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The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created A New Mythology

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  5,427 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Shippey's classic work, now revised in paperback, explores J.R.R. Tolkien's creativity and the sources of his inspiration. Shippey shows in detail how Tolkien's professional background led him to write "The Hobbit" and how he created a timeless charm for millions of readers.
Paperback, Revised edition, 416 pages
Published June 24th 2003 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 1982)
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If you're going to study Tolkien, you probably can't avoid Shippey. Fortunately, his work is reasonably readable -- although long-winded: for the size of the book it took me surprisingly long to get through it -- and he has a good grasp of Tolkien's 'sources'. Not that Tolkien would have liked that term, as Shippey quite rightly points out in the appropriate places: better say, then, that Shippey knew what influenced Tolkien, through being a medievalist as well, and through teaching Tolkien's ow ...more
Jeffrey David
Jan 31, 2008 Jeffrey David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
We all know (or wrongly deny) that J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. But Shippey, who took over Tolkien's chair at Oxford, looks at Tolkien's teaching curriculum and comes up with a definitive vote that Tolien was the greatest writer of the English-speaking world. By studying the place names in the Lord of the Rings (and the other works), Shippey shows how Tolkien recaptured English history from long before the 1006 Conquest, and conencted with the myths and tales that had been transmitted into Engla ...more
Sep 12, 2007 Daniel rated it really liked it
From my Weekly Standard review (link here []):

IN THE NEWLY REVISED and expanded version of The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey, a colleague of Tolkien at Oxford, has delved deep into Middle-earth's Northern roots. What Tolkien set out to do in "The Hobbit," Shippey suggests, was recreate the forgotten literatures of ancient northern Europe. The dwarves to which Bilbo is introduced in the first chapter--Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Fili, Kili, Bombur, Bifur, Bofur, Dw
Feb 15, 2011 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Loved this. Shippey is a Anglo-Saxon scholar who met Tolkien and actually took over his teaching position at Leeds, teaching the same courses. Thus, Shippey has mastered all the northern European languages and source texts that Tolkien drew on for his creation of Middle Earth. The pay off is that Shippey is able to show the reader how Tolkien constructed his languages, built his new mythology out of the old, and what Tolkien's aims were in his whole project. Some of the earlier chapters are more ...more
Jonathan Langford
Jan 17, 2010 Jonathan Langford rated it it was amazing
Analysis of Tolkien's sources and the uses he put to them is a stape of Tolkien criticism. However, it is seldom done terribly well. What Shippey has done that no one else has done anywhere near as well (so far as I'm aware) is look at Tolkien's use of those sources and use it to illuminate Tolkien's creative process. In so doing, Shippey brings together Tolkien's scholarly identity as a philologist and his authorial identity as a writer of fantasy, and shows that those two identities are one an ...more
May 24, 2016 Greg rated it really liked it
It can be a little dry at time, but definitely worth the read if you're a Tolkien fan. The worst part about it is it makes you want to read all of Tolkien's work.... again.
Mar 20, 2017 Miranda rated it it was amazing
It took me a while to really get into this book (the first chapter or so deviated from my interests and why I picked up this book to begin with (i.e., the lit vs. lang topic escapes me)), but once it got rolling, I was transfixed. I already knew Tolkien was a genius, but Shippey really illuminated for me what Tolkien was doing in his writing with language.
Dec 05, 2016 Catherine rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
The more i read about Middle-earth the more I love it. Now all I have to do is wait until May and read The Tale of Beren and Lúthien.
Nicholas Whyte
Jun 19, 2013 Nicholas Whyte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition[return][return]This is not a book for beginners - it's a text in dialogue with Tolkien (a letter from him to the author is quoted and deconstructed at the very start of the book), with many other critics, with Shippey's own Author of the Century, and with its own previous editions, which were published before the History of Middle Earth came out - Shippey is frank about where his guesses about Tolkien's creative processes have been disproved by later re ...more
Para variar, encontré este libro a última hora en una feria perdida donde nunca se me habría ocurrido que podría estar. Gracias a Dios que ahora lo tengo, pero es demasiado tarde para el trabajo que debo presentar. Menos mal que sólo es una aproximación preliminar al tema. En todo caso lo tomo como un buen augurio. (Es entretenido ver como los Valar en los libros de Tolkien actúan bajo la idea del azar...así que pondré este incidente en esa perspectiva...xD! )
No lo conocía :/ y ahora me pego con
Mary Catelli
Jun 12, 2013 Mary Catelli rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at some of the influence on Middle Earth.

