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Visiting Tolkien’s Publishers

August 13, 2017

Over the years, we have visited Tolkien’s British publishers in their variety of establishments. Christina used to watch the windows of George Allen & Unwin’s London headquarters at Ruskin House, 40 Museum Street, for the occasional Tolkien display, and to step into the reception area now and then to pick up catalogues. She penetrated further in 1987 when Rayner Unwin allowed her to photograph covers and artwork of translations of The Hobbit for a talk at the Tolkien Society seminar celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Hobbit’s publication. Because there was not much room, she had to rest the books on a high windowsill to get enough light, and to stand on steps to shoot from above. She later expanded beyond The Hobbit to other titles, at Museum Street and then mainly in forming her extensive library of Tolkien in translation.

A few years before that, Rayner gave Christina permission, along with Charles Noad, the Tolkien’s Society’s bibliographer, to photocopy Allen & Unwin’s collection of Tolkien-related press cuttings at the company’s warehouse in Hemel Hempstead, twenty-four miles (thirty-nine kilometres) north-west of London. As she recalls, Christina and Charles made three or four visits, taking a train from Euston at about 8.30 a.m. and then a bus from the station into the town, arriving not long after the offices opened at 9.00 a.m. They would then work through until closing time (about 5.00 p.m.) without lunch. Sets of reviews, including ones from the U.S.A. supplied by Houghton Mifflin, and miscellaneous publicity about Tolkien were packed tightly into envelopes (in some cases, ‘scrunched’ would be a better description). Christina and Charles paid for the cost of the photocopies, and to save time and money opted for the larger A3 paper, fitting as many carefully unfolded cuttings as possible on each sheet. Christina later cut out individual items from her set of copies and pasted them into a series of scrapbooks –  we’ve made great use of these in our books and papers on Tolkien. After Allen and Unwin merged with Bell Hyman in 1987, the Hemel Hempstead premises were sold and the cuttings evidently discarded. In the film made to celebrate the Tolkien centenary in 1992, Tom Shippey reads some of the reviews from one of Christina’s scrapbooks.

Allen & Unwin sold a long lease on Ruskin House and the new entity, Unwin Hyman, moved into premises in Broadwick Street, Soho. We visited these offices several times, sometimes accompanied by Joy Hill, who had worked at Allen & Unwin in the 1960s and 70s, variously as Rayner Unwin’s secretary and to organize matters associated with Tolkien, at times helping with his correspondence. Christina met Joy first at a few Tolkien events, and was in contact with her also in regard to the Tolkien Centenary Conference, for which Christina was committee chair. Joy lived only few streets from Christina in Battersea, and became a close friend of us both. Wayne had been working for many years on a bibliography of Tolkien’s publications and, encouraged by Joy, was now striving to finish it for publication in 1992, the centenary of Tolkien’s birth.

Wayne having approached Rayner and the Tolkien Estate about access to Tolkien’s correspondence with Allen & Unwin, as a basis for his publishing history, permission was granted. Then suddenly we heard from Joy that Rayner had been unable to prevent the acquisition of Unwin Hyman by HarperCollins; the Tolkien–Allen & Unwin archive would be preserved, but its location would be uncertain for a time. We had to move quickly. Wayne spent most of a week in the Broadwick Street building, with Christina’s help part of the time, recording relevant information at breakneck speed while the Unwin Hyman offices were being dismantled, moved, or disposed of around us.

As HarperCollins were interested in promotional prospects of the Centenary Conference, as chair Christina had contacts with Mary Butler, who had been on the Unwin Hyman staff and was now in charge of Tolkien publications. She became our editor when Christopher Tolkien asked us to write a book about Tolkien’s art, and we subsequently visited her at HarperCollins’ offices in an impressive new building at 77–85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith. There, after passing through a security checkpoint, one found a large central atrium surrounded on each level by a mix of private offices and open-plan working space.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator having been published with success in autumn 1995, when we returned to England in spring 1996 we went to Hammersmith again to discuss further Tolkien projects with David Brawn, Mary Butler’s successor. Our proposal of an expanded edition of Tolkien’s Letters was not taken up, but it was suggested that a Tolkien volume similar to Walter Hooper’s C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide would allow us to include some parts of unpublished letters, and more immediately, we were asked to edit Tolkien’s unpublished story Roverandom. During the next few years when visiting England we made our way to Hammersmith, where in addition to David Brawn we met his deputy, Chris Smith, as well as other assistants. On one occasion, we spent time comparing our notes from the Tolkien–Allen & Unwin archive against the original letters, which had to be used in the small room and narrow passage where their fireproof filing cabinet was kept.

