A lot has been written about Tolkien over the years; published in books, magazines; papers and, more recently, there's been a lot published on the internet. One of the bees in my bonnet is _mis_ information, that is, elements in written accounts of Tolkien's life and works which are not merely matters of opinion, but clearly factually incorrect. There's no excuse for this; generally it boils down to sloppiness in research.
(I'm not talking here of typos and errors introduced by publishing firm's production departments. That can happen to anyone, Tolkien included).
Take for example a book which I bought yesterday in Blackwells of Oxford. It's called 'JRR Tolkien' by David R. Collins, published in 2005. It's a re-vamp of a reasonably competent biography for younger readers which Collins had published in 1992, called 'JRR Tolkien: Master of Fantasy. For the present publication, it seems the publishers (Lerner Publications Company Michigan) felt the need to re-issue Mr Collins' book with a heavy slant towards the movies. The biographical information in Collins' original book was clearly taken (for the most part) from Carpenter's biography. His text is no better than pedestrian, but one saving grace of the book lies in the photographs, esp. of Tolkien in the study of his
Merton St. flat.
The presentation of the photos in the new book leaves something to be desired. We have a photo of what the publishers claim to be the library at Exeter College, Oxford. The building they show is the Radcliffe Camera - look Here
I have a link to an old picture of Exeter College library Here
This is an irritation, but it does highlight the problems a reader faces when trying to build an accurate knowledge of an author and his life & works. It's also typical, in my opinion, of the sloppy attitude taken by some makers of books (ie some authors, and some publishing companies) to jump on the bandwaggon that was rolling during and after the period when the movies were coming out. To take a more serious error; the original book was, if you like, worthy but dull; as I said, Collins merely condensed Carpenter's writings into a small book for young readers, and saved it by adding good photographs. That is not good enough for the publishers in the wake of the movies; oh, no. They decided to _dumb down_ the text. So, in addition to many facile references to the movies, we have a revised text which is simplified to the nth degree by the person assigned to collaborate with Collins - the by-line now reads 'by David R. Collins in Consultation with Martha Cosgrove M.A. and Reading Specialist'.
We aren't told anything in this book about its author, Mr.Collins - his Introduction to the original book has been cut. But we are given info on
Ms Cosgrave, whose expertise lies in developmental and remedial reading. Judging by the results of her consultation in this book, I'd say no good service has been made to Collins' readers. The text is now ludicrously simple.
The cover of the 1992 book has the distinction of what must be, for me, one of the worst ever illustrations on a Tolkien theme. It. is. Hideous.
But the book is an acceptable attempt at biography for schoolchildren (in spite of one or two 'embellishments' by Collins, which I can't find elsewhere).
In contrast, the 2005 production has a nice photo of Tolkien on the front cover -
(please allow me a digression, in order to give an example of my own small expertise in these matters - the book does not credit the photographer. I have copies of some of the original photos taken during that session; at Merton College, Oxford. From the information printed on the back of some of these photos I learned that they had been taken by one John Wyatt - I now know (from Scull-Hammond) that Wyatt was the BBC's chief cameraman at the time, and that the photos were taken during the filming of the BBC TV documentary 'Tolkien in Oxford' in February 1968. These photos come up often in newspaper articles on Tolkien; often with the appellation 'Billet Potter', which is, I believe, an agency)
So - a nice picture on the front of the book; but what have the publishers printed on the back? A list of facts about Tolkien, including this question:
(Did you know that)... He was almost eaten by his neighbor's monkey?'
(Ironically, the title of the series of bigraphies, of which this is one, is 'Just the Facts Biographies')
*sigh - since 2000, Hammond and Scull published two great books on Tolkien's life and works; John Garth has come up with a terrific biography based on one part of Tolkien's life, and then at the other end of the scale we have this, almost sub-David Day effort. And then there are the anecdotes, published on the net (and even in Amon Hen, the bulletin of the Tolkien Society itself).
I sometimes think it's a case of 'one step forward, two steps back'...