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New Tolkien Projects, Part Two

November 3, 2014

Art of Lord of the Rings trial bindingWell, we’re back. Our apologies to those who have been waiting nearly ten months to read Part Two of this thread (Part One is here), and five months for a new post. Only now can we say that our latest Tolkien project – which has occupied much of our time this summer and early autumn – is The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. With the 60th anniversary of the first (U.K.) publication of The Return of the King coming next year, HarperCollins asked us for a Lord of the Rings companion to our successful Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. We quickly agreed, then took time to think about what the new book should contain and how we should approach the subject.

The Lord of the Rings is of course a much longer and more complex work than The Hobbit, and has a different nature and history. It was written over a greater length of time, and with more false starts and wrong avenues; and it never had drawings or paintings made for publication, or to include in a ‘home manuscript’ the author could show to friends, except for a few maps and ‘facsimile’ inscriptions. Instead, the bulk of the art behind The Lord of the Rings consists of sketches, plans, and maps which Tolkien made to aid him in his writing – more numerous, more miscellaneous, and usually less ‘finished’ than the Hobbit art – and because these images were made as the story was conceived and revised, we needed to relate them not to a comparatively short text like The Hobbit, and not only to the published Lord of the Rings, but also to Tolkien’s drafts as published in The History of Middle-earth or, more directly in a few instances, as preserved among his papers at Marquette University.

In discussion with HarperCollins, we chose to document Tolkien’s art for The Lord of the Rings in its entirety, as we had earlier his art for The Hobbit, to the extent that it survives and is known to us or to its curators. It was always clear that The Art of The Lord of the Rings would be a longer book than The Art of The Hobbit, though when we began we couldn’t guess how long it would be, and as we worked, more images came to light than were on our initial list. Our new book will be 240 pages long, compared with 144 pages for The Art of The Hobbit, and will contain 182 pieces of artwork (plus 11 details), all of it in colour, versus 104 pieces (with 2 sets of details) for our earlier book. In appearance, the new volume will be similar in design to The Art of The Hobbit, in a large square format, but this time with no gatefolds as they didn’t seem warranted. HarperCollins are working on a handsome binding and slipcase design, shown here in mockup.

Of the art in the new book, 101 images are previously unpublished, and of the other 81 pictures, 42 will be published in colour for the first time. These range in size from a tiny coil-like drawing within a manuscript, just two lines of script high, which depicts the overlapping walls of Caras Galadhon, to the ‘First Map’ of Middle-earth, an elaborate working copy made with several sheets glued together and measuring 455 × 499 mm. The resolution of the scans we received from Marquette and from the Bodleian Library, Oxford – the two primary collections of Tolkien’s art – is uniformly high. And since we tend to show artwork in context, our reproductions will present new examples of Tolkien’s handwriting, of the Elvish languages, and of variant inscriptions in Tengwar and Cirth.

We do not yet have a date of publication for The Art of The Lord of the Rings, other than it will be in 2015.

Image: Not the final art: trial binding and slipcase prepared by HarperCollins.

Aragorn, Part Two

June 3, 2014

Christina writes: As discussed in the first part of this essay, Angela P. Nicholas in Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero concentrates on how Aragorn is presented as a person in the published Lord of the Rings, and pays particular attention to his thoughts and feelings. Hobbit to Hero: The Making of Tolkien’s King by Elizabeth M. Stephen is a very different work, and although it is shorter than Aragorn (only 283 pages, including a bibliography and index), it is not as straightforward a read. It makes more demands on the reader, who ideally should have considerable familiarity with The Lord of the Rings, The History of Middle-earth, and Unfinished Tales. Stephen’s focus is less on seeking insight into Aragorn’s feelings (though this is not ignored) and more on how the emergence of his character was affected by, and in turn influenced, Tolkien’s larger legendarium, as well as with ‘examining how Tolkien utilized the character to fulfil some of the more profound functions of his wider mythology’ (lower cover blurb). Stephen starts simply, but digs deeper into her subject with each succeeding chapter.

Chapter 1, ‘The Riddle of Strider’ (pp. 11–41), begins as the four hobbits meet Strider in Bree. Stephen notes that the hobbits have missed (as a first-time reader may also) a few previous mentions of, or allusions to, Aragorn, and just how little the hobbits (and the reader) learn about Aragorn at Bree and on the journey to Rivendell. In an essay written years ago, ‘On Reading and Re-reading The Lord of the Rings’, I lamented that one can read The Lord of the Rings for the first time only once. Thereafter, much of the suspense is missing, though there are other compensations. Allowing the reader to know no more than the hobbits in Book One is one of Tolkien’s most brilliant storytelling techniques, and possibly succeeds so well because here, as elsewhere, Tolkien himself was in the dark, uncertain of the identity of the dark stranger at Bree. Unfortunately, those who see the films of The Lord of the Rings before they read the book cannot enjoy this experience.

Stephen Hobbit to Hero coverOnce Aragorn’s lineage has been revealed at the Council of Elrond, the rest of Stephen’s chapter considers the gradual elevation of his stature during and after the War of the Ring until his death, as told in The Lord of the Rings. But unlike Nicholas, Stephen places no great significance on Aragorn’s decision to use the palantír. She finds the ‘crux of the riddle of Strider’ in the revelation of his love for Arwen, and in Elrond’s condition for their marriage (p. 40). She refers to the letter in which Tolkien said: ‘Here I am only concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees. That is why I regard the tale of Arwen and Aragorn as the most important part of the Appendices; it is part of the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative without destroying its structure: which is planned to be “hobbito-centric”, that is primarily a study of ennoblement . . . of the humble’ (Letters, p. 237). As Stephen implicitly sees, this is not the whole truth. The story was far advanced before Aragorn’s persona was fully developed, presenting Tolkien ‘with the unenviable challenge of integrating his long back story into the main text’. Stephen considers that Tolkien’s solution of ‘incorporating Aragorn’s tale as a veiled sub-plot, which is only fully revealed after the completion of the main story [i.e. in Appendix A], has undoubtedly been to the detriment of the level of appreciation felt for this most remarkable of characters’ (p. 41).

The first part of Chapter 2, ‘Trotter’ (pp. 43–82), covers early versions of the story published in The Return of the Shadow and The Treason of Isengard, in which it was Trotter the hobbit who guided the other hobbits to Rivendell and became a member of the Fellowship as far as Balin’s tomb. Stephen records Tolkien’s uncertainty as he began to question Trotter’s identity if he remained a hobbit, and the possibility that he might be a Man. Even when the idea first occurred that ‘Trotter had better not be a hobbit – but a Ranger, remainder of Western men’ (The Return of The Shadow, p. 393), it was some time before Tolkien made the final decision.

This seems a good example of what Tolkien meant when he wrote about ‘feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through’ (Letters, p. 212). Stephen discusses what alterations (surprisingly few) were necessary when the character Trotter the hobbit finally gave way to Aragorn the Ranger, made easier by the fact that Aragorn was deliberately concealing his real status during the journey to Rivendell. Later Stephen notes that it was not until Tolkien wrote ‘Homeward Bound’ in Book Six that Strider replaced Trotter as Aragorn’s alias. From the discovery of Balin’s tomb, Trotter/Aragorn was part of the initial composition. Stephen’s chapter continues through to the end of the story and the end of Aragorn’s life in The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, but she is now covering Tolkien’s drafts as published in The History of Middle-earth: hesitations, variations, and changes in plot, and the gradual revelation of Aragorn’s full stature, lineage, and destiny. She draws attention to the fact that Aragorn’s marriage to Arwen, one of only three unions between Men and High Elves – which, like much else, stresses his exceptional qualities and destiny – came late in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Stephen concludes the chapter by noting that the development of Aragorn as the returning king enabled The Lord of the Rings to reach epic stature and provided a link with the earlier mythology through his Númenórean ancestry.

