Tolkien scholar and researcher John Garth writes about how the roots of Tolkien’s Middle-earth made their first public appearance exactly 100 years ago (plus a few days). It’s not in the form you might expect — but it is quite fascinating.
One hundred years of Middle-earth
by John Garth
Tolkien’s Middle-earth began in 1914. That may come as a surprise, considering The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954–5 and even The Hobbit appeared no further back than 1937. But the fact is that before and beneath those two books there already existed a huge foundation of creative work: the vastly ambitious cycle of stories that became The Silmarillion, as well as annals, cosmographical description, poetry, illustrations, maps and, of course, several invented languages and writing systems.
The first identifiable fragment of Middle-earth emerged on 24 September 1914, when Tolkien (pictured here in June) was staying as a guest at his aunt’s Nottinghamshire farm. War had just broken out in Europe, the whole world seemed in ferment, and Tolkien set foot on the path he would follow for the rest of his life. But we’ll come to that in due course.
Today, 26 January 2014, is the 100th anniversary of the first known public reading of Tolkien’s epic prose. It’s not what you might expect: there are no cavalry charges here, nor mythological monsters, nor swordplay. These are the official minutes of a college meeting – a session of Stapeldon Society, the body of undergraduates attending Exeter College, Oxford.