Here in South Oxfordshire, we are no strangers to clues being discovered, mysteries solved and the truth unveiled. This is Midsomer Murders country after all so we know a thing or two about unusual turns of events. However, recently a real life turn up for the books (in a literal and metaphorical sense) has caused an international sensation.
Two poems by revered author JRR Tolkien have been discovered in a school
magazine in Abingdon. It’s thought that they were written by Tolkien while he was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. The poems turned up in the 1936 annual of Our Lady’s School.
The discovery was made when Tolkien scholar Wayne Hammond contacted the head teacher after finding a note from Tolkien that mentioned poems he had contributed. Hammond realised that the ‘Abingdon Chronicle’, to which Tolkien’s note referred, must have been the school’s annual.
Stephen Oliver, the school’s head teacher scoured the archives and discovered the lost works. He said: ‘While preparing for an event for former pupils of the school, we uncovered our own copy and I saw the two poems Mr Hammond had been looking for. 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 poems, entitled The Shadow Man and Noel, a Christmas poem, allude to later works Tolkien would produce, including a very early reference of a place that would become Middle Earth.
Tolkien is currently riding high on a wave of popularity (not that he’s ever not been popular, of course) in large part thanks to recent film realisations of his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
The school is planning to exhibit the poems at an exhibition about its history. And they will be released in new versions by Tolkien’s publisher Harper Collins so that a new generation of fans can enjoy this undiscovered work.
Tolkien is just one of a number of major literary giants that has close ties to Southern Oxfordshire. Agatha Christie lived in Wallingford for much of her life, WW1 poet Wilfred Owen was a lay assistant in Dunsford parish before enlisting in 1915, while Kenneth Grahame and Ian Flemming (Wind in the Willows and James Bond respectively) also spent time and took inspiration from their surroundings.
The rural setting seems conducive to classic English literature it seems.