Tolkien fans are currently reduced to purchasing books by Tolkien that probably should be labeled “25% pure Tolkien”. At least, that’s about the percentage of words directly written by Tolkien in this book. Many other words are written by Christopher Tolkien, who represents about half of his father’s genes, and the rest are examples of the English and French poems of Arthurian legend, so depending on how you count we may consider a near majority.
Yet even 25% pure Tolkien is still very much worthwhile. Tolkien’s unfinished poem itself opens the book and it is so dense with meaning that it warrants most of the rest of the book to explain it. Only near the end does the analysis begin to bog down in reconstructing edits that seem to mean less and less as you near the end. But then the very end is a lecture by Tolkien on Anglo-Saxon poetry, which would fit earlier as well but at least ends the book on a high note.
So for the Tolkien fan but non-expert in Arthurian legend and poetry, this book is pretty much exactly what it should be. Did you know that Tolkien toyed with the idea of identifying the isle of Avalon with Tol Eressea, the Lonely Isle off Valinor? Placing Arthur and Lancelot in Middle-Earth with the legends of the Silmarillion is tentative but intriguing. Can you imagine Frodo arriving in his gray boat and seeing on the shore Arthur in a golden crown? (Don’t tell Peter Jackson, he might try to make a nine-hour set of movies about it … )
This book is for anyone who read the Silmarillion and liked it. You know who you are. Not necessarily as bad as Stephen Colbert-level interest, perhaps James Franco-level or even less. Itn other words, it worked for me.