There are two kinds of people: those who go to see ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” already steeped in the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast world of hobbits, elves, and orcs — and, well, the rest of us. But any newbie who dares to dive into the mythology (or, for that matter, any veteran wishing to test their knowledge) can get his/her fix from that most un-Middle-earthly of inventions, the Internet. But where to start? There are so many websites devoted to so many different facets of Tolkien and all he’s wrought (elvish.org, anyone?) that even Farmer Maggot would have some difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, we’ve visited four sites we’re certain will sharpen your Tolkien talking points no matter what your level of expertise.
National Geographic Beyond the Movie With its focus on myths, real-life cultures, and languages, this scholarly site details why, for example, a certain Oxford don with the given name John Ronald Reuel taught himself Finnish so he could read the 19th-century epic poem the ”Kalevala” in its original language. Touching on everything from Tolkien’s lecture on ”Beowulf” to ecologist J. Michael Fay’s 1999-2000 journey through the African jungle, the site makes the case that ”Rings” goes beyond the realm of fantasy. B+
The Encyclopedia of Arda Taking information from ”The Silmarillion,” Tolkien’s Old Testament-like history of Arda (Elvish for the world) from its creation on through the ”Rings” saga, this site contains a well-organized index of everything from Ainur to Zirak. Maps, time lines, and even pronunciation guides will help neophytes connect the dots between Saruman and Sauron, while hardcore fans are sure to salivate over the sheer number of entries (2,178 and counting). Our favorite feature: a chart that converts our modern calendar into, count ’em, six different Middle-earthling dates. A?
There and Back Again While there certainly are sites that can boast more arcana (see above), there is no other site that better captures the feel, the texture, of Tolkien’s work. Utilizing a book format, designers Daniel Govar, Jeff Fisher, and Sean Monaghan have crafted a richly detailed experience, while Colleen Monaghan’s summaries of Middle-earth essentials serve as the perfect primer for anyone seeking the Web equivalent of Tolkien CliffsNotes. A
Sir Ian McKellen’s Official Home Page Sure, the official movie website and the more-or-less official movie fansite are second to none when it comes to exclusive info. But you’ve got to hand it to Gandalf for delivering the most fun site about the films this side of the Misty Mountains. McKellen chronicles his experiences making the movie and gamely answers more than his share of reader e-mails in this delightful site, which is equal parts master class in acting, New Zealand travelogue, behind-the-scenes narrative, and droll rejoinder to overzealous fans. A?