This post is dedicated to a book review – the first-ever on this blog.
I was privileged enough to be approached by author Michael Muhling and asked to do a review of his new book on Tolkien’s inspiration for Middle-earth. I jumped at the opportunity and after having read the work, I can now share my thoughts on it here.
The Real Middle-earth: Discovering the Origin of The Lord of the Rings, by Michael Muhling is an in-depth analysis into the history and central figures of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia); reflecting on these aspects as being a possible source of inspiration for the major locations, cultures (and characters) in The Lord of the Rings.
At first glance, the topic may strike an unaware reader as odd or out of context. Indeed, after so many years of research and analyses on one of the most famous and important works of the 20th Century, a completely new insight might seem daunting to tackle at first – or even to accept.
We’ve already been exposed to a wealth of other works, going over in detail every nut and bolt of Tolkien’s massive narrative – but finally, something fresh and new emerges from the rest.
Once you delve into the book and begin to see striking connections and similarities, Mr.Muhling’s “Abyssinia Theory” will make its way to being amongst the other Tolkien-centric reflective works.
Mr. Muhling introduces his book by laying out all the known sources (confirmed or speculated) that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create his Secondary World.
You may all have read or heard about Tolkien’s encounter with a tarantula as being a possible influence for creating Shelob; or the strong impact of Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon world in bringing to life the culture of Rohan …
The Real Middle-earth explores all these sources of inspiration in its introduction, paving the way towards the primary goal of the book: how Abyissinia may have inspired Tolkien in writing The Lord of the Rings.
Readers are also introduced to some of the issues concerning news-reporting of the African Continent to Europe – during the first half of the 20th Century. Mr.Muhling cleverly places the central events surrounding Abyssinia during the 1930s, and how Tolkien (at that time already a professor at Oxford University), would easily have had access to the evolving situations of this country.
As it progresses, the main bulk of the book concentrates on some of the most important Middle-earth habitats: Númenor/Gondor, Rohan, Mordor, Isengard, Harad & Rhûn. Carefully dissecting each of these locations – their histories, way of life, conflicts – and examining the historical events (and major figures) of Abyssinia, Michael Muhling provides us with a fascinating journey into the striking similarities to be found between the real historical world of Ethiopia and the major elements that form the backbone of Tolkien’s novel.
But the author is quick to note, before embarking on his analyses, that nothing has been (or can be) confirmed as fact when it comes to Tolkien’s sources of inspiration.
Rather, he suggests that these influences may have been part of the author’s own unconscious – his recollections of the events happening at that time in Ethiopia, which may have “seeped through” and provided the basis for many important aspects in The Lord of the Rings.
That said, it would be good for a reader to give this book a broad-minded approach – not expecting to find every possible intricacy from Middle-earth to be an exact copy of Abyssinia’s past. Indeed, as much as Mr.Muhling’s arguments are remarkable in their close connection to Tolkien’s writings, certain aspects of these comparisons naturally pass as a ‘possible speculation’ – rather than a definitive argument.
Nevertheless, the contents of the book are as worthy as any other researched book – on par with other, more famous works written by renowned Tolkien scholars. The Real Middle-earth promises to become another piece of the puzzle in unlocking one of the primary mysteries for the author’s inspirations. The book taps into a source of knowledge yet to be fully embraced by the Tolkien fandom and accepted as another piece of accompanying literature to the novel itself.
Mr. Muhling also delves into the striking linguistic similarities between place names: Rohan/Roha, Gondor/Gondar, Harad/Harar – among others. Furthermore, readers are informed of the complex and detailed history of Abyssinia and its major historical figures which may have been an inspiration for primary characters in The Lord of the Rings, such as a possible figure for Gandalf or the Nine Saints of Abyssinia as the Five Istari Wizards.
Suffice to say, many of the connections and similarities are astonishing – making us wonder why no one has ever brought these ideas to light before (to which the author also dedicates the last chapter of his book in an attempt to answer this question: “Why Didn’t We Know About It?”).
The book is very easily accessible, flowing cohesively from one subject to the next; at the same time, Mr. Muhling provides, when required, the necessary background information on Abyssinia before tackling another comparison.
If, like me, you’re deeply interested in anything by and about Tolkien, I strongly recommend you read this book. Apart from exposing yourself to a new, fascinating theory on Middle-earth’s source of inspiration, you will also gain access to a country’s rich history – which has, as of yet, remained undiscovered by many people around the world.
More information can be found by visiting the book’s site: http://www.trme.net/