Museum  January 24, 2019  Megan D Robinson

The Multi-Faceted Creativity of JRR Tolkien

Courtesy the Morgan Library and Museum, © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves, July 1937, watercolor, pencil, white body color. Bodleian Libraries, MS.

Courtesy Morgan Library and Museum

Studio of H.J. Whitlock & Sons Ltd., Birmingham, J.R.R. Tolkien, January 1911, black and white photograph. Bodleian Libraries, MS.

Considered by many to be the father of modern high fantasy, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973), one of the world’s most beloved writers, introduced millions to the hobbits, elves, heroes and dragons of Middle-earth through his popular literary works, beginning with The Hobbit. Opening in New York January 25 at the Morgan Library & Museum, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is the largest collection of Tolkien material ever assembled in the United States. “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.”

Courtesy Morgan Library and Museum, © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Dust jacket design for The Hobbit, April 1937, pencil, black ink, watercolor, gouache. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Tolkien

The exhibition offers a rare window into Tolkien’s life, creative process and world-building. Featuring 117 objects, including family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, artifacts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, the exhibition leads viewers through Tolkien’s evolution as a writer and artist. A medieval language scholar, Tolkien invented languages, myth and history to flesh out his world. Highlights include his early abstract paintings, illustrated letters to his children, draft manuscripts of The Hobbit and the original manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, along with arresting book-related art.

Drawing by Father Christmas of the Aurora Borealis
Courtesy Morgan Library and Museum, © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1976

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Drawing by Father Christmas of the Aurora Borealis, December 1926, watercolor, black ink, colored pencil, pencil. Bodleian Libraries, MS.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Conversation with Smaug, July 1937
Courtesy Morgan Library and Museum, © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Conversation with Smaug, July 1937, black and colored ink, watercolor, white body color, pencil. Bodleian Libraries, MS.

Abstract design
Courtesy Morgan Library and Museum, © The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973), Abstract design, February 1960, black ink, colored ballpoint on newspaper. Tolkien Trust, MS.

First presented at the Bodleian Libraries in 2018, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth combines work from the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Libraries (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders. “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.”

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is on view through May 12, 2019, with lectures, symposiums, gallery talks and workshops scheduled throughout. An associated publication, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, by Tolkien Archivist Catherine McIlwaine, will be available for purchase. With over 300 images, it is the largest single-volume collection of original Tolkien material ever assembled.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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