Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Hobbit - 1976 Deluxe Edition - 2nd impression

Here's a book which, just like the Lord of the Rings in the same series, I didn't bother going for a 1st/1st edition in. Whilst those go for £275 on Ebay from time to time, this second impression cost just £30 on Amazon, and was a birthday gift from my wife. Indeed, it's worth checking Amazon as they have many books selling at below-ebay prices.

In the same style as the 1974 issue of the Deluxe Lord of the Rings, this deluxe Hobbit comes packed in a black box with a white paper label on the front. Again, the box is surprisingly delicate and really has little chance of withstanding time or pressure very well, but what it holds inside is what I am really interested in.

The Hobbit has probably THE nicest front cover of any of my books so far - the coloured gilt dragon on the front comes from one of Tolkien's designs and is amazing at catching the light. As the pic shows, there are a couple of marks on the front cover which is a bit annoying (it was in the listing but I thought I would take a risk). The effect they have is like hot wax has been dripped on the front, but I am guessing it's water damage - please leave a comment if you have any tips on how to repair, although I am imagining it's irreparable as the buckram cloth has swollen with the water?

The book is bound in black buckram cloth which makes the gilt work - including the lovely detail on the spine, stand out brilliantly.

Inside there are illustrations by Tolkien, which give the book a nice personal feel as opposed to the artistically brilliant Alan Lee pics. Not saying the pics aren't nice, but they certainly aren't technically as impressive as Lee's, which makes the book feel special. In fact, the pics are by Tolkien but coloured by H.E.Riddett. The interesting thing is that these pics are by the man himself, so give us a fantastic idea of what Tolkien pictured when he was writing.

All in all a nice book - solid and sturdy, with some nice personal pics inside. It now sits inside a custom slip-case along with the Poems and Stories in the same collection, but more of that next time!

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Lord of the Rings - Deluxe Illustrated Edition- 1992

There are three Lord of the Rings sets that are on my ultimate wish-list, and today I can tick one of them off. Yes, after months of hard saving and lay-away payments to the tolkienbookshelf.com, I finally own the 1992 deluxe illustrated Lord of the Rings, which was published to celebrate the centenary of Tolkien's birth in 1892.

There were only 250 of these printed, which makes it far and away my ‘rarest’ and most treasured possession in the collection as yet. To think that these are still in their publisher's shrinkwrap must make them all the rarer, and I really do love the idea that there are (at most) only 249 other people out there with these books. In reality there are probably far less, as some dealers seem to have a few copies, and it may even be that some have been damaged and thrown away.

Originally published at £250, this was never a cheap set. £250 in 1992 is now around £400, so this set would outprice the current Hurin and Sigurd Super Deluxes, and rightly so in my opinion as it is far nicer.

First off, I am delighted in just how dark and rich the green leather is – the set on tolkienbooks.net looks dull and faded, which made me wonder if mine would be similar, but these books are dark and rich in colour. Green is an interesting choice too – it oozes quality and class, reminding me of lamps in American universities and posh stuffed leather chairs in rich old men’s country houses!

It is only 1/4 leather, leaving the rest to cloth. I have to say that I find cloth a difficult binding material, as it is so prone to dirtiness and dust marks. It also grazes easily, and as these are quite a tight fit in the box, I can see that they are likely to scrape each other a bit over time.

Each book is signed and numbered by Alan Lee (mine are no. 66). The writing is smaller than in other signed editions I own, and it would have been nice to see a bit more space allowed, but it's only a small point.

The pages have gold gilt edges, and have ribbon markers too. The gold edges look beautiful, particularly as the pages are thick. It is the 'goldest' of all my gold gilt edge sets!

The price I paid for this set was just over £600, purchased from David at tolkienbookshelf.com. This was a bargain price for which I am very grateful to David. Pretty much every time I have seen these for sale (whether on ebay or abebooks etc) they are ticketed at around £1000, so I am dead happy to have the set for this price. I took advantage of the lay-away scheme, whereby you pay over a number of months, and there was a real sense of satisfaction to earn before I received. It is worth noting at this point that I am paid off for all of my purchases, but something like the super deluxes I bought and paid off later, whereas this one had a real sense of longing to it as I paid a bit each month. I originally planned on a 12 month purchase period, but got there in the end in just about 5 as I took on a whole host of over-time and tutoring at school which allowed me to plough funds in at a faster than planned rate.

The illustrations are, again, the same 50 lovelies from the 1991 Alan Lee illustrated edition. As I hinted at in my last post, it's bizarre to think that the paperback set I won has the same text and pictures in as this one, but that I paid 200 times as much for this set as the last! It raises all sorts of interesting points about value, points which I will now try and address.

For me, this set is value. There are a number of factors which make it so. Its rarity is one, its condition another, the signature a third. However, those can also be mirrored in the single volume blue edition of the same year, but I wouldn't pay £600 for that one. I think what tips the balance for me is the feel of the set in the hand. In three separate editions there is no over-heavy feeling - the book can be handled with ease. This, along with the other three factors, makes it worth its money to me. Bizarre how I paid the same amount for this set as the car I currently drive! I guess it all relates to disposable cash - the £600 was a fisable medium term saving for me, wheras right now the 1964 deluxe, at at least £2000, is not. That isn't to say it's not value too, but for me it isn't worth entertaining the thought of at this moment in time.

All in all a stunning set, and one I am delighted to own.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Lord of the Rings - 1996 Illustrated PB Editions

When I began collecting a few months ago I told myself I wouldn’t be looking for paperbacks; not only are they less sturdy than their thicker cousins, but they are also often much shorter. On my bookshelf I want the books to all look good together, and a puny little short edition isn’t going to achieve that. However, this set piqued my interest, and now sits on my shelf.

This 1996 slipcased set is illustrated by Alan Lee and was published by Harper Collins. It contains the 50 colour illustrations by Lee which first appeared in the 1991 one volume edition. It’s bizarre how I now have a few different books with the same text and same illustrations, but presented so differently (not to mention costing so different a range of prices).

First impressions are good – the box is strong and sturdy, and the soft covers don’t make the books half as flimsy as I imagined they would. The white spines stand out against all of my other books, and the lavish illustrations which cover both sides of the slipcase are very ornamental. Being a three volume set makes it easy to handle, and the pages are shiny and high quality.

The set is 18.5cm high, which is the same as most of my hardback collection. I only know this as I asked the seller on ebay, and I have to say that I would not have picked it up if it was smaller. As it is, it now sits perfectly on book shelf.

Original retail price was £40, but I picked this up for just £3 on ebay (plus postage). This was (in my opinion) largely due to the fact that the picture didn’t make it clear that this was this set, but infact made it look like one of the cheaper, smaller and more common paperback sets out there.

All in all a nice set, and certainly one which doesn’t lose any quality through being paperback.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

And now for something a little different...

The heady days of my English degree are now long behind me, but I just chanced upon an incomplete (and reference bereft) draft of my dissertation entitled 'The Lord of the Rings: A Christian Epic?'. For those who are interested, I shall cut and paste the first 7000 words here below - happy reading.

Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is the best selling fictional book of all time, with an estimated 150 million people having read the author's work. It is an epic 1200 page story that has fascinated readers world wide since its publication in 1954. Tolkien himself was a devout Christian; a fact that he believed could be deduced from his writing. Whilst many Christian readers have received the book positively, there are some who question its religious connections, believing, as one 1950s Sunday Times reviewer did, that the book has 'no religious spirit' (cited in Carpenter, 1995:223). Whilst critics may argue over the supposed Christian content of the work, it must be agreed that 'The extent of Tolkien's…public avowal of Christianity forces us to ask about the Godly character of [it]' (Hartt, 1981:21).
Before beginning my analysis, it is important to clarify the historical context of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's epic is set in a pre-Christian world . In this sense there can be no direct reference to Christ or his life and teachings. Duriez, (2001) writes that because of this, The Lord of the Rings 'can't express the full hope of Christianity, only prefigure it' (Duriez, 2001:157). However, as Tolkien wrote the book after Christ's Earthly ministry, he was able to infuse 'his pre-Christian epic fantasy with Christian convictions and concerns' (Wood, 2003b:28). It is my firm belief, with this in mind, that I will find numerous themes in the text that are fundamentally Christian, although no direct reference to Christ Himself.
I believe that The Lord of the Rings is a profoundly Christian book, and yet it is intriguing to see that it has been shunned by many Christian readers. The reasons for this are summed up by Bruner and Ware: 'Many hard-line believers have been hesitant to embrace a creative work that includes mythic figures, magic rings, and supernatural themes' (Bruner, Ware, 2003:x). In this chapter I shall examine three of the most prominent areas that I believe have caused some Christian readers to reject the work. The first of these is the use of the fantasy genre, in which Tolkien has set his tale. Secondly, I shall examine the positive portrayal of the wizard Gandalf in the book, which has inflamed some Christians abhorrence of witchcraft. Thirdly, I shall examine Tolkien's use of Norse mythology. As it is Pagan in inception, this mythology has caused some Christians to avoid the work. It is my firm belief that each of these elements, once examined thoroughly, will be easy to assimilate into a Christian reading of The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of the Rings undoubtedly falls into the genre of fantasy, with many critics citing Tolkien as the greatest influence within the genre . As Bruner and Ware's quote highlights, many Christians struggle with the genre and all it entails. I believe this is an inaccurate response on the part of some Christian readers, and that Christianity and fantasy need not be opposed.

In his article Fantasy and the Tradition of Christian Art, Gene Edward Veith argues that the fantasy genre has Biblical origins. Veith quotes the Ten Commandments given by God in the book of Exodus in the Bible, bringing particular attention to the commandment 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth' (Exodus 20:4-5). Veith argues that many Hebrews took this commandment literally, whether they were meant to or not, and so 'refused to countenance any representational art' (Veith, 1988:34). The Hebrews therefore 'undermined the principles of art as mimesis (or imitation) and in so doing nourished the idea that art need not be tied to objective reality, a concept which encouraged the development of fantasy' (Veith, 1988:34). As evidence of Veith's claims, he explains that the Jewish scribes and Christian monks whose vocation was to copy the sacred scriptures by hand, can be seen as the first noted creators of the fantasy genre:
In these manuscripts...there appear what may be the beginning of fantasy. In the midst of the sacred text appear plants with human heads, two headed dogs, fanciful dragons and sea monsters.
(Veith, 1988:53).

Whilst Veith's suggestions seem a little adventurous, it does raise an interesting question: why would some puritanical Christians who dislike The Lord of the Rings do so, when a puritanical interpretation of one of the Ten Commandments, encourages the creation of new and 'fantastical' art. Whatever the answer, there is more to enforce the Christian use of the fantasy genre than simply arguing that the genre has Christian origins. I believe that Tolkien himself intentionally used the genre to portray a fundamentally Christian message.

In his article Re-enchanting the world: education, wisdom and imagination, Albert
Raboteau's argument is simple: as we grow older in life 'our amazement at the wondrous quality of the world dims' (Raboteau, 1995:1). Raboteau's article is concerned with the usefulness of story, in particular mythical stories, for presenting powerful truths that have become dulled in our lives:
The path to re-enchantment lies in recovering wisdom, wisdom made most readily accessible to us in story. Stories, particularly in the form of folktales, myths and legends, convey to us the collected wisdom of the human race.
(Raboteau, 1995:1)
Raboteau explains that as we grow older we lose our sense of amazement at things. With this principle in mind, I believe that The Lord of the Rings presents us with many Christian messages and themes which people may have become desensitised to, in a new and exciting way. This is also something that Kath Filmer examines in her article An Allegory Unveiled. Filmer writes of how The Lord of the Rings is a kind of "mooreeffoc" of Chestertonian fantasy. Filmer quotes Tolkien himself writing on this subject:
Mooreffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle.
(Cited in Filmer, 1987:21).

Filmer expounds:
When the mundane world is clothed with myth or fantasy, we are permitted a new, fresh vision of that world and are able to see in ordinary things the qualities of the marvellous and the wonderful. When Tolkien gives us a picture of the wayfaring Christian set in the fantastical world of middle earth, we see that it is an image of ourselves and our own world that he is holding up to us. He shows us our fallen selves and the effects of evil in the world about us, and shows us how strength, comfort and finally freedom might be found.
(Filmer, 1987:21).

It now becomes clear that The Lord of the Rings being a work of fantasy literature should not distress Christian readers, as fantasy can be seen as a God ordained genre, and Tolkien is using the genre to portray Christian truths in a new and fresh world that otherwise readers may be desensitised to. The Christian messages found in The Lord of the Rings will be examined in the oncoming chapters of this dissertation.
One of the greatest problems with The Lord of the Rings for many Christian readers is the positive presentation of the wizard Gandalf. Many Christians associate this character with witchcraft, and the Bible is clear on this subject: 'Let no-one be found among you who…practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells' (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Whilst many works of Christian fiction contain wizards and witches as negative characters, i.e. the white witch in C.S.Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, it is unheard of for a Christian writer to employ a wizard as a hero character, as Tolkien does with Gandalf.

To help us understand the role of Gandalf, we must first examine The Silmarillion, Tolkien's pre Lord of the Rings work that examines the history and creation of Middle Earth, in which The Lord of the Rings is set. Examining The Silmarillion strongly enforces the Christian themes throughout the work of Tolkien. In short, we read of Eru (an almost exact representation of God) who creates a world and everything in it. He also creates the Valar, of which Gandalf is one (Duriez, 2001:144). The Valar, or Istari, are guardians of Middle Earth. In his book Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, Colin Duriez explains that the wizards are, in all but name, angels. Duriez believes that for:
Imaginative force and freshness he [Tolkien], like Bunyan and Lewis, avoids the term, 'angel' and uses the terms Valar and Maiar…The Valar are more like intermediaries between God (Iluvatar) and the beings of middle earth.
(Duriez, 2001:153)

Evidence of Tolkien's own intention for wizards as angelic beings is found in another of his works on middle earth, Unfinished Tales, where he writes: 'They [the Istari] were all Maiar, that is persons of the 'angelic' order' (Tolkien, 1998:510). With these insights in mind we can see that Tolkien, like many Christian authors before him, used angelic beings in his work, but did not call them angels. The Istari, or Wizards, were the names chosen by Tolkien. Even with this is mind it is difficult to understand how the Christian Tolkien could choose the label 'wizard' for his creation, albeit if they were supposed to be angelic in nature. Tolkien again makes comment on this in Unfinished Tales:
The translation [wizard] (though suitable in its relation to 'wise' and other ancient words of knowing)…is not perhaps happy, since the Heren Istarion or 'Order of Wizards' was quit distinct from the 'wizards' and 'magicians' of later legend.
(Tolkien, 1998:502).

