Fellowship Of The Ring/ J.R.R. Tolkien Trail

By Simon Rose | 09 December 2001

The Bodleian Library. Did you know it had a Tolkein connection?

Our Tolkien Trail features Tolkien-related places of interest like the Bodleian Library, above, plus the best websites.

The trail will transport you to Tolkien's Middle Earth - a world of hobbits, wizards, evil sorcerers, orcs, elves, goblins, and many other weird and wonderful inhabitants. So take up the quest, or be forever banished to the black land of Mordor!

Our epic journey, oddly enough, starts in the Midlands. The famous Peter Jackson Tolkien movies contain some jaw-dropping scenery. A fine example of this is the beautifully rendered Hobbiton location, which features a picturesque mill.

Though the movie itself was filmed in New Zealand, the original inspiration behind this mill is Sarehole Mill in Birmingham.

In the late 1890s Sarehole was the childhood haunt of Tolkien. The village of Sarehole is said to have been the model for the Shire, first introduced as the homeof Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Sarehole Mill

Christina Williamson, curator of Sarehole Mill, says of Tolkien: "He used to play around here with his brother Hilary. They were totally in awe of the area, just completely fascinated with the whole environment."

Sarehole Mill is the last surviving mill of more than fifty water mills that existed in Birmingham at one time. Birmingham City Council now runs it as a museum. © Birmingham City Council

When the Hobbits return from their adventures in The Lord of the Rings they find the old mill in Hobbiton has been torn down and replaced by an ugly new one spewing smoke.

The Hobbits then set about returning the Shire to its former glory. This storyline almost certainly reflects Tolkien's own thoughts on the effects of the industrial revolution on the city of his childhood.

Tolkien would doubtless be delighted to see Sarehole Mill now fully restored and thriving as a museum.The mill is normally only open to visiting hobbits from April to October and to school parties throughout the year. Admission is free.

We head from the safe haven of Sarehole Mill to an altogether more forbidding place. Tolkien often lamented the encroachment of civilisation upon his childhood home in the countryside.

Woods and forests are a constant feature in Tolkien's Middle Earth. The ancient forest of Fangorn, the magic land of Lothlorien home of the wood elves, and the terrifying Old Forest all form the backdrop to key passages in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien also vividly described marshlands. Sam Gamgee is nearly eaten alive by the Neekerbreekers at the Midgewater Marshes. Another episode sees Sam and Frodo guided by Gollum through the Dead Marshes outside Mordor.

In reality there was one area where Tolkien and his brother Hillary used to play that civilisation missed: Moseley Bog. Birmingham City Council now preserves the bog's nine hectares of dense, damp woodland as a nature reserve.

Moseley Bog. Photo © Peter Gamble Virtualbrum

Moseley Bog's greatest claim to fame is that it is widely understood to be the inspiration for the Old Forest in the The Fellowship of the Ring.

Moseley Bog. Photo © Peter Gamble/Virtualbrum

Visitors experiencing its unique atmosphere will understand why. As one of the hobbits observes in The Fellowship of the Ring: They do say the trees can actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in.

Moseley Bog. Photo © Peter Gamble/Virtualbrum

Those who manage to evade Sauron's spies and make it through Moseley Bog alive should use as their next landmark two distinctive towers rising into the sky above the Edgbaston area of Birmingham.

Edgbaston was the home of Tolkien's aunt, with whom he lived for four years after his mother died in 1904.

The first of these two towers is Perrotts Folly, built in 1758 by John Perrott. It is one of Birmingham's oldest, and certainly oddest, architectural features.

It may have been an observatory or, more likely, somewhere Perrott could entertain his friends.

Near to Perrott's Folly is the tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, built in Victorian times.

Perrots Folly. © Birmingham City Coucil

The pair are said to have suggested Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith to Tolkien and the two towers in the title of the second book of The Lord of the Rings.

Perrotts Folly can be visited on Sundays and Bank Holidays between 2 and 5 pm, during the summer months only.

Edgbaston Waterworks. © Birmingham City Council

Our trail now takes the road south to Oxford, where Tolkien pursued his day job as the Universities' Merton Professor of English. It was at Oxford that Tolkien met C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia stories.

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and other friends formed a group in Oxford called the Inklings. Their most famous meeting place during the 1930s and 40s was the Eagle and Child pub, known locally as the Bird and Baby. The pub is a cosy hostelry on St. Giles, a stone's throw from the Ashmolean Museum.

'The Bird and Baby'.

There is a plaque inside remembering the Inklings. More importantly, for our purposes, the pub provides an ideal opportunity for those on the trail to rest their weary feet.

Enjoy a beer in a setting that may well have been the inspiration for The Prancing Pony Inn in the Fellowship of the Ring. Sit back, relax and try to forget about the Black Riders for a while.

...Inspiration for The Prancing Pony Inn

Once refreshed, what better place to continue the trail than at the Museum of Oxford? From the museum make your way to the university, where Tolkien spent many years. One of the famous Bodleian library buildings is called the Radcliffe Camera.

The Bodleian Library. © Jon Pratty

Tolkien once remarked that this building resembles Sauron's temple to Morgoth on Numenor.

