Magdalena SŁABA: "There and back again or my English quest for all things Tolkien”

"There and back again or my English quest for all things Tolkien”

Photo of Magdalena SŁABA

Magdalena SŁABA

Varsovian, lawyer, trip lover, big fan of Tolkien and his works, enthusiast of classical music, cinephile.

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I warn you, if you bore me, I will have my revenge.

J.R.R. Tolkien

.When did it actually begin?

Supposedly with the first reading of LoTR, so in a different moment for each and every one of us. For me it was five years ago. Eventually the time came when our separate threads were bundled and together we went on a Tolkien-themed trip to England (continuing what had been started in 2008 with its predecessor).

The main reason of the journey: meeting various Tolkien lovers from all over Poland. As it eventually turned out, most of us decided to go immediately after getting the first message from Tom Goold and Galadhorn, and would not change their minds. Among the 27 tourists there was one very young, several young enough and a certain number of young forever (which makes me wonder why some of us thought they needed the Waitrose balms).

.My journey began on Thursday 16th April at 3.50 p.m., in the year 71 of the Fourth Age of the Middle-earth, equivalent to the year 15 of the third millenium of Our Age. The thing required getting to Katowice first (by express train), which could have played the role of Rivendell if our route had not been from far in the east to the furthest west – i.e. to the Grey Havens.

I easily found the friendly inn (thanks to the generously helpful Tom Goold) ca 3 minutes away from the station. From my window on the fourth floor I had a splendid view on a backyard paved with genuine mosaic, on windows through which one could see the Bree people eating supper, on clothes lines, flowers in pots, dark tiled roofs and a nicely lit green church dome. Strange Bree it was, unsoaked in rain… Or was I in the dwarves’ settlement in the Blue Mountains?

A wake up call at 3.30 a.m. on Friday 17th April proved that the locals are up very early in the morning. Provisions given to me, neatly packed, included what hobbits love most: bread and cheese (later the Elves in Streatley provided us with true lembas bread!).

I called our vehicle Gregor, which could be a good name for a stallion from Rohan, although is not a kingly name. Rafał and Adam, the gentlemen driving it safely for so many miles, real Masters of the Wheel, very quickly got their quenya names, then they said they liked to watch the extended version of LotR while off duty, for which they were cheered to the echo (it could have been a standing ovation if it had not been in the coach). They spoke in the mysterious Silesian dialect, which aroused my suspicion that they might be the Blue Wizards that so little is known of (yet things got more complicated towards the end of our journey since we were joined by a father of one of them – Tolkien himself could not foresee that for sure).

.Our guide Galadhorn came across an adventure before he set off for good. He almost missed the start, but we did not complain about that too much, because it is possible he was so much in a hurry as Bilbo in the first part of The Hobbit on screen.

Each of us got an unexpected gift from Tom Goold: a plaque on a chain with our Christian names engraved on it, embellished with the Star of the House of Fëanor and a silhouette of the Fellowship, which could pass for handing out of grey Elvish coats with green leaf buckles of Lórien. What a pitty nobody asked for a lock of his hair…

Later we put on the plaques our new names in Quenya found in dictionaries and Galadhorn’s spatious memory (we were ”blessed” in Streatley). I was assigned the name Mahtaliel (= daughter of Magdala). Indeed a very decent Elvish epessë (i.e. nickname acquired and used publicly as an adult; the High Elves made a following distinction: patronymic essi, matronymic amilessë and a nickname).

We spent the first day travelling through e.g. Lower Saxony. Saxons, Angles, Jutes and Frisians who left the lands for Britain several centuries ago were later coming back as missionaries to their Saxon brothers. This is fascinating, so is all of England’s history. Along the German segment of our road I was thinking of Tolkien’s prose translation of and the commentary to Beowulf. If the roots of English mythology are to be found anywhere, it would be there in northern Germany, in Jutland and on Zealand in Denmark.

In The Lost Road and especially in The Notion Club Papers Tolkien expressed his conviction that we may have insight into the past thanks to exploration of memory and analysis of dreams (interestingly, the Platonic concept of anamnesis is close to that; similarly, according to Jewish mystics the soul is born old and it ”recalls” all wisdom instead of acquiring it, so wisdom is recognition of truth). Therefore the past is never lost. And we were on the road back to the past… England is a place of origin of wanderers. Via est vita”, as the Romans used to say.

We crossed the river Elbe in the region of Lusatia. If Slavonic peoples had ever taken over the Germanic idea of Elves, they would have called them no other name than Elbe. Crossing the Rhein we watched movie tales of the cursed treasure of the Nibelungen, Sigurd who slew the dragon Fafnir and of the former’s beloved Brunhild (an agile blacksmith makes an exceptional sword of iron that has fallen from the sky as a burning star – similarly to Anglachel, Beleg’s sword, later taken over by Túrin). One of us had the book The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by Tolkien, perfect reading before going to sleep on that evening.

We also watched a movie about Ringers, i.e. Peter Jackson’s fans. The power of mass culture clearly must not be underestimated. I was moved by a middle-aged American lady on the screen who spoke with great emphasis about her fascination with the characters and actors, and suddenly, somewhat confused and with a blush, she claimed that she was talking nonsense, instantly returning to her original train of thought. That is what you call self-reflection and humility!

Galadhorn talked eloquently about the impressive musical The Lord of the Rings seen in London by the Elendili on their previous trip. He had preserved the remains of Balrog scattered over the venue after his spectacular fall into the the abyss caused by Gandalf. Hopefully the spectacle will be staged again and we will be able to attend it some time in the future. Galadhorn not only is a chatterbox, he also surprised us with rhymes and dances. As if Sam Gamgee himself accompanied us there…

The Friday came to an end for us in the city of Cologne with a Roman Empire past. We saw the famous cathedral as well as the Roman museum only from the outside, yet we were glad to have taken the pleasant walk after dusk.

The road house in Cologne turned out to be Saxonly neat, but simple. Hobbits will put up with every discomfort, though, if only they imagine homely luxuries like soft down-filled quilts and pillows, tubs with hot water and lavish supper after singing a few joyful tunes. Besides, the venue itself spurred integration and there was no-one there who would like to go back to get a forgotten handkerchief with embroidered initials…

.The morning of Saturday 18th April was very cold and very sunny. The sun was to remain with us till the end of our trip, adding splendour to both the photos we made and our moods.

This was the time for Heru Alqua, a.k.a. Mr. Swan, Elendili’s mascot, to appear in our coach – a handsome, exceptionally flexible and taciturn gentleman in a blue waistcoat adorned with the Star of the House of Fëanor. Somewhat later he showed his fondness for flying high and some liquors, which he could not deny, because it has been caught on pictures.

The screen in our coach was occupied by Le Petit Nicolas on vacation, then there was a BBC film on Europe’s natural history and interactions of humans and nature, followed by a story of LARP nerds. The most memorable piece of the latter included a valiant verbal defence of a lady selling chips by a young man. This inspired us to making a new translation of names from the original LotR and The Hobbit into Polish, which we undertook in England. Hence Norokmiot. Wte i nazad (or Norokmieć. Wte i wewte), also e.g. Bilbosław Woreczkowski and Półgłówek Wacikowski (to be frank, I would prefer Mędrek here).