In this passage Tolkien himself admits the choice of the word 'wizard' as a label for Gandalf, is 'not perhaps happy'. Tolkien then states that the Wizards of his tales are different from the 'wizards and magicians of later legend'. Without breaking from his role of narrator, Tolkien is informing readers that what we consider a wizard, is not what they were thousands of years ago in the Middle Earth of his tales. There is yet more information on Tolkien's wizards that encourages the idea of them as angels and dispels the idea of them as modern satanic magicians. In his book The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter published hundreds of Tolkien's personal letters relating to his work. In one of these letters we can read an important description of Tolkien's wizards: 'The use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but its an inherent power not possessed or attainable by men'. (Tolkien, 1981:200). This small fact is essential in a Christian reading of Tolkien's work. The wizards had an inherent power, and this power was not attainable by men. Here again, Tolkien is reminding readers that his wizard characters are not the wizards of modern understanding, but non human beings who have been given the powers they possess by Eru, to help the creatures beings of Middle Earth. As Tolkien was a Catholic, it is important to consider the option that Gandalf not only reflects angelic characteristics, but also those of a Saint.

In his book A Treasury of Saints, Malcolm Day (2002) highlights how Catholic 'devotees have sought comfort and guidance from these holy embodiments of virtue [Saints]' (Day, 2002:6). As a Catholic, Tolkien believed that Saints were intermediaries between God and man, just as Gandalf, as one of the Maiar, is an intermediary between Eru and the creatures of Middle Earth. However, there is more to suggest Gandalf being a Saint of Middle Earth than simply his role as an intermediary between Eru and mankind. The Roman Catholic doctrine of canonization, whereby a person is labelled a Saint, depends on one criteria. Day (2002) explains that canonization will only take place upon the production of a miracle. In terms of The Lord of the Rings, it is possible to see the 'magical' work of Gandalf as a Catholic miracle of the Sainthood. So when, for example, Gandalf creates fire on Mount Caradhras, simply using 'a word of command' (Tolkien I:381), this can be seen as a sign of the miraculous, attainable to his role of Saint, and not as a sign that he is an instrument of evil. It is quite clear that, rather than an evil sorcerer, Tolkien intended Gandalf to be an Angel or Saint, or perhaps a mixture of both. For those Christian readers who may still not be convinced, it is important to examine who the magical power of Gandalf is attainable to. In Middle Earth there is one source of pure evil, and that is Sauron. Gandalf is unashamedly at war with Sauron, and uses all of his power to aid the destruction of the One Ring, and defeat Sauron. There is no doubt that Gandalf's powers are used for good in the books, and so this raises another important question. If Gandalf is an evil character, how can he use his power to battle evil in The Lord of the Rings? This question draws to mind another Biblical reference. In Mark 3:23-27, Jesus is accused by religious leaders of being under Satan's powers. His reply is very fitting for the question of whether Gandalf the Wizard is an anti-Christian character: ' "How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, the kingdom cannot stand…If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand". Jesus' words offer the final justification of Gandalf's goodness: if he is evil, how can he battle evil? As a powerful opposition to evil, Gandalf is undeniably good.

From all of this evidence, we can clearly state that the wizards of Tolkien's world were angelic beings, or Saints, ordained by Eru, the God of Middle Earth, to protect mankind. Their power is attainable to good, and their sole purpose is to defeat evil. They are not themselves human, and the modern interpretation of wizards is not one that should be associated with them. I shall now examine Tolkien's use of Norse mythology in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien's work is infused with Norse Mythology , of which Tolkien was a huge fan from childhood . Again, some Christian readers feel that a work that encompasses such mythology should be avoided by Christians . It is true that Tolkien uses Norse mythology in his work. Hakan Arvidsson, in his article The Ring, an essay of Tolkien's mythology, states that 'Tolkien's mythology of Middle-earth is intentionally rooted in northern European mythic traditions' (Arvidsson, 2002:45). For example, the burial of Boromir, as described in The Two Towers, has strong Viking references:
Taking his axe the Dwarf now cut several branches. These they lashed together with bowstrings, and spread their cloaks upon the frame. Upon this rough bier they carried the body…they laid Boromir in the middle of the boat that was to bear him away.
(Tolkien, 2001:9,10)

This is just one of many examples of Norse mythology used by Tolkien. William Ready highlights another, in his belief that 'the decision to struggle on when defeat seems inevitable is the true glory of man that Tolkien has brought forward again from the great Norse ideal' (Ready, 1969:57).

So how can Tolkien justify using this mythology as a Christian writer? Colin Duriez (2001) explains that Tolkien 'wished to capture the imaginative vitality of the Old Norse or Olympian gods, yet to portray beings acceptable to someone who believes in 'The Blessed Trinity'. (Duriez, 1995:154). In fact, Tolkien, again in his now published letters explained the subject further: '[I] Meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods' of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted - well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity' (Tolkien, 1981:146). It is clear now what Tolkien intended to do, but how did he do it? In his article Frodo's Faith, Ralph Wood gives one prominent example of how Tolkien avoided elements of Norse mythology that were unacceptable to Christian belief:
According to the warrior ethic of the ancient North, the offering of a pardon to enemies is unthinkable: they must be utterly defeated. For Tolkien the Christian, by contrast, love understood as mercy and pity is essential: "you have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy,' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt 5:43 - 44)
(Wood, 2003a:20).

Wood highlights an intriguing example, a Christian portrayal of mercy that contrasts the non-forgiving warrior ethic of Norse mythology. Other examples of this are rife throughout the work, for example the Norse concept of fate is refused 'with a passionate portrayal of free will' (Duriez,1995:157). This issue of free will shall be examined later in this dissertation.

We can see that, although Tolkien, through his own passion of Norse mythology, wishes to capture some of its vitality in his work, he refuses to embrace those mythological elements that would contrast his Christian faith.

In conclusion, we can see that three of the main reasons why many Christians avoid The Lord of the Rings; the use of the fantasy genre, the positive portrayal of wizards, and the use of Norse mythology, are all, in fact used by Tolkien in a way acceptable to a Biblically based Christian doctrine. Having now examined those areas that perhaps call into question the Christian status of The Lord of the Rings, I shall now look at some of the main Christian themes in the book.

The principle narrative in The Lord of the Rings concerns the One Ring of power. If regained by Sauron, Middle Earth will be covered in a darkness too powerful to break, and if destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, Sauron himself will fall, and a great evil be removed from the Earth (Tolkien II:178). The One Ring is clearly an essential item to examine in any in-depth study of the book, and I shall now look at what the ring symbolises.

