Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scattered leaves

Several libraries hold copies of books once owned by Tolkien, often inscribed and in some cases annotated by him. I’ve been fortunate enough to see and handle some of these myself at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M (a topic for another day, but you can read about these books here), but the Bodleian library system has perhaps the largest collection of such copies. Judging from an excavation of their online catalog, the Bodleian and its satellites hold about two dozen books once owned by Tolkien. Three of these have been digitized so that we all read the very copies that once sat on Tolkien’s own bookshelves.

As a public service, I thought I’d share the results of my excavations. I’m not going to the trouble of providing all the individual library and shelving details here, but if you’re in the area and want to find any of these books, you can look them up yourself with SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online).

Although merely owning a book doesn’t always mean one has read it — that is certainly true for me! — the books Tolkien owned do give us some insight into the man’s interests. Perusing the following, there isn’t a whole lot here that is strikingly new, but we see books on Indo-European linguistics; the Germanic languages, including Primitive Germanic, Gothic, Middle Low German, Old Dutch, Old Frisian, Old English, Old Norse; other European languages, including Middle Scots, French, Flemish, Galician, Spanish, Lithuanian; as well as history (the Vikings), legend (northern Germanic heroic sagas), and literature (Caxton).

As I said, there are other libraries with books once owned by Tolkien, and I have been gradually searching these out as time and inspiration strike. Anyone who has links and other information, please feel free to share it in the comments. Or if you’ve written up your own findings somewhere, please let us all know!

I. Books owned by Tolkien (with digital scans)

Bremer, Otto. Ethnographie der germanischen Stämme. Strassburg: Trübner, 1904. Gorgeous calligraphic inscription on the title page: “John Reuel Tolkien | e. coll. exon. | oxon. | mdccccxiv”. That’s 1914 — a very early book in Tolkien’s library. Illegible marginalia on p. 20; possibly another on p. 122. You can see Tolkien’s inscription above.

Persson, Per. Studien zur Lehre: von der Wurzelerweiterung und Wurzelvariation. Upsala: Academiska Boktryckeriet, 1891. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “J.R.R. Tolkien | 1926”. Illegible marginal note on p. 50; a partially legible note on/in Greek at the top of p. 130 with an x in the left margin; a legible Greek word in the right margin on p. 157; and a final, only partially legible note on the rear endpaper. These appear to be in Tolkien’s hand, but I have examined them only very hastily at this point.

von Richthofen, Karl Freiherrn. Altfriesisches Wörterbuch. Göttingen: Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, 1840. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “J.R.R. Tolkien”, along with a date that is nearly illegible but looks to me like it might be 1926 or 1928. No inscriptions in the body of the book as far as I could tell on a quick inspection.

II. Books owned by Tolkien (without digital scans)

[No Author Given]. Festschrift für Berthold Delbrück. Special issue of Indogermanische Forschungen, Bd. 31, 1912/13. Strassburg: Verlag von Karl J. Trübner, 1912–1913. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Einenkel, Eugen. Geschichte der Englischen Sprache: II. Historische Syntax. Strassburg: K.J. Trübner, 1916. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Faust. Historia von D. Johann Fausten dem weitbeschreyten zauberer und schwarzkünstler. [Jena]: [E. Diederichs], [1911]. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Feist, Sigmund. Einführung in das Gotische: Texte mit Übersetzungen und Erläuterungen. Leipzig: Teubner, 1922. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Gessler, Jean. Le livre des mestiers de Bruges et ses dérivés: Quatre anciens manuels de conversation. Bruges: [Fondation universitaire de Belgique], 1931. Flemish translation, vocabulary, and French-English parallel-text version of Caxton’s “Ryght good lernyng”. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Heusler, Andreas. Deutsche Versgeschichte: mit Einschluss des altenglischen und altnordischen Stabreimverses. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1925–1929. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.

Horn, Wilhelm. Beiträge zur germanischen sprachwissenschaft: Festschrift für Otto Behaghel. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1924. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Karsten, T. E. Die Germanen: eine Einführung in die Geschichte ihrer Sprache und Kultur. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1928. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.

Kauffmann, Friedrich. Deutsche Altertumskunde. München: Beck, 1913–1923. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Kendrick, T. D. A History of the Vikings. London: Methuen, [1930]. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Kretschmer, Paul. Die indogermanische Sprachwissenschaft : eine Einführung für die Schule.
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1925. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Leskien, August. Litauisches Lesebuch mit Grammatik und Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1919. Inscribed by Tolkien; no further details provided.

