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Art of The Lord of the Rings Pre-Order

March 1, 2015

Art of Lord of the Rings trial bindingOur forthcoming book, The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, is now available for pre-order on (at least),,, and Book Depository. The publication date is given as 13 October 2015, and the number of pages (240) matches our design. The listings, however, are still only for the American edition from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, not yet for the HarperCollins U.K. edition. (We had not previously had confirmation that there would be an American edition, though it seemed likely.)

The Amazon U.S. and Book Depository listings include our blurb for the book; this is omitted by Amazon U.K. and Amazon Canada. None of the listings includes an image, and we have not yet heard if the design of the early mockup (seen above) has been retained or changed. Nor do we know if Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will have the same binding, or, as they did for The Art of The Hobbit, choose to have a dust-jacket rather than a slipcase. On our part, we have submitted the book to the editors and production staff at HarperCollins and are awaiting comments or proofs.

I Didn’t Know What I Was Getting Into

February 27, 2015

Radio Times Lord of the RingsChristina writes: In the second half of January this year, I suffered from a virus with a heavy cough and a disinclination to do anything physically or intellectually demanding. I decided instead to do something I had been promising myself for some years: to listen again to the BBC dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings with my full attention. I first had to decide whether to listen to it on tape (26 half-hour episodes as originally broadcast in 1981 or 13 one-hour episodes as broadcast again in 1982, both recorded off the air, or the BBC 1987 commercial edition, 13 cassettes in a black box stamped in gold with the title and an Eric Fraser design) or on compact disc (the 1995 BBC Radio Collection, 14 CDs in a cloth-covered binder in a flimsy slipcase (no. 603 of 5000), or the 2001–2 BBC Radio Collection, 12 CDs in 4 jewel cases, with new opening and closing narrations by Ian Holm in the persona of Frodo, or the 2009 BBC Radio J.R.R. Tolkien Collection, 12 CDs together with 9 other CDs). In the 1995 and 2001–2 BBC sets, the last CD is devoted to Stephen Oliver’s music, which I had bought separately on both on LP and cassette in 1981. I chose to listen to the 2001–2 set of CDs, as having the extra material and being accompanied by much better documentary material. Wayne and I listened to this set in 2009 while on a long car journey, but I really couldn’t concentrate in those circumstances, and the sound was not ideal. Listening to it with full concentration in ideal conditions brought back many memories.

The dramatisation was first broadcast in 26 thirty-minute episodes, from 8 March to 30 August 1981, at noon on Sundays with a repeat at 10.30 p.m. on the following Wednesday. I was one of many who taped those episodes week by week. I also taped the 13 one-hour episodes broadcast from 17 July to 9 October 1982 (with a little additional material to fill in space freed by overlaps, and having only one introduction and closing credit for each episode). For both series, if for some reason I was unable to do the taping myself, I commissioned someone else to do it for me. Brian Sibley recalls in a booklet in the 2001–2 edition ‘seeing a postcard in the window of his local newsagent with the plea “Will trade copies of any episodes of The Lord of the Rings for episode ten which I missed”.’

When possible, Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell, who made the adaptation, would try to finish episodes on a cliffhanger. Some of these disappeared in the hourly episodes, including breaking off as Farmer Maggot and the hobbits heard the sound of hoofs on the road ahead, and the middle of Galadriel’s response on being offered the Ring. I listened to the tapes so often that for several years, when I was reading or dipping into the books again, I would hear the appropriate musical theme behind the words.

I first read The Lord of the Rings in 1955, the first two volumes before The Return of the King was published, and, having been unable to renew the loan of a library copy of The Return of the King in September 1956 during an umpteenth re-reading, I decided I needed my own copies. I had enough saved pocket money to buy The Return of the King almost at once, and the other volumes followed at monthly intervals. Over the years I acquired a basic collection, not occupying more than a couple of feet of shelf space, and the only near duplicate was the second edition of The Lord of the Rings. The BBC broadcasts produced enough public reaction that in spring 1981 Foyle’s bookshop in London had a display of Tolkien editions in print. I was tempted – I wanted all of them – and I fell, and so started what became a very large Tolkien collection.

But it wasn’t just books by or on Tolkien that I wanted. I went through the Appendix of Tolkien’s published writings in Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and set out to get copies of everything listed there. Between the Senate House Library (London University) and the British Library, I was able to get photocopies of all but a few items. I wondered if the Tolkien Society might be able to help with these. I had seen a photograph of some members in costume in an article in the Radio Times the week the broadcasts began, and had been doubtful about joining as I was not (and am not) keen on dressing up in costume, but now decided to ask for information. If I remember rightly, I had to wait a while for a reply because the Society had been overwhelmed with applications and the Membership Secretary felt that every new or prospective new member should be answered by an individual, handwritten reply. The duty was shared out among the committee members. My reply was written on 3 July 1981 by the then Secretary, Helen Armstrong.

