Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tolkien Archives Field Trip, Part One

On October 26, I led a group of my students on a field trip to see the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Like the Viking ship field trip earlier in the month, the excursion was open to students in my Norse religion class at Carthage College, members of the Carthage College Tolkien Society that I started last year, and students from my class at Chicago’s Newberry Library on “The Hobbit: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mythic Sources.”

Please don't smoke in the library, Professor Tolkien.

The trip was organized by Laura Schmidt, archivist at the Marion E. Wade Center and staff advisor for the Wheaton College Tolkien Society. She kindly invited me to help set up the joint trip for my students from the two institutions and the members of her Wheaton College group.

History & holdings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection

In 1956, Marquette University hired Wales-born William B. Ready as director of libraries and gave him the task of collecting materials for the school’s new Memorial Library, which had been completed in 1953. Ready had come to the United States after World War II and worked at Stanford University before heading Marquette’s libraries. He believed that each institution should have a collection policy focusing on specific specialties. Since Marquette is a Jesuit university, he decided to focus on Roman Catholic writers and set his sights on acquiring the works of Tolkien, a Catholic author then heading into the mania of American popularity that gave rise to the “Frodo Lives!” phenomenon in the 1960s.

In his first year, Ready contacted Tolkien through a London antiquarian book dealer named Bertram Rota. As no institution had ever asked to purchase Tolkien’s manuscripts, the author quickly agreed to sell the material to Marquette for £1500. Using the retail price index, this amount would be approximately £30,000 today, or nearly $50,000. At the time, it was about equal to a year’s salary for Tolkien.

Marquette University's Memorial Library

In 1957, the materials relating to The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham and Mr. Bliss arrived in Wisconsin. Tolkien was scheduled to speak at Marquette during the year that these first manuscripts were delivered but canceled due to his wife’s health issues. In 1958, the manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings arrived. Tolkien canceled another scheduled Milwaukee talk in 1959, again due to his wife’s condition.

In 1965, Tolkien wrote to William A. Fitzgerald, the new library director. The American publisher Ace Books was releasing a pirated paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings, which had only been available in hardcover to that point. Tolkien and his publishers had decided to come out with their own authorized paperback edition to compete with the bootleg. While revising the text for the new publication, Tolkien had found further original manuscripts of the work. He told Marquette’s library director that these manuscripts should come to the archives. However, Christopher Tolkien would eventually use these manuscripts while compiling books six through nine of his monumental History of Middle-earth, and these earliest drafts of The Lord of the Rings would not be forwarded on to Marquette until the 1980s.

Today, the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection is a wonderful resource that holds the original drafts and manuscripts for The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Lord of the Rings. The archives also hold an extensive collection of published editions of Tolkien’s works, books about Tolkien, fan fiction, fanzines and recordings. A permanent display of reproductions of various Tolkien manuscripts and illustrations greets the 800 to 900 people who visit each year, including both fans and researchers.

Although I had hoped to see Tolkien’s manuscripts for The Silmarillion and his original Middle-earth artwork, those are now housed at the Bodleian Library of Oxford University along with his personal and academic papers. The only art in the original sale to Marquette are the marginal drawings Tolkien made on the manuscripts themselves. When temporarily stumped as to how he should describe a locale that his characters had wandered into, Tolkien sometimes sketched the image on the manuscript page in order to crystallize his vision before continuing with the text. Some of these small illustrations are elaborate and colorful enough to give the pages the glamor of illuminated medieval manuscripts.

Bill Fliss and Amy Cooper Cary welcome us to the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection

In addition to Tolkien’s holographs (manuscripts in the author’s own hand), the collection contains typescripts and page proofs with his written corrections. There are nearly 10,000 pages of manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings and over 1,500 pages of The Hobbit. There are 201 pages of manuscripts of Farmer Giles of Ham, originally told by Tolkien as a tale to his family. The collection also holds sixty-one pages of manuscripts for Mr. Bliss, an illustrated children’s book not published until nearly a decade after Tolkien’s death.

Our student group was greeted by archivist Bill Fliss and Amy Cooper Cary, Head of Special Collections and University Archives. They had prepared a wonderful display for our private visit that featured some of the most impressive items in their vast collection. They explained the significance of each piece to the group then answered questions as we slowly filed by to get close-up views of the items. What follows are brief descriptions of the pieces that we saw.

Original printer’s rendering of first edition dust jacket of The Hobbit

The archives hold the early page proofs of The Hobbit – the earliest printed edition in a series of unbound folios, complete with Tolkien’s list of initial corrections of revisions. Always tinkering, Tolkien introduced new text onto supposedly “final” page proofs. Although the archives have Tolkien’s original watercolor and ink illustration for the cover, it has unfortunately been damaged. We were shown the first rendering by the printer.

