Tolkien exhibit looks into a vast imagination

In 1930 J.R.R. Tolkien, a veteran of the trenches in World War I and by then a professor at Oxford University, was marking student papers when he noticed that one of the exam books had a blank page at the end.

On that page he wrote: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

That began a remarkable literary adventure that seven years later produced The Hobbit. It took another 17 years for the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to appear.

What those works and others by Tolkien showed was a vast imagination that created a world into which millions of readers would get lost.

Where did all that was involved in the Middle-earth realm come from? What were the roots and routes of his imagination? Serious readers have pondered those questions for many years.

Some of the answers may be found at an exhibit of Tolkien-related artifacts — maps, drawings, manuscripts, and personal items — that will give readers a clue as to how the mind of this literary magician worked. The exhibit has opened at the Weston Library in Oxford, England. It is the first such exhibit in more than 25 years and will be open until October. After that, it’s coming to New York and then to Paris.

The exhibit has been reviewed by The Guardian, which you can read here: How Tolkien created Middle-earth | Books | The Guardian

It is all too easy to believe in the myth of the professor as the one true god of a world he knew in its entirety. The truth, however, is more complex. Tolkien was not always sure of himself. A notebook page reveals that Gandalf once had the Elvish name Bladorthin, meaning grey wanderer. Gandalf, it turns out, was the original name of Thorin Oakenshield. Tolkien flickers between names in the text, as if torn. “He spoke about sub-creation,” McIlwaine says, “and I think this tied into his religious beliefs that all talents and gifts come from God. God is the one creator, and what we do is in imitation of that. Tolkien was a very humble man.”

So, if you are a citizen of Middle-earth, you might want to check out these links or even try to see the exhibit yourself. You’ll probably understand a bit more about where you came from.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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