Publisher HarperCollins is set to release a new Tolkien book, The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien, this September. The three-volume book will gather together much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s published verse, as well as somewhere in the vicinity of 77 (see below for the editors’ explanation about the inherent difficulties of being precise) previously unreleased poems from his archives.

Editors Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond note that it’s a Collected Poems work, not a Complete Poems work, due to “economies of production”. However, the book will still include “most of the verses Tolkien is known to have written, and for most of these, multiple versions which show their evolution.”

Writing on their blog, the pair explain that:

There are at least 240 discrete poems, depending on how one distinguishes titles and versions, presented in 195 entries and five appendices.

When possible, we have used manuscripts and typescripts in the Bodleian Library, at Marquette University, and at the University of Leeds.

We have chosen not to include all of the one hundred or so poems contained in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but have made a representative selection – surely, no one who reads the Collected Poems will not already have at least one copy of Tolkien’s two most popular works.

They further explain that “discrete poems” depends on one’s definition.

Some of the poems morph in their evolution so much that one could either count a work as a single entity in a variety of forms, or as a variety of separate poems that are closely related. Hence our vagueness about the number: we didn’t want to overhype it.

There’s a similar issue with counting which poems have been published and which haven’t. The best we can say is that among the poems we include, 77 have not been published before in any form, or only a few lines from them have appeared, e.g. in Carpenter’s biography.

TolkienGateway has a list of known yet unpublished works if you’re curious.

The HarperCollins press release notes that poetry was the first way in which Tolkien expressed himself creatively and through it the seeds of his literary ambition would be sown. The character Eärendil emerged from one of his earliest poems The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star in 1914. And from Eärendil we have world of The Silmarillion, and subsequently The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, each which is enriched with many poems.

Charged, at first, by Christopher Tolkien to review only his early poems, Hammond and Scull soon saw the benefits of examining his entire poetic opus across six decades and showing its evolution with comments in the manner of Christopher’s magisterial History of Middle-earth series.

Collected Poems will provide the stories behind, and analysis of, each poem, as well as revealing the extraordinary amount of work that Tolkien invested in them.

Not long before his death, Hammond and Scull were able to send Christopher Tolkien a portion of the book, which he praised as “remarkable and immensely desirable”.

They state that the 1,500-plus-page book (the numbers listed on Amazon’s description are apparently outdated and not correct) will also include “a long introduction to Tolkien as a poet, a brief chronology of his poetry, and a glossary of archaic, unusual, or unfamiliar words he used in his verse.”

According to Hammond and Scull, there are currently no plans for a deluxe edition; the aim is for an elegant trade release (hardcover). As yet there is no announcement of a U.S. edition. It looks as though like Amazon will carry a (Kindle) e-book as well.

The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien will be released on September 12.

The Collected Poems of JRR Tolkien cover page.

Sources: Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond blog, Tolkien Collector’s Guide, Amazon UK

First published in 1981 and now expanded with more than 150 new letters, excerpts and additional notes, this new edition of the oft-cited book, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, gives fans and scholars a deeper insight into the man behind The Lord of the Rings.

Get the new updated edition at your favourite bookstore or online (Amazon).

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, first edited by Humphrey Carpenter with assistance from Christopher Tolkien, is the definitive source of Tolkien’s personal writings. If you have ever seen a quotation cited from “Letter 131” it’s a reference to the numbering of this book. Some call it a biblical bibliography of Tolkien. In this new edition the numbering remains the same, with additional content added in context via a “203a… 203b…” system. Several letters have expanded, with the 8+ page Letter 131 now 40% longer from its originally edited form.

We learned on the podcast this week how these letters continue to be discovered, with some fetching over $100,000 at auction in recent years. Tolkien was prolific in his communications to fans and family over his lifetime. In one series of letters, he talks about the wonderful quality of storyboards presented in a film pitch meeting – drawings by Ron Cobb who went on to design Star Wars, Alien and Back to the Future.

The following is extracted from a much longer (and more collector-focused) review at which also includes a PDF tracking all the changes big and small in this new 2023 edition.

From The Tolkien Collector’s Guide Review

Review by onthetrail, Mr. Underhill, Urulókë and Trotter

This edition will give fans of J.R.R. Tolkien a greater understanding of his family life, his work, and his secondary world.

We see the first change come in the June 1925 letter to the “Electors of the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon, University of Oxford” but it is not until January 1934 in a letter to his son John, at that time a 16-year-old pupil of the Oratory School in Berkshire, that we see the first new letter.

