A Comparison between “Oxford

(Michele Fry.  J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.  New York: Taylor and Francis, 2007 [2006], 489-499)


and three sources:

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Humphrey Carpenter.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000);

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship (Colin Duriez.  Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2003);

andOxford” (Wikipedia).



Similar phrases that appear in both works are in underlined type.

Identical or nearly identical words within similar phrases in both works are in bold type.

(Nearly identical words are those in which tense (e.g. threw / thrown) or number (e.g. depth / depths) changes.)


Fry, “Oxford



¶ 1


Wikipedia, “University of Oxford”, heading for “Organization”:


Explaining the University of Oxford to outsiders is not an easy task; it has many ancient and archaic traditions, but the basic facts are that the university comprises thirty-nine individual colleges and seven permanent halls, which are private corporations.  Each one provides a home to its undergraduates.  The university’s formal head is the chancellor, who occupied the position for life; the executive head is the vice-chancellor, who is elected for a seven-year period and usually comes from one of the colleges.  The university conducts examinations and awards degrees.  Two examinations are necessary to gain a bachelor’s degree: the preliminary examination, Honour Moderations, is taken at the end of the first or second year of study; the second examination, the Honour School, is held at the end of the undergraduate course.  Successful candidates are awarded First, Second, or Third Class honours, depending on their performance at their examinations.

There are 39 colleges of Oxford University, each with its own internal structure and activities. The university's formal head is the chancellor, usually a distinguished politician, elected for life by the members of Convocation, a body comprising all graduates of the university. The vice-chancellor, who holds office for four years, is the head of the university's executive. In addition to Convocation, the other bodies that conduct university business are the Ancient House of Congregation, which confers degrees; the Hebdomadal Council, which formulates university policy; and the Congregation of the University, which discusses and pronounces on policies proposed by the Hebdomadal Council.


The university itself conducts examinations and confers degrees. The passing of two sets of examinations is a prerequisite for a first degree. The first, called either Honour Moderations ("Mods") or Preliminary Examinations ("Prelims"), are usually held after the first (or sometimes second) year. The second, the Honour School, is held at the end of the undergraduate course. Successful candidates receive first-, second-, or third-class honors based on their performance in these examinations. Research degrees at the master's and doctoral level are conferred in all subjects studied at graduate level at the university.


¶ 2


Wikipedia, “University of Oxford”, heading for “Organization”:

   The heads of the different colleges are known by various titles, including provost, warden, principal, president, or master; teaching members of the university are collectively known as dons.  In addition to residential and dining facilities, each college also offers social, cultural, and recreational activities to its members.

The heads of Oxford colleges are known by various titles, according to the college, including warden, provost, principal, president, rector or master. Undergraduate discipline is supervised by two university proctors, elected annually on a rotating basis from two of the colleges. Teaching members of the colleges (fellows and tutors) are collectively and familiarly known as dons (though the term is rarely used by members of the university itself). In addition to residential and dining facilities, the colleges provide social, cultural, and recreational activities for their members.


¶ 3


Carpenter, 60-61:

The Undergraduate


Tolkien began his first term at Oxford in 1911, and, despite the unattractive look of the George Gilbert Scott frontage of Exeter College and the rather tasteless chapel, he felt that he could honour Oxford and hold it dear.  The trees in the Fellows’ Garden were tall and flourishing, and it was the first real home he had known since the death of his mother six years earlier.  Tolkien threw himself into university life, joining the rugby team, the college Essay Club, the college debating society, and the Dialectical Society.  He also began a club devoted to self-indulgence; the Apolausticks held debates and discussions, read papers, and enjoyed expensive dinners.  The Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS) had been only slightly less sophisticated (although rather less indulgent), but both groups were typical of Tolkien’s preference for a group of male friends with whom he could smoke, talk, and eat.

Already as the car bowled into Oxford he had decided that he would be happy there.  This was a city that he could love and revere after the squalor and the drabness of Birmingham.  Admittedly, to the eyes of a casual observer his own college, Exeter, was not the loveliest in the University.  Its insipid frontage by George Gilbert Scott and its chapel, a tasteless copy of the Sainte Chapelle, were in truth no more remarkable than Barry’s mock-gothic school in Birmingham.  But a few yards away was the Fellows’ Garden where the tall silver birch rose above the roof-tops and the plane and horse-chestnut stretched their branches over the wall into Brasenose Lane and Radcliffe Square.  And to Ronald Tolkien it was his own college, his home, the first real home he had known since his mother’s death.


[Two intervening paragraphs on college life.]


   He had soon thrown himself wholeheartedly into university activities.  He played rugger, though he did not become a leading figure on the college team. He did not row, for that sport above all at Oxford was the preserve of public-school men, but he joined the college Essay Club and the Dialectical Society.  He also took part in the Stapledon, the college debating society; and for good measure he started his own club.  It was called the Apolausticks (‘those devoted to self-indulgence’) and it was chiefly composed of freshmen like himself.  There were papers, discussions, and debates, and there were also large and extravagant dinners.  It was one degree more sophisticated than the teas in the school library, but it was an expression of the same instinct that had helped to create the T.C.B.S.  Indeed Tolkien was at his happiest in groups of cronies where there was good talk, plenty of tobacco (he was now firmly dedicated to a pipe, with occasional excursions into expensive cigarettes), and male company.


¶ 4


Carpenter, 62-63, 64-65, 66:

   At Oxford, Tolkien was reading classics; he was expected to attend regular tutorials (often one-on-one) and lectures.  However, during his first two terms, Exeter lacked a resident classics tutor; by the time one was appointed, Tolkien had already become bored with Greek and Roman authors and was taking an interest in Germanic literature.  Instead of attending the required lectures on Demosthenes and Cicero, he was sitting in his college rooms working on his invented languages.  There was only one area of the syllabus in which he showed any interest: comparative philology, which was taught by Joseph Wright.  Wright, a formerly penniless mill-worker, was a passionate and exacting tutor, just what Tolkien needed to shake him out of his superiority towards his fellow classicists.  Wright was the author of the Gothic grammar text that Tolkien had purchased from a fellow pupil in Birmingham; when he learnt of Tolkien’s burgeoning interest in Welsh, he encouraged Tolkien to follow his interest.  Tolkien took his advice, although not quite in the manner Wright had meant.  Acquiring some books of medieval Welsh, Tolkien began to read them and found his expectations of the beauty of Welsh were met.  Unfortunately, Tolkien’s passionate interest in languages was not duplicated elsewhere in his studies; he developed lazy habits, sitting up late to talk and smoke, doing little work, and even failing to attend Mass because rising early seemed impossible after a late night talking with friends.  He needed something to steady him, but he was still forbidden to see or write to Edith Bratt, who might have exerted a positive influence.

   He was reading Classics, and he had to go to regular lectures and tutorials, but Exeter College had no resident classical tutor in his first two terms, and by the time the post was filled (by E.A. Barger, a good scholar but a dry teacher) Tolkien had got into slack ways. By now he was bored with Latin and Greek authors and was far more excited by Germanic literature.  He had no interest in lectures on Cicero and Demosthenes and was glad to escape to his rooms where he could go on working at his invented languages. Yet there was one area of the syllabus that interested him.  For his special subject he had chose Comparative Philology, and this meant that he attended classes and lectures given by the extraordinary Joseph Wright.


[Two intervening paragraphs on Joseph Wright.]


   As a teacher, Wright communicated to Tolkien his huge enthusiasm for philology, the subject that had raised him from penniless obscurity.  Wright was always a demanding teacher, which was just what Tolkien needed.   He had begun to feel a little superior to his fellow-classicists, with his wide-ranging knowledge of linguistics.   But here was somebody who could tell him that he had a long way to go.  At the same time Joe Wright encouraged him to show initiative.  Hearing that Tolkien had an embryonic interest in Welsh, he advised him to follow it up – though he gave that advice in a characteristically Yorkshire manner: ‘Go in for Celtic, lad; there’s money in it.’

   Tolkien followed this advice, though not exactly in the way that Joe Wright had intended.  He managed to find books of medieval Welsh, and he began to read the language that had fascinated him since he saw a few words of it on coal-trucks.  He was not disappointed; indeed he was confirmed in all his expectations of beauty.  Beauty; that was what pleased him in Welsh; the appearance and sound of the words almost irrespective of their meaning.  [Seven more sentences follow, on Tolkien’s phonoaesthetics theory and infrequent travel abroad.]


[Five intervening paragraphs on vacations in 1911 and 1912.]


   He had done very little work and he was getting into lazy habits.  At Birmingham he had attended mass several times a week, but without Father Francis to watch over him he found it all too easy to stay in bed in the mornings, particularly after sitting up late talking to friends and smoking in front of the fire.  He recorded sadly that his first terms at Oxford had passed ‘with practically none or very little practice of religion’.  He tried to mend his ways, and he kept a diary for Edith in which he recorded all his misdemeanors and failings.  But although she was a shining idea to him – had they not vowed their love to each other? – he was still forbidden to write to her or see her until he was twenty-one, and this would not happen for many months.  In the meantime it was easy to while away the terms in expensive dinners, late-night conversations, and hours spent poring over medieval Welsh and invented languages.


¶ 5


Carpenter, 66-67:

   At school, Tolkien had read the Kalevala in an English translation, and it had awakened in him a desire to learn Finnish; then one day he found a Finnish grammar text in the library of Exeter College, which he used to teach himself the language in which the Kalevala was originally written.  Although he never learnt Finnish well, Tolkien found the language as intoxicating as wine, and it had an enormous effect on his private languages.  He abandoned neo-Gothic, on which he had been working since his school days, to begin creating a language heavily influenced by Finnish; eventually this language developed into Quenya, the High-elven language of his mythology.  While working on his private language, Tolkien wrote and read a paper on the Kalevala, in particular on the importance of its mythology, to the Essay club.

   At about this time he discovered Finnish.  He had hoped to acquire some knowledge of the language ever since he had read the Kalevala in English translation, and now in Exeter College library he found a Finnish grammar.  With its aid he began an assault on the original language of the poems.  He said afterwards: ‘It was like discovering a wine-cellar filled with bottles of amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before.  It quite intoxicated me.’

   He never learned Finnish well enough to do more than work through part of the original Kalevala, but the effect on his language-inventing was fundamental and remarkable.  He abandoned neo-Gothic and began to create a private language that was heavily influenced by Finnish. This was the language that would eventually emerge in his stories as ‘Quenya’ or High-elven.  That would not happen for many years: yet already a seed of what was to come was germinating in his mind.  He read a paper on the Kalevala to a college society, and in it he began to talk about the importance of the type of mythology found in the Finnish poems.  ‘These mythological ballads,’ he said, ‘are full of that very primitive undergrowth that the literature of Europe has on the whole been steadily cutting and reducing for many centuries with different and earlier completeness among different people.’  And he added: ‘I would that we had more of it left – something of the same sort that belonged to the English.’  An exciting notion; and perhaps he was already thinking of creating that mythology for England himself.


¶ 6


Carpenter, 65-66.

   During his undergraduate days, Tolkien also developed his painting, drawing, and calligraphy skills, becoming accomplished in many manuscript styles and at sketching landscapes.  During the summer vacation of 1912, Tolkien went on a walking holiday in Berkshire during which he climbed the downs and sketched the villages.  He maintained an interest in painting, drawing, and calligraphy throughout his life and used it to great effect in his stories.

   During his undergraduate days Tolkien developed his childhood interest in painting and drawing and began to show some skill at it, chiefly in the sketching of landscapes.  He also paid a great deal of attention to handwriting and calligraphy, and became accomplished in many styles of manuscripts.  This interest was a combination of his enthusiasm for words and his artist’s eye, but it also reflected his many-sided personality, for as someone who knew him during these years remarked (with only slight exaggeration): ‘He had a different style of handwriting for each of his friends.’


[Three intervening paragraphs on 1911 winter vacation.]


   In the summer vacation of 1912 Tolkien went into camp for a fortnight with King Edward’s Horse, a territorial cavalry regiment in which he had recently enrolled.  He enjoyed the experience of galloping across the Kentish plains – the camp was near Folkestone – but it was a wet and windy fortnight and the tents were often blown down in the night.  This taste of life and horseback and under canvas was enough for him, and he resigned form the regiment after a few months.  When the camp had concluded he went on a walking holiday in Berkshire, sketching the villages and climbing the downs.  And then, all too soon, his first year as an undergraduate was over.


¶ 7


Carpenter, 69-71:

   Five days after his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien was reunited with Edith, and they became unofficially engaged, being uncertain of how Edith’s family would react.  However, Tolkien returned to Oxford for the start of the spring term full of happiness and determined to concentrate on Honour Moderations, the first of the two examinations he needed to earn his classics degree.  Making an attempt to cram four terms into the six weeks that remained until the examinations, Tolkien struggled, since he found he could not break his habit of talking until late with his friends, which meant rising early was almost impossible.  By the time Honour Moderations began at the end of February, Tolkien was still ill prepared for most of his papers.  Although he was relieved to achieve a Second Class, he knew that he ought to have earned a First.  Whilst a First in “Mods” was by no means easily achieved, it ought to have been possible for someone as capable as Tolkien, if he had devoted himself to his studies.  Fortunately he had achieved a “pure alpha” (an almost perfect paper) in comparative philology, and knowing that Tolkien was interested in Old and Middle English, and other Germanic languages, the rector of Exeter College suggested that Tolkien switch to the English School and become a philologist.  Tolkien was aware that the college was disappointed that he had failed to achieve a First, not least because he held an award, so he agreed to Dr. Farnell’s suggestion.  When the summer term of 1913 started, he began to read English instead of classics.

   She wrote to George and sent him back his ring; and he, poor young man, was dreadfully upset at first and his family was insulted and angry.  But eventually the matter ceased to be alluded to, and they all became friends once more.  Edith and Ronald did not announce their engagement, being a little nervous of family reactions and wanting to wait until Ronald’s prospects were more certain.  But Ronald returned to his new term at Oxford in ‘a bursting happiness’.


