Skip to content

Tolkien Notes 19

December 21, 2020

Richard C. West, 1944–2020

Richard West Minnesota 1993One of our oldest friends, Richard West, died on 29 November from Covid-19. We first met him in the nineteen-eighties, and were awed by his knowledge, kindness, and humility. When asked by a Tolkien fan if he was the Richard West, he replied that he was only a Richard West. But as one of the leading figures in Tolkien studies, he was indeed the Richard West, noted bibliographer of Tolkien, a founder (in 1966) of the University of Wisconsin Tolkien Society (which itself this year became a victim of the pandemic), editor of its journal Orcrist, and author of one of the best essays on Tolkien even to this day, ‘The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings’ (1975). For nearly four decades we have been honoured to see Richard from time to time at Tolkien-related gatherings and to read, and hear, his occasional essays. His scholarship was always full of insight, well informed, and well argued. We cite many examples in our own books.

Richard did not shy from considering aspects of Tolkien’s legendarium less studied by other scholars, such as mythology in the story of Beren and Lúthien (2003) and ‘tragedy and divine comedy’ in the tale of Aragorn and Arwen (2006). Recalling his B.A. and M.A. studies in English language and literature at Boston College and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he explored Old English elements in Tolkien’s story of Túrin (2000) and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (2018). He also (in 1997) gave Warren Lewis the attention he long deserved, as a historian and scholar in his own right, not merely the brother of C.S. Lewis and a diarist through whose eyes one could view the Inklings. A list of Richard’s writings was compiled by Douglas A. Anderson for Tolkien Studies 2 (2005), and will be updated in next year’s volume.

In our work we often consult both editions of Richard’s Tolkien Criticism – the first (1970) marked writings he thought ‘especially valuable or that ought to be read for some reason’, the second (1981) was expanded but, perhaps necessarily, omitted critical recommendations. A brief addendum appeared in 2004 in the journal Modern Fiction Studies. Tolkien Criticism influenced Wayne’s early efforts as a Tolkien bibliographer, and was essential to Christina when, in her first years as a collector, it served as a vade mecum as she sought out books and articles to read and copy. When we came to edit The Lord of the Rings, we looked for guidance into Richard’s ambitious but unrealized plans in the nineteen-seventies to create a variorum edition of that work.

Richard was a librarian by profession, by the time of his retirement a few years ago the Senior Academic Librarian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He was also active in the annual International Congress on Medieval Studies symposia at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in the Dorothy L. Sayers Society. His interests extended far beyond Tolkien, and he could speak just as expertly about comic books, animated films, and classic detective fiction. He leaves his wife, Perri, and many friends and admirers.


Addenda and Corrigenda

We have updated some of our web pages providing additions and corrections to some of our books:


The New College School Hobbit

On 14–17 December 1967, students of the New College School, Oxford, performed a dramatic adaptation of The Hobbit (‘a play for children and adults’) prepared by Humphrey Carpenter, with music by Paul Drayton. Tolkien himself was present on the final night, and reportedly was pleased as long as the text followed his own words. Carpenter was then an Oxford undergraduate, and played double-bass in the show’s orchestra.

Remarkably, two copies of the printed programme for the production are simultaneously for sale (at the time of writing). One is offered by Maggs Bros., London, in their Christmas catalogue (Catalogue 1511), as item 121: autographed by Tolkien, with light creasing to the outer margin, ‘the odd spot’, and a rust mark to the lower cover, ‘otherwise near fine’, it is listed at £8,500. The second copy, in the December 2020 catalogue (no. 169) of Peter Harrington, London, item 170, is likewise autographed by Tolkien, as well as by Carpenter, Drayton, and nine of the actors, and contains hand-colouring by Andrew J.A. Sharp, a student at New College School who played First Goblin in the production; with binder holes punched in its margins, and ‘very faint soiling’, it is nevertheless ‘remarkably well-preserved’.

Peter Harrington earlier listed (at £3,000, apparently since sold) Andrew Sharp’s marked copy of the script for the production, with his own illustrations and the signatures of ten of his fellow student actors. The work was described as having wear to its edges, light foxing and minor soiling, and a small early tape repair, though generally ‘remarkably clean and bright’.


Outstanding Contribution Award

Wayne and Christina with Tolkien Society award

At the Tolkien Society’s annual Oxonmoot gathering in September – this year, held expertly over Zoom – we were given the Society’s Outstanding Contribution Award, for our body of work on Tolkien rather than any specific book or essay. (We won’t look on it as an award for lifetime achievement, hoping that there is much more life, and achievement, to come!) The physical award is a heavy metal statuette of a winged dragon. An interview we gave during Oxonmoot with our friend Mike Percival was videoed but has not (yet, at least) been made available on the Tolkien Society’s YouTube channel; currently it can be seen, through 31 December, only through paid access. (Those who had paid memberships for Oxonmoot have free, password access for the same period.)

Another, audio-only interview, however, which we gave to the German Tolkien Society, can be heard as a podcast on YouTube. Please keep in mind that we both had bad colds at the time!


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), for many years Tolkien’s primary American publisher, are exploring the sale of their trade division. HMH have had declining income since 2019, and are now focused on a ‘digital-first, connected strategy’ and educational technology. It is not clear what this would mean for HMH Tolkien titles, which presumably would be a desirable property in any sale.


The photograph of Richard West was taken by Wayne at a 1993 Tolkien symposium in Minnesota; Richard is seen here with Matt Fisher.

  1. Åke Bertenstam permalink
    December 22, 2020 4:30 am

    Thank you for your very detailed obituary and appreciation of Richard West. I am very saddened to learn of his death. I was never in touch with him myself, but his _Tolkien Criticism_ was *the* inspiration for me to venture into the field of Tolkien bibliography. The earliest result of this was a handwritten MS, never published, from 1975 that eventually was expanded into a published version from 1983 (_En Tolkienbibliografi 1911-1980_).

    • December 22, 2020 9:08 am

      There’s another thing for which we can be grateful to Richard, that he inspired you to write your own invaluable bibliography.

      • December 22, 2020 4:28 pm

        Thank you very much for those kind words. This, however, also reminds that I have allowed my internet bibliography projects yet again to lapse. One of the reasons that I haven’t been able to keep up even the list of Tolkien’s own works is the total disarray my flat has descended into during the last years. Finally there is some light on that horizon as I recently have been able to rent a large basement storage through my housing cooperative and have begun sorting out the mess. One of the things I have so far retrieved during the process are the missing books from 2016 onwards. One of the troublesome points here is the ever more complex publishing history of _Letters from Father Christmas_. I have just bought the latest (2020) edition of it, and suspect that this is identical to the 2019 de luxe edition, but as I (as yet) don’t own of the 2019 edition I’m not sure of this.

  2. Renée Vink permalink
    December 22, 2020 3:11 pm

    A wonderful obituary that makes me feel sorry I never met him

    Also, I have a question about Tolkien’s suggestions for the month names in Schuchart’s translation of the calendar appendix to The Lord of the Rings: will they be published at some point?

  3. Renée Vink permalink
    December 22, 2020 3:35 pm

    Your obituary made me feel sorry I’d never met Richard West!

    Also, a question regarding Tolkien’s suggestions for Dutch translations of the month names in the Calendar Appendix of The Lord of the Rings: will you publish them at some point?

  4. Ed Pierce permalink
    December 22, 2020 8:03 pm

    Great podcast interview! As someone who has been acquiring your books since the mid-90’s, it t was nice to hear your voices (colds notwithstanding) for the first time!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: