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Notes and thoughts about J.R.R. Tolkien, the Tolkien Index, and related topics.

Tolkien’s “Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation”

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Thu, December 11, 2014 04:14:30

When Christopher Tolkien edited a vast amount of his father’s manuscripts for publication in The History of Middle-earth series, he omitted certain texts due to constraints of space and editorial discretion. Generally speaking, these texts are either theological/philosophical or linguistic in nature, and were thus perceived to be of little or no interest to the general reader (see, for example, The War of the Jewels, XI:359). Much of this omitted material, however, have since appeared in specialised publications (most notably in issues of Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon), and the most recently published material appears in the French volume La Feullie de la Compagnie N° 3,* released on 3 December 2014. This material consists of three sets of formerly unpublished or partially published manuscripts by Tolkien, presented here under the collective title Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation. The manuscripts, appearing both in English and a French translation, have been edited by Michaël Devaux, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien and Carl F. Hostetter.

My intention here is not to offer an analysis of the meaning or importance of these texts; it is rather to present a brief description of Tolkien’s writings, and its associated editorial matter, in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3. Information in English about this new material is still sparse, and hopefully this summary could be of use when pondering whether or not to acquire a copy of the book.

Editorial introduction

Deveaux has composed an ambitious introduction, covering some 70 pages, to the Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation. The introduction consists of: (1) a general introduction to the material; (2) a detailed description of the manuscripts; (3) an analysis of the literary styles found in these writings and an “in-universe” analysis of the ideas found in the manuscripts; (4) a section containing both a glossary of Elvish terms appearing in the manuscripts, supplied by Carl Hostetter, and some notes specific to the French translation of certain terms; (5) a discussion of the ideas found in the manuscripts, with references to (real-world) philosophy, theology, geography, and general natural science.

In my opinion it is quite a drawback that the editor has chosen not to include an English translation of this introductory material (even Hostetter’s contribution, originally in English, appears only in French). Firstly, acquiring a copy of La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 is, as of now (and perhaps indefinitely?), the only way to access this new and quite substantial primary material by Tolkien, and non-French readers are much at a loss by not being able to consult the introduction. Secondly, with English being the lingua franca of Tolkien studies, it complicates the possibility of critical scholarship on these texts. And thirdly, relying on my somewhat rusty French, it is evident that Deveaux is a scrupulous Tolkien scholar and keen commentator, whose thoughts on the matter deserve to reach a wider audience.

Tolkien’s manuscripts

After the editorial introduction follow transcriptions of Tolkien’s manuscripts in a bilingual edition (presented side-by-side on opposite pages).†

I. The Converse of Manwë with Eru (ca. 1959)

In his Appendix to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (published in Morgoth’s Ring, volume X in The History of Middle-earth), Christopher Tolkien noted the existence of “a text entitled The Converse of Manwë and Eru”, consisting of three manuscripts: “This work was planned as two-fold … and a second, more ample version of the ‘Converse’, was given up” (X:361). In Morgoth’s Ring, only the “original shorter recension” (ibid.) of the Converse appeared, reprinted here as manuscript A, The Converse of Manwë and Eru, together with two amendments (ca. 2 pages)‡. Manuscript B, The Converse of Manwë with Eru concerning the death of the Elves and how it might be redressed; with the comments of the Eldar added (ca. 14 pages), is the second part of the two-fold work, described by Christopher as “an elaborate philosophical discussion” (ibid.). And finally, manuscript C, Beginning of a revised & expanded version of ‘The Converse’ (ca. 4 pages), is the abandoned, “more ample” version of manuscript A.

II. Re-incarnation of Elves. The Númenórean Catastrophe & End of ‘Physical’ Arda (ca. 1959 – spring 1966)

The second set of texts, also noted in the Appendix to Athrabeth, is described by Christopher as a “hastily written manuscript on small slips of paper, entitled ‘Reincarnation of Elves’ (X:363). The first section, Re-incarnation of Elves, amounts to ca. 6 pages, and The Númenórean Catastrophe & End of ‘Physical’ Arda covers ca. 2 pages.

