About the authors: Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull – ‘Findegil’ on the Plaza – are Tolkien scholars of long standing. Wayne has been a rare books librarian at Williams College in Massachusetts since 1976; Christina was the Librarian of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London from 1971 to 1995. Their independent writings include Wayne’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography (1993) and Arthur Ransome: A Bibliography (2000), and Christina’s The Soane Hogarths (1991) and, since 1992, the occasional journal The Tolkien Collector. Their first joint book was J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (1995). This has been followed by their edition of Tolkien’s Roverandom (1998), with an introduction and annotations; a similarly produced 50th anniversary edition of Farmer Giles of Ham (1999); a new, expanded index to Tolkien’s Letters (2000); the emended 50th anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings (2004), paired with their volume of annotations, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (2005) and a new index (2005); and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006) in two volumes, comprising a Chronology of Tolkien’s life and works and an encyclopedic Reader’s Guide. They have also edited the proceedings of the 2004 Tolkien conference at Marquette University, and contributed to that and other publications. They are currently working on a bibliography of artist Pauline Baynes.

Truth or Consequences: A Cautionary Tale of Tolkien Studies

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull

As Tolkien scholars we have been concerned mainly with biography (Tolkien’s life), bibliography (the publication of his works), and textual analysis (the development and transmission of his writings), as well as the study of Tolkien’s paintings and drawings. In the course of this work we have spent a great deal of time gathering information and an even greater amount judging the results. Since good scholarship is built upon a strong foundation of facts, as far as possible the scholar must ensure their veracity. Every piece of evidence must be considered, uninfluenced by any private bias or agenda. Is it correct? Is it genuine? Is it exaggerated? Is it invention? Is a document an original or a copy? Is an account first-hand or hearsay, contemporary with the event or remembered long after? There are many questions to be asked, not always with certain answers, if one is to get at – or at least closely approach – the facts of a matter distinct from myth, rumour, or opinion.

In our books we have tried to convey many thousands of facts fully and correctly. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion and The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide especially are bursting with them. In the case of our edition of The Lord of the Rings, our task was to determine facts (of writing and prior publication) and use them to produce a definitive text. That we have not always been full or correct – though by and large we seem to have met a high standard – is admitted in the addenda and corrigenda pages of our website. These grow as new information comes to light or reflection leads us to different conclusions. They also confirm the greatest lesson of our research, which is that all sources, even those considered ‘authorities’, should be used always with an open mind and a critical eye.

To give an early example of what we mean by this, one of the first books written about Tolkien was The Tolkien Relation (1968) [1] by William Ready, once the Director of Libraries at Marquette University who established its superb collection of Tolkien manuscripts. On the face of it, his credentials were good, and his ‘personal enquiry’ had at least the appearance of substance. He was, however, neither an accurate biographer nor a perceptive critic. As Richard West reported in 1970, The Tolkien Relation ‘repeats, with very little filling out, biographical details already in print; but some of the dates given are wrong (e.g., Mr. Ready kindly, but inaccurately, adds six years to the life-span of Tolkien’s mother), and even the slight commentary is suspect, since it is predicated on a long and close association between the author and his subject and Tolkien has publicly denied the allegation.’ [2] Ready’s most notorious statement is that Tolkien’s mother, Mabel Suffield, before her marriage ‘had worked with her sisters as a missionary among the women of the Sultan of Zanzibar’ (p. 6).

This is a striking image, used to exemplify tales that Mabel told of ‘her strange past’ (p. 6), of which Ready says nothing more. Strange indeed, and almost certainly not true. Mabel Suffield became informally engaged to Arthur Tolkien in 1888, when she was eighteen, but because of her youth her father forbade the marriage for two years. At that date in England the age of majority was twenty-one, and Mabel was still under parental authority. In the event, the wedding took place in 1891, after three years had passed and Arthur had moved to the Orange Free State to better his fortunes. If, as Ready says, Mabel served as a missionary before she was married, when could that have occurred? If her father felt that she was too young to marry in 1888, would he have permitted her, then or at any time before her marriage, to join a mission in a distant, dangerous land? [3] For that matter, would a young Christian Englishwoman have been allowed freely to proselytize in a Muslim sultan’s harem? Of Mabel’s younger sisters, Rose died young in 1886 and Emily Jane (later Jane Neave) was at school until 1892. Nor is there any evidence that their elder sister, Edith Mary ‘May’ Suffield, entered missionary service: in 1890 she married Birmingham businessman Walter Incledon in 1890, and in 1891 had her first child.

What, then, was the source of Ready’s story about Mabel? His book is without notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, or explanation of method, so there is no help there. And in our own, very extensive library, we have found no mention of the tale by Tolkien, nor by any of his children, nor any reference to it that predates The Tolkien Relation. [4] A reasonable conclusion would be that it has no foundation in reality; and yet the statement continues to be repeated as fact. Maybe its most unfortunate survival is in the obituary of Tolkien that appeared in the august New York Times, [5] which therefore is likely to be consulted as an authority as long as its microfilm and web versions last. This too is a lesson we have learned: that once an error has been introduced into the literature, it is difficult if not impossible to erase. Ready’s strange tale is no longer particularly associated with him – his book is out of print, though it is still occasionally cited. His error, however, passed (without attribution) into Daniel Grotta’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth (1976, 1978, 1992), and probably from there into Leslie Ellen Jones’s 2003 biography of Tolkien for students. [6] Numerous websites contain the error also.

Jones evidently could not resist using Grotta’s biography as a source of information, even though she cites Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 biography of Tolkien as the standard life and describes Grotta’s as ‘somewhat erratic’ (p. 148). That is putting it kindly. Grotta made frequent errors in his original edition, and most of them remain in his both his revised edition of 1978 – which added still more – and the ‘retrospective edition’ (largely a reprint) of 1992. Only some may be excused because in the early seventies Grotta did not have access to certain information; certainly there is no excuse for not correcting errors in a new typesetting. There, for instance, in the revised edition as in 1976 is his statement that Tolkien’s first tutor at university ‘was a young fellow named Joseph Wrighty, who had arrived at Oxford in the same year as his pupil [1911]’ (p. 43). Joseph Wright, the Professor of Comparative Philology, in fact had been at Oxford since 1888 and in his professorial chair since 1901, and although he was Tolkien’s teacher and mentor he was never his tutor. There are many erroneous names and dates in Grotta’s book, and much that is wrong in his accounts of Tolkien’s life at Oxford and Leeds. In a new preface to his 1992 edition, Grotta congratulated himself that after undertaking ‘new research’ (p. 8) he was pleased to report that his book as published earlier had no important omissions – referring, it seems, to his revised edition, for which he was able to draw upon Carpenter. Before then, he could not have known about, say, that important group of friends the T.C.B.S.; he mentions them in the second edition, stating however that Rob Gilson, a Cambridge man, was at Oxford with Tolkien and Geoffrey Bache Smith. [7]

In a review of our Companion and Guide, John Garth criticized us for not having made ‘more reference . . . to Daniel Grotta’s deeply flawed biography of Tolkien, notably on matters where Grotta (and no one since) had access to the letters of Tolkien’s American undergraduate friend Allen Barnett’. [8] There is no question that Barnett was a friend of Tolkien at Oxford, and we could have mentioned him more than we did. Having found Grotta to be unreliable in so many respects, however, it seemed unsafe to trust his material from Barnett, or rather from Barnett’s widow, her husband having died in 1970. Grotta could say that Tolkien ‘wandered around the [Oxford] countryside with Allen Barnett’ (p. 40), but we could not verify it from other sources. Indeed, one passage attributed by Grotta to Tolkien, an off-colour joke said to survive ‘in a typewritten letter that he sent to Allen Barnett’ and used by Grotta to illustrate Tolkien’s ‘schoolboy wit’ (pp. 42–3), gave us pause as it is unlike any early correspondence by Tolkien we have read, and suspiciously includes American usages. Unable to know if it was actually in a typewritten letter by Tolkien – supposedly from a time in his life when he was unlikely to have sent a typewritten rather than a handwritten letter – or merely a typewritten sheet found among Barnett’s papers and misattributed to Tolkien, we omitted it from our book. More recently, as noted on the Plaza, we have found on the web variants of the text which appear to have been in common circulation, perhaps since the late nineteenth century.

We have written at length about Ready and Grotta – though only a small fraction of what might be said – to illustrate our plea for critical reading in scholarship, so as not to repeat, in one’s own work, the mistakes of predecessors, or to lead others to follow false trails. This is not to say: do not trust anything you read, but rather: do not trust everything you read. Read with intelligence, apply common sense, analyze argument, do not blindly accept something just because it is in print. Setting words in type, on paper or online, has the psychological effect of conferring authority whether it is deserved or not, and this is all the more forceful if a page is well designed. We recall from several years ago a website [9] concerned with Tolkien bibliography which in graphic terms was beautifully rendered, conveying through colour and layout a seriousness of purpose, the whole presented as a ne plus ultra on its subject – but as a source of accurate content it was nearly worthless. On investigation, we found that it was the work of a teenager, who replied to a long list of errors Wayne sent him – including the misspelling of Christina’s surname – with the excuse that since no one who writes for the web bothers to check his information, he should not be held to a higher standard. We wondered if he took a similar line with his teachers when writing papers for school.

And yet this opinion is by no means unique. The ease with which web pages can be created, at minimal cost, allows almost anyone to put almost anything, text or image, before an audience of millions. On-demand printing and binding too are readily available. On the path to publication, however, proofreading, fact-checking, and other forms of editorial review unfortunately are often passed by, because they take someone’s time or are felt to be of no consequence. It must be said that the same is true of many books issued by traditional publishers, but on the web the fault is epidemic, and is all the more troubling because whatever appears on the web tends to remain there, if not on its original page then somewhere else in cyberspace. Many websites contain only sketchy information, posted with enthusiasm but not always expertise, and too many sites merely repeat what is found on others, spreading and perpetuating errors even when the originating site may have corrected them.

