Intriguing unseen pieces by J.R.R.Tolkien to be displayed for first time among larger collection of his artworks

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

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

Three unusual, previously unseen artworks by the celebrated author J.R.R.Tolkien will go on public display for the first time at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford this summer, as part of an unprecedented display of his paintings, drawings and illustrations.

Image of an illustration of an Owl by J.R.R.Tolkien

While Tolkien is best known worldwide for his literary genius, as author of novels such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, these artworks will highlight his lesser known but considerable talent as a visual artist.

Tolkien's artworks will be displayed as part of Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, a major new exhibition by Bodleian Libraries exploring the full breadth of Tolkien’s creative genius as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.

A purple and red illustration by J.R.R.Tolkien - Here and ThereThe three unseen artworks going on display are:

  • Linquë Súrissë (1960s), a Japanese style drawing with a title in Quenya (an Elvish language developed by Tolkien) which translates as 'grass in the wind';
  • Parma mittarion (1957), a design found on an old Merton college meeting agenda containing the Quenya phrase for 'book of enterings.'; and
  • A page from a sketchbook containing two related abstract paintings titled Here (when you don't want to go from here) and There (in an exciting place) (1914), showing Tolkien was already developing his mythical artistry when he was an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford.

Other artworks in the exhibition include: original watercolours that Tolkien painted while writing drafts of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, some of which were used in printed copies of the books once they were published; Tolkien's own designs for his books' covering dust-jacket and binding; and vivid illustrations of bedtime stories he used to tell his children.

These works will be part of an unprecedented array of Tolkien materials from the UK and the USA that will be reunited in Oxford and displayed together in this seminal exhibition. Other such items include manuscripts, 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.

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

Catherine McIlwaine, Bodleian Libraries' Tolkien Archivist and curator of the upcoming exhibition, said:

'The vivid abstract paintings entitled ‘There’ and ‘Here’ show Tolkien as a young student at Oxford finding his own artistic voice. They indicate that he was beginning to draw, not just what he could see, but what he could imagine. His undergraduate years were a time of self-exploration as he began to experiment with both literary and artistic styles. From here onwards it is clear that his literary work was closely connected to his artistic work, and he was often driven to express the same creative impulse in both words and art.

'The artworks 'linquë súrissë' and 'parma mittarion' show the overwhelming significance of the unpublished 'Silmarillion' in Tolkien's life and work. The Elvish titles of the illustrations connect them to Tolkien's wider mythopoeia - his legendarium out of which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings appeared merely as spin-offs. Tolkien’s invented languages, which he began to develop as an undergraduate, lay at the heart of his entire creation of Middle-earth and were the foundation stones on which all the legends, stories and history were built.' 

Image of a drawing by J.R.R.Tolkien - Parma Mittarion 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.

The exhibition will also be accompanied the publication of a richly illustrated book, entitled Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, written by Catherine McIlwaine, released by Bodleian Library Publishing on 1 June 2018.

Entry to Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (1 June - 28 October 2018) is by ticket only. Tickets can be reserved on the day or in advance online at

Image credits, top to bottom:

Owlamoo, MS. Tolkien Drawings 88, fol.32r [dig.206].
© The Tolkien Trust 1992

Here and There, MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fol.13.
© The Tolkien Trust 2018

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

Parma mittarion, MS. Tolkien Drawings 91, fol.22.
© The Tolkien Trust 2018

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