On the way to the coast we passed the Belgian town Liège (my distant relatives live there, so that was my point of interest): Tolkien’s student and eventually colleague Simonne d’Ardenne, a philologist, Middle English expert and professor of comparative grammar (who died in 1986) used to work there. Under Tolkien’s auspices Ms d’Ardenne compiled and translated biographies of St. Juliana and St. Catherine of Alexandria (the latter unfinished due to the outbreak of WWII). These are mediaeval religious works written in the early Middle English dialect of Ancrene Wisse, whose edition is regarded as one of Tolkien’s highest scientific achievements. The work on Liflade and te Passiun of Seinte Iuliene gave Tolkien a unique opportunity to express many opinions on Middle English under someone else’s name. The Professor was invited by the university to a linguistic congress in 1951 and 3 years later they awarded him a honorary doctorate.

We approached the mentioned Grey Havens at noon and, to our delight, there was a ship awaiting us there (with no sails, propelled with some kind of magic; I would not get too much into details). It took us towards the White Shores. We just had to show papers to prove our identities. A representative of the Queen, who resembled the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland , only without the top hat on his head, assured me that Oxford was beautiful at that time of the year. Although the crossing took two hours, we saved one due to the change of time zones. It is still a different epoch on Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle…

The white cliffs of Albion, wind in one’s hair, salty air, alarming shrieks of seagulls, loud sighs of human delight and shutter clicks of pro cameras with long lenses – unforgettable and inexpressible, because there are no words for that (anymore) in the languages of hobbits, Elves or men!

I recalled a passage of John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War: Tolkien glanced back on those cliffs being transported across the Channel to France, to the Somme front line, and he wrote a poem about that experience. Then I understood why the poem had been written. He looked back, we looked forward.


O glimmering island set sea-girdled and alone-
A gleam of white rock through a sunny haze;
O all ye hoary caverns ringing with the moan
Of long green waters in the southern bays;
Ye murmurous never-ceasing voices of the tide;
Ye plumed foams wherein the shoreland spirits ride;
Ye white birds flying from the whispering coast
And wailing conclaves of the silver shore,
Sea-voiced, sea-wingèd, lamentable host
Who cry about unharboured beaches evermore,
Who sadly whistling skim these waters grey
And wheel about my lonely outward way-

For me for ever thy forbidden marge appears
A gleam of white rock over sundering seas,
And thou art crowned in glory through a mist of tears,
Thy shores all full of music, and thy lands of ease-
Old haunts of many children robed in flowers,
Until the sun pace down his arch of hours,
When in the silence fairies with a wistful heart
Dance to soft airs their harps and viols weave.
Down the great wastes and in gloom apart
I long for thee and thy fair citadel,
Where echoing through the lighted elms at eve
In high inland tower there peals a bell:
O lonely, sparkling isle, farewell!

.By the impressive Dover Castle we were joined by the remaining members of our touring party: Poles from the land of Kalevala, the ill-fated Kullervo and other myths which fascinated Tolkien so much (The Story of Kullervo has just appeared in print!), i.e. from Finland.

The afternoon was spent in the magnificent Gothic abbey in Canterbury, infamous for the murder of bishop ThomasDSC04038 Becket in 1170. The exact spot of his martyrdom has been marked with a pointed cross and two swords and with a hanging open-work bronze sculpture placed in the underground chapel.

Thomas Becket’s lot is similar to the 11th-century Cracovian bishop Stanisław’s. You may have read about it in Elżbieta Cherezińska’s Korona śniegu i krwi. Jakub Świnka, bishop of the diocese of Gniezno, suspected that Stanisław was a traitor, but the latter had stronger and more influential supporters and for that reason king Bolesław the Generous had to leave Poland and died in exile in Carinthian town Ossiach in 1081, while the bishop was declared a saint and has been revered ever after. Well, history is what has been written down, not necessarily what really happened (or was supposed to). Only the chronicler Gall Anonim – who belonged to the circles opposing the king – reported on the life and acts of St. Stanisław. He performed his writing task so cunningly that neither the bishop nor the king could feel fully satisfied.

The bishop has become one of the main patron saints of Poland. He symbolizes a praiseworthy attitude of giving priority to the welfare of the state over the good of the ruler. It would nevertheless be very difficult today to identify the righteous ones in the aforementioned tragic conflict. According to historical accounts the king cruelly punished the bishop and he himself, since no-one else agreed to, dismembered him in the Na Skałce church in 1079. The king of England once demanded someone to free him from the priest and so it happened… Always utter your wishes wisely!


.Becket’s tomb was in the Canterbury cathedral up to 1538 – king Henry VIII ordered to remove it just before he dissolved the Glastonbury abbey of great renown. Sometimes myths are destroyed when they become too dangerous. Presently a candle is lit where the tomb used to be… The Glastonbury abbey has turned into majestic ruins. Moria comes to mind, which is mentioned later in the text.

When the doorkeeper at the Christchurch Gate heard that the number of people he was letting in exceeded four (we had to give him some explanations), he asked us what kind of connection Tolkien had with Canterbury. Galadhorn’s answer was that it was there that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales, which was translated into Polish by professor Przemysław Mroczkowski, an Inkling from Poland who knew Tolkien personally. The network of Tolkien connections is truly ubiquitous…

DSC04017The cathedral represents the architectural style of Perpendicular Gothic (what an elegant term). It is light, refined, soaring, with interplay of vertical and horizontal lines, makes spectators turn their eyes upwards, which is characteristic for all the churches we have visited during that trip. Light and shade, darkness, stars, sky – all of them had a very concrete source and gained a new dimension in Tolkien’s literary works.

I had been in England 17 years earlier (period of the same length as between Bilbo’s 111th birthday and Frodo’s journey – high time to be back there) and I discovered with pleasure that these days you can get guides and leaflets in Polish in most English museums, churches, cathedrals, historical sites. Poles are contributing to modern history of Britain, are they not. It is not impossible that songs will be sung about us, too (Samwise the Brave, you know).

When we left the cathedral, each of us had some free time to spend as one wished, e.g. taking a stroll through the blooming garden or having a meal in a pub. The appeal of the latter place, frequented with delight by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, was great, especially when one was hungry and their feet were tired. There, in excellent Company (big thanks to Ula and Weronika!), I recharged my batteries. On my plate there was a hefty portion of salmon and some boiled vegetables. It tasted (hobbit) home-made. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the pub…

.In the evening we arrived in Streatley on Thames, ca 17 miles south from Oxford. This is a village known from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) published in 1889. We were accommodated in all rooms of a Victorian mansion on a hill. In our bedroom we had bunk beds, we fairly and patiently shared the bathrooms (there were more ladies than gentlemen). There were neither excesses nor disputes. No-one was late for anything anywhere. We were all amazingly disciplined.

As far as journeys and coming to new places for rest the problem is that, even though you do not want to, you must, at least briefly, focus on yourself (paradoxically, at home you focus on the world – and this, to some extent, is what The Hobbit is about). Yet all gets better once you tame the space and work out some routine.

It was like at a summer camp. The morning and evening toilet felt like bathing in the river. The meals had the quality of feasting round the bonfire, only we were getting them as breakfast sets served silently by the Elves (supper could be made oneself in the well equipped kitchen and eaten there or on a sofa in the common room).

Various creatures, including Shelobs, decided to pay us a visit. My fellow ladies dealt with them valiantly, assaulting them with accompaniment of ”you rascal!” yells. Other insects that managed to creep in had some connection with Telimena of the Polish Pan Tadeusz poem of national importance, but on that I will say no more… Anyway, they disappeared quickly and mysteriously.

