Tolkien Notes 4
The February number of Locus magazine, reporting current bestsellers in the science fiction and fantasy field, lists The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien at no. 8 among hardcover books sold by Barnes & Noble/B. Dalton. Locus also includes us in the category Art Books on its 2012 Recommended Reading List.
The October 2012 number of Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine includes two pieces of special interest to us: ‘Tolkien after Tolkien: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth [sic]’ by Robin H. Smiley, together with ‘The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth: An Annotated Checklist of the American First Editions’; and ‘Weaving Fantasy and History: Guy Gavriel Kay’ by Kathryn Smiley, together with ‘Guy Gavriel Kay: [A] Checklist’.
The Tolkien article includes a brief biographical introduction, very compressed and with a few unfortunate errors, such as that Tolkien was taken to England in 1895 after (by implication, because) he was bitten by a poisonous spider, one of the places Mabel Tolkien and her sons are said to have lived together was Jane Neave’s farm, ‘Bag End’ (Mabel never lived there), and The Hobbit was published in 1936 (not 1937). The Tolkien checklist is based in large part on J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, which went to press before the American edition of Sauron Defeated (HoME no. 9) appeared and does not include the later volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Mr. Smiley finds it unfortunate that the Bibliography has not yet been updated to include volumes ten through twelve – apparently he is unaware of The Tolkien Collector, which has served this purpose since 1992. Smiley’s checklist also includes posthumous books by Tolkien not encompassed by his article title, and a selection of Tolkien-related biographies and reference works.
Kathryn Smiley’s long article on Guy Gavriel Kay is also significantly related to Tolkien, in that it discusses, more fully than any source we’ve seen before, how Kay came to participate in the editing of The Silmarillion (1977). Kay grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of a surgeon, one of whose colleagues was Dr. Alan Klass, who was the father of Baillie Klass, who in 1967 married Christopher Tolkien, who became J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary executor. Kay met Christopher several times before Tolkien died in 1973, and when Christopher began to prepare The Silmarillion for publication, he asked the twenty-year-old Kay to act as his assistant. Kay moved to Oxford in 1974 and stayed for a year. In his spare time, he explored, wrote poetry, made notes for his own projects, and met one of his favourite authors, Dorothy Dunnett, who was herself a Tolkien fan. Ms. Smiley unfortunately could not go into detail about Kay’s work with Christopher Tolkien, because Kay prefers not to discuss it, due to its confidential nature.
The October Firsts came to our attention when it appeared on eBay and sold for more than twenty dollars. We went to the magazine’s website and bought the back issue for ten dollars including postage.
It occurred to us the other day that we said little in our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide about the route young Ronald took when he, his mother, and his brother sailed from South Africa in 1895. Did he go north by way of the Suez Canal, or did his ship sail westward, around the Cape of Good Hope? We knew from The Tolkien Family Album that the family group had embarked on the steamship Guelph at Cape Town, and arrived three weeks later in Southampton, England, but we had not looked into this further. An Internet search led us first to an article on the Polish Tolkien fans’ Elendilion website; this, however, is concerned mainly with the later history of the Guelph.
The Guelph, we found, was a relatively new steamship at the time of the Tolkiens’ sailing. Measuring 4,917 gross tons, it was launched at Belfast in 1894 and at first was employed on the Union Line’s Durban–Cape Town–Tenerife–Southampton ‘intermediate service’, that is, it was a vessel designed for cargo and passengers rather than the speedy shipment of mail. In 1895, then, the Guelph followed a route which included just the far southern part of Africa’s east coast (Durban and Cape Town), as well as the west coast northward to England by way of the Canary Islands. A photograph of the Guelph, with a single funnel and three masts, is reproduced in The Tolkien Family Album and on several Internet sites.
Much later in life, according to John and Priscilla Tolkien in The Tolkien Family Album (p. 18), Tolkien remembered from the long voyage to England on the Guelph ‘two brilliantly sharp images: the first of looking down from the deck of the ship into the clear waters of the Indian Ocean far below, which was full of lithe brown and black bodies diving for coins thrown by the passengers; the second was of pulling into a harbour at sunrise and seeing a great city set on the hillside above, which he realised much later in life must have been Lisbon’.
Having looked into the Guelph, we became curious also about the Roslin Castle, one of the ships of the Castle Mail Packets Co. (one of a series named after castles; this was the second of that name), on which Tolkien’s mother Mabel Suffield travelled to South Africa in 1891 to marry Arthur Tolkien. The Roslin Castle measured 4,267 gross tons at its launch in April 1883, and had one funnel and two masts (ships of this type typically used sail as well as steam). In 1888, she was returned to her builders to correct defects, in particular a tendency to roll, and at that time was enlarged (to 4,487 gross tons) and her passenger accommodation improved. At the time of Mabel’s voyage, the Roslin Castle sailed the west coast of Africa, like the Guelph a means of transporting mail to and from South Africa, but able to carry passengers as well.
Image: The steamship Guelph.