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A Working Library, Part Two

November 21, 2011

Christina writes: When writing about or editing Tolkien, Wayne and I make extensive use not only of our core Tolkien collection, but also of other works which are the subject of this part of ‘A Working Library’.

In each of our two working areas is a copy of the microprint edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Wayne has the two-volume set from 1971, and I have the three volumes from 1978, each having kept the edition owned before we were married. The OED is frequently consulted, and was in near-constant use when dealing with unusual words in the Reader’s Companion. On a low bookcase next to my desk are also several other dictionaries: The English Dialect Dictionary, edited by Joseph Wright, in six volumes (1898–1905), An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Based on the Manuscript Collection of the Late Joseph Bosworth, edited and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller (1898), with Toller’s Supplement of 1921; An Icelandic-English Dictionary by Richard Cleasby, Gudbrand Vigfusson, and William A. Craigie, the second edition of 1957; and Y Geiriadur Mawr: The Complete Welsh-English English-Welsh Dictionary by H. Meurig Evans and W.O. Thomas, new edition (1995).

On my desk proper I keep copies of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (2002), The Oxford Thesaurus of English (2004), and New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (2005). With these, because I need to refer to it so often, is my working copy of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Wayne has near his desk a similar but larger collection of dictionaries and thesauri, as well as a variety of style manuals (MLA, Chicago, Oxford, Cambridge, etc.) for all occasions, usage guides (the 1965 second edition of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage is often off the shelf), the Oxford Spelling Dictionary (1986), and the Phonetic Symbol Guide by Geoffrey K. Pullum and William A. Ladusaw (1986), among much else. Also in his studio are many shelves of books on printing and typography, which support the typesetting and design work he has done for several of our books as well as other purposes: here The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst (2004) has pride of place.

Until our renovations in 2007, most of the books in our general reference collection were kept on shelves in our kitchen-cum-dining area. These have now been moved into the basement (to make room for a more traditional china cabinet). Among them are Greek and Latin dictionaries as well as various modern language dictionaries, which I often use when describing Tolkien translations for The Tolkien Collector. An invaluable help in this work is also The Language of the Foreign Book Trade: Abbreviations, Terms, Phrases, by Jerrold Orne (1976). We also own a 24-volume set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the 14th edition (1938), which we were lucky to acquire as a library cast-off. It’s limited by its cut-off date, of course, but it comes from the period when articles were written by leading experts and the Britannica had a deservedly high reputation. To give just two examples, I quoted from its account of ancient siege engines when annotating ‘The Siege of Gondor’ in the Reader’s Companion, and I found its account of the early 20th-century English educational and examination system useful when writing in our Companion and Guide about Tolkien at King Edward’s School and his matriculation at Oxford. The Britannica in fact also serves another purpose: as a ‘canary’ in our renovated basement. Before we installed new drains, mould quickly formed on the cloth bindings of the Encyclopaedia, which seemed particularly susceptible to the problem. Now that our basement is dry, we returned the (cleaned) Britannica to its former home, and I keep a careful eye on it to check for any sign of mould, not relying only on electronic gauges to tell us that the relative humidity is at an acceptable level.

Other books in our reference section include two by Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names (1980) and English River Names (1968), which we consulted for various Shire place-names in the Reader’s Companion. We also have, though have found less useful, The Cambridge Dictionary of Place-Names by Victor Watts (2004), and a number of the regional volumes published by the English Place-Name Society, which have been very useful. Along with these are various books on first names and surnames, such as the Dictionary of English Surnames by P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson (1997), which we used when researching Hobbit names.