In the context of the story, the One Ring represents the strength and power of Sauron, but what is its meaning in a symbolic context? Tolkien wrote to a fan of The Lord of the Rings in a letter which included one simple sentence concerning what the One Ring represents: 'the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the will to mere power' (Tolkien, 1981:151). Tolkien's intention is that the ring represents power, but what sort of power? To examine this further I shall look at Sauron and Saruman, the two characters that are attempting to find the ring, and what they plan to do with it.
In his book Master of Middle-Earth, the achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien, Paul Kocher examines what it is that attracts Sauron to the ring: 'Sauron's whole appetite is for command of other wills' (Kocher, 1974:56). Kocher then looks at Saruman, the 'secondary' evil character in the book, and examines his motive in desiring the ring: 'Saruman is more like Sauron than he realizes. They believe in the same thing, supremacy through absolute power' (Kocher, 1974:63). Kocher is in agreement with Tolkien, that the ring symbolises power, more specifically power to dominate others. However, those familiar with the book will know that it is not just Sauron and Saruman who are tempted by the ring. Many of the other characters are tempted by it: Gollum, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn and Boromir are just some of the other characters tempted, although all but Boromir and Frodo resist the temptation to yield it. In her article An Allegory Unveiled, a reading of The Lord of the Rings, Kath Filmer examines the temptation of the ring to those who desire it: 'All those who are tempted by the ring are tempted in terms of… the notion of unlimited power' (Filmer,1987:20). An example is seen in Saruman's lusting for the ring: 'We must have power, power to order all things as we will' (Tolkien I:340). From the Kocher and Filmer readings, we can agree with Tolkien's original intention that the ring symbolises power, and more specifically a power to dominate others. This is the overriding characteristic of evil in the books. So why does Tolkien present dominating power as such a negative trait, and how does this relate to a Christian interpretation of the text? The answers can again be found in The Bible. Just as Sauron, the evil of Middle Earth, desires to have power to dominate mankind, Satan, the Biblical presentation of evil, also desires the very same things. At the heart of the issue is the fact that the power Sauron desires is a God-like power. The power that Eru has. The same is true of Satan, who desires the power that God has. In terms of their desires there is a strong resemblance between Sauron and the Biblical depiction of Satan who, along with his demons, wants to control the people of Earth . We can clearly see that the symbolic meaning of the One Ring refers to Satan's desire to dominate and control mankind, and this is another Christian theme found in the books.

If the bad characters desire power to dominate, then how are the good characters in The Lord of the Rings represented?. Again, it is crucial in an analysis of the book to look at what the good characters symbolise. I believe the three most important good characters in the book are Aragorn, Gandalf and Sam, and I shall now briefly examine each of them. I will also examine the presentation of Boromir, the only member of the Fellowship of the Ring that actually dies in the book. I shall examine why he died, and what separated him from the other good characters.
Although a mighty warrior, a healer , and the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, Aragorn's major characteristics is his humility. Throughout the story, Aragorn is a powerful heroic figure and yet he claims no glory for himself. He is repeatedly looked down upon by others: 'Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names' (Tolkien I:325), and yet chooses to seek no revenge or to prove his true identity. In her article Christianity and Kingship in Tolkien and Lewis, Caroline Monks states that 'Aragorn shows true humility at his crowning' (Monks, 1982:7). When Aragorn refuses to put the crown onto his head himself, he symbolically acknowledges that his ascension to kingship is not all his own doing: "By the labour and valour of many I have come into my inheritance…let Mithrandir [Gandalf] set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory' (Tolkien III:296). This humility is the overwhelming characteristic of Aragorn, one that can be found within his character throughout the whole story.

Gandalf, as one of the Maiar, is a powerful being who was sent to Middle Earth to encourage the resistance against Sauron . Knowing his own power, he too remains humble like Aragorn, choosing to spend much of his time in the Shire with the simple Hobbits who know nothing of his legacy other than that he can create attractive fireworks . With such power and importance he could easily become proud and self interested, and yet, in the battle with a Balrog in the Mines of Moria, Gandalf, knowing only his own power could battle the creature, sacrifices his life to save his companions: 'fly! This is a foe beyond any of you. I must hold the narrow way'. (Tolkien I:433). Ralph Wood (2003b) comments on this event: 'Gandalf saves his companions from sure death. To do so, the wizard himself dies and descends into a hellish abyss. Yet Gandalf is miraculously resuscitated' (Wood, 2003b:29). And so, with all of his powerful and divine attributes, it is self-sacrifice that most deeply characterises Gandalf. In laying down his life, Gandalf 'gave up (as he thought) the chance to play a central part in the resistance to Sauron' . Here Gandalf models not only self sacrifice, but also humility, in 'bowing out' of the great battle. Colin Duriez (2001) argues that it is not only Gandalf who models self sacrifice: 'The Lord of the Rings is a tale of redemption in which the main characters overcome cowardly self-preservation to model heroic self sacrifice' (Duriez, 2001:xii).

Sam Gamgee is another 'good' character of great importance in The Lord of the Rings. Although Sam can easily be considered only a subsidiary character, Tolkien himself referred to him as the undoubted hero of the book . Sam, a lowly gardener, dismissed by Gollum as a 'Silly Hobbit' , has only one strong characteristic: his servant hood to Frodo. Sam personifies servant hood and selflessness. Servant hood; putting another before yourself, is the key point to the character of Sam Gamgee. It is what transforms him from being a fairly plain and dull subsidiary character in the book, into the 'hero' that Tolkien labels him.

Boromir is, like Aragorn, a mighty warrior, a well-respected man, a strong man, and a man of rank and title, yet he dies an early death in the book whereas Aragorn finally becomes King. The fact that, as mentioned, he is the only member of the Fellowship of the Ring to die, warrants a studious look at his character. There is one key difference between Aragorn and Boromir, one that shows itself throughout all descriptions of Boromir, appearing even in the physical description of the man at the council of Elrond where he first appears: 'Boromir stood up, tall and proud' (Tolkien I:321) Boromir stands proudly, When he speaks, it is also with pride: 'answered Boromir proudly' (Tolkien I:324). Everything he does is marred with pride. Colin Duriez (2001) writes that 'his 'fatal flaw' is pride…Because of his pride he was unable to overcome his lust for the ring, and in madness, tried to kill Frodo' (Duriez, 2001:80). Boromir dies because of his pride. He has many admirable qualities, but his pride is enough to warrant his death in Tolkien's work. Pride, the exact opposite of humility, is being shown by Tolkien as a great sin.

It is clear that in opposition to the negative characteristic of a consuming desire for power and domination, as well as any sense of pride in oneself, Tolkien sets qualities of servant hood, self sacrifice and humility in all of his 'good' characters. These morals are undoubtedly another strong Christian influence in The Lord of the Rings, with each having strong Biblical foundations. The Bible, through the life of Jesus, shows a direct code for living:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition…but in humility consider others better than yourselves…Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…humbled himself…and became obedient to death.
(Philippians 2:3-8)

This scripture highlights the importance of humility, servant hood and self sacrifice, all key aspects of the character of Jesus Christ, which Tolkien has imbued on his heroic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn and Sam. The fundamental message of Christianity, according to the Bible, is to love and serve God and others . This, surely, is the difference between good and evil in Middle Earth. The good in Aragorn, Gandalf and Sam seeks to serve others in humility, even to die for others, whilst the evil of Sauron and Saruman seeks to gain power and domination over all. In this we can again clearly see how Tolkien has enriched his narrative with fundamentally Christian themes.

Tolkien's dismissal of dominating power is perhaps best shown through his presentation of Iluvatar, the 'god' of Middle Earth. Iluvatar is only mentioned once in The Lord of the Rings, and that is in an appendix , yet the influence of a higher power is seen constantly throughout the book. I believe that Tolkien's presentation of Iluvatar in the book is meant to mirror his own Christian perception of God. Tolkien, again, uses his book to present Christian truths, and in this case examines the difficult subject of free will vs. providence.

