Sunday, 30 March 2014

J R R Tolkien - inspired by Headingley

The Tolkien Trail - talk by Claire Randall
29 March- partnership event with Leeds Combined Arts

Carol Downing writes:
The trail began at the Hyde Park Hotel on the corner of Woodhouse Street soon entering one of the many ginnels of Headingley and the beginning of the Dales Way then on to Grosvenor road and down into Dagmar Woods where we had the main introduction.  Claire Randall’s approach to the contextualising of Tolkien’s experience is founded on her background in Art Therapy and looks at the perhaps sometimes unconscious expression of his past experiences in his work of which there are many, not just from Leeds.  A well known example of this is ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ which it is well recognised draws on his experiences in The Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Claire Randall
2014 is the ninetieth anniversary of Tolkien being awarded the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon and Old English at Leeds University.  He was a survivor of the First World War and had been invalided out of the trenches in 1916 with trench fever.  He had been born in South Africa in 1892, his mother bringing him to England in 1895.  After his father died in 1896 they moved to Sarehole, a small village on the outskirts of Birmingham which he later said was the basis for the Shire as found in middle earth.  When his mother converted to Catholicism in 1900 they were disowned by the remainder of the family and they were forced to move to cheaper accommodation in Birmingham.  He did well academically and in 1911 won an Exhibition to Oxford where he achieved a first class honours in English in 1915.  He then volunteered and served as a communications officer in the Battle of the Somme.

After the war he worked for a year in Oxford with C T Onions, the Supervisor of the Oxford English Dictionary.  In 1920 he was appointed to the position of reader in English Language at Leeds University.  To get away from the smoky streets of old Woodhouse he would walk up on the Woodhouse Ridge and the Meanwood Valley trail where some of the features are congruent with landscape in Middle-Earth.

His mythology had been developing since the beginning of the war with his poems about Earendel, The Morning Star, and such stories as The Fall of Gondolin, parts of the Book of Lost Tales, the proto-Silmarillion which was effectively completed by the time he left Leeds in 1925 to go to Oxford.
His world was created from his own invented languages such as Elvish which were based on Finnish and old Welsh and the landscapes in which he embedded them were imagined from the kind of people who spoke these languages.  In the sixth form with his three closest friends he had formed a literary group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society in which they planned to make their contribution to the literary and poetic world.  After two of these friends died in the trenches he felt a tremendous responsibility resting on him to fulfil this aspiration and then set about single-handedly to produce a re-creation of Anglo-Saxon myth and culture for the English people. 

Our next stop after having passed through more ginnels was at Batty’s Wood on Woodhouse Ridge, which bears a strong resemblance to Ithilien where Sam stewed the rabbits, complete with dried bracken and herbs, and an over-looking house is reminiscent of Cirith Ungol.  When Tolkien walked here it must have seemed that he was escaping from the blackened terraces of Woodhouse which remind one of Mordor.  In their home in St. Mark’s Terrace by the University where they lived for 3 years his wife Edith would complain of their curtains dissolving from the fumes.

The use Tolkien made of linguistics is well demonstrated in the Anglo-Saxon roots of the name Woodhouse, which comes from ‘wudu-wasa’, which means Wild Man of The Woods and which Christopher Tolkien has indicated is the origin of the Woses – the Wild Men who assisted the riders of Rohan on their way to Gondor.

Headingley's Tree of Tales?  Photo: Sally Bavage
At the centre of old Headingley we visited 25 St Michael’s Road where Tolkien had a bed-sit for the first term or so before he was able to bring his wife Edith and their children to Leeds in 1921.  Also in central Headingley the site of the old Shire Oak and the Headingley War Memorial both of which must have had significance to him.  The Shire Oak being an ancient oak from Anglo-Saxon times was the centre of the Wapentake of Scyrack, and in The Lord of the Rings we see the riders of Rohan having the weapon take at Edoras: Tolkien must have had a great interest in the local Anglo-Saxon features such as this almost on his door-step.  The Oak itself was the site of the Thing, the local Moot but also of course in Latin the word for Thing is ens, entis, which cannot help but suggest the Ents of Fangorn who promptly have a Moot as they are aroused by Merry and Pippin.  Ent is also old Norse for a giant. Tolkien cannot have been unaware of this cross-linguistic punning that he was making creating a giant who has a Moot in several different languages.   There are other acknowledged roots and influences on the creation of Treebeard, but the Tree of Tales has many roots and many branches. And this is not even to mention the presence of the ‘Shire’ in the title of the Oak, surely not completely irrelevant to the naming of the land of the Hobbits. 
The Headingley War Memorial which went up in 1921 and would have meant a lot to him for his lost comrades again bears a curious similarity to the Three Farthing Stone which was  “ as near the centre of the Shire as no matter”  being as it is at the centre of old Headingley and the divisions of the Shire curiously having an exact correspondence to the several roads that meet around it, and St Michael’s Church being found where on the map the Green Dragon at Bywater was situated, the former saint being associated with dragons of course. While most of these correspondences cannot be confirmed from documentary evidence in Tolkien’s writing nonetheless coming from an Art Therapy point of view a direct congruence between features in middle-earth and the local landscape cannot help but suggest that even perhaps unconsciously, Tolkien is using them from the vast store of his memory.

