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Fifteen Years

December 12, 2010

Christina writes: On 31 October, Wayne and I celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the day I flew with him from Heathrow to Boston to begin a new life in Williamstown. We had been married the previous December, but it was not until the beginning of September 1995 that my application for residence in the U.S.A. was finally approved (nothing personal, that was just the time it took). Then, once I had received approval, I had to give a month’s notice at Sir John Soane’s Museum where I worked, and arrange for the packing and transport of my possessions (mainly books). Wayne came to England in mid-October to help and to join me in a series of farewell visits and parties. By chance, the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator also took place towards the end of October, and we had a celebration dinner at a favourite restaurant with many friends from the Tolkien Society and others, including Rayner Unwin.

Our British Airways flight arrived at Boston at about 1:30 p.m. We cleared Immigration and Customs rather faster than Wayne had expected, so we had to wait for the limo we had engaged to begin the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Williamstown. Most of the travel was on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and by the time we turned off and began the last hour’s drive north through main roads in the Berkshires it was dark, and Halloween with its lights and decorations was in full swing: these proved quite a shock for me, since I had seen nothing like them in England (possibly things have changed since I left). By this year, however, as we drove to our favourite restaurant south of Williamstown on Halloween, I had become so used to it that I hardly noticed.

Fifteen years is perhaps not a particularly significant number, but I suddenly realized that in a few months I will have lived in our house in Williamstown longer than in any other place. I began to think back over those years, during which Wayne and I always seemed to be trying to catch up with things we wanted to do, ought to do, or had to do. The problems were partly of our own making, as we tried to do too much and always underestimated the time required. Even so, as I now see, we have achieved quite a lot during those years, even if much remains still to do.

One of the first tasks we faced was the redecoration and reorganization of the house Wayne had bought with his parents in 1978, and in which he had been living alone since his mother’s death in early 1992 (his father died in 1979). He had plans for the house, but felt that it was better to wait until I arrived to share in the decision-making. We began the redecoration with those rooms in which we could most readily line the walls with bookcases for our already large collection (then about 11,000 volumes) – the dining room, which became entirely a Tolkien library; the sitting room, which housed books on Tolkien and by Pauline Baynes, on children’s literature and fantasy and science fiction, on medieval art, and on myth, legend, folkore, and fairy tales; and two small (former) bedrooms, one housing children’s books, the other fantasy literature and history. We added new bookcases and shelving elsewhere in the house also, to get my books out of their shipping boxes, and intended to redecorate the rest of the house room by room – three more rooms, the kitchen, two bathrooms, hallways, and stairs – but then, by good fortune for us if not for the redecoration, we received a succession of contracts to write books, mostly from HarperCollins for works by or about Tolkien.

These contracts allowed little time for work on the house over the next ten years, and it was not until 2007 that we returned to that project. In the interim, my father was killed in a car accident, and the money I received from his estate allowed us to be much more ambitious. We then undertook the renovations we mentioned  in our first blog post, which included turning a damp, dark basement into an area suitable for books, magazines, comics, CDs, DVDs, and so forth; rewiring; installing new doors and windows; refitting both bathrooms and (partially) the kitchen; and repainting the outside and most of the inside of the house. The project involved us in a great deal of work, since we had to research and specify what we wanted done, clear surplus stuff into a dumpster and other stuff temporarily into a storage container on our lawn, and remove books from room to room ahead of the workmen (often actually down one or two flights of stairs into the newly refurbished basement) and then back again. We also had to assemble eighteen wood veneer bookcases, twenty metal shelving units, and two cupboards in the basement, plus four metal shelving units in the garage. We had intended to have the whole house redecorated, but called a halt when the bills went well beyond the estimates, leaving two rooms and one hallway for us to do ourselves. We also withdrew the intended conversion of the potting shed adjoining the garage into a workshop for Wayne. Partly because I broke a bone in my left wrist just as the restoration work was completed, we did not get everything reorganized in the basement and garage. And by the time my bone mended, we had lost the impetus and had become used to living with boxes on the floor.