We saw original printer's rendering, not Tolkien's original art for The Hobbit cover.

Holograph of The Hobbit, Chapter 5: “Riddles in the Dark”

This was a wonderful thing for my students to see. In my Norse religion course, we study the poem Vafþrúðnismál (“Vafthrudnir's Sayings”), which features a wisdom contest between Odin and a wise (yet dangerous) giant that was one of Tolkien’s models for the competition of Bilbo and Gollum. While working on The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien changed some elements of this chapter to line it up with his new conception of Bilbo’s ring as the One Ring in the later book. He sent the updated version of chapter five to his publisher in 1947 but received no reply; the publisher quietly incorporated the changes into the new edition of 1951 without notifying the author.

Original handwritten title page of The Lord of the Rings

On this first draft, the work’s original title – The Magic Ring – is crossed out and changed to the name we know. We also saw a later, more elegantly crafted title page with the final title in both runes and tengwar (Tolkien’s elf-script). Although Tolkien had completed his draft of The Lord of the Rings in 1949, the final version did not see print for another five years.

Page with the “One Ring” poem from The Lord of the Rings

Although Tolkien’s mother had taught him calligraphy, his handwriting is often rushed and illegible. We also saw various drafts that showed different stages in the composition and revision of the poem.

Reproductions of six different versions of the first page of The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien famously wrote his way into his magnum opus. In other words, he did not set out with a clearly defined plan but developed and changed his ideas as he composed the early parts of the book. When Tolkien first introduced the Black Rider, for example, he originally had no idea who the figure was. Eventually, of course, he connected him to Bilbo’s ring.

One of Tolkien's attempts at a first page for The Lord of the Rings

Even Tolkien’s ideas about the ring itself were not solidified early in the writing process, and the idea of a ruling ring only developed slowly. In a 1938 holograph that was shown to us, Tolkien wrote questions and answers as he thought through what the ring could be. One simple but telling question: “Necromancer?”

Months later, possibly in 1939, another of Tolkien’s questions to himself shows the road he was beginning to travel: “Why did Dark Lord desire it so?” Below, in pencil, he wrote a description of the full powers of the ring. As the archivist Bill Fliss remarked to us, this was an aha! moment.

Some chapters, such as the one featuring the introduction of Treebeard, pop out in almost final form. Some characters, such as Faramir, appear out of nowhere in the manuscripts as fully formed products of quick inspiration. In other cases, such as the chapter with Strider’s first appearance, Tolkien agonized over small sections of material for years. Originally, the man known as Strider was a hobbit with the porcine name of Trotter. Not the most epic character, his summation of the Black Riders in an early holograph was, “They give me the creeps.”

Trotter disappeared from the Middle-earth mythology when Tolkien decided to split Boromir into two characters: the Boromir we all know and the Strider who becomes Aragorn. While explaining these changes to the characters, Mr. Fliss referred to Tolkien as “the patron saint of revision.” What is so interesting about the materials in the archives is that visitors can actually watch Tolkien’s creative process as it unfolds over time. By changing Trotter to Strider and creating the backstory of Aragorn, Tolkien was able to connect the character to the fall of Númenor and other older legends of his created world – or, as Tolkien would have said, his sub-created world. As an ardent Catholic intellectual, Tolkien believed that the creator of fictional worlds was a sub-creator, as only the Christian God could truly create.

Drawing of the Doors of Durin

This was an early, less ornate version of the West-gate of Moria than that which appears in The Lord of the Rings. It shows the two trees of Valinor in simpler form than as published, with moons connected to their tops. The hammer blasts little bits of metal from the anvil – a detail not seen in the final version.

Tolkien's early art for the West-gate of Moria

Runes of Balin’s Tomb

Tolkien wrote these on strips of paper with dots between the runic letters, in the style of historical Old Norse runic inscriptions on stone. Translated, they read (as in the published book) “Balin, Son of Fundin, Lord of Moria.” My Norse religion students especially enjoyed seeing this; Tolkien’s dwarvish runes are based on the Anglo-Saxon runic futhorc, and we study runes in class during our unit on Odin.

Pages from the Book of Mazarbul

These were some of the items I was most looking forward to seeing. Tolkien himself created facsimiles of pages from the dwarvish book found by the Fellowship of the Ring as they make their way through the mines of Moria. We saw several drafts of the pages. Tolkien first wrote the text out in English before translating it into dwarvish runes and tengwar script for the facsimiles. Perhaps the nicest element of the simulated pages is the scrawl of the final elf-letters spelling out “They are coming.”

