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30th January 2008

Priscilla Tolkien visits Exeter

Written by Guy Pewsey

J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century, famous for his Middle Earth-based novels as well as his respected academic career. This great man’s life is inextricably linked with Oxford, and particularly with Exeter, the undergraduate college which he always looked back on so fondly. It is for this reason that Exeter was lucky enough to host an evening with Priscilla Tolkien, youngest daughter of the late writer, providing an opportunity to discover the more personal aspects of her father’s life and, in turn, how her own life has been affected by the attention brought about by the enormous success of novels such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

The many Exonians in attendance found great pleasure in Ms. Tolkien’s recollections of her father, including childhood memories of his almost childlike enthusiasm for life; it seems as though he saw college loyalty as vital, suggested by his narrow escape from a run-in with the police after an egg aimed at Jesus College missed its target, instead finding the head of a bobby on the beat. Parts of his time at Oxford however were tinged with tragedy as, according to Priscilla, the outbreak of war which led to mass conscription separated her father from many of his friends and peers.

While it was indeed a great pleasure to hear about the author’s time at Oxford from such a reliable source, Ms. Tolkien’s musings concerning her own life was equally compelling. She spoke enthusiastically of her enjoyment of the famous Christmas letters sent to her as a child by her father, and described her fondness for the books which made him famous, citing its timelessness and intensity of emotions as the reasons for its success. Priscilla also revealed her fondness for the bust of her father on display in the chapel, and certainly seemed pleased that her father’s old college is still home to so many of his fans. Ms. Tolkien was a lively speaker with a sunny disposition and a fondness for a good cup of tea, and all present found her talk both stimulating and informative, revealing the human side to the famous name.

Photo by Kitty Jansz.

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