The low bookcases under the bow window in the Tolkien Library are filled mainly with books dealing with aspects of Tolkien’s life and work. These include, for Tolkien’s early life, Images of Hall Green compiled by Michael Byrne (1996), Moseley and Kings Heath on Old Picture Postcards by John Marks (1991), Some Moseley Personalities, Volume I (1991), and Catholics in Birmingham by Christine Ward-Penny (2004). For his time at King Edward’s School we own King Edward’s School, Birmingham, 1552–1952 by T.W. Hutton (1952) and No Place for Fop or Idler: The Story of King Edward’s School, Birmingham by Anthony Trott (1992). Most important of all, from our collection of works by Tolkien, is a bound volume of the King Edward’s School Chronicle for 1909–14. Wayne and I both had in our individual collections photocopies of items attributed to Tolkien, and mentions of him speaking in debate or taking part in a rugby match, and while working on the Companion and Guide we spent some time at the Bodleian making copies of other useful pages in the Chronicle. We were very happy, however, to find this bound volume on eBay, and on several occasions while writing our book we extracted further information which we had not previously thought significant.

When writing in the Companion and Guide about Tolkien’s visit to Switzerland in 1911, Wayne drew upon Tolkien’s own accounts in Letters, of course, as well as an unpublished account by Tolkien’s friend Colin Brookes-Smith (now partly published in Tolkien’s Gedling 1914: The Birth of a Legend by Andrew H. Morton and John Hayes, 2008), but also on the travel guide Switzerland by Karl Baedeker to plot their route, using our copy of the 24th edition, published in 1911. When we came to write about Tolkien’s visit to Italy in 1955, I consulted various guides and souvenir books I had collected during my own visits there in 1968 and 1970.

We found the most useful general book on Oxford, both ‘town’ and ‘gown’, to be The Encyclopaedia of Oxford edited by Christopher Hibbert (1988), with entries describing and giving the history of places from pubs to colleges (still standing or long gone), explaining university institutions, associations, and clubs, and providing biographies of the famous people associated with Oxford. Other books about Oxford can be divided into three classes. First there are books about the university, its history and statutes, and those aiming to provide guidance to students. Volumes 7 and 8 of The History of the University of Oxford cover the relevant period for Tolkien: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 2, edited by M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys (2000), which includes the beginning of the 20th century up to 1914, and The Twentieth Century, edited by Brian Harrison (1994). We also have a volume containing the Examination Statutes for 1930–31, and two general guides, Handbook to the University of Oxford (1933) and Oxford of Today: A Manual for Prospective Rhodes Scholars, edited by Laurence A. Crosby, Frank Aydelotte, and Alan C. Valentine (1927). Supplementing the topographical entries in Hibbert are the Blue Guide Oxford and Cambridge by Geoffrey Tyack (1999) and A New Guidebook to the Heart of Oxford by Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson (1999). We’ve also read a few general books about Oxford and Oxford people, more for atmosphere than for information: Oxford Now and Then by Dacre Balsden (1970), Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion by David Horan (1999), and Oxford Observed: Town and Gown by Peter Snow (1991). One of the most unusual but also most useful items we’ve acquired is the 34-page booklet When the Lights Went Out: Oxfordshire 1939–1945 by Malcolm Graham and Melanie Williams (1979), which provides fascinating information about Oxford during the Second War, including how people managed in the blackout.

In regard to Tolkien’s service in the First World War, the most important published source is the two-volume History of the Lancashire Fusiliers by Major-General J.C. Latter (1949). Again, we began with photocopies of this book made from a copy received on interlibrary loan, and later were able to buy our own copy, luckily before we began to write the final text of the Companion and Guide. Also kept in our Tolkien Library are a copy of the signalling manual that Tolkien used, Signalling: Morse, Semaphore, Station Work, Despatch Riding, Telephone Cables, Map Reading (1915), A Town for Four Winters: Great War Camps on Cannock Chase by C.J. and G.P. Whitehouse (1983), and Kingston-upon-Hull before, during and after the Great War by Thomas Sheppard (1919).

