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I recently returned to the USA from a sudden but exciting adventure across the pond to the United Kingdom. The goal of the trip was three-fold: to study some unpublished manuscripts of J.R.R. Tolkien (for an article or two in progress), to tour sites related to Owain Glyndwr (for an upcoming book), and to visit the site recently identified as the location of the Battle of Brunanburh.
As a result, the trip was pretty well packed with things to do, so I’ll be breaking up my trip report here into smallish doses. Enjoy!
. . .
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
I am writing this at the Eagle and Child in Oxford, known to many simply as the “Bird and Baby.” It was here that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the rest of the Inklings would occasionally gather to commune with the muses and to share their works in progress with each other.
I’m here now, drinking a pint of ale from Cornwall. It’s dinner time, and I’m rather hungry as I’ve not eaten since, um, around 9 this morning.
I’ve been busy.
Not much to report from Day One of this wee adventure, which essentially just had me flying from Charleston to Detroit and thence, after a 4-hour layover, on a plane to Oxford. My stress-level through the airports was much relieved by the fact that I had everything I needed for the trip with me: I’m doing this trip on a single carry-on bag, which is an adventure in and of itself that I’ll write about at some point.
The trans-Atlantic flight went as well as such things can go. I was seated beside a person who wanted to chat a bit more than I do, my seat wouldn’t recline, and there were perhaps 60 16-year-olds from Michigan aboard with some kind of high school band trip. I think I might have slept maybe 30 minutes, which isn’t the ideal plan.
Day Two began with the security run. Happily, I gained admittance to the UK went just fine.
My plan was to grab a bus from Heathrow to Oxford to shave some money off the budget — cheaper than the train or car — and because I didn’t know how long customs would take I had to get bus tickets at the airport. This proved more complicated and time-consuming than I expected.
Hold on. Bangers and mash just arrived. Back in a moment!
Oh man. I needed that. Pretty heavy with the pint of doom, though. I think I’m going to walk a bit in the dying light, burn off some of these calories.
Okay. Two hours later now. Took a long walk around town, randomly heading from one spot to another. I’m trying to take pictures, but Oxford is mobbed with people.
Anyway, it turns out that buses to Oxford only leave from Terminal 5, which is a loooong way from Terminal 4, which we landed at. So I had to take a bus to reach my bus. I made it to Oxford, though, and I’m staying at Jesus College, which is lovely and right in the middle of things without being swamped with tourists. Got checked in no problem, got wireless hooked up, and got myself over to the Bodleian.
Check in there went perfectly, too. Pretty amazing. They’re remodeling the library I’d normally work at, which is next door to me, so I have to walk a couple of beautiful blocks to Radcliffe Science Library.
They had a pile of beautiful, pulse-raising Tolkien manuscripts waiting for me, and I obviously spent the day going over the first boxes and making plans for the next days.
I’ve found good stuff already, and I’m sure there’s more still!
Thursday, 14 July 2011
I slept perhaps 10 hours last night. I was clearly very tired.
It is now a little after 3:30 in the afternoon, and I’m sitting in the reading room, awaiting delivery of another batch of Tolkien’s papers.
I took morning breakfast in the Jesus College dining hall. The food was fine, but the surrounds were extraordinary. I ate beneath a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth (among other luminaries).
After breakfast, of course, I hustled to the library and spent the morning reading Tolkien. Some really interesting findings, which I can’t go into much detail about without someone tracking me down. One thing relates to his use of the name Frodo, though, and the other relates to the history of composition for The Hobbit (which has long been confused).
Tolkien’s writing is difficult, but I’m getting accustomed to it. It’s quite exciting, I must say, to read it all.
There are, alas, some things they still aren’t letting me see, though I have written the Estate’s lawyer to beg to be allowed access. Hopefully word will come soon.
That’s it for now. Not very exciting except from the academic perspective. Next batch of manuscripts coming …
So. Now awaiting my meal at a pub called the Old Bookbinders. Very much a local sort of place (Old Bookies) in a part of town that is new to me.
It turns out I was working on Tolkien’s papers until closing time at the library, which came much earlier than I would have liked, so it is after 8 now. (And I’m hungry, though nothing like yesterday, when I was literally getting dizzy as I walked.
The last batch of manuscripts was a goldmine of material — so much that I despair of getting through it all tomorrow. I suspect now that Tolkien was considering writing a particular book about Beowulf, though it was very much in a fractured state at his death. There are hundreds of pages and scraps of pages, filled with his small, fancy (and oft-difficult) script. It is exciting stuff, and it has me reconsidering the scope of my current project.
Friday, 15 July 2011
Last full day in Oxford, and by a minor miracle I managed to get things done.
There were many manuscripts to look at, and not all were of use. Some, however, most definitely were. Remarkably, I actually made it through all I had with literally fifteen minutes to spare before closing at the Library.
I never did get permission to see a couple of things — the Estate regards them as totally closed — but I did get some tantalizing glimpses of what they might be. I even found a scrap reference related to The Lord of the Rings that I don’t think is known. At least I don’t think I have ever read it before. I’ll have to do some research about it. Pretty awesome if it is truly new.
Lots more about Tolkien and Beowulf, too, which is the stuff I was after.
So tomorrow I will set out as early as I can manage, to drive out to Pilleth via Kentchurch Court. The weather is looking a bit sketchy, but that was expected. I have gone ahead and made reservations for tomorrow night in Pilleth, though I’m worried about how long it will take to get there.
Am a bit worried about driving through the UK backroads that are in my future, but there’s nothing for it but to carry on.