MEDITATIONS ON MIDDLE EARTH is a collection of essays focusing on J.R.R. Tolkien's works, especially the Middle Earth saga. Some of the more renowned fantasy authors of today evaluate the series that made fantasy a household name. Surprisingly, though everyone agrees that Professor Tolkien opened up the genre to the middle class, not all of the contributors are fans of the actual novels. Insightful and entertaining, each essay is well written with the writer's particular spin. However, this anthology will be loved by those readers analyzing the various cultures in a way that cultural anthropologists would envy or by those fans who cherish Beowulf, which Tolkien felt is the forefather of the genre.
It is a near impossible task to pick up any fantasy novel, even if at random, or read about any author in the genre either in print or on the web, and not see some reference to the name JRR Tolkien. Regardless if proceeded by the words “in the mold of”, “like” “reminiscent of”, “in the tradition of”, or anything of the like the name JRR Tolkien permeates consistently throughout the world of fantasy.
This collection of essays, Meditations on Middle Earth is no exception, however, this books offers so much more. Although we see the name Tolkien so often, the name so synonymous with the genre it is easy to forget to even fans of fantasy why this is so, other then the marketing gimmicks, put forth by publishers, and reviewers alike to attach some credibility with a name that is beyond respite in epic fantasy. Meditations on Middle Earth, presented and edited by Karen Haber, offers a look into Tolkien’s true impact on the genre, his impact on the authors of today, both personally and professionally, the torch carriers of the tradition which is Tolkien’s legacy; the authors who we all enjoy today, who some make a habit residing on Best-Seller lists, who have names from themselves yet in this novel share with us the true significance of the name Tolkien.
Meditations on Middle Earth shares the thoughts of a virtual who’s who in the industry including the thoughts of authors such as George R.R. Martin, Orson Scottt Card, Ursula Leguin, Raymond Feist, Terry Pratchett, Charles de Lint, Poul Anderson, Michael Swanwick, Esther M. Friesner, Robin Hobb, Diane Duane, Harry Turtledove, Lisa Goldstein, Douglas Anderson, reknowned editor Terri Windling, and the famous art duo the Hildebrandt brothers.
Meditations on Middle Earth's introduction is written by George R.R. Martin in which he comments on the many subsequent fantasy novels that have followed leading up to today following in the Tolkien tradition in which he says:
-“It is sometimes called Epic fantasy, sometimes High fantasy, but it ought to be called Tolkienesque fantasy.”-
Tolkien's impact on the publishing aspect for fantasy authors is touched on by Raymond Feist in which he says:
-“He is the source of all wealth from which my bounty flows.”-
Poul Anderson describes aptly on Tolkien’s offering to an untapped market of fantasy saying :
-“the reading public has an unexpressed desire for pure fantasy. And then Tokien burst upon the publishing world. The rest is history.-”
Michael Swanwick tells us an extremely sentimental story, about reading the novel to his son for the first time, and it brought back memories of his very own introduction to Tolkien when his sister sent him some paperbacks which included a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, in which he stayed up all night, skipped breakfast, and finished the book right before the bell in high school. Looking back he says of that moment:
-“Even today when I am 3 times as old as I was then I can still hold my breath and hear the reverberations from that long eternal, night.”-
He goes on to say, “That reading made me a writer”, and “It showed me what literature could do and what could it do.” Harry Turtledove was so inspired by the work that years after reading it he wrote a 100,000 word draft for a post Rotk story set in the 4th age of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. A draft he still has today, which gave him respect for the amount of research Tolkien undertook to write The Lord of the Rings, a process that aided him in the writing of his very own novels. The influence on Terry Pratchett is best put by himself here:
-“I can’t remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I can remember exactly, where and when I was when I first read JRR Tokien. It was New Years eve 1961”.-
Robin Hobb tells us her exact thoughts she had when she finished The Lord of the Rings, she describes them as “3 sensations”, they are as follows “one was the simple unbelievable void of it’s over, there is no more to read.” Her second sensation “And I have never encountered anything like this. I’ll never find anything this good again.” The third she said alarmed her, "in all my life I will never write anything as good as this. He’s done it; He’s achieved it. Is their any point in my trying?”
Meditations on Middle Earth is full of such insights, by these authors and the other’s I mentioned above. Not only insights on Tolkien and his impact, but the correlating histories of these authors themselves which are so interwoven with Tolkien’s impact on them personally. Each author has around 8 to 12 pages of insights, insights that I found of supreme interest, shedding some light on the name that in a century is as recognizable as it was in the last. Tolkien.
At first, I thought it would be very hard to grade a work like this. It’s not a fantasy story, but perhaps it is some part of the story that is fantasy. Meditations on Middle Earth is a source of personal insight and emotion of the contributors of the book. Some may disagree, however I find it very difficult to give less then a perfect score to the true thoughts and recollections of so many authors who so many enjoy today. Meditations on Middle Earth is captivating, and a book to be cherished, not only by die hard Tolkienists or fantasy fans, but fans of literature itself. My final grade is a perfect 10, ending in a thought George R.R. Martin put best for both fans and authors:
-“We should never forget that our journey began at Bag’s End, and we are all still walking in Bilbo’s footsteps.”-
Whether we follow for the best is debateable, however we cannot begrudge the path that was made - it was his own.