This guide to travels in Middle-Earth includes an original chapter by Tolkien himself, explaining the meaning and origin of the names in Lord of the Rings. Can hobbits be psychoanalyzed? Does Tolkien’s Christianity shine through his imitations of pagan legends? Do his books offer a useful guide to everyday life? These and many more questions are addressed in the eleven chapters of this book. Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol. This is an insightful book that will appeal to both old and new Tolkien fans.
"Tolkien Compass" was long out of print, along with a lot of other good books on and by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now with the release of the live-action movie trilogy, virtually all the Tolkien-related books are being pulled off the shelves and rereleased -- this among them. It's a good, insightful collection of essays, but there's something vital missing in the new edition.
It's a compilation of essays, by various people. Among them are Bonniejean Christensen's study of Gollum in "The Hobbit" -- there were two versions of the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter; Walter Scheps's "Fairy-Tale Morality of Lord of the Rings," which studies the ethics of Tolkien's trilogy as well as traditional fairy-tales; Agnes Perkins and Helen Hill's essay on power, corruption, the lust for power, and the One Ring; Deborah C. Rogers's study of humanity both in the "everyman" hobbits and in the noble Aragorn; Robert Plank's study of the Scouring of the Shire and how it reflects fascism; and several others. On the downside, Dorothy Matthews' "The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins" is okay, but rather off-balance because it explains a hobbit's mind in complex jargon -- those don't go together.
But there is a major problem. If you are fortunate enough to find a first-edition paperback of this book, from the 1970s, you will see that the last part is a special meaning and pronunciation guide by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. It's a wonderful bonus, and worth the price of the book alone. But for some reason, this chapter has been removed from the reprinted "Tolkien Compass." It's just essays, no Tolkien -- I'm not sure why it was removed, but it was. I wonder why anyone would still be interested in bying the reprint without the most important part.
"Tolkien Compass" is a good collection of scholarly essays on various facets of Tolkien's work, which aren't dumbed down but also aren't too hard to understand. If the extra guide chapter had been included, this would have been a reissued treasure. As it is, it seems very incomplete.