Leeds University Library

New Tolkien collection

Published Monday 23 March 2015

The Old Norse Reading Group performs a Tolkien drinking song from the newly acquired Tolkien collection

The Library has recently acquired a collection of letters, poems and prose by JRR Tolkien, dating from the time he worked at Leeds in the 1920s and afterwards. Tolkien taught at Leeds with Eric Gordon in the English department, and together they formed the Viking Club, where members sang drinking songs they'd written in Old English and Old Norse.  

The collection includes Tolkien's manuscripts of these songs and a copy of the extremely rare Songs for the Philologists, which is a compilation of these songs, including "The Root of the Boot" which later appeared in The Lord of the Rings, recited by Samwise Gamgee. (*Philology is the study of ancient languages and literature).

The video shows Dr Alaric Hall and Dr Catherine Batt, who lecture in Medieval Literature, with students from the Old Norse Reading Group and the University's School of Music performing "The Root of the Boot" in Leeds' oldest pub, Whitelock's.

The letters include Tolkien's correspondence with Gordon's widow Ida, and a first edition of The Hobbit dedicated by its author to Gordon, his wife and young children. The Gordon-Tolkien collection was acquired by the Library's Special Collections thanks to generous support from the Brotherton Family, Friends of the National Libraries and the V&A Purchase Fund. 

Katy Thornton, Head of Special Collections at the University, said: "The acquisition is an important collection of works relating to Tolkien's earlier academic career at Leeds. They reveal a playful but erudite creativity, and the letters are striking for their emotional candour."

You can explore the contents of the Gordon-Tolkien Collection and view the Root of the Boot manuscript on the Special Collections website.