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Travels on the Oloremalle – Questing for The Leaf-Mould of Tolkien’s Mind

Mae Govannen

My travels up and down the Oloremalle this week have been quite busy!  On ‘my day’ job front we are on stage rehearsing the opening two productions of the 2014 Glyndebourne Festival Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss) and Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky) with the opening Festival weekend looming in middle May (when yours truly puts on his DJ (tuxedo for Americans!) and spends the summer thanking, and thanking and thanking all of the supporters who make the Glyndebourne Festival possible).  There is nothing like being on a train from Brighton at 1am in your DJ and I-pad!

With my Tolkien Post-Graduate Research hat (or cowl) on two major projects are coming to a close.  First, I am in the final stages of revising a major chunk of my ‘The Genesis of Tolkien’s Mythology’ thesis for review by my PhD advisor, Dr Dimitra Fimi in early May.  I am also putting together the Power-Point presentation that will accompany the paper I am giving next week at the 49th International Congress at Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo Michigan.  I will be giving this paper ‘Approaching Se Uncutha Holm: Tolkien’s Early Study of Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose as A Source for the Invention of Ottor Waefre’ on the first day of the conference (15 minute time limit!) and the research for it has opened up several areas of related investigation which I hope to turn into an article at some point.

I am so excited to be attending this conference with such esteemed Tolkien scholars as Dimitra, John Rateliff, Douglas A Anderson, Deborah Sabo, Brad Eden just to name a few.  I still sometimes have to pinch myself that I actually know these people (one of the great things about being part of the Tolkien Community through organizations like The Tolkien Society, Mythgard Institute/Signum University, etc.).  Dimitra and I will certainly be Facebook-ing and Tweeting from the conference with reports on papers and events including planned live readings of Tolkien’s ‘Songs for Philologists’ and The Fall of Arthur.

I am also very excited to be enrolled in my 9th Mythgard Institute/Signum University course – The Lord of the Rings: A Cultural Studies and Audience Reception Approach which starts next Monday and will be taught by Dr. Robin Anne Reid.  The first series of classes will cover readings from The Lord of the Rings, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and what for me is one of the most important books of Tolkienian critical analysis and research ever Dr.Dimitra Fimi’s Tolkien, Race and Cultural History (which I have read several times but will eagerly read again for this class).  This course offers an exciting way to explore Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and its impact on audiences in a new exciting way and I am looking forward to talking the journey with my current and new Mythgard colleagues.

I also just recently agreed to join the governing Board of Signum University/Mythgard Institute to help Professor Corey Olsen where I can help achieve his brilliant vision to bring low cost opportunities to explore all areas of learning to as wide an audience as possible.  As my expertise tends towards fund-raising I am sure this is where I can give the most help and am in talks with our great leader to do similar where I can for The Tolkien Society.

Ok before I become like Eriol in The Book of Lost Tales and keep going on and on –  let me get to the point of my post this week.  As I have been doing Tolkien focused research one of the things I have tried to do is find and read the books that Tolkien would have read as a boy and in his time as an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford to better understand (as much as one can) what ideas and thoughts formed what Tolkien later called ‘the leaf-mould of the mind’ which is made up of ‘all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the depths.’ (cited from Fisher, Tolkien and the Study of His Sources (2011), p. 190)  Tolkien also mentioned the leaf-mould in one of his letters referring to the ‘primary world’ source for his invented names.

Nonetheless one’s mind is, of course, stored with a ‘leaf-mould’ of memories (submerged) of names, and those rise up to the surface at times, and may provide with modification the bases of ‘invented’ names.  (Letters, p. 409)

Towards this end my colleague Marcel Aubron-Bülles has done a brilliant post on Great Studying Resources for Any Tolkien Fan. I would like to contextualize this a bit by suggesting two areas of interesting investigation around both the idea of what Tolkien might have ‘read’ and ‘thought.’  Given that Tolkien was a very well read man and was shaped by a diversity of cultural, social, academic and other forces to achieve this quest is as tricky as cutting a silmaril from Morgoth’s crown but one can try to achieve a bit of an understanding.

