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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Current Issue > Vol. 4 > The grounds of Tolkien: unmappable, unbookable
The grounds of Tolkien: unmappable, unbookable
Author: Judy Kendall
Judy Kendall investigates documentation of Tolkien's creative practices.


As Tolkien himself asserted, his creative writing processes were fundamentally linguistic. They were driven by his private invented languages, the names in those languages, and linguistic aesthetics. To a great extent, the purpose of his creative writing was to provide a framework within which his languages could develop. One corollary of this approach is its apparent confirmation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – that thought is led by language.

This article, setting Tolkien in the context of other creative writers of his time and the present day, draws on documentation of his creative practices to investigate the importance in his work and creative practice of visual and non-worded elements in and beyond text; of the materiality of things and of language; of the diffuse borders between creative practice and translation; of the role of such works in times of literary, social and political upheaval; and of the ways in which Tolkien’s passionate adherence to linguistic aesthetics eventually and perhaps inevitably renders his work forever unfinished, swept into and beyond the thresholds of articulation. The arguments are conducted with the aid of ideas from William James, Wittgenstein, Derrida, translation theory, thing theory, ethnography and the work of Nick Humphrey on the “thick moment”.


Keywords: Tolkien, thick moment, thick consciousness, mapping, creative process, names, translation theory, thing theory, Sapir-Whorf, ethnography


“Place there is none; we go backward and forward, and there is no place.”

—St Augustine’s Confessions X: XXVI


Many writers record experiences where lines, words, images, stories seem to arrive from elsewhere, out of another world. Specific to J.R.R. Tolkien’s reports however, informed by his background as a philologist, is his deep subtle response to linguistic aesthetics. He writes to W.H. Auden:

the sensibility to linguistic pattern … affects me emotionally like colour or music; … the acute aesthetic pleasure derived from a language for its own sake, not only free from being useful but free even from being the ‘vehicle of a literature … and the beautifully coordinated and patterned (if simply patterned) Anglo-Saxon (Carpenter 1981: 212-214).

In this context, Tolkien’s reports of subterranean or superterranean creative processes, and the way he recounts them, trigger interesting questions, which he proceeds to answer or, more intriguingly, not to answer in abundance.

Tolkien’s reflections on his writing processes are well documented. From the publication of The Hobbit onwards, he was inundated with fan letters and many of his responses, both drafts and posted versions, have been published (see Carpenter: 1981). Other sources from which to build a picture of his composition processes include the several volumes of writing that formed the source material for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

In this documentation, Tolkien draws on the conventional gamut of explanations of creative processes. These include references to subconscious or unconscious levels of the self, or to the writer as sculptor chipping away at a form held within the block of stone or thicket of words, pruning or striking them out to uncover an already-existing pattern.  Much of this can be found in explanations provided by other writers: Damon Knight alludes to the creative activity of the silent or “tongue-tied mind”, while Stephen King refers to archaeological excavation: “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” (1997: 24; 2000: 188-189).

Distinctive to Tolkien, however, is his repeated emphasis on a ”fundamentally linguistic” inspiration, informed by his work as a linguist, philologist and inventor of two “nearly completed” private languages and the outline of about ten others (Carpenter 1981: 219, 143).  These languages, invented prior to the writing of his books, remained dominant in the creative process:

The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages rather than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. I should have preferred to write in ‘Elvish’. … [The Lord of the Rings] is to me, anyway, largely an essay in ‘linguistic aesthetic’ (Carpenter 1981: 219).

Linguistic aesthetics, for Tolkien, involved primarily a sensory experience, which he took pains to stress was quite separate from a more conventional linguistic approach to language:

The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in a higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from the practical knowledge of a language, and not the same as an analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted, and yet more immediate than the enjoyment of literature. (Tolkien 1983: 190)

He equates sounds of these words to music, and it is in the music that their power to affect the reader/hearer lies:

The word-music, according to the nature of the tongue and the skill or ear (conscious or artless) of the poet, runs on heard, but seldom coming to awareness. … [B]y luck or skill the poet has struck out an air which illuminates the line as a sound of music half-attended to may deepen the significance of some unrelated thing thought or read, while the music ran. (Tolkien 1983: 218).

Such an approach bestowed a distinctive quality upon the creative processes and products that followed:

Elves are assigned two related languages more nearly completed, whose history is written, and whose forms (representing two different sides of my own linguistic taste) are deduced scientifically from a common origin. Out of these languages are made nearly all the names that appear in my legends. This gives a certain character (a cohesion, a consistency of linguistic style, and an illusion of historicity) to the nomenclature, or so I believe, that is markedly lacking in other comparable things. (Carpenter 1981: 143)

For Tolkien, it was linguistic aesthetics, not story, that hold prime position, particularly in terms of functional relation. Instead of language serving story, story served language, giving language substance and allowing it to expand, as he notes in these corrections of an interview with him:

I think the passage would be more intelligible if it ran more or less so: ‘The imaginary histories grew out of Tolkien’s predilection for inventing languages. He discovered, as others have who carry out such inventions to any degree of completion, that a language requires a suitable habitation, and a history in which it can develop. (Carpenter 1981: 375)

Much of Tolkien’s creative work shifts between Elvish languages, Standard British and other Englishes in a bid “to represent varieties [of language] by variations in the kind of English used” (Tolkien 1955: 515). This gives it the status of quasi-translation, a status he acknowledges in his inclusion in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings a section entitled “On Translation”, devoted to the question of word and language selection. (1955: 515-522).  

Such a translatory status is interesting to consider in relation to his recognition of the importance of the First World War’s role as catalyst for his writing: “A real taste for fairy-stories was awakened by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war,” (1983: 135). Even-Zohar observed the preponderance at periods of instability of translations in the literature of a culture. At such times, incoming translated literary works, which could be semi- or quasi-translations, introduce innovation into cultures seeking to redefine and re-orient themselves (see Even-Zohar 2000: 166).

Tolkien’s work seems to fit such a role. As early as 1912, he bewailed, in a paper on the Finnish Kalevala, the lack of mythological “undergrowth” in European literature. He felt it particularly keenly as regards English literature. He developed the desire to fill that gap by creating a body of legends, which he repeatedly referred to as his “legendarium” (Carpenter 1981: 149, 189, 197, 214). The specifics of language played an important part in this project:

I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. […] nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but … it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English. […] Once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend. […] It should possess the tone and quality I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our ‘air’ (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe).(Carpenter 1981: 144)

These aspirations match Even-Zohar’s observations of the potential effects translated works can have in difficult times:

Through the foreign works, features (both principles and elements) are introduced into the home literature which did not exist there before. These include possibly not only new models of reality to replace the old and established ones that are no longer effective, but a whole range of other features as well, such as a new (poetic) language, or compositional patterns and techniques. (Even-Zohar 2000: 193)

Tolkien’s initial strong sense of agency in terms of creating a “legendarium” shifted in later years, when, instead, he viewed agency as stemming from the invented languages themselves. He diminished his role as creator, emphasizing the dynamic life of the languages and their independence from himself as inventor. Typically, he positioned himself as receptor instead. The languages had the active voice. They built themselves. He was ahead here of Adam Ockelford’s much more recent but more tentative zygonic conjecture regarding musical composition where “Each note, interval or motif appears to be derived from, or is perhaps controlled by, what went before, as though there was agency within the music itself” (Mithen 2017: 46).

Tolkien stressed that languages and stories enjoyed an existence previous to his involvement with them. In short, he came “more and more to regard his own invented languages and stories as ‘real’ languages and historical chronicles that needed to be elucidated” (Carpenter 1976: 102). His invented languages, and the names within them, acted as direct inspirations for the creative work: “As usually with me they [the Ents] grew rather out of their name, than the other way about.” (Carpenter 1981: 208).  Such remarks, which Tolkien often made, evoke a non-arbitrary, non-transferable, un-Saussurean relation between name and thing, signifier and referent.

