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Tolkien Collection Quantified – Comments

July 31, 2019

Quite a few of you looked at our latest post. Thanks, and apologies for the length of time between that post and the one before that. We’ve had some comments, both direct to our blog and on the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page.

Clive Shergold asked, presumably with tongue in cheek (though one never knows), what our figure in linear feet translates to in hobbit ells. First, define an ell, hobbit or otherwise! Then do the math. We measured in linear feet because that’s what librarians do on this side of the pond (though they express book heights in centimetres), and because American shelving tends to be sold in feet, typically three feet to a shelf (though with a lot of variation by manufacturer).

Juan Manuel Grijalvo thought that quantifying our Tolkien collection suggested that we don’t have a catalogue or inventory of it. We do have a catalogue, or rather catalogues, or lists, as one may like to call them. One is only of books and other materials (such as audio recordings) by Tolkien. Another comprises all other books in our library, including works on Tolkien, as well as everything ‘non-Tolkien’. These are kept in electronic form and updated as needed. But Christina has also been making shelflists – more detailed lists of books as we have them on our shelves, so that we can find an item more precisely if we want it. Our booklists, and lists of CDs, DVDs, etc., and other lists as well, travel with us on our laptop and tablets, so that we can refer to them and prevent buying something all over again that we forgot we had. We used to print lists out and carry them into book and record shops, but that became unwieldy, and of course electronic lists can be more easily searched.

Drew Foster would like us to do a video tour of our house. Drew, it’s hard enough to get good still photos of our books, etc., but rest assured that we’re not living among stacks of books in the middle of the floor or piled high against the windows. We’re collectors, not hoarders, and as librarians (one still active, one retired) we like and appreciate order. We even have (some) wall space on which to hang pictures!

Naturesfocus asked if we also have a fair amount of digital material in our collection. We have downloaded selectively (and legally), including some materials ‘born digital’, but our focus is on physical resources.

Note to anyone still planning to buy a copy of the new (2017) edition of our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, this is currently on sale from Amazon U.K. for only 61.89 (plus shipping), which we think is the lowest the online price has ever been, a 48% discount.

10 Comments
  1. Clive Shergold permalink
    August 1, 2019 5:00 am

    My tongue was most definitely in my cheek. However, when I actually investigated the possible length of an ell, I got a couple of surprises.
    Firstly, I was told in my childhood (probably as a direct result of coming across Sam’s rope measurement) that an ell was the distance between one’s hands with arms outstretched to each side (a distance similar to one’s height, for most people). This seemed an obvious way to measure out a rope, so I took it as gospel. I certainly did not consider the implications of this as applied to hobbits as Little People. It turns out that this is NOT one of the many different ways of defining an ell.
    Secondly, the Wikipedia article ‘Ell’ has a section ‘In literature’ containing only two references: the rope measurement in LOTR, and the width of the Green Knight’s axe head in Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight. Does anybody use ells outside fantasy literature?

    • Denis Bridoux permalink
      August 19, 2019 5:23 am

      There is a holograph page from Marquette in Catherine McIlwaine’s Maker of Middle-earth book which shows how Hobbits’ Long Measures (p. 393) relate to Imperial ones.

      The following is a quote from my review of the book in the forthcoming issue of Tolkien Studies (2019):

      “… These were wholly new to me, although one should have expected them to exist, considering that every ancient form of measuring was done in relation to various body parts. Measuring things would have been complicated for Hobbits had they used measures based on Men more or less twice their size, or about seven feet if they were man-high, as is stated in Unfinished Tales. This explains why they were nicknamed ‘Halflings’.

      Next to Hobbit measures, Tolkien added Imperial ones in red ballpoint, which enables us to make some comparisons. He then added corrections to the measurements in green ballpoint.Thus, a standard Hobbitic ‘step’ is equivalent to two of our feet, or 2/3 of our yard, but their Hobbitic ‘foot’ is equivalent to nine of our inches, or ¾ of our own foot. We can guess from this that their physical feet were somewhat larger in proportion to their body than our own. Of course, it may be even so more for some, such as Sancho Proudfoot! …”

      Thus, according to that page, one Hobbit ell, or ‘step’, is equivalent to the Imperial measure of 2ft. 3in.