Next to the hotel we discovered a pub The Bull (which we called Pod Bulem) with Eärendil and the moon shining above the place at night, where eventually, after longish preparations and a few days spent in England, we made an integration party (with everyone briefly introducing themselves). The event brought in a lot of cheerfulness to us and some anxiety to the locals, not to mention the confusion for the Barliman Butterbur who had to serve so many talkative and demanding guests late into the night. Who knows, maybe it was Baggins that introduced himself to us as Underhill? If so, it harmed no-one. We may spin our own yarns and hide behind mysteries…

Our first day in Albion had a truly epic ending. A roommate, Harry Potter’s fan, read aloud an excerpt from The Silmarillion for us and did it so beautifully that all but one of us fell asleep. It was me who could not give up to the effect. After all I was the oldest and someone had to switch off the lights…

.The memorable Sunday 19th April began with early English breakfast (bacon and eggs plus croissant et pain au chocolat), wrapping lembas in leaves (well, toasts in serviettes), meeting on the bridge on the Thames between Streatley and Goring (that view!) and a few photos taken in Bag Row (we were in Shire, after all). That was only a prelude to our sightseeing of Birmingham.

The day stood under the sign of Tolkien’s childhood and adolescence. The Tridentine mass in Latin at the Oratory in Edgbaston was an exceptional event. Little John and his younger brother Hilary used to serve masses there when they and their mother lived nearby for a short time and attended school next to the church. When Mabel Tolkien changed her (and the boys’) Christian denomination, that was just the place she needed to gain some spriritual support.

DSC04053Nothing I saw there will ever be forgotten: beautiful interior of the church similar to the ones in Rome, marvellous celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday (in Poland it was observed a week later, so I had two – another good side of the trip), delightful 10-person choir, incense, black and white mantillas on women’s heads, traditional Eucharist. Since there were not many parishioners in the church, we stood out as outsiders, guests. One of the English ladies passed my friend a printed content of the mass so that she would not have to be only a spectator. In front of the church we talked a bit (partly in Polish) with an elderly gentleman of Silesian descent about living in England etc. The encounter was a very pleasant surprise for both him and us.

I looked at all the things Tolkien had looked at and I could have sworn I felt the same as he had – the feeling that simply cannot be beaten. The priests of the Oratory are very careful about the liturgy and music performed in the DSC04058church. The great religious music composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), called the Prince of Musicians and the Bach of the Renaissance, created a number of masses, madrigals and motets for them in Rome. Maybe the Oratory is the source of the Music of the Ainur? I think that when Tolkien described the nobleness, dignity and glory of the Valar and the Eldar, he bore in mind the celebrants of the Oratory and its great atmosphere.

Beside the Oratory stands the building of a former school that Tolkien attended for a short time. It definitely needs renovation, but most probably the Oratory lacks funds for that.

When you exit the Oratory and look left, you can spot… two towers! One is Perrott’s Folly, the other one is Chamberlain Tower at Edgbaston Waterworks. The former is wider, the latter is slender and delicate, but, according to what Robert Blackham wrote in The Roots of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a sort of Birmigham literary guide, the latter looks as if it was designed for imprisoning a wizard. Actually Perrot’s Folly was built for Humphrey Perrott on his private hunting ground to make it a comfortable observation tower, the other one was designed by architect John H. Chamberlain who held dear restoring the natural charm of Victorian towns that had been destroyed by the industrial revolution. He was a friend of William Morris, the great Pre-Raphaelite visionary whose works Tolkien valued highly. Blackham writes that for the locals one of the towers is Minas Morgul, the other is Minas Tirith – but in such a case those could not be the Two Towers. Well, maybe Chamberlain Tower is too nice to be Orthanc after all. On the other hand, Orthanc was built by the Númenóreans.

.The first part of the day came to an end in the mill of Ted Sandyman, in other words in Sarehole Mill, where a hobbit party was going on, with coffee and carrot cake and hamburgers. In the venue there was an exhibition devoted to Tolkien and the time he spent in the area. Blackham’s guide contains a photo of the mill taken in ca 1890, also showing miller Andrew Miller and his son. Tolkien called the two gentlemen Black and White Ogre. We seemed to have been incorporated in the story and forgot we were tourists. With a bite of the cake I must have swallowed a star, just like the Smith of Wootton Major had before me…

Those that did not eat enough at the party could be served by the Hungry Hobbit snack bar. That was where Mr. Alqua proved his ability to fly high and Galadhorn, his protector, used his weather-modifying charms for the dampness that could be felt. That was realized by perfectly timed singing of a popular song: ”Słoneczko późno dzisiaj wstało i w takim bardzo złym humorze i świecić też mu się nie chciało, bo mówi, że zimno na dworze. A gdy piosenkę usłyszało, to tak się bardzo ucieszyło, zza wielkiej chmury zaraz wyszło i nam radośnie zaświeciło…”. Supposedly the chorus is well known as well. Then I recalled the following: “It is raining, Master Dwarf, and it will continue to rain until the rain is done. If you wish to change the weather of the world, you should find yourself another wizard!” Indeed we have found the wizard

We saw the sunshine once we stepped out of the Old Forest on the border of Buckland, that is from Moseley Bog (in the neigbourhood of Sarehole Mill). It is full of ancient trees and singing birds, otherwise it makes no noises. Before we lost ourselves in the forest we went past one of Tolkien’s former houses at 264 Wake Green Road (when he lived there it was Gracewell Cottages, exactly opposite Sarehole Mill – these days it makes a part of a nursing home).

It was high time for us to leave the industrial city of Birmingham which for Tolkien was inseparably connected with his beloved mother who died in 1904 and this was where his fascination with the Welsh language was born – it would become the basis for Sindarin (those mysterious words and phrases on the wagons!). Last but not least, Birmingham was a city of  T.C.B.S. (Tea Club, Barrovian Society), of King Edward’s School which Tolkien attended and where he met Edith Bratt, and of the First Southern Military Hospital in the Hall of the University where he spent some time after being demobilized in December 1916. That was the starting point for most of his activities, but I think also the closing point for some.

.At the very end of our stay in Birmingham we gladly saw the biggest golden Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found in England: the Staffordshire Hoard, newly exhibited at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (see the photo below) in Chamberlain Square. The way to the hoard lead through halls stuffed with Pre-Raphaelite paintings and wonderful sea landscapes. The visitors were met by a monumental statue of… Lucipher.

DSC04085The treasure dazzles with a heap of golden and enamelled objects – mainly ornaments, jewellery and weapons – adorned with small precious stones and glass balls. It consists of literally hundreds of pieces that lay buried for several hundred years. Various conservation techniques have been demonstrated there as well that brought the hoard back to life and lifted the curse from it (if there had been any). A 7th century mead hall, known e.g. from Beowulf, has been reproduced to show the life of Anglo-Saxon warriors (there was a difficult board game there, for instance).

The centre of Birmingham is very different nowadays from Sarehole, Moseley or King’s Heath (in Tolkien’s lifetime these were villages close to the city, today they are its districts): elegant, metropolitan, spacious, flowery, but not very green. In fact it is not surprising at all that Tolkien gradually lost his warmest feelings towards the city that so much contrasts with Oxford. Birmingham has covered its roots in concrete.