If domination of others is unacceptable in Middle Earth how can Iluvatar (translation: father of all) work in the lives of his creation? Before attempting to answer this question, I shall examine when Iluvatar, or his providence, appears in the book. Tolkien, referring to The Lord of the Rings, once said that he had written a book about God without even mentioning him . In any Christian examination of the book it is essential to look at where God, or a representation of Him, appears.
When telling of Bilbo finding the One Ring, Gandalf points out 'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring' (Tolkien I:74). When Frodo meets Gildor the Elf, he is told 'In this meeting there may be more than chance' (Tolkien I:112). These situations appear throughout the book; amazing incidents that arise and dramatically help the Fellowship in their adventures. Tolkien is stepping into mirky water theologically and philosophically with these instances. These happenings could just be chance, or could be accounted to a mythological conception of fate, or they could be providential offerings from God. I believe Tolkien understood that he needed to make it clear where these situations came from, and so he uses his characters, often Gandalf who, as already ascertained, is a saint-like intermediary between God and Man, to point readers in the right direction. Firstly, when discussing the fact that the One Ring was found by Bilbo when Sauron was driven out of Mirkwood, Gandalf calls it 'a strange chance, if chance it was' (Tolkien I:328). Here Gandalf is questioning the idea of these situations being down to mere chance. I believe the authorial voice of Tolkien is coming through, and that he, aware that many readers may think these happenings just pure luck, is guiding us to question this. When the Fellowship of the Ring find themselves together at the council of Elrond, although none were specifically called there and none knew others would be there, Elrond comments: 'You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered' (Tolkien I:317). Here Elrond dismisses chance, and states that the Fellowship were ordered to be there, the obvious question arising: who or what ordered it? When Frodo discusses with Aragorn the strangeness of the fact that he of all people has the One Ring, Aragorn says 'It has been ordained that you should hold it'. (Tolkien I:323). The use of the word ordained gives religious undertones to this sentence, suggesting there is a link between Frodo's role in doing good and battling evil, and that of an ordained priest, set apart by God for his work. By piecing all of these situations together, I believe Tolkien is clearly pointing out that it is not by chance, not by fate, but by the providential action of a higher power, that the dozens of amazing situations the characters find themselves in arise. As Paul Kocher (1974) points out, Tolkien 'surrounds each high point of the action in The Lord of the Rings with convictions and opinions expressed by the participants as to its possible place in some larger plan under execution by greater hands than theirs' (Kocher, 1974:35). Some higher power is definitely at work, and Tolkien has clearly explained in The Silmarillion that the higher power in Middle Earth is Iluvatar, a figure that mirrors the Christian God of the Bible in almost all ways . By specifically explaining the creation of Middle Earth and all involved in The Silmarillion, Tolkien is showing that the only higher power is Iluvatar. It is impossible to credit anything else, such as a mythological idea of fate or providence, with the events. Here we are faced with the original question: if Iluvatar is making these situations happen, surely he is dominating the characters, something he is supposedly predisposed against. This leads on to one of the most singularly Christian themes in the book, one of the most important aspects of Christianity, that of free will.

Glancing back at some of the quoted situations from the book, we can see something else at work along with the divine providence of Iluvatar. When Gandalf informs Frodo that the ring he has is the One Ring, he tells him that it must be destroyed. He then tells Frodo that he was 'meant to have it' (Tolkien I:74), later adding 'You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have' (Tolkien I:81). However, Gandalf does not leave it at this, he adds, crucially: 'the decision lies with you. But I will always help you' (Tolkien I:81). Here Frodo is given free will to decide his own actions, assured by Gandalf that whatever he chooses, the wizard will help him. Later, when the Fellowship of the Ring forms, Elrond instructs each member 'Go with him as free companions…you may tarry, or come back, or turn aside on other paths' (Tolkien I:368). Although Elrond has already told the fellowship they were divinely appointed for this task, he sets no burden on them, telling them they have freedom of choice and can leave the group at any time. This pattern occurs throughout the book. Whenever something is arranged by Iluvatar providentially, those involved are given the choice whether to take it or not. Paul Kocher (1974) comments that: 'the forseen event will occur only if a creaturely will freely consents first' (Kocher, 1974:42). Kocher sums up the situation nicely: 'free will coexists with a providential order and promotes this order, not frustrates it' (Kocher, 1974:37). From this we can clearly see how Tolkien uses Iluvatar in The Lord of the Rings. The god of Middle Earth does not dominate his creation, like Sauron and Saruman ultimately desire to, but provides a destiny for each; situations that he knows will work for good, and gives each character the free will to choose whether or not to accept these divine appointments. Tolkien is, again, using Christian theology to instruct his writing. As I have mentioned, free will is a fundamental aspect of Christianity. God undeniably has a destiny and a path laid out for his followers: 'For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future' (Jeremiah 29:11), yet he does not force his will upon us, but lets us, with free will, decide whether we will live a life devoted to him or not. This is seen in the Bible, and in modern day life, where human beings choose to reject God, and live life by their own desires. God does not forcefully dominate them, but allows them this choice. This free will is crucial to Christianity, and we can see obvious parallels between free will vs. providence in The Lord of the Rings, instigated by Iluvatar, and free will vs. providence in the real world, instigated by God. As already mentioned, the desires of Sauron to control the beings of Middle Earth also parallels the desire of Satan to control humanity.

The good and bad characters in The Lord of the Rings are extremely detailed and developed characters. None of them are exact parallels of either Jesus or Satan; Tolkien was too much of a developed writer to make such simple allusions, but as I have shown, there are important parallels between the good and bad characters of The Lord of the Rings and the good and evil beings found in the Bible and inherent in Christian theology. Again, these are examples of the Christian themes found throughout Tolkien's writing.

I shall now examine the importance of fellowship in the book.
Tolkien often infuses his writing with Biblical language . One example is the name given to the nine who set out from Rivendell to destroy the One Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship is a strongly Biblical word. In Christian teaching, one of the most important aspects of fellowship is that it is 'mutual, depending on the unity of believers' . Rick Warren (2002) writes 'Real fellowship is…experiencing life together…unselfish loving, honest sharing, practical serving, [and] sacrificial giving' (Warren, 2002:138). From this definition there are immediate links to the attributes of Sam, Gandalf, and Aragorn previously explained. Unity is another major theme in Tolkien's work, as I shall now examine.

When Frodo decides to embark on destroying the ring, he plans to set out alone. Gandalf, however, soon finds him a companion: 'Get up, Sam!' said Gandalf…'You shall go away with Mr. Frodo' (Tolkien I:85). Sam then accompanies Frodo throughout the entire book. Along the way Frodo and Sam meet Merry and Pippin, who join their company. Aragorn joins them at Bree, and at the council of Elrond the number is added to by Legolas, Gimli, Boromir and Gandalf . At the end of part one of the trilogy, the group is split into three. Frodo and Sam travel to Mount Doom, Merry and Pippin are captured by Orcs, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas hunt the Orcs to save Merry and Pippin. By this point Boromir is dead, as supposedly too is Gandalf. Even when the group is divided, each member of the Fellowship is still not alone, always having at least one companion. This unity remains throughout the text for the majority of the characters, with a triumphant reuniting at the end of all factions.
Each major act in the novel is never achieved by just one character. An example is seen in Frodo. Charged with holding and destroying the ring, Frodo soon comes under its power, and it is finally Gollum who destroys the ring . Frodo is denied the final victory as it would make him an independent hero character. It is only with Sam's help that Frodo got as far as Mount Doom itself, and so we can see that through unity there is victory. This pattern is repeated throughout the book. There is no heroic individualism in the story, all need help from others. Wood, (2003b) argues: 'Everywhere in Tolkien's work, authentic existence is always communal. Fellowship and friendship, companionship and mutuality, lie at the heart of Tolkien's Christian vision' (Wood, 2003:28). It is clear that unity and fellowship are highly important to Tolkien, and are intrinsically linked to success in The Lord of the Rings. Juxtaposing this unity are the evil Sauron and Saruman who stand alone, united to no-one, and finally meet their doom. Why is unity and fellowship so important to Tolkien? Again, the simple answer is that Christianity teaches the importance of these things. In The Bible, Paul writes: 'The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ' (1 Corinthians 12:12). Jesus himself prayed for unity among his followers: 'May they be brought to complete unity' (John 17:23). The good characters in The Lord of the Rings model unity and fellowship, just as it is taught in the Bible.