Other writers’ experiences of passivity in the creative process are easy to locate. Edward Thomas focused on the sense of the writer as amanuensis, describing Ezra Pound as bombarded or even physically attacked by ideas or words: “pestered with possible ways of saying a thing” (1909: 3), and observing of his own work that:

While I write, it is a dull blindfold faring through a strange lovely land: I seem to take what I write from the dictation of someone else. Correction is pleasanter then for I have glimpses of what I was passing through as I wrote. (Thomas 1968: 53) 

Graeme Harper goes further in describing what seems to be a hidden depth steering the writing:

Each of these pieces of creative writing is an imprint, of personal and cultural conditions, each is an etching on the surface of communication of something that lies below. (Harper 2006: 27)

On a first glance, these accounts seem very close to Tolkien’s. For Tolkien, too, words emerged without his conscious intent, often when he was in a state of distraction, such as that created by the monotonous task of exam-marking. If intent existed, it was beyond his awareness; somehow he had accidentally tuned into it:

All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On a blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of Thror’s Map. (Carpenter 1981: 215)

Ursula Hurley gives a useful overview of how this might work and how such a state might be accessed:

This dialogue between what some call the conscious and unconscious mind, and what others see as the interaction between the left and right brain, or between reason and intuition, is a paradigm that is repeated everywhere in discourses on creative writing; it is found in craft books, and in the repertoire of exercises that teachers of writing develop to allow the silent mind to be heard. Often it involves techniques to distract the rational mind, to encourage spontaneity and to quieten the inner critic so that our instincts have a chance to surface. (Hurley 2011: 348)

However, specific to Tolkien is his experience of content being led by language. The corollary of this is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – that not just content, but the thought behind that content, is led by language. For Tolkien, the driving force of his stories was one particular element of language – names. And for Tolkien names were not just links in a Saussurean system of structured signs. They had an existence outside of and previous to his imaginative and articulatory acts: “Names always generate a story in my mind.” (Carpenter 1976: 175).

Closely connected to names in Tolkien’s work is an indication of place. The initial lines of The Hobbit not only name the hobbit but also refer to his home or hole. Tolkien’s first addition to that line – Thror’s Map – continues the emphasis on names and place. In both cases, the names used combine person and place, indicating specificity and otherness in their references to identities and locations separate from Tolkien’s. A similar emphasis occurs in Tolkien’s responses to fans, in which he demonstrates how names comprise a significant part of his invented languages. He digresses into detail of etymological histories and grammars in his attempts to answer his fans’ queries. Notably, however, he couches these digressions as surmises, foregrounding the limits of his knowledge about what has been set down. He positions himself as still in the act of discovering more about the languages and their names. Such sentiments reiterate his sense of names and language as separate and previous to his awareness.

Tolkien’s epistolary investigations of etymological histories of names in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings echo his long-held belief in a mutually symbiotic relationship between legends and language:

It was just as the 1914 War burst upon me that I made the discovery that ‘legends’ depend on the language to which they belong; but a living language depends equally on the ‘legends’ which it conveys by tradition. (Carpenter 1981: 231)

The ability of names to generate story is applicable in reverse, with Tolkien reflecting in hindsight on possible philological and literary origins of his creative works. He noticed how he “develop[ed] his invented languages backwards; that is, posit[ed] the hypothetical ‘earlier’ words which he was finding necessary for invention by means of an organized ‘historical’ system” (Carpenter 1976: 45).

