Tolkien's Calligraphic Poems in Elvish to Auction: £200,000 Estimate


An example of Tolkien's autograph manuscript calligraphic poems

Two autograph manuscript calligraphic poems by J.R.R. Tolkien, his notes on Elvish languages of Middle-earth, and 21 related letters to British composer Donald Swann from the 1960s will go under the hammer at Sotheby's on July 11.

Tolkien had a lifelong fascination with inventing languages and began to construct the Elvish group which appeared in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings during the 1930s. The lot coming to sale includes rare calligraphic manuscripts produced by Tolkien for publication, as well as 13 pages of useful notes on Elvish languages and history, for Donald Swann's song-cycle The Road Goes Ever On (1968) which set poems from The Lord of the Rings to music. Two of the poems chosen by Swann - A Elbereth Gilthoniel (not translated in the trilogy) and Namárië (sung by Galadriel)-  were in Elvish languages, and Tolkien's notes are written to give context to the poems.

The accompanying letters begin after the first meeting between Tolkien and Swann, who is best known for his musical collaborations with Michael Flanders in the 1950s and 1960s, and chronicle their growing friendship, Tolkien admitting he was uncomfortable with the fame that came with the huge success of his books. Naturally they also discussed the songs, Tolkien writing on March 21, 1966, that "Galadriel was a southerner, but I have no doubt some of the Elvish folk up at Rivendell had a western accent. We will suppose the W.E. represent Glorfindel. But let him trill his Rs. All Elves did that!" 

The manuscripts and notes that Tolkien sent to Swann were used in the published version of The Road Goes Ever On and were then kept by Swann, and come to auction through family descent. The majority of the letters in the lot are unpublished.

Sotheby's describes the lot as "undoubtedly the most important cache of original Tolkien material relating to Middle Earth to come to the open market in many years". The estimate is £150,000 - £200,000.