Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition

martin321

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Today, I visited the Tolkien exhibition that is currently on display at the Bodleian library in Oxford (ends 28 October 2018). For those on the other side of the Atlantic the exhibition is visiting the Morgan Library in New York City from January to May 2019, and is supposed to be visiting Paris later.

There is a review in the Guardian here: How Tolkien created Middle-earth

On display were a number of drawings, paintings, maps, and letters by Tolkien including: the famous cover of The Hobbit (with the blue and green mountains), and the original ink and watercolour picture of Smaug sitting on a pile of gold. In addition there are family photos, fan mail, multimedia displays, and artifacts such as Tolkien's desk and pipes. Overall, it was very good and well worth an hour of your time, if you are at all interested in Tolkien.

The exhibition was fairly busy when I went. They are ticketing the event to avoid overcrowding; although the tickets are free (other than a booking fee).

The gift shop has a large number of different books by Tolkien, a book of the exhibition (quite expensive), a much cheaper book "Tolkien Treasures" that features the highlights of the Tolkien archive at the Bodleian, numerous Tolkien related merchandising (mugs, fridge magnets, bags, jigsaws, postcards, posters etc). Quite a few people in the shop were walking around carrying piles of Tolkien related stuff. I, myself, left the shop with my wallet feeling significantly lighter (sigh).

Anyone visiting the Bodleian should also drop into the "Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared" exhibition (ends February 2019) that is in the adjacent room to the Tolkien exhibition. They have on display a working draft of "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley, a juvenile novel by Jane Austen, papyrus fragments of Sappho, letters by Florence Nightingale and Ada Lovelace, and a book given by Queen Elizabeth I to Katherine Parr.

Finally, in the Atrium outside there is a display of Euclids Elements (ends 15 July 2018).

Also worth a quick visit is Blackwells next door. In the Norrington Room they have a small display of early editions of The Hobbit and LOTR, and some Tolkien correspondence.
 

Hugh

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Many thanks for posting this @martin321 .

I see that there are "more than 200 items" on display. This could mean two or three cramped rooms or something much larger and more spacious. How "spacious" did you find it? I'm not enamoured of shuffling round exhibits and struggling to peer at some small piece of writing along with seven or eight craning necks.

I would like to attend, but the journey may be too far (remoter Sussex). However, at least, I have until the end of October to decide.
 

martin321

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Apart from the entrance corridor (where they are projecting images of elvish writing and so forth) it is just a single room, which isn't all that large (cramped rather than spacious). They are issuing timed tickets and making people queue until there is space, in an attempt to avoid overcrowding. I arrived at 11 AM and didn't have to queue at all.

The room itself was very busy, but it wasn't too bad. I managed to get a close look at all the exhibits (with my nose pressed up against the glass, literally in some cases), but often I'd have to wait for someone to move before I could look at an item. Of course, the exhibition is only two weeks old, so the crowds might lessen in a few months time.

If you don't feel like braving the crowds then the book of the exhibition weighs in at a massive 416 pages, so I imagine that it covers most (or possibly all) of the items on display.

More details about the exhibition and links to the shop are here: Bodleian Libraries | Home
 

Hugh

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Apart from the entrance corridor (where they are projecting images of elvish writing and so forth) it is just a single room, which isn't all that large (cramped rather than spacious). They are issuing timed tickets and making people queue until there is space, in an attempt to avoid overcrowding. I arrived at 11 AM and didn't have to queue at all.

The room itself was very busy, but it wasn't too bad. I managed to get a close look at all the exhibits (with my nose pressed up against the glass, literally in some cases), but often I'd have to wait for someone to move before I could look at an item. Of course, the exhibition is only two weeks old, so the crowds might lessen in a few months time.

If you don't feel like braving the crowds then the book of the exhibition weighs in at a massive 416 pages, so I imagine that it covers most (or possibly all) of the items on display.

More details about the exhibition and links to the shop are here: Bodleian Libraries | Home
Many many thanks for clarifying. I'm already thinking that if I go, it's more likely to be October.

I confess that I have already purchased the exhibition hardback "Tolkien, Maker of Middle Earth", but have managed to restrain myself from more than glancing at it. I intend to read it once I have read another couple of books on Tolkien first. However from my brief dips into it, it looks wonderful.

