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Oxford’s Bodleian Library to open a vast exhibit on J. R. R. Tolkien

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Explore the creative process of the most influential author in fantasy literature.

This summer Oxford’s Bodleian Library is opening an exhibit celebrating the creative works of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The display, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, brings together original manuscripts, artwork, hand-drawn maps, correspondence, and some of Tolkien’s possessions from the Bodleian’s extensive Tolkien Archive and the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University in Wisconsin, as well as pieces from private collections.

The show will take visitors beyond the books to give a glimpse at the creative process of the storied author, as well as outlining some of his own influences.

Outside of Middle-earth, Tolkien was a scholar of Old and Middle English and a philologist, roles that allowed him to create a new language, Quenya, spoken by the elves in The Lord of the Rings. Although only brief passages of his books are written in Quenya, it is a fully fleshed-out language, much like Klingon, which was developed for Star Trek.

The Bodleian website lists some of the highlights of the exhibition:

  • Draft manuscripts of The Hobbit showing the evolution of the story displayed alongside striking watercolors, dust-jacket designs, line drawings and maps drawn for the publication
  • Original manuscripts of The Lord of The Rings along with dust-jacket designs and beautiful watercolors
  • Original manuscripts of The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s very earliest work on the legends of the elves, which was unfinished during his lifetime and was published posthumously by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien
  • Photos and letters from Tolkien’s childhood and student days exploring themes of love, loss and war
  • Letters of appreciation from a wide range of admirers including poet W.H. Auden, singer Joni Mitchell and author Iris Murdoch
  • Personal objects that belonged to Tolkien including his art materials (boxes of paints, colored pencils and sealing wax) and his personal library
  • A selection of Middle-earth maps including a rare map annotated by Tolkien, which was acquired by the Bodleian in 2016
  • A specially commissioned 3-D map of Middle-earth

The Bodleian Library will be publishing a catalog, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, to accompany the exhibit, which will feature images of many of the pieces from the show. The exhibition will last from June 1 to October 28, so consider heading to the UK this summer for this limited-time cultural event.

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