New York — This winter, the Morgan Library & Museum offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see a remarkable collection of materials related to one of the world’s most beloved authors, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973). Tolkien’s adventurous tales ignited a fervid spark in generations of readers. From the children’s classic The Hobbit to the epic The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s stories of hobbits and elves, dwarves and wizards have introduced millions to the rich history of Middle-earth. Opening January 25, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth—a new exhibition at the Morgan organized in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford—celebrates the man and his creation.
This exhibition provides the largest collection of Tolkien material ever assembled in the United States. First presented at the Bodleian Libraries in 2018, the 117 objects on view include family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, artefacts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. The exhibition guides visitors through Tolkien’s development as a writer and artist, from his childhood and student days, through his career as a scholar of medieval languages and literature, to his family life as a husband and father. It presents a unique opportunity to understand the intensely visual imagination, the dedicated scholarship, and the aspects of daily life that shaped Tolkien’s most treasured works.
Notable objects in the exhibition include draft manuscripts of The Hobbit and the original manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, displayed alongside striking watercolors, dust jacket designs, and drawings. Other highlights are the photographs and letters from Tolkien’s childhood and student days. Drawn from the collections of the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Libraries (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders, the objects on display introduce visitors to Tolkien’s creative process from his early abstract paintings in The Book of Ishness and the letters written and illustrated for his children to his epic fantasy novels.
The exhibition also offers a rare look at Tolkien’s artistic output, which was wide-ranging and experimental, naturalistic and abstract. In his landscapes of Middle-earth and intricate designs, visitors can catch a glimpse of Tolkien world-building and working out his ideas on paper.
Since the publication of his novels, Tolkien has amassed a variety of admirers including poet W.H. Auden and singer Joni Mitchell,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the museum. “This exhibition helps us see what was so extraordinary and universally appealing about his gifts as a storyteller and his ability to combine the scholarly with the artistic. The show presents an intimate look at Tolkien’s world through his handwritten and drawn works. We are grateful to the Bodleian Libraries, The Tolkien Estate and The Tolkien Trust for this landmark collaboration.”
“It is exciting to see so much material in Tolkien’s own hand,” said John McQuillen, Associate Curator of the Printed Books and Bindings Department. “It’s as if we are looking over his shoulder while he composes and illustrates his vision of Middle-earth. We get to glimpse moments in the creation of the narrative, such as when he changes the wizard’s name to Gandalf or suddenly comes up with the idea of the One Ring. It is almost voyeuristic: we have the opportunity to see the creative process that brought us the books with which we are so familiar.”
Image: J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973), Dust jacket design for The Hobbit, April 1937, pencil, black ink, watercolor, goache. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien Drawings 32. © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937. ® TOLKIEN is a registered trademark of The Tolkien Estate Limited.