Well, I joined the Society, and on the afternoon of Sunday, 16 August 1981, having listened to episode 24 of the BBC broadcast, ‘The Return of the King’, set out to attend my first Tolkien Society event, a meeting of the Northfarthing Smial, the Society’s London local group, at Susan Rule’s apartment in Bloomsbury. My memories are rather dim, but I do remember clearly that Brian Sibley was present, and that general opinion was that the voice of the eagle who brought news of victory was a mistake. When I mentioned my interest in obtaining copies of the Tolkien material I had not been able to get elsewhere, someone advised me to write to Charles Noad, the Society’s bibliographer, which I did. He replied on 1 September, enclosing copies of some of the items I sought and advice on where I might obtain other material.

In that period it was still possible to imagine that one might be able to collect not just everything published by Tolkien, but also a greater part of the material on him and his works. I widened my searches in the London libraries and made many trips to Colindale in north London, to the newspaper and periodical branch of the British Library, in particular searching for reviews of Tolkien’s books. I also began to subscribe to various periodicals devoted wholly or partly to Tolkien, not only in English, and made lists of articles I saw mentioned to pursue on my excursions to libraries.

A few years later, Charles Noad and I obtained permission from Rayner Unwin to photocopy Allen and Unwin’s collection of Tolkien press cuttings, including ones from the U.S.A. sent by Houghton Mifflin, Tolkien’s American publisher. We made several trips to Allen & Unwin’s offices in Hemel Hempstead, north of London, catching a train about 8.15 a.m. from Euston Station to arrive at the offices not long after they opened at 9.00 a.m. We would work without break until they closed at 5.00 p.m., unscrewing press cuttings scrunched into envelopes and laying then out higgledy-piggledy on the photocopier to get as much as possible on each sheet. We made two copies of each, which we paid for. Later I cut my sheets up and sorted the cuttings and placed them in scrapbooks. Alas, the Allen & Unwin collection was lost, presumably trashed, in one of the firm’s later corporate changes.

At this time it was also possible to think that one might obtain, if not a complete collection, at least a fairly substantial one of translations of Tolkien’s works, and I embarked on this also. I also wanted to buy American editions of Tolkien books, which was not easy in the days before Amazon. But, of course, there were Americans who wanted British books, so the general method was to find an exchange partner. Jessica Yates, a long-term member of the Tolkien Society, had an exchange with John Rateliff, who was closely associated with Taum Santoski and the Tolkien papers at Marquette. When Taum wanted an exchange partner, Jessica suggested me. I also acquired another American exchange partner when I met Wayne Hammond at a Northfarthing Smial meeting in summer 1983. He was introduced to me as someone working on a Tolkien bibliography, and was told that I had a collection he should see. Well, most of you know what came of that meeting! We announced our engagement at the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference, married in 1994, and merged our collections when I moved to the U.S.A. in 1995 – and I’m not going to measure how many shelves or linear feet the combined collection now occupies, and is still growing.

Returning to my opening subject, what did I think now about the BBC adaptation? It took a while for the old magic to reassert itself, but then, even the book starts slowly. The amount of writing on Tolkien we have done over the last two decades made me appreciate even more than before the masterly adaptation which not only keeps to Tolkien’s story line, but also in most cases presents the characters as he depicted them, and above all seems to me to have caught the spirit of the books. I thought and think that the use of alliterative verse in dealing with the battle of the Pelennor Fields was a brilliant idea. I had forgotten how much Gerard Murphy as the Narrator contributed, and not just because he had some of my favourite passages to read. I thought that one or two of Stephen Oliver’s themes very appropriate, and most of them adequate, but I hated the eagle’s song and the use of a boy soprano or countertenor, and found some of the music for the elves a little too dainty and tinkly, more suitable for the diminutive flower fairies Tolkien hated.

Inevitably, I compared the BBC version to Peter Jackson’s interpretation, which I saw only once and prefer to forget. I don’t like films much anyway, finding them cold and lifeless compared with stage performances – I began to go to the theatre in Bristol in my teens, and theatre was perhaps the main reason I found a job in London, where I usually attended performances of plays, ballet, or opera several times a week – but I think my happiness with the BBC production made me even less happy with Jackson than I might have been without it. I am not complaining about the omission of Tom Bombadil, which the BBC adapters also cut. In the films I particularly disliked the added material, the unnecessary alterations, the emphasis on violence, and the weakening of almost all the characters: they are not the characters I meet in the book or in the BBC dramatisation, and for most of them I have no feeling of empathy, in fact I actively dislike several.

I also thought that most of the acting in the BBC episodes was superior, though I admit that the script the film actors had to deal with did not always present a congruous characterization (Gandalf) or a characterization anything like the books (Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Faramir, Denethor, Treebeard, etc.). Listening to the BBC version again, I hardly know which portrayal to praise first: Peter Woodthorpe’s brilliant Gollum, Michael Hordern’s perfect Gandalf, the believable relationship between Frodo and Sam, and the brief moments between Denethor and Pippin. I know that when the dramatisation was first broadcast, some were unhappy with Robert Stephens as Aragorn, but I had seen him at the Old Vic as Atahuallpa in The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer, as Benedict in Much Ado about Nothing, and as Captain Plume in The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar (opposite Maggie Smith in the latter two), and I could just imagine him in the part.

