Meeting Professor Tolkien
Who says you can never reverse history?
It may be thirty-seven years since J.R.R. Tolkien left earth for a journey to rejoin Edith in a time before time, but during an amazing visit to study original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the Bodleian Library last month, I felt as if the “ author of the century “ was in the room giving me a personal tutorial on his cosmogony, the philological foundations of his writing, and the destiny of key characters. It is hard to find the words to describe the impact of seeing hand-written amendments in the margin of the typed sheets of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, as if it has just been written and Professor Tolkien was about to stride in the room to discuss any last minute changes before the text went for printing.
As for the illustrations – absolutely sensational. I truly had no idea what an incredible artist Tolkien was.
I am not sure any of the subsequent illustrators of Middle earth books have captured the essence of Rivendell, Lothlórien, Mirkwood and elsewhere in quite the same way as Tolkien himself. To be honest, I could have stayed looking at the original drawings from The Hobbit for many, many hours and the old cliché "once in a lifetime" really is appropriate for our Study group’s visit to the Bodleian. I am just so grateful to Dr Judith Priestman and her colleagues for giving us this inspiring insight into Tolkien’s world; and for giving up their time so readily to talk with us and show us all the treasures of The Bodleian. Oxford is just amazing : I want go back and study there in the future. If I am fortunate enough to achieve this ambition, visiting the Bodleian will have been the first, all important, step along the way.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we spent the afternoon being shown around Merton College – the chapel is amazing ! – and once again it was easy to feel that Tolkien would suddenly appear in the garden, pipe and book in hand, ready to discuss the links between The Kalevala and The Silmarillion, or the Proverbs of Boethius and Lord of the Rings …. if only ! Hard to know how our Myth & Magic Group could follow up a day like this, but the following week, Wayne Dixon from Birmingham Museum Service came into school to give us a super insight into the links between Middle-earth and Tolkien’s childhood in various parts of Birmingham, which we are going back to explore further later this year. Our earlier visits to Sarehole were excellent and we now looking forward to discovering more about Tolkien’s childhood in other parts of England’s "second city."
Many other plans too for the months ahead …….. I can’t wait for the Tolkien & Romanticism conference in Jena, Germany, in April when I’ll have the chance to talk about the most enigmatic Tolkien character in my paper : "Tom Bombadil – a romantic hero for our times?" Before then, we are going to a poetry reading by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (another hero of mine) in London and a three-night residential visit to Devon at Easter to study the Ted Hughes poetry trail, in preparation for a long term project – we have to try and create a "Tolkien Trail" in our village. I think our group will stand the test of time and keep going throughout our teenage years. After all, we owe it to Tolkien for writing such life-affirming literature which, for me, is opening magical doorways to a future of star-filled knowledge and wonder.
Myth & Magic Tolkien Reading & Language Fellowship,
Found this page without going through the magazine front page? Click here: Festival in the Shire Journal. For all things Tolkien inspired.