Near the beginning of Chapter 3, ‘The Númenor Dilemma’ (pp. 83–115), Stephen comments that ‘as Trotter shed his hobbit skin and came to need roots that would stretch far back into the created mythical past of the earlier ages, the bridge to hand was the legend of Númenor’ (p. 86). She describes how the concept of a Second Age with a focus on the history of Númenor first appeared in The Lost Road and versions of The Fall of Númenor, written in the mid-1930s, not long before Tolkien began The Lord of the Rings. Even before Aragorn emerged, Tolkien used elements of the Númenor story to provide hints of historical depth generally in The Lord of the Rings. Other elements of the story which would become attached to Aragorn were already in place when needed to provide him with an elevated status: the presence in the unfinished Lost Road of the figure of Elendil, who would later develop into the founder of the Númenórean kingdoms in exile and whose sword Aragorn would bear; distinctive attributes of the Dúnedain, including height, wisdom, and longevity in versions of The Fall of Númenor; and the emergence of Elrond’s brother, Elros, who would become Númenor’s first king, and through whom Aragorn could claim descent not only from the two First Age unions of Men and High Elves but also a strain of divinity from Melian. But as the story of Aragorn evolved, the influence moved in both directions, between the stories of Númenor and The Lord of the Rings and their influence on and growing connection with what Tolkien had already written about the First and Second Ages, including the problem of how his stories of the First Age were transmitted to later ages. This problem became closely connected to his first thoughts for a major change in the cosmology of Arda to bring it closer to scientific knowledge.

Aragorn’s lineage became of even greater importance in Chapter 4, ‘The Divine Plan’ (pp. 117–44). Stephen quotes Tolkien’s draft letter to Peter Hastings: ‘The entering into Men of the Elven-strain is indeed represented as part of a Divine Plan for the ennoblement of the Human Race, from the beginning destined to replace the Elves’ (Letters, p. 194). She continues: ‘There can, therefore, be no doubt that inheriting a strand of divinity as a consequence of long ago unions between our distant forefathers and incarnate immortals became a vital tenet of the mythology, and in the fulfilment of this ambitious undertaking, Aragorn and his descendents would come to perform a key role’ (p. 117). After a brief survey of claims to divine kingship within our world, Stephen shows how Tolkien set about establishing the validity of Aragorn’s claim and ‘went to great lengths to create a divine ancestry for him which would legitimize his claim to the kingship in the manner of the sacral kings of the past’ (p. 119). This includes relating the stories of several of his First Age ancestors and some speculation on his descendents, possibly characters in Tolkien’s own Lost Road and Notion Club Papers or descendants of King Sheave who is mentioned in those works and was considered an ancestor of the West Saxon royal house among others.

In Chapter 5, ‘A Peerless Hero’ (pp. 145–93), Stephen discusses what makes a hero, then looks at some legendary and historical heroes of our world who may have influenced Tolkien’s portrait of Aragorn. Although there are many possibilities, she puts forward the claims of three heroes whose stories were popular in the Middle Ages – Sigurd, Beowulf, and Arthur – and three of Tolkien’s First Age heroes – Beren, Tuor, and Túrin – and compares each with Aragorn. Stephen then considers Charlemagne, who became a legendary figure not only as a great warrior and empire builder but also as a Christian king. Charlemagne and other kings were believed to have healing powers, as does Aragorn. Stephen’s view is that ‘Aragorn’s personal qualities, in particular his compassion, certainly appear to mark him as a Christian hero, though it is too simplistic to label Aragorn as a Christian King. . . . Perhaps Tolkien’s ideal is better described as Northern heroism and courage coloured by Christian values since Aragorn undoubtedly possesses a rather more contemporary heart than his medieval counterparts. This modernisation was essential as a hero who was merely good at killing would not satisfy the modern reader’ (p. 185). Stephen concludes this chapter with the comment that according to Joseph Campbell (in The Hero with a Thousand Faces) ‘no hero should fear death, and “reconciliation with the grave” is Campbell’s last prerequisite for hero status. In this heroic requirement, Aragorn excels, and his death is of such importance to our understanding of the character that it is the subject of the final chapter’ (p. 193).

Chapter 6, ‘The Importance of Hope’ (pp. 195–228), begins by noting that Aragorn’s childhood name, ‘Estel’, can be translated not only as ‘hope’ but also as ‘trust, steady, fixed in purpose and difficult to dissuade and unlikely to fall into despair or abandon its purpose’ (p. 195). All of these are appropriate to Aragorn, who refuses to give way to despair and hopes without hope, trusting even in the most desperate circumstances that fears may not be realised and ‘that there are larger, unseen hands at work’ (p. 198). This is accompanied by a survey of various expressions of hope in the legendarium.

The rest of Chapter 6 is more complex, as Stephen builds up the significance of Aragorn’s death. ‘It is no exaggeration to claim that the entire key to understanding the character of Aragorn lies in the manner of his death. . . . Tolkien clearly felt it was important to include an idealised, perfect death in his masterpiece. . . . It is as if he is saying, if you have the Faith, the Trust, the Hope, this is how you do it’ (pp. 201–2). Aragorn chose the time of his death and showed ‘his unshakeable faith in an existence beyond the circles of the world . . . enabling Tolkien to draw together his two greatest themes of hope and death so that the latter becomes the means for the ultimate realisation of the former’ (pp. 208–9). Later Stephen cites a passage in Morgoth’s Ring which suggests that unfallen man was intended to ‘die of free will, and even of desire, in estel’ (p. 341). She sees in Aragorn, who achieved this, ‘essentially a man ahead of his time, one prematurely granted the salvation which will only come for the rest of mankind with the coming of Christ’ (p. 212). The strength of Aragorn’s hope and trust is contrasted with the despair shown by Gilraen, Denethor, and Arwen. His relationship with Arwen is compared with that of Beren and Lúthien, and of Tuor and Idril. Stephen finds that the concept of a willing departure first appears in the legendarium with Aragorn, comparing earlier and later versions of the deaths of Bëor in the First Age and of the Númenóreans in the Second.

Necessarily, as of fundamental significance, much space is given to the exploration of beliefs concerning death and afterlife, both Tolkien’s as a Catholic and as incorporated by him in his legendarium. The Catholic view sees death as God’s punishment for the disobedience of Adam and Eve, all of whose descendants are subject to original sin and after death might be consigned variously to Limbo, Purgatory, Hell, or Heaven, depending on their deeds while living. Yet, until late in the writing of the legendarium, there is no question that death, in association with the gift of free will, was Eru’s original design for Men rather than punishment for a Fall. This is the view taken up in the published Silmarillion, together with the comment that ‘Melkor has cast his shadow upon it [death] . . . and brought forth evil out of good and fear out of hope’ (p. 216). Apart from an account in the early Book of Lost Tales, which briefly indicated at least temporary destinations similar to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, nothing is said of what happened to Men after death, nor any detail given of a Fall, which is hinted at as having taken place ‘offstage’.

But in the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (in Morgoth’s Ring), written some years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien considered the possibility that Men were intended to be immortal but had fallen through Morgoth and become subject to death and shortened lives, thus bringing the legendarium closer to Catholic belief. Stephen admits that ‘if death became anything other than part of Eru’s original design and intent for [Men] the manner of Aragorn’s death would completely lose its significance’ (p. 216). But she does not believe that Tolkien intended to make such a change, though the letter she cites is earlier than or contemporary with the Athrabeth. Her final chapter ends with a consideration of Aragorn as one of several Christ-figures in The Lord of the Rings, of the importance of Eärendil, Aragorn’s ancestor, as a symbol of hope, and of prophecies concerning the ending and remaking of Arda.

The sequence of some of the material in this last chapter might have been slightly rearranged to flow more smoothly – while reading it, I kept wondering why something had not been mentioned at a certain point only to find it appearing later – and there are one or two rather obtrusive elements: for example, I was not convinced by the suggestion that 1 March (St David’s Day) was chosen as the date of Aragorn’s birth and death because of similarities between Aragorn and St David. But given the ground covered, which I have only skimmed in this report, I can appreciate Stephen’s difficulty. I am slightly perplexed by her statement that the three theological virtues are Hope, Faith, and Trust rather than Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love), and wonder if this is an error or a variant.

