Book Review: Tolkien's World: A Guide to the Peoples and Places of Middle-Earth by Gareth Hanrahan & Peter McKinstry

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Insight Editions has issued a beautifully illustrated hardcover coffee table book that effectively serves as a sort of Cliff’s Notes for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. With text by Gareth Hanrahan and artwork by Peter McKinstry, Tolkien’s World: A Guide to the Peoples and Places of Middle-Earth is precisely what its subtitle promises. Though relatively slim, this book makes for a great quick-reference guide. It will likely be most helpful for Middle-Earth newbies who are still learning the finer points of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ respective adventures.

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Admittedly, that may not be the most effective way to champion Hanrahan and McKinstry’s work. Yes, Hanrahan’s text is light but it clearly communicates the basics, structured in three sections: “The Free Peoples,” “The Enemy,” and “Legends and Lore of Middle-Earth.” More immediately striking is the intricate art by McKinstry. The two-page spreads in particular are evocative of the characters and locations. “The Fury of Smaug” depicts the Bard of Bowman confronting the fearsome dragon in full-color detail. Characters such as Gollum and Frodo are drafted in haunting, black-and-white pencil sketches. “The Siege of Minas Tirith” is predominantly painted in stark shades of gray with sparing splashes of color.

Keep in mind, as the book makes painfully obvious on its dust jacket, this is an “unofficial and unauthorised guide.” In other words, don’t look for the likenesses of folks like Ian McKellen or Martin Freeman. These are original—and often quite inspired—interpretations. So while it is connected to the work of Peter Jackson only via shared source material, Tolkien’s World makes a neat companion to the upcoming home video release of the first installment in The Hobbit trilogy.

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Writer Gareth Hanrahan has fantasy writing cred to burn, including extensive work as an RPG writer (Paranoia, Infernum, RuneQuest). Again, I don’t think the text in this particular book could have been too taxing for him, but the descriptions are clear and concise. Peter McKinstry has a long list of credits as a concept designer on numerous big budget films, including Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He’s served in the same capacity on television shows including Doctor Who and Torchwood. His art within Tolkien’s World demonstrates a deep understanding and admiration for the works upon which it’s based.

For more information about Insight Editions visit their official website.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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