I believe that Tolkien's presentation of the Fellowship of the Ring in the book is meant to directly parallel the Christian Church. Tolkien is showing through his work that Christians must be united to succeed. Again, Jesus instructed ' For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them'(Matthew 18:20). The Bible teaches unity among believers, and Tolkien's own biographical history had made this a paramount issue for him.

(rest of dissertation, including references, sadly lost at this point).

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings illustrated box-set - 2000

For me, the Tolkien publishing history got particularly interesting when Harper Collins took over in 1991; not only does the introduction of Alan Lee's illustrative work add a sense of beauty, but the whole look is something I find quite satisfying. Indeed, the classic one volume LOTR illustrated by Lee, and the accompanying Hobbit, are two books I have liked for a long time. However, I vowed not to buy them as previous copies I owned suffered from leaning spines and crumpled dustwrappers (as much my own laziness in ownership as a 'fault' of the books themselves). Well, imagine my surprise and delight when I happened upon this little set on tolkienbooks.net: a boxed version of the editions! From that point on I was destined to own one, and little did anyone know in a recent ebay auction that I was willing to bid sky high to pick these up!

Released in 2000, this box-set is a bizarre release in that it simply took old editions of the book (1997 Hobbit and 1991 LOTR) and released them in this format. The reasoning behind this I don't know - did it have anything to do with the soon to be released Fellowship of the Ring film? Whatever the reason, it really is a lovely set.

First off the box: with full colour illustrations on front and back (taken from the covers of the books inside), and deep black on top, bottom and spine, the box looks majestic and luxurious - the gold lettering doing nothing to hinder this look too. The box is not particularly sturdy, as may be expected for something of this size, but it serves its purpose. It has a little cardboard insert inside to offset the much deeper Hobbit, thus making both seem the same size when placed within the box.

The Hobbit is the 1997 edition,7th impression, released to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the book. The dustwrapper was modified to match The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion illustrated editions. Most of the changes were to the text on the spine, but small changes were also made to the runic border.This one also features a price on the inner flap (£25) which is an indication that you own a later, modified edition. I much prefer this, as I once owned the older one and it just didn't seem to sit right next to the 1991 LOTR. These days, as a 'serious' collector, I would welcome the differences, but back then it just made no sense to me! With 22 full colour pictures, and a further 38 in pencil, it really is well illustrated by Alan Lee (more on that later).

The Lord of the Rings is the 1991 edition, 21st impression, produced to commemorate the centenerary of Tolkien's birth. The dustwrapper is distinctive to some others as it has the title in a black oval shape; a design introduced during the 11th impression. There are 50 full colour illustrations inside from Alan Lee, and you can't help but think how clearly his ideas impacted the soon to be released Peter Jackson movies. They truly are wonderful pictures, and much pleasure can be had through simply flicking through them from time to time. The full colour pictures are watercolours, and each one has clearly had much time and thought put into it.

Both books are printed on glossy, shiny paper. This makes them very easy to finger, but I can't help but think it also gives them the feel of a magazine or other somehow 'cheap' publication. At a published price of £75 for the set when released, it was never meant to be a particularly luxurious release, but I think the paper choice could have been better. It makes the illustrations look good, but the text filled pages a tad cheap in my view.

I paid £38 for my set on ebay, although I acquired a £10 refund due to the fact that the seller had imprinted my name and address onto the front of the box when he wrote it through the packing paper (the indentation is clear when it catches the light), so for £28 including delivery, I think this is a wonderful purchase. Because of its bulk I believe it would be hard to keep it from getting bumped or marked, and the glossy box does seem like it would be prone to highlighting any knock or scrape.Likewise the books are a tight fit into the box, so the tops and bottoms of the dustwrappers are a little crinkled. However, those pictures make the value alone, and it is certainly the best illustrated set I have yet seen. Not so much a standard reading set (for which I prefer the feel and thickness of paper on the folio sets), but certainly a great 'viewing' set to enjoy the pictures in.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Silmarillion - Folio edition - 1997

When it comes to the Folio editions of Tolkien books it is always the Silmarillion which appears at the higest prices. This may well be due to a smaller print run, although no official figures have ever been released to support this theory. Whatever the reason, this book has commanded from £35 to £50 on ebay over the past few months, and often gets snapped up very quickly on Buy it Now listings. For myself, I am the kind of person who likes to have a complete set and, already owning the Hobbit and LOTR in the same range, set my sights on this book a month or so ago. I picked up a copy for around £25, which seemed a bargain at the time. However, the book never arrived and (armed with a full refund from a very decent buyer), I went back at it and began the hunt again.

Ebay is a funny old site, and there is certainly a lot to be said about the psychology surrounding how to get the best out of it (both as a seller and a buyer). As a buyer I have two methods of purchasing:

1) If the book is listed at a price that is JUST under what I would pay for it, I will bid right away. This has the psychological effect of putting off people looking at the listing, and was the technique I employed with this book. So, it was listed at £16, and I was looking to pay around £20-£25. I put a bid on right away, knowing that other people looking at the listing were likely to ignore it thinking something along the lines of 'Well there's already someone on it, and therefore it's got at least one competitive bidder for me which is going to push it above my price very easily -I'll just leave it to that bloke'. This idea relies on the fact that others are also looking to pay around the same amount as me, and works more often than not. The essential thing is to not get drawn into a bidding war, but just do this on a regular basis and pick up the bargains that you can find.

2) When a book is listed well below the price I am willing to pay, I wait until there is just one or two minutes left on the auction to bid. This is to avoid those annoying battles with other bidders which take place over a number of days and end up inflating prices to ridiculous levels. For example, a book listed at £50 but worth £150 will often get a few early bids putting it up to, say, £65. If I come in at £70 here, the person outbid has a few days to think, to umm and ahh about bidding. They start to reason that it's not worth losing for the sake of another fiver and often bid again. How do I know this? Because I've done it loads of times myself! This goes vice versa back and forth until the book ends up selling for more than it was worth in the first place. So, I let the guy with the £65 bid think he's got it all clear. Through the week he may have a few little battles pushing the book up to £80 but little does he know I am going to storm in and go to £150. When the auction is nearly finished (two mins to be safe), I will put my big bid on. Now what happens is something I love - the original bidder has the idea of putting one more bid on and goes really high knowing there is no time left. Maybe he goes up to £100. In his head this is a big bid as he has been winning all week for much less. When he sees he is outbid he is so demoralised and stops bidding. It is so deflating to him to feel he has been winning on this book all week and is now outbid, that he loses his fight mentality and gives up on it.

