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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

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? HarperCollins have made some further corrections to the text and have reset (or perhaps we should say reconfigured) the type, which will result in a new edition, bibliographically speaking, with a revised index to account for new pagination. 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. The other 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.

Tolkien Notes 10

November 3, 2013

The Pocket Farmer Giles of Ham

Farmer Giles 2014The fiftieth anniversary edition of Farmer Giles of Ham, which we edited in 1999 with an introduction and notes, the text of the first, manuscript version of the work, Tolkien’s notes for a sequel, and a map of the ‘Little Kingdom’ by Pauline Baynes, will return to print in a ‘pocket’ edition from HarperCollins. This is due to be published on 27 February 2014. Pauline Baynes’s upper cover art for the 1978 edition has been adapted once again, now with a blackletter capital ‘H’ in ‘Ham’ to suggest the mock-medieval nature of Tolkien’s tale. HarperCollins asked if we had any corrections to make to our text; we pointed them to our addenda and corrigenda here, and will be interested to see what can be done, space permitting.

Blackwell’s Rare Books

Once upon a time in The Tolkien Collector, we used to collect entries for Tolkien items offered in booksellers’ and auction catalogues. We gave that up eventually, when the majority of offerings were made online, in electronic catalogues or through services such as abebooks and eBay. But some dealers still issue catalogues, and we take note of Tolkien offerings when they appear, mainly to see how much a particular book is bringing now in the marketplace (and usually to be glad that we already have it and didn’t pay quite so much). In Blackwell’s Rare Books (Oxford) latest Antiquarian & Modern catalogue, a copy of the first one-volume paperback Lord of the Rings (Allen & Unwin, 1968) is listed at £200 (item 252), spine ‘lightly faded’ and with ‘minor rubbing along edges’ and ‘a small crease’ in the bottom corner of both panels illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Also in the catalogue, as item 253 and priced at £300, is a copy of the Society of Antiquaries Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park (1932), containing Tolkien’s appendix ‘The Name “Nodens”’. This is said to have ‘occasional light foxing’ and the binding ‘sunned overall with two small damp-spots to [the] back cover’, spine slightly worn, and ‘edges browned’.

The Family Tree of Fairy Folk

Family Tree of Fairy FolkMaud and Miska Petersham, husband and wife illustrators beloved in Wayne’s childhood, are the subject of a recent book by Lawrence Webster, Under the North Light: the Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham (Woodstockarts, 2012). Late in life, after Miska’s death, Maud planned to publish a Who’s Who in Fairylore, and for this sketched ‘The Family Tree of Fairy Folk’, in one corner of which is a hobbit relaxing with his pipe.

Another Inch

On October 3rd, we had just received the new regular and de luxe British editions of The Hobbit, illustrated by Jemima Catlin, and as described in our previous post, Christina had just reorganized our Hobbit bookcase to allow for growth. When it came time to put away the new copies, however, we found that the new editions were too tall for the space! and Christina needed to revise our Hobbit shelves once again. Library management is never-ending.

The Lord of the Rings New Editions

Hobbit and Lord of the Rings 2013The post this week has brought two new editions of The Lord of the Rings. First to arrive was the ‘collector’s edition’ by HarperCollins, with each of the three hardcover volumes bound in decorated cloth and issued without dust-jackets. The text is that of the fiftieth anniversary edition, with the expanded index, the general map of Middle-earth printed in black and red on each front endsheet, and the map of Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor in black and red on each back endsheet. Although these volumes are available separately, we bought them in a slipcased set with the recent ‘collector’s edition’ Hobbit: each volume of The Lord of the Rings in our copy is the first printing, and The Hobbit is the third.

We have also had the new deluxe edition published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, bound in a dark grey suede-like cloth (leatherette) with deep black and gold lettering and decoration. The outer corners of both the boards and the pages are rounded. The bottom margin is cut unusually close for a hardcover, and the binding is tight though flexible. Again, the text is that of the fiftieth anniversary edition, with the expanded index; the larger maps are printed, in black only, at the end of the volume. The 2013 HMH catalogue describes this as a ‘pocket edition’, which at 8¼ × 6 × 2¼ in. presupposes a large pocket. The catalogue also calls for ‘gilt edges’ but the only gilt is applied to the rings stamped on the upper cover and spine.

