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Sir Orfeo

8 hours ago - By Trotter

Sir Orfeo


Cover of the 1944 pamphlet - Image from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

The plot is very familiar to Tolkien readers. Sir Orfeo is the King, whose wife disappears. He leaves his kingdom to try and find her, and travels to Faerie. He finds his wife and travels back to his kingdom.

It cannot be said where or when Sir Orfeo was composed with any more precision than probably in the south-east of England in the latter part of the thirteenth century, or early in the fourteenth; and it seems at any rate more probable than not that it was translated from a French original.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien

1944 edition

This is a very rare publication, and to date only five copies are known to exist. The small number of surviving copies may be down to the fact that Tolkien's name does not appear on the pamphlet.

A note inside the Bodleian Library copy indicates that the booklet was reproduced by the University (by mimeograph) before the text, set for English Schools, was formally printed from type. However, the booklet seems to have been the only printing of this text. Another copy, in the English Faculty library at Oxford, contains a note, reported to be in Tolkien's hand, which states that this edition of 'Sir Orfeo' was prepared for the navel cadets' course in English, which Tolkien organized in January 1943 and directed until the end of March 1944.

J.R.R. Tolkien A Descriptive Bibliography Wayne G. Hammond with the assistance of Douglas A. Anderson B18

Fortunately, Tolkien Studies Volume 1 (2004) has an article Sir Orfeo: A middle-English Version By J.R.R. Tolkien (Carl F. Hostetter), which contains the whole of Tolkien's transcription and his notes from the pamphlet, along with some excellent background to the poem. A highly recommended read.

In the MS. Tolkien A33/1 (1) Folios i - 22 at the Bodleian Library are the notes and some typed pages of Tolkien's middle-English version of the poem. The printed notes at the end of the pamphlet are typed in italics. The typed version includes line numbers but the printed pamphlet does not include the line numbers, so was possibly not proofed by Tolkien, as he needed the line numbers to talk about the poem. The numbers were pencilled in or Tolkien's copy.

There are some typed notes on the back of one page of the original typed manuscript, which give an indication that Tolkien may not have liked the poem as much as other middle-English poems.


Academic Copying Office, Oxford - Image from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

A.J. Bliss 1954 edition

An edition of Sir Orfeo was published in 1954 edited by Alan Bliss as part of Oxford English Monographs series of which J.R.R. Tolkien was a general editor. Bliss also thanks Tolkien for his assistance in the book.

Alan Bliss.jpg
Alan Bliss_2.jpg

Sir Orfeo A.J. Bliss London: Oxford University Press - From the Library of Mr. Underhill

1975 edition


Proof edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien - George Allen & Unwin 1975

In 1975 George Allen & Unwin published Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien.

In the Preface

His version of Sir Orfeo was also made many years ago, and had been (I believe) for long laid aside; but he certainly wished to see it published.

I was not able to discover any writing by my father on the subject of Sir Orfeo. Here therefore, in keeping with my general intentions for the book, I have restricted myself to a very brief factual note on the text

Christopher Tolkien, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien - George Allen & Unwin 1975

The obvious difference between the 1944 and 1975 editions are that the 1975 publication is Tolkien's translation to modern English. See page 23 in the Introduction for Christopher's notes.

Further Reading and References

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Tom Ayling - bookseller, collector and Tolkien fan

9 April - By Urulókë

WeVery sad that Mr. Underhill wasn't feeling well at the last minute![1] had an opportunity to chat with Tom Ayling this weekend, have a listen!

1 Very sad that Mr. Underhill wasn't feeling well at the last minute!
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John Boorman and Tolkien

8 April - By Urulókë


In 1970, United Artists had the rights to film The Lord of the Rings, and had a working relationship with director John Boorman who was currently filming Leo the Last for them. Boorman's script never got the green light and the rights eventually were sold on to Saul Zaentz. Many of us are aware of the copy of the script that is held at Marquette, and likely have all breathed many sighs of relief that is never got filmed - it strays far from the books, for example adding a sex scene between Frodo and Galadriel.