For a change of surrounding to more pastoral we found ourselves in Tavrobel (wood-home in the earliest form of Gnomish), in other words Great Haywood near Cannock Chase, where we walked through meadows and pastures to a bridge on the Teiglin and the Sirion and further to the Shugborough Hall, which may have become an inspiration for the House of Gilfanon also known as the House of Hundred Chimneys (from The Book of Lost Tales; the number of chimneys there is nowhere close to a hundred, though).

As a reminder, the Sirion is the principal river (the Great River) of Beleriand, while the Teiglin is the Sirion’s DSC04099tributary in the south of the Brethil forest; the House of Hundred Chimneys stood on Tol Eressëa even before Tolkien wrote down the name Middle-earth. Surprisingly, Tavrobel is also a name of the settlement inhabited by people from the House of Haleth in Brethil, by Amon Obel (the place name was changed to Ephel Brandir after the publication of LotR). It was temporarily inhabited by Túrin (The Lost Road and other writings, 5th volume of The History of Middle-earth). It is unclear why Tolkien used the name for two different places – maybe he was so fond of Great Haywood? The House of Hundred Chimneys stood by a bridge on two rivers: the Gruir and the Afros.

In Great Haywood by the river Trent, the just married Tolkiens rented a house from one Ms Kendrick. It was not far from the military Brocton Camp where John’s battalion was stationed. In may 1916 the Tolkiens were visited in Great Haywood by his friend Geoffrey Bache Smith, member of T.C.B.S., who was on a pass from France. The Tolkiens were married on 22nd March and on 4th June 1916 John Ronald went on his way to Flanders. He did not expect he would survive…

On the wall at home in Great Haywood Edith Tolkien had a map of France where she marked the current placements of her husband by the Somme which she knew thanks to a code set between the couple especially to avoid the military censorship.

The landscape around us was truly idyllic: the green meadows were blooming with flowers, the birds were singing, the sun was shining, there was a light breeze, the rivers that the Elves called the Teiglin and the Sirion (known among people as the Sow and the Trent) flowed lazily and merged under a strangely shaped bridge where we took photos.

.When Tolkien returned from Flanders in December 1916, he released his great joy of being in Great Haywood again in a six-stanza ballad cited by John Garth in his Tolkien and the Great War: The Grey Bridge of Tavrobel. We stood on that very bridge…

O! tell me, little damozelle,
Why smile you in the gloaming
On the old grey bridge of Tavrobel
As the grey folk come a-homing?

I smile because you come to me
O’er the grey bridge in the gloaming:
I have waited, waited, wearily
To see you come a-homing.

In Tavrobel things go but ill,
And my little garden withers
In Tavrobel beneath the hill,
While you’re beyond rivers.

Ay, long and long I have been away
O’er sea and land and river
Dreaming always of the day
Of my returning hither.

The Essex Bridge (Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was an English nobleman and a favourite of Elizabeth I, executed DSC04095for treason) on the river Trent in Great Haywood, was built in ca 1550. It is the longest preserved packhorse bridge in England. Only 1.2 m wide, it has 14 of the original 40 arches and its structure is a bit strange, nevertheless it allowed pack horses to pass each other side by side. Admittedly it is a solid stonework (and there are many works of human hands that are very durable, as Legolas once said to Gimli).

We spent the last few hours of that day in Kortirion (which has got its own poem: Kortirion among the trees of November 1915) – the mediaeval town of Warwick. According to Tolkien’s early Quenya dictionary Kortirion was the capital city of Elves after their escape from the hostile world to Tol Eressëa (The Book of Lost Tales).

In St. Mary Immaculate church in Warwick on 22 March 1916 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien married Edith Mary Bratt. The parson there is Father Stefan Laszczyk. Although he has got Polish roots, he does not speak the language. A meeting with him was arranged for us to see the wedding documents, but even Gandalf could not foresee exactly what was to happen.

The priest caused our true euphoria when he brought and showed us the original marriage book with signatures made by Tolkien, his spouse and the witnesses (that calligraphy)! Edith was 27 years old, her witness was 51-year-old cousin Jennie Grove with whom Ms Bratt lived when John was stationed in Brocton Camp near Stafford. Tolkien’s (who was 24 at the time) witness was Anne W. (Warden) Johnson, a 52-year-old lady whose connection with the ceremony remains unknown and it is unclear if Tolkien was acquainted with her at all. She could have been chosen for the occasion by Father William J. Murphy. In the ”father’s name” blank Edith put Frederick Bratt who was her… uncle (the ”father’s occupation” blank has been crossed out). Edith panicked, because unaware of the necessity to use such data she had not revealed to Tolkien that she was an illegitimate child – she did it after the ceremony. The wedding was only the second one that was held in that church in Warwick.


.Almost certainly Father Laszczyk had one of the best evenings of his life on that day. He is a very lively and jovial man of ”Maggoty” posture, temperament and expression. He utters words at the speed of Legolas taking arrows out of his quiver. He was so much in his element showing us the marriage book with such pride and excitement as if it was the Holy Grail! We were among the first Poles that saw that precious object with their own eyes (wide open and/or full of tears). I think the photo of the book I made (see above) should be copyrighted or at least framed. Finally Father Laszczyk gave us his blessing for further successful journey. Go to England and tell everyone you are a Tolkienist – you will experience things unbelievable to many people…

Monday 20th April was a central day of the trip. We went to Oxford (”Mundostar” in Quenia), the town where ”nothing else happened” for Tolkien – adventures and wandering ended and family life, work at the university and writing the phenomenal books started.

Whoever comes to the Wolvercote Cemetery, following the signs easily finds the grave of Beren and Lúthien. The place is modest and green, with high trees casting shade. There are forget-me-nots and a rose bush (with a ring hanging on a twig) on the grave of Edith Mary Tolkien and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. There are rain-soaked letters from fans from all over the world. On the other side of the path stands a tombstone with the name of John, the Professor’s eldest son.DSC04114

In my opinion the grave does not evoke, if I may say so, the ”terminal feelings”. It was hard for me to retain all seriousness there, even though the atmosphere was solemn. It is a symbol rather than a monument, symbol of an event that has not closed anything, of an ordinary life and extraordinary achievements. Sort of a metaphor, maybe even the particular, properly used allegory: the tower with a view upon the sea…

Beren and Lúthien never really got their grave, besides no-one ever saw Beren again after he had gone to the land of the living dead. Then Beleriand was swallowed by the sea waves. The little part of the Wolvercote Cemetery has a double meaning then…

.Our very long walk through Oxford started on the bank of the Thames. First we went to Christ Church College, known for its splendid past and more recently for the fact that Harry Potter was shot there (e.g. the staircase is seen in The Philosopher’s Stone). Besides one of the members of the college was Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll, who immortalized the dean’s daughter Alice Liddell in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In the cathedral, which is not only the college’s chapel, but also a diocesan church, there is a tomb of St. Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford. There are also magnificent stained glass windows, e.g. ones made by Edward Burne-Jones, who has displayed there Edith Liddell, Alice’s sister, as St. Catherine of Alexandria. On the left from the entrance there is a 17th century window that depicts Jonah and the city of Nineveh – only Jonah’s head is of stained glass, the rest of the body has been painted on glass by Abraham van Linge.