Now that I’ve rediscovered the BBC version, I intend to listen to it again in the not too distant future.

Image: Detail from the cover of Radio Times, illustrated by Eric Fraser.

And Now It’s Midwinter

January 7, 2015

Christina writes: In my last garden post – last March!! – I was eagerly expecting spring. Eventually spring came, but there was a late cold spell in April, with icy winds. This damaged blossom so that we harvested only one apple from our three trees, there were only a few berries on our holly bushes, and only one of our three white azaleas had any flowers, and those low down on the plant where they were half hidden and protected by pachysandra. Many of our shrubs looked unhappy until our landscaper, Dan, began a fertilizer regime which soon revived them. Writing projects kept us too busy to write blog posts for much of the year (my ‘Aragorn’ comments posted in late May and early June were written mainly at the end of 2013 and only needed a little polishing), but of course we could not similarly abandon our garden. This post summarizes some of the main garden events of the year.

patio plantsIn my garden notes for November 2013 I commented that I had had some older phlox (subject to mildew) removed from the perennial bed and partially replaced with subdivided peonies. During the spring clean-up, I had Dan’s men reduce the areas of the shasta daisies and black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia) and transfer a clump of catmint (Nepeta) to an area from which some irises had been removed. Neither of the buddlejas (butterfly bushes) added last year survived, so I had plenty of space to transplant or add new plants. As usual, we made several visits to garden centres and on our return covered much of our shady patio with plants waiting to be put in the ground.

foxgloveI replaced the buddleja in the perennial bed with two blue anise (Agastache), also said to attract butterflies; these did very well, though I didn’t notice many butterflies (generally not very plentiful last year), and I was happy that the plants flowered well into the autumn. Two of last year’s lupines survived, and I added a third. Since two astilbe from the front of our house were being crowded out by growing bushes, I had them moved to the perennial bed by our driveway. Other new perennials included campanula, more veronica, a splendid foxglove (Digitalis), a white salvia, a couple of delphiniums, and a new phlox in a different colour to that remaining. Near the north end of the bed, I have an area devoted to sweet william (Dianthus barbatus). Several of these plants had reached the end of their lives, having provided for years a low carpet of colour in early summer, so I filled in the gaps and was delighted to find the flowering season greatly extended, presumably due to a longer-flowering variety.

shade gardenOnce again I planted annuals at the edges of beds in front of perennials and bushes to provide colour throughout the summer and early autumn, mainly pansies, Supertunias, ‘Yellow Chiffon’ Superbells, snapdragons (Antirrhinum), and pale cream and lemon yellow African marigolds. This year I could not get violas from my usual local supplier, where they come six to a solid block, and had to buy them at a garden centre where they are grown in containers with six individual projections. I was worried that these seemed to be very slow to start multiplying, and then realized that this was probably because the roots had less space. Eventually they did produce their usual display. The area around our two large locust trees at the south end of the driveway is shady, and I have planted much of it with lamium, but there is a small piece of ground just to the east which gets a little morning sun but is protected from the hotter midday sun by taller plants including phlox. There I planted a little shade garden of oxalis, double impatiens, and dianthus.

new rhododendronI found a place to try another, larger buddleja, next to a mock orange (Philadelphus) on the south-east side of the garden, in an area originally planted with decorative grasses which had become overgrown and unwieldy and with yarrow (Achillea) which was fading after several years. The buddleja grew well during the summer, and I hope it will be third time lucky. We didn’t intend to add another rhododendron but could not resist the ‘Purple Passion’ specimen we saw at the Windy Hill garden centre. We managed to fit this in by removing some pachysandra. On the east side of the garden, the two spireas we planted last year to replace ‘Purple Gem’ rhododendrons have done well.

As part of our landscaping project in 2010, we planted a large number of different, carefully chosen daylilies just behind the violas along the outer edges of the beds in front of our house. I had put off dividing these, as I could not think where to put the extras (our neighbours already have full gardens) and I hated to just abandon them. But they were clearly in need of division, with yellowing leaves and, on some, fewer flowers. Eventually, in consultation with our landscaper, I decided make a new bed for them adjoining the east of the house. Dan thinks it gets enough sun, and Wayne is quite happy with a little less lawn to mow. At the same time, we slightly enlarged the bed to the right of our front steps which then curves out around the rose of Sharon at the corner of the house and continues into the new bed along the east side. This was partly because the rose of Sharon had grown over the years.

petunias marigolds pansiesThe extra space at the front allows more room between the violas and the lilies, and space for early bulbs (crocus and snowdrops) between the lilies, and for daffodils slightly behind. The former will have died back by the time the lilies are well up, and by then the lilies will conceal most of the daffodils as they die back after flowering. Well, that’s my theory, and I’ll have to wait until spring to see if it works out. I bought the bulbs for this bed from Windy Hill as I was not entirely satisfied with those from Home Depot I planted in 2013. The crocus did reasonably well, and I was delighted and amused to find that bees discovered the flowers within twenty-four hours of their opening in early spring. I was less happy with the sixty ‘assorted’ daffodil bulbs I planted round the apple trees: most flowered, but almost all of them were the same yellow, not the varied selection shown on the package.