Our friend geordie observed not long ago that the Wikipedia article on Tolkien’s English and Welsh describes it as his ‘valedictory address to the University of Oxford of 1955’. [10] The actual valedictory address, from 1959, of course is an entirely different work. Although the article correctly dates English and Welsh to 1955, it is not made clear that this was the year of its delivery as the first O’Donnell Lecture, and although the work is cited as appearing in The Monsters and the Critics (sic, lacking and Other Essays) of 1983, there is no citation to its first publication in Angles and Britons in 1963. The Tolkien Gateway entry for English and Welsh in turn is the Wikipedia article verbatim, with a small amount of additional content. [11] The primary Wikipedia article about Tolkien, though lengthy, contains errors and is sometimes misleading. [12] The value of Wikipedia or any interactive site ultimately depends upon knowledgeable users making additions and corrections; but where is the incentive to do so if the next contributor, enamoured of the thought of Mabel’s mission to Zanzibar, decides that this should be added to the article?

Accurate and comprehensive information about Tolkien is remarkably hard to find online, despite more than eight million possibilities offered by Google. Although circumstances some day may change, for now the best answers are still to be found in books. Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography is among those on the upper tier of usefulness. The Tolkien scholar will refer to it often. Carpenter had the advantage, enjoyed by no one else before or since, of access to all of the Tolkien family papers; but there were thousands of papers, and many of them needed to be organized before they could be used, to say nothing of the need to decipher occasionally difficult handwriting. In interviews, Carpenter spoke of having to be a secretary, to make physical sense of a mass of material, before he could try to interpret it. Moreover, he had to take into account not only the events of Tolkien’s life but also the evolution of the legendarium from the earliest poems and The Book of Lost Tales to ‘Silmarillion’ writings Tolkien wrote just a few days before his death. It was a lot to accomplish, and it is remarkable that Carpenter did so well with so much in the course of less than two years – from the start of his research in January 1975 to publication in May 1977. [13] Even so, what we have said about looking critically at authorities applies equally to Carpenter. His book is not without faults, though they tend to be of a different kind than one finds in Grotta, for instance – we may call them problems of emphasis or interpretation.

One good example of this is Carpenter’s eloquent distinction between rural Sarehole and industrial Birmingham. It is an effective comparison in literary terms, but makes no allowance for a middle ground. It echoes the golden memories of Sarehole recalled by Tolkien in interviews and letters – the ‘beloved lanes of childhood’ (quoted in Biography, p. 124) – and the biographer may want to emphasize the feelings of his subject. But in describing the Tolkiens’ house in Kings Heath, which ‘backed on to a railway line, and life was punctuated by the roar of trains and the shunting of trucks in the nearby coal-yard’ (p. 26), offset only by flowers and plants on the grass slopes of the cutting, Carpenter omits to say – it may be that it never occurred to him to look at a contemporary map – that there were fields on the other side of the line into which the young Tolkien presumably could escape.

At another point in the Biography Carpenter is caught up with Tolkien’s interest in Finnish. He tells how Tolkien discovered the language ‘at about this time’ (p. 59), a phrase which refers back to ‘the summer vacation of 1912’ on the previous page, how it intoxicated him, how he never learned the language ‘well enough to do more than work through part of the original Kalevala’, how it influenced the creation of Quenya which ‘would not happen for many years; yet already a seed of what was to come was germinating in his mind’. Carpenter then, as it seems, returns to the point of chronology he had just left – 1912 – and writes that Tolkien

read a paper on the Kalevala to a college society, and in it he began to talk about the importance of the type of mythology found in the Finnish poems. ‘These mythological ballads,’ he said, ‘are full of that very primitive undergrowth that the literature of Europe has on the whole been steadily cutting and reducing for many centuries with different and earlier completeness among different people.’ And he added: ‘I would that we had more of it left – something of the same sort that belonged to the English [emphasis ours].’ An exciting notion; and perhaps he was already thinking of creating that mythology for England himself. [p. 59]

A new paragraph then begins: ‘He spent Christmas 1912 with his Incledon relatives. . . .’ Given this sequence, the reader naturally assumes that Tolkien gave his paper on the Kalevala in 1912. In fact, it was first delivered to the Sundial Club at Corpus Christi College, Oxford in November 1914, and later to the Exeter College Essay Club in 1915. Carpenter almost certainly saw, as we have in the Bodleian Library, the note on the manuscript of the essay which tells of its audience and date; but he seems not to have realized that in writing about the paper in thematic relation to Tolkien’s interest in Finnish, and placed between references to events in 1912, he would necessarily imply that everything in the paragraph, unless specifically described as occurring in the future (the emergence of the High-elven language), belonged chronologically to the same year. Moreover, the sentence to which Carpenter calls special attention, and which we have italicized above, appears only in an incomplete typescript based on the manuscript essay, which can be dated from internal references to the early 1920s.

These may seem minor points, but Tolkien scholars have looked to this passage and suggested that Tolkien may have thought about inventing a new mythology as early as 1912, several years before he began to write The Book of Lost Tales. Well, he may have thought about it in 1914 – not 1912 – but by the time he wrote that sentence in the early twenties he had abandoned The Book of Lost Tales still unfinished. It was probably Carpenter’s remark, ‘perhaps he was already thinking of creating that mythology for England’, which has led critics to believe that Tolkien himself said that he wanted to write ‘a mythology for England’. [14] So far, no document has come to light in which Tolkien uses this exact phrase – though similar words, and the underlying concept, appear in his letters.

A more involved issue occurs later in the Biography. There, while dealing with The Book of Lost Tales, Carpenter dates the writing of The Fall of Gondolin to early 1917, during Tolkien’s convalescence at Great Haywood, and the story of Túrin Turambar to about the time when Tolkien ‘was lying in hospital in Hull’ (p. 96), from mid-August 1917. He also notes the birth of Ronald and Edith Tolkien’s first child on 16 November 1917, and that Edith moved with their son to furnished rooms ‘at Roos, Yorkshire, a village north of the Humber estuary and not far from the camp where Ronald . . . was now stationed’. ‘On days when he could get leave,’ Carpenter continued, Tolkien and Edith ‘went for walks in the countryside. Near Roos they found a small wood with an undergrowth of hemlock, and there they wandered’ (p. 97). And there, it is said, Edith sang and danced for Ronald, and from this arose the tale of Beren and Lúthien which Tolkien considered the centre of The Silmarillion. Carpenter is not explicit about the date, but describes a period from very late 1917 until spring 1918, at which point Tolkien was transferred to a post in Staffordshire. Edith again found lodgings close by; but when, a short time later, her husband was ‘posted back to Hull’, [15] she decided to stay where she was for the time being. Carpenter explains that Edith ‘was wearied by looking after the baby and was often in pain – the effects of the difficult birth had been long-lasting’ (p. 98).

Tolkien mentions his visits to Roos and the origin of the tale of Tinúviel, however, three times in his published letters [16], twice dating these to 1917 and once (as printed) to 1918, and twice naming both The Fall of Gondolin and The Tale of Tinúviel with no mention of the story of Turambar in between. In his earliest statement, he says that his ‘mythology . . . first began to take shape during the 1914–18 war. The Fall of Gondolin . . . was written in hospital and on leave after surviving the Battle of the Somme. The kernel of the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled with “hemlocks” (or other white umbellifers) near Roos on the Holderness peninsula – to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber garrison in 1918’ (undated, Letters, p. 221). Later he refers to the writing of The Fall of Gondolin ‘during sickleave from the army in 1917; and . . . the original version of the “Tale of Lúthien Tinúviel” later in the same year. That was founded on a small wood with a great undergrowth of “hemlock” (no doubt many other related plants were also there) near Roos in Holderness, where I was for a while on the Humber Garrison’ (16 July 1964, Letters, p. 345). Finally, in a letter to his son Christopher, about placing the name ‘Lúthien’ on Edith’s tombstone: ‘I never called Edith Lúthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917 . . .). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance’ (11 July 1972, Letters, p. 420).

Moreover, Christopher Tolkien states in The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two [17] that ‘The Tale of Tinúviel was written in 1917, but the earliest extant text is later, being a manuscript in ink over an erased original in pencil; and in fact my father’s rewriting of this tale seems to have been one of the last completed elements in the Lost Tales’ (p. 3); and also that the ‘Tale of Turambar, like that of Tinúviel, is a manuscript written in ink over a wholly erased original in pencil. But it seems certain that the extant form of Turambar preceded the extant form of Tinúviel. This can be deduced in more ways than one, but the order of composition is clearly exemplified in the forms of the name of the King of the Woodland Elves (Thingol)’ (p. 69).

There are potentially two questions now before us. One is: why did Carpenter date the Roos episode (as we may call it, leaving open the possibility of more than one) to late 1917–early May 1918? The other is: why do Scull and Hammond date it to late May or early June 1917? [18] As to the first, Carpenter may have done so because he had located Edith specifically in Roos at that particular time – presumably from letters in the private Tolkien archive – or because he believed from the dating of their final manuscripts that Tolkien had written Turambar before Tinúviel, and it made sense to spread out the composition of these tales relative to that of The Fall of Gondolin at the beginning of 1917. The tale of Beren and Lúthien, and therefore Edith dancing at Roos, by this reasoning would fit best around the end of 1917 or the first months of 1918. But in truth, we don’t, and can’t, know Carpenter’s thoughts or on which papers he based them.

As for ourselves, we recognized that the accounts of the Roos episode were contradictory, and investigated why this should be so. Since Carpenter’s day, military service records of the First World War have been unsealed and made available at the Public Record Office (now the National Archives) at Kew. From these we learned dates and locations of at least some of Tolkien’s Yorkshire postings, and of his stays in hospital, in greater detail than Carpenter relates and in some cases in disagreement with him. The temporary posting to Yorkshire mentioned on p. 95 of the Biography, with Edith a few miles away in Hornsea, and that to the camp in Yorkshire mentioned on p. 97, with Edith nearby at Roos, were both associated with the Humber Garrison on the Holderness peninsula. The first was from 19 April until mid-August 1917, and the second from November 1917 until spring 1918. [19]

We also looked into Tolkien’s statement about the episode printed on p. 221 of Letters, which had been taken from three paragraphs badly transcribed from an unidentified manuscript letter by Tolkien for the article Tolkien on Tolkien, published in The Diplomat for October 1966. [20] As printed in that magazine, Tolkien’s claim was to have been ‘in the Humber Garrison in 1913’,  an impossibility since in 1913 Tolkien was still an Oxford undergraduate. For its republication in Letters, editor Humphrey Carpenter altered ‘1913’ to ‘1918’, perhaps because ‘8’ is more likely than ‘7’ to be misread as ‘3’, or because he had suggested 1918 as a possible year for the Roos episode in the Biography – it doesn’t matter, as his choice was wrong. In fact, Tolkien had written ‘1917’ (with a shaky ‘7’), as in his other statements about Roos. The letter in question surfaced at auction in 2002 and was acquired by the Marquette University Archives.