Tolkien accepted the task of translating fragments of the Jerusalem Bible, which is Old Testament translated by Roman Catholic scholars into English from Hebrew and Greek, not from the Latin Vulgate. Due to numerous difficulties Tolkien could translate only the not long Book of Jonah (1957). It tells a story of a prophet willing to escape his fate who is swallowed by a big sea creature and spends three days in its stomach. He warns Nineveh against the punishment awaiting the city, but gets very angry when he finds out it has eventually been saved. There is a certain coincidence here: during his crazy adventures Rover the dog is swallowed by a whale named Uin. The short children’s story Roverandom was first written down in 1927 and took its final shape by 1936, along with The Hobbit.

DSC04147At noon the pastor recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Peace Prayer. Then most of us learned of the great tragedy of ca 700 refugees from Africa who drowned during their sea passage to Europe. The news used to be spread like that before the electronic media age. Nowadays the thought of not being informed of something important or knowing it not soon enough makes people anxious, confused or ashamed. You ask others what is going on, you are in urgent need of others making you understand. Thus these days the easy, often spontaneous, sometimes unwanted access to information keeps people apart.

From the steeple of St. Mary the Virgin church we saw the beautiful panorama of Oxford, including Radcliffe Camera that inspired… Sauron’s Temple to Morgoth on Númenor (see the picture). Opposite the church, on the other side of High Street, there is the University Examination School (where Tolkien passed his final exams at Exeter gaining First Class Honour, the highest possible score, as one of only two people) and Eastgate Hotel where Lewis and Tolkien met regularly to talk about myths.

.Then we passed through Bodleian Library to Weston Library where exhibition was held entitled The Marks of Genius that presented e.g. Tolkien’s own dust-jacket design for The Hobbit! We found the information about the exibition during the trip and in no way could we miss the opportunity.IMG_20150420_164603

Within the free time that came I walked Broad Street and Turl Street, spent a few minutes at Covered Market and had lunch (fried fish and potatoes flushed with tea with milk – I can drink that variation only in England) in good company of Joan at the White Horse (Prancing Pony) pub, close to a window with a view on Sheldonian Theatre. It was in the latter place that the academic year of 1911/12 and the course of studies in general officially started for Tolkien. He took the solemn oath that he would never bring nor light fire or flame or cigarette at the Bodleian Library, which has been mentioned by John Garth in Tolkien at Exeter College.

Turl Street (whose 20th century past is preserved in Tolkien’s drawings; he lived there, but the building is not there anymore – see the picture above) with Exeter College marked the end of the free time. During the 600th anniversary of the college in 1914 Tolkien delivered a toast speech for the societies of the university (he was a member of all of them). Last year Exeter was 700 years old!

In the chapel of the college we could admire Tolkien’s bust made by his daughter-in-law Faith, Christopher’s first DSC04187wife, in 1977. There is a beautiful tapestry version of Edward Burne-Jones’ fresco, finished by Morris & Co. in 1890, of the Adoration of Magi – the bow of the Three Kings in front of baby Jesus. The delicate inner structure of the chapel brings to mind Rivendell. Burne-Jones (who, similarly to Tolkien, graduated from the King Edward’s School in Birmingham) and William Morris studied at the Exeter in mid-19th century, brought there by its affection for Catholicism. Both left the university, discouraged by its indifference towards their artistic ideas. The former made his mark creating the aforementioned fresco/tapestry, the latter wrote a poem The Defence of Guenevere, which eventually had to be read and known by every student of the Exeter college.


At the college reception we bought all available copies of John Garth’s latest book Tolkien at Exeter College. How an Oxford undegraduate created Middle-earth. Although it is not a thick volume, it nicely supplements Tolkien and The Great War. The books did not occupy a very prominent place on the shelves there, possibly being treated with the typical English reserve.

From the Exeter College we hastened to the botanical garden to see an empty space where Tolkien’s beloved 200-year-old pine, pinus nigra, had stood till last year when one of its branches fell off and it was discovered that the whole tree was in such a bad condition that it posed a threat to visitors, therefore it had to be cut down. Tolkien and the pine were photographed on 9th August 1973 – the former’s last picture…

.For some reason the garden has not preserved any seeds or seedlings to replace the pine. Well, no problem with that, we can send them a young tree from Poland, we have got seven of them, from the cones brought straight from Oxford.

One of the pine trees (called Arcastar, which stands for Tolkien in Quenya) grows near Sosnowiec, another one in Skierniewice forest inspectorate area, thanks to which the seeds could grow into trees. The remaining pines can be found at the castle in Gniew and in Katowice. We may soon be able to admire one more black pine near Warsaw, since a young female member of our touring party, an expert in Quenya, has won a cone in a lottery.

From the garden we went to Magdalen College, established in 15th century and located non-typically outside the DSC04225city, C.S. Lewis’ mother college which graduated nine future Nobel laureates. In its chapel there is a copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Then we took a lovely walk along Addison’s Walk among the meadows, frequented by fallow deer, surrounding the college. One evening stroll there with Hugo Dyson and Tolkien pushed Lewis to conversion to Catholicism. Tolkien said to him that the Bible is a myth as well – a myth of human beings told by God, the one and only in history, whereas myths have the distinctive feature of being true. We could have felt the same gusts of wind on our faces as they had on theirs… The Cherwell river flowed idly along the path past the old trees, the meadow was full of dangling navy blue calyxes, there was also a lonely bench made of stone and a curious wooden shed for some river creatures – maybe for those from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows?

.We left Magdalen and went down Holywell Street (holy well!), where Tolkien lived at 99 from 1950 to 1953 (he found the house charming, but unfit for permanent living due to the noise from the street; he then moved to DSC04236Headington) we got to the famous The Eagle and Child pub. We feasted there to the maximum, vexingly for some of the other guests, which they were able to forgive us, I hope. We raised a toast for the Professor and Galadhorn delivered a speech from the height of a stool. There was a lot of laughter and taking pictures.

In the pub the Inklings met regularly till 1963 (when C.S. Lewis died), changing the course of history of literature. There are photos on the walls, e.g. of Tolkien from 1972, and a framed inscription for the owner of the pub with signatures of the guests; Tolkien made his at the bottom, as professor of Merton College and Pembroke as well as graduate of Exeter, lieutenant of 11th Battalion of Lancashire Fusilliers and father of Christopher Tolkien (himself a graduate of Trinity College in Oxford who took part in meetings of the Inklings and is said to have read LotR better than its creator – his signature precedes the father’s); others signed include C.S. Lewis, his brother major Warren Hamilton Lewis, David Cecil, Hugo Dyson and Colin Hardie. At the entrance two IMG_20150420_183020blackboards welcome the guests with the following written with chalk:

My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes, tramping together and putting up in small pubs. (C.S. Lewis).

PIPPIN – What’s that?

MERRY – This my friend is a pint.

PIPPIN- It comes in pints? I’m getting one.

Finally we let the drivers take us home to Streatley, which did not mark the day’s end at all, since we were yet to visit The Bull!

.Tuesday 21st April (birthday of the Queen, who saw Tolkien when decorating him with the Order of the British Empire!; on this very day in 2841 of the Third Age Thráin begain his journey to the Lonely Mountain) came as the day of the great escapade to the Little Kingdom. However, it turned out to be centred on a certain suitcase…

Through meadows and pastureland, among sheep and skylarks we got to Uffington Castle, a Celtic oppidum – ruins of a fortified settlement are easily discernible, even though it was not a big one (the biggest oppidum in Europe is in Wurttemberg, occupies 1,400 hectares and the total length of its ramparts approximates 30 kms!). Birds of prey making circles overhead have a perfect (and exclusive) view upon the white horse on the hill.

