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Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings Paperback – September 5, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mike Perry is a writer living in Seattle. He first read The Lord of the Rings while riding across the Sinai desert bouncing around in the back of a Bedouin truck. He now rereads it to beat the boredom of Seattle's gray and rainy winters.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From the Preface:

J. R. R. Tolkien’s great tale, The Lord of the Rings, is wonderfully complex. Within its pages, readers meet a marvelous array of creatures from little Hobbits to giant Ents. Its narrative sweeps across a territory roughly the size of western Europe and draws on events spanning thousands of years. But for most readers, however enthralled, making sense of it all is not easy. Fortunately, there are encyclopedias to help us understand the people and places, as well as an atlas to sort out the geography. This book will do the same for the chronology and should become a ‘must have’ for all serious Tolkien fans.

No one, however, should see this book as a substitute for The Lord of the Rings. It most emphatically is not. If you are reading this and haven’t yet read Tolkien’s great epic, stop and read no further. Read his book at least once from cover to cover before you even look at this book. Enjoy one of the best-written and most widely popular books of modern times and leave details such as the chronology for later. The first rule in reading is always "Enjoy!"

Only after you find yourself wanting to know more about the intricacies of this complicated tale, should you use this book in tandem with other reference books. Remember that the description of events given here is deliberately terse. It is in no way a substitute for Tolkien’s much more engrossing narrative. It intended to give you a concise description of what happened on a particular date, along with chapter references to the places where those events described in books such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Without at least the first two books (and preferably all four), this book is of little value.

Readers would also do well to heed the advice of Gandalf when he rebuked Saruman, warning that "he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." Do not focus overmuch on the minutia and forget the wonder of the story as a whole. Use this book as a tool to better understand all that Tolkien is saying.

Like most reference works, you can use this book several ways. The most obvious is as a chronology, letting you go from a date to what happened on that day. This is particularly important if, for instance, you want to know what Merry and Pippin were doing when Frodo and Sam entered Mordor. As careful as Professor Tolkien was about the time line of events that lay behind his story, he rarely gives us an actual date. Events are typically described as the third day after some event or the fifth day of a journey whose start date may not even be given. Here you will find the actual day in the Shire calendar when almost everything happens. Try doing that yourself, and you’ll discover the work that went into this book.

You can also use this book to go from an event to both a date and a reference to where that event is described by Tolkien. In many cases you will find that the sidebar reference is not to one passage but to several. Tolkien liked to spread his story around. Details about an particular event are often given hundreds of pages apart and even in different volumes. With this chronology, you’ll be able to put everything together, perhaps for the first time.

In addition, many time-related details have been added to increase the book’s value. When Sauron darkens the sky, the days of darkness are numbered. When Rohan races to Minas Tirith, the days of their ride are counted. When someone enters the story, his age is given. When one event is closely linked to another weeks or even months later, a reference to that other date is given. A computer-generated calendar of the times when the sun and moon set and rise was consulted and included when useful. The same is true of phases of the moon, which play a critical role in parts of this story, particularly the night journeys.

Finally, because Tolkien placed so much stress on the realism and historicity of his tale, the plausibly of his narrative is repeatedly tested. "If Middle-earth really existed," the book asks, "could what he described have actually happened?" Put another way, "Where there are problems, can a reasonable answer be found?" Tolkien often did that, treating difficulties as if they were discrepancies in ancient historical records.

With this book, I release the fruits of my labor to the world, quite aware that, as the pioneering study, it has at least its share of imperfections. Anyone who thinks they have found a mistake is encouraged to contact me through the Internet web site referenced on the copyright page. Anyone with the proper expertise who would like to see editions brought out in other languages should contact me also.

Finally, there is only one reason why a book like this is possible. Tolkien spent untold hours getting the chronology of his tale just right, making charts and calendars describing where each person was on each day. In my writing, I had none of that to consult. Instead, the chronology was recreated, one detail at a time, from the story on which it is based. In the end, I was left awed the wealth of detail that underlies the narrative and is unseen by most readers. Tolkien’s account isn’t perfect and there are a few discrepancies that I discuss. But few books this long could survive this level of scrutiny and come out as well. For that, each of us should be grateful.

Michael W. Perry, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. On J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Eleventy-First’ Birthday Friday, January 3, 2003


Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Inkling Books (September 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587420198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587420191
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,285,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The writings of Michael W. Perry are many and varied. They range from an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's children's stories (Stories for Girls) to a scholarly 447-page look at the causes of World War II (Chesterton on War and Peace). He is the author of Untangling Tolkien, the only book-length, day-by-day chronology of The Lord of the Rings, and has contributed to encyclopedias on the writings of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R Tolkien, as well as the scandals of U.S. presidents (Presidential Scandals). His books have been translated into Polish (Klucz Do Tolkena) and Italian (Eugenetica e altri malanni).

Most recently, he's taking a look back at the experiences that shaped his life. Three books in the 'hospital series' look at what it was like to care for children with cancer (Nights with Leukemia) and teenagers (Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments), as well as a telling criticism of the legally sanctioned medical mistreatment given to an unfortunate teen-aged girl (Caria, The Girl Who Couldn't Say No).

That'll be followed by a series on politically driven hatred in America. The first in the series, tentatively named To Kill a Mockingbird Revisited, will describe what it was like to grow up in the South in the last days of segregation. The author grew up one-generation removed and some forty miles from the town described in Harper Lee's popular novel.