In addition to this research, we considered if it was likely that Edith, while recovering from a difficult childbirth, would have danced in a wood near the north-east coast of England at any time in the coldest months of the year. Common sense suggests that she would not. Would hemlocks or ‘other white umbellifers’ be flowering at that time? Botanical guides for England suggest a flowering season for umbellifers at its widest range between May and September. We also looked at the descriptions of the scene in early accounts of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren. The Tale of Tinúviel describes the place where she danced as ‘a shady spot, and elms grew there, and beech too, but these were not very tall, and some chestnut trees there were with white flowers, but the ground was moist and a great misty growth of hemlocks rose beneath the trees. On a time in June [Tinúviel and her brother] were playing there, and the white umbels of the hemlocks were like a cloud about the boles of the trees . . . and there were many white moths abroad’ (The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, p. 10). The Lay of Leithian tells of Beren first seeing Lúthien ‘on a summer night’, and mentions an elm, the ‘umbels thick of hemlocks’, ‘moths on pallid wings of white’, and ‘the chestnuts on the turf had shed their flowering candles, white and red’. [21] In England, chestnuts flower in late May or early June, and moths are not likely to be very active in colder months.

At last the evidence was too strong for us not to be convinced that the Roos episode took place in late May or early June 1917. Edith then was in the early stages of pregnancy, but the weather would have been more suitable for dancing in a wood, and the attendant flora and fauna at that time of year more like those when, in fiction, Lúthien danced before Beren.

John Garth in Tolkien and the Great War agrees with our dating of the episode – we discussed it with him in that period when he and we were writing our books – and goes a step further in reporting that the Humber Garrison outpost Tolkien commanded was ‘a house next to the post office’ in Roos, ‘according to local tradition’. [22] Were Ronald and Edith Tolkien so well remembered, from so brief a time in Roos, among thousands of soldiers and their wives that had been in the area in wartime, that a tradition about them still survived there some eighty years later? We would take such a claim with a grain of salt. Indeed, we have tried to be especially careful whenever the evidence at hand is a memory.

When citing Tolkien’s letters above, in which he is looking back in time, we are of course referring to his memory, and we know that sometimes he made errors in dating or of detail. His visual memory could be confused: he once said that he had ‘a perfectly clear vivid picture of a house that I now know is . . . a beautifully worked out pastiche of my own home in Bloemfontein and my grandmother’s house in Birmingham. I can still remember going down the road and wondering what had happened to the gallery, what happened to the balcony’. [23] He also gave varying accounts of certain events. For instance, he delivered his Andrew Lang Lecture On Fairy-Stories at St Andrews on 8 March 1939, but in the revised and expanded version published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947) he began by stating that he had given it in 1940; and when it was republished in Tree and Leaf (1964) he wrote in his introductory note that it had been originally delivered in 1938. [24] In his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings (1965) Tolkien said that he began work on the story ‘soon after The Hobbit was written and before its publication in [September] 1937’, [25] and he specifically dates its writing to 1936–49, but misdates some of its stages. In fact, he did not begin to write The Lord of the Rings until December 1937. Nor was he consistent in his accounts as to when and how he wrote The Hobbit.

A thorough analysis of the development of The Hobbit, from conception to publication, fills many pages – about ten in the Reader’s Guide – and scholars disagree about its particulars. Much of the evidence is contradictory, and based in memory. While Tolkien several times recalled writing the first sentence of The Hobbit at 20 Northmoor Road, to which he and his family moved early in 1930, his two eldest sons, John and Michael, had vivid memories of their father reading parts of the story to them, in serial form, in their previous home next door at no. 22. In a letter to Allen & Unwin on 31 August 1937, Tolkien wrote that his ‘eldest boy was thirteen when he heard the serial. It did not appeal to the younger ones who had to grow up to it successively’ (Letters, p. 21). Since John Tolkien was born in November 1917, this would seem to indicate Christmas 1930 as the time of the first reading, but Michael and Christopher Tolkien were then already 10 and 6. Michael surely would not have needed to ‘grow up to’ The Hobbit ­­– his father had told him the story of Roverandom when he was not quite 5 ­– and Christopher as a child appears to have been bright and perceptive. Tolkien also made varying statements about the length of time it took him to write The Hobbit, which with other evidence and testimony may suggest that he completed the work by the end of 1932, when a text was shown to C.S. Lewis, or that he broke the composition with the death of Smaug and went on only after Allen & Unwin showed an interest in publication. Our view is that the evidence for dating The Hobbit is simply too contradictory to permit absolute conclusions. John Rateliff argues in The History of The Hobbit [26] that Tolkien wrote the first words of the story in August 1930 and completed it fully by the Christmas vacation of 1932–3. He may be right; but he reaches this end by a selective weighing of evidence and by taking certain premises as fact, such as that C.S. Lewis was lent a completed text at the start of 1933, and that Tolkien’s memory closer to an event was necessarily more accurate than it would have been at a later date.

Of course, Tolkien was human, and all memory is fallible. We see this also in memories of some who knew Tolkien and contributed to oral histories recorded by Ann Bonsor, first broadcast on Radio Oxford in 1974 and preserved at the Oxford Central Library. These are fascinating to hear, as they contain information previously found nowhere else. But how reliable are they? Some memories, such as those of the later part of Tolkien’s life related by his Merton scout Charlie Carr, were recalled after only a short passage of time – but the accuracy of short-term memory varies from person to person. Other reminiscences concern events much further back in history – but long-term memory in older men and women is sometimes acute.

Tolkien’s daughter Priscilla, for instance, provided details of her father’s early life about which, she said, he talked a great deal to his children. In her interview she usually precedes any statement about this subject with ‘I believe’ or ‘I understand’, aware that the accuracy of what she says depends upon whether her father’s account was accurate and whether she herself remembers it correctly. Most of what she says agrees with Carpenter and with later research; nonetheless, she errs or differs in a few instances. According to Priscilla, Tolkien’s mother brought her sons Ronald and Hilary back to England from South Africa because of Hilary’s poor health; Carpenter says that it was Ronald who was sickly. Since Carpenter knew the Bonsor recordings but did not accept this point in Priscilla’s account, he may have seen some documentary evidence which gave a different view, perhaps a letter from Mabel Tolkien to her mother-in-law. At any rate, John and Priscilla Tolkien agree with Carpenter in The Tolkien Family Album, speaking of the ‘adverse effects’ of the South African heat ‘on Ronald’s health’. [27] Priscilla also said that she believed that when her father was sent home from wartime France with trench fever, he travelled on the Lusitania, and that the ship was torpedoed on her next voyage, in 1917. In fact, as he recorded in his war diary, Tolkien travelled on His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Asturias, in mid-November 1916, and the historical record tells that this vessel was torpedoed in March 1917, surely after many intervening crossings. The Lusitania, which was never used as a hospital ship, was sunk in May 1915.

Another of the Bonsor recordings was made by Tolkien’s fellow Inkling, Nevill Coghill, who described a meeting with Tolkien soon after the end of the First World War. As Secretary of the Exeter College Essay Club, he said, he was deputed to ask Tolkien to read a paper. ‘Yes, certainly’, Tolkien replied. When Coghill asked what would be the title, Tolkien replied quickly: ‘The Fall of Gondolin’. Coghill asked him to repeat this, and spent a week in the Bodleian Library unsuccessfully trying to find information about ‘Gondolin’. A good story; but the records of the Exeter College Essay Club show that Coghill had not held any office in the Club when Tolkien read The Fall of Gondolin on 10 March 1920, and was elected to membership only on 27 February of that year. Also, it is clear from Tolkien’s notes for his introduction to the talk that he had not originally planned to read The Fall of Gondolin: ‘The conventional apology of readers for their papers was never more due to the Club than tonight; but I must plead circumstances and a Secretary too strong for me. Circumstances have prevented me writing a critical paper; and the Secretary who had somehow entrapped me into “reading something” this term, would not release me from my promise. Therefore I must read something already written, and in desperation I have fallen back on this Tale.’ [28] That Coghill later misremembered the precise circumstances, on the spur of the moment during his interview, and moved his service as Secretary of the Essay Club earlier in time is indisputable. And yet his vivid description of his encounter with Tolkien has the air of truth. It may have been that Coghill, as a new member of the Club, spoke with Tolkien casually a few days before the meeting and asked about the subject of his talk, and it was this that he recalled across the gulf of years.

A case more troubling than Coghill’s, because it has been widely repeated, is the account George Sayer contributed to the LP sleeve notes of the Caedmon recordings, released in 1975, of Tolkien reading from his works. [29] Sayer wrote that for the whole of the summer of 1952 Tolkien ‘had been depressed because The Lord of the Rings . . . had been refused by publishers, so that he had almost given up hope of ever seeing it in print. But the fact that they had all returned it made it possible for my wife, Moira, and I to borrow the only complete typescript. . . .’ When Sayer wrote to ask when Tolkien would be at home for Sayer to return the typescript personally, Tolkien ‘indicated that he would be quite on his own in the second half of August and perhaps even lonely. We therefore invited him to come to Malvern to pick up the typescript and to stay for a few days.’ During that stay Sayer produced a tape recorder to entertain Tolkien, who ‘asked if he might record some of the poems in The Lord of the Rings to find out how they sounded to other people. The more he recorded, the more he enjoyed recording and the more his literary self-confidence grew.’ He read out the riddle scene from The Hobbit, and the long exciting passage in The Lord of the Rings when the Rohirrim begin their ride to Minas Tirith. On playing back what he had recorded, Tolkien realized how good it was and asked, ‘but how am I to get it published?’ Sayer thought what he himself might do: ‘Haven’t you an old pupil in publishing who might like it for its own sake and therefore be willing to take the risk?’ ‘There’s only Rayner Unwin,’ Tolkien replied ‘after a pause’. ‘Then send it to Rayner Unwin personally.’ And according to Sayer, that was what Tolkien did. Sayer also gave a similar, slightly expanded account of this event at the 1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference, which was published in the conference proceedings. It was C.S. Lewis, he said there, who had lent Sayer the typescript of The Lord of the Rings, telling him that Tolkien had given up hope of getting it published. Lewis also said that Sayer must read it in a month or less, and return it personally to the author. According to Sayer, when he went to Oxford to return the manuscript as arranged, he found Tolkien ‘obviously unhappy and dishevelled. He explained that his wife had gone to Bournemouth and that all his friends were out of Oxford. He eagerly accepted my invitation to come to Malvern for a few days.’ [30] Since Tolkien was unwilling to leave the typescripts of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, they took them along.

