Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull,
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
This chapter-by-chapter concordance to The Lord of the Rings by two distinguished scholars is an excellent resource and a labor of love. This is a Herculean task, for, as they note in their introduction, "the late Dr. Richard E. Blackwelder once counted in The Lord of the Rings 632 named individuals (of which 314 are in the Appendices)."
When you consider that many of these individuals had multiple names and complex back stories, the amount of work involved in simply identifying the dramatis personae in The Lord of the Rings is staggering. Hammond and Scull, who are also the authors of J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist and Illustrator, go way beyond the call of duty in documenting every textual change, every influence, every unfamiliar word or concept and every comment Tolkien ever made regarding The Lord of the Rings.
The authors draw not only from the final, published version of The Lord of the Rings, but also from Tolkien's many drafts that were posthumously published as the History of Middle Earth, so the Companion also gives an overview of the evolution of Tolkien's text from what was originally intended to be a short, light-hearted children's story. In addition, they cross-reference all of Tolkien's other works: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Annotated Hobbit, the essays, the collected letters and even the J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection.
Before launching into the chapter-by-chapter annotation, the book begins with a brief history of The Lord of the Rings which explains how Tolkien came to write it and how the work evolved. It also presents a history of the textual questions, errors and inconsistencies that plagued the text from the instant it was typeset. Tolkien's complex time-scheme for the book is explained in a chapter entitled "Chronologies, Calendars, and Moons." This is followed by an in-depth description of the book's preliminary materials (i.e., the original the dust jacket, title page, and the "Ring" verse).
Next, Hammond and Scull describe the evolution of the maps used in The Lord of the Rings. This section, and the annotations of the Foreword and the Prologue that follow it, describes the sources for the place names, many of which were rooted in English place names. The discussion gave me a greater appreciation of the rich, allusive, multi-layered nature of Tolkien's prose. The place names for the Shire often take the form of puns that are rooted in thousands of years of linguistic development.
Tolkien seems to have had a passion for obscure dialectical words describing nature such as "combe," "dale," "dell," "beck," "spinney," and "rill," and Hammond and Scull are careful to define each and every bit of dialect. Because Tolkien is read throughout the English-speaking world, the authors go to great pains to explain obscure English words and expressions. At times they go a bit over the top, as when they explain that the saying "as old as the hills" means "very old indeed." Later they define the sayings "sleep like a log," and "It never rains but it pours."
The annotations identify and correct textual errors in the many editions of The Lord of the Rings. Some of these textual changes alter the whole atmosphere of the story. For example, there is a world of difference between the hobbits who sing, "Ho! Ho! Ho! To the battle I go" in my old Ace paperback, and the ones who sing "Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go" in the corrected editions. Some of these errors are wonderfully bizarre. For example, Galadriel comes to the Grey Havens "robed all in glimmering white" in the first Allen and Unwin printing of The Lord of the Rings in 1955. By the fourth printing (1958), some pervy hobbit fancier has changed the text to "roped." This error wasn't corrected until the ninth printing in 1978.
The notes often identify influences on Tolkien. The authors relate the hobbit drinking song in the last paragraph to Amiens' song in Shakespeare's As You Like It. There are also many instances of corrections to the Elvish text, including an explanation of why the greeting, Elen síla lúmenn' omentielmo, in the first printing of The Lord of the Rings was rendered as Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo in subsequent editions.
The annotations are surprisingly helpful in understanding the things that happened "between the lines" of the text. Hammond and Scull use Tolkien's notes to provide a "behind the scenes" account of the Black Riders movements through The Shire that makes the Riders' actions seem less inept.
I found the book was very helpful in isolating repeated themes and situations. For example, a couple years ago I wrote a paper on Frodo's prophetic dreams. I thought I'd found every one of them, but this book made me aware of one I'd somehow overlooked. (In the "Flight to the Ford" chapter, Frodo dreams that "endless dark wings were sweeping by above him, and that on the wings rode pursuers that sought him.")
There's even a gloss on the gloss: Hammond and Scull annotate Tolkien's appendices. They also give an account of how the appendices came to be, how they evolved and their publishing history (they were partially omitted in some editions of The Lord of the Rings).
Also included in the back material:
The book is printed on India paper and contains two color plates:
Well-written and comprehensive and chock full of invaluable nuggets of information, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion is a book that every Tolkien scholar simply must have.
Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull's Web site.
Hammond and Scull also wrote The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, and edited Roverandom, and Farmer Giles of Ham, (50th anniversary edition). Wayne G. Hammond also wrote J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography with the assistance of Douglas Anderson.