His nomenclature was not arbitrarily selected but was specific to particular languages, as his responses to translators’ efforts indicates. These invented names had a firm almost physical existence. Like the realia of translation, these names were cultural-specific material elements, real things rather than abstract, and untranslatable:

In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the ‘translation’ of the nomenclature at all … I would not wish, in a book starting from an imaginary of Holland, to meet Hedge, Duke’sbush, Eaglehome, or Applethorn even if these were ‘translations’ of  ’sGravenHage, Hertogenbosch, Arnhem, or Apeldoorn! These ‘translations’ are not English, they are just homeless. (Carpenter 1981: 249-250)

Names suggest specificity, of person, thing and place. They are not “homeless”. They come with a definite home, albeit imaginary, and inhabit a particular language. Location- and language-specific, they suggest a reality that cannot easily be carried over into other locations or language, a reality that they become or create:

If in an imaginary land real place-names are used, or ones that are carefully constructed to fall into familiar patterns, these become integral names, ‘sound real’, and translating them by their analysed senses is quite insufficient. (Carpenter 1981: 251)

In the initial creative emergence of The Hobbit, the emphases on particular names and locations act as navigatory tools, mapping the burgeoning story and characters onto specific positions and routes – the hobbit’s home and the pathways of Thror’s Map. The inclusion of a map is significant. Just as making use of language necessarily entails specific value-judgments, so does working with maps. Worded or graphic maps inevitably present specific perceptions of a world – witness the furore created by differences in country-size in the Mercator and Gall-Peters world map projections. Map-making, like language, is a tool of ownership. Cartographic acts can be both decisive and divisive, as when the colonialist is favoured over the indigenous dweller who has to live with the consequences of those acts:

Cartography is, by definition, an attempt to tame the world around us, to transform it into a product of our own making and, in being able to write and read it, cut it down to our size. (Armitt 2005: 60)

Just as cartography may ‘tame’ the world to suit particular perceptions and purposes, so an illusory imaginary world may be tamed into a sense of reality when depicted via a map.

Tolkien’s focus on location and map-making in The Hobbit allows and confronts the sense of ownership map-making can entail. In the book’s opening lines, Bilbo’s character is mapped out via a description of his hobbit hole. The detail is unashamedly value-laden. It is “Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, … [but] a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort”. Bilbo is comfortable, settled, well-to-do, particular in his habits, and complacent. Similarly, Thror and the map are positioned in this story so as to raise repeated challenges to assumptions of value and ownership with questions of ownership and interpretation of the map playing key parts in the story’s physical and narrative trajectory.

However, Tolkien’s map-making was periodically undercut by the unpremeditated arrival of characters, events and places, wresting control from map and maker:

I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I know already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in a corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than Frodo. (Carpenter 1981: 216)

The success with which these unintended elements gain control of the story rests on their physical effect. Their ability to startle depends in turn on their separateness from Tolkien.

The surprise, unexpectedness, and also the physical sensations accompanying such events situate those who witness them (in this case, Tolkien) in a particular kind of consciousness. Nick Humphrey describes it thus:

Consciousness can exist at a much lower level, exist unreflected on, just as the experience of raw being: as primitive sensations of light, cold, smell, taste, touch, pain; as the is-ness, the present tense of sensory experience, which doesn’t require any further analysis or introspective awareness to be there for us but is just a state of existence. … I call it the "thick moment" of consciousness. (Humphrey 1995: 200)

The emphasis here on pre-linguistic sensations evokes Tolkien’s peculiar appreciation of the sound and word-music of the language he uses – it too seems to pre-exist that language’s linguistic sense. Such a view recalls William James’ awareness of the physicality of forgotten or half-remembered words and the sensory effect both the words and their lack produce:

It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of a name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness, and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term.  … [T]he gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps. … The rhythm of a lost word may be there without a sound to clothe it; or the evanescent sense of something which is the initial vowel or consonant may mock us fitfully, without growing more distinct. (James 1890: 163)

James’s analysis of different kinds of attention in Principles of Psychology, and later practical experiments conducted under his direction by Leon M. Solomons and Gertrude Stein, reveal the role attention plays in such moments of awareness. James connected the startling stinging effect of acute physical awareness of the present moment with the awakening of an engaged, flexible, immediate attention free from chain-like reactions of mechanical habit:

The whole feeling of reality, the whole sting and excitement of our voluntary life, depends on our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago. (ibid.: 295)  

James’s words emphasize the unexpected nature of such thick moments of consciousness. They occur when the writer’s attention is distracted. They are often disruptive, as well as surprising and fresh. They provide unlooked-for juxtapositions and possess a physicality expressed in terms of sensations. While positioned outside the restrictions of a temporally-bound medium and the agency of a perceiver, they are also deeply connected to the present active now. All this is indicated by James in his italicization of “really and “being decided” (ibid.).