I'm particularly fond of the portion where he discusses how philology works to trace words, and how a hapax legomenon in Anglo-Saxon can have its meaning eludicated by tracing what would be the equivalent word in German, and discovering it had something to do with sworn oaths, and so probably means "sworn band."

But it has other interesting stuff: the contrasting of hobbit views vs. dwarven in The Hobbit. The double level of fate vs chan
Rossrn Nunamaker
Feb 22, 2016 Rossrn Nunamaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is another work that is purely for fans of Tolkien who want to better understand the underpinning's of his works and potentially the inspirations.

I am an admitted Tolkien geek, but don't consider myself a scholar. I was very interested to learn about the stories that influenced Tolkien's works and am glad to have the opportunity to read many of them that have been published by his son Christopher by way of translations by his father.

In this work, Shippey does a wonderful job of speaking to
Silvio Curtis
Dec 26, 2013 Silvio Curtis rated it really liked it
A provocative reflection on Tolkien's work by another English philologist, mostly concerned with proving that critics who called The Lord of the Rings trash were wrong on their own terms. Some of his ideas are impressively insightful, some are stretches, some downright implausible, but practically all of them worth thinking about. Often it's hard to make up your mind independently because Shippey knows so much more about Germanic philology and it's professional history than the rest of us. The m ...more
Simon Cook
Aug 03, 2014 Simon Cook rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tolkien
This is simply the best book on Tolkien out there. It opened my eyes with regard to stories that I had read dozens of times and pretty much knew by heart - and how many books will you ever read that you can say that about?

Shippey's basic point is that Tolkien was by nature and profession a philologist, by which he means not simply someone who studies words but someone who specifically studies words in relation to old texts. From here he proceeds to point out all sorts of insightful features of T
Dec 20, 2015 Anita rated it it was amazing
I'm not good with words, and I'm sure Tolkien would be banging on his coffin if he even caught a glimpse of my writing, but I can write that he was a mastermind. Not because he created "The Lord of the Rings", it was because he wrote a truly English novel where ever word meant something and every sentenced weaved into a grand tapestry.
Tom Shippey, if I remember correctly, taught English literature, alongside Tolkien, in Oxford and has a through understanding of Tolkien and his work. I can't thi
Feb 18, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-earth
The Road to Middle-earth sets out the creation of J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, consisting of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and then explores it critically – not from a "literature" perspective that was often at-odds with Tolkien (and Tolkien at odds with it), but from the scholarly viewpoint that Tolkien himself approached the writing of his life's work from. Once I got past the bewildering (to me, anyway) introduction that draws much on discussions of philology, I found ...more
Dec 15, 2011 Lief rated it liked it
Of you are looking to really study Tolkien more in depth, then this text is a vital starting point. Tom Shippey takes a look at much of how Tolkien approached the craft of writing, and especially how he approached writing _The Lord of the Rings_. At times the reading is a bit dry, which is why I can't give more than three stars. Also, there are some conclusions that Shippey makes that are a bit tenuous and that I can't necessarily agree with (most notably regarding his assertion that the _Beowul ...more
Apr 30, 2013 Dennis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Avid Tolkien Fans
As I've stated in many of my reviews: This is for the hardcore Tolkien fans.

What Shippey does is he takes Tolkien's work and adds a detailed Works Cited page.

He explores many of Tolkien's sources and established an in-depth discussion on all things Tolkien.

From the bourgeois burglar to a discussion on Secondary and Primary Art......

If you've watched the movies twice and have never picked up the books then this book probably isn't for you. If you, like myself, have read the LOTR, The Silmarill
May 19, 2014 Sonstepaul rated it it was amazing
There are many, many more serious Tolkien scholars than the causal reader might assume, but Tom Shippey, through his knowledge, his background, and his diligence stands far above the rest. This work is an exhaustive study of Tolkien's works, but also of how his scholarship and his philologist background were critical to his composition of Middle-Earth, and his other work as well. A fantastic read for students of language and fans of Tolkien alike. One of the most enjoyable chapters shows this sc ...more
Craig Franson
Jul 19, 2007 Craig Franson rated it really liked it
Shelves: tolkiencriticism
No book of Tolkien criticism is a 5 star read, but this is as good as it gets. Shippy's argument here is crucial for Tolkien Studies (and helpful for any serious reader of the books). It focuses largely on the role Tolkien's profession as a philologist played into the development of his writing. A little too "intentionalist," it doesn't explore incidental, accidental, and counter-productive representations that appear in the books; and like all Tolkien criticism its scholarship is watered down t ...more
May 06, 2012 ika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shippey is a competent medievalist and a specialist in Old English literature and language. There is no doubt about that, his essays are packed with information you would not get from any literary critic. It is a mekka of things you would like to know about Tolkien’s fiction, no kidding here. What lacks is perhaps a more literary approach, but I still loved it – it proved to be indispensable when writing a dissertation on Tolkien’s fiction. Additionally, few excerpts were simply breathtaking – t ...more
Frank Roberts
Feb 08, 2013 Frank Roberts rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I came close to rating it 5 stars. However, it is difficult reading in places, especially the first chapter, and that holds me back. Not for the casual Tolkien fan. Unless you've read the Silmarrillion, you probably aren't enough of a Tolkien reader to enjoy this book.

