Tolkien Collector's Guide

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BnF avant-première vernissage

Oct 21 - By Urulókë

On Sunday evening I had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure of being a guest at the private opening ceremony for the “Tolkien, Voyage en Terre du Milieu” exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

I will save my full review of the exhibition for a future post after digesting everything and visiting a few more times, but I can immediately say - this exhibition is breathtaking in scope, with innovative layout and contextual exhibits mixed in, and overwhelming in design and sheer quantity and quality of materials selected. It is very different from the Bodleian and Morgan exhibitions “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth”. There is likely never again going to be an opportunity to see the Aubusson tapestries hanging side by side with the original artwork (and often draft sketches) for example.

Spending a few hours absorbing the exhibition and talking to curators, scholars and members of the Tolkien family about it will remain a treasured memory for me. You will definitely form your own treasured memories from your visit as well. This is not an exhibition to be missed.


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The Sundering Seas - an interview with William Fliss on the eve of the BnF Tolkien exhibition

Oct 18 - By Urulókë

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Book 1, Chapter 1, "A Long-Expected Party", 1939, Marquette University © The Tolkien Estate Limited/The Tolkien Trust 2019-2020, used with permission



Across the Atlantic, the curators and staff at the Bibliothèque nationale de France are putting the final touches on the exhibition this weekend. As many of us prepare to travel to Paris for the opening events, I took a few minutes to ask some questions of William Fliss. Bill is the Archivist at Marquette, where a significant portion of Tolkien's artwork and manuscripts are kept and from where many of the materials that will be on display next week were loaned.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became the archivist at Marquette?



I am a Wisconsin native. My academic background is in History. I have been at Marquette for 16 years. I came here as a part-time, limited-term project archivist to process the papers of Tommy G. Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin. Over time the position evolved into a full-time, permanent position. I began working with the Tolkien Collection in 2012 when the former curator and head of special collections left for a position elsewhere and I assumed the role of interim curator. I was doing so well that our new department head decided to make my curatorial role permanent. I have enjoyed working with the Tolkien Collection for the past 7 years. It has allowed me to meet a lot of interesting people. I was a Tolkien fan from an early age and so I knew the published works well, but I have had to learn an enormous amount about the collection. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. I did not come to Marquette to work with Tolkien. It just turned out that way.

How large is the Marquette Tolkien collection, and how often do items from it get shown publicly?



Marquette’s collection encompasses the original manuscripts purchased in 1957 as well as a vast gathering of secondary sources that document Tolkien Scholarship & Fandom. The manuscripts are the heart of the collection, of course, and represent four of Tolkien’s fictional works: The Hobbit (1937), Farmer Giles of Ham (1949), The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), Mr. Bliss (1982-posthumous). The entire manuscript collection, encompassing all four works, amounts to over 11,000 pages of material. See the question below for more on the public showings.

What projects are you working on to grow the Marquette archives, and to make it more accessible to scholars and other visitors?



There is a lot going on with the Tolkien Collection right now. We have three major projects underway right now. The first is a reprocessing of the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings to integrate additional manuscripts that Christopher Tolkien sent from 1987-1997 with the original shipment of Rings manuscripts that arrived in Milwaukee from Professor Tolkien in 1958. This is being done digitally, and I hope it will make the collection easier to navigate and understand for scholars visiting Marquette. Second, we are building a site called FellowsHub where we are cataloging and publishing digitized Tolkien content from historic fanzines. Third, we have begun a project called The Tolkien Fandom Oral History Collection that captures 3-minute interviews from Tolkien fans sharing their experiences.

What do you feel is unique or special about the BnF exhibition?



The scale of the exhibition. It will be huge, especially with the inclusion of the Aubusson Tolkien Tapestries, which I am very much looking forward to seeing in person. Marquette has never loaned this many manuscript leaves to another institution since Tolkien’s death in 1973. The BnF borrowed over five times the number of manuscripts that we loaned for the “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries last year which also showed in New York City at the The Morgan Museum & Library earlier this year.

About how many items did Marquette send to Paris for this exhibition?



We loaned 80 leaves from the collection to the BnF. A leaf can contain more than one ‘page’ if there is something on the verso, but usually only one of the pages is showing if the leaf is lying in a display case or mounted on a wall. The breakdown of leaves is:

  • The Hobbit – 8 leaves
  • Farmer Giles of Ham – 3 leaves
  • The Lord of the Rings – 58 leaves
  • Mr. Bliss – 11 leaves

  • Most of the Mr. Bliss leaves are folded folios that can contain up to four pages. They borrowed about 2/3 of that entire work.

    Do you have a favorite or particularly meaningful exhibit from Marquette that you are excited will be widely visible to to the public next week? How about from the Bodleian or the BnF collections?



