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On Dragons and Dinosaurs - Oxford Museum of Natural History

5 Oct, 2022 (edited)
2022-10-5 6:15:00 PM UTC

On the 1st January 1938, J.R.R. Tolkien gave his thoughts on dragonlore and dinosaurs in an illustrated lecture at the Museum not discussed anywhere else in his works.

Join our expert panel for this once-in-a-lifetime re-run of Tolkein's(sic) lecture featuring his original slides, supporting specimens, and documents. The talk will be followed by a panel discussion featuring experts on the social impact of dinosaurs; the ecology and evolution of extinct animals; monstrosity and animal studies; and the relationship between scientific ideas and cultural forms.

Entry to this event is free, but please book tickets in advance.

About the panellists:
Dr Megan Cavell is an Associate Professor and Medievalist whose research interests include monstrosity and animal studies.

Dr Elsa Panciroli is an author and palaeontologist who researches the anatomy and evolution of extinct animals.

Dr Will Tattersdill is a Senior Lecturer in Popular Literature, Liberal Arts, and Natural Sciences who studies the impact of dinosaurs on the nineteenth-century.

Prof John Homes is a professor of Victorian Literature and Culture whose research focuses on the relationship between scientific ideas and cultural forms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

1 January 1938 Tolkien gives an illustrated lecture on dragons at 2.30 p.m. at the University Museum, Oxford. This is one of a series of six Christmas lectures for children, 30 December 1937–10 January 1938, sponsored by the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire, but the only one given by Tolkien. (The others are on ‘Birds of Oxford’, ‘Whales and Whaling’, ‘Pack Horses, Coaches, and Highwaymen’, ‘Coral Reefs’, and ‘Electric Sparks’.) He shows slides of dinosaurs and of his own drawings of dragons.

Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina; Tolkien, J. R. R.. The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Volume 1: Chronology. HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The text of the lecture is included in the booklet that forms part of the Deluxe Facsimile Hobbit.
5 Oct, 2022
2022-10-5 6:31:21 PM UTC
This sounds really cool. Shame I won't be able to make it and that it appears to be a "once in a lifetime" performance of it. A shame that so few will be able to experience it, such is Tolkien fandom.
5 Oct, 2022
2022-10-5 8:19:57 PM UTC
No way
That's by far, the conference I'm the most interested in ; to finally see the original slides and drawings... I will seriously consider to go see it.
14 Dec, 2022
2022-12-14 9:29:54 AM UTC
I went to this event last night. It was held in the same room where Tolkien gave his lecture on New Year’s Day 1938. The place was packed and there were quite a few children present. I understand that the tickets were all taken within 24 hours. An old brass and wood magic lantern was set up on the centre bench with Tolkien’s original slides – fifteen of them –laid out alongside. Four of these were Tolkien’s own drawings. All have been published before. They were “Conversation with Smaug” “The White Dragon pursues Roverandom and the Moonbat” and the two lower sketches from “Pictures”, Section 40 “Three Dragons".

In order for the projected images to be visible on the screen, all the lights were turned off. The lecture was given by Professor John Holmes, who had been part of the team who had found the slides in the museum archives and decided to give the lecture again (with the permission of the Tolkien estate). We were warned not to record the lecture on our phones as this was one of the conditions for their permission to go ahead. John Holmes, who was dressed for the part, gave the lecture as if he was Tolkien and the little asides and comments soon had laughs from the children (and adults).

The lecture lasted exactly one hour and was the same as that already published in the commemorative booklet for the 80th anniversary of the Hobbit except that one or two sections were not included (as I recall).

There was a short break and then there was a panel discussion. Later there was a chance to meet John Holmes and the panellists in the great hall, surrounded by dinosaur, but alas no dragon, bones.

I hope they repeat this again at some point in the future, and I hope John Holmes gives the lecture again. I thought he was very good. It they do, book early!
14 Dec, 2022
2022-12-14 12:42:11 PM UTC
Thanks for this feedback. By chance, do you know if the slides not drawn by Tolkien can be seen somewhere ?
14 Dec, 2022
2022-12-14 4:19:44 PM UTC
That sounds amazing @rocondil! Really wish I was close enough to try to attend events like these.
14 Dec, 2022
2022-12-14 11:07:26 PM UTC
I don't think the slides are officially available, as far as I'm aware, and I'm not sure if there are copyright issues anyway. I did ask the projectionist if I could take a picture before the lecture started and she said that was fine. You can see the slides laid out on the bench, but you can't see any detail. Mods, please remove the picture if you think it inappropriate in any way.

707_639a5638aa99c.jpg 4032X3024 px
15 Dec, 2022
2022-12-15 1:03:23 PM UTC
Considering that the conference is 80 years old, the non-Tolkien may be in the public domain. Maybe I'll ask Pr. Holmes.

A nice article was published in the Birmingham university website: ... orytelling-and-prehistory
15 Jan, 2023 (edited)
2023-1-15 5:49:41 AM UTC
I just notice the plates used to produce the four dragon slides are held at Bodleian. The catalogue says: "MS. Tolkien Drawings 96: Four glass negatives of drawings of dragons. The originals are at MS. Tolkien Drawings 30; MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fols. 38-39 and MS. Tolkien Drawings 89, fol. 3."

As Roccondil reported, the four dragon slides used are TAI#18, 45, 77, 329. On TAI one can easily verify the shelf numbers of TAI#18, 45, 329 match those given in Bodleian catalogue. TAI doesn't provide shelf number for #77, but one can safely assume it is probably MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fols. 38.
14 Mar, 2023
2023-3-14 10:48:32 AM UTC
Thank you for summarising this! We missed it, even though we are about an hour from Oxford and I try and drop into the Museum every year at Oxonmoot (mainly to check in with Black Hills Stan and his companions). I knew nothing about the Dragons and Dinosaurs being published at last (in 2017), and eventually managed to find out from HarperCollins after more than one iteration due to the email I had being out of date ...

I admit I am a bit vexed that this has only been published with a special edition. (I am not a collector, and indeed, being as I am getting on a bit, am trying to avoid any reprint or compilation editions or anything large and heavy, in case the doors end up blocked ... ) I wonder idly how many other interesting bits are being cached up to help sell luxury editions in future? Best wishes to everyone.

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