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Re: Tolkien Signatures on eBay???
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Jlong and Mithrennaith's comments about the signed copy of The Last Battle are well taken. It is indeed very unlikely that Tolkien would sign one of the Narnia books, that the same copy would also be signed by Lewis, etc. Priscilla Tolkien took up a job in Bristol in 1952, but by 1958 had left there and was attending the London School of Economics, so it's no use bringing her into the question. And yes, there's that blue ink again.

We too have significant doubts about the "Higgins" letters. We've seen no evidence of Higgins, as Tolkien's doctor, friend, or otherwise, outside of the letters offered on eBay. The particular embossed Sandfield Road letterhead appears in none of the letters we've seen from that address -- that is, the address is correct, but the stamp is wholly different in its typeface and arrangement of lines -- or in any letters other than the "Higgins" letters seen online. The fact that the same stamp is used on a "Higgins" letter which refers to Edith Tolkien's death, long after Tolkien had moved from Sandfield Road, is curious, to say the least, and not convincingly explained away as leftover stationery since Tolkien typically struck through addresses when writing from another location, and at the time of Edith's death he had printed letterheads available. The style of typewriting (position, spacing, arrangement and breaks of lines) isn't characteristic of Tolkien, and in general nothing about the "Higgins" items reflects the sense of style and balance Tolkien typically brought to his typed letters. Nor did he tend to leave off dates. The signatures may look good -- with these too, though, we have our doubts -- but the rest doesn't hold together.

Laurel's comments about the provenance badly explained by the seller, and about the supposed letter to Walter Hooper, inspired us to look at the seller's other items being offered on eBay, and a very interesting selection it is. An "abstract watercolour . . . signed Francis Bacon": yes, it's signed "Francis Bacon", but is it by the well-known painter by that name, for whom an original watercolour priced at $295 for Buy It Now would be a serious bargain? The description doesn't say so in definite terms. What about a "double sided oil on canvas . . . signed Roger Fry"? An "abstract oil . . . signed Pollock"? Two ink and watercolour works "signed Aubrey Beardsley" (that is, the legend AUBREY BEARDSLEY is written in ink on a label on the back of the frame)? A letter from the King of Samoa (which could well be genuine in itself) "owned by Robert Louis Stevenson" (the only evidence for which seems to be a separate typewritten note reading FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON)? And it goes on.

Wayne and Christina

Posted on: 2009/11/1 20:54
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Re: Tolkien the spy?
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If you are interested in this area, then I recommend "Enigma" by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, who had a special interest in Bletchley Park as it was his families ancestral home.

A good book, we referred to it when writing our post. Also on our shelves is Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn (1991).

Wayne and Christina

Posted on: 2009/9/24 5:05
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Re: Tolkien the spy?
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Well, we can't expect reporters to actually do research on their subject, can we, W&C? ;)

With an article like this, it's impossible to know if the historian actually gave out this information, or was misunderstood and misquoted by the reporter. Perhaps both!

Readers here who don't also follow the Mythopoeic Society list may be interested in our answer to a question raised by the article: Did Tolkien in fact turn down the cryptography job, or was it that Tolkien wasn't needed for it? We wrote:

The latter seems to be the case -- that is, not yet needed -- according to Carpenter's note in Letters (p. 436), presumably based on materials in Tolkien's private papers (to which we ourselves did not have access), and this is supported by comments Tolkien made in letters to Allen & Unwin on 15 September and 19 December 1939. For some months after the training course in March that year -- we call it a "training course" in our Chronology (p. 226), Carpenter calls it a "course of instruction", the Telegraph article calls it a "tester", presumably it was all an aptitude test of some sort -- Tolkien assumed that he could be called into service by the Foreign Office at any time. He wrote as much to Philip Unwin on 15 September (we passed over the particular remark in our Chronology summary), to the effect that he had agreed to the job in the spring, was not yet summoned to it, but it was an open obligation -- Britain was now at war -- and once he was engaged with it, he did not know how much time it would allow him to devote to outside work. Then on 19 December he wrote to Stanley Unwin (see Letters, p. 44) that he was "uncommandeered still myself, and shall now probably remain so, as there is (as yet) far too much to do here [in the Oxford English School], and I have lost both my chief assistant and his understudy". In the same letter, Tolkien comments on his accident "just before the outbreak of war", on his wife's illness, and that he was now the virtual head of his department, all of which would have been good reasons for the Foreign Office not to call him to work in cryptography at that time -- assuming that he was suited to that work in the first place. His words, at least, give no indication that he turned down a position, but rather that it was a case of what Carpenter says in his note, that Tolkien was informed that "his services would not be required for the present".

The Telegraph article, which followed on a similar one on the This Is Gloucestershire website a day earlier, is frankly a mess. Even had Tolkien gone to work in cryptography, he would not have been a "spy" as the headline has it. Nor was he necessarily "'earmarked' to crack Nazi codes" -- some of the personnel at Bletchley Park were there as language, not cipher, specialists. Its staff were already, before 1939, reading messages enciphered on Enigmas -- the commercial variety if not the more difficult German army and navy Enigmas. The Royal Navy did not exactly use the secret German traffic "to intercept and destroy Hitler's U-Boats", as doing so would have given away the fact that Enigma was not impenetrable. The Lord of the Rings is not, of course, a trilogy -- and we could go on. We agree with our friend Aelfwine, on the Tolkien Collector's Guide website a few days ago, that the notation "keen" beside Tolkien's name on one of the official papers very likely refers to the pronunciation of Tolkien's surname, as opposed to "kine". Tolkien's connection with this part of the war effort was not "revealed for the first time" in the GCHQ exhibition, since it was mentioned in Letters and our Companion and Guide. The GCHQ historian makes the unwarranted assumption that Tolkien "failed to join" because "he wanted to concentrate on his writing career", and the rather silly remark that "perhaps it was because we declared war on Germany and not Mordor"; and then the reporter carries on in the same vein, with statements such as "the director of GCCS, known only as 'Alastair G. Denniston'", as if Alastair Denniston were an unknown figure, when in fact he is well known in the history of British cryptanalysis.

Wayne and Christina

Posted on: 2009/9/20 18:17
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Re: Tolkien the spy?
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See our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, pp. 224 (January 1939, Tolkien agrees to work in the cryptography department of the Foreign Office in the event of war), 226 (27 March 1939, Tolkien begins a four-day training course), 232 (October 1939, Tolkien is informed that he will not be required to work as a cryptographer). See also Letters, note for letter 35, p. 436.

Wayne & Christina

Posted on: 2009/9/16 5:23
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Re: Super-Deluxe Sigurd & Gudrun
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Our copy of the super de luxe edition arrived here in Massachusetts yesterday, 5 June. We had reserved a copy as soon as it was possible to do so, though it's not clear if that affected the copy number received (48). After there was no contact from HarperCollins' customer services as promised by their e-mail of 19 May, we put an order through their website on the 24th. Despite having paid by credit card, and the amount had cleared the bank, on 3 June we received an invoice from HarperCollins for the full amount of the book, plus GBP4.99 postage as expected, as well as a surprise GBP7.44 "DHL Post Charge". On querying this, we were told that the extra charge was in error, and that we would receive the book within 14-21 days. Happily, it didn't take that long, and the book was well wrapped and in a sturdy box. It came by DHL to the U.S., then by regular post.

Wayne & Christina

Posted on: 2009/6/6 20:08
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