III. Some notes on ‘rebirth’, reincarnation by restoration among Elves. With a note on the Dwarves. (1972)

Among the “brief or fragmentary writings closely associated with [the Glorfindel manuscripts]” (The Peoples of Middle-arth, volume XII: 377), Christopher notes “a discussion of the question of Elvish reincarnation” (XII:382), existing in two versions. In The Peoples of Middle-earth, only the first version of the writing, and parts of second version of the final note on Dwarves, is given, while here appears the second version in its entirety (ca. 3 pages).


* It should be noted that the volume is an anthology (it has 502 pages in total), also containing articles in French about Tolkien and his works, some illustrations, and a bibliography of French Tolkien-related publications.

† A facsimile version of two manuscripts pages is reproduced at the very end of the section on Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation.

‡ Here, and below, the page numbers refer to the extent of only the English material, as it appears in La Feullie de la Compagnie 3 (it has a somewhat larger typesetting than employed in The History of Middle-earth). The page numbers are included to give readers an idea of the length of the primary material.

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Tolkien and Swanwick’s fishmongers

Tolkien biographyPosted by Morgan Thomsen Sat, February 15, 2014 12:33:53

by David King and Morgan Thomsen

While recovering from trench fever at Penkridge Camp, Staffordshire in 1918, J.R.R. Tolkien made a drawing depicting various scenes of his family’s life at Gipsy Green — a nearby house to which his wife Edith, baby John and Edith’s cousin Jennie Grove had moved (John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 2003, p. 246). The drawing, titled High Life at Gipsy Green, was published in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator ([1995] 2004, fig. 23, p. 27). Several of the scenes were identified by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, but a prominent fish with the caption “The fish we couldn’t get at Swanwick’s” is described by the authors as being “a mystery”.*

As far as we have been able to determine, there has been no research into the source behind this mysterious caption. However, as listed in the Kelly’s Directory for 1912, it can be noted that a couple of miles up the road from Tolkien’s post at Penkridge Bank Camp was Swanwick’s fishmongers, 54 Greengate St, Stafford. Likely being the Swanwick’s referred to in the drawing, the fishmongers probably had some stock issues one day in 1918, causing a humorous sketch by Tolkien.

Entry from Kelly’s Directory for Fishmongers, Staffordshire:


Excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien’s drawing High Life at Gipsy Green, © the Tolkien Trust (1992), is reproduced with kind permission.


*Another such mystery in the drawing is the identity of “Capt. T.G.”, whom Hammond and Scull suspect to be a “Scots army officer”.

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Tolkien at the Moorend Park hotel in 1913

Tolkien biographyPosted by Morgan Thomsen Wed, December 04, 2013 19:31:31

Acknowledgements: I’m grateful to John Garth and Daniel Helen for reading the draft and for providing suggestions and corrections.

Last night I was searching some old British newspapers for notes about J.R.R. Tolkien. Not finding anything particularly interesting, I was on the brink of giving up when I came across something that appears to be previously unknown or undocumented – a new detail about Tolkien’s reunion with Edith Bratt, when he asked her to marry him after Father Francis’s ban ended on his 21st birthday. I will not attempt to present the circumstances of their winding love-story here (accounts of which can be found in, e.g., Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War), but will proceed directly to my findings.

