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Understanding Middle-Earth: Essays on Tolkien's Middle-Earth Paperback – November 17, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"All of the major and much of the minor that comprises Middle-Earth is covered with meticulous attention to detail." -- SF Site, March 2005

"UNDERSTANDING MIDDLE EARTH is just plain fun for the hard-core Tolkien enthusiast, and it gives plenty to chew on!" -- YetAnotherBookReview.com, November 2004

About the Author

Michael Martinez has been active in science fiction and fantasy fandom for many years. He organized the first Hercules and Xena fan programming track for Dragoncon, North America's largest fan-run science fiction convention, in 1998. In 2000, he moved on to organize Dragoncon's Tolkien and Middle-Earth fan programming track. As a widely recognized expert on Tolkien's Middle-Earth mythology, Martinez has been called upon by companies around the world to share his insight for their special Tolkien projects. His research has appeared in numerous Tolkien journals, and he launched the long-running and popular Tolkien and Middle-Earth topic for the Suite101 website in late 1999.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Vivisphere Publishing (November 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587761459
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587761454
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,602,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Understanding Middle-Earth is a nice accompliment to Tolkien's (JRR's and Christopher's) large array of literary works. The author breaks down thought provoking areas from the books into chapters and takes a look at characters and stories only sometimes touched on in LOTR. This doesn't mean the read is boring or only for those interested in elvish syntax, the author makes the reading easy to understand and doesn't mind having fun - see the last chapter!
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This is a sequel or companion volume to Michael Martinez's Visualizing Middle-earth. Like its predecessor, the essays in Understanding Middle-earth were originally published in a variety of online fora back in the early 2000s. They are not "scholarly" works by any means: they contain no footnotes and there is no bibliography beyond an annotated list of Tolkien's published works ca 2003.

By no means should the essays in Understanding Middle-earth be dismissed as mere fan fluff. Martinez has read and studied JRR Tolkien's works for many years, and his meditations or musings on their characters, histories, and landscapes are insightful and thoughtful. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on Arwen's hidden influence on the story of the War of the Ring and his several chapters on Numenorean history. This should make it plain that these essays are not for those who are seeking an introduction to Middle-earth without having read Tolkien's own works. Rather, they are for those of us who would like to have accompanied Frodo all the way to Mordor, or who daydream of the spires of Minas Tirith and the trees of Caras Galadhon, and who would stand firm beside Aragorn as the battle raged before the Gates of Mordor.
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It is unbelievable what people say when they set out to bash an author and his book. So, I am supposed to be a close friend of Michael Martinez just because I like his book? What nonsense!
The truth is that I have read this book from cover to cover. More than once. I love it. There are absolutely no false claims in it whatsoever. To suggest that anything Michael Martinez has written in this book is misleading is simply outrageous. Take the Penthesilea example mentioned in a previous review.
She comes towards the end of a very long essay, "The Other Way Round", in which Martinez carefully examines many sources and influences on Tolkien. Penthesilea comes from "The Fall of Troy" by Quintus of Smyrna. "Fall of Troy". Does that sound familiar? It should. It sounds very much like "The Fall of Gondolin". But there are more than just similarities between the names of these works.
If Martinez's sin is failing to mention that Eowyn's history is not based on Penthesilea's history, then the critic is at fault, not the author. This essay attributes only a few resemblances to Eowyn. And the tragic way Prince Imrahil finds her on the battlefield is compared to how Achilles beholds Penthesilea after he sees that she is a woman. But Martinez compares similarities between Eowyn and other female characters. And he starts out the Penthesilea discussion by saying "though Tolkien had no Anglo-Saxon models for Eowyn, he would have found one in Quintus' 'The Fall of Troy'".
"Would have found" does not mean "did find" or "only found" or "must have found". Who is misleading whom I say?
Martinez cites Tolkien letters and many other sources in this fantastic essay.
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Michael Martinez does it again! His first book, "Visualizing Middle Earth", brought many aspects of Tolkien's Middle Earth alive for me but "Understanding Middle Earth" goes even further. Michael's friendly conversational style of writing was easy for me to understand and assimilate. His witty and clever essays answered many complicated questions that I, as a Tolkien fan, had agonized over. Michael`s writing reflects his vast knowledge of not only Tolkien's published works but also his notes and unfinished stories later published by Christopher Tolkien in the History of Middle Earth series. I found Michael's writing to be neither dry nor boring. If anything, this author has made studying Tolkien even more fun! This is a great book for the serious and as well as the not so serious Tolkien fan.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book based on the apparent "love it or hate it" theme that crops up in the other reviews. What I found, as a long time Tolkien reader, was a competant work that emphasised some lesser known influences on Tolkien. It is an engaging enough read to be recommended for that reason alone. Middle-Earth is such a vast subject, that for the serious, I think this is a worthwhile addition to your bookshelves, but it is just one of many works that we will collect!
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Over all a thoughtful, and interesting read. Some of the essays are very good, others are..ok. Some interesting points and angles explored. Would love to ask Martinez some of my own Middle Earth questions!
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I can't believe anyone would say there is misleading information in this book. THERE IS NOTHING MISLEADING ABOUT IT. NOTHING. It takes a lot of integrity for someone like Michael Martinez to keep writing about Tolkien the way readers deserve to see this kind of work. He is honest, direct, and to the point. That just offends some people.
For example, where did Michael claim to have "delved into unpublished material"? That is ridiculous! Michael refers to "previously unpublished" essays and stories throughout Understanding Middle-earth, but he doesn't claim to have any secret knowledge no one else possesses.
As for the Greek and Roman influences on Tolkien, I have read many of the books and articles on Tolkien, and there is virtually no mention of the story of Penthesilea and its connections to Eowyn. Nor do Shippey, Carpenter, et. al. have much of anything to say at all about Tolkien's love of the aesthetic he found in Greek language and mythology. Martinez sets aside all the traditional hype about Tolkien being an Anglo-Saxon professor and he looks at Tolkien's other material.
The humor in the book is special. After a long session of reading essays on Numenor, Gil-Galad, Legolas, it is a nice break to see how Frodo and the Baggins family could be Mafioso. And the final essay, Snoopy versus the Lord of the Nazgul, is a great tribute to both Tolkien and Charles Shultz.
Understanding Middle-earth will sure take a beating from those who don't want you to read it. They tried to drag down Visualizing Middle-earth with their negative reviews too. All I can say is, most people will love this great book. It is filled with the kind of information we Tolkien fans hunger for.
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