But Allen & Unwin correspondence files, and Carpenter in his Biography and in Letters, show that Tolkien and Rayner Unwin were in touch about The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion before the events that Sayer relates. Rayner had first tried to re-establish contact with Tolkien in November 1951, even as the latter was still dealing with Milton Waldman at Collins, hoping that that publisher would issue both works. Rayner wrote again on 20 June 1952 that he would ‘truly love to read’ The Silmarillion ‘and I do not yet despair of seeing it published together with many other choice things from your pen’, [31] a subtle reference to The Lord of the Rings. On 22 June Tolkien replied:

As for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, they are where they were. The one finished, the other still unfinished (or unrevised), and both gathering dust. . . . I have rather modified my views. Better something than nothing! Although to me all are one, and The Lord of the Rings would be better far (and eased) as part of the whole, I would gladly consider publication of any part of the stuff. Years are becoming precious. . . . What about The Lord of the Rings? Can anything be done about that, to unlock gates I slammed myself? [Letters, p. 163]

This letter is given in full in Letters and partly quoted in the Biography. Rayner replied on 1 July, asking to see both The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, assuring Tolkien that Allen & Unwin ‘do want to publish for you – it’s only ways and means that have held us up’. And this too is published in Letters (pp. 163–4). Carpenter therefore was clearly aware of the discrepancy between this correspondence and Sayer’s account, and says nothing in the Biography about Sayer’s claim to have influenced Tolkien’s contact with Rayner.

We too noted the discrepancy, and at first charitably supposed that if the conversation at Sayer’s home occurred as he said, Tolkien simply had not told his friend that he was already in touch with Rayner Unwin. But then pertinent letters by Tolkien were offered at Christie’s auction house in London, [32] on behalf of Sayer, which contradicted what he had said in print. On 7 August 1952, freed at last from his duties as an examiner for the English School final examinations, Tolkien wrote to George and Moira Sayer that since Allen & Unwin wanted to reconsider publishing The Lord of the Rings, as soon as the Sayers had finished reading the first half of that work which he had lent them, he would like to have it returned. But he did not want to leave the Sayers in the middle of the story, and in any case would like their opinion of the work as a whole. He suggested, therefore, that he accept their invitation to stay with them (but it could not be until after 18 August), bring the second part of the text with him, and take the first back with him personally to Oxford. The Sayers, however, evidently had already finished the first half: a letter from Tolkien to Moira Sayer on 10 August hopes that George had returned home safely after his drive to Oxford to return the first half and collect the second. We do not know the exact dates of Tolkien’s stay with the Sayers, but by 29 August he was back in Oxford and writing a letter to Rayner Unwin in which he mentions his visit and the tape-recordings he made.

This was stunning evidence, for we knew Sayer’s published accounts very well. In writing those for publication or public delivery, Sayer apparently relied solely on his memory and did not refer very closely to letters in his own possession. And since the published account of Sayer’s talk at the 1992 conference includes a lengthy extract from another, previously unpublished letter to him from Tolkien, it is clear that in 1992, at least, he knew where he kept his file of Tolkien correspondence.

It should go without saying that a good scholar checks any information that relies on memory against primary written sources, if they are available. In Sayer’s defence, one could plead that his Caedmon notes and his reminiscence for 1992 were not meant to be scholarship, but casual recollections of a friend. This, however, is no help when a recollection is used within a formal biography or (as in our case) to inform a chronology: one must either verify the data independently or, more dangerously, trust the source. We have seen how Tolkien’s own memory played false from time to time, and he was closest to the events. Family memories are perhaps even more problematic, as they may rely on stories told across generations, with inevitable filtering and variation, and the more a tale is repeated, the greater may be the conviction that it must be true. To give an example, in 1974 Priscilla Tolkien and her brother Michael shared some of their family history, as it had come down to them, with members of the Tolkien Society in Oxford. A report of what was heard appeared in the Society bulletin, Amon Hen:

It was First [World] War recollections that formed the basis for the Black Riders [in The Lord of the Rings]. During the early part of the war, the Germans used cavalry. In the fogs and smokes of Flanders, while JRRT was on guard duty, he heard whispers which carried unnatural distances, and saw shadows and unreal movement. The horses appeared natural, while their riders did not. Tolkien was in the cavalry himself – the King Edward Horse – he was keen on horses, and had a very great affinity for them. He turned out to be an unofficial breaker-in, since it seemed that as soon as he had satisfactorily broken a new horse it was taken from him and he was given another. As the war developed, he was switched to the infantry. . . . [33]

The truth of this extract obviously depends upon three things: on the accuracy of Tolkien’s memory; on his children correctly recounting what he told them; and on the Society member (or members) who wrote the account of the meeting correctly hearing and recalling the words. There are too many conditions to accept the tale without corroboration. Moreover, it is complicated by another story linking the Black Riders with the First World War, told on the Internet by the Reverend John Waddington-Feather and derived (or quoted – it is not clear which) from conversations with, and letters by, Tolkien’s second son, Michael:

Michael said that the Dark Riders in [his father’s] novel [The Lord of the Rings] were based on a real recurring nightmare from the First World War. Tolkien, riding a good cavalry horse, had somehow got lost behind the German lines, and imagining he was behind his own trenches, rode towards a group of mounted cavalrymen standing in the shade of a coppice. It was only when he drew nearer he realised his mistake for they [were] German Uhlans, noted for their atrocities and taking no prisoners. When they saw him they set off in pursuit with their lances levelled at him. He swung his horse round and galloped off hotly pursued by the Germans. They had faster steeds but Tolkien’s horse was a big-boned hunter. They got near enough for him to see their skull and crossbone helmet badges. Fortunately for Tolkien . . . he raced towards some old trenches which his horse, used to hunting, took in its stride. The Uhlans’ horses weren’t up to it and they reined in leaving Tolkien to get away to his own side. He was terrified and the cruel faces of those Uhlans and their badges haunted him in nightmares for a long time afterwards. Years later when he was writing his novel, the Dark Riders were the result of that terrifying chase. [34]

What are we to make of these extracts? To begin with, Tolkien was never in the professional cavalry. As Carpenter states and war records show, he was a signals officer in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He did belong to the King Edward’s Horse, a part-time training regiment, but only for a short time while at Oxford, from Michaelmas Term 1911 to Hilary Term 1913. For training sessions the men had to use such horses as could be hired or borrowed, and were fortunate because a better class of horse was available for hire to supply the demand from undergraduates in the hunting season. These horses must have been broken already, but would not have been trained for military manoeuvres, nor was there any guarantee, or even likelihood, of a rider having the same horse twice. Tolkien therefore would not have been ‘an unofficial breaker-in’, though he may have told his children of the problems of having to ride a succession of horses in training. [35]

As for the second account, it is not clear if it is meant to refer to an actual event or to a nightmare experienced by Tolkien. What is ‘a real recurring nightmare’? Is a nightmare ‘real’? Might a recurring nightmare have come to seem like a memory of something real? The penultimate sentence suggests that it was an actual experience. By summer 1916, however, when Tolkien reached the battlefield in France, the front line trenches of the opposing armies, each with back-up and supply trenches, were divided from each other by a disputed wasteland, not the sort of territory in which cavalry was of much use. Long before the Battle of the Somme, most German cavalry units had either been moved to the Eastern Front, or dismounted to serve in trenches. Both sides kept some cavalry behind the front line ready to pursue the enemy should the infantry succeed in achieving a major breakthrough, but cavalry played no part in attacks on enemy trenches. The Lancashire Fusiliers had only pack horses for transporting equipment. There was no reason for Tolkien as a signals officer to be riding one of these, and given the entrenched nature of the front lines, it is difficult to understand how a man on horseback could find himself behind enemy lines without being seen by a sniper. Also, a horse would have to be incredibly lucky to succeed in crossing at speed the mud, abandoned trenches, craters, dugouts, and barbed wire of No Man’s Land without serious injury or death. At any rate, Waddington-Feather’s account has not been mentioned elsewhere or verified by any of Tolkien’s surviving children.

In these accounts one finds blended actual history with, maybe, mistaken memories, but also exaggeration, or at least assumption – something should have occurred, something should have been said, and writing it down makes it so. But one also finds occasionally (some might say frequently), in biography or history, acts of deliberate falsification, wherein the author adds spice to an unremarkable subject, perhaps to create controversy which may translate into sales. [36] We have wondered if, maybe, one of Tolkien’s friends or relatives playfully told William Ready a cock-and-bull story of the Suffield sisters serving as missionaries to Zanzibar, and he believed it; otherwise it must be Ready’s own invention, for the sake of exotic colour. More recently, biographer Michael White, attempting to provide ‘a more colourful image of the creator of Middle-earth’ (p. 6), invented an origin of the first line of The Hobbit which involved Tolkien noticing a hole in his study carpet. Although he reports this as a ‘legend’ it was never heard of before White’s Tolkien: A Biography appeared in 2001. [37]

More potentially damaging still are forgeries of Tolkien letters, drawings, and signatures. These are becoming common, particularly on eBay but also in listings by respectable dealers. Offered, sometimes sold, usually one by one, over the past two years, they have entered the market to an extent that some forgeries are being represented as typical of Tolkien’s signature, typewriting, letter paper, and embossed address stamp, in order to support the ‘authenticity’ of other forgeries. The drawings we have seen are in a style unlike any that Tolkien used, though they have similar subjects (trees, mountains), and are ascribed to him only on the basis of an imitated signature. The letters are typewritten, with misspellings and features not found in any genuine Tolkien letter, and typically use words or phrases from known letters by Tolkien. One was clearly made up of extracts, with slight twists, from Tolkien’s (autograph) letter to Jennifer Paxman of 26 September 1947, the text of which is online in a bookseller’s list (though the physical letter has been sold). Another purported to be by Tolkien to Mrs Gasch (Pauline Baynes), in which he acted as secretary or agent for Allen & Unwin, which he never would have done, let alone twice misspell the name of Rayner Unwin and use the word ‘finalise’ which we expect Tolkien would have considered substandard English. [38] We have not yet seen any of these used in a scholarly context, but suspect that it is only a matter of time.

