Just a reminder that the incredible Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition is still on at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. You have until October 28th to see this astonishing collection of manuscripts and artefacts from Tolkien’s work and life. American fans will then have the opportunity to see most of the exhibition, together with some new additions, at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, from January 2019; and from October 2019 to February 2020, an even bigger collection (which will include some of this current display) will be on show at the Bibliotheque nationale de France. (This will be the first time that the French national library has ever curated an exhibition about a non-French author, and will include items from their own collection, setting Tolkien’s works in the wider context of fantasy literature.)
Earlier this summer, TORn staffer greendragon had the opportunity to sit down with the Bodleian’s Tolkien archivist, Catherine McIlwaine, to find out some more about the behind-the-scenes work which went into creating this exhibition. McIlwaine was already a big fan of Middle-earth herself, so it has been the perfect job for her; as she put it herself, she was in the right place at the right time! Originally hired to create a detailed catalogue of the library’s Tolkien collection – a job which she thought would last for a couple of years – McIlwaine never expected to find herself, fifteen years later, curating such an extensive exposition of the Professor’s life and work.
The Bodleian owns a very large collection of material relating to J.R.R. Tolkien, totaling approximately 500 boxes of manuscript items! Much was donated by the Tolkien family in 1979; though manuscripts for The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Farmer Giles of Ham had been sold to Marquette University by Tolkien himself in the late 1950s, the rest of his manuscripts, academic and personal papers reside with the Bodleian. The current display features over 200 items, roughly half of which have never been seen by the public before; fascinating doodles on the back of completed crossword puzzles, and scribblings such as the opening lines of Beowulf written in tengwar, are amongst the treasures.
Staffer greendragon with exhibition curator Catherine McIlwaine (left)
Marquette University have been very supportive of the exposition, and have allowed many items from their collection to be included; McIlwaine said that the highlight of planning the exhibition, for her, was the opportunity to travel to Milwaukee twice, and to get to know the staff at Marquette. The ‘Maker of Middle-earth’ show sees some of Tolkien’s manuscripts and original art works being reunited for the first time since the 1950s!
Also featured in the current display are Tolkien’s own writing desk, chair, and some of his pipes, exclusively loaned by the Tolkien family, who have been very supportive of the endeavour. Christopher, Tolkien’s son and the editor of many of his works, was unfortunately not able to travel to visit the show, but his wife attended, and was delighted by it.
This enormous exposition (which still only reveals about three-quarters of the Bodleian’s current Tolkien archive – which is still growing!) was five years in the planning, with 18 months of full-time work in the run up to opening. The release of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies was the chief impetus, prompting the Bodleian to think that the time was ripe for such a showing; and the Tolkien Trust were eager to support it, to give something back to the fans. (Tickets to the exhibition are free!) Much of the content on display is usually only available to researchers – and access is closely restricted. Here, fans have the opportunity (in many cases, for the first time) to peer closely at Tolkien’s tengwar scrawl on an academic paper; and to gain an insight, through personal letters, into his family relationships.
For me (greendragon), highlights of the exhibition included Tolkien’s letters from his mother. I had no idea that she had taught him his beautiful calligraphy – I always assumed it was something he dreamed up himself. When you see the letters from his mother, however, it is very clear whence that unique script originated. Another family touch I loved were the sketches Tolkien created for his son Michael, to help him deal with nightmares. There was a recurring ‘monster’ which tormented Michael, and following his description, his father drew the beast – now named ‘Owlamoo’ – to help Michael confront and defeat his fears. I love the rather cross-looking owl-creature; and this display of fatherly affection is very touching.
Throughout the run of the exhibition, there have been various lectures and events in Oxford. A self-guided walking tour of ‘Tolkien’s Oxford‘ has been very popular, and many of the evening lectures have been sold out. Some exhibition tickets, however, have deliberately been held back for each day, so that there are always some available.
For anyone who can’t make it over to Oxford, I heartily recommend the exhibition catalogue. It is the biggest catalogue the Bodleian has ever produced, and it even includes archival items not seen in the display! As the exhibition website states, the book ‘brings together the largest collection of original Tolkien material ever assembled in a single volume. Drawing on the archives of the Tolkien collections at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, and Marquette University, Milwaukee, as well as private collections, this exquisitely produced catalogue draws together the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien – scholarly, literary, creative and domestic – offering a rich and detailed understanding and appreciation of this extraordinary author.’ Worth every penny; visit the exhibition shop to see some of the other goodies on offer.
You may recall that, in The Hobbit, Thorin issues a very specific set of instructions as he despatches Bilbo to investigate the camp of the three trolls.