[One intervening paragraph on Fr. Francis.]


   Now that Ronald had been reunited with Edith he had to turn his full attention to Honour Moderations, the first of the two examinations that would earn him his degree in Classics.  He tried to cram into six weeks the work that he should have done during the previous four terms, but it was not easy to break the habit of sitting up late talking to friends, and he found it difficult to get up in the morning – though like many others before him he blamed this on the damp Oxford climate rather than on his own late hours.  When Honour Moderations began at the end of February he was still poorly prepared for many papers.  On the whole he was relieved when he learnt that he had at least managed to achieve a Second Class.

   But he knew that he ought to have done better.  A first in ‘Mods’ is not easy to achieve, but it is within the range of an able undergraduate who devotes himself to his work.  Certainly it is expected of someone who intends to follow an academic career, and Tolkien already had such a career in mind.  However he had achieved a ‘pure alpha’, a practically faultless paper, in his special subject, Comparative Philology.  This was partly a tribute to the excellence of Joe Wright’s teaching, but it was also an indication that Tolkien’s greatest talents lay in this field; and Exeter College took note.  The college was disappointed that as one of its award-holders he had missed a First, but suggested that if he had earned an alpha in philology he ought to become a philologist.  Dr Farnell who was Rector of Exeter (the head of the college) knew that he was interested in Old and Middle English and other Germanic languages, so would it not be sensible if he changed to the English School?  Tolkien agreed, and at the beginning of the summer term of 1913 he abandoned Classics and began to read English.


¶ 8


Carpenter, 71:

   When Tolkien joined the Honour School of English Language and Literature, it was still a relatively new one, and it was divided in two: the medievalists and philologists on the language side believed that post-Chaucerian literature was not challenging enough for a degree-level syllabus, and the literature enthusiasts believed that philology and the study of Old and Middle English were a waste of time.  Tolkien was on the side of the medievalists and philologists and would have preferred to ignore anything written after Chaucer.

The Honour School of English Language and Literature was still young by Oxford standards, and it was split down the middle.  On one side were the philologists and medievalists who considered that any literature later than Chaucer was not sufficiently challenging to form the basis of a degree-course syllabus.  On the other were the enthusiasts for ‘modern’ literature (by which they meant literature from Chaucer to the nineteenth century) who thought that the study of philology and Old and Middle English was ‘word-mongering and pedantry’.  In some ways it was mistaken to try and squeeze both factions of opinion into the same Honours School.  The result was that undergraduates who chose to specialise in ‘Language’ (that is, Old and Middle English and philology) were nevertheless compelled to read a good deal of modern literature, while those who wanted to read ‘Literature’ (the modern course) were also obliged to study texts in Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Reader and acquaint themselves with a certain amount of philology.  Both course were compromises, and neither side was entirely satisfied.


¶ 9


Carpenter, 71-72:

   Tolkien’s tutor was Kenneth Sisam, a young man from New Zealand who was assisting Professor A.S. Napier, who held the chair in English language and literature.  Tolkien met Sisam, a quietly spoken man only four years senior to him, looked at the syllabus, then wondered how it could possibly occupy him for the next two years and a term.  He was already familiar with many of the set texts, and he had even learned some Old Norse.  However, Tolkien grew to like and respect Sisam, despite the latter’s quiet demeanor, and he found himself at his desk more often than he had whilst he was reading classics.  He quickly discovered that it was not as easy as he had anticipated, particularly because the Oxford English School had high standards.  Tolkien began to write long, complex essays on philology topics, to expand his knowledge of the West Midlands dialect of Middle English, and to read Old English works that were new to him.  One such text was the Crist of Cynewulf, a group of Anglo-Saxon religious poems, two lines of which forcibly struck Tolkien when he saw them:


Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middangeard monnum sended

[Hail Earendel, brightest of Angels

Above the Middle-earth sent unto men]

   There was no question as to which side of the school would claim Tolkien.  He would specialise in linguistic studies, and it was arranged that his tutor would be Kenneth Sisam, a young New Zealander who was acting as assistant to A.S. Napier, the Professor of English Language and Literature.  After meeting Sisam and surveying the syllabus Tolkien was ‘seized with panic, because I cannot see how it is going to provide me with honest labour for two years and a term’.  It all seemed too easy and familiar: he was already well acquainted with many of the texts he would have to read, and he even knew a certain amount of Old Norse, which he was going to do as a special subject (under the Icelandic expert W.A. Craigie).  Moreover Sisam did not at first appear to be an inspiring tutor.  He was a quiet-spoken man only four years older than Tolkien, certainly lacking the commanding presence of Joe Wright.  But he was an accurate and painstaking scholar, and Tolkien soon came to respect and like him.  As to the work, Tolkien spent more time at his desk than he had while studying Classics.  It was not as easy as he had expected, for the standard of the Oxford English School was very high; but he was soon firmly in command of the syllabus and was writing lengthy and intricate essays on ‘Problems of the dissemination of phonetic change’, ‘The lengthening of vowels in Old and Middle English times’, and ‘The Anglo-Norman element in English’.  He was particularly interested in extending his knowledge of the West Midland dialect in Middle English because of its associations with his childhood and ancestry; and he was reading a number of Old English works that he had not previously encountered.

   Among them was the Crist of Cynewulf, a group of Anglo-Saxon religious poems. Two lines from it struck him forcibly:


Eala Earendel engla beorhtast

Ofer middengeard monnum sended.


¶ 10


Carpenter, 72:

   Whilst Earendel is interpreted by the Anglo-Saxon dictionary as “a shining light, a ray,” Tolkien believed that Earendel was originally the name of Venus, the dawn star.  He recorded feeling a “curious thrill” when he encountered the name, which he found moving and beautiful yet strange and remote.

‘Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men.’  Earendel is glossed by the Anglo-Saxon dictionary as ‘a shining light, ray’, but here it clearly has some special meaning.  Tolkien himself interpreted it as referring to John the Baptist, but he believed that ‘Earendel’ had originally been the name for the star presaging the dawn, that is, Venus.  He was strangely moved by its appearance in the Cynewulf lines.  ‘I felt a curious thrill,’ he wrote long afterwards, ‘as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep.  There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.’


¶ 11


Carpenter, 72-73:

   He found even more to stir his imagination in his specialist subject of Old Norse.  Tolkien already had some familiarity with Norse, but now he began to study its literature in depth.  He read the Poetic (Elder) Edda, the Prose (Younger) Edda, and the sagas, finding the Völuspa (Prophecy of the Seeress) especially appealing to his imagination, although all Norse literature that he read would have an effect on his mythology, some of it in profound ways.

   He found even more to excite his imagination when he studied his special subject.  Old Norse (or Old Icelandic: the names are interchangeable) is the language that was brought to Iceland by the Norwegians who fled from their native land in the ninth century.  Tolkien was already moderately acquainted with Norse, and he now made a thorough study of the literature.  He read the sagas and the Prose or Younger Edda.  He also studied the Poetic or Elder Edda; and so it was that he came upon the ancient storehouse of Icelandic myth and legend.

   ‘The Elder Edda’ is the name given to a collection of poems, some of them incomplete or textually corrupt, whose principal manuscript dates from the thirteenth century .  But many of the poems themselves are more ancient, perhaps originating at a period earlier than the settlement of Iceland.  Some are heroic, describing the world of men, while others are mythological, treating of the deeds of gods.  Among the mythological lays in the Elder Edda none is more remarkable than the Völuspa or Prophecy of the Seeress, which tells the story of the cosmos from its creation, and foretells its doom.  The most remarkable of all Germanic mythological poems, it dates from the very end of Norse heathendom, when Christianity was taking the place of the old gods; yet it imparts a sense of living myth, a feeling of awe and mystery, in its representation of a pagan cosmos.  It had a profound appeal to Tolkien’s imagination.


¶ 12


Carpenter, 75-76:

   At the start of the 1913 academic year, Tolkien’s friend Geoffrey B. Smith arrived in Oxford with the result that the TCBS was now represented equally at Oxford and Cambridge since Robert Q. Gilson and Christopher Wiseman were already at Cambridge.  Tolkien’s secret engagement to Edith would end soon with Edith’s reception into the Roman Catholic Church.  Tolkien had told his guardian, Father Francis Morgan, about his reunion with Edith, but as yet he had not told his friends.  He wrote to Wiseman and Gilson and spoke to Smith; all three of his friends congratulated him, although Gilson perceptively commented that it seemed unlikely that Tolkien’s engagement would prevent him from remaining a TCBS-ite.  Edith was received into the Roman Catholic Church on January 8, 1914, the first anniversary of their reunion, but she never felt as comfortable in the Roman Catholic Church as she had at the Anglican Church in Cheltenham, and in later life this caused some friction between Edith and Tolkien.

   In the autumn of 1913 his friend G.B. Smith came up to Oxford from King Edward’s School to be an Exhibitioner of Corpus Christi College where he was to read English.  The T.C.B.S. was now equally represented at Oxford and Cambridge, for R.Q. Gilson and Christopher Wiseman were already at the latter university.  The four friends occasionally met, but Tolkien had never mentioned to them the existence of Edith Bratt.  Now that the time was approaching for her reception into the Catholic Church they had decided to be formally betrothed, and he would have to tell his friends.  He wrote to Gilson and Wiseman, very uncertain as to what to say, and not even telling them his fiancée’s name; clearly he felt that it all seemed to have little to do with the male comradeship of the T.C.B.S.  The others congratulated him, though Gilson remarked with some insight: ‘I have no fear at all that such a staunch T.C.B.S.-ite as yourself will ever be anything else.’


[One intervening paragraph on Edith’s religious instruction.]


   On 8 January 1914, Edith was received into the Roman Catholic Church.  The date had been deliberately chosen by her and Ronald as it was the first anniversary of their reunion.  Soon after her reception she and Ronald were officially betrothed in church by Father Murphy.  Edith made her first confession and first communion, which she found to be ‘a great and wonderful happiness’; and at first she continued in this state of mind, attending mass regularly and often making her communion.  But the Catholic Church at Warwick was a poor affair compared to the splendours of Cheltenham (even Ronald called it ‘sordid’) and although Edith helped with a church club for working girls she made few friends in the congregation.  She also began to dislike making her confession.  It was therefore all too easy when she was worried about her health (which was often) to postpone going to mass.  She reported to Ronald that getting up to go to church early in the morning and fasting until she had made her communion did not agree with her.  ‘I want to go,’ she told him, ‘and wish I could go often, but it is quite impossible: my health won’t stand it.’


¶ 13


Carpenter, 77-78:

   Tolkien began another club, the Chequers, with his friend Colin Cullis; he was elected president of the influential Stapledon Club, Exeter’s debating society; he played tennis and went punting; and by the spring of 1914 he had worked hard enough to win the Skeat Prize for English.  He used the five-pound prize money to buy several William Morris works and some books of medieval Welsh.  Although Morris was a former Exeter man, Tolkien had not read any of his imaginative works before.  Tolkien’s knowledge of modern literature was limited because he belonged to the language side of the English School.  For him, all the stimulus his imagination craved came from the early literature of Iceland and the poetry of the Old and Middle English period.  However, Morris’s view of literature coincided with Tolkien’s, and he found Morris’s prose-and-verse romance The House of the Wolfings absorbing.  Many of its elements impressed Tolkien: the highly idiosyncratic style, the attempt to re-create the aura of ancient legend, and Morris’s ability to describe in great detail the landscape he had imagined.  All of this can clearly be seen to have influenced Tolkien when he came to write his own mythological stories.

   Ronald was becoming distinctly stylish.  He bought furniture and Japanese prints for his rooms.  He ordered to tailor-made suits, which he found looked very well on him.  He started another club with his friend Colin Cullis; it was called the Chequers, and it met on Saturday nights to have dinner in his or Cullis’s rooms.  He was elected president of the college debating society (an influential body at Exeter) after a faction-fight which gave him his first taste of college politics, a taste hat he liked very much.  He punted, he played tennis, and now and then he did some work, enough to win the Skeat Prize for English awarded by his college in the spring of 1914.  He used the five pounds of prize money to buy books of medieval Welsh and several of the books of William Morris: The Life and Death of Jason, Morris’s translation of the Völsungasaga, and his prose-and-verse romance The House of the Wolfings.

   Morris had himself been an undergraduate at Exeter College, and this connection had probably stimulated Tolkien’s interest in him.  But until now he had apparently not become acquainted with Morris’s imaginative writings.  Indeed his knowledge of modern literature in general was limited, for the Oxford English School syllabus did not require that he, as a linguist, should make more than a comparatively superficial study of post-Chaucerian writers.  During this time he did make a few sketchy notes on Johnson, Dryden, and Restoration drama, but there is no indication that he had more than a passing interest in them.  As to contemporary fiction, he wrote to Edith: ‘I so rarely read a novel, as you know.’  For him English literature ended with Chaucer; or to put it another way, he received all the enjoyment and stimulus that he could possibly require from the great poems of the Old and Middle English periods, and from the early literature of Iceland.

   But that was the very reason that he now found The House of the Wolfings so absorbing.  Morris’s view of literature coincided with his own.  In this book Morris had tried to recreate the excitement he himself had found in the pages of early English and Icelandic narratives.  The House of the Wolfings is set in a land which is threatened by an invading force of Romans.  Written partly in prose and partly in verse, it centres on a House or family-tribe that dwells by a great river in a clearing of the forest named Mirkwood, a name taken from ancient Germanic geography and legend.  Many elements in the story seem to have impressed Tolkien.  Its style is highly idiosyncratic, heavily laden with archaisms and poetic inversions in an attempt to recreate the aura of ancient legend.  Clearly Tolkien took note of this, and it would seem that he also appreciated another facet of the writing: Morris’s aptitude, despite the vagueness of time and place in which the story is set, for describing with great precision the details of his imagined landscape.  Tolkien himself was to follow Morris’s example in later years.


