Tolkien Notes 9
Wedgwood Millennium Plate
At the turn of the new millennium, Wedgwood issued a series of decorative calendar plates. We have just acquired one of these, for 1999, on eBay, because it is devoted to English literature and celebrates Tolkien along with Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, and Dame Agatha Christie. Each author is represented by a roundel illustration for one of his or her works, or which evokes a body of work. For Tolkien, this is a picture for chapter 12 of The Hobbit, of Bilbo and the dragon Smaug sleeping on his hoard. Bilbo, however, is wearing a helmet (which he acquires only later in the story) and is putting treasure into a sack as large as the hobbit himself (whereas in The Hobbit Bilbo is just able to carry out a single cup). Unlike the figure in Tolkien’s painting Conversation with Smaug, Bilbo is not wearing boots.
Tolkien is among five authors inducted this year into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was founded in 1996 and is now based at the EMP Museum in Seattle, where Tolkien’s three-dimensional portrait has been laser-etched onto a Lucite block. Inductees are nominated by members of the Museum and ‘chosen by a panel of award-winning science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, editors, publishers, and film professionals’. Most of the inductees to date are known more for science fiction rather than fantasy (as far as any distinction can now be made). By coincidence, also inducted in this round was Joanna Russ, who wrote an unpublished play based on The Hobbit.
As mentioned in Tolkien Notes 7, our Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was nominated for a Locus Magazine award in the category of Art Book. In the event, we came in third of five; the winner was Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.
When Hobbitus Ille, the translation of The Hobbit into Latin by Mark Walker, was published last September, we ordered it at once, and (as collectors) were annoyed to receive a copy of the second printing, not the first. Who would have thought that a Latin edition of The Hobbit would be in so much demand as to need at least two printings by the time of publication? Since Hobbitus Ille isn’t a primary edition of a Tolkien work, only a translation of one, we didn’t bother to pursue a first printing, though we never forget that we didn’t have one. Then, just a week ago, while visiting a Barnes & Noble bookshop in Albany, New York, what should we find but a first printing of Hobbitus Ille! Christina almost didn’t look at the two copies on the shelf, and after checking one of them and finding it was a second printing, she almost didn’t check the other. So now we’re happy, as well as interested to know that copies of the HarperCollins U.K. edition were imported for sale in the U.S.A.
We would have enjoyed seeing the Bodleian Libraries’ current exhibition, ‘Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-earth’, on display through 27 October, but as we won’t be visiting Oxford before then, we have to make do with the accompanying book, Magical Tales: Myth Legend & Enchantment in Children’s Books, edited by Carolyne Larrington and Diane Purkiss (Bodleian Library, 2013). This includes frequent references to Tolkien, and to some of Christina’s favourite childhood books, as well as others she has discovered and enjoyed as an adult.
Magical Tales reproduces in colour three of Tolkien’s pictures for The Hobbit: his dust-jacket art (with annotations), the watercolour Conversation with Smaug, and a drawing in black and red, Firelight in Beorn’s House. There is also one of his ‘facsimile’ pages from the ‘Book of Mazarbul’ for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s nicely calligraphed manuscript of the first lines of the Old English Exodus with the beginning of a lecture on that poem, and a 1947 manuscript postcard written by ‘Kay’ (Katharine) Farrer to Tolkien, using Anglo-Saxon runes.
The editorial caption for Tolkien’s Exodus manuscript page reads: ‘The word middeangard, found at the beginning of the poem, means “Middle-earth”, and Old English is the language of the Rohirrim, or Riders of Rohan’ (p. 96). On the surface, yes, but as Tolkien points out in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, although he used Old English for the Rohirrim, it was not their actual language. There are pitfalls for the unwary who walk in Tolkien territory! Then there is Ms. Larrington’s unfortunate comment on p. 63, on the evolution of the story of Túrin. Tolkien, she wrote, made use of Norse legend ‘in the early unfinished story The Children of Húrin, begun in the form of an epic poem during the First World War. The tale was finally completed by Christopher Tolkien and published in 2007.’ There are at least three errors in this statement, which conflates several stages of composition. On the same page, her comment that the dwarves in The Hobbit are ‘on a quest to win back the Lonely Mountain from the dragon’ seems to derive from the Jackson film rather than from Tolkien.