Thursday, March 05, 2009

Inspired by Tolkien

A year ago last January I made plans to see the Tolkien papers at Marquette University. Unfortunately, the plans fell through at the last minute. I was bummed to say the least because Tolkien is more than just an iconic writer who's influenced generations of readers (and writers like this one) with his rich stories and unforgettable characters. He's also a writer I can relate to, someone who juggled work and family, and wrote through adversity, sometimes taking off a year or more from his work before returning to it.

I finally had the privilege of visiting the Tolkien collection last weekend. My daughter L and I went. She'd already seen it with P but being a tried and true fan she was eager to see it again.

We spent about an hour in the archives, long enough to examine only a small percentage of the university's holdings. But oh, what a rush to do so. Some of the most memorable pieces we examined:

1. A hand-written working draft of the cover page of The Lord of the Rings, then named The Magic Ring. Edits by Tolkien included crossing out the working title and replacing it with The Lord of the Rings. But a curious thing about this is that the s at the end of Rings was written in a way that suggests to scholars that it was added later. (Fun to see that even great works of art go through copious amounts of editing.)

2. A hand-written draft of the first page of The Fellowship of the Rings that hinted at the final draft to come with its references to Bilbo's birthday, etc., but clearly needed more editing (and a deeper POV) before it was finalized. (Again, a nod to the importance of editing, and the fact that even many drafts in, we must look at our works with an editor's eye.)

3. Lists, lists and more lists detailing the history of the world, even a number of events that led up to Bilbo's finding of the ring (and never made it to the final draft). (What a nod to the necessity of world building for any fantasy writer.)

4. Drafts and more written on the back of old student exams, menus, and desk calendar pages. One exam was clearly an essay test on Beowulf, one of Tolkien's fortes. We were told there was a paper shortage at the time, so any and all paper was saved for later. Can you imagine being the student whose exam was recycled for Lord of the Rings?

5. The "One Ring to Rule Them All" poem penned in an elegant script with a line of orcish written below it that's yet to be translated.

6. Maps and even an early draft of Tolkien's cover design for The Hobbit.

7. Plot grids set up on notebook paper in landscape format in order to track characters, events, dates and the phases of the moon, made necessary after the party split up.

Sigh. I know it's totally unrealistic, but taking up another degree so I can justify immersing myself in the entire collection in depth is really attractive right now. Maybe after my clone arrives.

Edited 10 p.m.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a really cool adventure. What kind of degree would justify immersing yourself in the collection? Just curious.

Kim Winters said...

Seriously? I don't know. Tolkien scholars exist, but to be honest, I don't think I'd need to be one in order to study the papers. I believe that as long as I secured permission ahead of time, I'd be able to examine the works I requested. Doing so without a purpose sounds so decadent given all the balls I'm juggling family wise these days. I suppose I mentioned a degree because it would help give me a focus, and help provide the permission needed to pursue said scholarly studies without feeling guilty.