Sacnoth’s Scriptorium

— a blog by John D. Rateliff

Bob Foster and Dick Plotz

29 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So thanks to Carl H for this one: a link to a Tolkien Day event featuring two key figures in early Tolkiendom: Robert Foster and Dick Plotz.

Foster is author of A Guide to Middle-earth and then later of The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, expanded to include The Silmarillion. This was a book so massively useful that Christopher Tolkien himself acknowledged and praised it (in his introduction to the first volume of HoMe).

Plotz founded The Tolkien Society of America (TSA), and launched the most successful of all the early Tolkien fanzines: The Tolkien Journal.…

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Sandyman’s buscuit factory

26 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, here at the end of my first week (of two) at the Archives, I once again marvel at the LotR manuscript collection. Even after so much time, reading closely through variant versions reveal how differently things cd have turned out at so many points, making the familiar text become strange and new again.

For example, consider two extremely minor details from the end of Plot Note F.

On a penciled scrap of paper placed at the end of PN F we are told that Frodo and Sam in the end come back to find the Shire ruined and the Sandyman house a biscuit factory.…

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When is Greenland not a Greenland?

26 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, following on from the previous post, in the second of two odd points arising from the hastily jotted thoughts that appear in the HoMe series as Plot Notes F, Frodo and Sam return home to find the Shire spoilt’. So they do not stay there. Instead

They go west and set sail to Greenland.

Christopher Tolkien points out the oddity of this but makes clear that the form isn’t a misreading. That is, Tolkien didn’t actually write green land or Green Land but ran it together as one word, beginning with a capital.…

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Newfangled fantasy: A fifty-book list

24 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

… With any list of this type, the immediate (and expected) response is to say well, what about [X]?’, naming a book or two the reader wd have liked to see included. 

But I’m dismayed at how few books from more than twenty years made it through. If what I’ve been reading all these years isn’t fantasy, what is? And if this truly were a fair representation of the fantasy genre as it stands today, then perhaps I’ve been left behind and it’s something else I’m really interested in. Classic Fantasy” perhaps? Dunsany and Adams and Hughart, McKillip and Briggs, and a host of others absent here.…

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Grybauskas Event

18 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to Janice S. for the link about an upcoming online Tolkien event: a presentation that focused on Peter Grybauskas’ new book, A sense of tales untold. Working Zoom events into the regular schedule can be tricky, but I’m definitely planning to attend this one.…

I have, but have not yet read, P.G.‘s book. That shd soon change; I brought it with me on my current trip to Milwaukee as downtime reading.…

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The earliest Tolkien radio adaptation

14 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to Yvette for the link to The Guardians piece on the rediscovery of scripts and notes from Terence Tiller’s 1955 – 56 twelve-part radio adaptation/​dramatization of The Lord of the Rings. We’ve known about this for a long time — JRRT discusses his misgivings about the project in two letters to Tiller (cf. Letters pp. 253 – 55) — but had few details (e.g. that unlike most adaptations of LotR it included Bombadil). The most valuable thing about this re-discovery is that it recovers a page in Tolkien’s handwriting in which he offers up a suggested rewriting of a scene.…

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A portrait of Priscilla

7 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to friend D. for the link that led to the following brief memoir. 

In addition to being a nice piece on Priscilla it focuses on a side of her life that often got overlooked — e.g., her work as a probation officer.


I particularly like the painting-portrait of Priscilla in what I think is the drawing room of her house.…

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Priscilla Tolkien dies

7 March 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, I was very sorry to hear about the death of Priscilla Tolkien, the last of JRRT’s children, at the age of ninety-two. I have warm memories of two meetings, one in the eighties (1987?) when I was invited out to her house in Summertown where I was served a tisane for the first and only time in my life. The second time (2007) was when she allowed me to treat her to high tea at The Old Parsonage in St. Giles in Oxford, where she generously helped me work out who were some of the people (family friends) who received author’s copies of The Hobbit directly from Tolkien himself.

Whereas most of the Tolkiens valued their privacy, Priscilla Tolkien made herself the face and voice of the family. It’s my understanding that she was the guiding force behind the Tolkien Trust, which gave generously to a multiple of Good Works over many years. At any rate that she was very active in its ministrations.…

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Front cover of John D. Rateliffs
Return to Bag End
21 February 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to the friend (Hi, D) who showed me a cover scan she found online of my book Return to Bag End, the second half of The History of the Hobbit. Can you spot what’s wrong with this image?

Here’s a clue: what’s wrong with the image above is right in the image below: …

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The countdown to September

17 February 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to a recent (Feb. 10th) article in Vanity Fair, of all places, a general overview of the forthcoming Amazon Tolkien is finally being made available, with images and snippets about many of the characters. The release date is September 2nd, so we have plenty of time to speculate, debate, and argue. The most interesting detail for me is that they’ve taken the Shakespearean option, collapsing the events of the Second Age into one human lifetime.

Also new to me…

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And so it begins

20 January 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, I see they’ve now announced the name of the upcoming Amazon Tolkien project: The Rings of Power. As is often the case with Tolkien, names mean a lot, and in this case the official name tells us quite a lot about the show-in-progress.

Most importantly, it’s a Tolkien title (or more accurately a modified Tolkien title), a clipped form of Of the rings of power and the Third Age, the fifth of the five constitute parts that make up the 1977 Silmarillion (pages 285 – 304). This fits in well with everything the filmmakers have told us…

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Number two is pretty good!

4 January 2022 | John D. Rateliff

So, thanks to Janice for sharing with me the results of another best books’ poll, this one looking for the best book written in the last one hundred and twenty-five years.

Here’s their list: …

The big news is of course The Lord of the Rings’ appearance in the #2 position. Significant, I think, that Tolkien and Orwell are both writers who gave the dominant contemporary mode, Modernism, a pass.…

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Re-reading my favorite book

3 January 2022 | John D. Rateliff

… I did manage to complete my project of re-reading The Lord of the Rings straight through from title page to the endnotes on the final Appendix, omitting only the Index. Have to say, I enjoyed it immensely. Over the years I’ve become so familiar with this book that when I sit down to read it my memory of the book gets in the way of my actual reading.… I come across a favorite passage that reminds of something, so I turn to elsewhere in the book, then on to another spot, then to a section in another of JRRT’s many other books…, then to something in one of the many books about Tolkien…

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date recorded 📅2022-03-07
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