      This should be the definitive answer to this question. Personally, I would have liked to see these included either in an Appendix to LotR, or in the Prologue.

      Although Tolkien used metric measurements for his graded LotR maps of the West of Middle-earth, please do not ask me for the metric equivalent of Hobbit measures. Just figure it out for yourself.

  2. Harvey Handley permalink
    August 3, 2019 7:07 pm

    The distance between outstretched arms is a fathom = six feet. The Old English word literally means “embrace.” A natural way to measure a rope is to take an end in one hand, stretch the rope with the other hand as far as it will reach, then grasp the rope at that point with the first hand and repeat.

    That part I am sure of. As for “ell,” I believe it was the usual medieval measure for cloth, determined by wrapping the cloth around your elbow and back to your hand again. The word means “arm/forearm” and is found in “elbow.” It is cognate with Latin “ulna,” the name of the main bone in your forearm.

  3. Clive Shergold permalink
    August 4, 2019 8:13 am

    I have finally done what I should have done straight away (even if only as a courtesy) – reached for the indispensable Reader’s Companion by Hammond & Scull. (In my defence, my meagre 2LF of Tolkieniana is somewhat scattered, and the relevant volume was locked in someone else’s bedroom!) And of course to whole issue is there discussed, in relation to the definition of an ell, the smaller physical size of hobbits, and Tolkien’s intentions and alterations.
    The upshot being that the ell intended by Tolkien is the English ell of 45 inches (3’9″) and therefore 4 ells (on Bilbo’s untidy bookshelves) is equivalent to 15 LF of Hammond & Scull Tolkieniana.

  4. August 6, 2019 4:24 am

    On another subject – I would greatly value a further response to my post on your Tolkien Notes 17 in October last year. Seamus H-Keays

  5. Ignacio Elizalde permalink
    August 6, 2019 4:57 pm

    Hi! Out of topic, but I wanted to ask you something: are there any plans for a new edition (or reprint) of “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography”? If not, is it possible to get it in digital format?
    Same goes for the “Chronology” volume of “The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide” revised and expanded edition.
    Thanks!

  6. August 18, 2019 2:49 pm

    Amazing work you do! Although it must be frustrating to discover ever more mistakes with each new edition. Maybe we should introduce publishers to this newfangled dohicky called … a computer? 😛

    You once noted that a 2008 edition to be the best (least mistakes) as regards the text. The last I read, you updated that note to a 2014 edition. Any new note on the best edition to date?

    BTW, I originally read TLOTR in the famous Ace Books paperback. Some term that edition “infamous”. However it was Ace’s tip-of-the-hat (read that as “settlement” to Tolkien & his publishers’ expired copyright and their illegality in continuing their international publishing) that gave Tolkien a comfortable retirement not afforded by his own publishes — at worst, “a blessing in disguise”; at best, a “win/win” for all involved. 😉

  7. September 4, 2019 5:44 pm

    Hi C&W,

    In RG N-Z I note that under the entry for The Nameless land, p.1517 you state that “*The Nameless Land. Realities, pp. 24–5. Later versions, The Song ofÆlfwine (on Seeing the Uprising of Eärendel) and The Song of Ælfwine on Seeing the Uprising of Eärendil, with the intermediate title Ælfwine’s Song Calling upon Eärendel, were published in The Lost Road and Other Writings, pp. 100–4.”, this suggests that only the two later versions are included in LR when in fact the original is too.

    It may not be worthy of change but I felt was worth noting.

  8. emma mason permalink
    October 2, 2019 7:56 am

    Hello – not Tolkien related but Pauline Baynes related. We have two original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. We would like to sell them. I could not see an email for you but if you are interested drop us a line and I can send images. Thank you
    Emma .

  9. October 28, 2019 2:00 pm

    Hello again C&W,

    I note that in your bibliography (Readers Guide Vol 2) there is no entry for Letters from Father Christmas 1923.

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