Monday, May 01, 2017

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth - an exhibition at the Bodleian

Next year Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will be on display in the Weston Library of The Bodleian Libraries in Oxford between 1 June-28 October 2018.
This exhibition will explore the full breadth of Tolkien’s unique literary imagination from his creation of Middle-earth, the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and his other works are set, to his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.
The exhibition focuses on the creative genius of Professor J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

It's an exhibition which is guaranteed to delight visitors of all ages as well as Tolkien fans and scholars.  It's also the first time, since the 1950s, that literary and visual materials produced by Tolkein - now held in the UK and the USA - will be on display in Oxford.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will feature:
Below are some of the images from The Hobbit (published on 21 September 1937) which will be in the exhibition.

Below is the final design of the dust jacket which many of us will be very familiar with. It's certainly one of the books I remember best reading as a child over 50 years ago. It's also a book which has never been out of print.

Hobbit Dust Jacket
Credit: © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
Tolkien not only illustrated The Hobbit but was also closely involved in its production process. He designed both the dust-jacket and the binding. Tolkien’s notes can be seen around the outside of the image.

Apparently he was very keen to use four colours for the printing of the dust cover: green, blue, black and red but this was too expensive. The note scrawled by the publisher across the  left hand margin says ‘Ignore red’.

Bilbo comes to the huts of the Raft-elves
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
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 Elven King.
This was Tolkien’s favourite watercolour. It's a watercolour which would be regarded as an accomplished illustration from a professional illustrator. Instead it was painted by Tolkein himself who was the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford at the time!

This illustration appeared in the first edition and continued to be included in numerous other editions of the book. However, Tolkien was very disappointed to find that it had been omitted from the first American edition.

Exhibition highlights include:
  • Draft manuscripts of The Hobbit showing the evolution of the story displayed alongside striking watercolours, 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 watercolours
  • Original manuscripts of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s very earliest work on the legends of the elves, which was unfinished during his lifetime and was published posthumously by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien
  • 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, coloured pencils and sealing wax) and his personal library
  • A specially-commissioned 3-D map of Middle-earth
Conversation with Smaug
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937
Bilbo Baggins, rendered invisible by a magic ring,
converses with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug. 
Tolkien painted Conversation with Smaug in 1937 as an illustration for the first American edition of The Hobbit.

There will be more images and artifacts and literary material from across the range of stories and books produced by Tolkien in the exhibition - including some that have been been seen in public before.

A richly illustrated book, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will also be published by Bodleian Library Publishing on 25 May 2018 to accompany the exhibition.

Maybe time to make a date in your online diary?

PS You might like to see Tolkien speaking in this archival footage

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