Almost anything connected with Tolkien attracts attention, whether in the book and manuscript collectors’ market or among the general public. After the publication of Carpenter’s Biography in 1977, some readers began to visit Sarehole, Birmingham, Oxford, and other places associated with Tolkien. Even before the Jackson Lord of the Rings films were released in 2001–3, a few tourist authorities began to see the name ‘Tolkien’ as a magnet to attract more visitors, and some produced brochures about relevant sites. But with the publicity generated by the films, other areas with Tolkien connections, or no connection at all, took notice. It also became clear that, while it was good for a place to have a connection with Tolkien, it was even better if it could be said that he wrote part of The Lord of the Rings there, and best of all if the surrounding area could be said to have influenced the scenery or events of The Lord of the Rings. Even places having documented connections with Tolkien began to add gilt to the gingerbread.

Perhaps the most aggressively marketed claims were made for the Ribble Valley in Lancashire – claims accepted by several news outlets and websites, with the result that many people came to believe that the Ribble Valley and not the Sarehole area was the inspiration for the Shire. The Times reported on 11 December 2001 that ‘Sarehole Mill in Moseley, Birmingham, Tolkien’s childhood playground, has been claimed as the inspiration for the Shire. . . . Historians in Ribble Valley, Lancashire, disagree. Tolkien wrote most of the Rings cycle at Stonyhurst College, and Hobbiton is the nearby village of Hurst Green, they say.’ The article notes that although in an interview Tolkien spoke of Sarehole in glowing terms, and said that he took the idea of Hobbits from the people and children of that village, ‘the maps and directions laid out in Tolkien’s detailed fantasy world would also point to the Ribble Valley. Tolkien wrote prolifically when he stayed at Stonyhurst College during the Second World War, visiting his son, who was training to be a priest.’ The MP for Ribble Valley is quoted as saying: ‘Birmingham is Lord of the Ring Roads but that is about it. It’s clear that the Ribble is Tolkien country.’ [39]

A press release by Jonathan Hewat of St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, gives the background to the claim that Tolkien wrote parts of The Lord of the Rings while staying in that area:

During these years, J.R.R. Tolkien visited his eldest son, John, who was studying for the priesthood. . . . During his numerous visits, J.R.R. Tolkien stayed at a guest house in the grounds belonging to Stonyhurst College (J.R.R. Tolkien’s name appears many times in Stonyhurst College’s visitors’ book, along with that of his wife, daughter and sons between 1942 and 1947). The house, New Lodge, was sketched by J.R.R. Tolkien during one of his last stays. . . . The topographical picture, from August 1947, is a view of the garden at New Lodge looking towards the back of the house. In the right foreground runner beans are in full flower, their colour echoed by the chimney pots. Did J.R.R. Tolkien, when drawing this scene, bring to mind Frodo’s view from Tom Bombadil’s house in The Lord of the Rings (book I, chapter 7)? . . . In a classroom on the upper gallery at Stonyhurst College, J.R.R. Tolkien found time to write part of The Lord of the Rings. When not writing, [he] would take walks with his son. As a professor at Oxford, [he] even taught a few lessons at Stonyhurst College during his stay. . . . Another of J.R.R. Tolkien’s sons, Michael, taught classics at Stonyhurst College and St. Mary’s Hall in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s. J.R.R. Tolkien returned to Stonyhurst towards the end of his life to stay with his son in another house belonging to Stonyhurst College. . . . [Emphasis ours; see note.] [40]

Hewat says little about specific topographical similarities to the Shire in this release, but Nick Baty, who was taken around the area, reported that Hewat ‘has made a study of the local area in the light of The Fellowship of the Ring and is convinced that Tolkien based his fictional geography on this part of the Ribble Valley. He points in particular to the fictional rivers Shirebourne [i.e., Shirebourn], Withywindle and Brandywine whose courses closely resemble those of the real rivers Ribble, Calder and Hodder. And surely it is not a coincidence that the family who once owned Stonyhurst was called Shireburn.’ [41]

Baty’s was only one of several articles in newspapers and magazines linking local landmarks with Tolkien’s landscapes. One of the most detailed was written by Paul Edwards for TravelLady Magazine:

Almost certainly Tolkien framed his Hobbiton from Hurst Green, a lovely village of mellow stone just a few minutes walk from Stonyhurst. The woods around today’s Mitton Hall were surely adapted by the author as the Old Forest; his Bucklebury Ferry across the Brandywine River just has to be the spot where in Tolkien’s day the Hacking Boat took passengers across the Ribble River. Tolkien’s Brandywine Bridge carried the Great East Road across the river. . . . Today a modern bridge crosses the Hodder River, and close by is the semi-ruined Cromwell’s Bridge. . . .

Hacking Hall, a stone-mullioned mansion thought to be almost 500 years old, is said to fit ‘Tolkien’s description of Brandy Hall’, and ‘close by is New Lodge, his probable inspiration for the house of Tom Bombadil’. Other local landmarks are also connected in this way to Tolkien. Like Baty, Edwards relied upon Jonathan Hewat’s views, and upon the testimony of the manager of a local inn, where Tolkien is said to have ‘often enjoyed the beer while visiting Stonyhurst’. Maybe, though the historian has to take pause when it is said that ‘some of the older people [in the area] remember the connection, and it’s amazing how their memory has improved with the release of the [Jackson] film.’ [42]

What evidence is there for the Ribble Valley claim? There is no doubt that Tolkien visited the area, but a study of all available documents almost certainly disproves rather than supports suggested links with the Hobbits’ Shire. In November 1939 Tolkien’s eldest son, John F.R. Tolkien, went to the Venerable English College in Rome to study for the priesthood. In early May 1940, with Italy about to enter the war, the College relocated to England, first to the Lake District and then, probably in late summer or autumn 1940, to St Mary’s Hall, the junior school to Stonyhurst College, a Roman Catholic school for boys (now boys and girls). John was ordained in Oxford in February 1946, by which time he had presumably left Stonyhurst. Years later, in 1965, Michael Tolkien became a teacher at Stonyhurst College. But according to a letter Tolkien wrote to Allen & Unwin on 2 February 1939 (Letters, p. 41), The Lord of the Rings had already reached ‘Chapter 12’ (i.e. Book II, Chapter 1, ‘Many Meetings’) [43] by the end of 1938; and therefore by that date, in the book the hobbits had already left the Shire and Tom Bombadil behind. Although Tolkien revised the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings several times, he made little change in his topographical descriptions of the Shire, the Old Forest, and the Withywindle, and the tall line of beans on poles that Bingo (later Frodo) sees from the window of Bombadil’s house was there by the end of 1938. [44] John Tolkien’s presence at Stonyhurst from some time in 1940 is therefore irrelevant. His father would have had to visit the area by 1938 at the latest for it to have influenced the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings.

The New Lodge guest register – the ‘Stonyhurst College visitors’ book’ described by Hewat – in fact provides evidence of only three stays by Tolkien, and none earlier than 1946: by himself from 21 March to 1 April 1946; from 26 June to 4 July 1946, accompanied by his wife Edith; and from 12 to 21 August 1947 with his daughter Priscilla. Christina examined the register carefully while in Stonyhurst in the early nineties to see the drawing Tolkien made of New Lodge, which we were to include in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (fig. 28). The owner of the book, whose parents had kept New Lodge, had marked the three J.R.R. Tolkien entries specially, but Christina confirmed that there were no others. She also recorded several entries by John F.R. Tolkien, the earliest in 1942 – we understand from Priscilla Tolkien that it was he who recommended New Lodge to his father.

Hewat’s claims rely upon the guest register and upon John Tolkien’s presence at Stonyhurst; he presents no evidence, and no doubt had none, of any visit there by J.R.R. Tolkien early enough to have made a difference to the landscape of The Lord of the Rings. His inclusive dates of 1942–1947 in the visitors’ book are possible only because of the earliest entry of John Tolkien, some four years before one for his father. And since it seems likely that John Tolkien had already left the area by the date his father is first recorded as staying at New Lodge, the statement that they went for walks together at Stonyhurst is also questionable. Whether Tolkien wrote any of The Lord of the Rings during his documented stays is of course a different matter from whether his descriptions of the Shire were inspired by the Ribble Valley. But his visits fell mainly within periods when he is not known to have been working much on The Lord of the Rings, and he told Stanley Unwin that at the time of his first visit to Stonyhurst that he had been near a breakdown, and while away from home was under (doctor’s) orders to do nothing but eat and sleep. If he had done any writing at that time he surely would have told his publisher – he usually kept Unwin informed of progress on his book (if any).

The suggestion that Tolkien taught classes during these visits presumably depends upon memory rather than physical documents: the state of his health would have made it unlikely during his first visit, and his last would have fallen within the school’s summer holidays. Most of the Stonyhurst claims first made in the press and online in 2001 relate to events alleged to have taken place some fifty-five years earlier, before Tolkien became famous and was even less likely to be remembered. It may be that there are recollections of visits he made twenty or more years later, when his son Michael was teaching at the College. Unfortunately, we have much less documentation of Tolkien’s movements from the mid-1960s, when correspondence with his publisher was replaced in large part by use of the telephone and by personal contact with a member of the Allen & Unwin staff deputed to help him with his heavy fan mail.

Hewat was later a source of information about Stonyhurst and the Ribble Valley for Mathew Lyons’ There and Back Again: In the Footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien (2004). In that book Hewat’s claims are not only accepted but expanded. Tolkien is said to have stayed at New Lodge ‘regularly . . . for three or four weeks at a time’, and to have signed the visitors’ book ‘several times between 1939 and 1941’, none of which is supported by the physical evidence. He is said also to have taken ‘long walks around the valley’. But the ‘strongest’ suggestion ‘that Tolkien was inspired by Stonyhurst and its environs’, Lyons says, is that the lodge itself appears in The Lord of the Rings, ‘bean plants and all, . . . as Tom Bombadil’s cottage in the Old Forest. We can say this with some certainty because Tolkien drew it himself (it appears in The Pictures of J.R.R. Tolkien) and labelled it as such.’ [45] Of course, the New Lodge drawing is not in Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, to give the correct title, but in Artist and Illustrator, and it has no label, front or back, other than ‘New Lodge, Stonyhurst’ and the date ‘1947’. Lyons devotes a chapter to the Ribble Valley, trying to connect it to The Lord of the Rings, failing like others to take into account the evidence of when the early parts of Tolkien’s book were written, though they were readily available in The History of Middle-earth.

