Two of the foremost Tolkien scholars, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have managed to produce in this volume one of the most essential books in any Tolkien library. A READER'S COMPANION carefully annotates, line by line, chapter by chapter, Tolkien's great masterpiece.
When the revised version of THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT came out in 2002 with Douglas A. Anderson's annotations, I was thrilled, as the original from 1988 was out of print. The way they handled THE HOBBIT was a large, oversized hardback, with the main text printed on wide sheets but only taking up the half closet to the binding, with the annotations on the outer edges of the sheets. The book is beautiful to hold, and it was very enlightening during rereadings of THE HOBBIT. It also noted all revisions, and gave original readings, including the original version of "Riddles in the Dark" chapter, which has been out of print for over fifty years. The natural question, of course, was when would LOTR get similar treatment? After all, LOTR had been in print for over fifty years, and such a publication has been long overdue.
Although the method described above worked well with THE HOBBIT, it proved unfeasible for LOTR. For one, LOTR is a much, much longer book than its prequel. So Hammond and his wife opted for a separate volume, and what a volume it is.
Due to the size of LOTR, the way READER'S COMPANION is broken up to cover each chapter in the book. Each annotation is proceeded by the first few words of whatever paragraph the two scholars are analysing at that point. This makes A READER'S COMPANION very easy to use, and to locate in your copy of LOTR the passage in which they are discussing.
As with THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT, there have been a very concentrated effort on the part of the Tolkien Estate to publish the more accurate version of LOTR as possible. Scull and Hammond, along with Christopher Tolkien, spearheaded this enterprise. READER'S COMPANION gives extensive details on how Hammond and Scull, with cooperation from C. Tolkien, set about making the definitive text on LOTR in 2004 and 2005 for the fifthieth anniversary edition. All future subsequent editions will be based on this edition, and is considered the most accurate text now available of Tolkien's work LOTR.
The book annotates all major changes made to LOTR's text in its fifty years of publication. It gives extensive details on how Hammond and Scull, with cooperation with Christopher Tolkien, set about making the definitive text on LOTR in 2004 and 2005 for the fifthieth anniversary edition. All future subsequent editions will be based on this edition, and is considered the most accurate text now available of Tolkien's work LOTR. It examines rare and archaic words and gives information on Elvish linguistics. Hammond and Scull deftly analyse different plot elements, elaborate and clarify obscure points in the text, and bring to light both real inconsistencies within LOTR and perceived contradictions. Tolkien very carefully organized and created precise chronologies and time tables, including the cycles of the moon, and every time the text mentions a new day had arrived, or said something of the moon, the book tells you the precise day this event is occurring.
The companion gives extensive information on time frames and maps. It covers and annotates the forward to the second edition as well as the prologue. There is information about the original 1955 dust jacks, how the title pages were handled, and a number of other publishing matters.
As far as rare and otherwise unpublished original material by Tolkien, A READER'S COMPANION is notable for its inclusion of three pieces.
1. It contains the original forward to LOTR, which was published in the first edition in 1955 and was deleted in 1965 by Tolkien himself, who replaced it with a much longer forward. Tolkien said of the original forward that it confused "personal matters with the machinery of the Tale" and was a "serious mistake". Tolkien was only too happy to delete it. Still, it makes for interesting reading.
2. The second highlight is the previously unpublished summary of LOTR that Tolkien wrote in his letter to Milton Waldman in 1951. This letter was first published in LETTERS OF TOLKIEN, and likewise appears in new editions of THE SILMARILLION. However, the LOTR summary was omitted from these publications, and is published here for the first time.
3. Thankfully, A READER'S COMPANION includes Tolkien's essential, and rarely published before now, "Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings." Previously published n 1975 in Jared Lobell's A TOLKIEN COMPASS, Tolkien prepared this document for his publishers, Allen & Unwin, to send to any translators who were translating LOTR into another language. As LOTR is largely a linguistic work in both foundation and inspiration, this gives a lot of insight into Tolkien and how he felt his work should (as well as emphatically should not) be translated, and what Tolkien considers fair treatment of the material. Essential stuff.
Ultimately, A READER'S COMPANION succeeds in being one of the essential reference works for Tolkien studies and fans. The dust jacket is beautiful, the binding (sewn!) is top notch, and, as any reference work must, you can easily locate any passage or annotation you are looking for. All the annotations are pertinent and enlightening, all textual changes and revisions to the text are accounted for, and with the previously unpublished or rare Tolkien material included, Hammond and Scull have produced the single best resource now available to us on Tolkien's masterpiece. They have proven themselves as two of the foremost Tolkien scholars in the world.
For those looking for additional resources to Tolkien's hobbit cycle, the best way to study them is to have THE ANNOTATED HOBBIT revised and republished in 2002 (the definitive version of that work), buy the fully corrected 50th anniversary text of LOTR, which is the most accurate typographical version ever published, and buy this volume.
Bottom line: If you are a casual fan or very much into Tolkien, buy this book. You will not be disappointed.