|The 1936 annual of Our Lady’s School in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. |
Photograph by Our Lady’s School
Unseen JRR Tolkien poems found in school magazineTwo works by the Lord of the Rings author discovered in the 1936 annual of Our Lady’s School in Oxfordshire
Tuesday 16 February 2016 12.34 GMT
Two poems by JRR Tolkien, in which The Lord of the Rings author writes variously of “a man who dwelt alone/beneath the moon in shadow”, and of the “lord of snows”, have been discovered in a school magazine in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
Believed to have been written while Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, the poems were found in the 1936 annual of Our Lady’s School in Oxfordshire. The discovery was made when the US Tolkien scholar Wayne Hammond contacted Our Lady’s headteacher, Stephen Oliver. Hammond had found a note from Tolkien in which The Hobbit author mentioned that he had published two poems in a magazine he named as the Abingdon Chronicle.
Hammond realised this was Our Lady’s school magazine, and got in touch with Oliver. Initially, the latter could not locate the correct edition of the magazine, and passed Hammond on to the archives of the Sisters of Mercy, who had founded the school in 1860.
“Then, while preparing for an event for former pupils of the school, we uncovered our own copy and I saw the two poems Mr Hammond had been looking for. My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming. I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school,” said Oliver.
The first poem, The Shadow Man, is an early version of a poem that Tolkien went on to publish in his 1962 collection The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. It tells of “a man who dwelt alone/ beneath the moon in shadow”, who “sat as long as lasting stone,/and yet he had no shadow”. When “a lady clad in grey” arrives, he wakes, and “clasped her fast, both flesh and bone;/and they were clad in shadow”.
The second, Noel, is a Christmas poem, albeit one set in scenery that would not be out of place in Middle-earth. “The hall was dark without song or light,/The fires were fallen dead,” writes Tolkien, going on to portray “the lord of snows”, whose “mantle long and pale/Upon the bitter blast was spread/And hung o’er hill and dale”.
The school is now planning to show the poems at an exhibition about its history. “Both poems are very atmospheric and imbued with an air of mystery. I was very moved when I first read them,” said Oliver.
“Noel is a beautiful and unusual take on the Christmas story, set in a wintry landscape. The focus is on Mary, which may be why Tolkien wrote the poem for the school magazine, given that we are dedicated to Our Lady. The Shadow Man is also a very beautiful story, about two people finding each other and thereafter casting only one shadow – it feels like a poem about marriage. The Shadow Man is incomplete until a woman comes to him and relieves his loneliness.”
Oliver is confident the poems “will be enjoyed by lovers of Tolkien everywhere”. Fans of the novelist have been given a wealth of previously unpublished material to enjoy in recent years, from last year’s release of his retelling of the Finnish epic poem The Story of Kullervo, to the unfinished Middle-earth story The Children of Húrin. David Brawn, Tolkien’s publisher at HarperCollins, said that some unpublished poetry had been included in the revised edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 2014, and that “there is often scope to add rare material to future revised editions”.