While working on the Guide to Tolkien's Letters recently, I was reminded that Boorman had mentioned in various autobiographies that he had corresponded with Tolkieneg in Adventures of a Suburban Boy (2003), p. 179 where Boorman writes "He wrote to me asking how I intended to make it. I explained it would be live action and he was much relieved. He had a dread that it would be an animation film. He was comforted by my reply."[1] , but as far as I was aware there was no other evidence of this - for example, there's no mention in Scull and Hammond's Chronology and Guide. It turns out that a few years ago John Boorman donated a large quantity of his records (letters, faxes, notebooks, scripts and more) from most of his filmmaking career to Indiana University in Bloomington, and there is an entire box of materials for the unfilmed Lord of the Rings project - for example, four versions of the script are there (more on these in the coming months). More important for our Guide, though, are the correspondence. Included in these files are seven letters from Joy Hill to Boorman, five carbon copies of letters from Boorman to Joy, and two carbon copies of letters from Boorman to Father John Maguire.

A fascinating story emerges from these letters. It starts with Father John Maguire, who is at this time a Catholic Chaplain at Reading University. He is quite clearly friends with JRR Tolkien in some manner (not mentioned in these letters), and also a good friend of John Boorman. This is the first I have heard of Maguire, and so far I have been unable to find any other evidence of his friendship with Tolkien, but investigations are ongoing.

At some point in early June of 1970, Maguire had arranged for Boorman and Tolkien to meet in person to talk about the film project. Unfortunately, Boorman's back laid him out for four days and the visit had to be canceled. Tolkien heard this news from Maguire, and asked Joy Hill to write to Boorman expressing sympathy and also ask if the movie will be animated or not. This letter is sent on June 8th Letter from Joy Hill to John Boorman • 8 June 1970 (#2079)[2] , and Boorman replies on the 15th to Hill Letter from John Boorman to Joy Hill • 15 June 1970 (#2074)[3] saying how sad he is that the meeting with their mutual friend Maguire fell through, and maybe they can meet at the end of July when Boorman is again in England? He also states that the film will definitely not be animated. Boorman also writes to Maguire this same day Letter from John Boorman to John Maguire • 15 June 1970 (#2082)[4] to try and find a date convenient for him as well.

Joy Hill writes back to Boorman on the 19th of June Letter from Joy Hill to John Boorman • 19 June 1970 (#2084)[5] . She has read out Boorman's June 15th letter to Tolkien over the phone, and thinks he is very pleased that the film will not be animated. Tolkien says he is looking forward to meeting with Boorman. She asks if Boorman can also come by the London offices of George Allen & Unwin as she would love to learn more about the film project - she gets around 200 letters per week from fans, and most of them are now asking about film project news.

The remaining letters[6] go back and forth between Boorman and Hill trying to arrange a date for a meeting, pushing it out to August due to Boorman's schedule and Maguire's availability, but by that time the financing from United Artists wasn't coming through - his current project Leo the Last, did extremely poorly on release and United Artists thought it was way too expensive. Boorman sadly never visited either Tolkien or the GA&U offices. The last letters in the sequence are in mid 1971, when John was working on Deliverance and apologized for not being able to get funding greenlit to begin filming Lord of the Rings.

While there were sadly no letters directly to or from Tolkien in this archive it is clear that Tolkien was involved in the primary correspondence, asking questions and hearing Boorman's answers through Joy Hill. There's no groundbreaking new information in this handful of letters, but getting confirmation that Boorman's recollection of Tolkien's feelings about animating the film are correct is important and interesting.

We're not done working through this archive, either. There are a lot more letters that are quite interesting - Robert Plant's agent wrote to Boorman on the Led Zeppelin singer's behalf pitching him for an elf role! Boorman tried to finance the project again (with the same script) in the 1990s! As we delve deeper into the materials held in this archive, I hope we can share some more interesting finds. This is an important new archive for Tolkien film scholars, and the archivist is quite helpful - definitely reach out if you are also interested in any of these materials[7] .