Other books on the Great War are now shelved in the basement in a more general section of modern history. We already owned Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), but for our Tolkien work added many others that we saw in the bookshops of the National Archives at Kew and the Imperial War Museum. Most of these are devoted to the Battle of the Somme: The Imperial Museum Book of the Somme by Malcolm Brown (2002), The Battle of the Somme: A Topographical History by Gerald Gliddon (1996), and The Somme: The Day-by-Day Account by Chris McCarthy (2002). Some are devoted to specific conflicts during the Battle, such as La Boiselle, Ovillers, Contalmaison and Thiepval, both by Michael Stedman (1996), but we have also collected some more general treatments, including Tommy Goes to War by Michael Brown (2001) and Notes on Trench Routine & Discipline by a Second in Command, a reprint of a tiny booklet from 1916.

Another factor of significance in Tolkien’s life was his long relationship with his primary publishers, George Allen & Unwin. We have almost all of the books about this firm and its principals, most of them written by members of the Unwin family. Our copy of Sir Stanley Unwin’s The Truth about a Publisher (1960) is inscribed by him to his kinswoman, Lady Tweedsmuir (wife of John Buchan). Rayner Unwin kindly sent us a copy of his privately printed George Allen & Unwin: A Remembrancer with a note warning us that we would find much of the book rather boring, but might like the two chapters on Tolkien. In fact, we found the whole of the book fascinating, and it has been an invaluable resource.

We also first borrowed and eventually managed to obtain our own copies of Whitaker’s Almanac for 1942 and 1943, which together with Tolkien’s chronologies for The Lord of the Rings enabled us to work out the phases of the moon in that book.

Many of our books on children’s literature or fantasy (in three bookcases in the sitting room) contain sections on or brief mentions of Tolkien, discussing his works in the context of these genres. We have several shelves of translations of medieval literature, especially Old English, Middle English, Norse, and Arthurian, together with relevant critical works, and many volumes on myths and legends. Some of these are of interest in relation to what Tolkien taught and to his academic writings, or to what contributed to the ‘leaf mould’ of his imagination. Others, meanwhile, help to explain his academic significance and his uncertain status in some critical circles. Still another section deals with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien’s other fellow Inklings.

I will conclude by mentioning a few examples from other collections scattered throughout the house. Books on late 19th- and early 20th-century art and book illustration, and books on medieval manuscripts, were consulted when dealing with Tolkien’s own art such as his page from the Dangweth Pengoloð (Artist and Illustrator, fig. 198) and some of the decorations in the letters he wrote in the persona of Father Christmas. From our natural history section, we consulted various books on trees, shrubs, and flowers when dealing with flora in The Lord of the Rings. From our large collection of history books (mainly covering the ancient and medieval periods) we cited in the Reader’s Companion, to give just a few examples, Adrienne Mayor’s Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (2003) for the use of elephants in battle and throwing heads or bodies over the walls of a besieged city; The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (1999) on Offa’s Dyke, for the dyke on the northern edge of the Barrow-downs; and Byzantium: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich (1995) to compare the siege and fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the siege of Minas Tirith.

We are sometimes asked, why do we clutter our house with these books when we have a large academic library nearby at Williams College? One answer, of course, is that the resource we want is always close at hand. But also, despite the excellence of the Williams library, many of the works mentioned above are not on the college’s shelves, being very esoteric – some, indeed, are quite rare. And only a few are fully available in electronic form on the Internet. We do not, in any case, consider books clutter, but rather a convenience, a comfort, and endless inspiration in our work.

Images, from top: Christina’s desk in the Tolkien Library; a few of the books in Wayne’s studio; some of our books on ancient and medieval history.

One Comment
  1. Gian Pietro permalink
    December 7, 2011 4:04 pm

    I’m writing from Italy and your long awaited book arrived some days ago. Thank you very much for the hours of enjoyment you gave us through your books. Thank you also for these interesting posts… Is it possible to post some close up pictures of your Hobbit and Lord of the Rings library sections? The lined up backs of the various editions are amazing…

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