By the end of Stephen’s book, I appreciated even more the long evolution of the figure of King Elessar, not just from Trotter the hobbit but also early Trotter/Aragorn the man, and Aragorn as a possible husband for Éowyn. As Stephen notes, much of the writing that ennobles the figure of Aragorn is late: the addition of Arwen to the story, The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, other late writings published in Morgoth’s Ring, and the extension of Aragorn’s life in the second edition of The Lord of the Rings from 190 to 210 years (thrice the biblical span of three score and ten). It seems certain that it was only as the story neared its end that Tolkien began to realise the true greatness of the character he had created, and perhaps not even then, since he continued to elevate him in letters written at about the time of publication, and even after publication, as he did with Galadriel.

I note, by the way, that in Hobbit to Hero my surname appears as ‘Scull’ when it comes second to Wayne for The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, but ‘Skull’ when it comes before Wayne’s name for The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, and both are used inconsistently in notes.

Aragorn, Part One

May 31, 2014

Christina writes: I first read The Lord of the Rings in 1955 from the library at the age of thirteen, bought my own set in 1956 (with four months’ saved pocket money), and reread it frequently in the years following. When the second edition was published in 1966, I knew the work so well that I could recognize the changes. Although I empathized with many of Tolkien’s characters (and still do, though not with Jackson’s versions), I felt a special attachment to Aragorn. I suppose some might describe this as the typical reaction of a female teenager to a charismatic hero.

Some years later, when my reading expanded from core books by Tolkien to Tolkien in general, I was impressed by Paul H. Kocher’s chapter on Aragorn in Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien (1971). I thought it a masterly study of the character. At the same time, I was surprised to discover the rather low appreciation some other critics had of Aragorn, notably William Ready, who found him ‘almost too good to be human, he has some of the qualities of a noble horse’ (The Tolkien Relation (1968), p. 101). I never associated Aragorn with a horse (though obviously Jackson did), and found his frequent self-doubt all too human. Nor has much attention been paid to the difficult decisions he faces at the end of Book Two. As the Fellowship passes the Argonath, Aragorn says to himself: ‘Would that Gandalf were here! How my heart yearns for Minas Anor and the walls of my own city. But whither now shall I go?’ He feels that it is his duty to go East with Frodo. Even when Frodo makes his own decision to leave secretly, Aragorn again rejects the road to Minas Tirith, choosing instead to attempt the rescue of Merry and Pippin, rather than ‘abandon the captives to torment and death’. The depth of his sacrifice is not necessarily apparent in a first reading. It is only on re-reading that one realizes that in deciding against going to Minas Tirith he is putting the greater good above his own desires: for Minas Tirith offers Aragorn not only the possibility of glory and kingship, but the fulfilling of Elrond’s conditions for his marriage to Arwen. The late addition of Arwen to the story added extra meaning.

Perhaps because Kocher’s account is so outstanding, Aragorn has not received much attention from other critics. I was surprised, therefore, and pleased, when two books devoted to Aragorn were published in 2012: Hobbit to Hero: The Making of Tolkien’s King by Elizabeth M. Stephen (ADC Publications) and Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero by Angela P. Nicholas (Bright Pen). Both authors are members of local smials of the Tolkien Society, and it shows that both wrote from love of the subject. Both display knowledge not only of The Lord of the Rings, but also of Tolkien’s other writings. (I would be interested to know if either book was turned down by a mainstream publisher: Aragorn is self-published, while Hobbit to Hero is issued by a bookseller with a small sideline in publishing.) Wayne and I bought both books on publication, but I did not read them until late summer 2013. I was too busy to write a blog post about them straight away, and am now taking advantage of a brief lull between deadlines to collect my thoughts.

When I first saw Aragorn: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Undervalued Hero I was slightly put off by its appearance, a large paperback (30 × 21 cm!) with an aggressive layout using bullet-points, though I welcomed its clear typeface and value for money (492 pages including genealogical tables, bibliography, and index). I had not gone far into it before I realised I was finding it the most enjoyable book on Tolkien I had read in a long time, not only reviving all of my early thoughts about Aragorn, but extending them. It also made me analyse why I almost grit my teeth before beginning to read yet another popular general guide to Tolkien, another rehashing of Carpenter’s Tolkien biography, or yet another of the seemingly never-ending collections of essays on Tolkien. In the early 1980s, when I first began to collect seriously, Tolkien devotees were lucky if two or three books on the author were published in a year, while articles, mainly written by fans, generally appeared only in periodicals published by societies with an interest in Tolkien. Part of my problem, shared by Wayne, is that we delved so deeply with our own writings, especially The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, that when we read anything about Tolkien we are constantly noting errors of fact, ignorance of previously published material, or failure to keep up with the most recent scholarship. The main problem with many collections of essays in particular, apart from their variable quality, is that each writer, while trying hard to make a point, often puts forward a theory based on little or selective evidence, so that reading a collection of such work is rather like being forced to watch one battle scene after another, or being hit on the head several times in succession.

In her preface, Nicholas makes the point I have alluded to above: ‘it is only with the hindsight of second and subsequent readings of The Lord of the Rings . . . and perusal of the Appendices . . . that we begin to get any proper idea of who Aragorn is or any sort of appreciation of his significance in the history of Middle-earth in general and, more specifically in the struggle to destroy the One Ring’. She continues: ‘I have long felt that he is underestimated, with his achievements, qualities and struggles often ignored, misunderstood or unappreciated. In addition I believe that his contribution to the “Ring Quest” is at least equal to that of Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and Gollum.’ To build up a clearer picture, she focuses on aspects of Aragorn’s life ‘which are not always obvious’, to deal with misconceptions and to attempt ‘to see into his mind’. To do this, she has used all of Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings, as well as Letters, and has given The Lord of the Rings ‘the “fine-tooth comb” treatment’. This includes ‘analysis of individual words, facial expressions, circumstances etc. For example: Is the situation formal or informal? Are words spoken with a smile or seriously?’ (pp. 1–3). Nicholas admits to speculation and inference, such as who Aragorn might have met when serving incognito in Rohan, but such instances are clearly identified, and to me reasonable and justified.

The first part of Aragorn (pp. 9–119) is divided into a series of chapters beginning with ‘Ancestry’ and ‘Prophecies’, then deals more or less chronologically with his life and death, and concludes with ‘Names and Titles, and Appearance’. An interesting example of Nicholas digging behind minimal information comes in the chapter ‘Childhood’, where she considers Aragorn’s possible thoughts as a child: would he not have wondered about his absent father, and why he was being brought up among Elves? If he was totally unsuspecting, in addition to his pride on learning his ancestry, there must have been an element of shock when he discovered that everyone at Rivendell had been deceiving him. Because most of the action in The Lord of the Rings is presented from the hobbits’ point of view and focuses on their reactions and feelings, Nicholas had to use every clue provided by Aragorn’s words, actions, and reactions to consider his point of view and thoughts. This is not an easy task, as she notes, quoting The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, p. 348: ‘Only rarely does Tolkien let us see into Aragorn’s mind’.

The chapter ‘The Palantír Confrontation’ is the crux of Nicholas’s argument on the significance of Aragorn’s contribution to the Ring quest. She points out that his decision to use the palantír, against the advice of Gandalf, was crucial for the overthrow of Sauron. The most prominent result on the surface was that Aragorn was able to rout the Corsairs of Umbar and relieve the siege of Minas Tirith. The ‘less obvious, but far-reaching and hugely significant’ (p. 73) result was that Aragorn frightened and misled Sauron into concentrating his attention on him, distracting it from Frodo and Sam as they made their way stealthily to Mount Doom. Nicholas presents the evidence to support this, including the conversation of the Orcs from Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol (pp. 73–81), and concludes: ‘The Palantír confrontation was a momentous achievement from the point of view of the courage and mental strength required, and because it was a pivotal action in the struggle to destroy the Ring’ (p. 82). I have read an unpublished letter by Tolkien which fully supports this view of Aragorn’s strategic abilities (22 September 1963 to Eileen Elgar, mentioned on p. 529 of the Reader’s Companion).

