Bodleian presents once-in-a-generation exploration of J.R.R.Tolkien's vast creative genius

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

Tickets are now available for
Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth

Oxford University's Bodleian Libraries present the most extensive collection of materials related to J.R.R.Tolkien known to have been gathered together for public display since the 1950s.

Illustration by J.R.R.Tolkien of the Hobbit dust jacket

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (1 June 28 October 2018) includes over 200 items - approximately half of which have never been displayed before - from Bodleian's extensive Tolkien Archive and Marquette University's Tolkien Collection, as well as from important private collections.

This seminal exhibition is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see this magnitude of Tolkien-related materials together. The various manuscripts, artworks, maps, letters and artefacts have been gathered from the UK, the US and France, and many will be reunited in Oxford for the first time since the death of J.R.R.Tolkien more than 40 years ago, in a city where Tolkien spent most of his adult life, first as a student of classics in 1911, and eventually as a professor of English language and literature. 

Tolkien is one of the world's best loved authors, with his works regularly appearing in polls of the top 100 greatest British novels of all time. The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, while The Lord of the Rings has sold over 150 million copies, and both works have been translated into over fifty languages.

Photograph of J.R.R.Tolkien stood by a tree in the Oxford Botanical GardensCurated by Bodleian's Tolkien Archivist, Catherine McIlwaine, the exhibition examines the full breadth of Tolkien's unique literary imagination, from his creation of Middle-earth - the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are set - to his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages. It will examine the scholarly, literary, creative and domestic worlds that influenced Tolkien as an author and artist, taking visitors beyond what they may already know about this extraordinary cultural figure. 

The numerous items exploring the vast spectrum of Tolkien's creative and scholarly output range from his early abstract paintings in The Book of Ishness to the touching tales he wrote for his children. Original manuscripts of his popular classics sit alongside lesser-known and posthumous works and materials, some of which will be on public display for the very first time. The spectacular range of objects on display navigates visitors around various areas of interest including Tolkien's creation of language, his childhood and student days, his career as a scholar of literature, and his family life as a husband and father. 

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;
  • Original 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 then 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 maps of Middle-earth including a recently discovered map annotated by Tolkien, which was acquired by the Bodleian in 2016; and
  • A specially-commissioned 3-D map of Middle-earth.

Illustration by J.R.R.Tolkien of Bilbo on a raftThe exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated book, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, written by Tolkien archivist Catherine McIlwaine, released by Bodleian Library Publishing on 1 June 2018, priced at £40, hardback. A paperback edition will be available only at Bodleian Library Shops, priced at £25. The book brings together the largest collection of original Tolkien material ever assembled in a single volume. More details at

The Bodleian Libraries house 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 recently discovered map of Middle-earth annotated by J.R.R.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.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is made possible through the generosity of The Tolkien Trust. The Bodleian Libraries gratefully acknowledges the close collaboration of the Tolkien Estate and the Tolkien family. 

Entrance to this exhibition is free but ticketed and can be booked at

Following its inauguration in Oxford, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth travels to the Morgan Library, New York, from 25 January to 12 May 2019. In late 2019, the Bodleian Libraries and Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF), Paris will collaborate on the largest Tolkien exhibition ever to be held in France.


Image credits, top to bottom:

Hobbit Dust Jacket, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32.
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1937 

Photo of Tolkien in Botanic Garden, MS. Tolkien photogr. 8, fol. 122.
© The Tolkien Trust 1977

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


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