Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Master of Middle-Earth

Way back in the day (about 1978, I think) I got a paperback copy of Paul H. Kocher's Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien from the very first book store that ever opened in our little town. It had the picture of Bilbo at Rivendell from the 1976 Tolkien Calendar by the Brothers Hildebrandt on the cover. It was certainly one of the best and most scholarly books on the work of Tolkien generally available at the time, and remains today a highly respected and frequently cited work on the legendarium. Besides being a balanced and insightful look at The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it provided tantalizing glimpses of more obscurely published works such as "Imram" and "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun"; although "Imram" has been published since in the many-volumed series The History of Middle-Earth, ""The Lay" remains as hard to find as ever.

A couple of weeks ago my brother took me book hunting at one of our favorite Half-Price Books to cheer me up, and I ran across a copy of the 1972 first hardback printing, featuring a rather famous picture of Tolkien by Lord Snowdon on the cover. Inside the cover was not only a dedication and a book-plate ("Xmas-1972") but a clipping of a contemporary review. Reading it I was struck for the first time with the realization that the book was written and reviewed when Tolkien was still alive. I was holding a book that had the earmarks of belonging to a great Tolkien fan who was enjoying his work while the Professor was still alive. My brother very kindly bought it for me and I brought it home.

After the excitement of quickly renewing my acquaintance with the book, I began to wonder what could have made anyone part with such a good work; whether they had run out of room, or grown bored with it, or thought it was no longer relevant in the expanded wake of Tolkien studies, or simply needed some money. And then of course a very obvious reason struck me: it had been thirty-eight years since, plenty of time for the Chiefest of Calamities to befall anyone, and the only good reason I can think of to pry the book from a dedicated fan's hands.

So whoever and wherever "Becky" is (and I feel even more fellowship with her, as we have the same old book-plate) I hope she can rest easy knowing the "Master" is in the hands of another dedicated reader, who knows how to value and care for a good book.

1 comment:

John said...

It is interesting, too, how thoughtful and intelligent this short review is. A relic from a more sophisticated and learned era, it seems...