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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  3,219 ratings  ·  41 reviews
This text looks at the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, examining the background to his works in terms of the poetry of language and myth. The works covered include The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Lord of the Rings.
Paperback, 474 pages
Published January 3rd 2005 by HarperCollins Publishers (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
It's often said that Tolkien has been ill-served by his many enemies among the literati, but less often that he is even less well-served by his friends: in general, the standard of so-called serious Tolkien criticism is lamentable. This is why Tom Shippey's work is so valuable, because it presents a serious, scholarly and also highly accessible analysis of Tolkien. No hectoring ecobabble, no hagiography, no transatlantic mythomania here -- Shippey calls a spade a spade, and you always know preci ...more
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
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
Jeffrey David
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
Jonathan Langford
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
Simon Cook
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
F.A. H.
Sin exagerar, el mejor libro acerca de la obra de Tolkien que he leído en mi vida. Si a alguien le interesa entender el proceso creativo detrás de la obra del profesor y no le intimidan las etimologías, las leyendas o los estudios serios, entonces este libro es un imperdible.

En esta relectura me sorprendió la claridad expositiva de Shippey junto a su postura la mayor parte de las veces crítica y muy racional, acercándose a un encomiable estándar de (pseudo) objetividad a la hora de discutir la o
Silvio Curtis
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
Nicholas Whyte[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
Elizabetha S.
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
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
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.
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
Only wish I had encountered this book some 15-20 years ago, when I had more free time available to read all the ancillary source material mentioned by Shippey! I'd also like to go back to my high school and college English teachers and protest that there's more to Anglo-Saxon literature than just Beowulf...

My favourite academic book on Tolkien, placing his literary creations firmly within the context of his interests in language, philology and the development of epic genre in Europe. Very informative, and yet very enjoyable.
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
Craig Franson
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
Stephen Palmer
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.
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
Tom Shippey's love for Tolkien and his work shines through. This is a great book, but not a casual one.
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
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
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.
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.
Miss Clark
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
"This resonance of passages which can be read with different levels of suggestion at once, with 'myth' and 'low mimesis' and 'irony' all embedded deeply in 'romance', is perhaps the major and least-considered caused for the appeal of The Lord of the Rings"

It's been years since I read Northrop Frye but YES
Eccellente testo di analisi e critica letteraria. Dovrebbe essere letto come uno dei libri "base" da chiunque voglia studiare le opere di Tolkien. L'autore è un filologo e ha occupato la stessa cattedra universitaria di letteratura inglese tenuta da Tolkien, presso l'università di oxford
Matt Schirano
I cannot wait to read the trilogy again! Shippey provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of how and why Tolkien did what he did when writing The Lord of the Rings. A fantastic book, even if it did feel like I was reading an article in an academic journal in novel form.
Shippey is simply brilliant; he almost seems to be channeling Tolkien when he writes about him. Wonderful analysis about the creation of the LOTR books, and very accessible even for those who have done no more than a cursory read-through of the LOTR series.
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  • Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World
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