We can’t remember the exact date of our final visit to Hammersmith, but it was probably early in the new millennium. Our visits to England have become less frequent, and with publishing business carried out now mainly by email there’s less need for personal contact. So there had been a considerable gap before our May 2016 visit to David and Chris at HarperCollins’ new headquarters in the News Building – earlier known as ‘The Place’ and the ‘Baby Shard’ – at 1 London Bridge Street, just south of the river. HarperCollins share the building with other Rupert Murdoch businesses, but are situated high enough to have a dramatic view of the Thames, the City, the Tower of London, and all of the various oddly-shaped tall structures that have altered the skyline in recent years.

We had been kept busy with The Art of The Hobbit, the expanded Adventures of Tom Bombadil, revisions to the sixtieth anniversary Lord of the Rings and to The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, and most recently The Art of The Lord of the Rings. Now, invited to meet, we wondered what HarperCollins might be considering. After discussing a few possibilities (an expanded Letters was, alas, still not required), quite unexpectedly we were asked about a revised and expanded Companion and Guide. The original printing had sold out, and a straightforward reprint seemed unlikely to do well when so much had been published in the years since the original edition (2006) and so much more information had become available, including material we had noted on our website. After getting over our surprise, we were happy to discuss the proposal. Wayne pointed out that the Guide volume was already at its maximum length for binding. It was suggested that we make the Companion and Guide three volumes rather than two, splitting the Guide and reorganizing material to try to make the two new Guide volumes as equal in volume as possible both to each other and to the Chronology. At the same time, we welcomed the opportunity to add running heads to aid navigation, which we were unable to include in our first edition.

Eventually, when Wayne has time to work on a second edition of his Tolkien bibliography – so long promised! so often set aside as Tolkien contracts have come our way – we’ll need to visit HarperCollins’ offices in Glasgow. Their archive has moved there, including papers which would give printing figures and publishing details of Tolkien books since Wayne’s original cut-off date in 1992.

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11 Comments
  1. August 14, 2017 9:14 pm

    So glad to hear this report. Looking forward to adding these volumes to my Tolkien library.

  2. Phillip Walch permalink
    August 15, 2017 7:30 am

    I think HarperCollins are being narrow minded over an expanded letters. Many of the reprints over the years have seemed quite lazy so I was relieved when I read you were asked to expand the Companion and Guide, an expanded Letters would suit me.

    Could I ask again here as my question may have been missed on your previous post. The Companion & Guide is listed on Amazon on Kindle, will that be a complete edition of the guide or in the two volumes as printed?

    Many thanks

    • October 18, 2017 10:44 pm

      Phillip, sorry we didn’t reply sooner. We had hoped to have some definitive word about Kindle versions of our new edition, but still have heard nothing more. Amazon UK are currently listing a Kindle version of each of the two volumes of the Reader’s Guide, but none of the Chronology. We would imagine that if HarperCollins are doing the Guide in Kindle, the Chronology would be available in electronic form also.

      • Phillip Walch permalink
        October 19, 2017 9:53 am

        Thank you for the info. I will go with the option that best suited my space in this case. Chronology in physical and the Reader;s Guide in Kindle as I use it less than frequently. Really looking forward to release day.

  3. Jan Alva permalink
    September 6, 2017 10:09 pm

    I was wondering if I might ask a question about a bit of Tolkien’s art, a piece called “Beyond” (featured in b&w only in “Artist and Illustrator”). Your description of it has me longing to see it in color. The only color piece I could find was apparently used as the cover of non-Tolkien book. Is there any chance of seeing this piece in color? Thank you, Janet Nelson-Alvarez

  4. October 15, 2017 3:28 am

    You can see “Beyond” in colour, as it is on the Tolkien Estate’s website, http://www.tolkienestate.com/assets/images/gallery/ishness/1170-_beyond_-1914-170.jpg

  5. Jan Alva permalink
    October 15, 2017 11:34 am

    Trotter, thank you so much. You can never know my gratitude by these few words!

    • Trotter permalink
      October 19, 2017 9:07 am

      Jan, I am very pleased that I helped you find a colour image of “Beyond”, but it is a copyrighted image and you should not include it on your website, would be better to include the link that I gave earlier.

      • jan permalink
        October 19, 2017 12:43 pm

        Trotter, we will take it down, with apologies.

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