“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” When J.R.R. Tolkien, a brilliant Oxford professor, published The Hobbit in 1937, he was far from imagining that his stories would lead to his becoming one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century.

Marquette University’s original manuscripts and drawings by author J.R.R. Tolkien will be on display at the National Library of France in Paris as part of the exhibition “Tolkien, Journey to Middle-earth,” October 22, 2019 to Februar 16, 2020.

Marquette loaned 80 pieces of its collection of Tolkien works to the library for the exhibit. In total, the exhibit will feature nearly 300 pieces by Tolkien. The English writer is world famous for his many literary masterpieces including “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

The nearly 11,000-square-foot exhibit is designed to transport visitors into Tolkien’s imaginary world, complete with its vast landscapes, cities, towers, people and languages. The exhibit marks the first time that many of the original manuscripts and drawings will be on display in France.

“We are incredibly proud to be able to share Marquette’s special Tolkien collection internationally and with such a prestigious library,” Janice Welburn, dean of Raynor Memorial Libraries, said. “It is incredible to think so many more people are going to be able to see such a complete look at Tolkien’s creative works and appreciate their literary significance and place within greater culture.”

The presentation space will reflect a journey to Middle-earth. The public will enter the imaginary world created by the Lord of the Rings author and will discover its landscapes, peoples, and languages, all of which were invented by the man who was a professor of medieval languages and literature at Oxford.

Often in careful calligraphy, at times decorated with sketches, outlines and drawings, the manuscripts are artworks in their own right. Combined with the maps drawn by the author and his son, Christopher Tolkien, and with his many watercolors, they allow visitors to understand how Tolkien created the complex universe that is Middle-earth.

Tolkien manuscripts have resided at Marquette University since 1957 after William B. Ready became director of Raynor Memorial Libraries. Ready recognized “The Lord of the Rings” as a masterpiece long before it gained enormous popularity. Ready approached Tolkien through Bertram Rota, a well-known rare book dealer in London. At the time, no other institution had expressed an interest in Tolkien’s literary manuscripts. An agreement was made, and Marquette purchased the manuscripts for a little less than $5,000. The first shipment of material arrived in 1957; The Lord of the Rings manuscripts arrived the next year.

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J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, and New Line Cinema