Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull are among the most authoritative of scholars researching the literary creations of J.R.R. Tolkien. In The Lord Of The Rings: A Reader's Companion, they have surpassed even their previous masterpiece: J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. (As a matter of full disclosure I should mention that I met Christina Scull some years ago in London, and I have maintained a friendship with her and her husband Wayne G.Hammond ever since. Three articles I wrote for the Mensa Tolkien Special Interest Group's newsletter "Beyond Bree" have been referenced in A Reader's Companion, and I am also among those Wayne and Christina thank in their Preface. Even without these connections I would still be highly impressed with this work!)
This Reader's Companion consists of annotations to The Lord of the Rings. The length of Tolkien's masterwork, which is often mistakenly called a trilogy, made the normal method of including annotations alongside the text impossible, and so this separate volume has been produced. The annotations illuminate some interesting and sometimes obscure sections of the book and assist readers in interpreting Tolkien's rich but occasionally (to modern and American eyes) puzzling vocabulary. Tolkien readers and scholars will find it almost as fascinating as the book itself and many will probably read it straight through not once, but many times.
In addition to the annotations, A Reader's Companion also contains a wealth of material, including Wayne and Christina's own history of the writing of The Lord of the Rings. This is in itself a fascinating description of the many forms the story took over the years from 1937 to the early 1950s, and the many vicissitudes Tolkien endured as he "niggled" away at the writing and rewriting each chapter required. Besides this history the authors have included several fascinating discussions of chronologies, maps, and other matters like dust jackets which might with a lesser author be deemed unworthy of notice, but which in Tolkien's case illuminate the painstaking care he took with every detail. Also included is a portion of a previously unpublished letter in which Tolkien describes The Lord of the Rings as a part of his larger literary/mythological work, and the Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings which Tolkien created to assist translators, and which has been published (incompletely) only once before.
As befits such a fine work of scholarship, A Reader's Companion is beautifully bound with a dust jacket which makes use of Tolkien's own designs. Although the book with its index runs nearly 900 pages, it is comfortable and pleasant to hold. The typeface, though it can be small at times, is clear. The page references are easy to interpret and can be applied to whichever of the many editions of The Lord of the Rings the reader may possess.
It seems likely that at least some future editions of The Lord of the Rings will include A Reader's Companion. First time readers will probably prefer not to read the annotations until they have become more familiar with the text. Once they have been swept up in the story they will find A Reader's Companion enhances their experience. Those of us fortunate enough to have read The Lord of the Rings not just once but many times will immediately recognize A Reader's Companion's value and will cherish it as well.