Lin Carter, Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings (Ballantine, 1969)
[originally posted 14Aug2000]
Forget the title. Carter’s book has about as much to do with Lord of the Rings as Silence of the Lambs actually has to do with lambs. They get mentioned now and again, but are really quite unnecessary to what’s going on.
Carter’s interesting little tome is actually more of an encapsulated history of fantasy literature up to the time of Tolkien—the sources from which Tolkien got his ideas. LOTR serves as a convenient linchpin and a good jumping-off point, but Carter is truly in his own when he’s discussing the Elder Edda or the epics of Homer and his contemporaries, and tracing how the stories got from the ancient texts into Tolkien’s hands. It leaves behind a wealth of wonderful reading material for the interested fantasy reader to track down (assuming most of it can be found; Carter laments that many of the works of which he speaks have been lost to the ages), and this is its chief strength. As for weaknesses, Carter spends too much time summing up LOTR when he could be telling us about Egyptian legends, and he makes a number of guesses about things in LOTR, since The Silmarillion hadn’t been published yet (and for all its annoyances, The Silmarillion did answer a whole lot of questions about the First Age), but it’s impossible to count that against Carter and still remain fair. I’d just liked to have seen more of the old stuff, and less of the new. ***