The longer Part 2 of Nicholas’s book (pp. 123–457) is devoted to Aragorn’s relationships with various races as a whole and individuals with whom he had more than passing contact. Nicholas points out that a study of these relationships ‘rounds out’ the picture presented in the general biographical Part 1. ‘He had the ability to forge relationships of affection and trust with many different kinds of people: Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and the various races of Men, not to mention Gandalf. . . . As well as showing how others viewed him this approach leads to an increased emphasis on Aragorn’s strengths, weaknesses, motives and personal struggles, particularly the psychological and emotional issues . . . touched on in Part 1.’ Nicholas notes that Legolas says in ‘The Last Debate’ that ‘all those who come to know [Aragorn] come to love him in their own fashion’, and she expands on this: ‘As well as inspiring devotion he had a great capacity for giving love and affection. Often his interactions with others brought out the best in him and the best in them’ (p. 123).

Inevitably this series of surveys involves covering the same ground more than once, yet it does not seem repetitive because, although Aragorn may remain a constant, his relationships differ according to the other individual, rather like looking at the same landscape from different angles. As an example, section 5 contains a brief account of the earlier relationship between Hobbits and the North Kingdom and the later secret protection of the Shire by the Rangers and Aragorn, followed by studies of Aragorn’s relationship with Frodo (pp. 232–46), Sam (pp. 246–54), Merry (pp. 254–64), Pippin (pp. 265–72), and Bilbo (pp. 272–7). Gollum is dealt with separately.

Once or twice in the early years of my Tolkien ‘addiction’, I read The Lord of the Rings aloud, to slow myself down and prevent my speeding past known details. Reading Aragorn gave me a similar feeling of slowing time down, considering each word and the meaning it conveys, absorbed subliminally in ordinary reading.

Nicholas has recently posted a list of amendments (mainly addenda) on her website.

See here for the second part of this essay.

Tom Bombadil Cover

May 28, 2014

Today we received from HarperCollins a preview of the cover of the new pocket edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, in advance of the image being released to booksellers at the end of this week. The publication date remains 9 October this autumn. The cover art was adapted from the original wraparound jacket and cover painting by Pauline Baynes. As mentioned here, the new edition includes earlier versions of Tolkien’s poems together with our introduction, comments, and annotations.

Tolkien Notes 11

March 31, 2014

Tolkien Projects Update

The pocket edition of Farmer Giles of Ham, based on our edition of 1999, was published as scheduled by HarperCollins on 27 February. As far as we know, there will not be an American edition, but the HarperCollins printing can be purchased easily from sources such as Amazon U.K. and Book Depository. On 2–3 February, we completed our text for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, and are awaiting proofs. With that done, we turned to our revision of The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, and completed that on 3 March. Since the original typesetting was not available for amending, Wayne recreated all of the 191 pages to which we made additions or changes. We limited ourselves to the same total number of pages in the volume, to avoid extensive renumbering and re-indexing, but managed to add a few notes as well as correct typographical errors and notes which were out of sequence.

60th Anniversary of The Lord of the Rings

Revised on 3 May 2014 to correct our statement about settings.

2014 is the beginning of the 60th anniversary of the first publication of The Lord of the Rings (1954–5). Where did the years go since we edited the work for its 50th anniversary? We have revised our ‘Note on the Anniversary Edition’ for the occasion.

Two versions of the new edition are to be published on 19 June 2014. One will be in three hardback volumes with adaptations of Tolkien’s dust-jacket designs, issued in a boxed set with our revised Reader’s Companion. Our understanding is that this will be a reprint of the existing standard Lord of the Rings, without further corrections. The other version will be reset, including further corrections we have noted in our online addenda and corrigenda, with the index revised to account for new pagination. This will be a deluxe hardback in a ‘special transparent slipcase’ and with Alan Lee’s illustrations for the centenary edition brought back into print.

New Lodge, Stonyhurst

Tolkien’s drawing New Lodge, Stonyhurst, which we reproduced in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (fig. 28), sold on 19 March at the auctioneer Bonham’s in London for £8,215 (including premium) against a house estimate of £3,000–5,000. It had been offered three years ago by the auctioneer Tennants, but failed to sell with an excessively high estimate of £15,000–20,000.


While on the faculty at Leeds, Tolkien began, but did not complete, an alliterative verse translation of Beowulf into Modern English, and worked also on a prose Modern English translation, completing the latter by the end of 1926, though not to his satisfaction. He included a few lines from the verse translation in his preface to the Clark Hall Beowulf in 1940, and other extracts have appeared posthumously, the longest in The Lost Road and Other Writings. We ourselves saw the manuscript at Oxford and quoted part of the prose translation in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. Both translations have long been high on lists of desiderata among Tolkien enthusiasts. Now Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is to be published on 22 May, by HarperCollins U.K. in both deluxe and regular editions, and in a regular edition only in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We had known that Christopher was working on this – he consulted us on a related point in our Companion and Guide: Chronology – but not its precise contents or projected date of publication. We’re looking forward to it very much, and are glad that it will contain as well some of Tolkien’s lecture notes on the poem and his story Sellic Spell, an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk- or fairy-tale element in Beowulf. Tolkien’s friend Professor Gwyn Jones read Sellic Spell and said that it should be prescribed for all university students of Beowulf. We certainly enjoyed it when we read it in the Tolkien Papers at the Bodleian.

Lord of the Rings Comparison

In our previous Tolkien Notes we wrote of the recent ‘collector’s edition’ of The Lord of the Rings published by HarperCollins. We should have mentioned, in relation to our comparison of different printings of the 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings, that the ‘collector’s edition’ follows the ‘A’ typesetting and the 2011 HarperCollins three-volume paperback, and retains the errors noted in our analysis of February 2012.

The Forest and the City

Many collections of essays on Tolkien have been published (we noted one edited by Peter Hunt in Tolkien Notes 10), and more are being planned. There can now be little argument that Tolkien is worthy of serious scholarly consideration, and from any number of perspectives. But does the result have to be of such a mixed quality? Inevitably, we suppose, this would be the case with any subject as the number of notes and essays written about it increases. Too often, though, we find ourselves grinding our teeth over some bit of writing, saying ‘That’s not so’ or ‘Hasn’t he read XYZ?’ or ‘Where’s the evidence for that?’ And the more one knows about Tolkien, the harder it is to read critical works without being highly critical oneself.

Tolkien: The Forest and the City (the jacket adds J.R.R. at the start of the title), edited by Helen Conrad-O’Briain and Gerard Hynes (2013), is a case in point. We took issue at once in the foreword to the collection, where Darryl Jones writes that it is ‘quite unlikely that Tolkien would get a university teaching post today, let alone three successive chairs in two front-rank universities’, because he published so little in his field; and that ‘we now know that Tolkien poured very much of his scholarly energy into developing, refining and elaborating his own private system of mythology’ (p. 6). Has Prof. Jones not read our Companion and Guide in which we show, at exceptional length (indeed, for most of the Chronology), how much of his scholarly energy Tolkien poured into his teaching, his supervising, and his administrative duties?

Then there is Karl Kinsella’s attempt to link Tolkien with the Arts and Crafts architect Edward Schroeder Prior because of ‘their shared vision of an idealized English landscape . . . [and] a remarkably similar architectural image’ (pp. 92–3). The suggested connection is very tenuous and the argument heavily laboured, indeed nullified by Kinsella’s admission that there was no ‘direct connection between the two’ and that ‘there is nothing to suggest that Tolkien ever saw Prior’s designs for West Bay’s [Dorset] new promenade’ to which Kinsella points in particular. Rather, Kinsella says, ‘Tolkien must have been aware’ of a ‘vibrant discussion’ about the relationship of the built environment and the landscape (p. 97). Prior’s (unrealized) West Bay promenade has rounded rooflines and rounded (but not round) windows, which Kinsella compares with Hobbit architecture. But Hobbits tended to build in hills, which are naturally rounded, so their windows tended to follow in form; and rounded forms are common in English vernacular architecture, not just of buildings out of the Arts and Crafts movement in which Prior was involved; and such forms were by no means original to the English, in fact the oculus (round window or opening) dates from antiquity.