Partial Bibliography

* Assistant editor and major contributor: The C. S. Lewis Readers Encyclopedia (Zondervan, 1998), winner of the 1999 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Book Award as the best biography/autobiography.

* Major contributor: Presidential Scandals (CQ Press, 1999).

* Editor of a research edition of G. K. Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils (2000) that was praised in by bestselling author Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), who said that: "The editor of this editor of this edition has included may quotations from eugenicists of the 1920s, who read astonishingly like toe words of contemporary prophets of doom."

* Author of Untangling Tolkien (2003), a detailed chronology of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and a must-have reference work for Tolkien fans.

* Contributor: J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia by Michael D. C. Drout. (Routledge, 2006)

* Editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II. Winner of the American Chesterton Society "Outline of Sanity" award for 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ed8r on October 30, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An amazing accomplishment by a dedicated Tolkien fan.

That is how I'd sum up the book Untanging Tolkien. Michael Perry has first unraveled all Tolkien's "dates" -- which can be extrapolated from phases of the moon -- and then knit them together again in a cohesive outline, presented in much greater detail than Tolkien's own timeline (found buried in Appendix A of LOTR). By incorporating information from other Tolkien writings, the author of Untangling Tolkien collates additional facts about all the characters and the circumstances surrounding the War of the Ring, folding them all into this detailed chronology. He includes material that sheds light on possible parallels between Tolkien's work and events that were contemporary, and he provides original commentary that suggests some additional motivations for Tolkien's characters. Sidebars offer references to every source for the information presented and for each conclusion the author has drawn.

I found the format, with quick-reference bulleted lists and clearly delineated sections and subheadings, well-organized and easy to use.

NOTE: I read the third printing that was published in May 2004. Apparently the author has corrected many of the errors that David Bratman objected to (below). You won't find a better overview or a more throrough treatment of time and dates in LOTR than Perry provides in this book.
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65 of 80 people found the following review helpful By David Bratman on December 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
A year-by-year, later day-by-day, chronicle of the war against Sauron from the founding of the Shire to the glorious conclusion seems at the outset like a good idea. Perry calls LOTR's Appendix B, the Tale of Years, "far from complete" but it covers the whole period: what he means is that it's not detailed enough for him. Appendix B won't tell you which day Sam cooked coney for Frodo; Perry will.
But alas, the book does not stop there. The entries are written as bullet lists like a PowerPoint presentation, and many add pointless little flowcharts such as two-generation family trees. They reduce Tolkien's magnificently complex subcreation into a giant mass of undifferentiated trivia. And each yearly or daily entry comes with its commentary, whether directly relevant, side points, broader considerations, or dogmatic essays in applicability. The unrelieved banality and inappropriateness of these must be read to be believed; as also the author's clumsy, grammatically inept style, and his smug superiority to the characters. (He frequently criticizes the good guys' "blunders," all of them more complex than he implies.)
There's actually some good chronological analysis and speculation hiding in here. But how can someone who knows his Tolkien that well say that the wizards were Valar, or that Rohan gave Isengard to Saruman (it wasn't theirs to give, and Saruman was made its warden, not a freeholder), that Boromir and Faramir had a sibling rivalry (Tolkien specifically says not), or suggest that Galadriel should have sent daily eagles to check up on the Fellowship?
These are not isolated examples: the bloopers and misconceived ideas go on and on. The whole book is like that: it has the soul of a PowerPoint presentation. I can't recommend it on any terms.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is layed out as a chronological record of the events covered by Tolkein's masterpiece with prefaces that explain the calender system created by Tolkein and its conversion to our more mundane (and possibly inferior) system. The type is clear, and margin citations clear and present for every entry. It's primary utility, at which it succeeds admirably, is as a kind of radiograph of Tolkein's work that reveals its astonishing complexity more clearly and allows one to admire, and more importantly, explore the book itself more quickly, easily, and deeply.
The book also contains copious notes inline with the chronology. These vary from informative to tangential, but at worst do not detract from the book's primary function. Mr. Perry is perhaps foremost as Lewis scholar, and so C.S. Lewis, a close acquaintance and friend of Tolkein, makes a number of appearances. Also making appearances in the notes are William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill.
All in all, a unique book which will save anyone who wants to do an in depth study of LotR a lot of time.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Erasmus on December 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
Superb, exhaustive chronology of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga. Perry does a superior job in untangling a number of thorny chronological issues in Tolkien's narrative, and he employs some fine literary detective work in reconstructing what events are happening across Middle Earth on any given date. Especially admirable is his reconstruction of how much moonlight there was during each day of Frodo and Sam's journey into Mordor.
In addition to chronology, Perry supplies a lot of background information about Tolkien's themes and sources, as well as biographical tidbits about Tolkien. For example, there are fascinating discussions of Tolkien's views of technology, freedom, and totalitarianism. Perry also discusses Tolkien's stance toward the misuse of Germanic myths by the Nazis.
This is a great resource for Tolkien-lovers everywhere.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Thomas G. Romano on December 10, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Perry has done a wonderful job in untangling the very intricate tale woven by J.R.R. Tolkien. Of particular help are the copious margin notes which reference exactly where Perry is drawing the information contained within that section of his book. The commentary made by the author is a welcomed pause for reflection on the events that are taking place and keep the book from being a mere listing of dates and events. I teach a course on J.R.R. Tolkien and have found Untangling Tolkien a valuable resource, since it covers the entire history of Middle-earth: what comes before The Hobbit and what takes place after The Lord of The Rings. Bravo Mr. Perry, I look forward to reading your other books.
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