British Fiction Focus

There and Back Again, Again: New Tolkien Poems Found in Old Annual

The gift that keeps on giving has given us another gift! Two previously unpublished poems by the author of last year’s Story of Kullervo and 2014’s acclaimed translation of Beowulf have been discovered by J. R. R. Tolkien scholar Wayne Hammond and head-teacher Stephen Oliver.

Hammond started putting the pieces together after unearthing a note in which Tolkien asserted he had a pair of poems published in something called the Abingdon Chronicle. Said scholar then determined that the Abingdon Chronicle was none other than the magazine of Our Lady’s School in Oxfordshire, England, and got in touch with the current principal. Enter Oliver, who failed, at first, to find anything of interest.

“Then, while preparing for an event for former pupils of the school, we uncovered our own copy [of the 1936 Annual] and I saw the two poems Mr Hammond had been looking for,” Oliver explained. “My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming. I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school.”

The first, The Shadow Man, is, according to The Guardian, “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, namely Noel, is reputedly “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,” speculates the head-teacher of the week. Noel features a festive figure known only as ‘the lord of snows,’ whose ‘mantle long and pale/Upon the bitter blast was spread/And hung o’er hill and dale.’

Both poems are set to be showcased at a forthcoming exhibition about the history of Our Lady’s Abingdon, but don’t worry if you won’t be able to make it, as Oliver is “confident” that the poems “will be enjoyed by lovers of Tolkien everywhere.” Which is to say, they’ll probably be published at some point—and honestly, given the gazillion books that have borne Tolkien’s great name of late, what’s one more?

At the very least, as Tolkien’s publisher at HarperCollins, David Brawn, put it, some of the author’s unpublished poetry was incorporated into the revised republication of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 2014, and there is of course “scope” to include these two new discoveries in some consequent collection.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

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