¶ 14


Carpenter 78-81

   During the summer vacation of 1914, Tolkien visited Edith, then Cornwall, before going to stay with his Aunt Jane in Nottinghamshire.  Whilst he was there, he wrote The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, a poem inspired by the lines from the Crist of Cynewulf and the starting point for his mythology.  By the time Tolkien wrote the poem, England had declared war on Germany, and young men were rushing to enlist in Horace Kitchener’s new army.  Tolkien’s brother, Hilary, had already enlisted as a bugler, and his aunts and uncles clearly expected him to follow his brother’s example.  However, Tolkien wanted to complete his degree first; he hoped to earn a First, a necessity if he was going to be able to pursue the academic career he desired.  Initially, he was uncertain he would be able to study once he returned to Oxford, but he discovered that a scheme existed that would allow him to train for the army whilst completing his studies; this meant he could defer his call-up until after he received his degree.  He immediately signed up for the scheme and then felt he could concentrate on his university career.  He and Colin Cullis, who could not enlist owing to poor health, took “digs” in St. John’s Street, and Tolkien began to drill with the Officers’ Training Corps in the University Parks; although it was necessary to combine his training with his usual college activities, he found he was enjoying himself and that he did not suffer from the usual “Oxford sleepies.”  Tolkien also began writing a prose-and-verse tale, adapting the story of Kullervo from the Kalevala, and whilst it was little better than a Morris pastiche, it was not his last attempt at writing a prose-and-verse legend.

   His own eye for landscape received a powerful stimulus during the summer of 1914 when, after visiting Edith, he spent a holiday in Cornwall, staying on the Lizard peninsula with Father Vincent Reade of the Birmingham Oratory.  [six more sentences on Cornwall]


[One intervening paragraph on Cornwall.]


   At the end of the long vacation he travelled to Nottinghamshire to stay for a few days on the farm that his Aunt Jane was running with the Brookes-Smiths and his brother Hilary.  While at the farm he wrote a poem.  It was headed with the line from Cynewulf’s Crist that had so fascinated him: Eala Earendel engla beorhtast!  Its title was ‘The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star’, and it began as follows:


[Eight lines from poem.]


The succeeding versus describe the star-ship’s voyage across the firmament, a progress that continues until the morning light blots all sight of it.

   This notion of the star mariner whose ship leaps into the sky had grown from the reference to ‘Earendel’ in the Cynewulf lines.  But the poem that it produced was entirely original.  It was in fact the beginning of Tolkien’s own mythology.


[New chapter.]


By the time that Tolkien wrote ‘The Voyage of Earendel’, in the late summer of 1914, England had declared war on Germany.  Already young men were enlisting in their thousands, answering Kitchener’s appeal for soldiers.  But Tolkien’s feelings were rather different: he was concerned to stay at Oxford until he could finish his degree, being hopeful of a First Class.  So, though his aunts and uncles expected him to join up (his brother Hilary had already enlisted as a bugler) he went back to the University for the Michaelmas term.

   At first he reported: ‘It is awful.  I really don’t think I shall be able to go on: work seems impossible.  Not a single man I know is up except Cullis.’  But he became more cheerful when he learnt of the existence of a scheme whereby he could train for the army while at the University but defer his call-up until after he had taken his degree.  He signed on for it.

   Once he had decided what to do, life became more pleasant.  He had now moved from his college rooms to ‘digs’ in St John’s Street which he shared with Colin Cullis, who had not joined the army because of poor health.  Tolkien found digs ‘a delicious joy compared with the primitive life of college’.  He was also delighted to discover that his T.C.B.S. friend G.B. Smith was still at Oxford awaiting a commission.  Smith was to join the Lancashire Fusiliers, and Tolkien resolved to try for a commission in the same regiment, if possible the same battalion.

   A few days after the start of term he began to drill in the University Parks with the Officers’ Training Corps.  This had to be combined with his normal academic work, but he found that the double life suited him.  ‘Drill is a godsend,’ he wrote to Edith.  ‘I have been up a fortnight nearly, and have not yet a touch even of the real Oxford “sleepies”.’  He was also trying his hand at writing.  His enthusiasm for William Morris had given him the idea of adapting one of the stories from the Finnish Kalevala into a Morris-style prose-and-verse romance.  He chose the story of Kullervo, a hapless young man who unknowingly commits incest and, when he discovers, throws himself on his sword.  Tolkien began to work on ‘The Story of Kullervo’ as he called it, and although it was little more than a pastiche of Morris it was his first essay in the writing of a legend in verse and prose.  He left it unfinished.


¶ 15


Carpenter, 81-84:

   Following a TCBS meeting in London during the Christmas vacation of 1914, Tolkien started to write poetry, but he felt that his poems needed a connecting theme, and early in 1915 he turned back to his Earendel verses and began to work them into a larger story.  He had shown his original poem, The Voyage of Earendel, to Smith, who had expressed a liking for his Earendel verses, then asked Tolkien what they meant.  Tolkien replied that he did not know, but he would try to find out, rather than invent a meaning; as a result of his private language invention, he saw himself as discovering legends, not inventing stories.  Tolkien had been working on his language Quenya for some time, and it was now sufficiently advanced for him to write poems in it.  But he felt the language needed a history to support it since, as far as Tolkien was concerned, it was impossible to have a language without a people to speak it.  During 1915, he decided that Quenya was spoken by the Elves or fairies whom Earendel had encountered during his voyage, and Tolkien began writing The Lay of Earendel, a series of linked poems that would describe the journeys made by Earendel the Mariner before his ship was turned into a star.

   Immediately following the weekend in London he began to write poems.  They were in general not very remarkable, and certainly they were not always economical in their use of words.  Here are some lines from ‘Sea Chant of an Elder Day’, written on 4 December 1914 and based on Tolkien’s memories of his Cornish holiday a few months previously:


[Four intervening paragraphs and three intervening poems.]


   He soon came to feel that the composition of occasional poems without a connecting theme was not what he wanted.  Early in 1915 he turned back to his original Earendel verses and began to work their theme into a larger story.  He had shown the original Earendel lines to G.B. Smith, who had said that he liked them but asked what they were really about.  Tolkien had replied: ‘I don’t know.  I’ll try to find out.’  Not try to invent: try to find out.  He did not see himself as an inventor of story but as a discoverer of legend.  And this was really due to his private languages.

   He had been working for some time at the language that was influenced by Finnish, and by 1915 he had developed it to a degree of some complexity.  He felt that it was ‘a mad hobby’, and he scarcely expected to find an audience for it.  But he sometimes wrote poems in it, and the more he worked at it the more he felt that it needed a ‘history’ to support it.  In other words, you cannot have a language without a race of people to speak it.  He was perfecting the language; now he had to decide to whom it belonged.


[One intervening paragraph and poem.]


   During 1915 the picture became clear in Tolkien’s mind.  This, he decided, was the language spoken by the fairies or elves whom Earendel saw during his strange voyage.  He began work on a ‘Lay of Earendel’ that described the mariner’s journeyings across the world before his ship became a star.  The Lay was to be divided into several poems, and the first of these, ‘The Shores of Faery’, tells of the mysterious land Valinor, where Two Trees grow, one bearing golden sun-apples and the other silver moon-apples.  To this land comes Earendel.


¶ 16


Carpenter, 85-86:

   Whilst the germs of his mythology were occupying Tolkien’s mind, he was also preparing for Honour School, his final examination in English language and literature.  It began in June 1915, and Tolkien succeeded in achieving First Class honours, which meant that he could be fairly certain of academic employment, assuming he could survive the war.  Before he went overseas, he and Edith were married, feeling that they had waited long enough to be together.  The wedding was on March 22, 1916, and they spent their weeklong honeymoon in Somerset.

   While Tolkien’s mind was occupied with the seeds of his mythology he was preparing himself for Schools, his final examination in English Language and Literature. The examination began in the second week of June 1915, and Tolkien was triumphant, achieving First Class Honours.

   He would in consequence be reasonably certain of getting an academic job when the war was over; but in the meantime he had to take up his commission as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers.  [Six sentences follow on military life.]


[Two intervening paragraphs on military training.]


   Embarkation for France was now near, and he and Edith decided to get married before he left, for the appalling death-toll among the British troops made it clear that he might never return.  They had in any case waited more than long enough, for he was twenty-four and she twenty-seven.  [four more sentences and two more paragraphs on marriage and honeymoon conclude chapter]



¶ 17


Carpenter, 106:

Postwar, Pre-Leeds


Tolkien did survive the war, largely as a consequence of suffering badly from trench fever, and by the time he was discharged from hospital in October 1918, the end of the war seemed to be in sight, so he travelled to Oxford in an attempt to find an academic job.  Initially, his prospects were not promising; many of the university’s buildings had been commandeered by the military for use as hospitals or accommodation for soldiers, and few lectures were being held.  No one appeared to know what would happen when the war ended, but when Tolkien visited William Craigie, his former tutor, he was given more promising news; Craigie was a member of the New English Dictionary’s staff since the dictionary was still being compiled at Oxford, and he suggested that Tolkien could work as an assistant lexicographer.  After the war ended November 11, 1918, Tolkien contacted the army authorities and asked permission to be stationed in Oxford so that he could complete his education, since had not yet been demobilised.  They gave him permission, and Tolkien found some rooms in St. John’s Street, close to his old student digs.  In late November 1918, he, Edith, and baby John (who had been born in 1917) settled in Oxford.

   By October he had been discharged from hospital.  Peace seemed a little nearer, and he went to Oxford to see if there was any chance of finding an academic job.  The outlook was poor: the University was scarcely functioning, and nobody knew what would happen when peace came.  But when he called on William Craigie who had taught him Icelandic, there was more encouraging news.  Craigie was on the staff of the New English Dictionary, the later parts of which were still being compiled at Oxford, and he told Tolkien that he could find him a job as an assistant lexicographer.  When the war came to an end on 11 November, Tolkien contacted the army authorities and obtained permission to be stationed at Oxford ‘for the purposes of completing his education’ until demobilisation.  He found rooms near his old digs in St John’s Street, and late in November 1918 he, Edith, the baby, and Jennie Grove took up residence in Oxford.


¶ 18


Carpenter, 107-108:

   Throughout his army career, Tolkien had dreamed of returning to Oxford; he had longed to return to his friends, his college, and his Oxford way of life, so he was delighted to be working at the Dictionary in the workroom in the Old Ashmolean building in Broad Street.  He liked his colleagues, particularly C.T. Onions, and he soon found himself researching the etymology of various words that included winter, water, and wasp.  The skill that such work demanded is evident from the entry for wasp; this word is not difficult, but its entry cites comparative words from thirteen languages.  It is not surprising that Tolkien found such work taught him far more about languages than even his degree had done.  Once, in later years, he said that he learnt more in two years at the New English Dictionary than in any other two-year period of his life.  Dr. Henry Bradley, the dictionary’s editor, commented that Tolkien had a far better grasp of Anglo-Saxon and of the grammar of the Germanic languages than anyone else Tolkien’s age.  Given the high standards of the Dictionary, this was great praise.

Tolkien had long dreamt of returning to Oxford.  Throughout his war service he had suffered an ache of nostalgia for his college, his friends, and the way of life that he had led for four years. He was also uncomfortably conscious of wasted time, for he was now twenty-seven and Edith was thirty. But at last they could enjoy what they had hoped for: ‘Our home together’.


[Two intervening paragraphs on Tolkien’s diary and the NED.]


   Tolkien enjoyed working at the Dictionary, and liked his colleagues, especially the accomplished C.T. Onions.  For his first weeks he was given the job of researching the etymology of warm, wasp, water, wick (lamp), and winter.  Some indication of the skill that this required may be gathered from a glance at the entry that was finally published for wasp.  It is not a particularly difficult word, but the paragraph dealing with it cites comparable forms in Old Saxon, Middle Dutch, Modern Dutch, Old High German, Middle Low German, Middle High German, Modern German, Old Teutonic, primitive pre-Teutonic, Lithuanian, Old Slavonic, Russian, and Latin.  Not surprisingly, Tolkien found that this kind of work taught him a good deal about languages, and he once said of the period 1919-20 when he was working on the Dictionary: ‘I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life.’  He did his job remarkably well, even by the standards of the Dictionary, and Dr. Bradley reported of him: ‘His work gives evidence of an unusually thorough mastery of Anglo-Saxon and of the facts and principles of the comparative grammar of the Germanic languages.  Indeed, I have no hesitation in saying that I have never known a man of his age who was in these respects his equal.’


¶ 19


Carpenter, 108-109:

   When he was not working at the New English Dictionary, Tolkien supplemented his income by teaching at the university.  Having informed the colleges that he was available to teach, they began to send him pupils, especially the women’s colleges such as St. Hugh’s and Lady Margaret Hall, who had no one available to teach Anglo-Saxon.  Since Tolkien was married, a chaperone for their young women was unnecessary, which gave Tolkien an advantage over other potential tutors.  Tolkien and Edith soon realised that they could afford to rent a small house, so they moved around the corner into Alfred Street (now Pusey Street).  They moved late in the summer of 1919; Edith was able to employ a cook-housemaid and to retrieve her piano from storage.  Because she was pregnant again, Edith was particularly relieved that they now had a home of their own; she looked forward to having the baby in her own home.  By the spring of 1920, Tolkien was earning enough from teaching to give up his job at the Dictionary; he continued to work on The Book of Lost Tales, which he had begun during his war service.  One evening, he read aloud “The Fall of Gondolin” to the Exeter College Essay Club, where the undergraduates received it well.  Amongst the undergraduates were Hugo Dyson and Nevil Coghill, who were to become regular listeners at Tolkien’s readings from his mythology in later years.

