The Gordon-Tolkien Collection of letters, poems and prose

Item author: J R R Tolkein and E V Gordon
Item date: 1925-1938
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £150,000
Item date acquired: 2014
Item institution: Leeds University, Brotherton Library
Town/City: Leeds
County: West Yorkshire

This collection of six letters, eleven manuscripts and two books provide unique insight into the close friendship between E. V. Gordon and J. R. R. Tolkien, formed at the University.

Tolkien began his academic career at the University of Leeds, joining in 1920; by the time he left in 1925 he had established the School as a UK leader in Old Icelandic language and literature. Eric Valentine Gordon joined Tolkien at the University in 1922. They began working together almost immediately, most notably on an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, published in 1925, which would become for many years the standard translation of the poem.

In Gordon, Tolkien found a kindred spirit as well as a colleague, one who shared his delight in the study of medieval philology. At Leeds they formed the Viking Club where undergraduates might join them in revelling in rhyme and medieval wordplay.
After Tolkien left for Oxford, Gordon maintained the group whilst Tolkien continued to supply songs and poems, of which the manuscripts in this collection are copies. It is particularly apt that the Viking Club, the Old Norse Reading Group, continues to meet today. The letters in the collection are principally addressed to Gordon's widow, Ida, following his premature death in 1939, and it is here that Tolkien speaks of his own grief over his friend's death, and shares his experience of the loss of his own father at a young age.

Not only does the acquisition represent an important collection of works relating to Tolkien’s earlier academic career whilst at Leeds and Oxford, along with unpublished manuscripts that reveal the full range of his literary output, but it contains items of personal correspondence striking for their emotional candour.

The collection has been catalogued (MS 1952) and is available for consultation in the Special Collections Reading room at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.