David Colbert’s new book, The Magical Worlds of the Lord of the Rings bills itself as a reference to the “amazing myths, legends, and facts behind the masterpiece.” Colbert is no stranger to this sort of book having authored a similar book last year on Harry Potter. At a slim 196 pages (including bibliography, suggested readings, and index) the book does not provide a complete reference to The Lord of the Rings; rather, it provides an introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy through a series of essays related to various topics, characters, and settings found therein. Each essay leads off with a question, typically something akin to “Could Middle-Earth be more magical?”, then proceeds to examine the topic at hand with examples from the books themselves, history, literature, or Tolkien’s own background.
In some cases Colbert’s information or conclusions are incorrect or misleading. As an example, on page 172 Colbert writes, “Just as Tolkien picked December 25–Christmas–as the beginning of Frodo’s journey, he chose a significant date for the Ring’s destruction. Sauron is defeated on March 25, which once marked what we now celebrate as Good Friday; the day Christ died to overthrow Satan.” While Colbert does cite the date from The Tale of Years in Appendix B to Return of the King, he ignores Tolkien’s analysis of Shire Reckoning, the dating system used in Lord of the Rings. While both our modern calendar and the Shire calendar work on similar terms, the two calendars are not entirely compatible–months are of different lengths, some days in the Shire calendar fall outside of months, and the Shire year begins near the Winter Solstace. What Tolkien records as December 25th on the Shire calendar would be December 14th on our calendar. Further, while Good Friday may fall on March 25th, it also falls on many other dates, as Good Friday is tied to Easter, a moveable feast.
For the newcomer to Middle-Earth, either through reading Tolkien for the first time or seeing the films, Magical Worlds can be helpful. For the devoted Tolkien fan, however, the shallowness with which some topics are explored makes this book unessential when other guides, such as Robert Foster’s or J.E.A. Tyler’s, cover Middle-Earth in far more detail.