Tolkien Notes 6
It isn’t often that we find on eBay a piece of Tolkieniana we haven’t seen or heard about. Earlier this month, a seller in the U.K. offered an LP recording called Giles, described as an adaptation of Farmer Giles of Ham with original ‘folk/progressive’ songs, recorded by students in England backed with guitar, organ, flute, and other instruments. This is the sort of thing we’ve added to our Tolkien collection when it comes cheap, but Giles was not: the final bid was £206.
In our blog post of 2 March 2012, we reviewed new evidence which allowed us to reconsider our dating of Tinfang Warble and The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel, poems by Tolkien which he preserved as cuttings from a publication ultimately identified by John Garth as the Inter-University Magazine. We had assigned these poems in the Chronology volume of The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide to ?1923–1926, but later emended this to ?1925–?1927 and identified those issues of the Inter-University Magazine in which each poem could have appeared – among them, for both poems, vol. 8, no. 2, in the first part of 1927. Now a correspondent, Fiona Mercey, has pointed out to us an important clue in the Roman Catholic magazine The Tablet for 28 May 1927, available online:
The May issue of the Inter-University Magazine, in the production of which Father Martindale now has evidently a capable assistant, deals attractively with many matters of interest. In ‘The Holy Maries,’ C.M. Girdlestone discusses at length the legend relating to the Holy Cave, ‘high up in the face of a grey limestone cliff, inland from Marseilles.’ H.J. Parkinson commends Mr. Hilaire Belloc’s ‘The Catholic Church and History’ in ‘The Catholic Student of History’. . . . Other notable articles [and features] include . . . verses by J.R. [sic] Tolkien and Wilfred R. Childe.
We recalled at once that the article by Girdlestone described here is also mentioned in a note on the other side of Tolkien’s preserved cutting of Tinfang Warble, as a feature appearing in the same issue, and that part of an article on the Catholic student of history is printed on the reverse of the cutting of The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel. From this we can conclude that Tolkien’s poems were first published together in the Inter-University Magazine for May 1927 (i.e. vol. 8, no. 2), and have revised our Companion and Guide references accordingly.
Having located the digital version of The Tablet, thanks to Ms. Mercey, we searched it for other references to Tolkien, and were pleased to find several mentions from which we created new Companion and Guide addenda and corrigenda, given here and here. The most satisfying of the Tablet articles, after that which pointed us to the correct Inter-University Magazine, was found in the issue for 15 February 1936: this noted that the latest number of the Abingdon Annual, published by Our Lady’s School, a ‘well-known convent school’ in Abingdon, near Oxford, includes ‘a poem or two’ by Tolkien. One of these (if there are more than one) is presumably the early version (or printing) of Shadow-Bride for which there is a reference in Tolkien’s papers, associating it with an ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ – another bibliographical question which has long eluded us. See our entry for the poem in the Reader’s Guide.
Our friend Alan Reynolds recently called our attention to an article by Laura Donnelly-Smith in the 8 January 2013 George Washington Today, ‘A Ticket to Middle-earth’. This concerns a first edition copy of The Lord of the Rings with an autograph note by Tolkien to one E. Rasdall, who had sent Tolkien books to be signed. Curiously, the manuscript does not belong with the Lord of the Rings owned by George Washington University (GWU, in Washington, D.C.), at least the first volume of which was owned by a Christine Cusnich (according to the article; the University’s online catalogue gives the name as Christine Curnick). Instead, the note, described in the GWU catalogue as a postcard, may refer to a set of The Lord of the Rings offered online in 2002: this comprised a fifth printing of The Fellowship of the Ring (February 1956), with a tipped-in slip inscribed by Tolkien to Ernest Rasdall, and first printings of The Two Towers and The Return of the King (1954 and 1955), each with Tolkien’s autograph on the endpaper.
The GWU postcard from Tolkien to Rasdall, dated 21 March 1956 and referring to a parcel of books, would fit well with this set – though it’s puzzling why one volume should have had an inscribed slip while the other two were directly signed. Another puzzle is that the same, or a very similar, set of The Lord of the Rings, now with the slip in a first, not fifth, printing of the Fellowship and a custom solander box, was offered in 2004 with another letter from Tolkien to Rasdall, written in 1964 and referring to Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf and The Silmarillion. Some readers may recall Christina’s article in Tolkien Collector 23 on the ‘sophistication’ of Tolkien books, that is, how booksellers or owners of them mess about with provenance or dust-jackets or other features to make their copies more ‘special’ or more marketable. This seems to be the case with the Rasdall Fellowship, where the inscribed slip moved from a fifth printing to a more valuable first printing – unless Tolkien provided two inscribed slips, for two different printings of the Fellowship. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing for sure, unless further Rasdall correspondence comes to light.
