Annual Tolkien
Tolkien wrote the poems while a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University

Our Lady's School, Abingdon

Do newly-discovered Tolkien poems show Oxford's earliest outreach activity?

Matt Pickles

Two poems by author JRR Tolkien have been discovered in a 1936 copy of an Oxfordshire school's annual.

It is believed that Tolkien came to know Our Lady’s School in Abingdon while he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.

Dr Stuart Lee, a Tolkien expert in Oxford University's English Faculty, says the poems do not add a lot to our understanding of Tolkien but that "it is always fascinating to see previously unknown material".

'Tolkien is mainly known as a prose writer through his novels but he also wrote quite a bit of poetry some of which has been published,' he says.

'These two poems are additions, therefore, to a growing area of scholarship around his verse.'

The two poems, published under the name of 'Professor J.R.R. Tolkien', are called The Shadow Man and Noel, the latter of which is a Christmas poem.

'Of the poems Noel is a clear celebration of his Christianity/Catholicism,' explains Dr Lee. 'It shows the transformation of dark to light with the coming of Christ.

'It is still a very Tolkien poem though with archaic/classical imagery (sword/sheath, o’er … dale).

'The Shadow Man is more interesting in some ways as it is like some of his other poems. It suggests a folk-tale origin, but is elusive in its exact provenance, and also quite dark and sinister.'

A year later in 1937, Tolkien's first literary success The Hobbit was published. Dr Lee says The Shadow Man remind him of the poems contained in the Middle Earth books.

'Tolkien wrote a few poems like this which almost feel like the type of poem someone would recite in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,' he says.

His association with Our Lady's School is also interesting, says Dr Lee, because it shows a prominent professor at Oxford taking the time to visit and support a school.

'It shows how generous Tolkien was,' says Dr Lee. 'He is noted as doing a lot of talks for local schools, and this is yet another example (albeit early) of Oxford’s outreach approach!'