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21st February 2018

Bodleian to host unprecedented Tolkien exhibition

An exceptional collection of manuscripts, artwork, maps, letters and artefacts will give insight into the life and work of one of Exeter College's most famous alumni.

JRR Tolkien (pictured back row, leaning forward) during his time at Exeter College


Oxford’s Bodleian Library will host an exhibition exploring the full breadth of JRR Tolkien’s (1911, Classics and English) unique literary imagination later this year. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth will reunite an unprecedented array of Tolkien materials from the UK and the USA, including manuscripts, artwork, maps, letters and artefacts from the Bodleian’s foremost Tolkien Archive, the Tolkien Collection at Marquette University in the USA and from private collections. One of the exhibits will come from Exeter College’s archives: a report card on Tolkien’s progress as an undergraduate student, written by the Sub-Rector. The exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to discover more about Middle-earth, the imagined world where The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Tolkien’s other works are set, as well as about his life and work as an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.

Among the exhibits will be many previously unseen materials about Beren and Lúthien, lead characters in a love story by Tolkien about a mortal man and an elf maiden. The tale appears in several of Tolkien’s works, in brief in the posthumously published novel The Silmarillion (1977) and more fully in the recent Beren and Lúthien (2017), both edited by the author’s son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien.

The mythical tale of romance sees mortal Beren and elf Lúthien embark on a quest together and fall in love. Following the final battle Lúthien revives the mortally-wounded Beren by renouncing her own immortality.

The story – and the materials connected with it – is especially interesting as it was a very personal tale written by Tolkien after he returned from the Battle of the Somme. The names Beren and Lúthien are carved of the gravestone Tolkien and his wife Edith (née Bratt) share in Wolvercote cemetery, near Oxford.

Among the materials related to this under-explored story that will be on public display for the first time are a page from the Quenta Silmarillion which introduces the tale of Beren and Lúthien, Beren’s heraldic device, and the Second Silmarillion map, on which Beren and Lúthien are mentioned.

Tolkien’s undergraduate years at Exeter College, his relationship with Edith, and his wartime service will soon be brought to life in a film biopic starring Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as Edith. The film, which was partly shot at Exeter College, is being produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Chernin Entertainment.

Anyone wishing to discover more about Tolkien can do so for free at the Maker of Middle-earth exhibition between 1 June and 28 October 2018. The film biopic, Tolkien, is likely to be released in cinemas towards the end of 2018.

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