From St Michael’s we walked up to 5 Holly Bank and saw the house where he and his wife  Edith and the children lived for the remainder of their first year in Leeds before taking the house in St. Mark’s Terrace by the University until 1924.  A diversion down Hollin Lane to The Hollies reminds us of the Moria Gate in the land of Hollin where there were many large ancient Holly Trees.  The final leg of our walk took us up to No 2 Darnley Road, West Park where the blue plaque is now located to see the house he purchased in 1924 where he lived with his family until he left for Oxford at the end of 1925 when he secured a post there.  

Walkers' comments:

1.     I enjoyed the walk and the talk. It introduced me to parts of Headingley I have never visited before and it was interesting to see how Tolkien was linked to it.
2.     This is my first walk. I really enjoyed it and looking forward for future walks. I enjoyed the information given.
3.     Very interesting biography of Tolkien’s time in Leeds. Also good to see nice areas of Leeds. Very good speaker.  
4.     Very interesting and thought-provoking, nice walk at a pleasant pace through lovely scenery J  
5.     The event was very informative and enjoyable, bringing people together in a sociable way. Well done.  
6.     Amazing trail, really enjoyed all the association made by the guide, and all of the scenarios. I would love to know even more.
7.     It was very informative and great fun a most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Many thanks to the organizers.
8.     Very enjoyable walk. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Tolkien on Leeds is a field ripe for further exploration!  
9.     Very enjoyable. Beautiful day.
10.  Really interesting and entertaining. Brilliant to bring the landscape into Tolkien focus.
11.  Very enjoyable walk and well handled considering the numbers participating. Thank you.
12.  An interesting experience although I find the pace rather slow. Would it have helped to provide a short ‘Handout’ giving brief Tolkien details. The information was given in an interesting way and I have been introduced to the mythological world of Tolkien.  
13.  Interesting, learned a lot about Tolkien and the local area and saw places I have never been. Good value for £1!
14.  Great! Very informative – both of parts of Leeds I did not know about and especially about insights into Tolkien’s time here and its influence on his writings! Leader Cosmic Claire was brilliant.  
15.  Wonderfully presented – very interesting and enjoyable.
16.  Interesting info and a very nice walk.  
17.  Very informative. Really enjoyed the linguistic deliberation on Tolkien’s supposed influences.  
18.  I had no idea there was so much connection with Tolkien and Headingley before coming on this trail. The leader Claire R was so informative. Thank you so much Headingley LitFest for providing this excellent and very different event!  
19.  An informative (if rather speculative) presentation, providing food for thought.  
20.  Interesting, nice day. Very informative.  
21.  Brilliant ideas and refreshing new take on some ideas. Good talking points. A really interesting event. Thank you.
22.  Fascinating – really great information. Perhaps 1st talk a little too long when we were eager to walk, but it was very well presented so no problem really. Great!  
23.  Learnt some new areas of Headingley and interesting ideas.  
24.  A really enthusiastic walk leader who was very knowledgeable about the topic. A great afternoon!  
25.  Very nice walk and very interesting and informative talk. Learned a lot! Thanks.  
26.  Very informative and enjoyed the walk leader’s theories. I think that a loudspeaker/hailer (?) might be good for future talks so that there is an ease for hearing.

27.  Just a note to thank both Carol Downing and Claire Randall for promoting, organising and leading /participating in the Tolkien Trail Walk yesterday, Saturday, 29th March - it was a super afternoon - very informative and a fascinating tour of some of the places associated with Tolkien, when he lived and worked in Leeds. (Comment emailed to LCA website)

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