Friday, November 10, 2017

Flora of Middle-Earth (Oxford University Press)

Any fan of  J.R.R.Tolkien knows that the man was a genius, and I think even that term does not do him justice. In addition to creating a whole world (Middle-earth), he also created a language, and comprehensive (yet sadly unfinished) history of this world. What people (myself included) might not know about Tolkien is that he loved plants. He even wrote in one of his letters, "I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals." Reading this statement and just merely thinking about some of the passages of Lord of the Rings, it is clear to see all the plant life or flora in his works. There's Kingsfoil, pipe-weed, the white trees of Gondor, and of course who could forget Treebeard and the other Ents? In a recently published book, Flora of Middle Earth, father-son duo Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd set out explore and explain this interesting subject. The book is approximately 400 pages long and is divided into the following chapters:

1. Introduction: The Importance of Plants in J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium
2. Plant Communities of Middle-earth
3. The Diversity of Life, with a Focus on the Green Plants
4. Introduction to Plant Morphology: Learning the Language of Plant Descriptions
5. Identification of the Plants of Middle-earth
6. Telperion and Laurelin: The Two Trees of Valinor
7. The Plants of Middle Earth
8. A Note from the Illustrator

The opening chapters provide a brief lesson on the different climate zones in Middle-earth, what exactly is a plant, what are the parts of a plant, and a key to identifying the plants of Middle-earth. This is a lot of science and botany and might bog the average reader down if they don't share as great a love for plants as the authors and Tolkien. Chapter Six is a brief but amazingly interesting chapter to read as the Two Trees of Valinor are central to the mythology of Middle-earth. They are the origin of the Sun, the Moon, great Elvish wisdom, and the white trees of Gondor. Sadly, they were destroyed by Morgoth and Ungoliant. The meat (or I guess in tree terminology, sapwood) of this book is Chapter Seven. Within this massive chapter are roughly 100 different types of plants from Middle-earth, including unidentified plants, which are plants that are merely named in in the Legendarium but little or no other information is known about them. Each identified plant is given its own subsection in the chapter and contains the following information about each plant: an excerpt from Tolkien's works, etymology, distribution and ecology, economic uses, and description. Some plants have figures/illustrations associated with each, but not all of them.

This was a truly fascinating work to read. It opened my eyes to a love of Tolkien's that I didn't even know existed within him. This is also a very dense work to read as well. Unless you truly love plants, you are not going to breeze their every page and find yourself bogged down with facts and details sometimes. What I loved best about this book is some of the sections that blew my mind on their significance in Middle-earth, and I immediately went back and read them. This is a book I see myself visiting each time I read Tolkien, so that I can better understand a botanical layer of his work that until now I didn't even know was present!

This book was provided to me for free by Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review.

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