Sotheby's Books, Manuscripts and Music from Medieval to Modern - London

Thu, 11 Jul 2024 1:00 PM GMT

Lot 247

Autograph manuscript calligraphic transcripts of the poems ‘Namárië’ and ‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’, 13 pages of autograph manuscript commentary on the poems and Elvish languages, and 21 related letters to the composer Donald Swann

i) ‘Namárië’, or ‘Galadriel’s Lament’, in Quenya, written in Tengwar script in black and red ink, comprising title, subtitle, and 13 lines of text, on 1 page; with 7 pages of commentary on five leaves of paper, including a literal translation from Quenya into English (giving the text in both languages), explanatory notes on such subjects as the history of Galadriel (“… She was the last survivor of the princes and queens who had led the revolting Noldor to exile in Middle-earth. After the overthrow of Morgoth at the end of the First Age a ban was set upon her return, and she had replied proudly that she had not wish to do so…”) , the poem’s metre, pronunciation, also with a glossary (“Varda: ‘the Exalted’, greatest of the queens of the Valar…”; “Laurë is translated ‘gold’ but it was not a metallic word. It was applied to those things which we often call ‘golden’ though they do not much resemble metallic gold…”)

‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’, in Sindarin, written in Tengwar script in black ink with the title in red, comprising title, subtitle and five lines of text, on 1 page; with 6 pages of commentary on 3 leaves of paper, with an additional two pages missing but supplied in photocopy, discussing pronunciation and the Sindarian language (this section is partly in photocopy), providing explanatory notes, and a glossary

“…As a ‘divine’ or ‘angelic’ person Varda/Elboreth could be said to be ‘looking afar from heaven’ (as in Sam’s invocation); hence the use of a present participle. She was often thought of, or depicted, as standing on a great height looking towards Middle-earth, with eyes that penetrated the shadows, and listening to the cries for aid of Elves (and Men) in peril or grief. Frodo (I 208) and Sam both invoke her in moments of extreme peril. The Elves sing hymns to her. There is said to be no religion in The L.R., but if this is not ‘religion, what is it?...”

in total 15 pages on 10 leaves of paper, 4to (254 x 201mm), with later autograph additions and marginalia in red ink, a few minor corrections in green ink, editorial changes and comments in pencil, numbered in pencil, some smudging

ii) 15 autograph letters signed and 6 typed letters signed (“Ronald Tolkien”), to Donald Swann, including extensive discussion of Swann’s settings of Tolkien’s poems and the book The Road Goes Ever On, some letters with autograph postscripts, mostly in red ink, and later annotations in pencil, 39 pages, 8vo and 4to, 76 Sandfield Road Oxford, Hotel Miramar, Bournemouth, and 19 Lakeside Road, Poole, 7 June 1965 to 18 January 1973, some ink smudging; with one telegram (sending best wishes to Flanders and Swann for the first night of their 1966 American tour), a typescript extract from a letter, and three photocopy letters (two of letters by Tolkien to Swann not included here)


For Tolkien, the languages came first. His lifelong fascination with languages found expression both in the pleasure he took in inventing his own languages from his teenage years on, and in his professional career as a philologist. The first aspect of Middle Earth to take shape in Tolkien's mind was the Elvish group of languages that he began to construct in the 1930s, giving them a history and sociolinguistics from which grew the extraordinary legendarium into which fitted The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The current group includes both rare calligraphic manuscripts that were produced by Tolkien for publication, and extensive unique notes on Elvish languages and history. Tolkien wrote this material for Donald Swann's song-cycle The Road Goes Ever On (1968), which set poems from The Lord of the Rings to music. Two of the poems chosen by Swann were in Elvish languages, and Tolkien's notes are written to give context to the poems, whilst the transcriptions of the poems themselves in Tolkien's Tengwar script were reproduced in facsimile, as was the literal translation of 'Namárië'.

‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’ is written in Sindarin, the most widespread Elvish tongue of the Third Age. It is a hymn to Elboreth (or Varda), in Elvish mythology one of the Queens of the Valar and creator of the stars. The hymn is woven through The Lord of the Rings, appearing in several times within the book in three different forms, and usually uttered at times of crisis. It is never translated in Lord of the Rings, so this translation and accompanying notes illuminate a text that had been deliberately left opaque in Tolkien’s great novel.

‘Namárië’, subtitled ‘Galadriel’s Lament in Lórien’ is the longest text that Tolkien wrote in the Elvish language of Quenya, and is the best-known text in the language. Quenya was the language the ancient Elvish clans, including the Noldor, who travelled to Middle Earth at the end of the First Age, and the Vanyar. In the Third Age it is an archaic language used in formal contexts and for record keeping (Tolkien referred to it as “Elf-Latin”). It is the native tongue of Galadriel, who was born as one of the Noldor before their flight to Middle Earth, and she sings ‘Namárië’ when Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring are departing Lothlórien. It concludes with her wistful hope that the Ring Bearer will reach the Undying Lands of the West, from which she was banished long ago.

These manuscripts and notes were written as part of Tolkien’s collaboration with the composer Donald Swann, which culminated in the song-cycle and book The Road Goes Ever On (1968). The accompanying letters put the manuscripts in their context. Swann was enjoying considerable success in the 1960s as one half of the comic duo Flanders and Swann. He was rereading The Lord of the Rings when touring Australia with Michael Flanders when he started to think of the musical potential of the songs that punctuate the narrative, and after the tour he spent his holiday setting to music six of these songs “on a beautiful Steinway grand piano in Ramallah outside Jerusalem” (The Road Goes Ever On, Foreword). On his return to Britain Swann made enquiries with Allen and Unwin, Tolkien’s publisher, and was soon in touch with Tolkien himself.