Towards the ‘read’ category there are books that can be studied as potential sources and analogues for specific ideas that Tolkien used or re-purposed for his legendarium.  I would personally suggest two good works to read for this is ‘Appendix A – Tolkien’s Sources: The True Tradition’ in Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle Earth – The Revised Edition (2005: HarperCollins). The other is the aforementioned excellent book edited by Jason Fisher Tolkien and the Study of His Sources (2011: McFarland).  These will give you a good starting point for this type of exploration of what Tolkien may have ‘read’ and then re-used or re-purposed through his own mythic imagination.

For me the more challenging and therefore interesting one has been to identify books and sources that go more to the deeper ‘thought’ category of the ‘leaf-mould’ quote.  Those that do not have an overt analogue/source in Tolkien’s legendarium, but would have influenced Tolkien’s thinking and mythological process.  I have been quite pleased to find that in this quest there are several on-line sources that someone who is interested in understanding what influenced Tolkien’s thinking can go to for exploration and analysis.

A recent discovery (thanks to my Mythgard Colleague (and Queen of The Riddles in the Dark Hobbit podcasts) – Trish Lambert) is an on-line source called Forgotten Books.  Forgotten Books has the texts to over a hall a million books that are currently out of print.  You can partially view them on-line for free or sign up for a membership (for £2 a month you can download 20 books).  These can be downloaded as a PDF or directly on to a Kindle.  So far through Forgotten Books I have been able to get complete texts of the following books which it is safe to assume Tolkien may have read or at least known of:

  • A.H. Sayce – The Principles of Comparative Philology (1872) and The Introduction to the Science of Language (2 vols) (1874)
  • Israel Gollancz – Hamlet in Iceland: Being the Icelandic Romantic Ambales (1898)
  • Israel Gollancz – Cynewulf’s Crist: An Eighth Century English Epic (1892)
  • John Rhys – Lectures on Welsh Philology (1877)
  • R.W. Chambers – Widsith – A Study in Old English Heroic Legend (1912)
  • R.W. Chambers – Beowulf and Finn (1921)

As well as the four volumes of Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology. This is a site worth mining for many mythological and linguistic mathoms that would have been of interest to Tolkien and possibly influenced what he ‘thought.’

I also have found the site to be full of all kinds of treasures.  For example you can read an online version of the very Finnish Grammar that Tolkien used to attempt to learn Finnish, Eliot’s 1890 Finnish Grammar which includes several reading sections in Finnish and English in the back from Kalevala including one you might find familar.

In future blog postings I will suggest some other mines of on-line sources that may help you on your own quests into the realm of Tolkienian exploration and analysis and ‘the leaf-mould’ of his mind.   For me this is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in this circle of the world.

For now it is off to work then back to the thesis (deadlines!) and I will be sure to blog from across the pond in Kalamazoo (wonder if KALA comes from the Qenya root ‘shine golden’ – one to think about!)

For now…Namarie!  Nai hiruvalye Valinor – Andyx

About the Author: Andrew Higgins
Andrew Higgins is a part-time PhD student at the School of Education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Andrew’s research focuses on the genesis of Tolkien’s mythology (1906-1920) with specific emphasis on Tolkien’s linguistic invention and his creative reuse of medieval and contemporary sources. He has presented in international conferences on Tolkien studies and has conducted archival research for his thesis. He is currently the Director of Development at Glyndebourne where he leads a team responsible for funding the Glyndebourne opera festival and related tour and educational activities. His recent paper on Tolkien and Wagner bridge his research interests and professional career. Andrew lives in London with his husband David and their children Charlie the Wonder Corgi and Shadow/Lumina the Cat. Andrew has been a member of the UK Tolkien Society since 2007.