Tolkien Sights in Oxford

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Tolkien Sights in Oxford

On my travels through England, I also wanted to walk in the footsteps of another of Oxford’s great: J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien is of course the author of The Hobbit (1937) & The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955). While I am admittedly not 100% versed in all things “hobbit”, I do appreciate the imagination of a storyteller.  I wanted to see the places and things that inspired this great to create a new world called Middle Earth with goblins, hobbits, elves, orcs and other creatures & to see how Tolkien created his myths of tales of the ordinary man, made to grow beyond his previous limited horizons.

JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) grew up in South Africa and Birmingham, England. After graduating from Oxford, Tolkien fought in World War I. Upon the end of the war, Tolkien returned to Oxford and first worked at the New English Dictionary (The “Oxford English Dictionary”). He remained in Oxford and went on to become  a major scholar of the English language, specializing in Old and Middle English and twice Professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the University of Oxford.

As the story goes… one day he was marking examination papers and discovered that one candidate had left one page of an answer book blank. On this page he wrote “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”.  And the tale of The Hobbit commenced as he wove a tale about this imaginary world.

Here is my notes of the sites to see in Oxford where you can see and feel Tolkien’s vision:

1

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera is actually a Library and one of Oxford’s most spectacular buildings built in 1737-49. While the books inside are extraordinary, it is the exterior of this building that visitors love to photograph.
Tolkien decided that this building would be the inspiration for Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Nümenor.

Duke Humphrey's library is upstairs (closed to the public except tours) and is a filming location for the Harry Potter movies -  the "Restricted Section".

Radcliffe Camera in Oxford

2

Bodliean Library

The collection, begun in 1602, contains a copy of every book printed in Great Britain and it grows by 5,000 items very week. This is the location where many of Tolkien’s treasured manuscripts and original drawings for Lord of the Rings are kept and allows fans the unique privilege of seeing the original works close up. Furthermore, Tolkien’s inspiration for his repository of lore (Red Book of Westmarch) was the real Red Book of Hergest.  Bound in red leather, this is an early 15th century compilation of Welsh history and poetry that contains the manuscript of the Mabinogion.

The Red Book of Hergest has been on tour recently. Please inquire with the Bodleian regarding availability for viewing.

Tolkien Books

3

Museum of the History of Science

Tolkien spent two years working on the Oxford English Dictionary at the Old Ashmolean Museum in Broad Street which is now the Museum of the History of Science.  He later said that he had “learned more in those two years than in any other equal part of his life.” It is easy to see how his work as a lexicographer influenced Tolkien’s creative use of language in his fictional world.

4

The Botanic Gardens

This was a favorite spot for Tolkein. His favorite tree was a large Austrian black pine. In Lord of the Rings, the tree comes alive as the Ents, the walking, talking trees of Middle Earth.

Update: The tree was recently removed in 2014 after 215 years after two branches fell. You can still walk the gardens that inspired Tolkien and his friend CS Lewis.

The Botanic Garden in Oxford & Tolkien's Tree

5

Merton College

Tolkien was a professor of English language and literature between 1945 and 1959 after leaving Pembroke.  Tolkien would often write outdoors at an old stone table in the gardens. It might be the inspiration for the setting he had in mind for Elrond’s conference where 4 hobbits, 2 men, and one each of wizard/elf/dwarf pledge their faith to a fellowship of the One Ring.
Merton College Stone Table

6

Pembroke College

Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon between 1925 and 1945. Pembroke is also one of the most beautiful college chapel in Oxford.

7

Ashmolean Museum

There are many curiosities to view at Britain’s oldest museum.  One cabinet has a collection of Posie rings – gold finger rings with a short inscription on their surface. Sound familiar?
Oxford: Ashmolean Museum

8

The Eagle & Child

This was the pub where Tolkien, Lewis and other members of The Inklings literary group used to meet, enjoy a pint and discuss their works between 1933 and 1962 (though Tolkien stopped attending in the 1950s).

Look For: A handwritten note to the landlord, pinned up above the fireplace reads 'The undersigned, having just partaken of your ham, have drunk to your health', and is signed by the Inklings.

Eagle & Child Pub

9

Tolkein's Old Home

Tolkien lived at 20 Northmoor Road between 1930 and 1937.  This is where Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings.

10

Wolvercote Cemetery

The final resting place of Tolkien and his wife Edith. The modest gravestone bears the names Lúthien and Beren — referring to the love between an elf maiden who gave up her immortality for a mortal warrior (as told in several of Tolkien’s works, including Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), and the lifelong passion between the writer himself and his beloved wife, with whom he fell in love at the age of 16.

11

Rollright Stones

A bit of a drive near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, these stones may have provided an inspiration for the Barrow-downs, where the hobbits in The Lord Of The Rings are ensnared by a malevolent wraith that haunts a burial mound.

Tolkien Sights in Oxford

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Traveler Notes & Tips

Check out what’s in my camera bag?

BlueSkyTraveler visited Oxford, England, UK on an independent trip.

Inspired to visit the Oxford England?

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