Major exhibition in 2018 to explore JRR Tolkien's vast creative genius

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, 1 June-28 October 2018, Weston Library

The creative genius of JRR Tolkien will be the focus of a major new exhibition opening at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries in 2018.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will explore the full breadth of Tolkien's unique literary imagination from his creation of Middle-earth, the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and his other works are set, to his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.

Image of Hobbit Dust Jacket, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32, copyright the Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

For the first time since the 1950s, an unprecedented array of Tolkien materials from the UK and the USA will be reunited in Oxford and displayed together in this seminal exhibition. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will feature Image of Bilbo comes to the huts of the Raft-elves, MS. Tolkien Drawings 29, copyright the Tolkien Estate Limited 1937manuscripts, artwork, maps, letters and artefacts from the Bodleian's extensive Tolkien Archive, the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University in the USA and from private collections.

The exhibition will take visitors beyond what they may already know about this extraordinary author and will delight both Tolkien fans as well as scholars, families and visitors of all ages. It will examine the scholarly, literary, creative and domestic worlds that influenced Tolkien as an author and artist, allowing visitors to engage with his works as never before. Tolkien may be best known today as the author of The Lord of the Rings but during his lifetime he was chiefly known as a scholar of Old and Middle English and a philologist intimately concerned with the creation of language. He was also a devoted husband and father of four children for whom he created stories for pleasure.

Visitors will also be introduced to the vast spectrum of Tolkien's creative and scholarly output ranging from his early abstract paintings in The Book of Ishness to the metrical brilliance of his poem Errantry and the touching tales he wrote for his children. The spectacular range of objects on display will include original manuscripts of his popular classics as well as lesser-known and posthumous works and materials, some of which will be on public display for the very first time.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Draft manuscripts of The Hobbit showing the evolution of the story displayed alongside striking watercolours, dust jacket designs, line drawings and maps drawn for the publication
  • Image of The Shores of Faery, MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fol. 22r, copyright the Tolkien Estate Limited 1937Original manuscripts of The Lord of The Rings along with dust jacket designs and beautiful watercolours
  • 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 WH Auden, singer Joni Mitchell and author Iris Murdoch
  • Personal objects that belonged to Tolkien including his art materials (boxes of paints, coloured 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

Image of Conversation of Smaug, MS. Tolkien Drawings 30, copyright the Tolkien Estate Limited 1937The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated book, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth to be published by Bodleian Library Publishing on 25 May 2018. This new publication will celebrate Tolkien as a scholar, artist and author, using his own words, drawings and designs to introduce readers to the huge creative endeavour which lies behind his enduring success. Featuring stunning images of his manuscripts, drawings, maps and letters, the book will trace the creative process behind Tolkien's well-known literary works while also exploring the surprising range of his creative imagination.

The Bodleian Libraries houses the largest collection of original Tolkien manuscripts and drawings in the world. The Tolkien Archive has been kept at the Bodleian since 1979. The latest addition to the archive is a rare map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien, which was acquired in May 2016. Tolkien spent almost the whole of his adult life in Oxford and it is the city where studied, taught, researched and wrote his most famous works.

 
Image credits, top to bottom:

The Hobbit dust jacket, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

Bilbo comes to the huts of the Raft-elves, MS. Tolkien Drawings 29
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

The Shores of Faery, MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fol. 22r
© The Tolkien Trust 1995

Conversation with Smaug, MS. Tolkien Drawings 30
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

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