   From the Dictionary it was only a short walk home for lunch, and, not long after, for tea.  Dr. Bradley was an undemanding taskmaster as far as hours were concerned, and in any case the work was scarcely supposed to occupy Tolkien’s entire day.  Like many others who were employed at the Dictionary he was expected to fill out his time and his income by teaching in the University.  He made it known that he was willing to accept pupils, and one by one the colleges began to respond – chiefly the women’s colleges, for Lady Margaret Hall and St. Hugh’s badly needed someone to teach Anglo-Saxon to their young ladies, and Tolkien had the advantage of being married, which meant that a chaperon did not have to be sent to his home when he was teaching them.

   Soon he and Edith decided that they could afford the rent of a small house, and they found a suitable one just round the corner from their rooms, at 1 Alfred Street (now called Pusey Street).  They moved into it in the late summer of 1919, and engaged a cook-housemaid.  It was a great joy to have a house of their own.  Edith’s piano was brought back from store, and she could play regularly again for the first time in years.  She was pregnant once more, but at least she could give birth in her own house and bring up the baby in a proper home.  By the spring of 1920 Ronald was earning enough from tuition to give up work at the Dictionary.

   Meanwhile he continued to write ‘The Book of Lost Tales’, and one evening he read ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ aloud to the Essay Club at Exeter College.  It was well received by an undergraduate audience that included two young men named Nevill Coghill and Hugo Dyson.


¶ 20


Carpenter, 109, 114-115:

   In 1920, Tolkien applied for a post at the University of Leeds; he hardly expected to be accepted as reader in the English language, but he was offered and accepted the job, moving to Leeds in October 1920.  Just four years later, he was made a professor, and when he heard early in 1925 that William Craigie was shortly going to America, leaving the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford vacant, he applied.  In theory, he did not stand much chance of receiving the job since there were three other candidates for the post, all of whom had greater experience than Tolkien.  However, Allen Mawer chose not to apply; R.W. Chambers refused the post, and it came down to a battle between Tolkien and his former tutor, Kenneth Sisam.  By this time, Sisam was in a senior post at Clarendon Press and, whilst he was not engaged in full-time scholarship, his reputation at Oxford was good, so he had a lot of support.  However, Tolkien was also supported by a number of people, including George Gordon, who had been responsible for employing Tolkien at Leeds and who was now back in Oxford as professor of English literature.  At the election, the voting was split equally between Tolkien and Sisam, and the vice-chancellor, Joseph Wells, who had the deciding vote, chose to vote for Tolkien.

   Suddenly the family’s plans changed.  Tolkien applied for the post of Reader in English Language the University of Leeds, scarcely expecting to be considered, but in the summer of 1920 he was asked to go for an interview.  [five further sentences on Tolkien’s meeting with Gordon conclude chapter]


[Most of next chapter intervenes.]


   Meanwhile his career at Leeds took an important step forward.  In 1922 George Gordon had left to go back to Oxford as Professor of English Literature, and Tolkien was a candidate for the Leeds Chair that Gordon had occupied.  [four sentences follow on Tolkien’s rise to professorship at Leeds]


[One intervening paragraph about Christopher’s birth.]


   Early in 1925 came word that the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford was shortly to fall vacant; Craigie, the holder, was leaving to go to America.  The post was advertised, and Tolkien applied.  In theory he did not stand a good chance, for there were three other candidates with excellent credentials: Allen Mawer of Liverpool, R.W. Chambers of London, and Kenneth Sisam.  However Mawer decided not to apply and Chambers refused the chair, so it was whittled down to a fight between Tolkien and his old tutor Sisam.

   Kenneth Sisam was now in a senior position at the Clarendon Press, and though he was not engaged in full-time scholarship he had a good reputation in Oxford and a number of supporters.  Tolkien was backed by many people, including George Gordon, a master hand at intrigue.  But at the election the votes came out equal, so Joseph Wells the Vice-Chancellor had to make the decision with his casting vote.  He voted for Tolkien.


¶ 21


Carpenter 119, 147:



At the beginning of 1926, the Tolkien family—Tolkien, Edith, John, Michael (who was born in 1920), and Christopher (who was born in 1924)—travelled to Oxford from Leeds and moved into a new house in Northmoor Road.  A fellowship at Pembroke College went with the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair in Anglo-Saxon, so Pembroke became Tolkien’s home.  At the same time, C.S. Lewis was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College as a tutor in English language and literature.  The two met for the first time at an English School meeting at Merton College in May 1926.  Initially, Lewis was unimpressed by Tolkien, partly because Tolkien was more interested in languages than Lewis, but the two became good friends and worked hard to integrate the literature and language sides of the Oxford English School.

[Six sentences on Oxford housing boom precede.]  The family travelled down from Leeds at the beginning of 1926 and moved in.


[Three chapters intervene.]


   On 11 May 1926 Tolkien attended a meeting of the English Faculty at Merton College.  Among the familiar faces a new arrival stood out, a heavily-built man of twenty-seven in baggy clothes who had recently been elected Fellow and Tutor in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College.  This was Clive Staples Lewis, known to his friends as ‘Jack’.


¶ 22


Carpenter, 137-138:

   Tolkien proved to be a good teacher, although he was never at his best in a lecture room, where his quick indistinct speech meant that his students had to concentrate hard to hear and understand him.  Nor was he always good at clearly explaining his ideas; he often found it difficult to recall that not everyone was as knowledgeable as he about his subject.  However, Tolkien brought his subject to life and showed that it was important to him, which encouraged his students to take an interest in it.  Among his students, the best remembered instance of his passion for Anglo-Saxon was the opening of his Beowulf lecture series.  W.H. Auden recalled that Tolkien would silently enter the lecture room, fix his attention on his students, and then declaim in resounding tones, the opening lines of Beowulf, beginning with “Hwaet!, which many students took to be “Quiet!”  It was less of a recitation than a dramatic performance, and J.I.M. Stewart said that with Tolkien there, the lecture room became a mead hall in which Tolkien was the bard.  His effectiveness as a teacher was enhanced because he was a poet and writer, as well as a philologist.  He not only found poetry in the sounds of words but also had a poet’s understanding of the use of language, which meant that he could not only show students what words meant but also explain why a particular form of expression had been used by an author and how it fitted his or her image scheme.  In this way, Tolkien encouraged his students to see early texts as literature that deserved serious study and appreciation in its own right, not merely as examples of a developing language.

   At Leeds and later at Oxford he proved to be a good teacher.  He was not at his best in the lecture room, where his quick speech and indistinct  articulation meant that pupils had to concentrate hard in order to hear him.  Nor was he always very good at explaining himself in the clearest terms, for he found it difficult to scale down his own knowledge of the subject so that his pupils could understand everything that he was saying.  But he invariably brought the subject alive and showed that it mattered it him.

   The most celebrated example of this, remembered by everyone who was taught by him, was the opening of his series of lectures on Beowulf.  He could come silently into the room, fix the audience with his gaze, and suddenly begin to declaim in a resounding voice the opening lines of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, commencing with a great cry of ‘Hwæt!’ (the first word of this and several other Old English poems), which some undergraduates took to be ‘Quiet!’  It was not so much a recitation as a dramatic performance, an impersonation of an Anglo-Saxon bard in a mead hall, and it impressed generations of students because it brought home to them that Beowulf was not just a set text to be read for the purposes of an examination but a powerful piece of dramatic poetry.  As one former pupil, the writer J.I.M. Stewart, expressed it: ‘He could turn a lecture room into a mead hall in which he was the bard and we were the feasting, listening guests.’  Another who sat in the audience at these lectures was W.H. Auden, who wrote to Tolkien many years later: ‘I don’t think I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf.  The voice was the voice of Gandalf.’

   One reason for Tolkien’s effectiveness as a teacher was that besides being a philologist he was a writer and a poet, a man who not only studied words but who used them for poetic means.  He could find poetry in the sound of the words themselves, as he had done since childhood; but he also had a poet’s understanding of how language is used.  This was expressed in a memorable phrase in The Times obituary of him (undoubtedly written by C.S. Lewis long before Tolkien’s death) which talks of his ‘unique insight at once into the language of poetry and into the poetry of language’.  In practical terms this meant that he could show a pupil not just what the words meant, but why the author had chosen that particular form of expression and how it fitted into his scheme of imagery.  He thus encouraged students of early texts to treat them not as mere exemplars of a developing language but as literature deserving serious appreciation and criticism.


¶ 23


Carpenter, 140:

In practical terms, what it meant to be the professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford was that Tolkien had to give a minimum of 36 lectures or classes a year.  But Tolkien did not feel this was a sufficient number to cover his subject, and during his second year after his election, he gave 136 lectures and classes.  In part, this was a result of the war; there were too few other tutors available to lecture in Middle English and Anglo-Saxon.  After Charles Wrenn was appointed to assist him, Tolkien was able to cut back on his lectures, but he still gave more than twice the expected minimum number of classes and lectures each year during the 1930s.  Preparing and giving lectures took up a large proportion of his time, and sometimes Tolkien found he had too little time to prepare a course of lectures, so he cancelled it.  This earned him the reputation around the university of being ill prepared for his lectures, but almost the reverse was true since Tolkien was so committed to his subject that he was not ready to tackle it in anything less than an exhaustive manner.  This often resulted in him being sidetracked into considering the less important details so that he was unable to finish treating the main subject.

But probably all this sounds like the scholar in his ivory tower.  What did he do?  What, in practical terms, did it mean to be the Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford?  The simplest answer is that it meant a good deal of hard work.  The statutes called upon Tolkien to give a minimum of thirty-six lectures or classes a year, but he did not consider this to be sufficient to cover the subject, and in the second year after being elected Professor he gave one hundred and thirty-six lectures and classes.  This was partly because there were comparatively few other people to lecture on Anglo-Saxon and Middle English.  Later he managed to get another philologist, an excellent if intimidating teacher named Charles Wrenn, appointed to assist him, and then he was able to set himself a slightly less strenuous programme.  But throughout the nineteen-thirties he continued to give at least twice the statutory number of lectures and classes each year, considerably more than most of his colleagues undertook.

   So lectures, and the preparation for them, took up a very large proportion of his time.  In fact this heavy teaching load was sometimes more than he could manage efficiently, and occasionally he would abandon a course of lectures because of insufficient time to prepare it.  Oxford seized gleefully on this sin and bestowed upon him the reputation of not preparing his lectures properly, whereas the truth was that he prepared them too thoroughly.  His deep commitment to the subject prevented him from tackling it in anything less than an exhaustive manner, with the result that he often sidetracked himself into the consideration of subsidiary details, and never managed to finish the treatment of the main topic.


¶ 24


Carpenter, 141:

   Another time-consuming part of his job was administration.  Unlike professors at other universities, Oxford professors do not, by virtue of their office, necessarily have any power over the staff in their faculty.  The tutors who make up the majority of faculty staff are appointed by their colleges (as Lewis was), and they do not answer to the professor.  This meant that if Tolkien wanted to make any policy changes (such as when he wished to integrate the language and literature sides of the English School), he had to persuade his staff to agree with him rather than instruct them to do as he wanted.

   A good deal of his attention was also taken up by administration.  It should be understood than an Oxford professor, unlike those in many other universities, is not by virtue of his office necessarily in a position of power in his faculty.  He has no authority over the college tutors who in all probability make up the majority of the faculty staff, for they are appointed by their colleges and are not answerable to him.  So if he wishes to initiate some major change of policy he must adopt persuasive rather than authoritarian tactics.  And, on his return to Oxford in 1925, Tolkien did wish to make a major change: he wanted to reform certain aspects of the Final Honour School of English Language and Literature.


¶ 25


Carpenter, 141-142:

   As professor he was also required to supervise postgraduate students and to examine students within the university.  Since he had four children by 1930, he also undertook a lot of “freelance” work as an examiner at other universities and marking School Certificate examination papers (this examination was taken at the age of sixteen by British schoolchildren).  This annual chore was tedious and dull, but it allowed Tolkien to supplement his income whilst his own children were small.  He could have spent his time better in writing or doing research, but he needed the money.  Tolkien, like any professor, was expected to devote much of his time to research, and his contemporaries had high hopes of him in this area since his glossary to Sisam’s book of Middle English extracts (produced whilst Tolkien was at Leeds), his coediting (with E.V. Gordon) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and his article on the Ancrene Wisse manuscripts had demonstrated that he possessed a mastery of the West Midlands dialect of early Middle English that was without equal.  Everyone in the Oxford English School confidently expected Tolkien to continue contributing important work in this area—and Tolkien had every intention of doing so, promising an edition of the Cambridge manuscript of the Ancrene Wisse to the Early English Text Society.  He did a lot of research into this branch of early medieval English, which he loved, but the promised edition was not completed for many years, and the largest part of his research was never published.

   His job also required him to supervise post-graduate students, and to examine within the University.  In addition he undertook a good deal of ‘freelance’ work as an external examiner to other universities, for with four children to bring up he needed to augment his income.  During the nineteen-thirties he made frequent visits to many of the British universities as an examiner, and spent countless hours marking papers.  After the Second World War he restricted this activity to examining regularly for various colleges in Ireland, touring Eire and making many friends there in the process.  This was much to his taste.  Less attractive, indeed an unredeemed chore, was the marking of School Certificate (the examination then set for British secondary schools) which he undertook annually in the pre-war years to earn extra money.  His time would have been better devoted to research or writing, but his concern for the family income made him spend many hours in the summer at this irritating task.


[Three intervening paragraphs on


   Besides being responsible for teaching and administration, professors at Oxford as elsewhere are expected to devote much of their time to original research.  Tolkien’s contemporaries had high hopes of him in this respect, for his glossary to Sisam’s book, his edition with E.V. Gordon of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and his article on the Ancrene Wisse manuscripts demonstrated that he had an unrivalled mastery of the early Middle English of the West Midlands; and it was expected that he would continue to contribute important work in this field.  He himself had every intention of doing so:  he promised an edition of the Cambridge manuscript of the Ancrene Wisse to the Early English Text Society, and he did a great deal of research into this branch of early medieval English, this language ‘with the air of a gentleman, if a country gentleman’ which he loved so much.  But the edition was not completed for many years, while the greater part of his research never reached print.


