Lonely Planet Writer

Never-before-seen Tolkien works exploring mythical romance will go on display in Oxford

JRR Tolkien fans have a new opportunity to explore the writer’s incredible works as a new selection of never-before-seen materials will go on display at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford.

Beren first saw Lúthien singing and dancing in the woods of Neldoreth. He was captivated by her and named her ‘Tinuviel’, meaning ‘nightingale’. She was the daughter of the elven King Thingol and his wife, Melian, a Maia or angelic spirit, and is described as ‘the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar’.
This is the second heraldic device that Tolkien created for Lúthien: an indication of the importance of her character both to him, and to the story.
MS. Tolkien Drawings 91, fol. 9 Image by © The Tolkien Trust 1973

The library has compiled what it calls “an unprecedented selection of materials” exploring the love story of Beren and Lúthien, a mortal man and an elf maiden. The story features in a number of Tolkien’s works, including The Silmarillion and 2017’s Beren and Lúthien, both published posthumously and edited by the author’s son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien.

A portrait of JRR Tolkien taken on 9 Aug 1973. This was the last photograph ever taken of Tolkien. He is standing in the Botanic Garden, Oxford, next to his favourite tree, the Pinus Nigra. He died less than a month later. Shelfmark: MS. Tolkien photogr. 8, fol. 122 Image by © The Tolkien Trust 1977

The story follows the pair as they head out on a quest and fall in love, ending after the final battle, when “Lúthien revives the mortally-wounded Beren by renouncing her own immortality”. Now, original manuscripts and illustrations relating to the story will go on display as part of the exhibition, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, which will run 1 June to 28 October 2018. For fans of the famed Lord of the Rings writer, there will be a host of Tolkien items on display, like manuscripts, artwork, maps, letters and artefacts, exploring his work an artist, poet, medievalist and scholar of languages.

The watercolour illustration is one of the earliest known items relating to The Silmarillion, and was painted when Tolkien was still an undergraduate at Oxford. In the midst of his finals, in May 1915, he drew this depiction of Kôr, the city of the Elves in the Blessed land of the Gods, Valinor. The white citadel is seen through the entwined branches of the Two Trees, bearing the light of the moon and the sun. It is clear from this painting that his legendarium was already well advanced. Althrough he worked on it throughout his life The Silmarillion was left unfinished on his death and was edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, and published posthumously in 1977.
Shelfmark: MS. Tolkien Drawings 87, fol. 22r Image by © The Tolkien Trust 1995

Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian Libraries and curator of the upcoming exhibition, said in a statement: “the aim of this exhibition is to take visitors beyond what they may already know about the work of this extraordinary author – his talent as an artist, linguist and creator of the many different characters who lived in Middle-earth. The story of Beren and Lúthien resonates with us today more than ever because it speaks of the possibility that love can transcend the differences that sometimes separate us.” Admission is free, but guests can only visit the exhibition with a ticket, which can be reserved on the day or in advance online here.

Oxford is already on the map for literature lovers, as the British city has been home to writers like Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis. Most recently, the city made another appearance in Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage that had avid readers ready for a visit.