Now, I'm not saying this is always the case, but I have been able to get some real bargains using these two methods (such as today's book at £16 which is as cheap as I have ever seen it!) Of course, if you come across someone like yourself in strategy two, it's a case of setting a realistic limit for yourself. Just last night I lost out on the deluxe folio silmarillion which I was willing to pay £130 for inclusive of insured delivery. I lost out by around £1 (to the dismay of my wife), but of course it could have cost me a lot more than that to beat the other bidder. I'm in this for the long-haul, so there's always another book out there for me to buy! I'm sure some will think my ebay strategies are pointless, but I've found them to pay off more often than not.

So there it is, I ended up with this book for £16 - an absolute steal for sure. When it arrived, I have to say I was surprised at how thick it is (bigger than I expected). I never really thought about this being a long book, but it is much thicker than The Hobbit.

On top of all that, this copy is a misprint, with the binding upside down and back to front. As you can see from one of the pics, this means you open the front cover and find the map! I like this, but my wife asked me "why buy it if it's faulty"? She had a point, and I think there is a fine line where something becomes more collectible because it is misbound and where it's just wrong! For me, as this was a cheap purchase, I was happy with it.

This is the third impression of 2003 and although the slipcase is a bit scuffed, the book is in mint condition. It really confirms my thinking on buying slipcased books, which is that they are worth their weight in gold as the books remain so perfect.

As with the other books in the series, I just love the chunkiness and overall quality of this edition - the book is solid, robust and clean. It is weighty and strong, and the pages are glossy. It definitely looks like a set which will stand the test of time, and is a perfect reading copy for me.

The illustrations are by Francis Mosely, and are certainly a tad better than the rest in the series, although still mostly small and all black and white.

This is the only book in the series to contain a fold-out map, and it's a lovely one too depicting Beleriand. This map sets it out that bit above the rest of the series, and it's a shame they didn't all have them.

All in all this is a nice book, and completes the set nicely for me - now onto the deluxe folio editions!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Lord of the Rings, 1969 UK Deluxe 1 Volume Edition - 8th impression

When I first became serious about collecting Tolkien books I knew this one was going to be a vital part of my collection; I love so many things about it, I just had to have it. However, I also had to make a decision on whether or not to spend £300 or so on a 1st impression, or get a later copy for around 20% of that price. For me I felt it was right to take the cheap option, and so I picked this 1982 impression up for £50 on ebay. At this point in my collecting journey, where I just want to get as many nice items as possible, it really wasn't worth saving for ages for the 1/1, simply to be able to say "I have the 1/1".

Initially released in 1969, this edition uses the text from the first one volume paperback edition (plus the appendices). Printed on India Paper (commonly known as Bible paper), it is bound in black buckram cloth with a stunning front cover depicting Tolkien's design of the Numenorean throne (often found on the front of the Return of the King). The endpapers are speckled in green, and there is a fold-out map at the back.The whole thing is housed in a box.

On my first inspection of this edition I couldn't fail to focus on how delicate the box seems. With a white paper label stuck on the front (seemingly cut and stuck by hand), the whole thing is frail and certainly not sturdy like many of the slipcases in the rest of my collection. The first impression came in a slipcase, but this was changed for a box some time in 1974, and I think that was a mistake; whilst the box certainly protects the book better, it is so weak that it's very prone to damage, and the large white paper label doesn't date well. My own copy has a small tear on the bottom.

Upon opening the box things improve quickly. 28 year old tissue paper surrounds the book and is as good as new (a breath-taking fact to me). As to the book itself, the front cover has to be one of the most stunning I've seen. My only criticism is it would have stood out more on a black leather background, and the buckram has a slightly dull look.However, the image itself is stunning, and confirms the belief of many that Tolkien is a truly under-rated artist.

The book is smaller than I imagined at around 1 inch in thickness. The spine is stunning, with the gold lines adding a real sense of regality to this edition. The fold-out maps are situated both at the end and after the Two Towers, which is an unusual and likeable touch.

On a personal note, this impression was born in the same year as my wife, which adds a real sense of sentimental value to the book. It's not for me to say which has aged the best, but one certainly costs me a lot more than £50, and both look and feel great when taken out of the wrapper.

All in all a very nice book, and certainly great value for money at the price. It definitely has the nicest cover of anything in my collection, but the delicate and prone to soiling box drags it down a peg or two.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun - 2009

There’s been a lot of criticism of this book, almost making it the ‘ugly sister’ of the Tolkien book collecting world. Indeed, it does seem to have a lot stacked against it: in terms of sibling rivalry, there’s no doubt that it’s not as impressive as the super deluxe Children of Hurin which preceded it, and the story itself, set out in verse, has nothing to do with Middle Earth. However, when I saw this book come up for sale at a decent price, I had to ask myself ‘what dictates the nature of my collection?’ It didn’t take much soul searching to decide that public opinion was not a determining factor, and I therefore took the plunge and bought a copy.

The Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is a limited edition of 500 copies published by Harper Collins in 2009. It is bound in goat-skin and housed in a leather and suede clamshell case.

The text itself was written before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, during the 1920s and 30s. It is a rewriting of Sigurd the Völsung and the Fall of the Niflungs, Norse tales which Tolkien enjoyed reading as a youngster. It seems Tolkien was experimenting with writing in the old Norse metre, a challenge he has excelled in.

Whilst I haven’t yet read the complete text (although I plan to), I am already very impressed with the extensive foreword and introduction, which explain a large amount of the back-story to the whole thing.

Now what I won’t do is compare this to the Children of Hurin, but judge it on its own merit, as the comparison is irrelevant to those who are only interested in this book.

The book comes in a sturdy clamshell case of brown leather with a gold gilt JRR Tolkien monogram on the front and Sigurd's horse, Grani on the spine in gold gilt. The suede material lining the box looks (as you can see from the pictures) to have been rubbed by fingers – it marks very easily despite the fact I haven’t even touched it!

The book is bound in brown goat-skin which is a shade lighter than the case. This skin is very soft, and indeed my own copy (although sealed until I opened it) does have some faint impressions and dents on it. It gives the book a slight feel of weakness, and I would have liked a sturdier choice of material. The pages are edged in gold which catches the light fantastically and really does look good.

The front cover is a repetition of the gold gilt picture from the spine of the case, with Sigurd's horse, Grani on it. Out of all the features of the book, this is my least favourite – the design isn’t that good, and it looks a bit cheap for reasons I can’t quite explain.

The spine has raised ribs, which I like, and standard information is again printed in gold gilt.

The marbleised inside covers are lovely and rich in dark reds and purples (a lovely feature).

There are a few very small black and white illustrations, by Bill Sanderson. The illustrations are not at all interesting, and could just as well have been left out. There is, however, a nice colour image of part of Tolkien's original handwritten manuscript which has a lot of charm about it.

The book is signed and numbered by Christopher Tolkien (I have number 17 which I am quite proud of!)

The book retails at £350, although I picked mine up for just under £180 sealed, which I think is a worthwhile price. Although it’s undoubtedly not as nice as some other releases, it is still a collectible, limited and signed book, so it’s worth that price in my opinion.

All in all I was happier than I thought I might be with this book. Yes, comparatively it’s not as nice as the Hurin edition, but it is still a nice book in its own right.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Silmarillion - Harper Collins Deluxe Edition 2002

The Silmarillion is not a read for the faint-hearted. To me it is very much the Bible of Middle Earth, complete with a Genesis-esque opening which describes the creation of the world. It is a rich and often complex fantasy book that doesn’t read particularly fluently or fluidly, but once you’ve read a hundred pages or so it really does have you hooked. By the end of reading, I had more respect for it than any of Tolkien's other works, as it was a much more mature read, and one which required almost studious attention to complete.