But if you have read beyond LOTR and The Hobbit, then you are probably going to love this book, for its discussion of Tolkien's sources and inspirations, exposition of his themes, and the etymology of h
Jun 01, 2013 Michiel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Perfect reading for everyone who doesn't feel the urge to wrestle through 12 books of 'History of Middle Earth', but IS interested in the creative process behind Middle-Earth. Like Tolkien's own work, it is filled with detail, so it's worth revisiting as well. No book I've read comes close to revealing the wealth of both Tolkien's professional working field AND it's relations to his personal mythology.
Feb 22, 2012 Ross rated it really liked it
An excellent exploration of Tolkien's invented world. Taking in old English, Teutonic fairy tales and much more besides, Shippey skewers Tolkien's critics by pointing out that many of them weren't reading the book in the right way, or wanted something that the book didn't intend to provide for them in the first place. Academic without being impenetrable, and easy to pick up and put down. Well, maybe not to put down... His views on Jackson's film adaptations were particularly interesting.
David Mccracken
Feb 27, 2016 David Mccracken rated it it was amazing
Not necessarily an easy book and a lot of both the mythological details and the Tolkien details sometimes ask a bit much of a novice (such as myself). The core message, though, of Tolkien's philological take on the world informing both his work and his method of working, is told uniquely well. Shippey is a professor that followed into the same chair as Tolkien and can give examples in a way that is both understandable and, you can imagine, Tolkien might actually agree with.
David R.
Mar 01, 2016 David R. rated it it was ok
Shelves: unclassified
I think this book may be of most interest to combative philologists. For the rest of us, it's nearly impenetrable. Let me save you time. Shippey essentially fusses a lot about Tolkien's subtle derivatives from ancient sources in creating his fantasy world from Lord of the Rings. Well, of course.
Nov 14, 2016 Gemma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La única razón por la que no le doy 5 estrellas es porque algunos conceptos no me han quedado del todo claros, pero aun así es un libro fantástico para entender un poco mejor a Tolkien y el universo que creó en sus obras. Gracias a este libro la próxima vez que lea ESDLA será una experiencia totalmente nueva, más interesante.
Stephen Palmer
Sep 23, 2014 Stephen Palmer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thorough, fascinating and readable investigation of the themes, background and the personal challenges of Tolkien writing 'The Lord Of The Rings.' Shippey often appears on Tolkien documentaries, and this book supports that - he knows his stuff and is never less than articulate, opinionated and interesting. Really enjoyed this one.
Dec 26, 2014 Cait rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting - especially the bits about old languages - really felt relevant to my course.

Felt the beginning bit and end bit were rather heavy going at times.

Could have done with a bit of editing - a LOT of types (and random errors like half a sentence printing twice). Shippey has a very round about way of saying things and some sentences/paragraphs come across as rather clumsy.
Miss Clark
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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  • Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythology
  • The Monsters and the Critics and other essays
  • The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
  • The History of the Hobbit, Part Two: Return to Bag-End
  • Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator
  • The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends
  • Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism
  • Meditations on Middle-Earth
  • The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings
  • The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth
  • A Gateway to Sindarin: A Grammar of an Elvish Language from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
  • Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
  • The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth

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“The cry that 'fantasy is escapist' compared to the novel is only an echo of the older cry that novels are 'escapist' compared with biography, and to both cries one should make the same answer: that freedom to invent outweighs loyalty to mere happenstance, the accidents of history; and good readers should know how to filter a general applicability from a particular story.” 9 likes
“While persistence offers no guarantees, it does give 'luck' a chance to operate.” 4 likes
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