¶ 26


Carpenter, 142-143, 144-145

   One reason for this was Tolkien’s lack of time, since he had chosen to devote such a large part of his working life to teaching, which left him little time to spare for original research.  His time was also taken up by family life, and then there was the problem of Tolkien’s perfectionism, which was a consequence of his emotional commitment to his writing.  This meant that he was incapable of treating it in anything other than a deeply serious manner; therefore, everything he wrote (whether philological or fictional) had to be revised, reconsidered, and refined before it could be published.  However, what Tolkien did publish during the 1930s proved to be a major contribution to scholarship; his paper on the dialects of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Reeve’s Tale” and his lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” were both significant.  He planned to produce an edition of Exodus, an Anglo-Saxon poem, a task he almost completed, but he was dissatisfied with it.  He also intended to collaborate again with E.V. Gordon on new editions of the Anglo-Saxon elegies, The Seafarer and The Wanderer, and on Pearl, which would have complemented their work on Gawain, but the geographical distance (more than 120 miles) between the two men made such collaboration difficult once Gordon had moved from Leeds, where he had succeeded Tolkien, to Manchester University in 1931.  Then, in the summer of 1938, aged just forty-two, Gordon, after undergoing gall-bladder surgery, died from a hitherto undiagnosed kidney disorder of the suprarenal glands.  His death robbed Tolkien not only of a close friend but also of an ideal collaborator.  Tolkien did meet another philologist who was a good collaborator; Simone d’Ardenne was a Belgian graduate who had completed a B.Litt. at Oxford, studying Middle English with Tolkien in the early 1930s.  Tolkien contributed a great deal to her edition of The Life and Passion of St. Julienne, a medieval religious work written in the same dialect as the Ancrene Wisse.  D’Ardenne went on to become a professor at Liège, and she and Tolkien planned to collaborate on an edition of Katerine, another Western Middle English text of the same group, but the outbreak of the Second World War made communication impossible for them for many years.

   Lack of time was one cause.  He had chosen to devote the major part of his working life at Oxford to teaching, and this in itself limited what he could do in the matter of original research.  The marking of examination papers in order to provide necessary money also ate into his time.  But besides this there was the matter of his perfectionism.

   Tolkien had a passion for perfection in written work of any kind, whether it be philology or stories.  This grew from his emotional commitment to his work, which did not permit him to treat it in any manner other than the deeply serious.  Nothing was allowed to reach the printer until it had been revised, reconsidered, and polished – in which respect he was the opposite of C.S. Lewis, who sent manuscripts off for publication with scarcely a second glance at them.  Lewis, well aware of this difference between them, wrote of Tolkien: ‘His standard of self-criticism was high and the mere suggestion of publication usually set him upon a revision, in the course of which so many new ideas occurred to him that where his friends had hoped for the final text of an old work they actually got the first draft of a new one.’

   This is the main reason why Tolkien only allowed a small proportion of his work to reach the printed page.  But what he did publish during the nineteen-thirties was a major contribution to scholarship.  His paper on the dialects of Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the regional variations of fourteenth-century English.  (It was read to the Philological Society in 1931 but not published until 1934, and then with a typical Tolkienian apology for the lack of what the author considered to be a necessary amount of revision and improvement.)  And his lecture Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics, delivered to the British Academy on 25 November 1936 and published in the following year, is a landmark in the history and criticism of this great Western Anglo-Saxon poem.


[Four intervening paragraphs on Beowulf.]


   The Beowulf lecture and the paper on the Reeve’s Tale were the only major pieces of philological work published by Tolkien in the nineteen-thirties.  He planned to do much more: besides his work on the Ancrene Wisse he intended to produce an edition of the Anglo-Saxon poem Exodus, and indeed he nearly completed this task, but it was never finished to his satisfaction.  He also planned further joint editions with E.V. Gordon, in particular of Pearl (a natural companion-piece to their Gawain) and of the Anglo-Saxon elegies The Wanderer and The Seafarer.  But Gordon and Tolkien were now geographically far apart.  In 1931 Gordon, who had been appointed Tolkien’s successor as professor at Leeds, moved from there to take up a chair at Manchester University, and through the two men met and corresponded frequently, collaboration proved technically less easy than when they had been in the same place.  Gordon did a great deal of work on all three projects, using Tolkien as a consultant rather than as a full collaborator, but nothing had reached print by 1938.

In the summer of that year, Gordon went into hospital for an operation for gall-stones.  It seemed to be successful, but his condition suddenly deteriorated, and he died from a previously unsuspected kidney disorder, at the age of forty-two.

   Gordon’s death robbed Tolkien not only of a close friend but also of the ideal professional collaborator: and by now it was clear that he needed a collaborator, if only to make him surrender any material to the printer.  As it happened, he had made the acquaintance of another philologist who proved to be a good working partner.  This was Simonne d’Ardenne, a Belgian graduate who studied Middle English with him for an Oxford B.Litt. early in the nineteen-thirties.  Tolkien contributed much to her edition of The Life and Passion of St Juliene, a medieval religious work written in the Ancrene Wisse dialect.  Indeed the d’Ardenne Juliene paradoxically contains more of his views on early Middle English than anything he ever published under his own name.  Mlle d’Ardenne became a professor at Liège, and she and Tolkien planned to collaborate on an edition of Katerine, another Western Middle English text of the same group.  But the war intervened and made communication between them impossible for many years, and after 1945 nothing was achieved by them beyond a couple of short articles on topics concerned with the manuscript of the text.  Although Tolkien was able to work with Mlle d’Ardenne when he was in Belgium to attend a philological congress in 1951, she realised sadly that collaboration with him was now impossible, for his mind was entirely on his stories.


¶ 27


Duriez, 69-70, 71-72:

   On November 25, 1936, Tolkien gave a lecture to the British Academy in London.  Titled “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics;” it is one of Tolkien’s best-known scholarly papers.  Published in the following year, it was a defence of the artistic unity of the early English tale, Beowulf.  Like Tolkien’s later lecture, “On Fairy-stories,” the lecture on Beowulf provides a key to his work both as a writer of fiction and as a scholar.  To Tolkien it was clear that the Beowulf-poet had created an illusion of historical truth using his art, or to put it another way, the poet used his instinctive historical sense for poetic and artistic ends.  Tolkien went on to talk of the “mythical mode of imagination,” something he used as a poet and as the author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.  Tolkien, like the Beowulf-poet, created in his fiction the impression of real history, a sense of the depth of the past.  Also like the Beowulf-poet, he was influenced by Northern legends.

Unlike Lewis, Tolkien’s academic writings were sparing and rare.  He gave great attention to his lecturing and tutoring.  On November 25, 1936, however, he gave a lecture to the British Academy in London.  Because of the importance of the occasion Edith accompanied him.  Tolkien’s title was “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.”  According to Donald K. Fry, this lecture (published the next year) “completely altered the course of Beowulf studies.”  It was a defense of the artistic unity of that Early English tale.  (The oldest surviving manuscript is dated around A.D. 10000.)  Like his 1939 lecture, “On Fairy Stories,” the Beowulf lecture provides an important key to his work both as a scholar and a writer of fiction.


[One intervening paragraph on earlier Beowulf criticism.]


   It was clear to Tolkien that the Beowulf poet created, by art, an illusion of historical truth and perspective.  The poet had an instinctive historical sense that he used for artistic, poetic ends.  [Two sentences follow citing Tolkien’s comments on poetic worth of Beowulf.]

   In considering the monsters, which are so pivotal to Beowulf, Tolkien explained that this choice of theme actually accounts for the greatness of the poem.  The power comes from “the mythical mode of the imagination.”  [Six sentences follow on difficulty in analyzing myth.]


[Three intervening paragraphs on blend of Christian and pagan.]


   There are a number of parallels between the author of Beowulf, as understood by Tolkien, and Tolkien himself.  Tolkien was a Christian storyteller looking back to an imagined northern European past – his Middle-earth.  The Beowulf poet was a Christian looking back at the imaginative resources of a pagan past.  Both made use of dragons and other potent symbols, symbols that unified their work.  Both were concerned more with symbolism than allegory.  As with Beowulf, what is important is not so much the sources but what was made of them.  Like the ancient author, also, Tolkien created an impression of real history and a sense of depths of the past.


¶ 28


Duriez, 72-73:

   Tolkien developed these ideas further in his Andrew Lang lecture of 1939, given at St. Andrews University.  Titled “On Fairy-Stories,” it sets out Tolkien’s basic ideas concerning fantasy, imagination, and what he called subcreation.  It was Tolkien’s intention to rehabilitate the idea of the fairy-story, which had been relegated to the nursery for children’s entertainment, for adult reading.  He felt that the tendency of adults to regard fairy-stories as trivial and suitable only for children was a mistake because it failed to do justice to either fairy stories or children.  It was his aim to show that fairy tales were worthy of serious study because they allow readers or listeners to move from their limited experience to see the depths of both time and space.  Tolkien explained that a successful fairy story was a “sub-creation,” the highest art and the ultimate achievement of fantasy, which derived power from human language.  He explained that a successful writer of fairy-stories creates a secondary world entered by the mind of the reader, and once inside it, whatever is revealed there is true since it is in accord with the laws of the secondary world.

   In March 1939 Tolkien traveled by train up to St. Andrews University in Scotland to give the annual Andrew Lang lecture.  His was entitled, “On Fairy Stories.”  It set out Tolkien’s basic ideas concerning imagination, fantasy, and what he distinctively called “sub-creation.”


[One intervening paragraph on man in God’s image.]


   The actual course of Tolkien’s lecture did not so starkly highlight these two related links between God and mankind, but they clearly underlie both this lecture and Tolkien’s fiction.  The goal of “On Fairy Stories” was to rehabilitate for adults the idea of the fairy story, which had been relegated to children’s literature, and fantasy in general.  Regarding fairy stories as trivialsuitable only for children—in his view failed to do justice to both fairy stories and children.

   Tolkien, who had by then written much of the basic matter of The Silmarillion, and published The Hobbit (in 1937), attempted to set out a structure underlying good fairy tales and fantasies, a structure that would demonstrate that fairy tales were worthy of serious attention.

   Fairy tales, he pointed out, were stories about faerie: “the realm or state where fairies have their being.”  Listeners who had read his essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” may have noticed a similarity here with Tolkien’s portrayal of the Old English poem.  Tolkien had spoken of the poet making his theme “incarnate in the world of history and geography.”  Fairy tales, he told his audience at St. Andrews, were fantasy, allowing their hearers or readers to move from the details of their limited experience to “survey the depths of space and time.”  The successful fairy story in fact was “sub-creation,” the ultimate achievement of fantasy, the highest art, deriving its power from human language itself.  The successful writer of fairy story “makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter.  Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world.”


¶ 29


Duriez, 132-133

   In 1945, Tolkien accepted the Merton Chair of English Language and Literature, after twenty years as professor of Anglo-Saxon.  The Merton Chair gave him responsibility for Middle English up to AD 1500, and the move was a reflection of his wider interests, in particular the language and literature of the West Midlands.  The new chair allowed him to move from Pembroke College to Merton College as a Fellow, although he had no responsibility to tutor undergraduates as Lewis did at Magdalen College.

Tolkien had moved to the Merton Chair of English Language and Literature back in 1945.  This involved special responsibility for Middle English up to A.D. 1500.  He had held the Chair in Anglo-Saxon for twenty years.  The move reflected his wider interests, particularly the language and literature of the West Midlands.  With the new Chair, as was the custom, he became a Fellow of Merton College though he had no responsibility to tutor undergraduates, as his friend Lewis did.  Tolkien soon settled into his new college and, when later in the year, a second Merton English Chair became vacant, his immediate wish was that it would go to Lewis.  “It ought to be C.S. Lewis,” he said at the time, “or perhaps Lord David Cecil, but one never knows.”  Tolkien as an elector for the Chair had a considerable sway, but his friend was passed over in favor of F.P. Wilson, Lewis’s old English tutor.


¶ 30


Duriez, 163-164:

   Throughout the 1950s, Tolkien continued to teach and explore the literature of the West Midlands in the Middle English period.  He delivered the W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture on April 15, 1953, at the University of Glasgow, where his subject was Sir Gawain and the Green knight, and in December 1953 his translation of the tale was broadcast in dramatic form by the BBC.  In 1955, his poem Imram, which originally formed a part of “The Notion Club Papers,” was published in Time and Tide.  The poem took the story of St. Brendan’s early medieval voyage and fitted the story into Tolkien’s invented mythology.

Throughout the 1950s, Tolkien continued to explore and teach the literature of the West Midlands in the Middle English period.  On April 15, 1953, he delivered the W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture at the University of Glasgow on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”  Later that year, in December, BBC radio broadcast a dramatization of Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  In 1955 his poem, “Imram,” originally part of “The Notion Club Papers,” was published in Time and Tide.  In “Imram,” Gaelic for “voyage,” Tolkien altered the story of St. Brendan’s famous early medieval voyage to fit his invented mythology.  The poem mentions the Lost Road, a “shoreless mountain” (Meneltarma) marking “the foundered land” (Númenor), a mysterious island (Tol Eressëa) with a white Tree (Celeborn), and a beautiful star (Eärendil) marking the old road leading beyond the world.  It indicates Tolkien’s continuing passion to find a narrative bridge for the contemporary reader to the mythology of “The Silmarillion.”