The weekly magazine The Cheltenham Looker-on (in print from 1833 to 1920) had a feature called the “Looker-on” Visitors’ List, which recorded guests at various lodging establishments in Cheltenham. In two issues from early 1913, it is noted that a certain Mr. Tolkien stayed at the Moorend Park in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. In the issue of 11 January (p. 3), the following note appears:

And in the issue of 1 March (p. 3), the following appears:

The reason why Tolkien visited Cheltenham is well known: Edith had moved to Cheltenham in 1910. On Wednesday 8 January 1913, Tolkien travelled to Cheltenham to meet Edith, and they would enter a secret engagement. Among the facts concerning this event (see Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Chronology, p. 36), we seem now to able to safely add the detail that Tolkien stayed at the Moorend Park while visiting Edith. That Tolkien went to Cheltenham in late February 1913 (i.e., in the week preceding 1 March) and again stayed at the Moorend Park, appears to be formerly undocumented: the visit would likely have taken place sometime between 21 and 28 February. Concerning possible, and less possible, dates for this visit, John Garth comments:

Tolkien’s Honour Moderations exams began on Thursday 27 February 1913, so he cannot have been in Cheltenham that day or the next. It’s interesting that he would make time to go to Cheltenham right before the exams he was supposed to be preparing for busily. I can also add that there is no reference to Tolkien in the minutes of the Stapeldon Society meeting of 24 February 1913, which doesn’t prove he was away in Cheltenham at the time, but suggests he may have been.[1]

Furthermore, it seems not to be a coincidence that Tolkien would have chosen to stay in Charlton Kings, a suburb in Cheltenham. In the Tolkien Family Album (p. 35) is reproduced a postcard from Tolkien to Edith (postmarked 2 February 1913); the address to Edith shows that she lived on 2 Lyefield Lawn in Charlton Kings. John Garth comments that “[t]hat address doesn't seem to exist any more, but Lyefield Road West and East do. Moorend Park Hotel would have been about halfway between the railway station and that address”.[1]

The Moorend Park (now the Moorend Park Hotel), was constructed in 1895 and is still in business.[2]

If anyone desires full-page copies of these two magazine articles for private or scholarly use, just let me know.


[1] Private correspondence, as of 4 December 2013.
[2] Details about the Moorend Park Hotel can be found at

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The Riddles of The Hobbit by Adam Roberts

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Tue, October 15, 2013 16:30:02

Nearly a month ago, Pieter Collier wrote a review at the Tolkien Library about the forthcoming The Riddles of The Hobbit by Professor Adam Roberts (Palgrave Macmillan; to be published in November 2013). Thanks to the publishers I also got a chance to read the book before its publication, and will here try to note a couple of points not already brought up by Mr Collier, that I hope could be of interest to potential readers.

To my knowledge, The Riddles of The Hobbit will be the first book-length, academic study about the theme of riddles in Tolkien's works. The latter is important to point out: contrary to what one could be led to believe from its title, the book is not only and simply about the riddles in The Hobbit – Roberts start out (Chapter 1) by tracing the use of riddles in Anglo-Saxon culture and literature, and he devotes a whole chapter (2) to riddles contained in the Exeter Book. This historic contextualisation (which certainly is relevant when it comes to Tolkien) gives Roberts a valuable perspective when analysing (Chapter 3) the riddle-game found in the chapter “Riddles in the Dark” in The Hobbit. In Chapter 4, Roberts tentatively suggests an apparent “meta-riddle” (a sort of synthesis of all the riddles exchanged between Bilbo and Gollum), which he constructs out of a reading of a certain Celtic riddle, the Exeter Book, and the Elder Edda. A quite fascinating suggestion, which no doubt will be discussed further among Tolkien scholars and fans!

After a transitional chapter (5) presenting the different versions of The Hobbit, Roberts discusses (Chapter 6) the manual and hands-on quality of the Old English poem Beowulf in order to investigate Bilbo's question “What have I got in my pocket?”. This discussion goes on (chapter 7) to an analysis of the enigma of the One Ring: here I believe Roberts makes an interesting (and apparently formerly unnoticed) connection between the Ring and a particular riddle found in the Exeter Book.

The remaining chapters are more diverse, and touch on subjects such as riddles of writing and characterisation in the works of Tolkien, and the “Enigma of Genre Fantasy”.

