Between 1932 and 1953, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, of Oxford, England, translated four volumes compiled by the renowned Hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, written during the Third Age of Middle Earth, far longer ago than the Celtic, Germanic and Icelandic manuscripts Professor Tolkien was used to deciphering. The result was The Hobbit, and readers have never been the same since.
In 1954, seventeen years after The Hobbit first appeared, its sequel, The Lord of the Rings was published, and it became the centerpiece of Tolkien's work. The Ring Epic covers approximately ten thousand years, and contains a vast amount of information as well as a huge variety of words and names which Tolkien translated from the Elvish and Mannish tongues.
THE TOLKIEN COMPANION is an impressive endeavor to guide one through the world of Middle Earth, compiling every fact, name, word, and date from all the works into one comprehensive and accessible volume.
Here, in one source, is the High History of the Elven peoples. The origins of Morgoth the Enemy is clarified, as is his Fall, and the subsequent rise to power of Sauron the Great, Lord of the Rings. The heroic epic of how the Free Peoples--Elves, Men, Ents, Dwarves, and Hobbits--survived against the Peril of the Ancient World is meticulously detailed. And a guide to the various Elvish writing systems, together with explanatory maps, charts, even genealogical tables, bring the remarkable genius of Tolkien and the unforgettable world and wonder of Middle Earth to life with focus and accuracy. Presented in alphabetical order for quick and easy reference,
THE TOLKIEN COMPANION is an indispensable accompaniment for anyone who embarks on the reading journey of a lifetime..
There are three names Tolkien experts will immediately tell you to avoid: Ruth Noel, David Day, and J.E.A. Tyler. Tyler's original Tolkien Companion was filled with so many errors of fact and blatant wild guesses he had to quickly rewrite almost the entire work after The Silmarillion was published.
From A ("Accursed Years") to Z ("Zirak-Zigil"), this book covers people, places, battles, objects and events from all throughout Middle-Earth's history. Taylor includes information from Tolkien's famous "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," as well as the Silmarillion, "Unfinished Tales," and some other books. (Unfortunately, he doesn't include all of the history books)
Is "The Complete Tolkien Companion" worthless as an encyclopedia? No, not at all -- it's useful for some quick glances, and Taylor has a pleasant if clumsy style. But as a serious source, it fails. It doesn't have enough information, and what it does have is unbalanced and weirdly conveyed.
One of the most annoying things is that while Tyler will tell some stuff about various characters, events, and items. But in most entries, he doesn't specify which books they appeared in, what pages, or much else. Where is "Khuzdul" revealed to be a secret language? He doesn't tell you. And his handling of the information is clumsy: readers are told that Arwen Evenstar shares the "Doom of Luthien." What does Luthien have to do with her descendent becoming a mortal? Taylor doesn't say.
What's more, Taylor demonstrates a weird tendency to act like the events of Tolkien's books are a 10,000-year-old history. He claims in his preciously-worded foreword that he's going to stop, but he doesn't -- a tendency that crosses the line from fervently geeky to unsettling. What is more, he has a tendency to interject his own opinions into the text: he spends a long time explaining how misunderstood Galadriel is, for example.
Good Tolkien analysts don't reinvent Middle-earth the way Tyler, Noel, and Day are wont to do. Although his style may be pleasant to read his research is highly suspect and he will probably never recover from the embarrassment his original Companion caused him. Fans who want to know more about Middle-earth AS J.R.R. TOLKIEN ENVISIONED IT should stick to the Tolkien books.
Critical analyses which have been well-regarded (if not universally agreed with) come from more traditional commentators such as Carl Hostetter, Verlyn Fleiger, T.A. Shippey, Paul Kocher, Wayne Hammond, and Douglas Anderson. These are well-respected scholars and researchers who may have their own priorities but nonetheless treat Tolkien and his world with greater respect than many others.
Although it doesn't cover anything published after The Silmarillion, Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth remains one of the all-time best Tolkien references.