¶ 31


Duriez, 43, 47-48::

Clubs and Societies


Shortly before his first meeting with Lewis, Tolkien formed a club called the Coal-biters (taken from the Icelandic Kolbitar, one who sits so close to the fire in winter that they seem to bite the coal).  The club met regularly to read Icelandic myths and sagas.  Initially, its membership was limited to dons with a fairly good knowledge of Icelandic.  After a while, however, enthusiastic beginners started to join, one of whom was Lewis.  It was within the context of this club that the most important friendship of Tolkien’s life in Oxford began.  Early in December 1929, Tolkien and Lewis sat up until the early hours of the morning discussing Norse gods, giants, and Asgard—a conversation both men enjoyed.  A few days later, Tolkien gave Lewis his poem about Beren and Lúthien.  Lewis’s reaction was favourable, and he promptly wrote to Tolkien expressing his delight in the poem and commenting in particular on its mythical value and the sense of reality it had.  Tolkien was delighted to have such a sympathetic and appreciative audience, and soon afterwards he began to read aloud to Lewis from “The Silmarillion” as it then stood.  Years later, he called Lewis’s encouragement an “unpayable debt”.

Lewis had been intrigued by Tolkien’s alluding to his linguistic and writing hobbies.  Soon he was attracted by Tolkien’s invitation to come along to The Coalbiters, an informal reading club Tolkien had initiated at Oxford in the spring of 1926.  Its purpose was to explore Icelandic literature such as the Poetic Edda.  The name referred to those who crowd so close to the fire in winter that they seem to “bite the coal.”  Lewis was soon attending meetings, as was his old friend Nevill Coghill (1899-1890), a research fellow in English as Exeter College.  [Three sentences follow on material read by Coalbiters.]  As a result of the Coalbiter gatherings Tolkien and Lewis were soon meeting regularly and talking far into the night.  (Edith was used to her husband’s late returns and his writing into the early hours of the morning—they had separate bedrooms in order not to disturb her sleep.)  In another letter to Greeves in December 1929, Lewis recorded that after one evening Tolkien came back with him to his college rooms and “sat discoursing of the gods and giants of Asgard for three hours.”  [Four sentences follow on Lewis overcoming prejudices.]


[Two intervening pages.]


   At this time it was their practice (common then) to call each other by surname or nickname (Tolkien was “Tollers” and Lewis was simply “Lewis”).  Lewis didn’t even known Tolkien’s first names other than “Ronald” as late as 1957.  [Five sentences follow on Tolkien and Lewis’s friendship.]  He also remembered:  “In the early days of our association Jack used to come to my house and I read aloud to him The Silmarillion so far as it had then gone, including a very long poem: Beren and Luthien.”

   It was near the end of 1929 that Tolkien decided to give the “Lay of Leithien” – the poetic version of the tale of Beren and Luthien – to Lewis to read.  His friend read it during the evening of December 6.  His response was enthusiastic – he wrote to Tolkien the very next day:  “I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight: and the personal interest in reading a friend’s work had very little to do with it…. The two things that came out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.”  [Four sentences follow on Lewis’s further comments.]


¶ 32


Carpenter, 152-153:

   In the early 1930s, the Kolbitars finished reading all of the key Icelandic sagas, but Tolkien and Lewis continued to meet regularly, together with Lewis’s brother Warren “Warnie” Lewis, Hugo Dyson (who was now an English lecturer at Reading University), Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield (when he could get away form his job in London as a solicitor), and R.E. “Humphrey” Havard (who was Tolkien’s and Lewis’s doctor).  Others also became regular or semiregular members of the group, which appropriated the name of a now-defunct undergraduate club, the Inklings.  As a general rule, the group met twice a week, usually on a Tuesday morning at the Eagle and Child pub in St. Giles and on a Thursday evening in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College.  The Thursday evening meetings tended to involve one or more of the group’s members reading aloud from a story, poem, or chapter he had written, after which all would join in a critical discussion of the piece.  There would then be a general discussion on almost any subject.

  It began to form itself at about this time (in the early nineteen-thirties) when the Coalbiters ceased to meet, having fulfilled their aim of reading all the principal Icelandic sagas and finally the Elder Edda.  ‘The Inklings’ was originally the name of a literary society founded in about 1931 by a University college undergraduate named Tangye Lean.  Lewis and Tolkien both attended its meetings, at which unpublished compositions were read and criticised.  After Lean left Oxford the club lived on; or rather its name was transferred half jestingly to the circle of friends who gathered at regular intervals around Lewis.


[One intervening paragraph on unorganized nature of Inklings, and names of primary members .]


   It was a thoroughly casual business.  One should not imagine that the same people turned up week after week, or sent apologies if they were to be absent.  Nevertheless there were certain invariable elements.  The group, or various members of it, would meet on a weekday morning in a pub, generally on Tuesdays in the Eagle and Child (known familiarly as ‘The Bird and Baby’); though during the war when beer was short and pubs crowded with servicemen their habits were more flexible.  On Thursday nights they would meet in Lewis’s big Magdalen sitting-room, congregating some time after nine o’clock. Tea would be made and pipes lit, and then Lewis would boom out: ‘Well, has nobody got anything to read us?’  Someone would produce a manuscript and begin to read it aloud – it might be a poem, or a story, or a chapter.  Then would come criticism: sometimes praise, sometimes censure, for it was no mutual admiration society.  There might be more reading, but soon the proceedings would spill over into talk of all kinds, sometimes heated debate, and would terminate at a late hour.


¶ 33


Source unidentified; probably Dante Society archives.

   In 1945, Tolkien was elected a member of The Dante Society, which met once a term at various colleges, each meeting being hosted by a different member of the society.  Lewis had been elected a member in 1937, and when an opening came up—new members joined only when current members died or resigned—in late 1944, Lewis put Tolkien’s name forward.  Tolkien was elected on February 20, 1945, and attended his first meeting in November 1945.  He remained a member until February 1955, although he only hosted a meeting occasionally and presented a paper only once.



¶ 34


Source unidentified, but possibly Duriez, 155-156:

   The reading meetings of the Inklings ended in 1949, and shortly after The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien and Lewis’s friendship began to wane.  This was partly the consequence of Lewis accepting a chair at Cambridge University, after much persuasion from Tolkien, who was upset that Oxford University had refused to offer Lewis a chair; Lewis spent part of the week in Cambridge and weekends in Oxford.  Lewis’s relationship with, and eventual marriage to, Joy Davidman, a divorced New Yorker, also caused Tolkien and Lewis’s friendship to suffer.  Tolkien, as a Catholic, did not agree with divorce, a fact the two men had discussed previously.  Tolkien was also uneasy with Lewis’s role as a popular theologian, feeling that theology should be the preserve of churchmen, not laymen.

The long-desired security of an academic Chair for Lewis was a high point in the two men’s friendship; Lewis’s growing relationship at this time with New Yorker Joy Davidman threatened to destroy it.  When Joy first met Lewis in 1952, after an animated correspondence, she was effectively separated from her husband, and divorce was in the wind.  Lewis was now free of his self chosen commitment to looking after Mrs. Moore with her death in 1951.  Just how electric this situation was as far as Tolkien was concerned may be seen from his marked differences with Lewis’s more liberal theology of divorce.  These had come out over certain passages in Lewis’s wartime broadcast talks, and were part of Tolkien’s reason for his unease about his friend’s role as a popular and highly influential lay theologian.


¶ 35


Carpenter, 161:

Husband, Father, and Storyteller


While Tolkien and Edith originally had little in common, their shared love for their children was a strong bond between them, and it was clear to family and friends that they cared deeply about each other.  They each worried about the other’s health to an almost ridiculous degree, and they chose and wrapped presents for each other with a great deal of care and attention.  Their care for each other was also clear in Edith’s pride in Tolkien’s later fame as an author and in Tolkien’s decision to move to Bournemouth for Edith’s sake after he retired from the University of Oxford.  Tolkien was an immensely kind and understanding father who showed no embarrassment about kissing his sons in public, even when they were adults.

   Those friends and others who knew Ronald and Edith Tolkien over the years never doubted that there was deep affection between them. It was visible both in the small things, the almost absurd degree to which each worried about the other’s health, and the care with which they chose and wrapped each other’s birthday presents; and in the large matters, the way in which Ronald willingly abandoned such a large part of his life in retirement to give Edith the last years at Bournemouth that he felt she deserved, and the degree to which she showed pride in his fame as an author.

   A principal source of happiness to them was their shared love for their family.  This bound them together until the end of their lives, and it was perhaps the strongest force in the marriage.  They delighted to discuss and mull over every detail in the lives of their children, and later of their grandchildren.  They were very proud when Michael won the George Medal in the Second World War for his action as an anti-aircraft gunner defending aerodromes in the Battle of Britain; and they felt similar pride when John was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church shortly after the war.  Tolkien was immensely kind and understanding as a father, never shy of kissing his sons in public even when they were grown men, and never reserved in his display of warmth and love.


¶ 36


Carpenter, 162-163:

   The children remembered spending long hours one summer digging up the old tennis court at 20 Northmoor Road to enlarge the vegetable plot.  Their father supervised this project, for he, like Edith, was a keen gardener, although he preferred to concentrate most of his energies on the lawn and roses, leaving the tree pruning and vegetable cultivation to John.  The family also enjoyed visits to the theatre, although Tolkien declared (somewhat mysteriously, given his boyish enthusiasm for acting) that he did not approve of drama.  The children would cycle with their father to early Mass at St. Gregory’s, St. Aloysius’s, or the nearby Carmelite Convent.  They recalled that Tolkien kept a barrel of beer in the coal hole behind the kitchen; it often dripped, making the house smell like a brewery, or so Edith said.  Afternoons in July and August were often spent boating on the nearby River Cherwell or floating in a punt, which the family hired for the summer, down past University Parks to Magdalen Bridge.  Even better, though, were the occasions when they poled upriver towards Water Eaton and Islip, where they would enjoy a picnic tea on the riverbank. They would walk across the fields to Wood Eaton, looking for butterflies, and on the way back Michael would hide in the old cracked willow tree.  It seemed to the children that their father had an endless store of information about the plants and trees they saw on their walks.  After Tolkien acquired a car, they would go for a drive on autumn afternoons, out to the villages of East Oxfordshire such as Brill, Charlton-on-Otmoor, or Worminghall, or they would drive west into Berkshire and up onto White Horse Hill to see Wayland’s Smithy, the ancient long-barrow near Uffington.

   What else remained in the children’s memories?  Long summer hours digging up the asphalt of the old tennis-court at 20 Northmoor Road to enlarge the vegetable-plot, under the supervision of their father, who (like their mother) was an enthusiastic gardener, though he left much of the practical work of cultivating vegetables and pruning trees to John, preferring to concentrate his own attention on the roses and on the lawn, from which he would remove every possible weed.  The early years at 22 Northmoor Road when there were a succession of Icelandic au pair girls, who told folk-tales about trolls.  Visits to the theatre, which their father always seemed to enjoy, although he declared he did not approve of Drama.  Bicycling to early mass at St Aloysius’, or at St Gregory’s up the Woodstock Road, or at the Carmelite convent nearby.  The barrel of beer in the coal-hole behind the kitchen which dripped regularly and (said their mother) made the house smell like a brewery. July and August afternoons boating on the river Cherwell (which was only just down the road), floating in the family punt hired for the season down past the Parks to Magdalen Bridge, or better still poling up-river towards Water Easton and Islip, where a picnic tea could be spread on the bank.  Walks across the fields to Wood Eaton to look for butterflies, and then back along by the river where Michael would hide in the crack of an old willow; walks when their father seemed to have a boundless store of knowledge about trees and plants.  Seaside summer holidays at Lyme Regis when old Father Francis Morgan came down from Birmingham to join them, embarrassing the children with his loud and boisterous ways just as he had embarrassed Ronald and Hilary at Lyme twenty-five years before.  The family holiday at Lamorna Cove in Cornwall in 1932 with Charles Wrenn and his wife and daughter, when Wrenn and Tolkien held a swimming race wearing panama hats and smoking pipes while they swam.  This was the holiday about which Tolkien later wrote: ‘There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about swapping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like.  To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind.  The choice of Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration, but I did not invent it.  It was in fact the name when I was small (in Birmingham) for “cotton-wool”.’  Then there were the later holidays at Sidmouth, where there were hill walks and marvellous rock-pools by the sea, and where their father was already beginning to write The Lord of the Rings; the drives on autumn afternoons to the villages east of Oxford, to Worminghall or Brill or Charlton-on-Otmoor, or west into Berkshire and up White Horse Hill to see the ancient long-barrow known as Wayland’s Smithy; the memories of Oxford, of the countryside, and of the stories that their father told them.   [see Fry ¶ 37]


¶ 37


Carpenter, 165-166:

   The children also recalled the stories their father told them, many of which later made their way into print.  One such story was Roverandom about a small toy dog Michael lost on the beach during a family holiday to Filey.  Another toy of Michael’s, a Dutch doll named Tom Bombadil, which John hated and once stuffed down the toilet, became the hero of a poem called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which appeared in Oxford Magazine in 1934.  Another story, Mr. Bliss, evolved from Tolkien’s purchase of, and subsequent misadventures whilst driving, a Morris Crowley car in 1932.  Tolkien lavishly illustrated the story in coloured pencil and ink, and he wrote out the tale in a beautiful manuscript style.

   That was as far as the story ever reached on paper, but Tom Bombadil was a well-known figure in the Tolkien family, for the character was based on a Dutch doll that belonged to Michael.  The doll looked very splendid with the feather in its hat, but John did not like it and one day stuffed it down the lavatory.  Tom was rescued, and survived to become the hero of a poem by the children’s father, ‘The Adventures of Tom Bombadil’, which was published in the Oxford Magazine in 1934.  [Three sentences follow on the poem]

   The purchase of a car in 1932 and Tolkien’s subsequent mishaps while driving it led him to write another children’s story, ‘Mr Bliss’.  This is the tale of tall thin man who lives in a tall thin house, and who purchases a bright yellow automobile for five shillings, with remarkable consequences (and a number of collisions).  The story was lavishly illustrated by Tolkien in ink and coloured pencils, and the text was written out by him in a fair hand, the whole being bound in a small volume.  [Five sentences follow on Mr. Bliss.]


