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Beyond the Hobbit and the Rings – Five Other Works by Tolkien

lincoln the unknown

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit are beloved by millions across the globe, in no small part thanks to the reach of major motion pictures. However most of Tolkien’s other writings – and there are many – are not nearly as famous. In honor of Tolkien week (September 18-24), here are five Tolkien works that are less well known than his classics but still noteworthy for their rarity, charm, and subject matter.

Songs for the Philologists

The rarest of all published Tolkien works, Songs for the Philologists is a compilation of poems written by Tolkien and fellow philologist E.V. Gordon in the 1920s. Philology, the study of languages’ historical development, was one of Tolkien’s main fields of interest. His philological “songs” were written in languages such as Old English and Gothic. Songs for the Philologists was published in a small edition on a private press at the University of Leeds but was never distributed, and only about thirteen printed copies survive today.1

“On Fairy-Stories”

Likely to be Tolkien’s most important essay, “On Fairy Stories” concerns the origins, nature, and significance of fairy tales.2 Tolkien first wrote it in 1939 as a lecture to honor scholar and folklorist Andrew Lang. Composed during the time that Tolkien was working on the Lord of the Rings, “On Fairy-Stories” provides valuable insights into his thoughts on the genre to which he so greatly contributed.3 Accordingly, it has been published on several separate occasions, including Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964 and numerous later versions) and The Monsters and the Critics (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983 and two subsequent editions). In the former, it is paired with the story “Leaf by Niggle”; the latter, compiled by son Christopher Tolkien after his father’s death, also includes several of his essays on “Beowulf” and his lecture “A Secret Vice” about inventing languages. A recent edition of “On Fairy-Stories” with associated commentary was published by HarperCollins in 2008.4,5

The Father Christmas Letters

Sometimes titled Letters from Father Christmas, this book compiles letters Tolkien wrote to his children in the guise of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) between 1920 and 1942.6 As one would expect from Tolkien, the letters went far beyond garden-variety tales of Christmas Eve into complex mythologies, adventures, and anecdotes narrated by Father Christmas, his polar bear, and his Elvish secretary.  Tolkien was a skilful artist – his drawings illustrate the first edition of The Hobbit – and his letters included colorful illustrations of life on the North Pole. The Father Christmas Letters was compiled by Tolkien’s daughter-in-law Baille following his death. It was first published in 1976 by George Allen & Unwin in Britain and Houghton Mifflin in the United States, and there have been several subsequent editions in recent years.7

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth

After J.R.R. Tolkien’s death in 1973, Christopher Tolkien began to study, edit, and publish his father’s many incomplete and unpublished writings on Middle Earth, beginning with The Silmarillion in 1977. Unfinished Tales, like the twelve-volume History of Middle Earth that followed it, provides back stories, lore, and other details about Middle Earth’s history, culture, and mythology. Without such insights, scholarly and popular understanding of Tolkien’s masterpieces would be far less rich. Unfinished Tales was first published by George Allen & Unwin in 1980 and has been produced in many other editions since then.8,9

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

Containing two of Tolkien’s never-before-published narrative poems, his associated scholarship, and his son’s commentary, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (HarperCollins, 2009) is a recent addition to Tolkien’s bibliography. Unlike the majority of Tolkien-related titles released in recent years, it has no direct connection to Middle Earth. The poems, entitled “The New Lay of the Völsungs” and “The New Lay of Gudrún”, are instead based on Old Norse mythological texts called the “Edda”. Although they were written in the 1930s, Tolkien’s versions of the poems remain faithful to both the spirit and the linguistic character of their ancient source material.10

1. “Songs for the Philologists”. An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography. Accessed August 2016.
2. “Tolkien on Fairy-Stories”. Tolkien Gateway. March 31, 2015.  Accessed August 2016.
3. Flieger, Verlyn. “On Fairy-Stories”. The Tolkien Estate Limited, 2015. Pages 1-6. Accessed August 2016.
4.  “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien – Tree and Leaf”. Tolkien Library. Accessed August 2016.
5. “The Monsters and the Critics”, Tolkien Gateway, May 31, 2015. Accessed August 2016.
6. “Letters from Father Christmas”. Tolkien Gateway. April 15, 2016. Accessed August 2016.
7. Ibid and “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien – The Father Christmas Letters”, Tolkien Library. Accessed August 2016.
8. “Unfinished Tales”. Tolkien Gateway. May 31, 2015. Accessed August 2016.
9. “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien – Unfinished Tales”. Tolkien Library. Accessed August 2016.
10. Tolkien, Christopher. “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún”. The Tolkien Estate Limited, 2015. Pages 13. Accessed August 2015.

Author Bio:

Alexandra Kiely is a twenty-something writer, researcher, and art historian from New Jersey. She loves reading, figure skating, ballroom dance, and art – especially gargoyles. Visit Alexandra on her website Writer to the Arts and blog A Scholarly Skater.


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