In early summer, the busiest period when both planting and weeding demand hours of attention, I had a great deal of help from a woman temporarily working for our landscaper. Once she left, I felt on top of the work and capable of keeping the weeding under control without excessive effort. Then on the first of July I somehow damaged a tendon or muscle in my left knee, and for a few weeks had to take it easy, managing to do only a little deadheading of lilies. Luckily we had quite a lot of rain, so there was less need to water the garden, and I would have been kept indoors part of the time anyway. In fact, we had so much rain on one occasion that the rose of Sharon, heavy with flower, sagged forward onto the lawn and had to be staked back into position. Of course, while I was recovering, the weeds flourished.

bending birchWe had a long autumn with plenty of rain and no frost until early November, then warm weather so that some annuals lasted into mid-November when there were a few snow sprinkles; and then a severe storm arrived the day before Thanksgiving, with wet, heavy snow which iced over. We heard strange noises during the evening of the storm, and when Wayne went out with a light he found that the birch in front of our house was bent over and scraping the roof. The apple trees and taller bushes were also bowing under the weight of snow, but Wayne managed to free them. It was a few days before the snow melted enough for the birch to right itself; come spring, we’ll have this topped. We were lucky not to suffer any damage beyond a few fallen twigs, though some quite large branches fell onto our property from neighbours’ fir trees. Further up the road, one of the three trunks of a neighbour’s birch not only bent but broke.

Images, top to bottom: new plants on our patio; a splendid foxglove; a shade garden (iris, oxalis, catmint, lamium, etc.); rhododendron ‘Purple Passion’; petunias, marigolds, and pansies; our birch tree bending under snow and ice.

Reader’s Companion Addenda & Corrigenda

January 4, 2015

Readers Companion 2014During the college winter break, we’ve been working to catch up with addenda and corrigenda to our books. For some titles, it has been an entire year today since we posted additions, changes, or corrections – far too long – and although we might hope for a time when our texts are perfect, with Tolkien there’s always something more to say.

This is particularly true for our Companion and Guide, so we’ll be a while yet preparing pages for the Chronology and Reader’s Guide. Today, though, we’re able to mount updated pages for the 2005 (first) and 2008 (first revised) editions of The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion – our book of annotations to The Lord of the Rings – and a new page for the second revised edition published this past year. We hope our readers will find these helpful.

With the 2014 edition, the Reader’s Companion was brought back into hardcover by HarperCollins (in the United States, Houghton Mifflin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have published only the original, unrevised hardcover edition since 2005). We had been able to include a few additions and corrections in the HarperCollins trade paperback of 2008, and for 2014 were asked to make further revisions. Severe pressures of time, however, which included Wayne reconstructing 150 printed pages when the original electronic typesetting file proved unavailable, made it essential that we refrain as much as possible from adding pages or introducing new page breaks, so that we would not have to substantially revise spacing or change page references in the index. Therefore, for the most part, we limited ourselves to corrections and brief additions that would fit within the existing text or in blank spaces at the ends of chapters. Only in a few instances, where we felt it most important to expand our text (in reply to comments and questions we had received), did we lightly alter page breaks, and thus a handful of index entries, still without increasing the overall number of pages.

Image: Cover of the 2014 edition of The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion.

Tom Bombadil Addenda & Corrigenda

December 30, 2014

Tom Bombadil coverAs followers of our addenda and corrigenda will know, our books are never finished just because they’re in print. More information comes to hand, or a different interpretation springs to mind, or a reader makes a constructive comment or points out an error (or we find one ourselves), at which we report new data or insights, or post mea culpas, on our website – if not always as often as we should. Now and then, we also have to create an addenda and corrigenda page for a new publication, which is the case for our edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, published by HarperCollins U.K. this past October.

In a blog post of 2 November, John Rateliff felt it unfortunate that The Dragon’s Visit and Kortirion among the Trees (i.e. The Trees of Kortirion), two poems Tolkien considered for his 1962 Adventures of Tom Bombadil collection, were omitted from our new edition. We had, in fact, debated whether to include them, but after consulting with Christopher Tolkien and HarperCollins we decided to leave them out. We had a sense that the book was already thick for a ‘pocket’-sized volume, and the lengthy Kortirion alone would have added many pages. Although a valid argument could be made for including the two extra poems as part of the documentary history of the collection, we were worried about space, and both of the omitted poems are otherwise readily available, the first most conveniently in The Annotated Hobbit and the second in The Book of Lost Tales, Part One.

We did choose to include the brief Once upon a Time, because it features Tom and Goldberry, and as part of our commentary, the even briefer poem An Evening in Tavrobel, in which ‘tiny faces peer and laugh’ in the manner of the ‘lintips’ of Once upon a Time. John Rateliff is ‘dubious both on the merits of [An Evening in Tavrobel] and its connection between the two’; we and Christopher Tolkien feel that there is a strong possibility of a connection, or at least the one presents an interesting analogy to the other, as proposed years ago by the Tolkien scholar Rhona Beare.

