Songs for Philologists

When asking a Tolkien collector which book is the most precious book in his collection, it will probably be a perfect first edition of the Lord of the Rings, a signed book, like a Silmarillion signed by Christopher Tolkien, or a nice reading copy of an old the Hobbit (like I treasure one, just because it was the one all started with). Yet when asked what would be the most rare Tolkien book out there, the answer would probably be "The Songs for the Philologists".

In Leeds J.R.R.Tolkien and E.V.Gordon founded a a "Viking Club" for undergraduates devoted mainly to reading Old Norse sagas and drinking beer. It was for this club that Tolkien and Gordon originally wrote their Songs for the Philologists, a set of duplicated typescripts, containing a mixture of traditional songs and original verses translated into Old English, Old Norse and Gothic to fit traditional English tunes.

In 1935 or 1936 Dr A.H. Smith of University College London, former student at Leeds, gave a copy of one of the typescripts to a group of students to print at their private press as a printing exercise. There for we can assume there were not many copies printed originally. He later realized that he had not asked for permission from Tolkien or Gordon, so the completed booklets were not distributed. Most of the copies were destroyed in a fire at the college where the press and copies of the book were stored, but evidently some copies survived, perhaps retained by the students who printed them. The number that survive is not known, but is very small, perhaps as few as 14.

1 comment:

Steve Hayes said...

A truly rare book