Exeter's Library - Tolkien's creative space

Biz Stone, Founder of Twitter and member of Exeter’s SCR, has joined forces with the Rector to refurbish the library that launched JRR Tolkien on his literary career.

When 19-year-old JRR Tolkien came to Oxford University in 1911, he lived in Exeter College, founded in 1314, and studied in the College’s Victorian library. It was here that he first conceived some of the ideas that were to blossom into The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The creative genius that was to produce these great works lay untapped. But in Exeter College Library, the teenage Tolkien found the first key to his astonishing creative drive. In his first term, he came across a book of Finnish Grammar—this book remains in the Library today.

For young Tolkien, the book was life-changing. It laid the foundation for his lifelong hobby of inventing languages, such as the languages of the Elves. There is still a record to show that he checked it out.

There was more. While studying early English literature in the Library, Tolkien began to write poetry seriously, publishing some in the College magazine and reading it to Exeter friends. This consoled him through the early horrors of the First World War, which was to kill 23 of his 56 classmates.

In Exeter's Library, Tolkien began to invent both a language and a world for it to describe—it was in this creative space that a legacy was born. Nearly 90 years later, a different creative space gave rise to an entirely new breed of brilliance written in a different language—a language of code.

A garage in Palo Alto was just the right kind of creative space for two Stanford students writing software code that would become a powerful Internet search engine and one of the most important companies in the world, Google. The library at Exeter was JRR Tolkien's "garage."

This is the connection we are making, through time and great distance, to Silicon Valley. Our environment has a profound impact on our work. Whether it is Larry and Sergey's garage, or Tolkien's library, creative spaces must be available for future generations of legacy builders.

Our goal is to modernise the library at Exeter where Tolkien's journey began. Built in the 1850s, it has changed little—this has both its pros, and cons. We must see to it that this cherished space meets the needs of modern students without losing its Victorian charm.

Together with friends from Silicon Valley who are fans of Tolkien's work, we hope to celebrate this wonderful library at Exeter and give it the attention it requires. We look forward to another century of creative space for students to find their inspiration and change the world.

Biz and Frances