One of the earliest decisions we had to make about our edition was whether to return poems 11 and 12 to the order in which they appeared in the first Allen & Unwin printing (Cat, then Fastitocalon), or to retain the reversed order (Fastitocalon, then Cat) begun in the second printing (to correct an awkward placement of art) and followed in all other printings and editions; and if we were to do the latter, whether we should correct the references Tolkien made to poems 11 and 12 in his Preface, which were not altered when the order of the poems was changed. Again we consulted with Christopher Tolkien, who agreed with our view that we should retain the more familiar order and comment on the changes or lack thereof. We also concluded that since there is no discussion in the Tolkien–Allen & Unwin archive of whether to emend the Preface, and since Tolkien’s prefatory comments on poems 11 and 12 could still apply to them, if not as aptly, even with the revised order, we would leave the Preface as it was originally published and explain the problem in our annotations.

We knew while we were writing our text that this edition (except for its endpapers) would not be illustrated in two colours like the 1962 collection, HarperCollins having found that this would not be possible if the book was to be sold at a reasonable price; and it may have been because of this that we did not describe to the extent we should have the problems caused in the original edition by an economy measure which restricted two-colour printing (black and orange) to one side of each sheet, with the other side printed only in black. On p. 231, we mention that the full-page, two-colour illustration for Cat was placed on the two-colour side of the sheet, but awkwardly within the text of Fastitocalon. At the same time, as we failed to mention, the illustration for Fastitocalon (p. 92 in the new edition) in which the giant turtle-fish upends the people who have landed on its back, thinking it an island, was also originally on the two-colour side of its sheet, and had orange flames rising from a campfire. When, after this printing, Fastitocalon and Cat were reversed in order, so that the large illustration for Cat was now correctly associated with that poem, the turtle-fish picture for Fastitocalon had to be moved to the other side of its sheet, where it was no longer printed in two colours and the ‘flames’ disappeared, leaving only rising smoke. Even though the art in our new edition is printed only in greyscale, we expected that the ‘flames’ would be present in this picture – in grey rather than orange – but they are still absent, which is very curious as we supplied high-resolution colour images of all of the illustrations, made from the first printing of the 1962 book, where the Fastitocalon picture was complete. We can only think that someone at the publisher or printer referred to the same picture in a later printing, with the ‘flames’ absent, and took this to be the correct state; and we now see that there are no ‘flames’ in the picture even in the reproduction in the original Poems and Stories by Tolkien (1980), in which added colour was printed on both sides of the sheets, without restriction.

Adventures of Tom Bombadil coverJohn Rateliff points out in his blog post that we describe the original Bombadil dust-jacket as depicting (in the boat under sail) the mariner from Errantry, but John has always assumed that this is the narrator of The Sea-Bell: ‘Not only do he and his ship lack any of the panoply so prominently featured in Errantry but he actually holds in his hand the sea-shell that awakens the sea-longing in The Sea-Bell’, and he is sailing past a bell-buoy (‘I heard a sea-bell swing in the swell’). This could well be correct; and yet, the figure in the boat does not seem emotionally driven as the narrator is at the start of the poem (although during his voyage he is ‘wound in a sleep’), and is certainly not ragged enough for the narrator at the end, while the boat is more elaborate (not to say, cheerful, with a pink sail and red pennant!) than we have ever pictured it. It is also possible that the boat and figure combine elements of both The Sea-Bell and Errantry, among the many details that Pauline Baynes put into the cover art. (The original cover art, reproduced on the endpapers of the new edition with the titling removed, was adapted by HarperCollins for the dust-jacket: Tom was moved to the front, the man and boat were moved to the back, and the colours were altered, for marketing reasons.)

John also notes one certain error: on p. 24, we write that The Sea-Bell was not included on Tolkien’s Caedmon recording Poems and Songs of Middle Earth. In fact, it is included on the record, but omitted from the track listing on the album sleeve.

In Mythlore 124, published after we submitted our Bombadil text to HarperCollins, Janet Brennan Croft suggests another possibility for the ‘earth-star’ mentioned in Once upon a Time: ‘The daisy [suggested by Kris Swank in Tolkien Studies 10] is far more likely than the fungus [i.e. one of the common fungi geastraceae, suggested by Douglas A. Anderson a blog post], as the latter closes in hot, dry conditions, not at night like the earth-stars do in the second stanza. But there may be other nyctinastic candidates that bloom in late May in the same climate and at the same time as buttercups and wild roses, such as chickweed, which has star-shaped flowers and is actually named Stellaria media’ (p. 202).