We notice very quickly that early letters are sadly not found here and Humphrey Carpenter in his introduction to the original edition says that “among the omissions is the very large body of letters he wrote between 1913 and 1918 to Edith Bratt, who was his fiancee and then his wife; these are highly personal in character, and from them I have chosen only a few passages which refer to writings in which Tolkien was engaged at the time” so omitting those early, private letters shouldn’t be too surprising, and that attitude still holds.

This new edition allows us to see the editorship of Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien’s assistance, in a brand-new light. Originally, the book was far more general, and generous with the inclusion of many excerpts which show J.R.R. Tolkien’s love and concern toward his sons who were either engaged in battle or training to be during WW2. With enlightening passages to Christopher Tolkien, we witness J.R.R. Tolkien talking openly about the horrors of war, and the impact on those involved. The published edition was cut down, as said already, but only with this new edition do we see how Humphrey Carpenter did not simply reduce it for size, but also for thematic purposes. If the original edition is a letters volume which focuses mostly on J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagined writing, this new edition gives us the filling, it shows us the backdrop to it all and offers more on J.R.R. Tolkien’s routines around his working and home life. We see J.R.R. Tolkien exchanging with his sons now at school and what comes across is more of the concerned father, it exemplifies (if one needed any such confirmation) the relationship he shared with his boys and the concern for their education, life choices, financial matters, and love. With open and honest assessments of the relationships his sons were beginning to experience, J.R.R. Tolkien’s role as a father is brought into sharper focus.

The more astute reader among us will read some newly published excerpts and know that they have read portions or all of the quotes previously in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, and this is true, not every new passage found here is truly new, but they are reunited with topically connected letters and offer us yet more glimpses into J.R.R. Tolkien’s life. There are of course still treasures to be found among the details found in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, and readers should use the two books side-by-side to explore further.

We learn more of the work that J.R.R. Tolkien put into The Hobbit through his letters to his publisher and being able to read what J.R.R. Tolkien was sending to George Allen & Unwin. But we also see some stories about his family life, and how his children were very much his children. For example, you will learn that Priscilla Tolkien could “take any amount of dragon, and a reasonable dose of goblin; but we recently had to change all the handles on the chest-of-drawers in her room, because the former handles ‘grinned at her’, even in the dark.”

In November 1937 we get the first bulky new letter – sent to his friend E. V. Gordon. We learn more about Gordon’s Pearl and Tolkien’s role in the creation of this book, which would not be published until long after E.V. Gordon’s untimely death.

The revisions and additions in this new edition gives a greater insight into J.R.R. Tolkien’s life and allows us to find out more about the mind and thinking of the Professor. These letters are of great use to general readers and J.R.R. Tolkien researchers when looking for answers in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

During the late 1930s and through the war years of the early to mid 1940s, Tolkien wrote to his sons a lot, and this volume has a healthy group of excerpts, mostly to Christopher Tolkien and we witness the closeness of the two. That Christopher Tolkien became his father’s literary executor is no accident. These letters demonstrate further how essential Christopher Tolkien was to his father’s creative endeavors.

Our first glimpse of 1951 is where the new edition really pays off. J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous letter #131 to Milton Waldman (of Collins) has always been a favorite among readers, but now, we see just how potent this letter is. The original was always known to be longer, and the portion which dealt with The Lord of the Rings was wisely not included. Now the two pieces are reunited, as we now know was Humphrey Carpenter’s original intent. But there is more! A portion which we do not believe to have been known is included at the conclusion and it is J.R.R. Tolkien’s “proposed for publication” list which is a wonderful gift to those interested in how Tolkien saw his writing, and what he believed was important for publication.

After that we learn more on proofs of The Lord of the Rings, the artwork for it and the pressures of Tolkien’s life at that time. Still a busy academic, he now faced increased demands from those interested in adapting his work and the new selections provided highlight that fact further.

For the next decade of his life, J.R.R. Tolkien would spend his time on revisions, dealing with piracy and how he will enlist fans’ help in informing people of its harm to his financial welfare, adaptations, translated editions of his work, academia, and all manner of other responsibilities which would keep him from completing his epic work on The Silmarillion. We can understand through these letters more than ever just how much J.R.R. Tolkien had on his plate. But also we can deduce that J.R.R. Tolkien would flit from one project to another. He would decide that Sir Gawain must be dealt with, only for him to delay it to complete the Silmarillion. J.R.R. Tolkien was nothing if not an expert excuse maker and those who love his excuses need not worry, there are plenty of new additions here to keep fans happy.

From Letter 131, which is 40 per cent longer in the new edition. Previously edited for space.

