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  • The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion
  • David Bratman (bio)
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull . London: HarperCollins, 2005. lxxxii, 894 pp. £18.99 (hardcover) ISBN 000720308X; £7.99 (mass market paperback) ISBN 000720907X. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. lxxxii, 894 pp., $30 (hardcover) ISBN 0618642676.

Since at least 1960, when Martin Gardner published The Annotated Alice, textual scholars have been preparing annotated editions of major literary works. Tolkien has not been immune: Douglas A. Anderson's The Annotated Hobbit has become the standard text, and Hammond and Scull's scholarly editions of both Farmer Giles of Ham and Roverandom contain explanatory endnotes that function as textual annotations.

Now it is the turn of The Lord of the Rings, for the Reader's Companion may be simply described as an Annotated Lord of the Rings that for reasons of space omits the text of the work being discussed.

This omission immediately raises the problem of keying the annotations to the text. Each entry gives boldface keywords, plus page references to two standard HarperCollins/Houghton Mifflin paginations of The Lord of the Rings: the one-volume pagination created for the 50th anniversary edition in 2004, and the old pagination descending from the original Allen and Unwin edition of 1954-55. For the ease of readers without either of those editions, the opening words of each cited paragraph are also given, indented before the first entry taken from that paragraph. Marking these further in some way might have marginally increased clarity, but actual use of the Companion with other editions of The Lord of the Rings shows this system workable.

The vital ingredients of a successful annotated edition are a literary work densely packed with words and short passages worthy of specific relevant commentary, and a scholar with the dedication and the abilities [End Page 182] as a polymath to do justice to these points. As an annotated Lord of the Rings, the Reader's Companion passes both these tests admirably. At nine hundred pages of small type, it approaches in length the text it comments on. (The photo-reduced HarperCollins softcover edition has the same pagination as the hardcover.) Annotations are thickly strewn: five-sixths of the pages of the 50th anniversary edition have at least one entry, and several pages, especially in the Prologue, have as many as a dozen. Entries range in length from brief glosses of unusual words to a five-page essay on the background and significance of Galadriel (314-319), by itself a major essay on the subject. Most entries are specifically related to the quoted passages, with a few digressions into more general points, for instance in some entries regarding the character of Sam. The first mention of a character or concept is often the prompt for a long entry on its general nature, but even then the entry tends to discuss the meaning of the name and how Tolkien developed the character, not his literary function in the plot. This does create a large block of detail in the entries for the Prologue and opening chapters, which are the most heavily annotated. (The annotations for Chapter One are 23 pages long, but some later chapters are disposed of in 2-4 pages.) But Hammond and Scull mitigate this by some skillful division of material: thus, the word orc is discussed where the word first appears in the Prologue (24-26), while the nature and fate of Orcs is left for their first clear on-stage appearance in Book III (375-377). General discussion of Bombadil is divided among four notes in two chapters, covering his exterior origin including the full text of the original 1934 publication of the poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" (124-128), Tom Shippey's observations on his character (129-130), Tolkien's own comments on his meaning (132-134), and his place in the sub-creation (139).

The types of notes in an annotated edition should depend on the character of the work annotated. The Lord of the Rings is, for instance, not as rich in literarily allusive phrases as the Alice books are, though it...


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