A gathering of materials—drafts, illustrations, photographs, and the like—related to the great British author, the creator, as the subtitle says, of an entire imaginary world.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1882-1973), the inventor not just of Middle Earth, but also of modern fantasy literature, was a man of parts: scholar, student of European literatures and languages, teacher, invalided soldier, and family man. The centerpiece of his activities for decades was the Bodleian Library at Oxford, where he taught for decades. Bodleian Tolkien archivist McIlwaine returns the favor by assembling a trove of Tolkien-iana from the library’s holdings, from historic and family photographs to decided literary treasures such as Tolkien’s first, much-amended map of The Shire, the location of the Woody End moved about from place to place until settling near the Brandywine Bridge. In the author’s learned extended captions, many moments of discovery await, as when we find Tolkien writing to W.H. Auden about an early lesson in grammar imparted after his mother read a story of his: “My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say ‘a green great dragon,’ but had to say ‘a great green dragon.’ I wondered why, and still do.” Dragons figure prominently, here, of course, as well as all the other characters from Tolkien’s cycle of modern legends, including Gollum, whom Tolkien subtly revised in The Hobbit after giving him an evil backstory in the succeeding Lord of the Rings trilogy. McIlwaine’s assemblage provides fascinating hints into the development of Tolkien and his work. A pre–World War I painting of his, for example, prefigures the dark, spidery woods that Bilbo and company would enter 20 years later, while his studies of Old Norse literature would inform his story cycle and the languages its figures spoke.
Richly illustrated and dense with information: Tolkien fans could have no better companion.