And this carries us through the book to its end. It gives us new details on a myriad of subjects. We learn more about J.R.R. Tolkien’s professional relationships and his family, his losses, and his achievements which make him a house-hold name. This edition shows more keenly the shifting of time and with it we see both his and Edith Tolkien’s health decline far more closely than in the original edition.

The Index at the back of the book, compiled and revised for this edition by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, is comprehensive and does allow for easy retrieval of a letter based on subject. 

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Revised and Expanded edition is a welcome addition to Tolkien studies, for both readers and researchers and it is to Humphrey Carpenter’s credit that this volume can stand on its own as a monumental work, but it also makes the original a more impressive read because we can now see how the editor shaped and crafted it into an absorbing work.

A volume like this can be a curse and a wonderful gift all at the same time, and it delivers both in equal measure, especially for those who hold J.R.R. Tolkien, Edith Tolkien, and their family in their hearts. We meet these people again through this expanded selection of letters, and it is brought home to this reader that they have all passed into the West and we are given these new memories to remember them by. The new book is an essential addition to your Tolkien library, as it supersedes the earlier edition.

Read the entire collector-focused review over at the Tolkien Guide.

More Context and Perspectives joined TORn Tuesday show for a 2-hour deep dive on the biggest changes and most enlightening additions to the book.

Late last year we brought you news of the incredible artistic feat which is composer Paul Corfield Godfrey’s series of operas, telling tales from The Silmarillion. Already available at that time were Fëanor, Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Last week, the fifth and final part, The War of Wrath, was released.

These stunning and suitably epic operas all use text taken directly from Tolkien’s writing (with full permission from the Tolkien Estate). You can order your copies from Volante Opera’s website. Check out this video (really way more than a trailer!) to give you a taste of this labour of love:

Continue reading “Operatic War of Wrath now available for your listening pleasure”

Oxford’s venerable and venerated Bodleian Libraries lecture scheduled for 28 March

This year’s Oxford Literary Festival offers something special for Tolkienists: a lecture and question-and-answer session with the co-editor and contributing authors of The Great Tales Never End: In Memory of Christopher Tolkien: Richard Ovenden, John Garth, and Stuart Lee.

Christopher Tolkien carried the legacy of his father, JRR Tolkien, for decades. With accomplishments like bringing The Silmarillion to publication, Christopher helmed the the 2nd generation of The Professor’s vision and lifelong passion, creating the stories of Middle-earth.

The Secret Fire burns brightly in today’s generation of Tolkien scholars! This trio, moderated by Oxford’s first Tolkien-studies PhD candidate, Grace Khuri, is bound to delight and intrigue.

For more information: Oxford Literary Festival the Great Tales Never End

Learn more about co-editor Richard Ovenden and contributing authors John Garth and Stuart Lee.

What is The Silmarillion? Spend 45 minutes with Ms. Khuri listening to her outstanding podcast, What is the ‘Silmarillion’?, for a backgrounder on Tolkien himself, a walk through the ‘story,’ and a scholarly exploration of the many influences on Tolkien’s creation of this masterpiece.

Last week we brought you the exciting news about composer Paul Corfield Godfrey’s multi-part, operatic telling of the central stories from Tolkien’s First Age. Four of the five parts are available now: you can purchase Fëanor, Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin directly from Volante Opera Productions, with the fifth and final part, The War of Wrath, expected soon in 2023.

Staffer greendragon recently had the pleasure of sitting down with composer Paul Corfield Godfrey and tenor Simon Crosby Buttle to find out more about these epic works, which are finally being made available for us all to enjoy. It’s been a suitably (in a Tolkien-esque sort of way!) long quest, which has included copious correspondence between Godfrey and folks such as Rayner Unwin and Christopher Tolkien – and has even featured an appearance by one of the Tolkien family in a performance! Find out all the fascinating details in our zoom chat:

Continue reading “Tales of the First Age in operatic form – learn more from the creative team”

Good news for all the fans out there who are disappointed that we have yet to see tales from The Silmarillion performed on stage or screen: composer Paul Corfield Godfrey’s suitably epic opera of First Age stories is now available, in a recording made by singers from Welsh National Opera. We may not yet be seeing these tales; but at least you can listen to them!

There are four parts to this mammoth labour of love, all using text taken directly from Tolkien’s writing (with full permission from the Tolkien Estate). Fëanor, Beren and Lúthien, The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin are available now; and they will be joined in 2023 by a fifth and final part, The War of Wrath. Here are details from the official press release:

Continue reading “The Silmarillion comes to life in operatic form”