As for Meg Black’s assertion that a tree in Tolkien’s Hobbiton colour plate was his response to the tragedy of Guernica, an echo of the ‘oak of Guernica’ which survived the attack – well, let us look at this carefully. The Guernica massacre occurred on 26 April 1937; articles about it, and about the oak, soon began to appear in the Times of London. On 31 August, Tolkien sent to George Allen & Unwin his painting The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water to be forwarded to Houghton Mifflin for the American edition of The Hobbit. ‘The image’, writes Black,

depicts a sweeping view of Hobbiton, focusing on a distant field outlined by a low rock wall. The most noticeable aspect of this field is that in the focal point stands a tree. This is not to say that this is the party tree, which did not yet exist, but it is suggestive that [Tolkien] placed a tree at the centre of his landscape. This artwork was completed within months of the bombing of Guernica in which the tree most central to the Basque community was highly discussed. Although it is unlikely Tolkien intended at that time to give the tree such a prominent role in his future texts, his inclusion of a central tree suggests the possibility that events abroad were already influencing his work. [p. 172]

The tree in question must be the one on top of The Hill, as that is the one in a field within ‘a low rock wall’. But that is not the party tree. The party tree, as The Lord of the Rings makes clear, was in a field below Bag End, not above it (or on top of it). Also, there are many trees in the picture, including the chestnuts near the Mill which would themselves figure in The Lord of the Rings. And most tellingly, Tolkien had already drawn the tree at the top of The Hill in his pen and ink drawing of the subject, indeed all of the trees later depicted in his colour plate, for the first printing of The Hobbit, by 17 January 1937, three months before the events at Guernica. In any case: there is no reason to think that the party tree grew from the influence of any of the numerous trees famous in history, literature, myth, or legend, let alone the Guernica oak.

The Forest and the City is a collection of papers delivered at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin in 2012 with the aim of addressing a perceived relative neglect of ‘Middle-earth as landscape and built environment’. (‘Relative’ is the operative word, and arguable.) The presenters included notables in Tolkien studies such as Shippey, Fimi, Honegger, Flieger, and Drout, as well as younger scholars new to the field. There is certainly no lack of good points made among them, if sometimes marred by jargon. Tom Shippey (‘Goths and Romans in Tolkien’s Imagination’) as always is erudite and entertaining, and conference co-organizer Gerard Hynes’s own essay, ‘“The Cedar Is Fallen”: Empire, Deforestation and the Fall of Númenor’, deserves mention as an clear, intelligent look at imperialism and environmental destruction in Tolkien’s works.

Exeter College Anniversary

2014 is the 700th anniversary of the founding of Exeter College, Oxford, where Tolkien studied as an undergraduate. To mark the occasion, the Rector of Exeter College, Frances Cairncross, with Hannah Parham and others, has produced Exeter College: The First 700 Years (London: Third Millennium Publishing, 2013). It provides, within the larger history, interesting perspectives on the college that Tolkien knew, and includes three pages on Tolkien as an undergraduate written by John Garth.

Another, much later Exeter luminary, Philip Pullman, contributed two pages of undergraduate reminiscences. His were happy days, he says. Theoretically he read English, but spent little of his time in scholarly pursuits. He couldn’t ‘get on’ with Old English, and his impression of a lecture was that ‘it consisted of an elderly don reading slowly and indistinctly out of a book of his own, which I thought I could read rather more quickly myself, if I could find it in the library’ (p. 178). Pullman recalls dining with the Rector, together with two student friends, Caradoc and Richard. The guest of honour at the dinner was Tolkien, who asked Richard how the students were ‘pronouncing Anglo-Saxon these days’; but Richard ‘could only open and close his mouth like a fish’. Tolkien then turned to Caradoc and asked if he enjoyed The Lord of the Rings; but Caradoc hadn’t read it. ‘That was the end of Tolkien’s conversation for the dinner’ (p. 179) – presumably, with the students, if not with the Rector. (Christina remembers having heard this story related somewhere before.)

Tolkien and Esperanto

In his article ‘The Educational Value of Esperanto: The Word of Tolkien in The British Esperantist’, Oronzo Cilli discusses the extracts from a letter by Tolkien published in The British Esperantist in 1932, but also new information about Tolkien, the British Esperanto Association, and the Esperanto congresses in Oxford in 1930 and 1933. We have incorporated some of this in our latest (nearly ready) addenda and corrigenda.

Oronzo Cilli’s website ( includes other Tolkien-related resources, and he has produced in print a bibliography of Tolkien’s works published in Italy: J.R.R. Tolkien: La bibliografia italiana dal 1967 ad oggi (Bari: L’Arco e la Corte, 2013). Another book by Oronzo, Tolkien in Italia, is forthcoming.

Still Waiting for Spring

March 17, 2014

Christina writes: Near the end of January I wrote in an e-mail: ‘Thankfully, so far the heavy snowfalls hitting the Midwest and East Coast have missed us. We have had only light falls of a few inches, but have experienced several periods of very cold weather. Still, just before the last snowfall I was happy to see the green leaves of some snowdrops pushing up through the earth, a harbinger of spring.’ This was tempting fate! Only a few days later, the first of a series of snowstorms covered those green leaves, and it was only with luck that we weren’t affected as badly as coastal areas to the east and south: the worst storm gave us about 18 inches (46 cm). Most of the time, the temperature was well below freezing even in the daytime, occasionally warming enough for a few days to produce long icicles hanging from the roof, or even allow avalanches of huge chunks of ice which fell to the ground with frightening thuds.

Towards the end of February, birds began to return, or at least became more active in our gardens: American robins (actually members of the thrush family), cardinals, juncos, blue jays, downy woodpeckers. They did not like what they found, and were puffing up their feathers for warmth. During the second week of March, the temperatures rose a little above freezing during the day and the snow began to recede. The snowdrops emerged again and the flowers began to open – only to be buried yet again for a few days. I think cedar waxwings must have visited our holly bushes not long ago, as I see that almost all the berries have disappeared. Our local chipmunk also emerged during the few warmer days, in search of provisions to supplement its store.

Even though we’ve had some slightly warmer weather, the ground is still frozen. Melting snow is draining away very slowly, and after a few days of heavy rain pools formed everywhere and froze over at night. Parts of our back lawn have been alternately a lake and an ice field. Seen from an upper window, it looks like an aerial photo of the frozen Arctic, with ice and snow cut through with small streams (in fact, tunnels made in the snow by field mice or other small rodents, revealed when the snow partially melted, then frozen in place). On the east side of our house, the view is very different, white, green, and brown: with the drain line from our basement sump pump frozen, water flows out of a secondary valve next to the foundation and runs into the grass. There’s nothing we can do about this except to hope that the line opens up before long, and the fact that the pump is having to operate means that the ground is beginning to thaw.

In the street, walking has been messy and a little dangerous. I’ve had to wade through several inches of water on the road leading from our cul-de-sac and to watch out for patches of ice, sometimes not easy to see. Still, on my walks I’ve been able to enjoy birdsong coming from all directions. When I went out today, the sky was blue, in sunnier areas the snow had receded to reveal soggy brownish grass, but the temperature was still several degrees below freezing. It’s supposed to rise several degrees above freezing in the next few days, then drop again to freezing or below freezing even in the daytime. It looks as if spring may not arrive this year until April, at least in our little corner of New England.

Images: Snowdrops peeping out of the snow, two days ago. In the second photo, a bird had walked by, leaving tracks.

New Tolkien Projects, Part One

January 15, 2014

It has already become clear to us, just halfway through the first month of the new year, that 2014 is going to be very busy for our work with Tolkien, so much so that we’ve had to call this post ‘Part One’. Here we’ll include as much news as we can give at this time, pending the signing of contracts and the settling of details.