¶ 38


Carpenter, 166-167:

   The lavish nature of Tolkien’s illustrations for Mr. Bliss, which is essentially a children’s book, demonstrated just how seriously Tolkien took the business of painting and drawing, a skill that he had enjoyed as a child and continued to develop as an adult.  His storytelling and illustrating talents were also combined in an annual letter from Father Christmas; beginning in 1920, when John was just three years old and the family was about to move to Leeds, Tolkien wrote a letter in shaky handwriting signed “Yr loving Fr Chr.  Although Tolkien began simply enough, he soon expanded his annual Father Christmas letter until a host of other characters were included, such as Polar Bear, an Elf named Ilbereth, the Snow Man, gnomes, snow elves, and even a horde of goblins who lived in caves beneath Father Christmas’s house.  Tolkien would write an account of recent events at the North Pole, often at the last minute before Christmas; the letters were written in Father Christmas’s shaky handwriting, Ilbereth’s flowing script, or the rune-like capitals of Polar Bear.  Tolkien would then add drawings, address the envelope (often adding “By gnome-carrier.  Immediate haste!” to the envelope), paint and cut out a realistic North Pole stamp, then deliver it.  The simplest way of delivering it was by leaving it in the fireplace—he would make various odd noises in the early morning and leave a snowy footprint on the carpet to “prove  the letter had been left by Father Christmas.  Later, he involved the local postman as his accomplice, and the latter would deliver the letter with the rest of family mail.  Each of Tolkien’s children went on believing the letters were genuine until they reached adolescence and found out, through deduction or by accident, that their father wrote the letters, but nothing was ever said so that the younger children could continue believing the letters were real.

  The fact that ‘Mr Bliss’ was so lavishly illustrated – was constructed indeed around the pictures – is an indication of how seriously Tolkien was taking the business of drawing and painting.  He had never entirely abandoned this childhood hobby, and during his undergraduate days he illustrated several of his own poems, using watercolours, coloured inks or pencils, and beginning to develop a style that was suggestive of his affection for Japanese prints and yet had an individual approach to line and colour.  [Three sentences follow on Tolkien’s drawing.]


[One interceding paragraph on Tolkien’s drawing.]


   Tolkien’s talents as a storyteller and an illustrator were combined each December, when a letter would arrive for the children from Father Christmas.  In 1920 when John was three years old and the family was about to move to Leeds, Tolkien had written a note to his son in shaky handwriting signed ‘Yr loving Fr. Chr..  From then onwards he produced a similar letter every Christmas.  From simple beginnings the ‘Father Christmas Letters’ expanded to include many additional characters such as the Polar Bear who shares Father Christmas’s house, the Snow Man who is Father Christmas’s gardener, an elf named Ilbereth who is his secretary, snow-elves, gnomes, and in the caves beneath Father Christmas’s house a host of troublesome goblins.  Every Christmas, often at the last minute, Tolkien would write out an account of recent events at the North Pole in the shaky handwriting of Father Christmas, the rune-like capitals used by the Polar Bear, or the flowing script of Ilbereth.  Then he would add drawings, write the address on the envelope (labelling it with such superscriptions as ‘By gnome-carrier.  Immediate haste!’) and paint and cut out a highly realistic North Polar postage stamp.  Finally he would deliver the letter.  This was done in a variety of ways.  The simplest was to leave it in the fireplace as if it had been brought down the chimney, and to cause strange noises to be heard in the early morning, which together with a snowy footprint on the carpet indicated that Father Christmas himself had called.  Later the local postman became an accomplice and used to deliver the letters himself, so how could the children not believe in them?  Indeed they went on believing until each in turn reached adolescence and discovered by accident or deduction that their father was the true author of the letters.  Even then, nothing was said to destroy the illusion for the younger children.


¶ 39


Duriez, 89-90, 101-102, 103-104:

   The early Inklings meetings listened to at least part of The Hobbit being read aloud.  Tolkien had begun this tale one day whilst marking School Certificate examination papers.  An examinee had left a blank page in the paper, and on it Tolkien wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”  The story developed from there, and Tolkien’s eldest sons, John and Michael, remembered being told the story in an oral form initially, like so many of Tolkien’s other stories that eventually found their way into print.  When The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937 (complete with Tolkien’s own illustrations), it had a print run of 1,500 copies; it sold well, and his publisher, Stanley Unwin of George Allen & Unwin, promptly requested a sequel.  In the spring of the previous year, Tolkien and Lewis had agreed that there was a need for more stories like The Hobbit, and they arranged that Lewis would write a space story whilst Tolkien wrote a time-travel story.  Tolkien began a story called “The Lost Road,” in which a special father-and-son relationship is repeated throughout history, with the pair being linked to Númenor, the Atlantis-like island of Middle-earth that was destroyed and whose survivors went on to found Gondor and Arnor.  Tolkien abandoned the story after just four chapters, although he had shown them to Unwin before abandoning them, offering the story as a possible sequel to The Hobbit.  The early chapters were almost certainly read aloud to the Inklings since Lewis misspells Númenor as Numinor in his own stories Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  About the same time that he was writing “The Lost Road,” Tolkien also wrote the “Ainulindalë,” which is called “The Music of the Ainur” in The Silmarillion volume.  In it Morgoth is one of the Valar rebels against Ilúvatar, but his rebellion is incorporated into the conception and creation of Middle-earth.

  The Hobbit was eventually published on September 21, 1937, complete with Tolkien’s own illustrations; the initial printing was fifteen hundred copies.  W.H. Auden, when he reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring for the New York Times on October 31, 1954, wrote: “in my opinion, The Hobbit is one of the best children’s stories of this century.”

   Though Tolkien probably began writing the book in 1930, his eldest sons, John and Michael, remembered the story being told to them before the 1930s.  Perhaps various oral forms of the story merged into the more finished written draft.  What is significant from these indistinct memories is that The Hobbit began as a tale told by a father to his children.  [Four sentences follow on The Hobbit.]


[Eleven intervening pages.]


   The story Tolkien had begun writing shortly after the challenge from Lewis was entitled “The Lost Road,” and it explored the idea of an unusual father-and-son relationship that repeats itself at various times in history.  [Nine sentences follow on the plot of “The Lost Road”.]  Númenor’s fate plays an important role in the history of Middle-earth, because the noble race of humans fleeing its destruction go on to found the great kingdoms of Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south of Middle-earth.

   Tolkien abandoned the story after writing only four chapters and some notes on plot and development.  [Five sentences follow on Tolkien’s idea of the “lost road” to the West.]

   “The Lost Road,” as far as it went, was most likely read to the Inklings.  If so they would have pointed out the difficulties it presented to a contemporary reader.  Lewis certainly heard it read aloud, because Tolkien himself explained that this is why Lewis misspelled some of the names or echoed them in his science-fiction stories Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  Tolkien wrote of his own influence on Lewis’s stories in a letter to Roger Lancelyn Green, explaining that “Numinor” was Lewis’s version of a name he had only heard from Tolkien’s reading—Númenor.


[Five intervening paragraphs on Tolkien’s influence.]


   A further influence upon Lewis may have been The Ainulindalë.  Tolkien was reworking this beautiful cosmological myth during the 1930s (probably including the time during which he wrote “The Lost Road), and is likely to have shared it at some stage with Lewis.  In The Silmarillion, this is “The Music of the Ainur” (the Ainur—or Valar—are the angelic beings behind creation).  [Five sentence follow on Biblical parallels.]  The rebellion of Morgoth (a figure like the fallen angel, Lucifer) is incorporated into the music and works out throughout the invented history of Middle-earth, becoming a central theme in Tolkien’s work, for instance, in the rise of Sauron, Morgoth’s greatest servant.  [Four sentences follow on Ainur in Silmarillion and LotR.]


¶ 40


Duriez, 106:

   By December 1937, Tolkien had begun to write the sequel to The Hobbit, although The Lord of the Rings took another seventeen years to write and publish.  The Lord of the Rings is, to a greater extent than The Hobbit, intimately related to Tolkien’s work teaching Old and Middle English.  As a philologist, Tolkien was engaged in constructing earlier forms of English words and in linking them to modern forms.  In a similar manner, Tolkien created Quenya and Sindarin, the two Elvish languages.  He felt that a language needed a people to speak it, and he began to link the languages to the poems he had already written, such a The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, and the poem about Beren and Lúthien.  Out of them developed the “Silmarillion” material that told of the earlier ages of Middle-earth and led to the development of the tale published as The Lord of the Rings.

   As we have seen, Tolkien’s work teaching Early and Middle English was intimately related to his construction of the languages, peoples, and history of Middle-earth.  From his creation of Elven language he had gone on to invent a fantasy world as if it were a forgotten world he had unearthed from the ancient past of northern Europe.  This was patterned on his professional construction, as a philologist, of dim and distant contexts and earlier forms from vestiges of actual old languages like Early English.


¶ 41


Duriez, 63:

   Whilst Tolkien was writing the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings, he read a new story, Farmer Giles of Ham, rather than his promised academic paper on fairy stories (which was not complete), to an undergraduate society at Worcester College.  Whilst Farmer Giles of Ham is suitable for children, it feels like an adult story, which is probably why Tolkien considered it an adequate substitute for the unfinished academic paper.  Farmer Giles of Ham was not published until 1949 because Unwin did not originally consider it long enough to publish on its own, and Tolkien had nothing to go with it that was also written for adults.  The tale is fairly light hearted and was received well by the Lovelace Society.  It is subtitled “The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord of Tame, Count of Worminghall and King of the Little Kingdom” and begins with a pseudo-scholarly foreword about its alleged authorship, its translation from the Latin, and an explanation of the extent of the “Little Kingdom,” in the dark period before the days of King Arthur, in the valley of the Thames.

   Early in 1938 Tolkien read a new story, Farmer Giles of Ham, to an undergraduate society at Worcester College, instead of the announced academic paper on fairy stories, which was not yet ready.  Though suitable for children, it feels its way towards being an adult story, which is why perhaps Tolkien saw it as an adequate substitute for the academic paper.  Not published until 1950, this lighthearted short story is subtitled, “The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord of Tame, Count of Worminghall and King of the Little Kingdom.”  It begins with a mock-scholarly foreword about its supposed authorship, translation from Latin, and the extent of the “Little Kingdom” in “a dark period of the history of Britain,” before the days of King Arthur, in the valley of the Thames.


¶ 42


Duriez, 63:

   This story, though superficially different from the tales of Middle-earth, is characteristically Tolkienian in its themes.  The inspiration for the story was linguisticit provides a spoof explanation of the name of an east Oxfordshire village, Worminghall, which Tolkien used to visit with his family when they owned a car.  There are similarities between the Little Kingdom of Farmer Giles and the Shire, particularly in Giles’s sheltered, homely life.  He is like a complacent hobbit, though, like Bilbo and Frodo, he has unexpected qualities.  The humorous tone, together with the pseudo-scholarship, is echoed in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which was not published until 1962.

   This humorous story, though on the surface very different from the tales of Middle-earth, is characteristic of Tolkien in its themes.  The story’s inspiration is linguistic: it provides a spoof explanation for the name of an actual village east of Oxford, a favorite of Tolkien’s, called Worminghall, near Thame.  The Little Kingdom has similarities with The Shire, particularly Farmer Giles’s sheltered and homely life.  He is like a complacent hobbit, with unexpected qualities.  The humor – with its mock scholarship – is similar to that in the book of hobbit verses, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, not published until 1962.


¶ 43


Duriez, 121-122:

   As Tolkien laboured through the weary years of the Second World War, worrying about his sons Michael and Christopher, who were serving overseas, and struggling to manage on the meager rations imposed on Britain, he occasionally found his progress on The Lord of the Rings halted.  During one such hiatus, he wrote an incredibly personal story; unusually, he wrote it as an allegory.  Published in the January 1945 issue of the Dublin Review, “Leaf by Niggle” is the tale of the painter, Niggle, who must make a journey, and it suggests a link between reality and artistic endeavour.  It also suggests that even in Heaven there will be opportunities for the artist to add a touch to the created world.  Niggle the painter represents Tolkien the perfectionist, who niggled away at his work, revising and polishing it to the extent that he was often reluctant to allow it to be published.  The tale can apply to any artist who procrastinates over work.  Once Leaf by Niggle was written, Tolkien returned to working on The Lord of the Rings, further aided by the encouragement of Lewis.

   Sometimes in the long, weary war years, progress halted on the writing of The Lord of the Rings.  During one such hiatus an intensely personal story was born.  Uncharacteristically, Tolkien wrote it as an allegory.  Leaf by Niggle was a purgatorial story, perhaps under the influence of Williams’s fascination with Dante’s Purgatory.  Williams’s novel Descent into Hell (1937) had a purgatorial theme, as had Lewis’s The Great Divorce and Williams’s All Hallows Eve, both written in the war years.

   Leaf by Niggle was published in January 1945 in The Dublin Review, but written some time before.  Niggle, a little man and artist, knew that he would one day have to make a Journey.  Many matters got in the way of his painting, such as the demands of his neighbor, Mr. Parish, who had a lame leg.


[Five intervening paragraphs summarize story of Niggle.]


   Tolkien’s little story suggests the link between art and reality.  Even in heaven there will be room for the artist to add his or her own touch to the created world.  The allegorical components could be interpreted as follows, much as suggested by Tom Shippey in his groundbreaking study, The Road to Middle-earth: Niggle’s journey represents death.  Niggle the painter stands for Tolkien the fastidious writer.  The way he paints leaves rather than trees represents Tolkien’s perfectionism, and his ability to be easily distracted.  [Thirteen sentences follow on allegorical interpretation.]

   This pattern of interpretation emphasizes the autobiographical aspect of the story.  The tale has equal applicability to the artist in general, however.  In particular, there is poignancy to the unfinished nature of Niggle’s work.  This inability turned out to be true of Tolkien’s own work on “The Silmarillion.”  Yet there was hope for him in recognizing that this is part of the human condition, brought about by an ancient fall.  After completing Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien was able to resume his work on The Lord of the Rings, aided by Lewis’s fervent encouragement.


¶ 44


Duriez, 125-126:

   There was another hiatus in the writing of The Lord of the Rings in 1946; the story had stalled at the end of what would become The Two Towers.  Tolkien used the pause to begin writing another time-travel story, “The Notion Club Papers,” which had the following light-hearted title:


Beyond Lewis


Out of the Talkative Planet

Being a fragment of an apocryphal Inkings’ saga,

Made some by some imitator at some time in the 1980s

   The writing of The Lord of the Rings had temporarily dried up after reaching the end of what became The Two Towers, the second volume of the trilogy.  He had returned to the challenge set long before by Lewis of writing a story of time travel, and he called it The Notion Club Papers.  Warren recorded later the gist of one of the meetings at which Tolkien read from the story in his diary.  He read on this occasion to a small gathering of the Inklings: to his son Christopher, and the Lewis brothers.  Before Tolkien began, Lewis had read a poem on Paracelsus’s view of gnomes, then “Tollers” read “a magnificent myth which is to knit up and concludes his Papers of the Notions Club” – on the downfall of Númenor.  An early draft had a lighthearted title page:


Beyond Lewis


Out of the Talkative Planet

Being a fragment of an apocryphal Inklings’ saga,

made by some imitator at some time in the 1980s.


¶ 45


Duriez, 129:

   Christopher Tolkien, in Sauron Defeated, suggests that the story was intended as a mock commentary on Lewis’s work, much as Lewis himself had produced a mock commentary on The Lay of Leithian many years earlier.  Unsurprisingly, “The Notion Club Papers,” which used material from the unfinished story, “The Lost Road,” was never finished, as Tolkien went back to working on The Lord of the Rings.  Unfortunately, Tolkien’s reading of chapters of The Lord of the Rings came to an end in the spring of 1947, when Hugo Dyson began to veto further readings.  Tolkien was, therefore, obliged to put it aside if Dyson was at a meeting or meet separately with Lewis (and occasionally his brother Warren, Charles Williams, or both) to continue the readings.

   It is clear from Tolkien’s Letters that the Inklings provided valuable and much-needed encouragement as he struggled to compose The Lord of the Rings.  This sadly came to an end when, around the spring of 1947, Dyson started exercising a veto against the reading of further installments (though Tolkien continued to read when Dyson was absent).


¶ 46


Duriez, 139-142:

   The Lord of the Rings was completed by the autumn of 1949, with much of the final writing and revision being completed whilst Tolkien was staying at the Oratory School in Berkshire in the summer of 1949.  Tolkien had revised it to ensure it was internally consistent, and he typed it out in a fair copy; all that remained to be done at that time was to complete the appendices on language, history, calendars, peoples, and so on.  However, the publication of the tale was delayed repeatedly, partly because Tolkien wanted George Allen & Unwin to publish the “Silmarillion” at the same time as The Lord of the Rings, which the publisher was reluctant to do.  Late in 1949, Tolkien offered both the “Silmarillion” and The Lord of the Rings to Milton Waldman at William Collins.  Initially enthusiastic, executives at Collins changed their minds about publishing the two books when they discovered the full extent of the text.  Eventually, in June 1952, Tolkien offered The Lord of the Rings back to George Allen & Unwin unconditionally, accepting that they did not wish to publish the “Silmarillion” at that point and that to have something published was better than to have nothing published.  They decided to split the tale into three volumes, partly for economic reasons because paper was still rationed and partly because they were uncertain how well it would sell.  This latter concern led them to offer Tolkien a contract that gave him a share in the profits, rather than the usual percentage royalty payment.  Neither party knew at the time that such a contract would be far more financially beneficial to Tolkien.  The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings were published in July and November of 1954 and October 1955; the final volume was delayed by Tolkien’s struggle to produce the promised appendices.  The book was astonishingly successful, despite the critical mauling it received from reviewers, many of whom preferred to lampoon Lewis’s dust jacket endorsement instead of discussing the book itself.

As Narnia came into being, The Lord of the Rings drew near to its completion, to Tolkien’s great satisfaction.  It had proved a long, painstaking task. The writing and overall revision for internal coherence was completed by the fall of 1949.  Only the extensive appendices remained.  [Five sentences follow on Tolkien’s recollections of finishing LotR in BBC interview.]  Much of the final writing and revision for consistency was accomplished in the tranquility of the Oratory School in Berkshire, which had moved from its original location in Birmingham.  Tolkien stayed there in a master’s room for much of the long vacation in the summer of 1949.  It was a fitting environment for his task – part of his childhood had been spent in the vicinity of the Oratory School.

   Publication by George Allen & Unwin had to be delayed for a number of years for complex reasons.  The main reason was Tolkien’s wish to publish the still unfinished “The Silmarillion” at the same time.  Late in 1949 Tolkien had sent Milton Waldman at William Collins a large manuscript, much of it hand-written, of the unfinished work.  In February the next year Waldman expressed an interest in “The Silmarillion,” but later Collins changed its mind when the full implications of trying to publish the vast work became clearer.  Perhaps the only benefit of this unfortunate delay was that in 1951 Tolkien wrote a ten-thousand-word letter to Waldman explaining “The Silmarillion,” a document that is one of the best keys to the work.  Eventually, on June 22, 1952, Tolkien offered The Lord of the Rings unconditionally to George Allen & Unwin – who were enthusiastic and sent Raynor Unwin, Stanley Unwin’s son, to Oxford to pick up the original, and only, manuscript on September 9, 1952.  Because of its length it was decided to publish the book in three parts.  [Two sentences follow on publishing history.]  In November 1952 Tolkien signed a contract for the book which specified a share in any profits rather than the usual percentage royalty of sales.  This was because the publishers expected the ambitious publication to take a loss!  When the first edition eventually appeared it bore the simple dedication “To the Inklings.”


[Three intervening paragraphs on Tolkien’s recordings from LotR and on Lewis’s cover blurb.]


Both Tolkien and his publisher feared that using Lewis was a risk, especially with his arcane reference to Ariosto, alluding to his Orlando Furioso, and they were not surprised at the reaction of some reviewers to the first two volumes.  In a letter to Raynor Unwin on September 9, 1954, Tolkien spoke about the remarkable animosity, as he saw it, that Lewis excited “in certain quarters.”  Lewis, he said, had warned him many years before that his support might do Tolkien as much harm as good.  He had not taken this point until now.  However, he told his publisher, he wished to be associated with Lewis despite any negative reaction to his endorsement.  It was only because of Lewis’s friendship and support that he struggled to the end of the labor of writing The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien remarked that many reviewers had preferred lampooning Lewis’s endorsement or his review in Time and Tide to reading the book.  The Lewis review began enthusiastically, “This book is like lightning from a clear sky.”  It was, Lewis added, “the conquest o new territory.”


¶ 47


Duriez, 164, 170:

   In 1959, at the age of sixty-seven, Tolkien retired from his university duties.  Since he had never given the traditional inaugural lecture as Merton Chair of English Language and Literature, he delivered instead a valedictory address on June 5, 1959.  In it he mentioned how much he disliked the separation of language and literature.  Tolkien went back to working on the “Silmarillion” material, and in the 1960s he was aided by Clyde S. Kilby, an American scholar who had befriended both Tolkien and Lewis.  Kilby spent the summer of 1966 helping Tolkien arrange the “Silmarillion” material, although it remained incomplete.  Aware of the possibility that he would never finish it, Tolkien arranged with his third son, Christopher, that he would deal with it if Tolkien died with it still incomplete.

   A new phase of his life started with his retirement in 1959, at the age of sixty-seven, from his university duties.  He had not given an inaugural lecture for his Merton Chair.  Instead, on June 5, 1959, he delivered a “Valedictory Address” as the departing Merton Professor of English Language and Literature.  He said, “Philology is the foundation of humane letters.”  Referred to his birth in South Africa he added: “I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones; and most of all I detest the segregation or separation of Language and Literature.  I do not care which of them you think White.”


[Five intervening pages.]


[Following seven sentences on Letters to Malcolm: ]  He was more receptive to an anthology of quotations from Lewis’s work, arranged thematically, sent to him by its compiler, Clyde S. Kilby, an American scholar who had befriended Tolkien and Lewis, and spent the summer of 1966 helping him with his arrangement of the material making up the still-unfinished “The Silmarillion.”  [Three sentences follow on Lewis’s posthumous writings.]


¶ 48


Duriez, 170-171:

   In 1967, Tolkien wrote his last short story published during his lifetime: Smith of Wootton Major.  This short story traces the relationship between the primary world and the world of Faery, and, as a result, complements Tolkien’s 1939 lecture “On Fairy-Stories.”  At first, Smith of Wootton Major appears deceptively simple, but whilst children can enjoy it, it is not intended as a children’s story.  Tolkien described it as the book of an old man already weighed down by omens of bereavement. The story, and Tolkien’s comments, seems to indicate that he expected his imagination to dry up and his ideas to run out.  Smith of Wootton Major, like Farmer Giles of Ham, has an undefined medieval setting, and the villages of Wootton Minor and Major appear to have been transplanted directly from the Shire, although they are representative of the Oxfordshire and Berkshire villages through which Tolkien and his family used to drive when the children were small.

   Around this time Tolkien wrote his last story published during his life, Smith of Wootton Major (1967).  This short story complements his essay “On Fairy Stories” in tracing the relationship between the world of Faery and the primary world we experience.  The story seems deceptively simple at first, but, though children can enjoy it, it is not a children’s story.  Tolkien described it as “an old man’s book, already weighted with the presage of ‘bereavement.’”  It was as if, like Smith in the story of the Elven star, Tolkien expected his imagination to come to an end; it was a time of self-doubt for him.  In a review, Tolkien’s friend and fellow Inkling, Roger Lancelyn Green, wrote of the small book: “To seek for the meaning is to cut open the ball in search of its bounce.”  Like Farmer Giles of Ham, the story has an undefined medieval setting.  The villages of Wootton Major and Minor could have come straight out of the hobbits’ Shire.  [Seven sentences follow on plot of Smith.]


¶ 49


Carpenter, 253, 255, 257:

   In 1968, partly in an attempt to escape the attentions of increasing numbers of fans of The Lord of the Rings and partly to make life easier for Edith, who was by now suffering from severe arthritis, Tolkien and Edith moved to Bournemouth, where she had enjoyed taking holidays in the past.  They only lived in Bournemouth for three years, however, as Edith’s health suddenly failed; she was hospitalised in November 1971 with an inflamed gall bladder and died a few days later.  Tolkien was then offered an honorary fellowship at Merton College and rooms in a house owned by the college.  He gratefully moved back to Oxford, and during the final two years of his life he enjoyed travelling to see friends and family and taking holidays.  He was awarded the CBE (Commandor of the British Empire) in the spring of 1972, in which year Oxford University awarded him an honorary doctorate of letters for his contribution to philology, not for The Lord of the Rings, as they made quite clear.  In June 1973, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and he was invited to a number of American universities to receive doctorates, but he preferred not to make such a long journey at his age.  In August 1973, he travelled down to Bournemouth to stay with his friends Denis and Jocelyn Tolhurst.  During the past year he had been suffering from severe indigestion and had been required to follow a restricted diet.  Two days after arriving at the Tolhursts’ home, he began to suffer from pain and was taken to a nearby private hospital, where an acute bleeding gastric ulcer was diagnosed.  Initially, reports were optimistic, but on September 1 he developed a chest infection and died early on September 2, 1973, at the age of eighty-one. Both Tolkien and Edith are buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, north of Oxford, where Edith’s tombstone bears the name “Lúthien” and Tolkien’s bears the name “Beren.”

   Yet on other days he was distressed that time was leaking away so fast with the book still unfinished.  And at the end of 1971 the Bournemouth episode came abruptly to a close.  Edith, aged eighty-two, was taken ill in the middle of November with an inflamed gall-bladder.  She was removed to hospital, and after a few days of severe illness she died, early on Monday 29 November.


[Five intervening paragraphs on life after Edith.]


   These two years of Tolkien’s life were made happy by the honours that were conferred upon him.  He received a number of invitations to visit American universities and receive doctorates, but he did not feel that he could face the journey.  There were also many honours within his homeland.  In June 1973 he visited Edinburgh to receive an honorary degree; and he was profoundly moved when, in the spring of the previous year, he went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with a C.B.E. by the Queen.  But perhaps most gratifying of all was the award in June 1972 of an honorary Doctorate of Letters from his own University of Oxford; not, as was made clear, for The Lord of the Rings, but for his contribution to philology.  Nevertheless at the degree ceremony the speech in his honour by the Public Orator (his old friend Colin Hardie) contained more than one reference to the chronicles of Middle-earth, and it concluded with the hope ‘that in the green leaf, as the Road goes ever on, he will produce from his store Silmarillion and scholarship’.


[Five intervening paragraphs and one intervening letter.]


   Three days after writing this letter, on Tuesday 28 August, he travelled down to Bournemouth to stay with Denis and Jocelyn Tollhurst, the doctor and his wife who had looked after him and Edith while he lived there.

   The end was swift.  On the Thursday he joined in celebrations to mark Mrs Tolhurst’s birthday, but he did not feel well and would not eat much, though he drank a little champagne.  During the night he was in pain, and next morning he was taken to a private hospital where an acute bleeding gastric ulcer was diagnosed.  It so happened that Michael was on holiday in Switzerland and Christopher in France, and neither could have reached his bedside in time, but John and Priscilla were able to come down to Bournemouth to be with him.  At first reports on his condition were optimistic, but by Saturday a chest infection had developed, and early on the Sunday morning, 2 September 1973, he died, aged eighty-one.


¶ 50


Source unidentified.

   Whilst it seems likely that Tolkien would have continued to create his private mythology whether he had moved to Oxford or not, it seems equally likely that his fiction would not have been published without the influence of Oxford and in particular C.S. Lewis.

                                                                  Michele Fry




[Further Reading and See also lists not copied here.]