Tolkien Studies in New Casebooks

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, a book of commissioned essays edited by noted children’s literature specialist Peter Hunt, has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan in the Children’s Literature subset of their series New Casebooks. As usual when we receive a new Tolkien-related book, we turned first to its bibliography, to see which sources have been used, and if any essential or more up-to-date references have been omitted – often a good method for judging the quality of a book in advance of reading. In this case, instead of documenting the works cited by the essay authors (for which one must look at individual sets of endnotes), Hunt makes suggestions for ‘Further Reading’. About half of these are works on Tolkien in particular, with the rest on fantasy and children’s literature in general.

Under the heading ‘On Tolkien’s life’, Hunt lists only four works: Carpenter’s Biography, Tolkien’s Letters, John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, and Carpenter’s The Inklings. All well and good: but (though it’s hardly modest for us to ask) where is our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, with its long Chronology, numerous biographical Guide entries, and substantial information not published elsewhere? Seven years on since its publication, one can no longer claim that the Companion and Guide is new and unfamiliar; and indeed, Hunt does include it, but in the section ‘On Tolkien’s work’. There he writes:

Tolkien may well be unrivalled for the ‘comprehensive’ reference works devoted to him. Every possible (it might seem) cultural and literary reference in his books is tracked in J.E.A. Taylor’s [sic] The Complete Tolkien Companion, 3rd edn (London: Pan, 2002). But that book’s 736 pages pale beside the nearly 1000 pages of Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (London: HarperCollins, 2008 [i.e. the revised trade paperback]), which is in its turn dwarfed by the 2304 pages of Hammond and Scull’s The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion [sic], 2 vols (London: HarperCollins, 2006).

Did Professor Hunt perhaps group these books together because they run to a large number of pages (is size their only virtue?), or because they happen to share the word companion in their titles? Tyler’s work, an encyclopedia of characters, places, etc. in the ‘matter of Middle-earth’ (and less useful than Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-earth), in fact does not include ‘every possible . . . cultural and literary reference’ in Tolkien’s works – far from it. Nor is our book of annotations to The Lord of the Rings comparable to Tyler’s work, but is of a very different sort. And as for our Companion and Guide, although it’s concerned with Tolkien’s works, it’s also, and primarily, biographical (or historical) rather than critical, and so would have been more naturally categorized in the Hunt volume under ‘On Tolkien’s life’.

We quibble about this because the Companion and Guide is often forgotten as a biographical source, or at least not used in that regard to the extent it might be. As John Garth wrote in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007), ‘with the arrival of the Companion and Guide there ought now to be no excuse, beyond sheer laziness, for other biographers to use Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography as virtually the sole source of information about Tolkien’s life, as too many have done’ (p. 258). Later, in Tolkien Studies 6 (2009, p. 315), David Bratman judged (though we ourselves would not go so far) that the Companion and Guide had ‘instantly superseded Humphrey Carpenter’s long-standard Tolkien: A Biography as the source of first reference for biographical data on the man’. And in Amon Hen 203 (January 2007), David Doughan more succinctly called the Companion and Guide ‘probably the most useful biographical reference on Tolkien ever’ (p. 28). Very welcome comments, all, and only a few of many. We would hope that the length of the Companion and Guide would not put off readers – as a reference book, it hardly demands that one read it straight through (though some have done so) – nor can its cost be considered high for a work of that length. We don’t find it cited (neither is the Reader’s Companion) by any of the authors in Hunt’s book.

