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Signed Tolkien book discovered in Liverpool Hope Special Collections

Tolkien dictionary Friday 11 November 2016

A book owned and signed by Lord of the Rings and Hobbit author JRR Tolkien has been discovered in the Special Collections of Liverpool Hope University Library. 

The book, Smith’s Latin-English Dictionary (1857), has Tolkien’s rare full name signature of “John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.” Underneath are written the initials and the date “K.E.S 1908,” when Tolkien would have been around 16 years of age and studying at King Edward’s School (K.E.S.)

It was at King Edward’s where Tolkien was first introduced to Latin, Old and Middle English, Old Norse and Gothic. His love of language led to his creation of The Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth, and its mythological peoples and languages. 

The book is on permanent loan to the university from the collection of Sister Maura O’ Carroll (Sister of Notre Dame), who donated a number of books after her retirement from full time academia. 

Sister Maura bought the dictionary in a second hand bookshop when she began working on a 13th century Latin manuscript (Laud Misc. 511) as part of her doctoral studies in Oxford.

Sister Maura said: “Latin was not exactly a language in which I had expertise. Hence my need for expert support. As I was working in Oxford from London where I was then living, I had access to a plethora of second-hand books available in Oxford. Few students buy brand new books if second-hand ones are around!  

“When I was rooting in Blackwell’s’ second hand books I found a Latin Dictionary – just the job for a weak Latinist. Only when I looked at it more closely did I realise that Professor Tolkien had bought this book when he was a schoolboy in Birmingham before WWI. I later discovered that many of his books had been sold after his death in 1973 and this Dictionary was among them. So sometime between 1976 and 1978 I took it back to London with me and it sat on my book shelves until 2016. I don’t think I consulted it much in any of the Latin texts I laboured over.”

Cataloguer Keith Trickey came across the signed book when he was cataloguing Sister Maura's collection.  

Keith said: “When I opened the Latin dictionary, my initial reaction was slight annoyance that someone had written their name on the title page; inside the cover or on an end paper would be more appropriate.  Clearly it was the hand of a young person – as they had written their name out in full. It was only then that I actually read the name – and read it again and again.

“I had read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings avidly in my teens and as an English Literature undergraduate at Leeds I was aware that Tolkien had once graced that department with his presence as an academic. To handle a book that had been in his possession when he was the age I was when first reading his writings was an unexpected treat!"

Be among the first of those to see the dictionary on display at Liverpool Hope’s Tolkien Day on Friday 11th November 2016. The event is free and open to all. 

Dr Daniel Jeyaraj and Dr Lisa Walters spoke to BBC Radio Merseyside about Tolkien Day and Tolkien's role as part of the team based at Christ's College (one of the founding colleges of Liverpool Hope University) who translated the Jerusalem Bible (listen from 1.26.27) 

Liverpool Hope University's Special Collections 



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