School boasts large Tolkien collection

Marquette University holds early sketches, manuscripts of celebrated author's works

— There wasn't much J.R.R. Tolkien threw away in the 14 years he spent writing "The Lord of the Rings" series. Little did he know that all those revisions and illustrations about the mystical world of Middle-earth would be worth millions and put Marquette University on the literary map.

The British author used more than 9,000 pages to write, type and doodle his thoughts for the series. And Marquette bought that and an insight into his elaborate imagination for about $30,600 in today's dollars.

The school got a title page, originally reading "The Magic Ring," which is crossed out and replaced with "The Lord of the Rings."

It also picked up one of Tolkien's watercolor paintings that was later used as a blueprint for the cover of "The Hobbit," and penned sketches of an ornate gate, a family tree and a map to a cave. Some of the pages even have old examinations on the back, from Tolkien's days as a professor at Oxford University.

"Tolkien kept everything," said John D. Rateliff, a Tolkien expert in Kent, Wash., who received his Ph.D. in 20th-century British literature from Marquette.

"You have the very first draft of the very first chapter ... every version of every chapter all the way through to the end. It's just fascinating to see a writer feel his way toward a story."

As many as 18 drafts exist for a single chapter.

Building the collection

It all came to be because of a man who loved literature.

Marquette was looking for someone to build its literary collection. It found William Ready, who had created collections at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. Hired in 1956, Ready immediately started hunting for modern authors who would be interested in sending their works to Marquette.

Ready, who became interested in Tolkien after reading "The Hobbit," hired Bertram Rota, a London rare book dealer, to serve as the agent for Marquette. Rota then wrote to Tolkien and asked for his original manuscripts. Tolkien happened to be worried about his retirement finances and agreed to sell some works to Marquette, said Matt Blessing, the collection's curator.

After some negotiating, Tolkien agreed to sell the manuscripts of "The Lord of the Rings," as well as the "The Hobbit," "Farmer Giles of Ham" and unpublished illustrations of "Mr. Bliss" to Marquette for $4,700 � about what an autographed first printing costs today, Rateliff said. In all, it received more than 11,000 pages.

Ready left Marquette in 1963 for McMaster University in Ontario to head its library. The department of special collections and archives is now named for him. Ready retired in 1979 and died in 1981.

His son, Liam, now works at McMaster's library. He recently recalled how his father took pride in his work. "He lived and breathed his work," Liam Ready, 51, said. "He loved to read."

Displayed works

Marquette has about 40 pages of "The Lord of the Rings" on display in glass cases in its library's basement. The rest of the pages are in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault for security and to prolong the paper's life.

The three books in the "The Lord of the Rings" series tell the perilous journey by hobbit Frodo Baggins across Middle-earth to territory deep inside the control of Sauron, the Dark Lord. Frodo must reach the Cracks of Doom, a fiery chamber, and destroy a magical ring before Sauron can recapture it. If the ring falls into Sauron's hands, he will be able to dominate the world.

"The Fellowship of the Ring," the first of the three books, was published in 1954. The series has since sold 100 million copies in 34 languages worldwide, said Clay Harper, Tolkien projects director at its American publisher, Houghton Mifflin Co.

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