Hunt’s ‘Further Reading’ is a curiously mixed set of suggestions. It appears primarily to reflect his own reading behind his editorial introduction to the volume, and to have been guided in no small part by Brian Rosebury’s choice of sources in his 2003 Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon. For Hunt, the ‘two essential books on Tolkien’ are Rosebury’s Cultural Phenomenon and The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey, with a nod also to Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, books we ourselves marked as ‘particularly useful’ in the bibliography of our Companion and Guide. But – granting that, as Hunt says, ‘the list of specialist studies [on Tolkien] could be extended almost indefinitely’ – he unaccountably omits any mention, though one would reasonably expect it in a book in which The Hobbit features so prominently, of Douglas A. Anderson’s Annotated Hobbit and John D. Rateliff’s History of The Hobbit; and he recommends the very limited 1983 J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land, edited by Robert Giddings, as ‘an assured collection’ while failing to include The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, cited by several of Hunt’s essayists, and even by Hunt himself, or Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on the History of Middle-earth, or A Tolkien Compass, or the journal Tolkien Studies – to say no more.

Every Inch Is Needed

October 3, 2013

Christina writes: One of the most important parts of our home renovation in 2007 was work undertaken to make our basement dry and to add (as we mentioned on introducing this blog) several hundred linear feet of new bookshelves. These were a welcome safety valve in particular for our ‘Tolkien library’ – once, and still at a pinch, a dining room – where our collection of Tolkien’s works was stuffed, too tight for safekeeping and in places double-shelved, into seven large bookcases, seven feet high by three feet wide. Once our ‘stacks’ became available, we moved to the basement a section of Tolkien in translation, thereby gaining space in the library for English-language editions. Works from A Middle English Vocabulary to The Lord of the Rings then occupied the four bookcases on the west wall, and subsequent titles, periodicals, etc. were kept in the three bookcases on the east wall.

Tolkien shelvesThis was not as straightforward as it might seem. As far as possible, we try to shelve Tolkien’s books in the order used in Wayne’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography: that is, divided into books by Tolkien, books to which Tolkien contributed or which he edited or translated, periodical contributions, published letters, published art, and miscellaneous, arranged in each section chronologically by title, edition, and printing. (Translations of Tolkien’s works into foreign languages are a section unto themselves, arranged by language.) But unless one has the endless shelves of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Library, eventually any organizing system for an active, growing collection has to give way to division also by size. Our Tolkien library bookcases have six adjustable shelves, i.e. seven shelves including the bottom one, and enough height that, in general, only the tallest books have to be removed from strict order; but at the same time, for The Lord of the Rings and boxed sets of that work with The Hobbit, following the Bibliography order creates runs of several feet of mass-market paperbacks (e.g. Ballantine editions) or of Allen & Unwin (and successors) one-volume paperbacks, and because these volumes are relatively short, in two bookcases we have been able to insert an extra shelf.

After our rearrangement of the collection at the end of 2007, there was a comfortable amount of empty space in the Tolkien library, and one empty shelf between The Hobbit and Farmer Giles of Ham seemed a reasonable allowance for growth for The Hobbit, since all separate editions of that work published since 1937 occupied just under five shelves. But as new editions have been issued during the last six years, that spare shelf has been almost filled, and there are more books to come in conjunction with the second and third Hobbit films; and although we still had two empty shelves at the end of our Lord of the Rings section (down from three and a half in 2007), more boxed sets will be published soon, so using this space for Hobbit expansion didn’t seem a particularly good solution. In any case, I knew that it would be a major task indeed to move the Lord of the Rings section a shelf forward without breaking up the multiple sequences described in the Bibliography. I also disliked the idea of moving just one shelf of The Hobbit to the end, and moving the section of Farmer Giles of Ham would not provide much space.

bamboo shelvesThen a few days ago, we were wondering what to do with two small bamboo shelving units we had had in the kitchen but no longer wanted there. These were made to be hung on a bedroom or bathroom wall (I had them in my flat in London), and for only lightweight storage on shelves with low clearance. It occurred to me, though, that they might fit well in one particular spot on the north wall of the Tolkien library, and that they would be suitable for mass market paperbacks on the lower shelves and taller (but relatively lightweight) books on the open top shelf. Ballantine editions of The Lord of the Rings were an obvious candidate; but as there was enough space for only part of the Ballantine run, I chose the later issues, from the introduction of cover illustrator Darrell K. Sweet in 1981, leaving the earlier printings with the main run in our big bookcases, preceding the Allen & Unwin second edition. The removal of the Sweet editions from the second bookcase on the west wall left enough space to move some editions of The Lord of the Rings from the bottom shelf of the first bookcase to the top shelf of the second (Ace Books) and to the taller third shelf (some Allen & Unwin first editions and Houghton Mifflin first editions). Farmer Giles of Ham and other Allen & Unwin first editions moved to the bottom shelf. At the other end of The Lord of the Rings, there are now three empty shelves.