1 eg in Adventures of a Suburban Boy (2003), p. 179 where Boorman writes "He wrote to me asking how I intended to make it. I explained it would be live action and he was much relieved. He had a dread that it would be an animation film. He was comforted by my reply."
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Online resources for collectors

4 April - By northman

An attempt at a collage of online resources for Tolkien collectors:

First the two bibliographies I used to plan my core collection.
Neil Holfords
should be well known to most senior collectors. The mission statement nothing less than "to list all British editions of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) published between 1910 and 2010, and to illustrate changes to the texts and covers".
Åke Bertenstam's
is an excellent overview of where various texts tolkien wrote, translated, edited and commented have been published. I have found this a most excellent resource for finding what publications represent first printings of various material. The last revision of the site was in 2021 so this is quite up to date.

The one thing lacking to a certain extent in these 2 resources are letters. Fortunately we now have
For newcomers to the Tolkien Collector's Guide that is just one of many valuable aspects of this site. My personal favorite is the forum where i find various interesting books for sale, check prices, and read up on the minutiae of Tolkien collecting in general. The search function is muchly recommended if you come here seeking information. Chances are good that what you are wondering about is already discussed in the forum. I also find the calendar of upcoming events and publications very useful,, and of course there is a store,

Speaking of minutiae. There is Brian Hendersons excellent
if you consider yourself something of a Silmarillion specialist like myself then this is an amazing resource. Also a good place to learn more about the book as a physical object with regards to binding and quality.
is an excellent resource for hobbit specialists made by Henk Brassien a renowned collector with a collection counting most hobbit editions published. If you wonder about various hobbit editions from around the world this is the place to go.
John E. McLaughlin has made this site an excellent resource for translations/non-UK editions with an extra focus on the Lord of the Rings.
excellent site for articles on Tolkien and collecting Tolkien by scholar and collector Pieter Collier. A visit here is an eyeopener for all tolkienites.
Brewing Books. While this isnt the site to see the rare or unusual, I do find this to be just an amazingly inspirational resource. Many short videoes on different Tolkien publications done by a true bibliophile who also knows his Tolkien very well. It doesn't hurt that James voicework is up there with Sean Connery's tour de force 'the name of the rose' :)
This is Devon Press US equivalent to An excellent resource for US editions. Again a resource i use alot. Point of notice for new collectors is that sometimes the first printings of tolkien material took place in US publications. An example is
'For W.H.A' in Shenandoah.
and excellent bibliography of french tolkien editions from Yann Morello.
contains a marvelous bibliography of chinese editions. I recommend this as there have been some sensationally beautiful tolkien publications in chinese the past few years. Sadly Lawrence has left Middle-Earth, but I think his caretakers including our own Zionius keep this site up to date.
is The Compleat Gyde to Tolkien Calendars by Phil Goss. If you collect calendars and posters this is THE resource for you.

I also have to mention
This was the archive of Ivan Strelzyks collection with information about tolkien publications in 70 languages from near as many countries. While the old site as such is down it lives on as a part of

Thanks to Urulókë for valuable suggestions on resources that had slipped my mind. Feel free to add to this 'bank' of online resources for Tolkien collectors. A big thank you to all the authors behind these resources, many of whom are regulars here at the TCG. You guys are the best.

PS! Åke Bertenstam made an impressive bibliography of books ABOUT tolkien as well. You can find that one here:

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A Northern Venture

4 April - By Trotter

Tennants Auctioneers - Wed, 10 Apr 2024 9:30 AM GMT

Lot 66

A Northern Venture.jpg

Tolkien (J.R.R.) et al.
A Northern Venture: Verses by Members of the Leeds University English School Association.
Leeds; Swan Press, 1923, first edition, [6], 26 pages, first leaf blank with 'Poetry Shop' stamp to lower edge, ex public library with blindstamp to front cover, title and the following four leaves, label tipped-in to inside front cover with withdrawal stamp, ink stamp to title verso, original card covers.

Estimate GBP 2,500 - 3,500
Sold for GBP 3,220 including premium ... e5ebcfe9aa108125495599242
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