    Among the items we loaned is a page of plot notes from early in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote the name ‘Sam Gamgee’ in pencil in the margin of the notes. It seems to be the earliest mention of Sam in the manuscripts. It gives me chills to think that when I am looking at that page I am witnessing in a sense the birth of Sam who is such an iconic character, much admired by Tolkien fans around the world. I cannot answer your second question because I have not seen lists of what they have contributed. I am looking forward to being surprised and delighted.

    Are there items in the Marquette archive that are too fragile to travel to exhibitions such as this one?



    Not really. From a condition standpoint, everything was an option.

    Do you have future exhibitions or showings planned for any of the Tolkien materials in the Marquette archives?



    Eight times a year I do public showings of selected manuscripts from the collection. I will also do showings for classes that visit, both from within Marquette University and from outside educational institutions as well. In terms of outside exhibitions, there is nothing scheduled right now. From a preservation standpoint one does not want the manuscripts to travel too much! I suspect there will be future showings.




    Thank you very kindly to Bill for answering these questions, for years of support and friendship with the Tolkien community, and for all his effort to support the BnF in this exhibition. For more information about the exhibition, see

    The TolkienGuide page for BnF news

    and

    The BnF page for "Tolkien, Voyage en Terre de Milieu" (in French)
    or The BnF page for "Tolkien, Voyage en Terre de Milieu" (in English)

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    Earliest sketch of Minas Tirith, October 1944, Marquette University © The Tolkien Estate Limited/The Tolkien Trust 2019-2020, used with permission

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    BnF Exhibition preparations

    Oct 17 - By Urulókë

    The Bibliothèque nationale de France exhibition "Tolkien, Voyage en Terre du Milieu" (Journey to Middle-earth) is in the final stages of preparation to open for the public Tuesday October 22nd. The exhibition catalogue has officially been released today, and copies are being shipped to those who pre-ordered.

    Tickets are available to book online from the exhibition website, for those who are planning to visit. If you don't book in advance, there may be a wait before you are able to enter.

    Here for your enjoyment are a few pictures of the preparations being made. I'm excited to travel this weekend to Paris!

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    © BnF / Béatrice Lucchese, used with permission



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    © BnF / Béatrice Lucchese, used with permission



    bnf sneak peek 3.jpeg

    © BnF / Béatrice Lucchese, used with permission



    bnf sneak peek 4.jpeg

    © BnF / Béatrice Lucchese, used with permission

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    History Revealed May 2019 issue - Tolkien: Mastermind of Middle-earth

    Oct 15 - By Urulókë

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    The May 2019 issue of the magazine History Revealed contains a 6 page article titled "Tolkien: Mastermind of Middle-earth".

    It is a biographical overview of the author, filled with stock photographs of Tolkien, some locales, and a few associated people like Rayner Unwin and C.S. Lewis. The books that are pictured in the "Tales for the ages" section look like they were pulled from auction listings, and not particularly well chosen at that - the Lord of the Rings set has massive watermarks on the box, and The Silmarillion copy is a beaten up paperback for example. I didn't see any pictures in the article that aren't easily available elsewhere.

    The biography itself feels more like a wikipedia article than anything else (without any references for any of the claims baldly laid out). Some gems:

    Then in 1904, his mother succumbed to diabetes. From then on, Tolkien, cheerful and sociable person at heart, could sink into deep despair at the fear of everything beautiful in the world being lost. (p. 32)


    Just before Geoffrey Smith was hit by a shell, he wrote to Tolkien the poignant words: "May God bless you, my dear John Ronald, and may you say the things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot."
    Tolkien took this to heart and decided it was time - that he had gathered enough 'leaf-mould' - to write a grand mythology on which to ground his invented languages. (p. 33)


    In a sign that they didn't think it would sell well, publishers George Allen & Unwin offered Tolkien a half-share in profits once production expenses had been paid off, and split the novel in three to boost sales. (p. 33)


    The issue is no longer on most newsstand shelves, but is still available through various magazine reseller websites. I would recommend holding off, even to those completists out there, unless one falls in your lap.
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    J.R.R. Tolkien et la bataille de la Somme - Graphic Novel

    Oct 11 - By Urulókë

    Thanks to Druss for pointing out that there is a second French graphic novel that recently came out about Tolkien and World War I.

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    J.R.R. Tolkien et la bataille de la Somme
    Author: Emmanuel Beaudry
    Illustrator: Corentin Lecorsier
    Released: September 2019
    Publisher: À Contresens éditions
    ISBN: 979-10-90408-59-3
    Price: € 18.00

    Again, this is a rough translation of the French description from the publisher:
    Tolkien, a global author, translated in many languages, adapted into multiple films, with millions of fans, in short: a legend! The battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest in history, tens of thousands of victims, crippled, traumatized, soldiers who will never forget and who often will not rebuild completely.

    JRR Tolkien was there. He saw and suffered like the others. Without a doubt, his work was inspired by this dark period that had to be exorcised to continue living, quite simply. Discover the history, the realism, the deafening impression, the tragic and graphic beauty...


    Publisher website

    Amazon.fr page
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