Mansion, Joseph. Oud-gentsche naamkunde : bijdrage tot de kennis van het oud-nederlandsch. ’s-Gravenhage : M. Nijhoff, 1924. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Nuñez, Marcial Valladares. Diccionario gallego-castellano. Santiago [de Compostela]: Impr. del Seminario Conciliar Central, 1884. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Schneider, Hermann. Germanische Heldensage. Bd. 1. Einleitung: Ursprung und Wesen der Heldensage. Buch 1: Deutsche Heldensage. Bd. 2, Abt. 1: Buch 2: Nordgermanische Heldensage -- Bd. 2, Abt. 2: Buch.3: Englische Heldensage. Festländische Heldensage in nordgermanischer und englischer Überlieferung. Verlorene Heldensage. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1928–34. Each volume has a bookplate, “Presented by the executors of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien”, and is inscribed by Tolkien.

Smith, G. Gregory. Specimens of Middle Scots. Edinburgh; London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1902. Inscribed on the first flyleaf: “John Reuel Tolkien. Exeter Coll. March 1914”. Another book in Tolkien’s library from a very early date!

Stammler, Wolfgang. Mittelniederdeutsches Lesebuch. Hamburg: P. Hartung, 1921. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

Wood, Francis A. Indo-European ax: axi: axu: A study in ablaut and in word formation. Strassburg: K.J. Trubner, 1905. Tolkien’s copy; no further details provided.

III. Tolkien’s own books (given by Tolkien to others)

Tolkien, J.R.R. Tree and Leaf. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964. The Bodleian has two copies of interest, one inscribed by Tolkien to his son, John, in July 1964, and the other inscribed to his wife, Edith (no date given).

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. Inscribed by Tolkien to his son, John. No date or other information given.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954. Inscribed “J.F.R. Tolkien from J.R.R.T. Nov. 1954”.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1955. Inscribed “J.F.R.T. from J.R.R. Tolkien for Nov. 16 1955”.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit or, There and Back Again. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1937. The Bodleian has a second-impression copy inscribed “J.F.R. Tolkien from J.R.R.T.”. The Merton College Library also has a second-impression copy, this one inscribed to “Norman Davis from J.R.R. Tolkien” on the recto of the first flyleaf. This copy contains an inserted card with printed address, “Merton College, Oxford OX1 4JD Telephone no. 49651”, followed by a handwritten note, “Presented to the Library by Professor Norman Davis, Emeritus Fellow of the College, 18th October 1983”.

And finally, one especially interesting copy not owned by Tolkien.

[Unknown]. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Edited by J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925. C.S. Lewis’s personal copy, with detailed glosses throughout and in which he drew and “annotated a knight’s armour as a key to the technical vocabulary used by the poet for the arming of Sir Gawain, as he prepares to set out in search of the mysterious Green Knight (pp. 18–19)”. Recently, this book was displayed as part of the Romance of the Middle Ages exhibit that ran 28 January through 13 May 2012. It was also part of the Bodleian exhibit, “Tolkien: Life and Legend”, in his centenary year, 1992. If you have a copy of the exhibit catalog, you can see Lewis’s illustration of the knight’s armor on p. 39, item 70.


  1. Hi Jason

    As always a brilliant blog post. The Francis Wood book is especially interesting for some work I am doing on the role of the Ablaut in the early Qenya Phonologies - will need to get over to Texas at some point to look at these! Thanks! Andy

    1. Thanks, Andy! Just to clarify, the books referred to in this post are all in Oxford, not Texas. It’s an entirely different set of books — sixteen or so, if I am recalling the right number without double-checking — that are in central Texas. Though many of those also deal with the same subject matter.

  2. Thank you very much, Jason - only recently I've been asked about a complete list of "Tolkien's library" and to have this would be a treat, indeed. I know the family still has quite a few, the English Dept. obviously as well - it'd be an amazing list, I am quite sure :)

    1. A complete inventory of Tolkien's library is probably an impossibility. Libraries evolve almost like living creatures. Even if you fixed a point in time — at the end of Tolkien’s life? — you don't account for books that came and went before. And of course, new material will always be coming to light. But I certainly agree it would be good to know as much as we can know. Eventually, I hope to collate everything I've found into a single list, but in the meantime, I thought it would be beneficial to get this out there.

