I saw the beautiful cover of this book and read in the description that there were plenty of pictures, so I thought I was getting a coffee-table style book, you know? But maaaaaaan.... Christopher Snyder goes IN DEPTH with his book! And there were also a lot a lot (on purpose repeat there) of nice, big, chewy SAT words in there. I was about halfway through the book when I decided to read the author blurb on the back flap and it said that Dr. Snyder teaches Honors seminars on Tolkien at Oxford University. I bet this is the assigned reading. :)
I'm so glad I read this! I learned so many new-to-me facts about Tolkien and the road to LOTR. I definitely enjoyed the entire book. I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting on a snow day. The chapters cover a biography of Tolkien's life and a chapter on medieval history and how Tolkien drew so heavily on it for his LOTR and related books. Did you know that Tolkien was fluent in Middle English? And Old English? And Latin? I did not have a full enough appreciation for the man's genius before reading this book! He was a true scholar. Part of me would really love to sit down and have tea with him and pick his brain; part of me fears, and rightly so, that he'd leave me in the dust intellectually if I tried!
My only beef with the book is in the layout. I feel like the three appendices could've been full chapters in their own right. I think some readers could miss out on some great information if they skip the appendices, and not everyone reads appendices. I'm just nerdy like that.
I loved this book and definitely recommend to all Tolkien and LOTR fans. I gave it 4 of 5 stars only because it's so very dense with information that it might be too much for the casual reader. It's got such gorgeous detail (such as all the pages being printed to resemble aged paper instead of stark white), lots of illustrations and photographs, and is peppered with quotes from Tolkien. Overall, a great read.