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Working on the Reader’s Guide

October 18, 2017

Christina writes: One of our first aims in making a new edition of our Tolkien Companion and Guide was to deal with two confusing matters which came to light before the work was originally published but after we submitted its final text towards the end of August 2006.

First, we had referred to Tolkien’s long alliterative poem on Túrin (in The Lays of Beleriand) as The Children of Húrin, a title used by Tolkien himself. Then HarperCollins announced (in September 2006) a prose version of the story of Túrin under the same title, and we could only hope that our references to the poem wouldn’t be confused with the book ultimately published in 2007. In our new Companion and Guide we now refer to the 2007 book as The Children of Húrin and the poem as The Lay of the Children of Húrin. To avoid anything similar happening with our second edition, HarperCollins promised to keep us informed of potential conflicts, and in the event we were given early access to Beren and Lúthien (2017). In our new edition we distinguish the book Beren and Lúthien from its underlying story ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’ (both entered under B).

Also, we looked forward to correcting entries concerning Jane Neave which we had based on information in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien. Only a few weeks after the original Companion and Guide went to press, an article by Maggie Burns in the September 2006 Amon Hen showed that Carpenter was not correct when he stated that in 1904, while his mother was in hospital, Tolkien stayed in Hove with his Aunt Jane and her husband Edwin Neave. Maggie established that Jane and Edwin were not married at the time, indeed Jane was employed as a teacher in Birmingham. Further research by Maggie, who unfortunately did not live to see how much her work helped us in our new edition, and also by Andrew Morton, built up a more detailed picture of Jane which led to several addenda and corrigenda on our website.

When we began to work on our revised edition, Wayne attended to the Chronology while I began to lay out a framework for the Reader’s Guide. We had already placed on our website an alphabetical list of topics in the Guide, and over the years had supplied lists of addenda and corrigenda. My first step was to insert the entries in the accumulated addenda and corrigenda into the list of topics in the correct order; and to this I added headings marking entries to be written for primary material (i.e. written by Tolkien) published since August 2006 – on our website we had paid more attention to corrigenda than to addenda, and had not added new entries for many of the later publications. The resulting list was rather long. In addition to The Children of Húrin, Christopher Tolkien had also published The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary together with Sellic Spell. Primary material had also been edited by other scholars: The History of The Hobbit by John Rateliff, an expanded edition of On Fairy-stories by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, The Story of Kullervo and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by Verlyn Flieger, J.R.R Tolkien: Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation by Michaël Devaux; Fate and Free Will by Carl Hostetter; and A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins. Some of these publications include more than one work, and therefore needed more than one entry in the Reader’s Guide. Since 2006 we ourselves contributed The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and an expanded edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. In addition, a large amount of Tolkien’s linguistic material and created scripts had appeared in seven issues of Parma Eldalamberon and two of Vinyar Tengwar. All this amounts to at least a shelf of newly published material.

We had also thought of many additional subjects for which entries should be written. I added these to the outline of topics I was compiling for the revised Guide. Some had been suggested by readers, others were omitted from our first edition for one reason or another (not all clear to us more than a decade later). To name only a few, new entries include: Authorial Presence; J.M. Barrie; The Battle of Maldon; John Buchan; Lewis Carroll; Composition, Manner of; Essays Presented to Charles Williams; poet H.R. Freston; Maps; Realities: An Anthology of Verse; Romanticism; The Seafarer; William Shakespeare (separated from Drama); Tolkien Estate; Tom Bombadil: A Prose Fragment; Richard Wagner; and The Wanderer. We also decided to add more entries for people Tolkien knew at King Edward’s School or at Oxford, or who were close to him in his academic career or personal life. These include, among others, Allan Barnett; C.M. Bowra; R.G. Collingwood; Francis de Zuleta; Mother Mary Michael; Alfred Measures; the Mitton Family; the Mountain Family; and Denis Tolhurst. Altogether there are almost a hundred new entries, only sixteen of which previously appeared in some form in our online addenda.

At the same time, I marked some forty existing topics which needed additions, sometimes extensive, to cover developments during the intervening decade or publication of new new material. These include: Adaptations; Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics; Biographies; Brookes-Smith Family; Collecting and Sales; Criticism; Fandom and Popularity (previously Fandom); The Hobbit; Illustration; The Jerusalem Bible; Languages; Languages, Invented; The Lord of the Rings; Stella Marie Mills; Francis Xavier Morgan; Mortality and Immortality; Emily Jane Neave; Edith Nesbit; Perry-the-Winkle; Reading; Recordings; Reincarnation of Elves; Religion; Source Criticism (previously Source-hunting); Suffield Family; Tolkien Family; War; Women and Marriage; and Writing Systems. Again, this list is not exhaustive.

