Thursday, February 2, 2017

Tolkien's Cobbler

So, thanks to Jeff G. for this one, a link to the story about a famous Oxford cobbler shutting down shop after many decades and selling off their ledger books, which include orders from famous Oxfordians, such as J. R. R. Tolkien:  boots for playing rugby when an undergraduate, nice (really nice) shoes for when he was a distinguished professor. We've always been told that JRRT was dapper and always took care to dress well;* this helps to bear that out.

Being an inveterate Tolkienist myself, I'm delighted to see this story, and bemused that it was Tolkien's name that made the headline, rather than other famous customers of the same shop listed in the piece: Evelyn Waugh (I guess BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is much less popular than THE LORD OF THE RINGS these days), or Oxford legend Basil Blackwell, or Baron von Richtofen (who was the same age as Tolkien after all), or Rowan Atkinson, or Jeremy Clarkson.

And it was nice to see that Tolkien sometimes signed his name as "John R. R. Tolkien". We've been told by his biographer that he usually went by his middle name (or first middle name at any rate), Ronald, yet had evidence from a letter written late in life that he preferred "John". Another little piece of evidence to put in the pile.

Much as I enjoy seeing this piece, it reminds me of a passage I read in a biography of A. E. Housman that I've alway thought a good encapsulation of the value of not losing a sense of perspective. The biography is one I picked up on a remainder table during one of my research trips to Oxford, in 1987.** I was won over at once by a brief passage in the foreword in which the biographer spent a paragraph describing Houseman's shoes. He then stated that every word of that paragraph was true, but none of it was worth knowing. I'm more a 'load every rift with ore' type of writer myself, but it's good to be reminded of the need to have a little perspective now and then.

--John R.
current reading: the new Aaronovitch, Mather-Anderson-Wood on Octopuses.

*as opposed to his friend C. S. Lewis, who just wore whatever was handy. His clothing is sometimes described as shabby -- not because he cdn't afford better, but because that wd be giving in to vanity.

**this was the same visit from which I brought back Mari Pritchard's*** excellent little book GUESTS & HOSTS

***a.k.a. Mrs. Humphrey Carpenter

1 comment:

Trotter said...

I am fairly certain that the signatures in the article are by the shop owner, who did the ledger, not J.R.R. Tolkien, I cannot remember ever seeing a signature by Tolkien that was John, only ever seem Ronald or J.R.R.