Numenor was eventually to be swallowed by the sea and, rumour has it, is now the legendary land of Atlantis. Radcliffe Camera still stands, though, and is well worth a visit.

© Jon Pratty

The Bodleian library is in possession of some of Tolkien's original manuscripts which are, unfortunately, not accessible to the general public. Other valuable documents can, however, be seen - including C.S. Lewis' original Narnia manuscripts.

© Jon Pratty

While at the university head for the English Faculty Library on Manor Road. The library boasts an impressive bronze bust of Tolkien, sculpted by Faith Tolkien.

The bust is traditionally placed in the window of the library each September in celebration of Oxenmoot, the annual meeting of the Tolkien Society.

© Jon Pratty

The next destination should be considered strictly for the most loyal and dedicated Tolkien trailers only, as there is very little of note to behold.

76 Sandfield Road.

Tolkien lived at 76 Sandfield Road, in the Headington area of the city, from 1953 until 1968. At first glance there is nothing to see here - it's a private house, not open to visitors.

Closer inspection of the area above the front door, though, reveals a picture of Smaug the greatest dragon of the Third Age. Visitors should take great care to avoid the arrows of Bard the Bowman.

Those wishing to pay their respects to the great man can visit Tolkien's final resting place. He died in 1973 and is buried, with his wife, at Wolvercote cemetery in north Oxford.

The simple gravestone reads: EDITH MARY TOLKIEN LUTHIEN 1889 1971 JOHN RONALD REUEL TOLKIEN BEREN 1892 1973. The grave lies along the western side of the cemetery in the Roman Catholic section, amongst the Polish immigrants.

The grave has been treated with reverence - followers occasionally leave an offering.

Those who undertake the final voyage of our Tolkien trail are worthy of the great wizard Gandalf himself! From Oxford we risk an encounter with the black ships of Umbar and cross the Atlantic Ocean, to the city of Milwaukee in the USA.

Milwaukee's university, Marquette, possesses the original manuscripts for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The universities' director of libraries, William B. Ready, purchased the manuscripts from Tolkien in 1956.

Ready had recognised The Lord of the Rings as a masterpiece soon after its publication, and long before the work and its author had gained widespread popularity.

At the time, no other institution had expressed an interest in Tolkien's literary manuscripts. The £1500 paid for the manuscripts was undoubtedly one of the best business deals of the century.

The manuscripts were microfilmed in 1983, and researchers are now only permitted to use microfilm in order to preserve the originals. An exhibit of manuscripts featuring The Lord of the Rings is, though, available for public viewing.

Find out more on the web at: www.marquette.edu/library/collections/archives/tolkien.html#original.

Of course, the vast majority of hobbits are home-loving creatures. Not all Culture24 readers will want to undertake our trail, a voyage many consider as perilous as the Quest of Mount Doom. Thankfully, there is an easier, less dangerousalternative.

The world of Middle Earth can be accessed via the internet. There are countless websites devoted to all things Tolkien and we have picked out some of thebest.

A good starting point is www.lordoftherings.net. Thisis the official movie site and features music from the film, trailers and screen savers among other things. In fact, just about everything you could wish to knowabout the movie.

The Tolkien society has an incredibly comprehensive website at www.tolkiensociety.org.. A veritable Tolkien shrine.

www.tolkien.co.uk is the official Harper Collins Tolkien site, including information on all Tolkien titles, fim books, original artwork, video and audio interviews with the author.

Visitors to www.jrrtolkien.org.uk will find a comprehensive site about Tolkien and his life.

Chat room addicts who wish to pass the time of days discussing all things Middle Earth should visit www.minastirith.com.

Those who struggle with their French or Spanish speaking every summer can now see if they fare any better at elvish at www.elvish.org/. The site isdevoted to the scholarly study of the invented languages of Tolkien.

Cited as the best non-official site by fans, www.theonering.net is constantly updated with all the latest information.

Hobbits from outside the UK frustrated by all of the English language websites will be delighted with www.tolkienworld.com.. Not only is it a great site, but it also has a number of foreign language portals.

Finally, for a fantastic visual experience, pay a visit to www.thereandbackagain.net.. This is a beautifully presented and lovingly prepared fan-based site that takes the form of an old book.

We hope you enjoy our trail. Before we leave you, though, we offer a final word of advice from Gandalf: "Be careful of what you say, even to your closest friends! The enemy has many spies and many ways of hearing."

All Moseley Bog pictures were taken by Peter Gamble of Virtualbrum and were reproduced with kind permission. Other Sarehole, Perrot's Folly and Edgebaston Waterworks pics also courtesy Virtualbrum. Visit Virtualbrum's 'Tolkien in Birmingham' site at www.virtualbrum.co.uk./tolkien.htm

IMPORTANT NOTE: The copyrights in the works of J R R Tolkien are owned by the Tolkien Estate. 'TOLKIEN' is a registered trade mark of The J R R Tolkien EstateLimited and is used on this site with kind permission. The trail is not,however, endorsed or approved by the Tolkien Estate and the views expressedin describing it are those of its author.

This site is in no way endorsed by/affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises, the Saul Zaentz Company, or New Line Cinema.

When he is not fighting off orcs for Culture24, Simon Rose is a journalist and writer. Contact him at simongrose@yahoo.com.

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