Category Archives: Book news and reviews

Tolkien at Exeter College: Birth of a legend

In which I blow my own trumpet… When you picture J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s probably as a member of Oxford’s Inklings, writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the 1930s and ’40s, or in old age when fame … Continue reading

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Unseen Tolkien: sex, infertility, adultery and the birth of Galadriel

The encounter between mortal man and immortal enchantress is always fateful in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. In The Lord of the Rings, for instance, Boromir fears the Elf-queen Galadriel and ignores her wisdom, then dies for his sins. The Lay of Aotrou … Continue reading

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Beren and Lúthien, a centenary publication

In a wood filled with a cloud of white flowers, a soldier walked in the spring of 1917 with his wife, and she sang and danced for him. To that battle-worn lieutenant, J R R Tolkien, Edith’s dance was an unforgettable glimpse of … Continue reading

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Teaching Tolkien in Las Vegas

Vegas brought out my worst vices. Handed carte blanche to indulge recklessly and obscenely for twelve months, I borrowed books from the university library in such numbers that when it came to returning them, I had to use a suitcase. I even … Continue reading

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Bottling the essence of languages: Tolkien’s ‘A Secret Vice’

From sound aesthetic to Finnegans Wake, a new book explores Tolkien’s relationship to language. Here’s my review for the New Statesman. A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages Ed. Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins HarperCollins (223pp, £16.99) Horsemen, barbaric yet noble, … Continue reading

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A turbulent darkness: Tolkien’s first story

Here’s a short review of Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo that I wrote for the Mail On Sunday when the book came out in September 2015. I reproduce it here, with permission, as the book becomes available in the USA, … Continue reading

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Tove Jansson, queen of the Moomins

The international children’s laureate of disaster and displacement, Tove Jansson, was born one hundred years ago, on August 9, 1914, just as Europe was going to war. She is most famous for creating the Moomins, a family of hospitable and … Continue reading

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Fanfare for the common prof

Review: John Carey, The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books (Faber. ISBN 9780571310920) My first encounter with John Carey was hearing him on Dickens at the St Cross Building – the English Faculty at Oxford University. His Violent Effigy … Continue reading

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Tolkien’s Beowulf: one man’s passion for the threshold between myth and reality

Review Beowulf: a Translation and Commentary, Together with “Sellic Spell” J.R.R. Tolkien Edited by Christopher Tolkien HarperCollins, 425pp, £20 In his story “Leaf by Niggle”, J.R.R. Tolkien imagines an artist painting a picture he can neither complete nor abandon. “It had … Continue reading

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Assuming Character: Oxford’s new Story Museum

Facing a big throne nestled among an array of trumpety horns, the boy holds up a slotted board filled with words from a fantastical pick’n’mix. He steps up and perches on the cushioned seat. Trumpets blare. A voice announces: ‘Presenting … Continue reading

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