Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Signed Books: THE ADVENTURES OF TOM BOMBADIL by J R R Tolkien

 

This would seem to be an appropriate 'signed book' from my library to blog about in the week in which, forty years ago, the BBC's radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings began transmission on their Radio 4 network. 

Whilst I don't have a signed copy of that book, I do have this...

 


Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and other verses from The Red Book, illustrated by Pauline Baynes.

One of several criticisms levelled against me for my work on the radio Rings series was (and still is) my excision of those episodes involving Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and the Barrow-wights. 

Confronted by the daunting task of compressing The Lord of the Rings into 26 episodes of 30-minutes each I decided that if I were to cut Tom and Co. it would give me two whole episodes to use for other – arguably more urgently needed – sequences later in the story. 

Also, more controversially, I believed that – as I saw it – the 'less-than-essential-hiatus' where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin take what turns out to be a dangerous diversion only served to dull the dramatic pace of the adventure; since, once the Black Riders were known to be pursuing Frodo, that anxiety and danger were – from a dramatist's point of view – the necessary driving impetus of the story and should remain so until the company arrive in Rivendell. Anyway, right or wrong, that is what I chose to do...

However, I hope that (if not a defence of a forty-year-old decision) including this volume in my series on signed books in my library will, at least show my great affection for Tom Bombadil!

It is not, sadly, a first edition, but the third impression from 1968. Frankly, my pocket-money in 1962 (when the book was first published) would not have allowed for an outlay of 15 shillings –– even though, in today's money, that's equal to a mere 75 pence!

I had become infatuated with Tolkien's writing and obsessed with anything and everything to do with Middle-earth and I took it into my head to write a shamelessly fannish letter to the Professor at his publishers (then George Allen & Unwin) telling how much I loved his work and to ask him to sign one of his books for me. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings seemed too heavyweight a prospect for packing, mailing and returning, whereas Bombadil was slim and light!

I seem to remember creating a border for my letter of Dwarvish runes and, I fancy, I might even have copied out something in Quenya in a totally inadequate facsimile of his own impeccable calligraphy... 

Did I expect to see my book again – and signed? Naturally! The naiveté of youth is, beyond everything, unquestioning!

I was not to be disappointed: the book was returned, duly signed, with an accompanying letter from M. Joy Hill, George Allen & Unwin's Press Officer, advising me that, in addition to signing the book, "on page 60 Professor Tolkien has made a correction to the last line of the poem on that page." 

 


Eleven years later, in October 1979, I was attending the Narnia Book Fair at Church House Bookshop in Westminster where I met – and interviewed for LBC (then local radio!) – one of the guests: the illustrator of C S Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia', Pauline Baynes. This was a truly red-letter day for me – meeting the artist whose career was inextricably linked to Tolkien and Lewis, two of my favourite writers. 

Knowing that I would be meeting Pauline, I had my Tolkien-signed copy of Bombadil with me and asked her is she would add her signature to the title-page; she demurred saying it wouldn't be right for her to sign on the same page as the Professor and, were she to do so, it could only devalue the book's worth.

Rightly, I hope, I insisted and, finally, she acquiesced. More importantly, it was the beginning of many years of happy friendship and collaboration.

So... here is that signed title-page... 

 


And the Professor's one, single-letter-word, textual correction on page 60 to the last line of the poem, 'The Sea-Bell'... 

 

 

And, a last word on poor old Tom: in 1992, eleven years after the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, I attempted to make my peace with those fans who had been so outraged at the character's omission from the original broadcasts. I created a six-part series for BBC Radio 5, based on Tolkien's shorter fiction and, alongside Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle, included The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which was, essentially, the previously-ignored chapters from The Lord of the Rings... 

 

2 comments:

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh - how lovely, Brian!

Trotter said...

Brian,

Thanks for this, a fascinating article and pleased that you decided to share it.

I'm not sure if you have seen a later printing of your book, but the mistake that The Professor hand-corrected, was fixed in my 1971 copy of the book.

I have attached a link to a picture of the same page with the printed correction, though I prefer your hand-written one.

Andrew (Trotter)

https://1drv.ms/u/s!ArSx_8pEHDnciqBIQ9PfTZKOsYx00w?e=WCzABl