‘A Publication History of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster’

Last year I published a little article, ‘A Publication History of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster’ (Journal of Tolkien Research, vol. 14, no. 1; available online here). It was quite a fun thing to research and write. It was fascinating to dig into the history of this book, as it intersects with a very interesting episode in the publishing of Tolkien’s works: the 1965 Ace Books affair. There was, in US copyright law at the time, a thing called the ‘manufacturing clause.’ It posited that books not published in the US were therefore not protected by US copyright law. The Ace Books publisher, Donald Walheim, decided that this meant Tolkien’s relatively new The Lord of the Rings was effectively public domain. So he published the three volumes in paperback. This, of course, did not go over well with any number of people, namely Tolkien and his UK and US publishers. But there were a large number of young people—particularly in the US—who had come to an enthusiastic appreciation of Tolkien’s fiction, and Bob Foster, a teenager in New York City at the time, was one of them. His high school friend Dick Plotz founded the first Tolkien Society in the US, and started up the Tolkien Journal, which eventually was absorbed into the journal Mythlore. Bob Foster’s book began in that milieu, with its first entries published in Niekas, a fanzine published by the fascinating Ed Meškys. Eventually, Foster’s book was published in a hardcover edition, then paperback, then a second edition hardcover in 1978 after The Silmarillion was published, and then various editions of that second edition from then until now. Just recently, an edition including illustrations by Ted Nasmith was published by HarperCollins. But just around the turn of the millennium, Foster had dropped out of contact with publishers. I managed to find him and get him back in touch with them. He actually hadn’t known his book was still in print. So, he should be able to buy a couple of cups of coffee with those overdue royalty checks, one should think. Also, he is apparently working on a new edition of his Guide, so that is something to look forward to. Aside from the updating of references in different editions of his book over the years, the definitions themselves have remained the same since 1978. Everything published since then—Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, and The Children of Húrin, for instance—aren’t represented in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, so that ‘Complete’ in the title, though accurate for its time, is somewhat misleading today. In any case, his new edition should include more. So, go read my article for more details.

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