Finally, in our new edition we chose to address the question ‘Who (or What) is Tom Bombadil?’ only to a certain point, that is, not to excess (this is one of the most often debated questions about Tolkien’s works), but needed to touch upon it. For this, if it had come to hand early enough, we might have included a portion of a very interesting letter written by Tolkien to Nevill Coghill on 21 August 1954, soon after the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring. Coghill had written to Tolkien asking for explanations, some of which the author felt should be left until the later volumes of The Lord of the Rings appeared and his friend was able to read them. He was, however, willing to supply the following (quoted here with the kind permission of and copyright © by The Tolkien Estate Limited):

But Tom Bombadil is just as he is. Just an odd ‘fact’ of that world. He won’t be explained, because as long as you are (as in this tale you are meant to be) concentrated on the Ring, he is inexplicable. But he’s there – a reminder of the truth (as I see it) that the world is so large and manifold that if you take one facet and fix your mind and heart on it, there is always something that does not come in to that story/argument/approach, and seems to belong to a larger story. But of course in another way, not that of pure story-making, Bombadil is a deliberate contrast to the Elves who are artists. But B. does not want to make, alter, devise, or control anything: just to observe and take joy in the contemplating the things that are not himself. The spirit of the [deleted: world > this earth] made aware of itself. He is more like science (utterly free from technological blemish) and history than art. He represents the complete fearlessness of that spirit when we can catch a little of it. But I do suggest that it is possible to fear (as I do) that the making artistic sub-creative spirit (of Men and Elves) is actually more potent, and can ‘fall’, and that it could in the eventual triumph of its own evil destroy the whole earth, and Bombadil and all.

Images: Upper cover of the new edition (2014); binding or dust-jacket of the original edition (1962), art by Pauline Baynes.

Love, Career, Tolkien

December 26, 2014

Wayne writes: Some of our readers will have seen already, through links on Tolkien fan websites, an article about my Tolkien interests in the Williams Record, the student newspaper of Williams College, where I work as a rare books librarian. The author sent me questions which I answered by email, and wove my reply together with an account of her own fan interests. Space allowed her to print only part of what I wrote, but here I supply the complete text, with some [added comments]:

You and your wife, Christina Scull, have a new book coming out, The Art of The Lord of the Rings. Unlike The Hobbit, Tolkien didn’t illustrate The Lord of the Rings, so the book will consist of sketches and maps, many previously unpublished. What were the challenges of putting such a book together?

In one respect, it has been easier than when we produced our earlier book, The Art of The Hobbit, where we had to work out the design as well as write the text and lay out the pictures. Since our new book is to use the same design, many of its physical details were already settled when we began. But even though Tolkien didn’t formally illustrate The Lord of the Rings, he made many drawings and maps and inscriptions, and there were many more of these than we had to deal with for The Hobbit. Also, since they were made as The Lord of the Rings was written, mainly to work out details in the story (as opposed to the Hobbit art which mostly can stand separately), we needed to relate them not only to the published Lord of the Rings, itself a long text (much longer than The Hobbit), but also to multiple drafts as published in The History of Middle-earth or more directly in the manuscripts and typescripts held at Marquette University.

What first interested you in Tolkien scholarship?

I was a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before I was a scholar; I was in high school when I first read these [in 1970]. As a serious Tolkien fan, I sought out everything else he wrote (that was published at the time, and that I could find), which included his academic writings: he was an esteemed scholar of Old and Middle English language and literature. In collecting his works, I developed an interest in books and libraries, which led to a career as a librarian and bibliographer – so, in a roundabout way, it’s due to Tolkien that I’m at Williams. I wrote a detailed bibliography of Tolkien’s works which was published in 1993 (and is now very much in need of a second edition). That put me in contact with other Tolkien collectors, including Christina Scull whom I married, and also with Tolkien’s publishers, his family, and his favorite illustrator (Pauline Baynes). Christina and I both had successful records as Tolkien scholars before Christopher Tolkien asked us to write a book about his father’s pictorial art (J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, 1995), and our later Tolkien projects proceeded from that success. [By which I meant, the success of Artist and Illustrator.]

Tolkien has an enormous fan base of deeply committed, emotionally invested fans. In your opinion, what draws people so strongly to Tolkien’s universe?

This question is often asked, and there are many possible answers: Tolkien’s mastery of English, his superb story-telling, the depth and intricacies of his created world, his invented languages. This isn’t unique to Tolkien, of course. [I had in mind the deep investment made by serious fans in the fiction of, say, Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, or in the Sherlock Holmes canon.]

Christopher Tolkien famously said, ‘Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time’. In regard to Tolkien’s appearances in contemporary pop culture – the Lord of the Rings films and the irredeemable Hobbit trilogy foremost among them – are you in agreement with Mr. Tolkien?

Christopher is echoing what his father said about the ‘Tolkien cult’ that grew up, particularly in the United States, in the 1960s. Tolkien was sometimes annoyed by fans, though he also appreciated their interest. But Christopher has had to deal much more with a culture that feels it owns Tolkien’s works, and with filmmakers and toymakers and other business interests that want to make money from them. I don’t blame him for finding it trying sometimes.

You and Ms. Scull also recently published The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book. You’ve also edited editions of Farmer Giles of Ham and Roverandom. How would you describe the experience of working with Tolkien’s smaller stories and poems in comparison with the enormous The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, for instance? Which is your favorite of his smaller works?

