Tolkien Gateway

The Complete Guide to Middle-earth

The Complete Guide to Middle-earth
The Complete Guide to Middle-earth.jpg
AuthorRobert Foster
PublisherRandom House Publishing Group
ReleasedOriginally 1971
The Complete Guide to Middle-earth is a reference book for the fictional universe of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, compiled and edited by Robert Foster.

Originally published in 1971 as A Guide to Middle-Earth, before the publication of The Silmarillion, the first edition contained only information from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In 1978, the first edition was also included in the four-volume box set, J.R.R. Tolkien: the Man and His Myth. That same year, a new edition (The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: from The Hobbit to The Silmarillion), containing material from The Silmarillion, was published.

A revised edition was published in 2001, as one of many reprints intended to ride the commercial wave of The Lord of the Rings (film series).

In the Introduction to the Unfinished Tales (p. 6), Christopher Tolkien mentions that he has been using the Guide frequently, and commends it as "an admirable work of reference".


[edit] Editions

Detailed information on the early editions.[1]

  • 1971: A Guide to Middle-Earth. Baltimore, Md.: The Mirage Press. xiii, 284, [7] pp., geneal. tables. 22.5 × 14.5 cm. (The Voyager Series, V-105) (The Anthem Series, A-1009)
  • 1974: Paperback edition: New York: Ballantine Books. 283 pp., geneal. tables. 18 cm. ISBN 0-345-24138-X (pbk)
  • 1978: The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: from The Hobbit to The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine Books. xvi, 575 pp., geneal. tables. 18 cm. ISBN 0-345-27975-1 (pbk)
  • 1978: British edition: London: Unwin Paperbacks. xii, [i], 441, [8] pp. 19.5 × 13 cm. ISBN 0-04-803001-5 (pbk): £1.50; ISBN 0-04-803002-3 (hbk)

[edit] Structure

A typical entry of the encyclopedia contains: a name; the language it belongs to; its translation from Elvish, Adûnaic and sometimes Old English when known; and known dates when a character flourished; the first lines of the entry usually give a general definition of the topic, like race, heritage and role (in case of a character), leading to a chronological description or biography. The last paragraphs of the entry give a physical description or characteristics of the character with some speculations; the final paragraph gives the topic's alternative names, epithets, translation to other languages, and/or redirects to other entries.

The Guide is generally inclusive and there is no limitation to the topics it covers; it includes even obscure and little explored topics, like individual entries on each single Tengwar names. Many entries are simply epithets and only redirect to the names of their main entries.

The book begins with an introduction, an abbreviations legend and concludes with two appendices. The first appendix is a chronology of the First Age in order to complement the Tale of Years, and contains a prologue on Foster's reasoning and calculations based solely on descriptions in the Silmarillion; the second appendix is genealogical trees of the Three Houses of the Edain, the Kings of Númenor, the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, the House of Húrin and the Kings of Rohan.

[edit] Accuracy

No edition of the book includes info on post-Silmarillion material (i.e. Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth series) and therefore in points it is outdated or in error.

  • Introduction: It is explained that death dates of those who sailed to the West are not given in their characters' entries "for they live still". While this can be true for Gandalf and the Elves, this is also implied for Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and Gimli. This seems to contradict Tolkien's concept that the Undying Lands don't grant immortality[2][3].
  • Tar-Aldarion: Foster speculates that the tragic relations with his father and wife were because he left no male heirs. The later published text Aldarion and Erendis gives a detailed account on their relationship, mostly owing to Aldarion's obsession with the Sea.
  • Ambar: Foster relates the Elvish words ambar "world" and umbar "fate". In the entry of Ambar, he mentions it is a concept related to fate of the world. The manuscript Words Phrases and Passages later showed that while the two words are indeed related (through the root MBAR "settle"), they are distinct in meaning.

[edit] Possible Inaccuracies

  • Bladorthin: Foster supports the usual misunderstanding that Bladorthin's spears were not delivered because he died early; while the text mentions those events closely to imply that they are connected, it doesn't really mention his death as premature or as a reason for the failed delivery.[6]
  • Buckland: The date Fo.A. 42 is mentioned as the date when Buckland and the Westmarch were officially added to the Shire by the gift of King Elessar. There are two mistakes in this statement: 1. The date has been corrected as S.R. 1452 in later editions of the Lord of the Rings; 2. Tolkien did not mention that Buckland joined the Shire: in the Prologue a semi-colon is intended to show that the Westmarch was added, but not Buckland.[7]
  • Gollum: Foster mentions that Déagol was Sméagol's cousin while this is not mentioned in the texts. Tolkien went only as far as to suppose he was "evidently a relative (as no doubt all the members of the small community were)"[9]


  1. Bertenstam, Åke: A Chronological Bibliography of Books About Tolkien
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 154, (dated 25 September 1954)
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 246, (dated September 1963)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 113
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", Footnote 33, p. 284
  6. Andreas Möhn, "Who was the King Bladorthin?"
  7. See here and the discussion here
  8. Hiswelókë, "Mont Dolmed & cités naines"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 214, (undated, written late 1958 or early 1959)
  10. Wiktionary, "mearh"