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I'm also interested in the book "Tolkien Treasures: curiously it is for sale in the Exhibition Shop, but not yet on Amazon.

 

martin321

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I bought a copy of the "Tolkien Treasures" book. It's 144 pages and is very nicely produced with lots of images. I imagine that most of the content is also in the bigger exhibition book, but without a copy of that to hand I can't be sure. I'm still trying to decide whether or not to buy the exhibition book too.
 

martin321

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Since the June 2018: Reading Thread is now closed, I'll reply to your questions here, Hugh.

Every image in the Tolkien Treasures book is also in the "Maker" book. The images are generally larger in the "Maker" book as it has a bigger format. However, there are a couple of images in the "Treasures" book that are larger, or have an enlargement of a detail, or are cropped differently. The text is different and is generally more detailed in the "Maker" book.

Almost all the exhibition is in the Maker book. The pictures with large grey numbers are in the Oxford exhibition (except for Nos 132 and 133). Images labelled with a Fig. number aren't in the exhibition.

I can remember a couple of items in the exhibition that aren't pictured in the book:
1) All the multimedia stuff.
2) A display of hundreds of different (mostly foreign) editions of the hobbit (and possibly the LOTR, I can't remember). Mostly with just the spines showing.
3) Tolkien's school cap, pipes, tobacco tin, poster paints, wax seals (?) and a copy of the Mabinogion (I think).

Hope that helps.
 

Hugh

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Since the June 2018: Reading Thread is now closed, I'll reply to your questions here, Hugh.

Every image in the Tolkien Treasures book is also in the "Maker" book. The images are generally larger in the "Maker" book as it has a bigger format. However, there are a couple of images in the "Treasures" book that are larger, or have an enlargement of a detail, or are cropped differently. The text is different and is generally more detailed in the "Maker" book.

Almost all the exhibition is in the Maker book. The pictures with large grey numbers are in the Oxford exhibition (except for Nos 132 and 133). Images labelled with a Fig. number aren't in the exhibition.

I can remember a couple of items in the exhibition that aren't pictured in the book:
1) All the multimedia stuff.
2) A display of hundreds of different (mostly foreign) editions of the hobbit (and possibly the LOTR, I can't remember). Mostly with just the spines showing.
3) Tolkien's school cap, pipes, tobacco tin, poster paints, wax seals (?) and a copy of the Mabinogion (I think).

Hope that helps.
That's really really great and very helpful. Thank you very much for going into this detail.

I'm taking the Maker book slowly - so far just the first three brief essays. I'm looking forward to reading further.

You must be pleased you splashed out on the longer volume.
 

Hugh

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I haven't been to the exhibition, but I have read through the wonderful catalogue.

I don't have an axe to grind here, as I claim no adherence to Christianity, but I think the author has a valid point.

It is very possible to read through the LOTR without thinking of Christianity in any way. I've done so several times. However, I've read extensively (by my standards) around Tolkien in recent weeks, and for me it's very clear that any understanding of Tolkien the person has to include his strong foundation in Roman Catholicism. This seems to have been the lens through which he viewed the world around him, and is abundantly clear both from his letters (those we have been able to see) and from accounts by those who knew him well.

One of the main triggers for my recent reading was my total amazement at learning that Roman Catholicism was so central to his life, and that I had noticed nothing of this in the LOTR.
 
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HareBrain

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I think that article makes a valid point too. One of the most interesting things about Tolkien's work is the relationship between his faith and the mostly non-Christian myths on which he based his fictional world. It shouldn't work, trying to create a world based on the legendary heroic North through the lens of a Mediterranean-centred religion, but I think the tension in that meeting-point is what proved so fertile, and it's a shame if the exhibition left this out.
 

Hugh

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One of the most interesting things about Tolkien's work is the relationship between his faith and the mostly non-Christian myths on which he based his fictional world. It shouldn't work, trying to create a world based on the legendary heroic North through the lens of a Mediterranean-centred religion, but I think the tension in that meeting-point is what proved so fertile.....
That's truly spot on. I hadn't got that far in my thinking. It really makes sense.
 
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