Tolkien Notes 5
Although the text of Tolkien’s Roverandom has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1998, it has not been available as a separate volume since 2008, when the story (sans our editorial additions) was added to the collection Tales from the Perilous Realm. This situation will be remedied at the end of June, however, when Roverandom will be one of only two books reissued by HarperCollins as part of a special promotion, Independent Booksellers Week, in which a few titles from larger publishers will be released exclusively to independent bookshops. Three months later, the books will become available through other channels, such as Amazon, and will go also into the international markets. The new Roverandom, including our introduction and notes, will be in the same format as the recent pocket edition of The Hobbit, and will have a fresh cover for the occasion, featuring Tolkien’s Lunar Landscape, with borders borrowed from his Hobbit illustration The Front Door (The Art of The Hobbit, fig. 76).
Having decided that our Tolkien files have become overstuffed with printouts and photocopies that have outlasted their interest, we have been doing some heavy weeding (while saving more digitally), and in the process have been reminded of odd bits of information or, often, speculations that have appeared on the Web or in print. One such was a fanzine letter which suggested a remarkable resemblance between a hill near the village of Symondsbury, Dorset, and Weathertop in The Lord of the Rings. The writer strongly believed that Tolkien must have seen the hill in question, named Colmer’s Hill, as it is near Lyme Regis, which Tolkien occasionally visited on holiday; and just as strongly, that it was his direct inspiration for Weathertop.
This of course is an unanswerable question, unless there should come to light some letter or diary entry by Tolkien saying yes, this was his inspiration, or no, it wasn’t. Until then, all one can do is compare the hill in our world with the brief description Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, where Weathertop is the highest in a line of hills, ‘a little separated from the others’, with ‘a conical top, slightly flattened at the summit’, and upon it ‘a wide ring of ancient stone-work’. Colmer’s Hill is striking in its landscape, and entirely conical (not just at its top), but in sedate, even manicured surroundings compared with the wilds around Weathertop, and with relatively picturesque Caledonia Pine trees at its summit rather than old stones.
It looks, in fact, more like Tolkien’s picture of The Hill for The Hobbit – though here too we would hesitate to make a connection, and can point to yet another paper in our files, in which the writer suggests – rather less strongly than the supporter of Colmer’s Hill as Weathertop, but positively nonetheless – that Bilbo Baggins’ Hill was inspired by Bredon Hill in Worcestershire, near the fruit farm Tolkien’s brother Hilary had in the Vale of Evesham. We ourselves see no resemblance between Bredon Hill, with its old earthworks and 18th-century folly, and the Hill in Hobbiton-across-the Water; but each to his own. As Tolkien wrote in On Fairy-Stories: ‘If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below”, . . . every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word.’
We have posted to our website new addenda and corrigenda to our Tolkien-related books The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (general, Chronology, and Reader’s Guide).
Images: The new cover for Roverandom; Colmer’s Hill above Symondsbury, photograph by Ray Beer (Creative Commons license).