Arda Reconstructed by Douglas Kane; A Review

This book is a detailed examination of the construction of the published Silmarillion.  In it Mr Kane tracks the work we all know to its sources as they have been revealed in the History of Middle-earth series, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, and sometimes almost word for word.  Mr Kane’s legal background shines through in his utter precision and his delight in the smallest relevant detail.  That may all sound like an exceedingly dry exercise, yet this book is anything but dusty.  It is never less than readable whilst presenting information which is often complex with commendable clarity.   

This is a book which has much to offer to readers of several sorts.  For anyone wanting to read into the background to the relatively familiar Silmarillion, ‘Arda Reconstructed’ gives them a way to begin exploring the vast History of Middle-earth series, which can often seem dauntingly confusing.  For the more serious scholar, ‘Arda Reconstructed’ is invaluable, as it gives us a sure guide to what is authorial and what is editorial in the 1979 Silmarillion.  It provides the basis of an understanding of the contribution of the editors to the work we read, which must be a welcome replacement for the uninformed rumours that have so often circulated.  It also makes possible critical evaluation of the choices made by the editors, particularly necessary with a posthumous work such as ‘The Silmarillion’.  For the very first time, Mr Kane has revealed the sheer magnitude of the task undertaken by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Kay in editing a viable single-volume ‘Silmarillion’.  It takes detail of the level which this guide provides to allow real appreciation of their achievement.  Mr Kane’s work also throws up intriguing questions worthy of answer by themselves; some may lie buried somewhere in the HoMe series but are far clearer here, while others may be asked for the first time in this book.

It would be quite possible to use ‘Arda Reconstructed’ to create an ‘Annotated Silmarillion’ after the pattern of Douglas A. Anderson’s very useful ‘Annotated Hobbit’.  Given what modern publishing technology can achieve when used by someone with vision, this reviewer hopes she can be forgiven for dreaming of something along the lines of the great medieval illuminated and illustrated lawbooks, a work whose beauty would be an integral part of its usefulness.  And if it were ever desired to create a second edition of The Silmarillion, Mr Kane’s ‘Arda Reconstructed’ would be just what was needed.

That scholarly usefulness is however, I believe, only part of what this book has to offer.  This painstakingly detailed and accurate study is also potentially of the greatest use to those engaging creatively with Tolkien’s work.  ‘Arda Reconstructed’s ability to point to more expansive versions in the HoMe series is ideal for anyone wanting or needing more information than the often spare Silmarillion gives, such as the artist or illustrator trying to visualise a subject.  

‘Arda Reconstructed’ would be of surprisingly great use to many people, and it is regrettable that like so many US publications, it is decidedly expensive on this side of the Atlantic. I cheerfully admit that I wrote this review after having read a Canadian friend’s copy with delight, and that I am saving wistfully for my own.  It will be well worth having when I get there.

Elizabeth Currie.