‘Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth’ exhibit opens at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries

Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries is home to the largest collection of original J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world, and on June 1, the Libraries opened to the public an all-new exhibit called Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earthThe exhibit includes “over 200 items — approximately half of which have never been displayed before — from the Bodleian’s extensive Tolkien Archive and Marquette University’s Tolkien Collection, as well as from important private collections.”

The exhibition is being hailed as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see this magnitude of Tolkien-related materials together.” If you’re in the area and enjoy any of Tolkien’s works, from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion, this looks like a must-visit:

The various manuscripts, artworks, maps, letters and artefacts have been gathered from the UK, the US and France, and many will be reunited in Oxford for the first time since the death of JRR Tolkien more than 40 years ago, in a city where Tolkien spent most of his adult life, first as a student of classics in 1911, and eventually as a professor of English language and literature.

According to the press release from Bodleian Libraries, some of the exhibition highlights include:

Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves, a watercolour that Tolkien painted as an illustration for the first edition of The Hobbit, published in 1937. It went on to be included in numerous other editions of the book. In the image, Bilbo is seen sitting astride a barrel floating down the forest river, having helped the dwarves (who are hidden inside the wine barrels) to escape from the dungeons of the Elvenking. This was Tolkien’s favourite watercolour and he was disappointed to find that it had been omitted from the first American edition. Shelfmark: MS. Tolkien Drawings 29. Credit: © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.

  • Draft manuscripts of The Hobbit showing the evolution of the story displayed alongside striking watercolors, dust jacket designs, line drawings and maps drawn for the publication.
  • Original manuscripts of The Lord of The Rings along with dust jacket designs and beautiful watercolors.
  • Original manuscripts of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s very earliest work on the legends of the elves, which was unfinished during his lifetime and then published posthumously by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien.

A portrait of JRR Tolkien taken on 9 Aug 1973. This was the last photograph taken of Tolkien in the Botanic Garden, Oxford, next to his favourite tree, the Pinus Nigra. He died less than a month later. Shelfmark: MS. Tolkien Photogr. 8, fol. 122. Credit: © The Tolkien Trust 1977

  • Photos and letters from Tolkien’s childhood and student days exploring themes of love, loss and war.
  • Letters of appreciation from a wide range of admirers including poet WH Auden, singer Joni Mitchell and author Iris Murdoch.
  • Personal objects that belonged to Tolkien including his art materials (boxes of paints, colored pencils and sealing wax) and his personal library.

This general map of Middle-earth was included in the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, an essential guide for readers navigating through the then unfamiliar world of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. In 1969 Tolkien collaborated with the artist Pauline Baynes to produce a poster map of Middle-earth. His annotations reveal extraordinary details of his conception of his imaginary world, and its association with the real world. The map reveals that Oxford is on the same latitude as Hobbiton. The recently discovered map was acquired by the Bodleian Libraries in 2016. Shelfmark: MS. Tolkien Drawings 132. Credit: © Williams College Oxford Programme & The Tolkien Estate Ltd, 2018.

  • A selection of maps of Middle-earth, including a recently discovered map annotated by Tolkien, which was acquired by the Bodleian in 2016.
  • A specially-commissioned 3-D map of Middle-earth.

As part of the exhibit, Bodleian Libraries has released Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, a “richly illustrated” book spotlighting these and other parts of Tolkien’s work. The hardback will go for £40, while the paperback — available only at Bodleian Library Shops — is priced at £25.

Entrance is free, but you’ll need to book at ticket; you can do so here. Oxford University will host the exhibition until October 28. It will open again at the Morgan Library in New York on January 25, 2019.

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