Although the Ribble Valley appears to have no connection with the Shire, it does have genuine links with Tolkien. He seems to have enjoyed his first visit there so much that he returned twice the following year, with his wife and then his daughter. He had a strong interest in Stonyhurst College because of his sons. And no doubt the unspoiled landscape would have appealed to him, and might well have influenced his depiction of the Shire had he known it earlier – but that could be said of many places.

The Ribble Valley claim did not sit well with the people of Birmingham, which now as a municipal entity encompasses Sarehole. On 16 December 2001 the Birmingham Sunday Mercury declared that ‘a rabble from Ribble Valley’, a ‘Lancashire lot’ who had ‘sniffed a fast buck’, had ‘had the effrontery to muscle in on our Hobbits’. [46] Birmingham does have many Tolkien associations, even if some of the buildings most associated with him are no longer standing. Among the most publicized and certainly the most striking landmarks included in its ‘Tolkien Trail’ leaflet are Perrot’s Folly and the tower of Edgbaston waterworks: ‘the pair are said to have suggested “Minas Morgul” and “Minas Tirith”, the “Two Towers of Gondor”, after which the second volume of “Lord of the Rings” is named.’ [47] A leaflet on the waterworks published by Severn Trent Water states that ‘the Victorian Water Chimney at Edgbaston Waterworks and Perrott’s Folly were thought to have been the inspiration behind Tolkien’s second book in the series [sic], The Two Towers. There is much debate concerning which towers from the books are meant to be the “Two” towers.’ [48] Tolkien would have known them well, but none of the five possible towers described in the story – Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol, and Barad-dûr – bears any resemblance either to Perrot’s Folly or the waterworks chimney, and the fictional towers are widely separated, in contrast to the Birmingham structures which are close together.

Draft texts published in The History of Middle-earth (vols. 6–9) show the various towers in The Lord of the Rings emerging gradually. Towers are also prevalent in Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’ writings, for instance the Tower of Ingwë in the Elvish city in Aman, Finrod’s Minas Tirith on the island of Tol Sirion, and the Tower of the King in Gondolin. And Birmingham is not the only city of significance to Tolkien to have towers: Oxford has many, as Tolkien noted in an early, untitled poem describing the city as ‘Many-mansion’d, tower crown’d’. [49] The title of the second volume of The Lord of the Rings in fact was devised long after the work itself was completed, only because Allen & Unwin decided to publish it in three parts, with a large degree of uncertainty by the author himself as to the identification of the two towers at issue. [50]

A separate paper could be written about the claims that places in Britain, and elsewhere, have made on Tolkien. Here we can mention only a few. Some have been pressed more strongly than others, but all are questionable if not ridiculous. Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, with which Tolkien had only a tangential connection, has been heavily promoted in the press, and Mathew Lyons devotes a chapter to it in There and Back Again. [51] A doubtful Tolkien relationship has also been claimed to promote the Gloucestershire village Moreton-in-Marsh. In 2007, two people who had met Tolkien when he was at University College, Galway, as an external examiner several times in the period 1949–58 recalled his visits for a reporter from the Galway Independent. Neither of the contributors is quoted in the article as suggesting that the Irish landscape had any influence on The Lord of the Rings or that Tolkien wrote any of that work in Eire. The headline and introductory sentence, however, read: ‘Tolkien inspired by Galway landscape’ and ‘“Lord of the Rings” author JRR Tolkien spent time in Galway while writing his masterpiece, it has been revealed’. [52] Tolkien had already finished The Lord of the Rings by 1949 when he first visited Ireland.

It has also been reported that Tolkien once owned Howlin House on the Isle of Eigg in the Hebrides, where peaks on the neighbouring island of Rum, according to locals, are thought to have inspired the mountains of Mordor. [53] Some residents of north-west Scotland, meanwhile, believe that the origins of Middle-earth lie in ‘Sutherland, with its midges and unforgiving weather’, pointing out that ‘the evil orks’ bear a similar name to the nearby Orkney Islands, and that along the A894 near Kinlochbervie is ‘a triangular-shaped mountain like the one featured in the films and many of Tolkien’s drawings’. [54] Against these is the autobiographical note Tolkien wrote in 1955, in which he said that although he had often been in Scotland, he had never been north of the Tay. [55]

An interesting case also occurred in France, after a Tolkien devotee named Eric Thoumelin, who lived in Montreuil-Bellay, persuaded the local authorities to rename an area near its castle ‘La Promenade J.R.R. Tolkien’. For this they sought the approval of the Tolkien family and of Rayner Unwin. Newspapers reporting the inauguration of the Promenade on 28 September 1991 made it clear that the name was chosen not because Tolkien had any association with the place, but because of the efforts of Thoumelin who found similarities between the town and Tolkien’s works. Over the years, however, this fact was forgotten, and in 2005 an offer appeared on eBay of a holiday among the chateaux of the Loire, noting that the walled town of Montreuil-Bellay ‘was the holiday home of author J.R.R. Tolkien, who used the area for inspiration for many of the concepts in “Lord of the Rings” – in particular for the description of the Shire, which is based on the rural utopia of the region. Any afficionado of the book should be able to match the appearance of the chateau in Montreuil-Bellay with the description of a building in the book.’ [56]

New information about Tolkien frequently comes to light. Not all of it is true, but in recent years much has been added to our store of knowledge. Some has been unearthed by enthusiasts; much has become available in papers newly opened to the public. We have mentioned Tolkien’s war records in the National Archives: enlistment papers, division, brigade, and battalion diaries, as well as individual officers’ medical files, were unsealed only some ten years ago. So too have Oxford University papers such as election records and minutes of faculty meetings, released after a statutory period of time, and national census data through 1911. But even if records are open, they may not be catalogued or even sorted, though archives and libraries are under pressure to reduce their backlogs and extend facilities online. As recently as 2002, when we wrote to St Andrews seeking information about Tolkien’s Andrew Lang Lecture and his Aunt Jane Neave’s alleged employment at the University, we were sent in reply only minimal information. More recently, the (different) St Andrews archivist was able to say much more about the lecture to Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson for their expanded edition of On Fairy-Stories (2007) and to supply a wealth of interesting material to Andrew H. Morton and John Hayes for Tolkien’s Gedling: The Birth of a Legend (2008) – though in truth, we do not know if this is because the archives at St Andrews are now better organized, or because its present staff are more efficient (or more interested).

In this way, we see and are able to amend shortcomings in our own publications, and will close this paper with an example. Humphrey Carpenter wrote in his Biography that by April 1904 Mabel Tolkien was in hospital, diagnosed as suffering from diabetes. Her sons ‘were sent away to relatives, Hilary to his Suffield grandparents and Ronald to Hove to stay with the family of Edwin Neave, the sandy-haired insurance clerk who was now married to his Aunt Jane’ (p. 29), Mabel’s sister. One of several drawings Tolkien made at Hove was reproduced in 1992 in the catalogue of the Bodleian Library exhibition, J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend: two figures sitting by the fireside, a man with a moustache mending a sock and a youth sewing a button on a pair of trousers, with the inscription ‘What is Home without a Mother (or a Wife)’, with the initials ‘EN’ attached to the bracketed words and an added note, ‘Show Aunt Jane’ above ‘Mother’. The catalogue entry on the same page states that ‘Ronald was sent to Mabel’s younger sister in Hove’, presumably relying on Carpenter. [57] We described this drawing in Artist and Illustrator but chose to illustrate an unpublished work, They Slept in Beauty Side by Side (fig. 4), showing two figures in a double bed. This, we said, apparently showed Jane and her moustached husband. We supposed from the reference on the other picture that Edwin Neave had to darn his own socks because his wife, who normally would have done it for him, had gone to Birmingham to visit her sister. One of the other drawings Tolkien made in Hove shows Ronald and Edwin striding along a promenade to Edwin’s office.

This was the story we told in both volumes of the Companion and Guide, in the Chronology and in Reader’s Guide entries for Hove and for Jane Neave. Hardly a month after we sent the final text to HarperCollins, however, while our book was in production, Maggie Burns, a librarian at Birmingham Central Library, wrote in Amon Hen [58] querying our identification of the figures in the bed as Edwin and Jane, because her research had shown that they did not marry until August 1905. In 1904 Jane was still employed as a teacher in Birmingham and living with her parents. Maggie has continued to research Tolkien’s Birmingham connections, and Andrew Morton has investigated Jane Neave’s life and the places where Tolkien visited her (Tolkien’s Gedling and Tolkien’s Bag End, in 2008 and 2009 respectively), all of which have added much content to the addenda and corrigenda on our website.

We probably will never know if Carpenter based his statement that Edwin was married to Jane on Tolkien’s drawings at Hove, or if he had other information. Hilary Tolkien probably remembered that he but not his brother stayed with their Suffield grandparents; he may not have remembered that Jane was living at the same address, or it may be that Carpenter never asked. He may have remembered Ronald staying with the Neave family in Hove, or Carpenter may have deduced this from the inscriptions on the drawings, the postmarks on the two that were made on postcards, and the embossed Hove address on another. In the light of recent research in the drawing What is Home without a Mother (or a Wife), Edwin Neave is apparently lamenting not the absence of his wife, but that he and Jane, though engaged, were unable to marry until he secured a more senior position and was able to support her. We followed Carpenter, and perhaps because of modern sensibilities, rejected the possibility that the figures in the bed were the thirty-three year old Edwin Neave and twelve-year-old Ronald. We see now that we were wrong to do so.

It would not be honest to say that we gladly acknowledge our error – no one is glad to be wrong, particularly in print – but having been wrong, we have an obligation to admit it and to set the record straight, if we can. Our website makes this possible, if not painless. We have posted corrigenda in appropriate places. If, as we have said, one should keep an open mind while doing research, the same is true after publication. ‘Love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart’, as Ulmo said to Turgon. [59]


[1] William Ready, The Tolkien Relation: A Personal Enquiry (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1968). Reprinted as Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings (1969).

