Back from New York, Part 1: The Tolkien Exhibition

“No masks, wizard staffs, scepters, axes, bow and arrows, or swords are permitted.” Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been to a museum show with such a rule!

As I had promised in this space back on June 17 of last year, I went to the Morgan Library in NYC to see the magnificent exhibit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s notes, artwork, maps, and papers. Although it was unsurprisingly crowded — despite our wise choice to get there before it opened — it was well worth seeing and I am glad that we made it the inspiration for our week in New York. More on everything else that we did will appear in my next post in this blog; let’s just concentrate on the Tolkien exhibition for this post.

No visitors while we were there were dressed in costume, even though costumes were permitted (without those weapons, of course). And the order of items was fairly random, which at first unsettled me but then I liked it, as it enhanced the sense of exploring a somewhat unfamiliar world without a predetermined tour. There was quite a bit of Tolkien’s original artwork, such as shown in the illustrations here, providing me with a rather different view into Tolkien’s world than what I’m used to, which would emphasize the stories, the languages, and the maps.

There’s nothing like looking at the actual artifacts to get a sense of the reality of the subject of any exhibit. Those who know me will not be surprised to hear that I was particularly taken by the maps and the linguistic information, even though I badly wanted more of both. (Quite a few books on Tolkien have been published, but apparently no one has written a book that focuses entirely on his maps and languages. Barbara suggests that I should write one.) The maps demonstrate clearly why anyone drawing a map should do it on graph paper, as Tolkien was fanatical about making sure that his distances and travel times in Middle Earth were all consistent.

I still can’t get excited by the Silmarillion, even though Tolkien considered it his best work. Maybe I’ll give it another chance.

By the way, although I’m sure you’ve noticed the Finnish influences on Elvish, has anyone realized that the runic alphabet in The Hobbit was completely different from the runic alphabet in The Lord of the Rings? That’s the kind of geeky observation I made in college. Time to return to such matters now that I’m semi-retired.


Categories: Books, Travel