In the valley called the Vale of White Horse there is the Dragon Hill where grass does not grow – dragon’s blood is said to have been spilt there when he was slewn with a lance by St. George. The hill is a likely burial place and both the horse and the dragon symbolize guardians keeping intruders away. According to a legend the remains of Uther Pendragon, King Arthur’s father, are buried under the hill… The views from there on Cotswolds are unmatched. I keep in my memory the fields of yellow rape blossoms, blue sky and the wind bringing the scent of the English spring. Welcome to Shire!DSC04269

Looking at the Dragon Hill I immediately recalled The Buried Giant, the newest book by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is a refined, very well written novel about the role of myth in culture and history, about the function of memory and the meaning of forgetting. Its setting is somewhere around there…

The protagonists, an elderly couple, live in a small community that inhabits the inside of a hill. In the story there are victims of trolls, but there are no trolls themselves. There is a dragon so old that even a child can kill it. There is a senile Sir Gawain, the one that knew King Arthur and the Green Knight, who meets his death from a friendly hand. There are monks helped by the (female) dragon to keep the area in fog of forgetting in order to avoid war.  The fog makes the couple almost completely forget their son. Instead of him they find a place they would rather keep away from – an enigmatic boatman takes people ”to the other side” (Avalon?).

The Buried Giant is a memorable book dealing with the role of myths in forgetting and manipulating memories. While reading it I constantly asked myself why England ”forgot” her most ancient mythology and Tolkien strove for bringing it back.

.We managed to go through the busy Tuesday market in Moreton-in-Marsh. Walking among the stalls we were pleased to look at the surrounding houses built of beige stone quarried locally. Due to its refurbishment we could not visit The Bell pub where Tolkien used to be a guest.

Not far from the town that brings to mind Bree or its surroundings we find the Four Shire Stone, which used to mark a touchpoint of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Oxfordshire (at present the borders run a bit differently). Thus, Tolkien’s Three Farthing Stone in Shire has its real counterpart (”Marsh” is sometimes associated with the word ”march”, an older equivalent of ”boundary”).

We visited the King and his Men turned to stone. Rollright Stones is a likely burial and worship place, possibly even DSC04293dating back to 4,500 B.C., as archaeological research has shown. On one side of the road there is a single, strangely twisted King’s Stone (surrounded by the King’s Men as displayed on the photo), and on the other there are Whispering Knights and a circle of stones called King’s Men. The legend regarding the place is very much like the story of Three Witches and Macbeth. People reportedly gather there on the night of the summer solstice. It is next to the Rollright Stones that Tolkien’s imagination placed the meeting of Garm the dog with the dragon Chrysophylax of Farmer Giles of Ham.

We started the second part of the day in Headington Quarry, a district of Oxford where by the Holy Trinity Church there is a grave of Clive Staples Lewis (and his brother). Lewis died on 22nd November 1963 – on the same day John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered, which is why the passing of the great writer passed relatively unnoticed.

Only some 30 people, including Tolkien, came to C.S. Lewis’ funeral. The maker of Narnia has been commemorated in the church he had been going to for 30 years: his pew is properly marked and since 1992 the church has the Window of Narnia. The cemetery is small, full of trees, with a lot of old tombstones, unreachable for the noise of the city.

.Seeing two former Tolkien’s houses, at 20 and 22 Northmoor Road where LotR was written and at 76 Sandfield Road in Headington was our highlight of the day. Although the latter place was being restored, since we openly manifested being Tolkien lovers we got a special gift from the workers: a mid-20th century brown cardboard suitcase! Of course we imagined that it had belonged to Tolkien. The witnessed opening in Streatley revealed the name Phillips and a phone number written inside. Perhaps we should have called, this is very unlikely to have been done, though. The suitcase was not entirely empty, but I will say nothing of its content. 27 people in the know are more than enough. The object is now in possession of Galadhorn who resides in Sosnowiec. Who knows, maybe this is not yet the end of the story…

Our next stop was the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the oldest museum in Britain. There I decided to go my own way to walk the paths I knew from 17 years earlier. I discovered a very special exhibition of Great British Drawings in Ashmolean, which was a must, at least to honour Tolkien’s fondness for drawing and painting. In two halls there were gathered for the first time the finest English drawing of many centuries, over 100 works of art made by such personages as Turner, Gainsborough, Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (the phenomenal Persephone!). I could not stop looking at the ”Girl in a Bonnet with her Head on a Blue Pillow” (1902) by Anna Alma-Tadema, an artist not known to me beforehand. I strongly recommend everyone looking for it on the internet. The identity of the model is vague, but those eyes and face are cannot be easily forgotten…

I also entered Blackfriars, a bright, spacious one-nave church of the Dominican Order. On its walls is ViaDSC04308-1 Crucis, where Herod and Roman soldiers have been depicted in such a way that a spectator would not escape thinking of orcs. The intention might have been totally different, yet the resemblance is striking.

In October 1966 the prior invited Tolkien, at that time already a famous (Catholic) writer, to deliver a lecture within the cycle ”Faith and Literature”. The lecture did not happen, instead Tolkien read, then still unpublished, novella Smith of Wootton Major. It has been referred to by Verlyn Flieger in the most recent pocket edition of the book that she provided with her commentary (I bought it at Foyles in London). As the prior recalled, despite the fact that the event had not been advertized with the exception of a plain paper note on the door, so many people turned up that a few of them might not have heard the words uttered by the Professor (they seemed satisfied with just seeing him). In the aforementioned commentary Verlyn Flieger quotes Tolkien claiming that this is not a religious text in a strict sense, but an allegory of the current condition of the Church.

I proceeded to St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church, another one that Tolkien liked, then back to Exeter and eventually I ordered a beef salad and half pint at the then silent and almost empty Eagle and Child (there was only one fellow resembling Bill Ferny sitting in the corner). I sat, ate and looked at the photos on the walls.

That afternoon I found my 1/27 of the treasure: at Waterstones I discovered the complete fairy tales of the brothers Grimm with 100 illustrations by Arthur Rackham. I brought home the book bound in linen fabric and slipped in additional hard cover as if I was Bilbo dragging a box from the trolls’ cave. My preciousssssss! And it still smells of the book shop!

The touring party led by Galadhorn spent the time on visiting the colleges Pembroke and Merton also connected with Tolkien as well as in the Univeristy Parks where Laurelin and Telperion, the Trees of Valinor grow – or so I was told and have no reason to disbelieve them.

.The Tuesday quickly turned into Wednesday 22nd April when the road took us to Somerset where the Tolkiens spent their honeymoon (in Clevedon), also the place of origin of Ælfwine from The Book of Lost Tales – the Friend of Elves, on Tol-Eressëa called Eriol (”one who dreams alone”). The day was divided into two chapters: Glastonbury and Bath.

I find Glastonbury hard to describe and to classify. It is at the same time mediaeval, mythical, mysterious and rocksy-hippie-esoteric… All in one, so you need to be careful.

The abbey covers over 14 hectares, it used to be by the sea. It is considered the first Christian sanctuary in Britain, traditionally associated with St. Joseph of Arimathea, from whose walking stick sprouted holly, as legend has it. He is also thought to have been a tin merchant and to have brought the Holy Grail to Britain. The abbey was probably established in 7th century A.D. by the Anglo-Saxon ruler of Somerset and expanded by St. Dunstan, the archbishop of Canterbury, in 10th century. It grew too rich and powerful to pass unnoticed by Henry VIII who dissolved it in 1539. The locals then felt free to use the stones from the huge buildings to fortify their own houses.

