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[Updated Oct 9 to correct a mis-dating of the "Long Expected Party" draft]

It has been a great year or two for Tolkien exhibitions, with the Bodleian Library (2018) and the Morgan Library (early 2019) showing "Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth", and now the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) with the exhibition "Tolkien, Voyage to Middle-earth".

The BnF exhibition is much larger than the two preceding ones - the space being estimated at 1000 square meters - with approximately 300 items coming from the Bodleian collection, the Marquette collection, and a number of selections from the BnF collection of historical and artistic items giving additional context for Tolkien's creations. A significant number of Tolkien original art and manuscript exhibits were not shown in "Maker of Middle-earth", so the BnF event is not one to be skipped if you can possibly make it to Paris in the next few months.

The exhibition layout is broken into sections covering specific geographic regions and storylines, with original writings and illustrations from Tolkien, alongside literary, cultural, and linguistic material relating to Tolkien's works. The sections are announced to be:
  • Middle-earth
  • The Shire
  • Land of the Elves
  • Kingdoms of the Dwarves
  • Forests
  • Rohan
  • Gondor
  • Isengard
  • Mordor
  • Valinor
  • Tolkien and Oxford
  • The Professor
  • Tolkien and Children's Literature
  • "The Tale Grew in the Telling"

  • Below, with permission, are shown just a small number of items from the forthcoming exhibition.

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    I Eldanyare : The History of the Elves, 1937-8 © Bodleian Library/ The Tolkien Estate Limited, used with permission


    This is a manuscript title page for The Silmarillion from Tolkien's efforts around December 1937 - January 1938, discussed in detail in The Lost Road by Christopher Tolkien, p. 202.

    Orthanc.jpg

    Orthanc I © Bodleian Library/ The Tolkien Estate Limited, used with permission


    This illustration of the tower of Orthanc was drawn in 1942, matching the first manuscript descriptions in the draft text of The Lord of the Rings at the time. He went through many iterations of drawings and textual changes before arriving at the description in the final published book. See J.R.R. Tolkien, Artist & Illustrator by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, pp. 166-169 for more information.

    160 Marquette Minas Tirith.jpg

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


    This is the earliest sketch of the city of Minas Tirith from October 1944, with surrounding text giving a brief outline of a description of the city. For more information, see The Art of the Lord of the Rings by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, pp. 140-148.

    15 Marquette A long expected party.jpg

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


    Here is shown a draft first page of The Lord of the Rings in manuscript form, from 1939 after The Hobbit was successfully published and Stanley Unwin was clamoring for a sequel.

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    Shelob’s Lair © Bodleian Library/ The Tolkien Estate Limited, used with permission


    This draft page of the 'Kirith Ungol' sequence, written circa May 1944, shows a detailed sketch of the approach to Shelob's Lair. For more information, see The War of the Rings by Christopher Tolkien, pp. 183-201 and The Art of the Lord of the Rings by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, pp. 124-125.




    The exhibition opens to the public on Tuesday, October 22nd, and is open Tuesdays through Sundays until February 16th (closed Mondays). The hours are from 10 AM until 7 PM except on Thursdays when it stays open until 9 PM.

    Guided tours are available by reservation. Public tours are on Wednesdays through Fridays and have a fee. There are two sign language tours (December 8 and February 2) that are free. Descriptive tours for the visually impaired are available by request. More information for these guided tours is available here.