Special Collections Visiting Scholars – Lang and the Works of Tolkien
Sharin Schroeder spent two weeks in our reading room in July as part of the 2014 Visiting Scholarship Programme. In this fascinating blog post, she explains how studying our Andrew Lang collection helped her research into his influence on J. R. R. Tolkien.
As a Victorianist and Tolkien scholar who lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan, I was especially grateful to spend two weeks in July working in the Andrew Lang collection as part of a project on Tolkien’s indebtedness to Victorian writers generally and Andrew Lang particularly.
Andrew Lang (1844–1912) was a polymath, but his extensive influence has been in large part forgotten, in part due to the ephemeral, reactive nature of much his work and in part due to Lang’s personal belief that the Victorian two-volume Life and Letters was an overdone genre; he did not desire to be a biographical subject. Nonetheless a biography was written, and Lang’s writing lives on in various forms. Lang is known in some circles for the twelve colour fairy books which bear his name, in others for various other types of writing: his “Realism and Romance” piece in the Contemporary Review; his Homeric translations and scholarship; his work on the history of Scotland; his interest in the new disciplines of anthropology and folklore and psychical research; his poetry, particularly “Almae Matres”; and his journalism in daily, weekly, and monthly periodicals.
Among Tolkien scholars, Andrew Lang is known for another reason: one of Tolkien’s most famous essays, “On Fairy-stories” was originally given as the Andrew Lang lecture in 1939. The St Andrews Citizen report of Tolkien’s lecture appears on the same page as a family photo with the father in a gas mask and his baby looking on, months before the official start of World War II. Four pages later, gas mask distribution is described in an article called “Gas Masks and Bibles.” In this and many other instances, the materials in the archives at St Andrews allowed me to fit Tolkien’s work into its historical context and to see how Lang’s writing influenced the creation and reception of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
The collection at St Andrews is excellent and extensive—it consists of over 430 volumes written or edited by Lang, in addition to manuscripts and correspondence.
Highlights of my visit included reading the extant copies St Leonard’s Magazine, a handwritten undergraduate manuscript to which Lang was at one time the main contributor; the annotated proofs of Lang’s Life of Lockhart, which Lang sent to his friend Edmund Gosse to read; The Mark of Cain: A Tale of the Desert (a short pamphlet written to secure copyright); Lang news clippings from newspapers that still remain undigitized; and Lang’s contributions to the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. I also appreciated one further link between Lang and Tolkien. Two hundred volumes of the collection were added in a bequest from Roger Lancelyn Green, Lang’s biographer. Green had written his thesis on Lang under D. Nichol Smith and J. R. R. Tolkien. After examining Green in 1943, Tolkien sent the thesis back for revisions because he ‘wanted to know more about the Fairies!’ (Scull & Hammond II.352). The published version of On Fairy-stories was revised and enlarged during 1943, when Tolkien had Lang on his mind (Scull & Hammond I.258).
Due to the wealth of material at St Andrews, I skipped lunch most days in order to have more time to read. I am grateful for the help of all the librarians in the reading room, and particularly to Maia Sheridan and Rachel Hart, who are both knowledgeable about Lang and the collection.
After the reading room closed, I enjoyed walking down the streets and along the beaches of St Andrews, hearing the gulls cry. I wandered through the ruins of the Cathedral whose loss Lang mourned in his writings on Scottish history. I also found Andrew Lang’s old address (as given in the letters I’d been reading).
The research I have done this summer has challenged many of the assumptions I had made about Lang from reading only his published and more easily accessible writing. I incorporated material from the Lang collection into the last two conference papers I have presented (at Informing the Inklings: George MacDonald and the Victorian Roots of Fantasy in Oxford in August and at the annual conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals in Delaware in September). I am now at work revising these into publishable essays. I am also revising an article on Lang and biography, about which my summer research gave me a fresh perspective. In the longer term, I hope to complete a larger book project on J. R. R. Tolkien and Andrew Lang.
National Taipei University of Technology
Scull, Christina, and Wayne G. Hammond. The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.