Farmer Giles 2014In our last Tolkien Notes on November 3rd, we announced the return to print of our 50th anniversary edition of Farmer Giles of Ham. Since then, we’ve read two proofs and have written a brief note to introduce a gallery of Pauline Baynes’s later full-page illustrations for Farmer Giles, drawn for the Tolkien collection Poems and Stories (1980). The text of the new edition of Farmer Giles follows the previous one (1999), with adjustments to our introduction and notes to reflect the fact that Tolkien’s story has been newly typeset rather than, as before, reproduced in facsimile. The result will be another handsome volume in HarperCollins’ series of pocket-size editions of Tolkien’s works, following on The Hobbit and Roverandom.


Adventures of Tom Bombadil coverAlso scheduled to appear in this series, on October 9th, is The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. We had proposed a new edition of this book for its 50th anniversary in 2012, but the timing seems not to have been right for it. Instead, we were given approval to begin work on it last year, and are now making a final revision. This new edition will contain the sixteen poems as published in 1962, together with the original drawings by Pauline Baynes. But it will also include earlier versions of the poems, where earlier versions exist – some of these were published in magazines and journals which are now hard to find – and it will reprint a later ‘Bombadil’ poem, Once upon a Time. In addition, we are very pleased to be allowed to publish for the first time, from Tolkien’s manuscript, the predecessor of Perry-the-Winkle, called The Bumpus, and the complete, tantalizingly brief fragment of a prose story featuring Tom Bombadil, in the days of ‘King Bonhedig’. To these, we have added an introduction, comments on the poems and on Tolkien’s preface, and glosses for unusual words, as we did previously for Roverandom and Farmer Giles of Ham.

Readers Companion 2008On June 19th, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion will return to hardback in the U.K. Our Reader’s Companion, first published in 2005 simultaneously in hardback and A format (mass-market) paperback, provides annotations for The Lord of the Rings, including some drawn from unpublished writings by Tolkien, and documents our work on the corrected 50th anniversary text of The Lord of the Rings as it stood at the time. (This year of course, and 2015, mark the 60th anniversary of the first publication of The Lord of the Rings.) In the U.S.A., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have kept the original hardback Reader’s Companion in print, while HarperCollins allowed it to go out of print, retaining instead a B format (trade) paperback with a revised and slightly expanded text. We will be looking carefully at the 2008 edition and considering corrections and additions besides those noted on our website, as space permits within the present number of pages.

Images (cover art), top to bottom: the new edition of Farmer Giles of Ham; The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962); the 2008 trade paperback of The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion.

Tolkien and the Tape Recorder

December 31, 2013

Having read some erroneous comments online about Tolkien’s use and ownership of tape recorders, Christina reviewed the ‘Recordings’ essay in our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, as well as related information in other parts of the Reader’s Guide and Chronology volumes. But the comments quickly disappeared (at least, we now can’t find them*), and since Christina had done so much work, we decided to turn what could have been the basis of a reply into a blog post. Most of this material is in the Companion and Guide, but consolidated and with some further information added.

Caedmon Hobbit LPIn late August 1952†, while Tolkien was staying with his friends George and Moira Sayer in Malvern, his hosts produced a tape recorder‡ to amuse him. According to Sayer, Tolkien ‘had never seen one before’ – these were very early days for portable, consumer-level magnetic tape recorders in Britain – ‘and said whimsically that he ought to cast out any devil that might be in it by recording a prayer, the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic. He was delighted when I played it back to him and asked if he might record some of the poems in The Lord of the Rings to find out how they sounded to other people. The more he recorded, the more he enjoyed recording and the more his literary self-confidence grew. When he had finished the poems, one of us said: “Record for us the riddle scene from The Hobbit,” and we sat spellbound for almost half an hour while he did. I then asked him to record what he thought one of the best pieces of prose in The Lord of the Rings and he recorded part of The Ride of the Rohirrim [Book V, Chapter 5]’ (sleeve notes for the LP album J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings His The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring).

Sayer repeated this story, with additions and variations, on two occasions. In ‘Tales of the Ferrograph’, Minas Tirith Evening-Star 9, no. 2 (January 1980), pp. 2–4, he says that Tolkien recorded the Lord’s Prayer first in English and then in Gothic. Sayer comments also that Tolkien ‘had a very poor speaking voice, although we produced very good recordings of him with that old Ferrograph by putting the microphone very close to him really’ (p. 2), and that he was astonished to hear what his voice sounded like. In ‘Recollections of J.R.R. Tolkien’, Proceedings of the J.R.R Tolkien Centenary Conference 1992 (1995), Sayer refers again to the occasion, but mentions the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic only. He says that when Tolkien recorded some of the poems, ‘some he sang to the tunes that were in his head when writing them. He was delighted with the result. It was striking how much better his voice sounded recorded and amplified. The more he recorded, and the more often he played back the recordings, the more his confidence grew. He [rather than one of the Sayers] asked to record the great riddle scene from The Hobbit. He read it magnificently and was especially pleased with his impersonation of Gollum’ (p. 23).

A letter Tolkien wrote to his publisher, Rayner Unwin, on 29 August 1952 shows that Sayer was not exaggerating Tolkien’s interest. Tolkien was surprised at how well the tapes sounded, and with his success as a reader, and wondered if the BBC might be interested in using the recordings. Unwin suggested that he might discuss this with Tolkien at their next meeting, but nothing seems to have come of the suggestion. Nor did anything come of Tolkien’s suggestion in a letter to George Sayer on 28 August 1953, that he visit Sayer again and make a two-voice recording with him.

Selections from the private recordings Tolkien made in 1952 were issued in 1975 by Caedmon on two long-playing vinyl albums and on audio cassettes. It would be very interesting to know what happened to the original tapes, which included material in addition to that found on the recordings as issued. In ‘Tales of the Ferrograph’ Sayer comments that ‘Caedmon very foolishly, infuriatingly’ cut out Tolkien’s readings of the Lord’s Prayer, as well as conversation which occurred in between his readings from his works. Nor, Sayer complains, did Caedmon ‘make any attempt to reduce the background noise. They thought the American public would be disappointed if the recording didn’t sound old’ (p. 3).

After this experience, Tolkien also thought about how a tape recorder might be of assistance professionally to himself and to other members of the Oxford English faculty. On 6 July1953, he wrote to the Secretary of Faculties, asking for a grant towards the purchase of a tape recording machine, which he said had impressed him when he had the opportunity of using such recorders outside of Oxford: ‘For seminars or small classes they are extraordinarily effective in the exhibition of phonetics and of linguistic change; and for “practical philology”, the reconstruction of past forms of speech and literary modes (a department in which I have long been especially interested and active) they have become an indispensable assistant.’ He said that he was fairly familiar with such machines, and had made a number of recordings, ‘some of which are in use for instructional purposes elsewhere’ (Oxford University Archives, Chronology pp. 401–402). He had in mind a portable recorder, which would be housed in his room at college but could be transported easily to lecture rooms or lent to other members of the School. At the English Faculty Board meeting on 16 October, his application for a grant was forwarded to the General Board with the English Faculty Board’s strong support; this was successful, and Tolkien was authorized to purchase a tape recorder with a grant of £100 to the Committee on Advanced Studies. It was agreed that this would be lent to Tolkien on the understanding that it would be kept in the English Faculty Library when the machine was not in use. It seems, however, that this arrangement was not generally followed: Tolkien retired at the end of Trinity Term 1959, and it was not until sometime in May or June 1960 that the recorder – a Ferranti – was collected from him by C.L. Wrenn and only then placed in the English Faculty Library.

