John Howe and Brian Sibley are both towering figures in the "Lord of the Rings" fanbase -- Howe has been known for years as one of the two finest Tolkien artists, and Sibley gained fame in the past few years as the guy who chronicled the behind-the-scenes information on the movies. Together, their "Maps of Tolkien's Middle-Earth" is a solid release that adds an extra dimension to ordinary maps.
Howe presents four fold-out maps of Middle-Earth: Wilderland, the areas traversed by Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit," a general map of Middle-Earth, a map of Beleriand and other lands of the north, and the land of Numenor. The latter two haven't been released in this country, which makes them especially interesting.
Admittedly, the maps aren't too detailed or intricate; they seem rather basic. But Howe hasn't just drawn colorful maps -- he surrounds the maps with his exquisite illustrations of trees and hills, castles, Bilbo and the Dwarves at Bag End, Gandalf on Shadowfax, the seashore and mountains. With Howe's intricate, Celtic-looking borders separating the illustrations from the maps, each poster takes on almost the look of a medieval tapestry.
The foldout poster-maps are exceptional on their own. But Brian Sibley's accompanying guide is almost as good -- he has a separate section for each map that details the various cities, mountains, and other important points. What's more, Sibley details the history of each map in Tolkien's life, and the importance of that part of Middle-Earth in his ongoing story. Sibley's essays are well-written and interesting, and his descriptions of the locations in Middle-Earth is quite well done.
Don't expect something too earth-shattering -- "Maps of Tolkien's Middle-Earth" is precisely what the title implies. It's map posters, accompanied by an insightful guide book. Both are well-done and masterfully illustrated, especially Howe's accompanying illustrations in Sibley's book (both rougher black-and-white pictures, and polished color paintings). And Sibley's talent for writing breezy, pleasant prose serves him well when describing various story events in "Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit" and "The Silmarillion."
Sibley and Howe's collaboration is a beautiful and intriguing item for fans of "Lord of the Rings," adding a bit of extra color to Tolkien's fictional universe.