Tolkien also stressed the physical effects concurrent with the creative process. His appreciation of the sensory aspects of particular words has already been noted, as has the often-unexpected nature in which they arrive. His sense of freshness, physicality, and a certain remoteness in reference refers primarily to the words of a burgeoning story, as well as its events and characters.

This emphasis on physicality dissolves the Saussurean distinction of language as form rather than substance:

being a philologist, getting a large part of any aesthetic pleasure that I am capable of from the form of words (and especially from the fresh association of word-form with word-sense). I have always best enjoyed things in a foreign language, or one so remote as to feel like it (such as Anglo-Saxon). (Carpenter 1981: 172)

A word, specifically the “form of words” has a locality, albeit “remote”, its substance is clear, described as a “thing”.

It is easy to trace a connection between Tolkien’s approach to words as things and his frequently-recorded experiences of sudden physically-affecting appearances of characters or places in his work. These, too, chime with his wish to insert in his published books concrete items that would also interrupt the narrative. Among other things, he planned to include a physical copy of Thror’s Map in The Hobbit’s first chapter “to be tipped in (folded) in Chapter I, opposite the first mention of it” (Carpenter 1981: 15) with invisible lettering legible only when held to the light; red-coloured fire-letters for the Ring in chapter II of volume I of Lord of the Rings; and facsimiles of burnt pages from the Book of Mazarbul at the opening of chapter V of volume II of The Lord of the Rings (Carpenter 1981: 17, 170, 186, 171).

Such plans show Tolkien not simply aiming for representation of physicality in words, but also in things that would highlight, for the reader, their physicality. Maps demand inspection. A folded map, needing to be physically unfolded, would interrupt the flow of printed narrative. More strikingly, the invisible lettering – representing a lack of physicality but a promise of it – would require the book to be turned and lifted to the light. The bodily engagement necessary to unfold the map or detect the lettering asserts their physicality as things, and enables the reader to relate more directly and sensuously with the world and events being mapped out.

Close to what the reader is offered by the physicality of a map within the book and lettering that has to be manipulated to be discerned, are Bill Brown’s insights into the power of things. In “Thing Theory”, he suggests things “might offer us dry ground […], some place of origin unmediated by the sign, some stable alternative […] Something warm, then, that relieves us from the chill of dogged ideation, something concrete that relieves us from unnecessary abstraction” (2001: 1).

However, Brown then observes “the suddenness with which things seem to assert their presence and power: you cut your finger on a sheet of paper, you trip over some toy” (2001: 3). This recalls Tolkien’s shock at encountering a number of his characters, as in the first sight of Strider at the inn. It also evokes Leo Stein’s distinction between things and ideas: “Things are what we encounter, ideas are what we project.” (1927: 44)

Such distinctions between things and ideas hold for the way in which the insertion of things in books foregrounds books as artefacts, material objects. The power of an invitation to engage physically with a book lies in the way it shifts the reading experience from mental process to physical encounter. Here, just as “encounter” implies a face-to-face confrontation that verges on the violent, so opposition is implicit between the idea and the thing, or the imagined fantasy world and the reality of physical objects. The cult status of a number of twenty-first century typographically-challenging novels, spearheaded by Mark Z. Danielewski’s 2000 The House of Leaves, are witness to the power such confrontation can unlease – the fervent interest in The House of Leaves and its successors is strongly connected to the physical presence of typography. Unexpected manipulations of shape, size, layering, layout and orientation risks upstaging the semantic content. A similar effect is evident in Tolkien’s projected plan for The Hobbit. Both the map within the book and the lettering that has to be taken out of the book to be read interrupt the narrative. In order to continue negotiating the “carefully stage-managed relationship between typographic form and literary content: [where] one expresses the other”, the reader has to engage in a directly physical way, at times turning the book on its head to continue (Poynor 2003: 143).  

