Friday, September 21, 2018

In Oxford☦️

Sept 8th
So, whatever you've heard about the Great Exhibition of Tolkien art and manuscript and artifacts currently being held at the Bodleian, I'm pretty sure it fell short of the truth. This is hands down the best Tolkien Exhibit ever mounted.* And the catalogue is just as impressive: I need to go back and check, but I think there are items in display that aren't in the catalogue and items in the (massive) catalogue that aren't on display.

Any Tolkien fan attending this --and there were a lot of them the day I got to go in, when I think they were admitting them fifty at a time-- will find himself or herself drawn to different treasures, depending on what draws you to Tolkien in the first place. I think three that especially stood out for me were things I'd never seen before: first, the first map of the Shire (which I'd hoped to include in the expanded edition of THE HISTORY OF THE HOBBIT but not been able to pull it off); second, several pages from THE BOOK OF ISHNESS, including ones I'd never seen or seen before (far more vibrant and striking in color than I expected); and third, THE SILMARILLION title page. I'm not sure whether this was for the 1930 Quenta or the 1937 Quenta Silm, not having taken notes at the time, but I was struck by how much it conveyed the sense that THE SILMARILLION was a real book, incomplete or no: a substantial work and not just a smattering of parts.

I'm glad I had two solid hours with it. My friend Yoko, who's on a sabbatical in Oxford working with the Tolkien papers, drops by every day to see the exhibit, which seems to me an entirely reasonable proceeding: wouldn't any of us, given the chance, do the same? Afterwards I got a chance to briefly meet Catherine McIlwaine, who put together both the exhibit and catalogue: just long enough to congratulate her on her superb work.

In short: if you're at all interested in Tolkien, and you get a chance to see it, do so. You'll be glad you did.

--John R.
(belatedly blogging)

*Based on the ones I've seen, and the catalogues of those I missed.
-- Unless you count the very early ones back in the late fifties, where Ready sent out the entire manuscript collection to a few lucky libraries. 


David Bratman said...

I saw Yoko on the opening day in June when I was there. She's really dedicated.

Matt Fisher said...

And for those of us who can't pull off a trip to Oxford to see the exhibition, more than half of it will be traveling to the Morgan Library in New York City and be on display from January 25 through May 12. More information can be found at .

Magister said...

Is this the catalogue? Would you recommend it?


John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Matt.

Thanks for the details about the New York staging of the exhibit. It'll be followed up by one
in Paris, about which I know even less. It's my understanding that both of the follow-up exhibitions will be somewhat smaller than the original Bodleian staging, but I cd be wrong about that. They'll definitely be worth seeing in any case, and I hope those lucky enough to see either (or both) post their reactions thereto.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Martin

Yes, that's the catalogue. They also have a smaller, simpler version called TOLKIEN TREASURES, with a different cover (Smaug on his hoard), mostly devoted to images rather than explanatory text.

I think the full catalogue is so good that it shd be a contender for best-of-the-year awards.

--John R.

Magister said...

Thanks! I decided to order the catalogue -- should be getting it around the middle of the month.

Matt Fisher said...

Dear John,

Your impression that the NYC and Paris exhibitions will be smaller than the original Bodleian staging matches my impression. Looking at the notes in the back of the full catalogue, it looks to me that more than 50% (but less than 60%) of the original exhibition will be shown at those two locations.