are numerous reflections on how Middle-earth has shaped individual writers' work and fantasy in general - and, on a lighter note, a reminder that elves were the thinking woman's pin-up before Orlando Bloom was even born. Of course, one dissenter pointing out how Tolkien's popularity has stifled all other styles in what should be a hugely varied genre might have been nice, just for balance...
There may be no great revelations in here, and it's hardly a scholarly work, but it's an enjoyable work to dip into when you have half an hour to while away. Parents can console themselves that it's a surprisingly good introduction to basic literary theory for the younger reader; the rest of us can just sit back and immerse ourselves in fantasy history.
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