Scholarship

Tolkien was a professor at the University of Leeds and later at the University of Oxford where he taught Old English, Middle English, Old Norse, Gothic, Medieval Welsh and Germanic philology. His expertise in these ancient languages was combined with an extensive knowledge of the history of the peoples who spoke them and of the stories they wrote about themselves. Echoes of his academic interests can be found throughout his literary works: from Bilbo’s theft of the golden cup from the dragon’s hoard (reminiscent of a similar episode in the Old English poem Beowulf) to his creation of two distinct but related Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin (mirroring the descent of English and other Germanic languages from a single predecessor language in the distant past).

Tolkien in his study at home, 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, c.1937

Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philology

Tom Shippey, a medievalist and a philologist, defines comparative philology and explains its importance for Tolkien’s literary works.

‘The Elvenking’s Gate’, illustration for The Hobbit, 1936

Tom Shippey, ‘Translations and scholarly editions of medieval texts’

Tom Shippey, medievalist and philologist, discusses Tolkien’s approach to reading and interpreting medieval texts, with particular reference to the Middle English texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo, and the Old English texts; Ancrene Wisse, Exodus and Finn and Hengest.

‘Lambourn Berkshire. West Door of Church’, 1912

Thomas Honegger, ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son’

‘Heart shall be bolder, harder be purpose,
more proud the spirit as our power lessens!
Mind shall not falter nor mood waver,
though doom shall come and dark conquer.’

Tolkien, ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son

‘The Wood at the World’s End’

Tom Shippey, ‘The Monsters and the Critics and other essays’

Tom Shippey explores this collection of Tolkien’s most important scholarly essays and lectures, and shows how they can shed light on his literary work.

‘wudu wyrtum faest’

‘Beowulf: a translation and commentary together with Sellic Spell’

An introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose translation of Beowulf, edited by Christopher Tolkien and published in 2014.

‘goose grass’

J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘Thoughts on Translation (Beowulf)’

Christopher Tolkien introduces his father’s previously unpublished views on translation.

Leo Carruthers, ‘Understanding Beowulf’

Leo Carruthers, an academic specializing in Anglo-Saxon literature, particularly Beowulf, presents his views on the medieval poem, setting it in a historical context and discussing its importance in Tolkien’s work.

Verlyn Flieger, ‘On Fairy Stories’

Verlyn Flieger, academic and author, explores Tolkien’s seminal essay which crystallized his views on the nature and purpose of fairy stories and fantasy in general.

The Ring Verse in Tengwar

Invented languages: Carl Hostetter, ‘Tolkien’s Invented Languages’

Carl Hostetter presents a brief introduction to the languages of Middle-earth, their development and underlying linguistic construction.

Runic inscription on Balin’s tomb found in the Mines of Moria

Invented scripts: Arden Smith, ‘Writing Systems’

Arden Smith provides a brief introduction to Tolkien’s invented alphabets and writing systems.

Links to medieval texts

It is to be noted that some but not all of these editions or translations were published during J.R.R. Tolkien’s lifetime.