We were told all that by our guide, who posed as a monk and was clad like one (maybe he was a real monk after DSC04330all?), his voice was deep and his gesticulation was animated, he also staged the life of the olden days with help of randomly picked female members of our tour. He had something in himself of Sean Connery or Graham McTavish (Dwalin in Hobbit), he used a green laser indicator, like in the scene in Moria where Gandalf decides to shed some light from his rod to show the Fellowship the impressive interior of the dwarves’ ancient headquarters.

The importance and influence of this place is no surprise if we consider the fact that according to legend the neighbouring hill is where Avalon was located and in the ruins of the abbey there is the grave of Arthur and Guinevere (reportedly the remains of the royals were found there in 1191 and they lay in the tomb until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539). When our guide heard that we were Tolkienists, he said that Tolkien’s connection with Glastonbury has been threefold: power of the tale, living memory and love for myth. It seems to me that these days the Arthurian legend is used there for the same reason as after the disastrous fire in 12th century: to draw attention of the potential benefactors and to arouse their generosity.

Some of us decided to go to Avalon and back, i.e. to climb the 500-foot Glastonbury Tor that dominates the surrounding, with a tower on the top. Avalon, capital of the underworld, place of departure of the dead, inhabited by elves. I sat there overwhelmed by all the legends, ate delicious local home-made honey and ginger (as well as mint chocolate, of course) ice cream, admired the picturesque ruins with their past glory and contemplated The Fall of Arthur, especially my favourite beautiful passage where Lancelot who renounced his love for the queen, but did not manage to deserve the king’s mercy, looks from his tower towards the sea…

His heart arose,                        as were heavy burden
lightly lifted.                               Alone standing
with the flame of morn          in his face burning
the surge he felt                        of song forgotten
in his heart moving                 as a harp-music.
There Lancelot,                         low and softly
to himself singing,                   the sun greeted,
life from darkness                   lifted shining
in the dome of heaven            by death exalted.
Ever times would change      and tides alter,
and o’er  hills of morning      hope come striding
to awake the weary,                 while the world lasted.
[The Fall of Arthur III, pp. 209-220]

.Bath was a journey even deeper in time – to the Roman rule of Britain.

It was great to go back to the mesmerizing Roman Baths with a daily turnover of 1,170,000 cubic metres of DSC04339water at 45 Celsius centigrade – a holy spring… All looked exactly like 17 years earlier when I had been there the previous time, with a possible exception of so many French junior high teenagers swarming there this year.

England is a land of ruins. These may be a sign of downfall or the opposite – of the bygone grandeur and power, as Moria. An elegy contained in The Book of Exeter written in Old English brings the following description of ruins that seem to be the ones in Bath (the Roman ”Aquae Sulis”):

Wondrous is this wall-stead, wasted by fate.
Battlements broken, giant’s work shattered.
Roofs are in ruin, towers destroyed,
Broken the barred gate, rime on the plaster,

walls gape, torn up, destroyed,
consumed by age. Earth-grip holds
the proud builders, departed, long lost,
and the hard grasp of the grave, until a hundred generations
of people have passed. Often this wall outlasted,

hoary with lichen, red-stained, withstanding the storm,
one reign after another; the high arch has now fallen.

The wall-stone still stands, hacked by weapons,
by grim-ground files.

Mood quickened mind, and the mason,
skilled in round-building, bound the wall-base,

wondrously with iron.
Bright were the halls, many the baths,
High the gables, great the joyful noise,
many the mead-hall full of pleasures.
Until fate the mighty overturned it all.

Stone courts once stood there, and hot streams gushed forth,
wide floods of water, surrounded by a wall,

in its bright bosom, there where the baths were,
hot in the middle.
Hot streams ran over hoary stone

into the ring

[Book of Exeter, Ruins]

.It is so pleasant to discover suprising little details of seemingly well known places – such is the hot water of the holy spring, another is a small display case of precious stones that slipped off the golden rings of the bath’s users. In the small polished gems (up to 1 cm in diameter), i.e. chalcedony and carnelian, there are subtly carved mythological or genre scenes, or landscapes, e.g. three cows under a tree, eagle, chariot rider adorned with laurel wreath or bacchante’s head. On the one hand it makes one think of Tolkien’s fascination with geology, on the other it reminds us of the craftmanship of either Celebrimbor of Doriath or the dwarves of Erebor. The bathroom with the Roman floor heating system is very interesting as well.

It was good to rediscover the Bath Abbey. Angels climb to heaven on its unique façade. It was there that Edgar was crowned as the first king of all England in 973 – which seems as the return of the king, yet just one of many such returns in the history of England.

In the beautiful Gothic interiors we saw an impressive exhibition of 35 diptychs created by Sue Symons since 2006 within One Man’s Journey to Heaven project. They are fabulously colourful and meaningful, in part caligraphy and illumination, in another embroidered scenes of the New Testament.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on a bench by the baths, with salad and fork in my hands. I admit to have gone to Waitrose in search of the rejuvenating balm, but likely all the younger female members of our touring party had been there before me since there were none available. No matter, though – the road preserves you better!

So came the inevitable. We had to pack our bundles (no rope in sight again…), cramming all the trophies from the bookhops and antique shops wherever possible, put all the stuff into the vehicle and off we go, to the Kingdom’s capital!

.At dawn of Thursday 23rd April (St. George’s Day – England’s patron saint’s) we gathered next to ”Pod Bulem”. The local youth of both sexes wearing school uniforms waited for their school bus there as well. Suddenly one of the pupils, a tall fair-haired man of leader-like bearing, asked me: ”Isn’t it our school bus you’re trying to catch?”. I assured him that we were waiting for ours. He sighed with relief. Then I recalled the Wolvercote local who had reprimanded us from behind his garden fence for parking our coach where it was not allowed, maybe to prevent us from getting a fine. Sweet Englishmen…


.And as for London

Equipped with one day travel cards we used the underground, losing Galadhorn once due to his succouring a young lady to find the right password and thus to open a tunnel’s gate. The atmosphere grew tense till the guide and the girl luckily rejoined the party. Gandalf in Moria is an inevitable association…

On that day the landscapes changed as if seen through a train window.

Oddly, trains were important for this escapade, although Tolkien disliked them. First we arrived at the impressive King’s Cross station, the one with the materialized (and commercialized) work of Ms Rowling: the already proverbial 9 ¾ platform. Passing through a wall in order to board the special train to Hogwart was served by a gentleman keeping his striped scarf so that it looked as if it was fluttering in the wind from the tunnel and by a pro photographer whose old-fashioned camera made photos for sale at 10 GBP each. Luckily we could take pictures ourselves, too.

That was where a separate adventure started for the girl who had proved her talent for reading aloud in Streatley. She went alone to the Warner Bros. Studio to make her dream come true: to visit the one and only The Making of Harry Potter exhibition. She rejoined us in the evening, happy beyond belief. She may want to recount the visit in her own Red Book, which we will hopefully get a chance to read.

Then it was time for the British Library. A modern building with an amazing treasure inside: the original manuscript of Beowulf! During the trip there were quite a few very emotional moments and that was one of them. Another one came very quickly, in the British Museum, where I admired the Sutton Hoo treasure and the so called Franks Casket (presented to the Museum by Sir Augustus Franks in 1867) in the rooms devoted to the Anglo-Saxon England. Such face to face encounters with history are rare!