One always thinks that because a work is shorter, it will be quicker and easier to deal with, but that isn’t true with Tolkien. Everything he wrote has hidden aspects and complicated histories. If I had to have a favorite among his shorter works, and I don’t really have one, it would be Roverandom, if only because that was an unusual story which had never been published before our edition. But it was very interesting to deal also with the earlier version of Farmer Giles of Ham and with its abandoned sequel, which we included in its 50th anniversary edition, and to be able to include both unpublished material and hard-to-find poems in the new edition of Tom Bombadil. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, our volume of annotations, took a long time to write, and had to be done in conjunction with editing The Lord of the Rings itself for its 50th anniversary in 2004. And that was light going compared with our two-volume J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, a detailed chronology combined with an encyclopedia of Tolkien’s life and works, which some feel is now the standard biographical reference.

Speaking as a person whose go-to Halloween costume is Tom Bombadil, I find him to be one of Tolkien’s most wonderful and mysterious characters. Something truly special about Tolkien’s universe is its deep mystery – the glimpses of a noble, beautiful, and tragic history, and deeper still, a sense of the earth itself, enchanted and somehow unknowable. There are few people alive who know as much about Tolkien as you; do you still feel the presence of mystery when you open The Lord of the Rings?

I used to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every summer. I haven’t done that in a long time, not since we started to edit and write about Tolkien, which means that I have to go to the books for reference rather than for pleasure. But even then, I find something new every time [and it’s always a pleasure to open the books and dip in].

If you were a creature in Middle-earth, what culture or subculture would you belong to?

I’ve always identified most strongly with Merry Brandybuck, not because he’s a hobbit, but because he’s one of the most organized and level-headed of Tolkien’s characters. Of course, we the readers are supposed to identify the most with hobbits, who are our representatives in Middle-earth, rather than with wizards or warriors. And of course I’m speaking of Merry as he is in the book, not the juvenile delinquent he is in the films!


The picture of me accompanying the article was shot very quickly in the Chapin Library’s reading room by a student photographer, and while not bad, isn’t entirely flattering. (Yes, I like bow ties. Bow ties are cool.) There was an alternate, smiling shot, but the Record chose this one. A better photo, taken by Christina at home, appears on my ‘library trading card’.

Lord of the Rings Comparison 2

December 21, 2014

Lord of the Rings 2014 deluxeIn a previous post, we compared editions of The Lord of the Rings with corrected text issued between 2004 and February 2012 by HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), so that we could answer a recurring question: Which edition of The Lord of the Rings is the most accurate? We also wished to see if Tolkien’s primary British and American publishers had made further changes or corrections (as noted in our online addenda and corrigenda) since we edited The Lord of the Rings for its 50th anniversary in 2004–5. Since that earlier post, nearly three years ago, many more editions and printings have appeared, and as the question of an accurate text is still being asked, we thought that we should bring our findings up to date.

As before, Wayne has compared copies in our own collection and has classified them according to their respective typesettings, denoted as A, B, C, and (now) D. The list given below is revised and expanded from its earlier appearance, with hardback and paperback versions broken out for clarity, new versions added, and further information provided. The printings checked are internally marked as first impressions unless otherwise stated.

A1. HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin one-volume hardback (2004), deluxe (both) and trade (HarperCollins) (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 9–10, 14).

A2. HarperCollins three-volume trade hardback (2005), with dust-jackets reproducing Tolkien’s designs (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 11). The preliminaries have different pagination relative to that in other ‘A’ copies.

A3. HarperCollins one-volume trade (B format) paperback (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 10–11). The 1st printing (2005) is in predominantly gold-coloured wrappers. We also have the 40th and 51st printings (acquired in 2007 and 2014 respectively), in predominantly red-coloured wrappers.

A4. Houghton Mifflin one-volume trade hardback (2005), with cover art by Alan Lee. Wayne checked the 1st (2005) and 9th (2012?) printings (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 15; Tolkien Collector 33, p. 11); the latter has the Houghton Mifflin imprint on the title-page and binding spine, but identifies the publisher as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the jacket spine.

A5. Houghton Mifflin one-volume trade paperback (2005), with cover art by Alan Lee. Wayne checked the 1st (2005) and 6th (2009?) printings (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 15; Tolkien Collector 29, p. 13).

A6. HarperCollins three-volume trade (B format) paperback (2011), in black wrappers with coloured spine panels (Tolkien Collector 33, p. 9).

A7. HarperCollins three-volume trade (B format) paperback (2012), with film tie-in covers. We have these volumes in a boxed set with The Hobbit (2013).

A8. Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt one-volume trade paperback (2012), with a film tie-in cover featuring the One Ring.

A9. HarperCollins three-volume hardback ‘collector’s edition’ (2013), bound in decorated cloth. We have these volumes in a boxed set with The Hobbit, similarly bound.

A10. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt one-volume trade hardback (2013), bound in grey suede.

A11. HarperCollins three-volume trade hardback (2014), with dust-jackets reproducing Tolkien’s designs. Both this edition and D1 were meant to include the same further corrections; A11, however, missed some of these and added at least two new errors:

On pp. xvi–xix, our note on the 50th anniversary edition is reprinted from 2004, though we submitted a slightly amended version. (The latter is correctly printed in D1.)

On p. 169, l. 7 from bottom, ‘Dear Frodo,’ (the opening of Gandalf’s letter) is still indented, but should be flush with the left margin.