new bookcases in basement stacks

Three years on, we still have not managed to redecorate completely the other two rooms and hallway, but this last summer Wayne began to convert the potting shed, and would have finished it had the hard drive of his computer not crashed in August, so that he had to spend leave intended for the shed in recovering files, ordering and installing a new computer, and setting up automatic file backup to an external hard drive. He did assemble four more metal shelving units in the garage, and that area is now much better organized. We had thought that all of the shelving we were adding in 2007 (some five or six hundred additional linear feet) would give us ample room for expansion, but we had grossly underestimated the number of books piled in heaps on the floor and double-shelved, and by this year we were running out of space yet again. We managed, however, to add another seven bookcases in the basement – eight, if one counts extra shelves added to existing bookcases – as well as another, very narrow one upstairs. Together with some weeding of our fantasy fiction collection, we hope that this will last us for the foreseeable future, especially as our rate of acquisition has decreased considerably – that is, down to just over two hundred books for the year. Wayne has made a rough calculation that altogether we now have about 18,000 volumes, not counting magazines.

This summer, I spent many hours moving and selecting books for our new shelving and rearranging others on vacated existing shelves, and also sorted and shelved some of the other material that had been left in boxes. This year, of course, as described in earlier posts, we also spent much time on landscaping. However, rather than doing the autumn clean-up ourselves (i.e. spreading compost and raking leaves), for the first time we paid to have it done. Our landscaper’s team did a much more thorough job than we ever did, and also put up temporary wire fencing to keep deer from snacking on our most vulnerable new trees and bushes during the winter. Next year we will get the landscaper to tackle our lawns, and hope that we will finish work on the shed and sort out remaining boxes.

Although our main impression of our literary output during the past fifteen years is of missed first deadlines and working frantically to meet final deadlines, when we look back critically we find that we were actually quite productive:

  • Wayne published Arthur Ransome: A Descriptive Bibliography; two papers on Ransome in the Arthur Ransome Society’s Literary Weekend proceedings; papers on Madeleine L’Engle, Tolkien, and Pauline Baynes in Mythlore, the Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, and Gastronomica respectively; articles on Tolkien and Ransome for the online Encyclopaedia Britannica; and an essay on Pauline Baynes for a volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography; he edited, designed, and contributed to C.S. Lewis & Owen Barfield, the souvenir book for the 1998 Mythopoeic Society Conference; and he designed and was an uncredited editor for a collection of articles by the late Williams College art historian S. Lane Faison, Jr.
  • I wrote a review of The Peoples of Middle-earth for Beyond Bree, finishing a series of reviews of The History of Middle-earth by Christopher Tolkien, and also for Beyond Bree wrote an article on The Silmarillion and the controversial book Arda Reconstructed; and I edited and, for the most part, wrote nineteen issues of The Tolkien Collector.
  • Each of us contributed a paper to Tolkien’s Legendarium, a Festschrift for Christopher Tolkien, and to The Lord of the Rings, 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, the proceedings of the 2004 Tolkien conference at Marquette University.
  • Together, we edited Tolkien’s Roverandom, the 50th anniversary editions of Farmer Giles of Ham and The Lord of the Rings, and the Marquette Tolkien conference proceedings; we compiled new indexes for The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings; we wrote The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (876 pages) and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (some 2,000 pages in two volumes), and papers for the journals Mythlore and Seven, for the proceedings (Lembas-extra) of a Tolkien conference in the Netherlands, and for the online Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza Scholars Forum; and we provided text on Tolkien’s art to accompany the 2004 Tolkien stamps issued by the U.K.’s Royal Mail. We have also contributed to other online Tolkien discussions, and are often privately asked bibliographical or textual questions (with apologies to those who are still waiting for replies, especially if your messages were sent while we were finishing the Reader’s Companion and Companion and Guide, or while I was recovering from my heart surgery in 2006–7).
  • In 1998, we were interviewed about Roverandom for National Public Radio’s ‘Weekend Edition’ broadcast (still available here). More recently, we talked about Tolkien for a Williams College podcast, which may be heard here. (Wayne is also on an earlier podcast, talking about the Chapin Library, available here.)