.In the 2014 edition of Beowulf translated by Tolkien in prose and provided with his commentary, edited by his son Christopher, there are references to Sutton Hoo (discovered in Suffolk in 1938/39) in footnotes for Scyld Scefing’s funeral. The man referred to at the beginning of the poem (in the so called exordium) was placed on a lavishly equipped ship and pushed out to sea. Also the deceased buried on the ship together with the treasure known to us as Sutton Hoo must have been a person of great importance, maybe even the Anglo-Saxon ruler (likely Rædwald, the last king of East Anglia; his body has not been found). Moreover, fragments of Beowulf in poetic translation made by Seamus Heaney accompany the Sutton Hoo exhibition. According to Tolkien, Beowulf is only about a century younger than the Sutton Hoo (the latter being made in early 7th century A.D.). Interestingly, some of the Sutton Hoo artifacts are of Byzantine origin.

The most impressive is the helmet covering the whole head and face of the warrior (like of the guard of the WhiteDSC04398 Tower of Ecthelion or the dragon helmet of a dwarf – I like the latter idea better) – in the foreground of the picture above is the reconstructed helmet, on the left in the background is the original; the carefully restored horns – although for feast, not for battle, nonetheless they are similar to the Horn of Rohan; the most beautiful shoulder buckles – golden, enamelled, embellished with  garnets and millefiore glass; the big embossed golden Franconian buckle with plant motifs and dragons (400 grams of gold! – see the picture) and the enamelled golden pouch lid.DSC04396-1

The enigmatic Franks Casket (of Auzon) is a Northumbrian box for keeping jewels or relics, made of whalebone in ca 700 A.D., with legendary, mythical and Judeo-Christian motifs on its sides and lid – a proof of amalgamation of cultures, civilizations and religions. The casket may have been commissioned by a dignitary or a noble clergyman. It exemplifies deep interest in pagan Germanic past. So much is there: the Three Kings’ bow to baby Jesus, the Volsunga Saga, the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus, Titus’ pillage of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Egil’s Saga (the story of Sigurd is on the section of the box that is kept in Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence). Runes and Latin letters are inscribed all over the casket. The runic alphabet is used in Old English phrases. ”A box without hinges, key or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid…”


Naturally my attention was drawn to the renowned Rosetta Stone, but also to the Lewis chessmen, a group of 12th century chess pieces carved mostly in walrus ivory – the characters depicted in them are fantastic, almost alive. I could swear I saw them in some movie…

After leaving the museum some time was spent at the six-storeyed Foyles book shop in Oxford Street (my copy of Smith of Wootton Major was bought there; I also had an itch for a rarity: a BBC4 broadcast LoTR audiobook on 12 CDs, read by Ian Holm who played Bilbo in the movie – unfortunately its price was so high that it could buy the whole Shire!), some local antiquarian bookshops and the Forbidden Planet shop, a paradise for nerds.

Some of us went to the pub to eat the last English lunch before going back home (The Cambridge serves delicious sea bass, if I may recommend).

Going out to Oxford Street soaked in sunshine and mingling with the crowd made me feel dizzy. So many people around, calmly moving in all directions… Nobody jostled against me. But I was there after all!

DSC04410The time spent in London was crowned with a walk across two bridges on the Thames, past the London Eye (also known as the Millenium Wheel), Big Ben and the Westminster Abbey. Above the abbey’s portal there are statues of the 20th century martyrs, i.e. St. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe and the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer killed for the high treason at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 9th April 1945 (on the same day the admiral Wilhelm Canaris was executed there). It seems to me that the statues and people that inspired them represent a certain radical attitude towards the folly of our – or in fact of all – times.

Tolkien designed runes for the crest of the reputable school in the neighbourhood of the abbey and the Anglican church. We walked to the underground through the beautiful St. James’s Park and went to West Kensington to be met by our Wizards of the Wheel.

Our journey back home started at 8.30 p.m. and would finish at 9.45 p.m. on Friday 24th April. We parted ways with our dear guide Tom Goold and his companion Kate. They decided to stay in London to see the marathon on Sunday. Yet no marathon can match three friends chasing a pack of Uruk-hai. The marathon runners should try that!

We crossed the sea in a similar vessel to the one that we had used before, only this time it was dark and for real: ”O lonely, sparking isle, farewell!” A few lucky ones of us won prizes in various contests and drawings (the questions were easy, but surprising). Galadhorn said that Royd Tolkien, son of Joanna, daughter of Michael, son of John Ronald, had replied kindly and with interest to his message about our tour. We watched the extended version of The Hobbit on DVD, but the second part had to be stopped – next time we will recommence from there…

.Galadhorn talked about many things, one of which impressed me most: tracing the Tolkien family name in Tołkiny in northern Poland, south of Królewiec. The stem of the word – ”Tolls”or ”Tollks” – seems to denote an interpreter, used by the Teutonic Knights for the Baltic people who helped them so; the name could have been taken over by the locals living in the Tollkühns’ estate; also ”toll – kühn” means someone insanely brave, a daredevil. The history of the linguistic fact-finding is in the archives of Elendilion. Tołkiny deserves to become headquarters of the Polish Tolkienists and to get a house of creative work for fan fiction writers. All the best, anyway.

I somehow couple the tale of Tołkiny with another one, an earlier case of Parma Eldalamberon magazine (Quenya: ”The Book of Elven Tongues”, first issue published in 1971) editors, connected with the Mythopoeic Society, enviously guarding the exclusive  authorization by Christopher Tolkien of their research in the languages of the Middle-earth. They are so uncompromising in keeping their materials and discoveries only for themselves that they were very unkind to David Salo, a freelance (because he turned up too late) specialist in neo-khuzdul, the new take on the language of the dwarves. Parma Eldalamberon, though, is the law – exists only what has been written there.

.As the story shows, it is the linguistic issues that are the hottest among the Tolkienists, because likely there is most to be discovered there (but the realm is as deadly dangerous as Faëry). Possibly the research could progress more quickly and be more versatile (with more people engaged) if the sources were more accessible. Well, the Tolkien Estate seems to be more concerned about the quality of the research than about its pace, also maybe its objectives and plans have outgrown the current scale of activities carried out by the investigators these days.

Parting of the cordial Fellowship by the exit of the train station in Katowice was long and tender. Many tissues were used, for the tears and to wave goodbye. We assured one another of staying in touch and regular exchange of correspondence. A trip to Scotland was planned for 2016.

But this was not the end at all. A new stage was to begin. I took my luggage and went to the familiar inn. It was calm and empty. This time my room had a view on some tower…

.In the morning of Saturday 25th April I went downstairs to the dining room to eat a square meal of scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, tomato, cucumber, chives, coffee and oat flakes with milk (there were toasts, too). The TV set passed me the sad news on the death of Władysław Bartoszewski, for whom preserving the memory of the past meant duty, opportunity and springboard into the future.

Then, having bought some fresh newspapers and magazines, I got aboard the train called pendolino (which sadly offers no metaphysics of travel) and let it take me to Warsaw. An entirely different story began at noon. On the following day, 26th April, there was an anniversary of Gandalf’s unexpected visit at Bilbo’s in Bag End.

.You have to go all the way to understand its meaning…

Magdalena Słaba


This content is protected by copyright. Any further distribution without the authors permission is forbidden. 23/08/2015
Fot. i rysunek Magdalena Słaba