"They are coming."

Tolkien’s great love for Beowulf shines through in these facsimiles. He designed them to look burned, as the pages of the Beowulf manuscript were burned in the fire at the Ashburnham House at Westminster in 1731. Tolkien had worked with facsimiles of the Beowulf manuscript as well as working with the book that St. Boniface held up to defend himself while being martyred. The sword-marks from Boniface’s martyrdom can still be seen on the manuscript. Yes, the same St. Boniface who cut down Thor’s Oak as part of his efforts to convert the heathen Germans. Tolkien was clearly impressed by the sense of history embedded in these ancient manuscripts and sought to create imaginary manuscripts from his own Middle-earth with the same sense of historicity.

Pencil drawing of Orthanc

This was another early drawing, this time of the dark tower used as base of operations by the wizard Saruman during the War of the Ring.

Isengard and Orthanc

Sketches and maps on holograph pages

“Sketch of pass between cliffs (Cirith Ungol)” and “The Tower of Kirith Ungol” (the variant spelling is Tolkien’s) are both small drawings on pages of manuscript text for The Lord of the Rings. As mentioned earlier, Tolkien sometimes drew directly onto his manuscript pages when he was stuck at a point in the story and needed to visualize an element he was trying to describe. While writing the chapter titled “The Ride of the Rohirrim,” Tolkien sketched a map onto the page of text and labeled it “Sketch of Route.” In a 1964 BBC interview, Tolkien said, “I had maps of course. If you're going to have a complicated story you must work to a map, otherwise you can never make a map of it afterwards.”

Holograph of The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter 6: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”

I’ve written before about the role of Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings, so it was very exciting to see the original manuscript of the great scene of battle between Éowyn and the Witch-king of Angmar. We were also shown a pen-written holograph with penciled-over revisions in addition to a typescript with revisions in pen.

Drafts of The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter VIII: “The Scouring of the Shire”

Our hosts picked this particular chapter to show how complicated Tolkien’s writing process could be, and how he continued to change his mind about key elements until the book literally went to the printer. The stages for this particular chapter included:
holograph notes
rough draft
draft in fairer hand
typed version
galley proofs
Galley proofs are usually simply checked by the author for mistakes before going to print. Tolkien, however, used the review process as an opportunity to make a fundamental change to the chapter. He attached a bit of paper to the bottom of one of the pages containing extra text dealing with the death of Saruman. The printed proof read:
Saruman laughed. ‘You do what Sharkey says, always, don’t you, Worm? Well, now he says: follow!’ He kicked Wormtongue in the face as he grovelled, and turned and made off. But at that something snapped: suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead. 
‘And that's the end of that,’ said Sam. ‘A nasty end, and I wish I needn't have seen it; but it’s a good riddance.’
Tolkien’s bit of extra text was meant to be inserted between these two paragraphs. It read:
To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing. 
Frodo looked down at the body with pity and horror, for as he looked it seemed that long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shrivelled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull. Lifting up the skirt of the dirty cloak that sprawled beside it, he covered it over, and turned away.
This is a fairly momentous change to make at the eleventh hour. Without it, Saruman simply dies a mean and pitiful death. With it, Tolkien connects Saruman back to his roots as the Saruman the White, as one of the great wizards sent by the godlike Valar to aid the inhabitants of Middle-earth. His death becomes a moment of weighty tragedy as he turns to the Undying Lands for forgiveness and is denied. I find it one of the most powerful and mythic moments in the book, and I was quite surprised to discover that it was added almost as an afterthought.

An illustration of Saruman in the Shire by Inger Edelfeldt
(Not in the archives, but a great illustration of the scene)

Even more surprisingly, this was not the end of Tolkien’s tinkering with the chapter. The edited galley proofs were followed by an advanced proof copy that Tolkien responded to with a list of changes to be made to the text. The publisher had finally had enough, and the final item in this part of the exhibit was a letter from publisher Rayner Unwin politely but firmly asking Tolkien to hurry up and provide a final version of the chapter so the book could go to press.

To be continued in Part Two.


Anonymous said...

I am super jealous--wish I'd visited when I in that part of the country. I would love to have a chance to teach a course on Tolkien one of these days, but I think I'm too used to approaching him as a fan, rather than as a scholar...

Anonymous said...

Hope I will be able to visit the archives one day. I've had the opportunity of looking at some of this material at the Bodleian but I'd love to see more :)

Thanks for the report, retweeted via @Macrobee and @The_Tolkienist.

Next Post Previous Post Home