To make room for future issues of Tolkien Studies, I removed the run of Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review from one of the low bookcases under the library’s bow window and placed it on the top shelf of one of the bamboo bookcases. No doubt there will be more Ballantine editions to go in this case as new cover issues appear. In the meantime, we’ve gained some space for more copies of The Hobbit – for a while. Already there are two U.K. editions illustrated by Jemima Catlin waiting to be listed, and the U.S. edition of the Catlin Hobbit is in the post.

Images, top to bottom: Two of our large ‘Tolkien library’ bookcases, with a little room for more copies of The Hobbit (the drapes are a William Morris fabric, ‘Pomegranate’ (or ‘Fruit’); the framed drawing is by Pauline Baynes for Smith of Wootton Major); the relocated bamboo bookcases with relocated books (the decorated tobacco jar, a gift from René van Rossenberg, contains Tolkien-related buttons).

The Blackie Question Revisited

August 26, 2013

Our post of 4 February, concerning the five titles with illustrations by Pauline Baynes in the series Blackie’s Library of Famous Books, drew replies from fellow collectors, who sent us valuable information. Since then, we have had a helpful response to questions sent to the British Library about their copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and we have been able to determine that Blackie & Son moved their London offices from 66 Chandos Place to 16/18 William IV Street in 1951.

Most interesting of all, we have found that Pauline Baynes art was first included in the Blackie Andersen’s Fairy Tales alongside black and white illustrations by Helen Stratton, whose pictures had accompanied the Blackie Andersen for many years. Two of the copies of this revised Andersen called to our attention, as well as the British Library copy, are illustrated primarily by Stratton, but with a colour frontispiece by Baynes and a title-page drawing after Baynes (adapted from her dust-jacket art for the Blackie Grimm’s Fairy Tales). Since the copies give the first London address for the publisher on the verso of the half-title leaf as 66 Chandos Place (Blackie’s London office from 1941 to 1951), and a ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’ notice also is printed on that page (referring to a conservation scheme which ended in 1949), and in two of the copies there is a 1949 ownership date, we have dated the first appearance of the Baynes art, and of her paintings for an accompanying dust-jacket, to [1949?].

Sometime later, the Stratton art was removed from the Blackie Andersen and replaced with further ink drawings by Baynes, added to her existing frontispiece and title-page art. The text type was reset as well. So far, the earliest copies of this new edition known to us give the publisher’s London address as 16/18 William IV Street, and thus can have appeared no earlier than 1951; and as noted in our earlier post, our copy with this address has an ownership inscription dated 1954, providing a range for the printing date from 1951 to 1954. Since the artist’s copy, preserved in the Pauline Baynes Archive at Williams College, likewise contains the William IV Street address, it seems reasonable to suppose that the copy represents the first appearance of the new Baynes illustrations, and therefore we have dated the new edition to [1951?]. Of course, this conclusion may be refined as more information about further copies comes to hand.

The Sendak Hobbit

August 13, 2013

Wayne writes: Late last summer, I was asked to write about some aspect of the work of Maurice Sendak for the Newsletter* of the Children’s Books History Society, as part of an extended obituary and appreciation – Sendak had passed away in May 2012. I chose to focus on two of my favorite Sendak books, The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960) and The Nutshell Library (1962). For the sake of context, however, I looked again at the complete range of Sendak’s work, and in the process recalled that he was once engaged to illustrate a deluxe edition of The Hobbit for J.R.R. Tolkien’s primary American publisher, Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Thereby hangs a tale which has been confused in the telling.