During the summer of 1953, Tolkien was corresponding with P.H. Newby of the BBC about a projected radio broadcast of his Modern English translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien hoped that he might be allowed to read the poem for broadcast himself, but the BBC were not keen to have him do so, as Tolkien told George Sayer in a letter of 31 August 1953. In the same letter, Tolkien said that to work on Sir Gawain he had hired (rented) a tape recorder, an old Sound Mirror, the best he could get locally, which was ‘very helpful in matters of timing and speed. With the help of Christopher and Faith [Tolkien], I made some three voice experiments, and recordings of the temptation scenes. An enormous improvement – and assistance to the listener. Chris was making an extremely good (if slightly Oxonian . . .) Gawain, before we had to break off’ (George Sayer, ‘Recollections of J.R.R. Tolkien’, p. 24, emended with reference to the original letter, Chronology, p. 408).

Beorhtnoth cassette linerOn that same day, Tolkien also wrote to P.H. Newby that he had spent a couple of days conducting experiments with Sir Gawain on a tape recorder, ‘which have suggested various points to me. Among them, that the translation, as reading copy, needs smoothing and easing a bit at some points, even if it neglects the accuracy required in a printed form for use (largely) together with the original text. . . .’ (BBC Written Archives Centre, Chronology, p. 408). In consequence of the successful broadcast of Sir Gawain, Tolkien asked Newby in a letter dated 3 May 1954 if the BBC might be interested in broadcasting The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, a play concerning the battle of Maldon, which he had written in alliterative verse, commenting that he himself had made a recording of it and thought it sounded very good. For this, he played all the parts and even made his own sound effects, including moving furniture to suggest the sound of wagon wheels. The play was ultimately broadcast by the BBC, but again not using Tolkien as an actor. He commented to the BBC producer on 22 September 1954 that ‘visual directions’ in Beorhtnoth could be disregarded, ‘though I am considering some additional lines. I have tested this by recording the whole thing on tape’ (BBC Written Archives Centre, Chronology, p. 440). Tolkien’s private recording was released, with other material recorded by Christopher Tolkien, as an audio cassette tape by HarperCollins, London, in a complimentary limited edition for the Tolkien Centenary Conference at Oxford in 1992.

Early in 1966, Tolkien’s publisher George Allen & Unwin agreed terms with the composer Donald Swann for the recording of his song cycle of Tolkien poems, The Road Goes Ever On. Originally the album was intended also to include readings of Tolkien poems by Swann’s At the Drop of a Hat colleague Michael Flanders, and for this, Tolkien used tape recordings to provide advice and assistance. On 28 March 1966, Tolkien wrote to Swann from the Hotel Miramar in Bournemouth that he had failed to find a tape recorder locally on which to record Galadriel’s lament (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 8). If the matter were urgent, however, he was willing to make more enquiries, but if it could wait until he returned to Oxford, he would then make a tape; in any case, he sent some notes. This might suggest that Tolkien owned a tape recorder at this date, but later correspondence suggests that this was not the case, rather that he knew of one he could use.

During a visit by Donald Swann and his wife to the Tolkiens on 20 December 1966, it was agreed there should be a long-playing record with the song cycle performed by Swann and baritone William Elvin on one side, and Tolkien reading his own poems (rather than a reading by Michael Flanders) on the other. In early May 1967, Caedmon, the company producing the LP, sent Tolkien a Philips cassette tape recorder on which he could practice before making the actual recordings in Oxford on 15 June. While reading The Sea-Bell, he discovered an error in the text printed in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from The Red Book (1962). Later, with two men from Caedmon on hand, he made a finished recording of at least eight of the poems in the Bombadil volume, as well as the Elvish verses A Elbereth Gilthoniel and Namárië from The Lord of the Rings

Caedmon replaced the loaned machine on which Tolkien had practised with a gift of one for himself, sending him brochures from which to make his choice. Guided by Joy Hill, he chose the Philips Automatic Family De Luxe model. He received this on 8 August 1967, but since he was about to go away and needed some assistance in its use, it was not until 27 August that, with help, he spent ‘some time making recordings and investigating the capabilities of the Philips machine’. He found it easy to use, but the recordings not very good. He suspected that ‘the microphone provided is not equal in quality to the machine. Recordings that I made nine or ten years ago when reproduced by it were very superior to those made direct’ (letter to Joy Hill, 30 August 1967, Tolkien–George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins, Chronology, p. 706). Nonetheless, he felt that it would be useful for practising. (We have not been able to find a reference online to this particular Philips model, but if Tolkien was able to play back tapes from the 1950s, which pre-dated audio cassettes, his new machine had to be of the reel-to-reel variety.)

In a letter of 6 March 1968, Tolkien offered to lend his grandson Michael George the tape recorder given him by Caedmon. He commented on the superior quality of the tapes made on his previous machine, the Ferranti provided by the University of Oxford, relative to his new recorder, which again he described as good except for its microphone. He also noted that he had had to have some of his older tapes renewed because of deterioration.

Images: Sleeve for the Caedmon LP of Tolkien reading from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; liner for the private audiocassette release of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beohrthelm’s Son.


* We think the comments were made on a Facebook page, which is to say, on a page that changes and shuffles almost constantly and has an internal search mechanism that’s no help at all.

† Tolkien had much earlier (July 1929) worked briefly as an ‘actor’ for the Linguaphone Conversational Course in English, issued by the Linguaphone Institute of London as a set of 78 rpm records. He read the introduction to, and played one of two roles in, Lesson 20, ‘At the Tobacconist’s’, and again was one of two readers for Lesson 30, ‘Wireless’. In these he was joined by the author of the lessons, A. Lloyd James of the University of London. But this would have been a very different kind of recording than was done with the Sayers’ machine, in a studio rather than the home.

‡ In ‘Tales of the Ferrograph’, Sayer names the model as the ‘Mark I Ferrograph – it was their very first tape model’.

§ Five of these, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Mewlips, The Hoard, Perry-the-Winkle, and The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon, were first issued later in 1967 as part of the LP Poems and Songs of Middle Earth (sic). The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection, first released in 2001, includes of all the material from the Caedmon LPs (except the song cycle) plus four poems recorded in 1967 but not previously issued: Errantry, Princess Mee, The Sea-Bell, and Namárië. A recent e-book edition of The Hobbit (not in our collection) evidently includes more recorded material from that work and is possibly part of The Hobbit material promised to accompany a facsimile of the first edition to be published in 2014.

The Tolkien Collector 33

December 30, 2013

At last! you say, and so do we. Tolkien Collector no. 33 went in the post this morning, and should reach current subscribers before long, allowing for the vagaries of postal service. Obviously we have not, as we hoped last time, managed to make The Tolkien Collector more than an annual publication, and with other contracted work in progress or on the horizon (which we’re not yet allowed to describe), and with Wayne’s day job having become even more demanding, the Collector isn’t likely to return soon to its original three- or four-issue per year schedule.

Those who receive no. 33 will notice that it is dated ‘July 2013’, which is when the text was completed; there was then a delay in printing and binding, and while we discussed whether or not to continue to accept subscriptions. In the end, we decided that since The Tolkien Collector appears so infrequently, it seems more fair to offer it per issue, as published, rather than accept payment without being able to deliver merchandise in a timely manner. Long gaps between issues also runs the risk of a subscriber having moved (or worse) in the interim, without sending us a change of address (our thanks to those who have): we have our fingers crossed that all of the copies posted today make it safely to their intended readers, without being returned to sender.

Those who have current subscriptions will have them honoured as long as they last, and each subscriber will find enclosed with no. 33 a coloured sheet indicating which number is the last. We will enclose similar sheets also with future issues, as appropriate. Otherwise, we will announce the publication of new numbers in this blog, on our website, and in relevant forums.

If anyone would like to write an article or note for The Tolkien Collector, we would be happy to hear from you.

