Top critical review
Bloodless, but knowledgeable
Reviewed in the United States on December 20, 2003
The well-established Dummies format, with its lists and charts and boxed tips, is fine for negotiating your way around a computer program, but to treat Tolkien this way makes his work as bloodless as a computer program. It also falsifies Tolkien's subcreation to treat it so dogmatically. This book, like Michael Perry's "Untangling Tolkien" and Michael Stanton's "Hobbits, Elves and Wizards" before it, is all "Lord of the Rings" and a little "Silmarillion"; it doesn't engage with "The History of Middle-earth" at all. The obligatory cartoons by Rich Tennant are amusing, though Patrick Wynne could have done much better, both in art and humor.
Fortunately Harvey has a better grip on the internal facts of Middle-earth than either Perry or Stanton, his speculations though somewhat wayward are less voluminous than Perry's, and he's also by far the best writer of the three. So this book will do the reader very little harm, especially as nobody to whom its facts would be plot spoilers could possibly get through its doggedness. Harvey does shine in his final chapter, where he lists ten differences between the book and the first two Jackson films, astutely noting how these affect characterization and plot emphasis.