These letters begin after the first meeting between the two men. Tolkien had given his approval to five of Swann’s settings and writes to explain that he has been hoping “to make some notes on the ‘chant’” that he believed would make a better setting for ‘Namárië’ (7 June 1965). Two events discussed in the months that followed help cement the friendship between the two men: Tolkien was invited to a Flanders and Swann concert (“…I have not laughed so much … since I last saw an archbishop of Canterbury slip on a banana-skin…”, 19 September 1965), and the songs were performed at a party at Merton College to celebrate the Tolkiens’ Golden Wedding Anniversary, with Swann on the piano accompanying the magnificently named baritone William Elvin. The later letters show the men to have developed a trusting and comfortable friendship; they are replete with friendly comments, invitations to visit, and personal admissions. For example, Tolkien’s discomfort with his own fame is made clear when he relates to Swann his recent experience in filming the BBC documentary Tolkien in Oxford (a book signed in Elvish the course of filming was recently sold in these rooms, 12 December 2023, lot 374):

“I was lost in a world of gimmickry and nonsense, as far as it had any design designed it seemed simply to fix the image of a fuddy not to say duddy old fireside hobbitlike boozer. Protests were in vain, so I gave it up, & being tied to the stake stayed the course as best I could […] they appeared completely confused between ME and my story, and I was made to attend a firework show: a thing I have not done since I was a boy. Fireworks have no special relation to me. They appear in the books (and would have done even if I disliked them) because they are part of the representation of Gandalf, bearer of the Ring of Fire, the Kindler: the most childlike aspect shown to the Hobbits being fireworks.” (29 February 1968)

Tolkien’s letters to Swann discuss many aspects of the songs; he writes to discuss Elvin’s accent and delivery (“…Galadriel was a southerner, but I have no doubt some of the Elvish folk up at Rivendell had a western accent. We will suppose the W.E. represent Glorfindel. But let him trill his Rs. All Elves did that!...”, 21 March 1966), and on the history of ‘Errantry’, which Tolkien had written decades before it was included in The Adventure of Tom Bombadil: “With regard to Errantry:... A few years ago I had a letter from a literary lady in England, asking if I knew the source of the verses which she enclosed. She had got them from a friend, who had picked them up orally - in Washington! This of course greatly interested me: an actual case of oral transmission, a thing one is often supposed in theory to be dealing with in old literature” (14 October 1966).

Tolkien became heavily involved in the book of Swann’s settings. There are several examples in the letters of Tolkien’s strong opinions on book design. He complains repeatedly about the poor taste of his editor at Houghton Mifflin, his American publisher, especially after the paperback of Lord of the Rings was marred by the “lunatic and irrelevant nastiness of the covers”. Proofs of The Road Goes Ever On are afflicted with “tasteless squiggles or equivalent spacefillers”, and Tolkien worries that the use of Elvish calligraphy as ornamental flourish is inappropriate: “'Elvish' may be no more than a teenage lark, but it is treated seriously in this book, and ridiculous stuff scattering vowel-signs as mere ornament makes the whole thing seem silly” (13 July 1967).

As two of the songs in the cycle are written in Elvish languages constructed by Tolkien, it was suggested that Tolkien provide manuscripts of the poems in their original languages, and also explanatory notes. Tolkien was happy to agree – “this business of the Elvish Songs, and versions, and examples of Elvish script is just precisely what I like doing” (20 March 1967) – although he was later to have reservation on the way his notes were used in the book. The manuscripts and notes that Tolkien sent to Swann were used in the published version of The Road Goes Ever On. They bear marks from the printing house and the calligraphy was reproduced in facsimile, and were then retained by Swann.

LITERARY MANUSCRIPTS BY J.R.R. TOLKIEN ARE EXCEPTIONALLY RARE ON THE MARKET. This is undoubtedly the most important cache of original Tolkien material relating to Middle Earth to come to the open market in many years; the small number of other comparable manuscripts include a single autograph leaf with the corrected text of a passage in The Lord of the Rings (Christie’s, New York, 12 April 2018, lot 219, $81,250), and a genealogy of the Dúnedain with notes (Heritage, 16 July 2022, lot 42010, $150,000). The majority of the letters that are offered in the current lot remain unpublished.


Donald Swann; family descent


The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Revised and Expanded Edition, eds H. Carpenter and C. Tolkien (2023), nos 277a, 289c, 294b, 295a, 295b, 301

Estimate GBP 150,000 - 200,000
Sold for GBP 228,000 including premium ... h-manuscript-calligraphic

The material — including Tolkien’s handwritten transcriptions of elvish poems and songs, commentary on the development of the languages, backstories of characters such as Galadriel, as well as 21 letters — was sent to Swann, who had been given permission to set the poetry to music.

It has been described by Sotheby’s auction house as “the most important cache of original Tolkien material relating to Middle-earth to come to the open market in many years”. The correspondence has been given an estimated price of £150,000 to £200,000 ahead of an online sale opening on June 27.

The letters, written in the years prior to the author’s death, shed light on his concerns that his novels, which are now recognized as the foundation texts of modern fantasy literature, were not being treated seriously enough, as well as on his late-life friendship with the comedian. ... 7b0aaa3264f70aef003ffbbbd

We have catalogued a large amount of correspondence between Swann and Tolkien in our Guide to Tolkien Letters,

These are the letters in the Donald Swann sale