east wall of Tolkien library

That’s not bad for fifteen years. More details may be found on our website – which of course is another accomplishment. And then we began this blog just over a year ago, as an outlet for miscellaneous thoughts, intending to post more frequently than has proved the case. During the three months since our last post appeared, we have been working on Tolkien Collector 31 and compiling another group of addenda and corrigenda to our various publications. We hope in the future to do much more in the way of addenda to the Companion and Guide, trying to keep it as up-to-date as possible, at least as far as primary and biographical material is concerned (already a considerable amount has been published since 2006), and to record the most significant secondary material. Wayne has begun work on the second edition of his Tolkien bibliography, has been playing with the idea of a joint book of Tolkien essays old and new, and is involved with various, mainly online productions at Williams, including a bibliographical catalogue of a collection of rare astronomy books (see here). We still intend to publish a book on Pauline Baynes, but it progresses slowly, partly because, since her own collection and archive are now kept in the Chapin Library where Wayne works, there is now a lot more material to study; but that information should add greatly to the value of our book when it appears.

Images: At top, new bookcases in our basement stacks. We bought four low metal bookcases and arranged them in two els to form a base for a heavy board (left over from our renovation) which gave us a large working surface. The space inside the two els is used for box storage. At bottom, some of our 18,000 volumes: the east wall of our Tolkien library. The painting of Beren and Lúthien is by Ted Nasmith.

  1. December 12, 2010 4:56 pm

    I am very grateful for all the work you have done – particular favourites of mine are the Companion and Guide and the Artist and Illustrator.

    You probably already knew this, but I was recently excited to discover that The Land of Pohja painting from 1914 features in The Notion Club Papers (c.1946) as a recurrent dream of Ramer’s –

  2. Carl F. Hostetter permalink
    December 12, 2010 5:06 pm

    A very happy anniversary to you both! And congratulations on all you’ve accomplished in that time, separately and (mostly) together. Your productivity is both inspiring and humbling. I use one or another of your books constantly in my own researches, which is the highest compliment I can pay to anyone!


    P.S. How different your basement looks from when I last saw it!

  3. December 13, 2010 5:28 pm

    A very happy anniversary! Thanks for all, really… thanks for all! I enjoy your work on a daily basis and will probably work with it for the rest of my life. There are no words to describe how much your efforts and accomplishments mean to me and probably to many, many Tolkien fans out there!

    Pieter Collier,

  4. December 14, 2010 10:46 am

    Happy Anniversary, Wayne and Christina! My wife and I just recently celebrated fifteen years as well. As for your many accomplishments, congratulations is much too mild a word. Thank you for all your painstaking research and well-earned expertise, so much of which you have generously shared with the larger community. I think most of us look at all you’ve done and say, “all of that in only fifteen years?!” 🙂

  5. December 14, 2010 6:38 pm

    Congratulations, and a big thank you for all the two of you have done for Tolkien studies (notwithstanding the article about the “controversial” Arda Reconstructed. 😉

  6. Colin Harper permalink
    December 14, 2010 7:28 pm

    A staggering amount, and quality, of work – even without considering the various health, refurbishment and relocation issues. I’ve no doubt you must both have felt like Niggle with his uncompleteable painting on many occasions. I’m torn between wishing you both a more sedate, manageable lifestyle and wishing (as a fan of your incredibly well-informed and lovingly crafted works) that you would keep up the pace and keep delivering more of the brilliant books, articles and editions of papers which have characterised the past 15 years! I’ve little doubt Tolkien himself would have been quietly impressed with the rigour and breadth of your researches. Either way – whether you take life easier or keep climbing the mountains – good health to both of you! 🙂

  7. Brian Henderson permalink
    December 16, 2010 10:08 am

    Like everyone, I very much appreciate & enjoy this blog; especially those entries focusing on your book collection. Nice to read about all the very practical aspects of your home life too. The books both of you have produced over the years have been very good indeed; much quality in that 15 years. Hope to see more. Keep posting images of those shelves!

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