[2] Richard West, ‘The Critics, and Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis: Reviews’, Orcrist 5 = Tolkien Journal 4, no. 3, whole no. 14 (1971), p. 4 (of pp. 4–9). After the publication of Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien (see note 4), William Ready published a review in which he both praised Carpenter and defended his own work. ‘Readers and writers about Tolkien, including myself,’ he wrote, ‘had to rely on secondary sources for information about his background, so that errors of fact abounded.’ He also noted ‘Tolkien’s anger and disgust of me that followed our friendship when I published The Tolkien Relation wherein I am less of a hagiographer than an iconoclast. While hailing him as a genius, and relating to him through a screen that let imperfections and impurities slip through, I questioned some aspects of his art, which is an unwelcome thing to do to an old man, conscious of his years and follies, and being pleased more by plaudits and praise than by cooler and more questionable literary exercise. “Insulting and offensive,” Tolkien told Carpenter, was my book. His anger would have been lessened had I this good biography to work on’ (‘Life of Hobbits’ Creator Well Told’, The Citizen (Ottawa), 2 July 1977, p. 27).

[3] The British Christian Mission to Zanzibar by its own account was in extreme peril, due to efforts by Arab slave-traders to drive white people from the country, and to unrest between natives and men of the German East Africa Company; see The Missionary Year-Book for 1889–90 (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1889), pp. 161–2. Female missionaries around 1888–91 were typically at least in their mid-twenties.

[4] That Humphrey Carpenter does not mention it in his J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977, hereafter Biography), nor John and Priscilla Tolkien in The Tolkien Family Album (London: HarperCollins, 1992), is not conclusive but strongly suggestive. There would have been nothing but honour, demonstrating a devout faith, in Mabel having served as a missionary, no reason to omit it from an ‘authorized’ biography except that it was not historical fact, or at least could not be satisfactorily corroborated. On 5 May 1977, in a brief interview on the BBC radio programme Kaleidoscope, Carpenter noted, as an example of erroneous information about Tolkien already in the literature, ‘biographical references in one or two American critical, or, I should really say neo-critical, works about him which alleged that his mother had been Governess in a Sultan’s hareem’.

[5] ‘J.R.R. Tolkien Dead at 81; Wrote “The Lord of the Rings”’. New York Times, 3 September 1973, p. 18, and at http://www.nytimes.com/1973/09/03/books/090373tolkien-obit.html.

[6] Daniel Grotta-Kurska, J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1976), 2nd edn. as by Daniel Grotta, The Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1978), reformatted with a new preface as the ‘retrospective edition’ (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1992); Leslie Ellen Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003). When citing Grotta in this paper we have used his second edition and his later preferred surname. On Tolkien biographies in general, see Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, vol. 2: Reader’s Guide (London: HarperCollins, 2006), pp. 108–14. (Hereafter, we will abbreviate this work as Companion and Guide and its component volumes as Chronology and Reader’s Guide.)

[7] Grotta seems to be the source for the additional notion that Mabel had been a governess in England before she married Arthur Tolkien, which Jones et al. also repeat but which is nowhere mentioned in Carpenter or in any public records. We have often wondered if Mabel had been a teacher of some sort, if not a governess, considering how well she is reported to have taught her sons before they entered formal schooling. Details of her own education remain unknown, or at least unrevealed. On the T.C.B.S., see Scull and Hammond, Reader’s Guide, pp. 998–1004.

[8] John Garth, review of The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Tolkien Studies 4 (2007), p. 265 (of pp. 255–66).

[9] Now defunct, and whose presence seems to have been wiped from the web, thank goodness.

[10] ‘English and Welsh’, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_and_Welsh (updated 27 September 2009).

[11] ‘English and Welsh’, Tolkien Gateway, http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/English_and_Welsh (updated 12 April 2008).

[12] ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien (updated 23 January 2010). We were about to write that the main Wikipedia entry for Tolkien contains, alas, no references to Scull and Hammond, but one has just appeared, citing three pages in our Chronology. Unfortunately, there is no mention of ‘Chronology’ in the note, only a numeral ‘2’ indicating the second volume of the Companion and Guide – which is the Reader’s Guide. Also, the citation is intended to support a paragraph concerning the aborted recruitment of Tolkien as a cryptographer in the Second World War: this is correct for the most part, but repeats an account in the Daily Telegraph (‘J.R.R. Tolkien Trained as British Spy’, 16 September 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/6197169/JRR-Tolkien-trained-as-British-spy.html) that Tolkien was ‘keen’ to become a codebreaker – the notation ‘keen’ on an official paper most likely refers not to eagerness, but to the pronunciation of the second syllable of his surname – and that Tolkien turned down an offer to become a full-time recruit, though our Chronology makes it clear he did not. See further, our comments here. <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mythsoc/message/20855>

[13] Charles E. Noad, ‘Tolkien Reconsidered: A Talk by Humphrey Carpenter Given at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature . . . 12th October 1987’, Amon Hen 91 (May 1988), p. 14 (of pp. 12–14). According to this report, Carpenter began work on the Biography on 1 January 1975; the work was published in May 1977. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 with Anthony Curtis, ‘Modern Biography No. 5: The Cult Hero’, 21 June 1984 (we have notes of a repeat broadcast on this date), Carpenter described his unrestricted access to the Tolkien papers as well as the need, since the material was largely not organized within its many cardboard boxes, to act as a secretary to put things in order before they could be efficiently used. Later, in an interview with Lyndall Gordon, he expressed displeasure with his book because he had had to ‘castrate’ it, removing ‘everything which was likely to be contentious’; and yet he admitted that the first draft ‘was a long sprawling thing’, and that when he began work on it he had an idea of Tolkien as a ‘rather comic Oxford academic – the stereotype absent-minded professor’. This changed as he wrote, but even so ‘the first draft of the book was written very much in that mode, treating him as slightly slapstick’ (‘Learning about Ourselves: Biography as Autobiography’, The Art of Literary Biography, ed. John Batchelor [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995], p. 270 [of pp. 267–79]). In the Reader’s Guide we comment that although the Biography was ‘authorized’ by the Tolkien family, it ‘is by no means hagiography’ (p. 112).

[14] A point first made, we believe, by Anders Stenström in ‘A Mythology? For England’, Proceedings of the Tolkien Centenary Conference 1992, ed. Patricia Reynolds and Glen GoodKnight (Milton Keynes: Tolkien Society; Altadena, California: Mythopoeic Press, 1995), p. 310 (of pp. 310–14).

[15] See note 19.

[16] The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981). Hereafter cited as Letters.

[17] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984).

[18] Scull and Hammond, Chronology, pp. 100–1.

[19] To elaborate on the end of the second of these periods: On 10 April 1918 a Medical Board found Tolkien fit for active service and told him to remain with the Humber Garrison until otherwise ordered. We have seen no record of the date of a new posting to prepare him for further service on the continent, but with Britain dangerously short of troops for the Western Front, authorities were unlikely to let too much time elapse. Carpenter says that Tolkien was posted in spring 1918 ‘to Penkridge, Rugeley Camp, one of the Staffordshire camps where he had trained’ in 1915–16, and that Edith followed him (p. 98). His transfer to Staffordshire is confirmed by drawings he made of nearby Gipsy Green, where Edith lived (see Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (London: HarperCollins, 1995), figs. 22 and 23, pp. 26–8, hereafter referred to as Artist and Illustrator). However, Carpenter’s statement that Edith had scarcely settled in when Tolkien was posted back to the Humber Garrison and again taken ill is contradicted by a Medical Board report of 4 September 1918: this states that Tolkien, then in Brooklands Officers’ Hospital, Hull, had fallen ill with gastritis on 29 June 1918 while in Brocton Camp, Staffordshire, and was still recovering. (Brocton and Rugeley camps were both on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Part of Rugeley Camp was located on Penkridge Bank.)

[20] Tolkien on Tolkien, in The Diplomat (New York), October 1966, p. 39. An article presented as if a single work by Tolkien, in fact assembled by someone else from an autobiographical statement by Tolkien and a letter written by him to Mrs Nancy Smith, December 1963–January 1964. See further, Scull and Hammond, Reader’s Guide, pp. 1022–4.

[21] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lays of Beleriand, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 174.

[22] John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (London: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 238.

[23] J.R.R. Tolkien, interview with Denys Gueroult (recorded 1965), Tolkien and Basil Bunting (London: BBC Cassettes, 1980).

[24] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ed. C.S. Lewis (London: Oxford University Press, 1947); in Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964).

[25] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 2nd edn. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1965), p. viii.

[26] John D. Rateliff, The History of The Hobbit (London: HarperCollins, 2007), 2 vols.: Mr. Baggins, Return to Bag-End.

[27] John Tolkien and Priscilla Tolkien, The Tolkien Family Album, p. 17.

[28] Courtesy of Christopher Tolkien, quoted in Scull and Hammond, Chronology, p. 110.

[29] J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings His The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings His The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers/The Return of the King (New York: Caedmon Records, 1975). The same text by George Sayer is printed on each LP sleeve.

[30] George Sayer, ‘Recollections of J.R.R. Tolkien’, in Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference 1992, ed. Patricia Reynolds and Glen GoodKnight (Milton Keynes: Tolkien Society; Altadena, California: Mythopoeic Press, 1995), p. 23 (of pp. 21–5).

[31] Tolkien-George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins, quoted in Scull and Hammond, Chronology, p. 385.

[32] By chance, we were in London at the time of the auction preview, and were permitted by Christie’s to read the letters and take notes. See also the catalogue of the Christie’s (South Kensington) auction of 16 November 2001, 20th-Century Books and Manuscripts, lot 21, p. 25.

[33] ‘Oxonmoot ’74 Report’, Amon Hen 13 (October 1974), p. 9 (of pp. 6–13).

[34] Comment added to Lisa Jardine, ‘The Somme and Tolkien’, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5133000.stm (updated 3 July 2006). See also the discussion on the Barrowdowns forum here. <http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthread.php?t=12979>

[35] See our addenda and corrigenda for Reader’s Guide, p. 956. John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, correctly gives the history of the King Edward’s Horse but repeats the tale of Tolkien as ‘a de facto breaker-in’ (p. 24).