The Donnelly-Smith article assumes that Rasdall was a book collector, and indeed this was true. He was an ambitious collector who apparently wrote to authors and artists and asked for autographed slips or signed copies. A web search of ‘E. Rasdall’, ‘Ernest Rasdall’, ‘E.H. Rasdall’, or ‘Ernest H. Rasdall’ finds many examples of letters and autographed books associated with him, now scattered among institutional collections or currently on offer from dealers. The Lord of the Rings set offered in 2004 was put up for auction at Sotheby’s London in 2005, but failed to sell. In the same auction was a copy of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) which Tolkien autographed for Rasdall, and which sold along with a related letter.
A recent book by Gary Raymond, 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien: An Unauthorised Biography of the World’s Most Revered Fantasy Writer (Lewes, East Sussex: Ivy Press, 2012), looked interesting when we saw it on Amazon UK, but the thought of studying so deceptively complex an author in three-minute chunks gave us pause. Raymond divides the main part of his book into three sections, Life, Work, and Influences, each consisting of twenty openings designed much in the manner of web pages and devoted to a particular topic. Each left-hand page is divided into an outer column containing three paragraphs of about equal length, devoted to aspects of the topic which can be read in only three minutes, while a parallel column contains a ‘3-Second Quest’ with a further small piece of information, references to ‘Related Thoughts’ elsewhere in the book, and a brief quotation, usually by Tolkien. The right-hand pages meanwhile are occupied by collaged illustrations.
Unfortunately, 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien contains a large number of factual errors, such as that Tolkien died on 2 November 1973 rather than 2 September (p. 58), and that he met all three of his closest friends in the T.C.B.S. in France in 1916 (p. 34; actually, he met only G.B. Smith; Rob Gilson was killed less than a month after Tolkien arrived in France, and Christopher Wiseman was a naval officer far from the Western Front). One of the more serious problems is Raymond’s misunderstanding of the Oxford system of education and of Tolkien’s studies there from 1911 to 1915 (p. 32): the examination for which Tolkien received a Second Class in 1913 was Moderations, not a final degree, so it was not as a ‘postgraduate’ that he transferred to the English School. Nor did Exeter College have a special English department, though it was the Rector of Exeter who suggested to Tolkien that he change schools. Tolkien’s tutor, Kenneth Sisam, was not a member of Exeter, but assistant to A.S. Napier, the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon. Nor was Tolkien introduced at this time to the study and mythology of Old Icelandic: he had already discovered them while at King Edward’s School, and even read a paper on the Norse sagas on 17 February 1911 to the School’s Literary Society. Another major error is the assumption that ‘the [Second World] war had little effect on Tolkien’s work at Oxford’ (p. 52) and allowed him time to concentrate on The Lord of the Rings: as we show in the Chronology, he was busier than ever during the war, and cadet courses ran consecutively with no breaks.
Thus issues found in the ‘Life’ section. ‘Works’ includes such errors or omissions as describing Aragorn as the son of the Steward of Gondor (p. 76), and Éowyn as Théoden’s daughter (p. 80). Raymond’s knowledge of the Second Age of Middle-earth is also a little shaky: on p. 86 he says that Sauron using the Ring ‘enslaved the most powerful army of Men, the Númenóreans’, and that Sauron was defeated at the end of the Second Age by ‘Isildur and a surviving Númenórean army’ (Sauron pretends to surrender when faced by Ar-Pharazôn’s army and is taken prisoner to Númenor, and the army that defeated him at the end of the Second Age was an alliance of Elves and Men led by Gil-galad and Elendil).
The best part of the book is its illustrations, including some photographs of Tolkien and one of Rayner Unwin we had not previously seen published. Otherwise, there are views of places associated with Tolkien, covers of and illustrations from his books, as well as, unfortunately but not surprisingly these days, images from the Jackson films, featured prominently throughout.
Edit, 20 April: We neglected last night to include a link to new addenda and corrigenda to the Reader’s Guide: this is now in place. Also today, we have added to our Chronology addenda (for convenience slipping it into the batch for 19 April) another reference to The Tablet, concerning the Pax Romana Congress of 1928, in which Tolkien had a role; this was kindly brought to our attention by Jason Fisher, who thought to search The Tablet for ‘Tolkein’ as well as ‘Tolkien’! We have done this now ourselves – also for ‘Tolkine’, just to be on the safe side – and were interested to find a reference to Tolkien receiving his B.A., within an article which gives a good description of Oxford in the midst of the war, on 6 November 1915.