News of this might-have-been Hobbit briefly dominated geek websites in March 2011. The key article was written for the Los Angeles Times ‘Hero Complex’ page by Spiderwick Chronicles creator Tony DiTerlizzi. ‘Reinterpretation’, he argued, is ‘integral to the lifespan of a classic, whether book or film’, and each generation of readers should have an edition of a timeless story that speaks directly to them, in a style and design they find familiar. For DiTerlizzi, Maurice Sendak, the beloved Caldecott Medal-winning author-illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, was ‘the perfect visionary to reinterpret’ Tolkien’s Hobbit.

According to DiTerlizzi – using information he received from Wicked author Gregory Maguire, who in turn had interviewed Sendak – Tolkien requested samples to judge Sendak’s suitability for the job. ‘Begrudgingly, Sendak obliged, creating two finished images – one of wood-elves dancing in the moonlight, and another of Bilbo relaxing outside his hobbit hole smoking his pipe beside Gandalf.’ But (as the story goes) an editor mislabelled these, identifying the wood-elves as hobbits. ‘This blunder nettled Tolkien. His reply was that Sendak had not read the book closely and did not know what a hobbit was. Consequently, Tolkien did not approve the drawings. Sendak was furious.’ A meeting between illustrator and author was arranged while Sendak was in England for the U.K. release of Where the Wild Things Are; but before this could occur, Sendak had a heart attack, putting him in hospital for weeks. At last, the project was abandoned. ‘Had Sendak’s edition been released,’ DiTerlizzi stated, ‘I have no doubt it would have been a smashing success. I even speculate that he would have been asked to continue onward with “The Lord of the Rings.”’

Replies to this article on the ‘Hero Complex’ page were mixed, some agreeing with DiTerlizzi’s opinions, others finding fault with Sendak’s sample drawing of Bilbo and Gandalf at Bag-End (reproduced with the article). Christina and I added our own comments, referring to correspondence about the Sendak Hobbit between Houghton Mifflin and Tolkien’s British publisher, George Allen & Unwin, which we had read in the course of our research. ‘Mr. DiTerlizzi’, we wrote,

says that Sendak was invited to illustrate The Hobbit ‘in the late 1960s’; in fact, Sendak signed a contract in 1964, and asked for a couple of years to do the work. The article implies that the only hurdle to Sendak’s involvement was Tolkien, who in 1967 ‘was still overseeing his Middle-earth empire’; in fact, Tolkien had already, in 1963, allowed Houghton Mifflin to get on with a deluxe ‘Hobbit’ to be illustrated by Virgil Finlay (who seems to have dropped out; Tolkien made some positive comments on his sample picture), and when Sendak was proposed he continued in the same manner. Far from ‘overseeing an empire’, by which we suppose Mr. DiTerlizzi means micromanaging, Tolkien tended to defer to his publishers on business matters. Sendak may have made sample drawings ‘begrudgingly’, but they seem to have been expected of him by all concerned, as from any artist, even one so distinguished.

In regard to the misidentification of the ‘wood-elves’ drawing, the correspondence between Houghton Mifflin and Allen & Unwin in January–February 1967 clearly refers to only one image sent by Austin Olney at Houghton Mifflin, received by Joy Hill at Allen & Unwin, and shown to Tolkien by Rayner Unwin: the picture of Gandalf and Bilbo. Tolkien saw it on 16 February 1967, and on 20 February Rayner wrote to Houghton Mifflin that Tolkien was not ‘wildly happy about the proportions of the figures’, Bilbo being too large relative to Gandalf. There is no indication that Tolkien saw a picture of dancing wood-elves, so any mislabelling ‘blunder’ was of no consequence.

We might have added that DiTerlizzi’s fulsome praise for the ‘spec pieces’, comparing them to ‘etchings by the likes of Rembrandt and Samuel Palmer’, could hardly have applied to more than the one sample drawing (of Bilbo and Gandalf), since – as DiTerlizzi himself noted – only this drawing is known to survive, along with Sendak’s marked copy of The Hobbit, in the Beinecke Library of Yale University; he could not have seen the ‘wood-elves’ drawing, which is nowhere to be found.