This edition is the 2002 Harper Collins Deluxe. One of the things I really like about it is that only one impression was ever printed, so you know you’ve got the first edition first impression if you’ve got any copy of this one! Rumours are that the book was limited to 1000 copies, but this doesn’t seem to be officially confirmed.

When I bought this book it was still shrink-wrapped eight years after its release. However, this week I made a decision to commit to a very costly Tolkien purchase, and at this point I decided I would open my sealed editions. Why? Because it is dawning on me that an important, if not the key point of collecting is to enjoy the books. I will endeavour to keep them in mint condition, but will have a look through them every now and again. So it was with mixed feelings that I took the knife to this one (actually a little bit of plastic) and opened her up! This means, of course, that in time I will open up my other books and ammend my entries on this blog to include details on opened books, but for now let's focus on this one. I have left the slipcase in shrinkwrap for the moment, but I dare say this may soon change too!

The book was released in the same range as the 1999 Hobbit, 1997 LotR and 2000/2001 HOME set. As is often explained when reading about this set, the books are of varying heights, and I can cofirm that even LotR (which looked in pictures to be a very similar height) has a noticeable difference to the Silmarillion. Quite how this happened is ridiculous, especially considering these were £100 each upon release – no small fee. You would think Harper Collins would have refused any editions that were not the same size as the rest of the set, but clearly not. A read of the fascinating article on the 1963 deluxe slipcased LOTR (http://tolkienbooks.net/html/1st-deluxe-lr.html)will be aware that there can be a myriad of issues surrounding slipcase production, but one would have thought it would have become a little easier in 40 years! The most annoying thing about the difference in heights is that the set becomes less desirable than the separate books which, on their own, look like very fancy one offs. Indeed, most collectors do not seem to place the books next to eachother, opting rather for a height based order rather than edition based.

Quater bound in black leather with a black leather slipcase, the gold gilt work looks stunning. As with the rest of the set, the spine has the Tolkien monogram, title and Harper Collins logo on it. The front of the slipcase, as well as the front cover, has the Silmarillion picture in gold gilt – a lovely touch. Gilded edges make the book stand out further too. When opened for the first time in 8 years, the gilded pages crack and rustle, then swell out like the plume of a pea-cock, which reminds me of the 50th anniversary LOTR US edition which is similar. However, the book fits perfectly back into and out of the slipcase, so those pages behave themselves.

The slipcase itself is strong and sturdier than I imagined it would be, which is a comforting fact. The cloth boards are coarse to the touch, and have that worrying look of boards which would easily get dirtied with dusty fingers. However, they seem strong enough that you could also give them a wipe too with a damp cloth.

The maps, in black and red, look just as good as any, although I half hoped for fold out maps like in the folio edition of this title, which to me are a bit more impressive (especially if still in good condition).

It took me by surprise at first, but in fact is not that bizarre at all, that the pages of this book are not bible paper like the LotR of the series. On normal paper, the Silmarillion (a much shorter book) retains the same sort of size as its big brother (or little brother if you like). This is a clever touch for sure, and partly makes up for the different heights problem.

I paid £75 for this book, an offer which brought it down from £90. It has since popped up and sold in an opened state for around £80 on ebay, so the fact that it was sealed seems a bit of a bargain to me, but admittedly there wasn’t much money saved.

All in all a nice book, and one that I am pleased to have.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Lord of the Rings - Deluxe India Paper Edition - 2001

You know that feeling you get when you spot something you really want to buy? Your heart races, your chest tightens, and your eyes dart all over the object looking for some flaw or extra detail.You get this ridiculous sense of urgency, as if it will be taken away from you at any moment, and you can't rest until you've bought the item. Well, I felt like that when I saw this book. Truth be told, I had spent my entire budget for that and the next month, but this was something special. Here, on ebay, was a 2001 deluxe LOTR that was still shrinkwrapped! That's nearly ten years of staying sealed, and I wanted it!

This book is part of a set released by Harper Collins. They released The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and three volumes of the History of Middle Earth along with this book in the series. However, the books (in their slipcases) ended up being of varying heights, which made them look a bit odd when placed together. No, I much preferred the later deluxe editions (circa 2004 onwards), but this got me thinking about the nature of my collecting. After much thought, I have decided to collect only slipcased or boxed editions of Tolkien's work. The reason for this is that, no matter how nice the book may be, unboxed editions are prone to leaning, not to mention the dustjacket getting creased at the bottom, the browning of pages and the like. No, for me, it will take something VERY special to tempt me outside of the boxed market. So there you have it - my aim is to own every boxed or slipcased edition of a Tolkien book that has ever been released. I will start with the more glamorous and easy to acquire of these sort, then no doubt delve into more complex pastures!

With that decision made, I put my varying height issues behind me, and decided that this set would be one I would aim to collect.

This deluxe edition was originally released in 1997, although that one came in a cloth slipcase whereas this one is leather. The first impression was limited to 1000 copies, and is altogether quite a rarity. This later impression came in either 2001 or 2002 (I haven't opened it so can't be sure). There were two impressions of this book printed: the 3rd Impression of 2001, with 2,037 copies, and the 4th Impression of 2002 with 3,061 copies.

The book itself is printed on India paper to reduce the size to around 1 inch in width. To see it before you is quite staggering, as it truly is a very small book when compared to other editions. India paper is basically the same paper that is used in a Bible, although this edition is thinner again because that slipcase keeps the pages squashed in tight.

The book is quarter bound in black leather. Part of me dislikes this convention, as the book at first appears to be all leather, but on removing it from the slipcase turns out to be far from that. I would have liked to see a full leather edition, but it wasn't to happen here.The US Deluxe edition, where it does happen, is pretty tough to remove and replace into the slipcase, so perhaps this 3/4 style is the best for ease of use.

The slipcase contains the golden Tolkien monogram on the black leather - two lovely contrasting colours that really compliment each other very well. The spine contains the title, author, monogram and, rather sadly, the Harper Collins logo. Quite why they wanted to put this there I don't know. The fact that it is in gold too suggests it is somehow important, whereas to me it is just annoying corporate branding.

Price-wise, the book was released at £100 in 2001. An opened copy recently sold on Ebay for £80, whereas a sealed copy will currently set you back three times that at tolkienbookshelf.com This book was initially listed on ebay for £100, with a similarly sealed Silmarillion listed at £80. I offered the seller £150 for the pair and he agreed, so again it goes to prove that it is worth offering a reduced price for an item, particularly if a multiple sale can be achieved.

As the book is sealed, I once again cannot comment on the inside-the-box experience. I wasn't sure whether it was worth listing on this blog, as I can't say much about the book itself, but then I thought 'what the heck, it's my blog!' As with my Super Deluxe Hurin, I will endeavour to buy an opened 'reading' copy in the future, and will update this blog accordingly.

David at tolkienbookshelf has once again kindly agreed to let me use some of his pics to illustrate the edition, and as you can see, this is a very tidy book. The cloth boards look like they could be prone to marking, but the red and white maps on the interior look simply stunning.

All in all, a nice book to own. With the razor thin pages it could be argued that it's not at all practical, and there are some who like to get some bulk for their money which will not be found in this little gem, but I have to say I like it a lot. I do agree that it's annoying the other editions in the same series are different heights, but I plan on making a custom book-shelf where books are offset at the required height to balance them out, so that's one for the future.