The Complete Guide to Middle-earth

From Tolkien Gateway
The Complete Guide to Middle-earth
Complete Guide us 1974.jpeg
AuthorRobert Foster
IllustratorTed Nasmith (2003 UK edition)
PublisherBallantine Books (US)
George Allen & Unwin (UK)
ReleasedMarch 1978 (US)
1978 (UK)
FormatHardcover; paperback; deluxe edition

The Complete Guide to Middle-earth is a reference book for J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional universe Middle-earth, compiled and edited by Robert Foster.

It was first published in 1971 under the title A Guide to Middle-earth. In 1978 it was revised and enlarged, changing its title to the one currently using. It received a third edition in 2001.

The book is widely recognized as an excellent reference book on Middle-earth.[1][2] Christopher Tolkien has commended it himself as an "admirable work of reference".[3]

A new edition was released on 1st September 2022, by HarperCollins.

Book structure[edit | edit source]

A standard entry in the book consists of: 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 name of the Tengwar. 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.

Differences between editions[edit | edit source]

US editions[4][edit | edit source]

1971A Guide to Middle-earth, published by Mirage Press. This edition contained only information from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as it was before the publication of The Silmarillion. It was also included in a four-volume boxed set: J.R.R. Tolkien: the Man and His Myth.

1978The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, published by Ballantine Books. This is the revised and expanded edition, incorporating content from The Silmarillion (1977). The book length is almost doubled, extending the number of entries from 2276 to 3257. However, as it does not include information on post-Silmarillion material (i.e. Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth), this edition contains some statements contradicted by later publications.

2001 — further revised, including "further entries and information based on Christopher Tolkien's efforts".[5] Published by Ballantine Books.

UK editions[edit | edit source]

1978 & 1993 — first by George Allen & Unwin then by HarperCollins, the text is based on the 1978 Ballantine edition. By the time of 1993 the editions of Tolkien’s works to which the references are keyed were long out of print.

2003 — by HarperCollins. This edition is richly illustrated by Ted Nasmith, with front cover and 50 interior illustrations. It includes an 8-page commentary on the illustrations, written by the artist. It has been well-received for its illustrations, paper, and binding. However, as pointed out by Christina Scull,[6] the book suffers from several issues: the relegation of all references formerly in the entries to an appendix, and an unfortunate inconsistency in italicization, which makes cross-referencing difficult.

2022 — a new edition was released in 1 September, 2022, by HarperCollins. This edition includes several more of Ted Nasmith's illustrations, and has received some small revisions. It also comes with a deluxe version.[7]

Accuracy[edit | edit source]

Since no edition of the book includes info on post-Silmarillion material (i.e. Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth series), in points it could be 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 because "they may live still". While this can be true for Gandalf and the Elves, this is also implied for Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and Gimli. This may contradict Tolkien's concept that the Undying Lands do not grant immortality.[8][9]
  • 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.
  • 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.[11]
  • 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)"[13]

Publication gallery[edit | edit source]

US Editions
1971 hardcover  
1974 paperback  
1978 hardcover  
1979 paperback  
1979 paperback 5th impression  
2001 paperback  
2003 hardcover  
2001 paperback
?th impression  
UK Editions
1978 hardcover  
1978 paperback  
1978 paperback
?th impression  
1993 paperback  
2003 hardcover  
2022 hardcover  
2022 hardcover deluxe edition  

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, "Preface", p. xii
  2. Michael Drout, J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Introduction"
  4. Edgecomb, Kevin P. (2022) "A Publication History of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster," Journal of Tolkien Research: Vol. 14: Iss. 1, Article 2. Available at: (Accessed 19 July 2022)
  5. Nelson, Charles W. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 13, no. 2 (50), 2002, pp. 190–92. JSTOR, (Accessed 19 July 2022)
  6. Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography
  7. "The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: The Definitive Guide to the World of J.R.R. Tolkien (Hardback)", Waterstones (accessed 16 October 2022)
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 154, (dated 25 September 1954)
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 246, (dated September 1963)
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", Footnote 33, p. 284
  11. See here and the discussion here
  12. Hiswelókë, "Mont Dolmed & cités naines"
  13. 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)
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
Of Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not of Arda Short stories
and poems
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · The Adventures of Tom Bombadil ·
Letters from Father Christmas · Mr. Bliss · Roverandom ·
Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Less known academic works A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse · The Old English Exodus
Letters The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Books by other authors
Biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Reference works The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide
Scholarly studies The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection of works, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline.