Believe me when I tell you that Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond by Paul Simpson and New York Times bestselling author, Brian J. Robb is a must have item for any Tolkien fan. When I first heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to go to my local bookstore to see it for myself. The cover art illustrated by Wes Talbott is so beautiful, which just made me even more excited to read the book. The cover is Wes’ take on a 75th anniversary edition for The Hobbit, and it depicts Bag End on the top half and Smaug laying on all of Erebor’s treasure on the bottom. I was impressed by this book from the beginning.
Middle-earth Envisioned is extremely informative and it’s such a fun read. It covers all of the various adaptations of the Professor’s work, ranging from Hobbit ballets to LEGO Middle-earth. It, of course, covers topics such as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, as well as the animated versions of those stories. The book starts out with a brief history of the Professor and is followed by sections on The Hobbit and all three parts from LOTR. The book is then split up into four parts, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth on Film, and The Cultural Legacy.
While reading the chapter The Hobbit on Stage, I learned that there was a 56 minute Hobbit ballet by the Finnish National Opera entitled Hobbitti. I wish I got to see that! I was actually surprised as to how many stage adaptations there were for this book. Speaking of stage adaptations, as soon as I got my hands on a copy of this book, I made sure to first flip through to see the section on the LOTR musical directed by Matthew Warchus. Since I did not get to see it when it was being shown in London or Toronto, I was excited to learn more about it, and Middle-earth Envisioned didn’t disappoint. You are able to read about how the musical first came to be and why it ultimately had to close its doors. There are also two pages dedicated to Anne Lindsay, who was part of the band for the Toronto production for the musical, and is about the different instruments she had to play–ones I’ve never head of before!
Though I’ve seen so many photos of the LOTR cast and from the trilogy, I still got a huge smile on my face when I got to the section for these films. As one can expect, the chapter for Peter Jackson’s LOTR film adaptations is pretty lengthy. If you read this book, you’ll learn the process Peter and Fran Walsh went through to make these films become a reality. The authors of Middle-earth Envisioned make sure to include information not only on the positive fan reaction but the negative as well. It’s interesting to read how different people feel about the trilogy, especially when one of those people is Christopher Tolkien. There are also a couple small sections in the chapter about the relationship between New Zealand and the trilogy and the fighting techniques shown in the films. And of course, there is a chapter dedicated to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Since I am not as familiar with those films as I am with LOTR, it was good to finally become more familiar with them.
Fans can also learn about all of the different games that are inspired by Tolkien’s stories such as: Lord of the Rings Online, the strategy game War on the Ring, and many more. And there are also sections on fan-films such as Born of Hope and The Hunt for Gollum. I feel like I should also mention the chapter dedicated to artwork and music that was inspired by Middle-earth. You can read about the pieces the Professor made for his stories and about other artist such as Pauline Baynes, Mary Fairburn, The Brothers Hildebrandt, and a few others. The fact that there is artwork featured from so many different artists is one of my favorite aspects of this book. There is work from ones I’ve been a fan of for years and others I have only recently discovered. One of the artists included is Angela Rizza, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing last year.
Oh, and of course, the music! Honestly, this book covers so much, there something for everyone to enjoy. Did you know that there was a Dutch folk group named The Hobbitons who released an album of 16 songs based on The Hobbit and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil? Or what about a Swedish neofolk group, Za Frûmi, who sings songs in Black Speech? I didn’t! There are so many other artists and albums I haven’t mentioned… the list goes on.
The only negative things I have to say about this book is that I did come across a few typos, and while there is an artist index in the back with small bios for each artist, I felt like it wasn’t enough for me. As I’ve stated before, you are able to read about some artists in the artwork and music chapter, but for not all of them. I’d like to know more about each of them and I wish I could have read more about the different artworks placed throughout the book. Aside from that, I really enjoyed Middle-earth Envisioned a lot. It truly shows just how huge and amazing the Tolkien community is.
‘Middle-earth Envisioned’ is the first book to fully explore the artistic legacy left by Tolkien’s fantastic world. Covering paintings, sketches, movie and television still, concept art, radio serials, theatrical performances, comic books, and games, it’s a colorful snapshot of the artistic interpretations of both ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
Middle-earth Envisioned is available to purchase on Amazon, and whether you’re new to the world of Middle-earth or you’ve been a fan for years, I definitely recommend that you get this book.