In 2004, Christina and I were invited to attend a session of the Children’s Literature New England conference held in Williamstown, at which Sendak was the guest of honor and was interviewed on stage by Gregory Maguire. The story of the aborted Hobbit came up. Sendak spoke with indignation about what had happened, but Christina and I knew that what he recalled didn’t match the archival evidence. Of course, it may be that Sendak misremembered, or that he recalled only what he had been told by Houghton Mifflin; it may be that their account was garbled, or altered to make it less displeasing to an important illustrator; or it may be that Sendak’s ‘wood-elves’ drawing was thought so poor by publishers’ intermediaries that it was deliberately withheld from the author – who, after all, had already illustrated The Hobbit himself. Sendak’s drawing of Bilbo and Gandalf appears to have been done quickly, perhaps under pressure to produce an overdue sample. I wonder if Sendak was ever fully invested in the project – it would be interesting to see what he wrote or drew in his working copy of The Hobbit, as a gauge of his dedication.

When Sendak was approached by Houghton Mifflin about The Hobbit at the beginning of 1964, Where the Wild Things Are had just been published, though it had not yet won the Caldecott Medal. Sendak had received four Caldecott Honor awards, so was already an illustrator of some repute. The cachet of a Caldecott Medal (announced in March 1964 and accepted by Sendak in June) changed the game dramatically. Although Sendak thought that work on The Hobbit would take only two years, three went by before he produced trial art. In the meantime, he illustrated several other books. He never lacked for projects, and after Where the Wild Things Are became enormously popular, he had enough financial security that, having illustrated so many books by others, he was eager to assert, in a way greater than he already had, his own preferences and taste.

At any rate, in 1964 the editors at Houghton Mifflin probably had Where the Wild Things Are particularly in mind, at least as proof that Sendak could handle a tale of ‘there and back again’, if a very short tale compared to Tolkien’s book. It was Sendak’s most ambitious and most impressive work to that date, though in some respects a development of his most common style, influenced by comic strips and cartoons. But he had also made some increasingly sophisticated and very successful ink drawings, based on nineteenth-century illustrations, an influence already at the beginning of his career. Many of these appeared in the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, which began in 1957. By the time he made his Hobbit specimen, Sendak had done elaborate pen work for (among others) a 1966 collection of stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, George Macdonald’s The Golden Key in 1967 (another near-connection with Tolkien, who had been asked to write the introduction but bowed out, transforming his work into Smith of Wootton Major), and, also in 1967, Sendak’s own Higglety Pigglety Pop!

His Hobbit specimen suggests that he would have illustrated Tolkien’s book in this vein. Would his more developed drawings – especially his very accomplished pictures for The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973) – been to Tolkien’s liking? Maybe so, if Sendak had paid attention to Tolkien’s descriptions and visual clues, and if his art was not too outlandish. Tolkien wrote, concerning Virgil Finlay’s sample art for The Hobbit: ‘as long (as seems likely) he will leave humour to the text and pay reasonable attention to what the text says, I shall I expect be quite happy’. And also: ‘With regard to the “redressed” American Hobbit, I am inclined to let Houghton Mifflin get on with it according to their own taste.’ I have no doubt that Sendak too would have been allowed to ‘get on with it’, in some mutually agreeable form. But he never returned to The Hobbit after recovering from his heart attack. Christina and I have found nothing in publishers’ archives to explain why. It may be, as Sendak’s fame continued to grow, that Houghton Mifflin ultimately couldn’t afford him, or that he became more interested (he certainly became more involved, and was very skilled) in designing for theatre and opera. In any event, as Sendak said in his speech accepting the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in April 1970, his ‘passion for making books’ had given him ‘a distinct vision’ of what he wanted his books to be, ‘a vision difficult to verbalize. I am now in search of a form more purely and essentially my own.’ If Sendak had illustrated The Hobbit, I’m sure the result would have been worth seeing, if probably not the masterpiece above all masterpieces that Tony DiTerlizzi predicted.

* My article was published in the March 2013 issue.


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