Initially, since this is Roberts’s first contribution to Tolkien studies, I was worried that the author would have failed to take account of what are often considered to be the preeminent analyses of the Tolkien's riddles, namely the discussions found in Douglas A. Anderson’s The Annotated Hobbit, John D. Rateliff’s The History of The Hobbit, and the works of Tom Shippey. However, this turned out to be a false worry: Roberts not only includes references to all of these, but also expands upon and, at times, questions certain aspects of their work – all of which makes for a rewarding read.

Note [added 5 December 2013]: Over at Jason Fisher’s blog Lingwë I just discovered a long discussion (see the comments field) about how the topic of the riddles in The Hobbit is noteworthily brought up in several works (that I failed to take account of above). Such include The Tolkien Encyclopedia (entry for “Riddles”) , Marjorie Burns’s Perlious Realms, and Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit .

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Pauline Baynes’ ‘There and Back Again’: Some Notes

Tolkien (misc.)Posted by Morgan Thomsen Sun, July 21, 2013 23:41:41
Recently I managed to acquire a copy of a poster-map I’ve been eager to take a closer look at: Pauline Baynes’ There and Back Again: Bilbos Journey through Eriador and Rhovanion (1971[1]). Long-time collectors and scholars will of course be familiar with this poster, but as a younger (well, mid-30s) enthusiast, it wasn’t readily available and I had my own reason to study the map.

Before finding a copy of the map, I namely posed a question at a well-known online Tolkien forum, asking if anyone knew if Baynes consulted with Tolkien for the creation of There and Back Again. My question derived from the knowledge that Baynes’ earlier poster, Map of Middle-earth (1970), was produced in collaboration with Tolkien, “who sent her a marked photocopy of the general map, as well as additional names to include and advice on a few points of topography and nomenclature”.[2] Could it therefore be that also the 1971 poster-map has some unique features that would be able to enrich our understanding of Middle-earth?

However, no one had a reply (or perhaps no one found the question interesting!) at the forum, and since none of my Tolkien-related reference works had anything to say on the subject, I decided to directly ask the foremost experts,[3] Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. They kindly replied (quoted with their permission):

“Tolkien seems not to have given Baynes any additions for the Hobbit map, or instructions except to concentrate on landscape rather than figures. He asked to approve the art before it went to press, and did so when Pauline and her husband visited Tolkien in Poole.”[4]

While being grateful for an authoritative and informative answer to my question, it was of course also somewhat disappointing that the small “research project” undertaken for this blog post mainly yielded negative knowledge: it would likely be fruitless to look for additional pieces of information concerning the legendarium using the 1971 poster-map as a basis. Nevertheless, though, the illuminated map is a beautiful piece of art, created by “Tolkien’s illustrator of choice for his own works”[5] – reasons enough for me to take delight in it!

Final Note 1: I find it interesting that Tolkien recommended Baynes to “concentrate on landscape rather than figures”. The statement sheds additional light on one of my older posts here (‘Tolkien and the Illustrations of Robert J. Lee’), where I argued (though likely not being the first to point out this aspect of Tolkien’s artistic preferences) that Tolkien’s own illustrations contains “very few actual portraits, and when people occasionally appear in a landscape, they are often very small and in the background” – perhaps one of the reasons why Tolkien disliked Lee’s pictures.

Final Note 2: At least two erros, concerning the spelling of place names, appear to occur on the 1971 map:

[for] River Gladuin [read] River Glanduin
[for] Dimril Dale [read] Dimrill Dale

Footnotes & References

[1] ‘In Memoriam: Pauline Diana Baynes’, in Tolkien Studies: Volume 6, p.vii.
[2] Hammond, Wayne G. & Scull, Christina, The Lord of the Rings: A Readers Companion (HarperCollins 2008), p. lxiv.
[3] Hammond and Scull are currently working on a biography about Pauline Baynes – a work in progress which they occasionally write about at their weblog: Too Many Books and Never Enough.
[4] Private correspondence (8 June 2013).
[5] Scull, Christina & Hammond, Wayne G., The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Readers Guide (HarperCollins 2006), p. 76.

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