  3. Another great post, Jason. As soon as I read "partially legible" I thought I'd have a go at them. Here is what I read in the notes in Persson 130 and endpaper:

    x ισλὺς - σισλυς - ισλυς by dissim. = ῑλύς.
    cf [deleted ιχθυς] ἰσχὺς - σισχυς = ισχυς by dissim.

    for βλεμεαινω connected with βλύω cf. glu- and
    glomus (Ger klemmen = glomi̯an)

    The second note refers to footnote 2 on p. 69: "βλεμεαίνω : βλύω ?". I believe the reconstructions σισλυς and σισχυς with dissimilation of the first σ- are highly debatable but that's another matter.

    Finally, the Altfriesisches Wörterbuch has a note on the price of the book on the third page of the PDF file. This not only looks like Tolkien's hand too, but it also has a date "1934" so it must have been written while it was in Tolkien's possession, being later than the the 192? below Tolkien's name.

    Yes I know that this wasn't about deciphering the notes but some people find that kind of thing irresistible. I really look forward to seeing the complete list of your findings.

    1. Thanks, Hlaford! I'm glad somebody took the time to decipher and share the content of these notes. I found I could mostly read the legible ones, and that was good enough for me for now. But this is very helpful for everyone else. :)

  4. The article on the Tolkien Library website was the very early product of a research project that culminated in my
    undergraduate thesis (which can now be consulted at the Bodleian Library). My thesis focused on the collection held at Texas A&M's Cushing Library and corresponding material at the Bodleian. The finer details of Tolkien's academic work warrant much more attention than they have generally received; the topics of Tolkien's research and lectures -- which are integrated in his fiction -- are revealed in marginalia and reading/lecture notes. Hopefully this is an area of Tolkien Studies that will be pursued more thoroughly in the future!

    1. Hi, Madeline. I agree Tolkien’s research and lectures should be the subject of further research, and as you might remember, I had done quite a bit of work on the Cushing collection myself and was preparing an essay for publication. I am wondering whether you ever sought or received permission for publishing reproductions and quotations online. One really ought not to do that without permission. At best, it is poor manners to the owners of the physical and intellectual property; at worse, it is illegal, constituting copyright infringement. Imagine if, while Christopher Tolkien was preparing Tolkien‘s Beowulf manuscript for publication, someone who had seen it in the Bodleian simply published it online. This case is obviously much lower-profile, but it is no different in principle. For my part, anyway, I never though it was right for Pieter to publish it, and it certainly makes all the more understandable some of the safeguards the Bodleian and Marquette have put in place. Texas A&M (my alma mater too, by the way), should do likewise. The cherry on top was that it rendered largely moot a great deal of work.

  5. The erstwhile director of Cushing Library was my thesis advisor so don't worry -- permission for reproductions and quotations were received years ago! I do appreciate your concern, though.

    1. Good to know! Did you also get permission from the Tolkien Estate? Normally you need to talk to Cathleen Blackburn of Maier Blackburn for that. And if you do have permission from both, it’s good practice to disclose that permission when you publish your piece. There is no mention of permission on your original online essay.

  6. Yes, as I mentioned in my previous comment, permission for the article was secured quite a while ago. In fact, it was in the course of my correspondence with Ms. Blackburn that I learned of the "safeguards" that the Tolkien Estate and the Bodleian have (understandably) put on Tolkien's materials -- I wasn't able to obtain scans from the Bodleian of the material I needed because researchers are required to visit in person, but thankfully A&M was able to give me funding for a research trip to Oxford. As my article was posted almost three years ago I find this conversation rather pointless, but I'll be sure to keep your advice in mind for when I publish my next piece of scholarship. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye out for your essay on the Cushing collection.

    1. You find the conversation pointless? Perhaps that is because you are missing the point. And I might remind you that you came to my blog and started it.

      Let me be very specific. If you had permission from both the Cushing Library and the Tolkien Estate at the time you published this article online, that permission ought to have been explicitly disclosed as part of the article. You could still ask Pieter Collier to add a statement explicitly disclosing that permission to the article now (assuming you had it at the time). If you did not have it when the article was published, then it should not have been published. I am not talking about your undergraduate thesis, which I have not seen. I am talking about the reproduction and quotations you published online with no accompanying statement of permission. That is poor practice. It could still be remedied — if you care. If you don't, then this conversation really is pointless, in which case I don't know why you bothered commenting on my post in the first place