[36] Richard Holmes, in his essay ‘Biography: Inventing the Truth’, comments that ‘biographers base their work on sources which are inherently unreliable. Memory itself is fallible; memoirs are inevitably biased; letters are always slanted towards their recipients; even private diaries and intimate journals have to be recognized as literary forms of self-invention rather than an “ultimate” truth of private fact or feeling. The biographer has always had to construct or orchestrate a factual pattern out of materials that already have a fictional or reinvented element’ (The Art of Literary Biography, ed. John Batchelor [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995], p. 17 [of pp. 15–25]). Holmes also reminds us usefully that ‘a final, truthful, “definitive” account must always be something of a chimera. We get back the answers only to the questions we ask of a life’ (p. 19).

[37] Michael White, Tolkien: A Biography (London: Little, Brown, 2001). geordie has reported that White’s ‘hole in the carpet’ origin of The Hobbit was accepted as fact by John Dougill in his Oxford: A Literary Guide (Oxford: Oxface Publications, 2002).

[38] We, and others, have discussed these forgeries on the Tolkien Collector’s Guide website. See here and here.

[39] Joanna Bale and Adam Sherwin, ‘Middle Earth Engulfs the West End’, Times (London), p. 15.

[40] Jonathan Hewat, ‘Conclusive Evidence Is Unearthed of the Inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Classic Trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings’”, undated, http://www.jrrtolkien.org.uk/stonyhurst_college.htm (accessed 22 May 2003, no longer available). The words we have emphasized in italics in the quotation are nearly identical to comments we made about the New Lodge drawing in Artist and Illustrator (pp. 31–2). Hewat taught at St Mary’s Hall before becoming admissions and marketing director for Stonyhurst College in 2002.

[41] Nick Baty, ‘Come on Bilbo, Give Us a Clue’, Times (London), 15 December 2001, p. 20. Eilert Ekwall in his English River Names (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928) describes Shirebourne (with various spellings) as a common name for rivers, including one near Coventry, close to Oxford.

[42] ‘In the Valley of the Hobbits’, TravelLady Magazine 64, undated, http://www.travellady.com/Issues/Issue64/64E-hobbits.htm (accessed 22 May 2003).

[43] Identified by Christopher Tolkien in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the Shadow (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), p. 309.

[44] We verified this in the Lord of the Rings papers at Marquette University.

[45] Mathew Lyons, There and Back Again: In the Footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien (London: Cadogan, 2004), pp. 118–19.

[46] ‘Tolkien: A Load of Tosh’, Sunday Mercury (Birmingham), 16 December 2001, p. 10.

[47] The Tolkien Trail, tourism leaflet (Birmingham: Birmingham City Council, 2001).

[48] Edgbaston Waterworks (Birmingham: Severn Trent Water, 2002).

[49] J.R.R. Tolkien, From the Many-willow’d Margin of the Immemorial Thames, Stapeldon Magazine (Oxford) 4 (December 1913), p. 11.

[50] While writing The Lord of the Rings Tolkien gave titles to each of its six books, including Book III: The Treason of Isengard and Book IV: The Ring Goes East. (An alternative, later title for Book IV in a galley proof of the combined table of contents of all three volume was The Journey of the Ring-bearers.) The question of volume titles arose only with the decision to publish the work in three parts. Tolkien did not write a volume with the title The Two Towers. He wrote to Rayner Unwin on 24 March 1953 that he had ‘given some thought to the matter of sub-titles for the volumes. . . . But I do not find it easy, as the “books”, though they must be grouped in pairs, are not really paired; and the middle pair (III/IV) are not really related.’ He suggested using the book titles (e.g. ‘The Lord of the Rings: Vol. II The Treason of Isengard, and The Ring Goes East’), but if this was not possible, he suggested The Ring in the Shadow for the second volume (Letters, p. 167).

On 28 July 1953 Rayner Unwin wrote that a decision on volume titles was now urgent, and suggested abandoning The Lord of the Rings as an overall title and using it instead as the title of the first volume; the title of the second could be The Ring in the Shadow or The Shadow and the Ring, and at this point it was envisioned that Tolkien’s book titles would be retained internally. Tolkien replied on 8 August that he was ‘opposed to having separate titles for each of the volumes, and no over-all title’. He suggested retaining The Lord of the Rings as the overall title with volume titles The Return of the Shadow, The Shadow Lengthens, and The Return of the King, but continued: ‘I am not wedded to any of the suggested sub-titles; and wish they could be avoided. For it is really impossible to devise ones that correspond to the contents; since division into “two books’ per volume is purely a matter of convenience . . . and has no relation to the rhythm or ordering of the narrative’ (Letters, pp. 169–70).

On 17 August Rayner Unwin visited Tolkien in Oxford to discuss various matters, including volume titles, and probably came prepared with additional suggestions. Later that day Tolkien wrote to Rayner, at least in part summarizing their conclusions, but possibly putting forward further ideas: ‘I now suggest as titles of the volumes, under the over-all title The Lord of the Rings: Vol. I The Fellowship of the Ring. Vol. II The Two Towers. Vol. III The War of the Ring (or, if you still prefer that: The Return of the King). . . . The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous – it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dûr, or to Minas Tirith and B[arad-dûr]; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol.’ This is where The Two Towers first enters, but was it Rayner or Tolkien who suggested that title? Even if it was Tolkien, he would have preferred no volume title at all.

On 29 December 1953 Tolkien visited Rayner Unwin in London, and they discussed various issues. On 4 January 1954 Rayner sent Tolkien a rough idea of a note to be placed at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring to encourage readers to buy the later volumes, and reminded Tolkien that they had discussed this at their meeting. The text of his note suggests that the towers are Orthanc and Barad-dûr, but in his letter he wonders if one of them should be Minas Tirith. Tolkien continued to have doubts about The Two Towers as a title, and on 22 January 1954 he wrote to Rayner: ‘I am not at all happy about the title “The Two Towers”. It must if there is any real reference in it to Vol. II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading. There is, of course, actually no real connecting link between Books III and IV, when cut off and presented separately as a volume’ (Letters, p. 173). On 29 January Rayner reminded Tolkien that he had not commented on the draft note. Tolkien did not reply until 23 February, when he enclosed an alternative suggestion. This was not present in the Allen & Unwin files we saw, but the only comment on it in a letter on 26 February was that it would be set in italics. It therefore seems that Tolkien himself was responsible for the note at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, part of which reads: ‘The second part is called THE TWO TOWERS, since the events recounted in it are dominated by ORTHANC, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of MINAS MORGUL that guards the secret entrance to Mordor.

Tolkien’s designs for a dust-jacket for The Two Towers provide further evidence of his uncertainty as to which towers fitted the title best. This was another matter that he and Rayner discussed on 29 December 1953 but, despite several reminders, it was some time before Tolkien was able to produce anything. On both 23 February and 16 March he wrote to Allen & Unwin that he had found himself without time or inspiration for a jacket design. On 23 March he sent ‘notions’ for dust-jackets for the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. ‘I can hardly call them more owing to their technical difficulties’ (quoted in Chronology, p. 425). Rayner replied on 25 March, suggesting that one of the designs for The Fellowship of the Ring should be used on all three volumes, with different background colours. Tolkien replied on 26 March accepting this idea.

Tolkien made at least three versions of a design for the dust-jacket for The Two Towers, all involving two towers, rings, and Nazgûl. The first, very rough design showing Mount Doom between Barad-dûr and Minas Tirith may date to about the time he commented on this pairing in his letter of 22 January; it presumably predates the note he sent on 23 February for the end of The Fellowship of the Ring describing the towers as Orthanc and Minas Morgul. The second design, showing Minas Morgul and Orthanc, is little more than a sketch, but from it Tolkien developed a more finished version, presumably the one sent to Allen & Unwin on 23 March. (All three designs are reproduced with fuller descriptions in Artist and Illustrator, figs. 178–80.)

[51] For Lydney Park, see our entry for The Name ‘Nodens’ in Reader’s Guide, pp. 622–3). See also, for instance, ‘Tolkien’s Tales from Lydney Park’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/gloucestershire/films/tolkien.shtml.

[52] Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, ‘Tolkien Inspired by Galway Landscape’, Galway Independent, 18 July 2007, http://www.galwayindependent.com/local-news/local-news/tolkien-inspired-by-galway-landscape/.

[53] ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’, The Independent (London), 28 February 2004, http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/a-breath-of-fresh-air-571673.html; Claire Smith, ‘Our Hearts Are in the Islands’, Celtic Nations Association, 27 April 2006, http://www.celticrealms.org/blog/2006/04/our-hearts-are-in-islands.html (accessed 5 May 2008, no longer available).

[54] Eva Langlands, ‘Was Tolkien’s Epic Inspired by Scotland?: Lord of the Rings Is Set In’, Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 17 November 2002, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20021117/ai_n12579287. On Scotland, see also Simon Rose, ‘The Two Towers: A J.R.R. Tolkien Museum Trail’, 24 Hour Museum, 3 December 2002, http://www.culture24.org.uk/places+to+go/west+midlands/birmingham/tra14268, which claims that Tolkien signed a guest book for Lochstack Lodge at the foot of Ben Stack in the 1930s.

[55] See our entry for Scotland in Reader’s Guide, p. 878.

[56] Several articles on the naming appeared in the newspaper La nouvelle république du centre-ouest, e.g. ‘La promenade Tolkien inaugurée aujourd’hui’, 28–9 Septembre 1991.

[57] Judith Priestman, J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1992), p. 14.

[58] Maggie Burns, ‘They Slept in Beauty’, Amon Hen 201 (September 2006), pp. 11–12.

[59] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977), pp. 125, 240. Much more can be said about the issues we have discussed, and about related subjects such as the search for sources for or influences on Tolkien’s works. We included an entry on source-hunting in the Reader’s Guide (p. 969) but were deliberately brief. Too few critics consider, for instance, that not everything in Tolkien had an external source: he was a highly imaginative writer, and in the process of storytelling ideas may arise naturally, out of the structure and from the needs of the story. Unfortunately, some critics become obsessed with their ideas and reject anything which contradicts a pet theory or cherished idea on which they may have spent much time and energy – as may be seen sometimes on the Plaza.