On p. 170, l. 9, we had noted, in regard to the original 50th anniversary setting, that the first line of the poem (‘All that is gold does not glitter,’) should be indented, that is, brought to the left measure of the poem rather than set (with a standard paragraph indent) at the left measure of the larger text block. But the typesetter failed to see that this point had been corrected already in this edition, and indented the line still further, too far to the right.

For p. 1041, n. 1 (etc.), we had discussed issues with footnotes or parts of footnotes in Appendix A which needed to be within quotation marks, to indicate ‘extracts’ from annals or tales. The typesetter has misread this in regard to n. 1 on p. 1043: here, instead of an ‘extract’, followed by a comment not within quotation marks, followed by another extract, the comment has been enclosed in quotation marks, within a larger not in quotation marks. The note should correctly read, with all quotation marks as they should be printed: ‘The sceptre was the chief mark . . . with a silver fillet’ (p. 146; pp. 848, 861, 967). In speaking of a crown . . . Aragorn’s line. ‘The sceptre of Númenor . . . crowning of Aragorn.’

On p. 1100, the death date of Bingo Baggins still reads ‘1363’ but should be ‘1360’.

On p. 1136, l. 7, the name hámfœst (with an oe digraph) has not been corrected to hámfæst (with an ae digraph).

On p. 1137, l. 29, ‘butterflies to the falcon’ has not been corrected to ‘butterflies to the swift falcon’.

On p. 1173, index col. 2, entry for ‘Spiders’, the see also note should read ‘Shelob; Ungoliant’, with a semi-colon, but has been set instead with a comma.

B1. HarperCollins three-volume mass-market (A format) paperback (2005), in white wrappers (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 11).

B2. HarperCollins three-volume mass-market (A format) paperback (2007), in black wrappers (Tolkien Collector 27, pp. 11–12).

B3. HarperCollins three-volume trade (B format) paperback (2008), with cover and interior art by Alan Lee (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 12). Wayne checked both the first (2008) and third printings.

B4. HarperCollins three-volume mass-market (A format) paperback (2012), with film tie-in covers (Tolkien Collector 33, p. 10). We also have this (FR 1st, TT 7th, RK 5th printing) in a boxed set with The Hobbit.

C1. Houghton Mifflin three-volume trade paperback (2005), with cover art by John Jude Palencar, made for the young adult market (Tolkien Collector 27, p. 14).

D1. HarperCollins one-volume deluxe edition (2014), with cover and interior art by Alan Lee, issued in a plastic slipcase.

For each edition or printing, Wayne checked selected textual points or the presence or absence of particular features, such as the revised and expanded index. These are presented in detail in a separate document (pdf). We would be pleased to hear from anyone who has, or has seen, a later printing of any of these editions in which a reading differs from that in our analysis.

There are, then, four distinct HarperCollins or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt typesettings currently in print, and among those four are subsets with different textual readings. The text as first published in the 50th anniversary edition in 2004 (A1) was further corrected in reprints and changed formats, but not identically in each. (Granted that the derivations deserve to be described in more detail, ideally with a ‘genealogical chart’ to make the relations clearer. Wayne plans to include these in an article for The Tolkien Collector about the multiplicity of Lord of the Rings editions since 2004.)

On the HarperCollins side, A2 is corrected from A1; from this is derived, in one offshoot, A6 and A7, and in another, A9. A11 is partly corrected from A9, but adds errors. On the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt side, A4 and A5 are derived from A1, with a few corrections; A10 is derived from A4; the 6th printing of A5 has the correction ‘check copies’ on p. xx, but curiously in the 9th printing this has reverted to ‘check copied’, and from A5 is derived A8. In the B typesetting, B2 and B3 are separate offshoots of B1, and B4 is derived from B2. C1 and D1 are, so far, unique to themselves.

Of all of these, the new HarperCollins deluxe edition (D1) currently has the most accurate text, with all points noted to date. It is, however, reset, with new pagination, and therefore the page references in our Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (keyed to the A typesetting) do not directly apply. We understand that the remaining and new errors in A11, which retains the 50th anniversary edition pagination (and has been issued in an attractive boxed set with our Reader’s Companion), are to be corrected in a later printing.

Three recent editions of The Lord of the Rings do not use the corrected text and new index, but instead return to an earlier typesetting. These are, therefore, not included in this analysis. The 2012 HarperCollins slipcased reissue in seven trade paperback volumes (Tolkien Collector 33, pp. 10–11) contains the pre-50th anniversary setting used in their previous seven-volume edition (1999). The 2012 three-volume Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade paperback Lord of the Rings, which we have in a slipcase with The Hobbit (Tolkien Collector 33, p. 9), likewise repeats an uncorrected setting from 1999, with Douglas A. Anderson’s ‘Note on the Text’ dated April 1993; the wrappers are predominantly black with coloured spine panels, like A6 above. Finally, the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leatherbound pocket edition of The Lord of the Rings, issued in 2014 with The Hobbit, also uses a 1999 typesetting.

Image: HarperCollins 2014 deluxe edition of The Lord of the Rings, D1 in the list above.

New Tolkien Projects, Part Two

November 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aragorn, Part Two

June 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aragorn, Part One

May 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See here for the second part of this essay.


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