Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopædia
by David Day.
Mitchell Beazley 1993 (1991)
This is a work that attempts to live up to its title: it includes an introduction to Tolkien’s published works (not just related to Middle Earth), then rushes straight into chapters on history, geography, peoples and nations (pretentiously called sociology here), natural history and a Who’s Who in Middle Earth, finally ending with indices and acknowledgements.
Because David Day doesn’t just limit himself to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there are charts and maps that help to place the War of the Ring in context, and the whole is profusely illustrated by nearly a score of artists.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all of the information — much of it seems to be authoritative but other critics have commented on inconsistent spelling and editing. For a borderline fan like me, whose interest is limited to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, one can only marvel at the obsessiveness that tries to chronicle, catalogue and categorise every aspect of Middle Earth. If only cross-referencing was included this would make the reader’s life much easier; as it is, one has to keep turning back to a very densely printed General Index to make the connections.
As for the text itself, this is no great work of literature: there is some attempt at epic writing — “to no avail”, “so it was at the final moment” and so on — but it seems all very clumsy and a poor imitation of Tolkien’s already flowery mock-medieval language.
For me it’s the illustrations that make the book even though their quality is variable: of the principal illustrators Ivan Allen, Rachel Chilton, Lidia Postma and Sally Davies are outstanding, while Andrew Mockett is a mere doodler and I can take or leave (mostly leave) the rest. There are line drawings, maps, timelines and paintings in styles ranging from faintly medieval to Impressionist, from pen-and-ink wash through woodcut to oils. If not for these I would imagine there are better researched and presented Middle Earth reference books.