Garden Notes November 2013

December 1, 2013

Christina writes: In some ways, this past summer was the most pleasant for gardening since our greatly expanded landscaping in 2010. There were periods of very hot weather, but less extensive than before and with breaks in between. Also, since there was enough rain that we had no local water restrictions, I could set drip hoses or sprinklers as I did other garden tasks during the day, rather than Wayne and I both losing free time before breakfast every other day, in order to use only watering cans or hand-held hoses, and only before 8:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.

red salviaIn my last garden notes, almost four months ago, I commented that many plants and bushes seem to flower earlier each year, even supposedly late-flowering varieties which now are almost over by mid-August. This was true again this year, though our Rose of Sharon which began to flower early did continue to do so well into September. However, most of our annuals did very well and enjoyed an extended season, since we did not have a hard frost until the night of 28/29 October, several weeks later than usual. The red salvia at the corner of our driveway put on an exceptionally brave show, and a couple reflowering varieties of daylilies continued to produce the occasional bloom through October. As autumn progressed, the holly berries turned red, forming splashes of colour at the front of the house.

I was able to enjoy eating apples from our own trees: one (the Fuji) was especially productive, while another (Honeycrisp) produced only a few, and the third (Gala) none. The apples were rather small, even though Wayne thinned the new fruit early on to promote growth of the rest – not enough, it seems. Next year we must be even more drastic, be sure to apply cedar rust preventative at the right time, and maybe give the apple trees extra water. (On the subject of apples, I was delighted last year and again this year that our local whole foods shop for a brief time had my favourite Cox’s Orange Pippin available from an orchard in Vermont. This variety is very popular in England, but practically unknown in the U.S.A.)

birch bed November 2013During the autumn, I have started to plan for next year. For example, there were several clumps of phlox, all the same colour, already in the perennial bed when I came to Williamstown in 1995, sections of which I have periodically uprooted as they expanded, but this year, two small clumps looked particularly unhappy: very leggy, with yellowing leaves, and (despite spraying) attacked by mildew. I decided they should go, and had our landscaper remove them. I’ll decide next spring whether to replace them with more phlox of a different colour, or with something entirely different. I had the largest clump cut back and the space filled by subdividing some of the adjoining peonies, which were no longer producing so many flowers. Elsewhere, I had some of our larger hostas subdivided and the spare sections planted at the back to replace a Hydrangea quercifolia which had not survived the 2012–13 winter. I also had some of the iris clumps subdivided, but not all replanted. I love these in the spring when in flower and the leaves are still upright, not so much during the summer: as they grow tall and bend over, they encroach on the space of adjoining plants and look very untidy.

While Wayne was roaming Home Depot one weekend looking for materials for refitting the garage and potting shed, I spent my time in their garden section and was tempted by packs of bulbs. Since some of my earlier bulb plantings are no longer producing flowers (or have been dug up by squirrels), I bought 60 mixed daffodil bulbs to add to those  planted sparsely around the apple trees; 75 crocus, partly to be planted in clumps in the beds and partly in the lawn; 75 grape hyacinth (Muscari) to add to an existing border; and 24 dwarf iris and 30 snowdrops to go in the beds along the front of the house. As plants begin to die back in autumn, I keep my spirits up by looking forward to the spring.

As our perennials faded in October and November, I began to cut them back. Some, such as the Shasta daises, reveal fresh growth when cut back. A few perennials, such as the heuchera with their variously coloured leaves, continue to look good, and I prefer to remove damaged leaves in the spring. By the time the first hard frost came at the end of October, killing most of the annuals overnight, most of the leaves were already off the trees. One day the Guinea impatiens stood with bright flowers above a thick layer of leaves, the next they were shrivelled, and when I went out to pull them up I had to push the leaves away to find the plants. We get a lot of leaves, mainly maple and birch, most of them are from trees in surrounding gardens.

compost binsIt was not until the 20th November that our landscaper’s men came to do the autumn cleanup. They finished cutting back the perennials, cleared leaves from the beds which they then spread with compost that had been forming in large bins constructed from concrete blocks (Wayne calls these the ‘gun emplacements’) at the back extension of our property. The men needed to clear as much compost as possible to make space for the leaves they cleared from the beds and lawns. There were so many leaves, in fact, that they had to compact them somewhat by trampling on them, and even so the bins are almost overflowing. The men finished work that first day by giving our lawns their final mowing of the year. They then returned to spend the morning erecting fences to protect those plants most appetizing to deer, who might come out of the nearby forests at any time of the year but are most likely to visit in winter when food is scarce. We have some sympathy for them, but they can have quite a devastating effect, nibbling bushes down to the ground. Another reason for not encouraging them is that they carry Lyme disease, which can be quite serious if not quickly diagnosed. Unfortunately, the workers (no longer employed!) who took the fences down in the spring did not label them properly, and it took our landscaper, his two men, and me some time to unroll each bundle of wire netting and work out which piece went where.

A few days later, we had the first snowfall of the winter, not much in the wintry scheme of things in western Massachusetts, but enough for Wayne to brush (rather than shovel) it from the drive. Most of it soon melted. We have had several flurries since then, which have kept a sprinkling of white on the ground but, thankfully, not the heavy snowfalls that were at one time forecast for Thanksgiving.

shed southWayne writes: One of the home improvement projects I wanted to tackle when we had our renovations done in 2007 was a re-fit of our potting shed (attached to the north end of our garage), but as we ran out of time and money I put it on my long-term list of things to do myself. This year, I was determined to get at least most of the work done before (as has always happened before) cold weather set in and I had to postpone the job until spring. My conception of the shed has changed several times since my parents and I bought our house in 1978. For a long time, we kept it as originally described by the realtor, for garden work and as a convenient place to store the lawnmower and other tools. A previous owner had put up a cantilevered counter out of scrap wood, and had covered the stud walls with the remains of pallets from a local manufacturer; and in the latter, numerous nails had been driven willy-nilly, on which one could hang the odd rake or shovel. It was all as amateurish as could be, but a low priority for change as the years passed, both of my parents passed away, Christina and I married, we had book contracts, and so forth. At one point, I considered making the shed over into a printing shop, but as it’s unheated this was hardly practical; and since we rarely do actual repotting of plants, there was no point in restoring that function to the space. Instead, we decided to make it a small workshop, with a proper workbench and storage for hand and power tools, which I have used on a regular basis for repairs and odd jobs and wanted finally to organize, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.

In 2007, the most we could afford for the shed was to have an unsteady floor of bricks and carpet (talk about amateurish!) replaced with one of poured concrete, and overhead lights and ground-fault electrical outlets installed. Six years later, this past summer, I got busy at last, removed most of the scrap lumber from the shed walls, and mapped out what I could do economically, using new pegboard panels bought from Home Depot together with panelling and plywood left over from our renovations and spare shelving and brackets brought over from Christina’s London flat when she moved to Williamstown in 1995. I was pleased to make use of these materials, with a lot of galvanized screws, with a minimum of cutting except for short lengths of shelving installed between some of the studs. I already had a tool cabinet on wheels; instead of trying to build a workbench, I found one on Amazon of the right size, on which I mounted a small vise at one end. I have another, larger wood vise still to mount elsewhere on the bench, but that will be a little trickier.

shed eastAs shown in the photos, many of our hand tools are now neatly hanging on pegboard, and there is ample shelving, or large plastic bins, for power tools and supplies. I re-mounted on metal brackets an old shelf that had been at one end of the shed, and we use this now to store clay pots. Below this is a new long shelf, on which are a variety of watering cans. On adjoining walls are more pegboard panels, for hanging metal plant rings and stakes, and hooks of various sizes for other purposes. In the garage proper, I mounted two lengths of a metal pegboard, called (really) the Holey Rail, on which now neatly hang our shovels, rakes, push brooms, and the like, as well as small ladders. Finally, next to the door from our house into the garage, I mounted another pegboard panel, and on this we store our small gardening tools: secateurs, loppers, trowels, etc. Home Depot have done very well out of this project, especially in supplying pegboard hooks, but it’s very satisfying to be able to find the tool you’re looking for &endash; provided that one remembers to put it back when finished with it.

Images, top to bottom: red salvia, then still hanging on beneath our locust trees; the ‘birch bed’ in front of the house, put to bed for the winter, with anti-deer fencing around holly and euonymus; our ‘gun emplacement’ bins, filled with leaves and other garden waste that will make lots of compost; the potting shed, now also a workshop; the east wall of the shed, with pots, watering cans, and such.


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