“You must go on and find out all about that light, and what it is for, and if all is perfectly safe and canny,” said Thorin to the hobbit. “Now scuttle off, and come back quick, if all is well. If not, come back if you can! It you can’t, hoot twice like a barn-owl and once like a screech-owl, and we will do what we can.”
Off Bilbo had to go, before he could explain that he could not hoot even once like any kind of owl any more than fly like a bat.
It seems that, with those Tolkien biopics gradually approaching, more and more people are taking an interest in the biographical details of Tolkien’s life.
If that’s your thing, you might enjoy this pretty solid overview from Simon Whistler. (I didn’t know about the tarantula incident, for example, a minor controversy that you can get more background on over on Tolkien Gateway.)
The folks at Gwaith-i-Phethain, The Fellowship of the Word-smiths on the Elendilion website, have just finished analysing and translating the Sindarin dialogue from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.
They’ve set up a page with and with translations of the Sindarin dialogue of Tauriel, Galadriel, Legolas, etc. by Hungarian linguist Gábor Lőrinczi. (more…)
Sydney Morning Herald writer Darryn King examines Tolkien as the progenitor of the art of conlangs (constucted languanges). But, as King points out, for Tolkien the language always came first and his works were ultimately developed to give to give voice to his invented tongues.
If you’re curious to read some of the primary sources for this, I recommend Letters #294 and #297 from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The fairytale opening line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is among the most memorable and beloved in literature: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It is an unassuming first sentence for what turns out to be an epic fantasy saga about good and evil, and one of the most influential works of fiction of the 20th century. (more…)
BBC Wales have produced an online guide, via their iWonder site and presented by Dr Dimitra Fimi, about how the Welsh language inspired Tolkien, called “Why do the Elves in The Hobbit sound Welsh?”
What does Welsh have to do with it?
JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings combine timeless storytelling with the creation of a mythical world with its own races, history, music and languages.
The invention of new languages went hand-in-hand with the shaping of the characters that spoke them. And while Englishness is at the heart of the Shire, the home of the hobbits, for his other races Tolkien looked beyond England.
Sindarin, the Elvish language used in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, shares many key characteristics with Welsh. How did a proud Englishman like Tolkien become so entranced by the Welsh language?
In a piece in The Guardian, Tolkien scholar John Garth analyses Tolkien’s 1914 creative breakthrough — and the poem The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star from 24 September 1914 — that ultimately leads to Middle-earth as we know it today. (more…)
April 10, 2014 at 6:20 pm byDemosthenes
| Source: TSJComments Off on Why Tolkien’s Beowulf translation is one of the best things to happen to literature
There’s a lot of excitement floating round academic communities for J.R.R. Tolkien’s forthcoming Beowulf translation (which you can pre-order here) where the prevailing buzz seems to be “best thing since slices bread”. Here, writer Mabel Slattery outlines why.
EDIT: There is an error of fact within the article. Michael Drout did not actually re-discover Tolkien’s Beowulf translation.
I did not “discover” the Beowulf translation, not even in the sense that I found it in the Bodleian Library. This claim is a conflation of a story about one manuscript with information about a totally different text.
Tolkien scholar John Garth previews the forthcoming publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf and outlines why the Professor’s expertise with the Anglo-Saxon epic means this new book is to be highly anticipated. Click through the read more link at the bottom to access the complete essay.
“Ac se wonna hrefin | But the black raven fus ofer fægum | eager over the doomed fela reordian, | speaking many things earne secgan | telling the eagle hu him æt æte speow, | how he is succeeding in eating, þenden he wið wulf | when he with the wolf wæl reafode.” | despoiled the slain.
Thus reads a section of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, or at least, thus reads my translation of the section from my university studies. The epic is written in Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, the language of the invaders of Britain. Modern English (and German) is a direct descendant of this language because a people speak the language of their conquerors. (more…)
Ten facts you probably know about Middle-earth. I’m not entirely sure they make one a “super fan” (which is, frankly, the sort of exclusionary title wielded to make others feel that they’re not real fans). Enjoying Tolkien is surely not some sort of contest to prove one is the biggest fan.
Still it is a nice little list with plenty of nods to some lesser-known but important characters from Tolkien such as Celebrimbor, Feanor, Gothmog and Oropher. So read and enjoy! Minor nitpick: there are more than two Elvish languages (at least conceptually), but Sindarin and Quenya were probably the best developed. (more…)
Readers are undoubtedly aware of the five-page handwritten letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to H. Cotton Minchin that recently went on auction. If you missed it, The Guardian picks the eyes out of it, while Tolkien Library has assembled a transcript of the entire contents.
However, Tolkien scholar John Garth has also recently blogged about what the letter reveals about the Great War inspiration behind Sam Gamgee. Read on to learn more!
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