So with this outline of the task ahead I turned my attention to the material written about Tolkien and his works since 2005, allowing that time constraints might have prevented us adding any but the most significant matter to entries already completed. Books from this period would fill at least three shelves, and that is not including magazines and journals and online forums. I began by working methodically through Tolkien Studies, Mythlore, Mallorn, Amon Hen, Beyond Bree, Hither Shore, Seven, Journal of Inklings Studies, and Lembas Extra, noting under a topic articles which seemed relevant and worthwhile, and sometimes copying brief extracts to indicate their importance. I did not, of course, have to read everything: often a title or quick scan would indicate that a paper fell outside the scope of our work. Next, I went through the proceedings of the Tolkien Society conferences held in 2005 and 2012, and then turned to the bookcase in which we shelve collections of essays, the greater part of which were published in 2005 or later. After this, I turned to books by individual authors from the relevant period, in some ways more difficult since a book may make successive significant points with chapter titles likely to be less informative than essay titles, but those books most likely to be relevant usually have an index (even if not always as good as I would have liked). For new topics I obviously had to go back further than 2005. For magazines and so forth, I referred to notes I had made when I had looked at earlier issues for the first edition of our book, when we were still uncertain of what topics would be included. For books, I covered the most likely works by checking the index (if any) and chapter titles.

Finally I turned to our ‘Tolkien Archive’ files – a work in progress. When I lived in London I pasted cuttings (biographical information, reviews, articles, etc.) into scrapbooks and accessed them by means of a typed index of their contents and a manuscript alphabetical index of newspapers and magazines (leaving space for additions). I tried to keep this up when I moved to Williamstown, but we were kept busy with writing books, and Wayne wanted something more serviceable and archival. The material piled up, especially when we were working on the first edition of the Companion and Guide and on The Lord of the Rings, and there were times when we had to embark on a desperate search for something we wanted and knew we had. At that point, my scrapbooks were more user-friendly.

Once our books were finished for the moment and we had completed renovations to our house, at the beginning of 2008 I began the task of dealing with this mass of paper. First I made a rough sort into larger categories and then divided each of these more finely and as logically as possible in hanging folders in seventeen plastic file boxes. I then began to compile an electronic catalogue and private inventory for these papers and for the scrapbooks, in which each item would be listed by its place – by numbered scrapbook or numbered file in numbered box, and further listed alphabetically by author and by source title, with a separate list of extracts from books by author. Entries for items vary from brief statements of identification to summaries, some quite detailed, and a rough and ready indicator of significance. This task was interrupted when we were commissioned to write more books, but by the beginning of 2016 I had dealt with some sixty scrapbooks (about a third of the total) containing biographical material and reviews of books by Tolkien, and had dealt with most of the hanging files (with the exception of material dealing with individuals other than members of Tolkien’s family, but these, which had been placed in alphabetical order, were reasonably accessible) and with a mass of unsorted cuttings about the various films.

I had just begun to address the scrapbooks containing reviews of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien when we were asked to write our new Companion and Guide. For this we only occasionally needed to look at the scrapbooks, which had been mined for the first edition, and I did not even need to look at the mass of paper in the hanging files to find relevant material. I just scanned the electronic files and copied entries which looked interesting into the topics master file. Next came a read through of the original text of the Guide, adding notes of errors or typos and of matter that needed updating. This became the master file for the Guide.

We did not write or revise articles to any order, picking what we felt like writing, but generally dealt with those we each had written for the first edition, if revision or addition was needed, and also produced new entries in the same categories. Thus Wayne dealt with Tolkien’s academic writings and most of his literary works, including poetry; biographies except for some literary figures; places; and Tolkien’s created languages and writing systems, while I dealt with all of the entries concerning ‘The Silmarillion’ and The Silmarillion; general entries about Tolkien as a writer; most literary figures; and many general topics. But there were exceptions: Wayne wrote the entry on John Buchan because he has read more of his works, while I wrote the one on The Fall of Arthur because I have read more Arthurian literature, and that for The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún as the sources of that work are similar to those used by Wagner, which fell to my lot as an opera enthusiast.

Once we began to write, Wayne controlled the master file for publication and added each completed entry once it had been approved by both of us, looking again for typos or inconsistencies, especially of style between entries, checking that references to online sources still work (many were defunct), and eventually typesetting each volume.

As a coda, I am just working my way through a seven-inch-high pile of papers that accumulated since we began to work on the second edition, some extracted from existing archive files, a small number of additions during the past few months, but the bulk of it new material collected or downloaded while working on entries in the Chronology or Reader’s Guide.

  1. Jan Alva permalink
    October 19, 2017 7:50 am

    such an ocean of research (and papers…a world-ocean of papers!). Looking eagerly forward to the result. Thank you!

  2. October 19, 2017 1:27 pm

    The amount of work that you two have done (and continue to do) is mind-boggling (especially given how thorough and meticulous you are). I’m grateful that two scholars such as yourselves have worked so diligently to help illuminate Tolkien and his work.

  3. October 19, 2017 2:12 pm

    I am very much looking forward to holding the result of all of your work in my hands – thank you for this!

  4. Colin Harper permalink
    October 21, 2017 2:45 pm

    Mind-boggling indeed. For my own books (on music history/biography) I certainly prepare material very thoroughly beforehand, and as I go along, as material becomes available through enquiry, but it’s more in the way of box files and head knowledge as to where things (physically) are. Your forensic indexing approach is certainly impressive. Anyway, my copy of the new edition has been ordered from the moment you first posted about it!

  5. Phillip Walch permalink
    November 1, 2017 4:26 pm

    Hi W&C

    In case this was missed by you or readers here. A letter to from July 1973 to Prof. Campbell at Edinburgh Uni.


  6. Charles Evans permalink
    November 5, 2017 5:32 pm

    Hello Wayne&Christina,

    Do you know of anyone/website that maintains any addenda/corrigenda for the 12 volumes of History of Middle-earth? Thanks.


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