Middle-Earth Envisioned: The Hobbit And The Lord Of The Rings: On Screen, On Stage And Beyond by Paul Simpson and Brian J Robb (book review).

I’m a big fan of Tom Bombadil. No, no, come back, please… I enjoy his encounter with the Hobbits in ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ and it is curious that the ring holds no power over him. That’s why if I absolutely had to go back and change something about Peter Jackson’s movies as it would be to bring Tom back. I’m not a die-hard Tolkien completest but I do notice when something is missing. Take, for example, the new book from Paul Simpson and Brian J Robb, ‘Middle-Earth Envisioned: The Hobbit And The Lord Of The Rings: On Screen, On Stage And Beyond’, which examines the various adaptations of Tolkien’s work, it is lacking in one pretty large department, namely the ‘On Screen’ bit.


Consider that this is a large, hardcover coffee table title, with a price to match, its cover is splendid and, on first examination, there is a great deal of artwork to appreciate. However, when you reach the discussion of film adaptations: Rankin/Bass’ ‘The Hobbit’, the Bakshi ‘Lord Of The Rings’, then all six of the Jackson versions you find any magnificent design drawings, model work, animated cels or even stills from any of the films are lacking. There are a few shots of characters in costume from Jackson’s movies, but, mostly, they are of the actors attending premiers. The book even resorts to using shots of Jackson on the set of ‘King Kong’ and stills from the Rankin/Bass movie ‘The Last Unicorn’ in order to illustrate its story. This deficiency I think makes the book a real disappointment and whiffs of cheapness, you can download a copy of ‘Cinefex’ to iPad for £3.99 that has a making-of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ complete with embedded video.

It’s a shame, because pockets of the book are interesting. The look at the BBC radio adaptations is nice, I had no idea that Michael ‘Cyber Controller’ Kilgariff had adapted ‘The Hobbit’. Likewise, the story of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ musical, which flopped in the West End is intriguing and feels like a real missed opportunity. Some of the artwork chosen is great to appreciate. I was delighted to see a couple of my favourite artists, the vivid, angular spaces of Roger Garland and the muted grey grandeur of Alan Lee both being represented. Another criticism I would make though is that some of the artwork is split over 1 and 1/3rd of a page, meaning that a magnificent woodland scene by Ted Naismith is split with the crease of the book binding. I’d rather the images were smaller on one page or split equally over two pages. The layout sometimes feels awkward.

The book’s examination of the adaptations is at times a little thin. One review of a Tolkien computer game has to resort to listing the review scores from Metacritic which really does feel like making-up the word count. Elsewhere, guest authors are employed to write miniature essays, the ‘Doctor Who’ connections continue with David A Mcintee and Dr. Una McCormack cropping-up here.

‘Middle-Earth Envisioned: The Hobbit And The Lord Of The Rings: On Screen, On Stage And Beyond’ should sustain a casual fan’s interest for an evening or two, but the lack of licensed images doesn’t translate well to the price. There is some fantastic artwork inside, but I would wait until after Christmas, when this is likely to find its way to the bargain bin. A really missed opportunity.

John Rivers

October 2013

(pub: Race Point Publishing. 223 page hardcover. Price: £25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-93799-427-3)

check out website: www.racepointpub.com

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