Such an emphasis on engagement with the physical in his creative works matches Tolkien’s readiness to communicate at length with fans on linguistic aspects of his textual creations and to include lengthy appendices in his works devoted to the same. These denote a clear wish for readers to engage more directly and extensively with the world about which they are reading.  In invisible letters, place names and instructions written on maps and fire-letters, Tolkien combines both physical and textual elements. In The Hobbit preface, he encourages readers to engage further by decoding the runes contained on the preface page and applying their acquired knowledge to the runes of a previous page – the initial endpaper map – an act that inevitably involves a non-sequential turning of pages. This makes the word and thing one in a kinetic non-conventional engagement with the book (turning the pages “backwards”). Thus, Brown’s emphasis on the powerful effect of things and Leo Stein’s distinction of things from ideas apply in Tolkien’s case.

Poynor’s reference to the “carefully stage-managed relationship” between typography and content implies such effects are under the control of the writer. In Tolkien’s case, controlled insertion of runes, a map or unusual lettering are perhaps intended to replicate the unmanaged suddenness of his encounters with unplanned characters and places like The Black Rider, Bree, Strider and the hobbit when creating the work. By his efforts, he enables readers to share in his keen awareness of the exteriority of this apparently created world. Intriguingly, this makes him more in control of the reader’s interruptive encounters than of his own.

Physical embodiment within the book of fold-out maps, invisible lettering and burnt pages contribute to making the world presented in that book more concrete – real just as we feel real, aping the condition of Humphrey’s thick moment of now:

What matters is that I feel myself alive now, living in the present moment. What matters is at this moment I'm aware of sounds arriving at my ears, sight at my eyes, sensations at my skin. They're defining what it's like to be me. The sensations they arouse have quality. And it's this quality that is the central fact of consciousness. (1995: 200)

Ironically, Tolkien’s decision to foreground the materiality of the book, and so also the world it presents, through physicality embedded within the text was itself countered by external agents – the publishers. On grounds of cost, they chose to place Thror’s map on the opening endpaper of the book with no invisible letters. They matched this with a second map on the other endpaper. Cartographic notes thus enclose The Hobbit, rather than enhance it and open it out from within. The result was a smoother reading process, but also a loss of interruptive effect. Perversely, however, awareness of the complete absence of invisible lettering, which readers of this article now possess, intensifies the sense of that invisibility, now never to be relieved by holding up to the light. Again, Tolkien’s tussle with translators and his assertion that names cannot be carried over from one language to another, a battle he did not always win, also indicate a desire to foreground materiality, this time of the names and the language itself.

It will be evident by now that, in this investigation of creative process, contradictions, counter-movements and unpremeditated turns, and a consequent experience of a lack of control, are both frequent and key to Tolkien’s work:

‘Stories tend to get out of hand,’ Tolkien wrote to his publisher … ‘and this has taken an unpremeditated turn.’ He was referring to the appearance, unplanned by him, of a sinister ‘Black Rider’ … the first of several unpremeditated turns (Carpenter 1976: 190).

It is not only characters that are on a journey, so also is Tolkien. His attempts at navigation are frequently interrupted and altered by something unplanned:

A new character has come on the scene. (I am sure I did not invent him. I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir (Carpenter 1981: 201).

Tolkien and his characters are thus in the act of mapping as they write or travel. The emergence of unexpected “things”, events, people, names, keeps disrupting any sustained act of waymaking. The resultant series of unplanned shifts in direction and emphasis allows for hints of further dimensions to stories, characters, linguistic history than those already set out on the page. Glimpses occur of a thicker world, somewhere else, a place to which Tolkien has no access, where more exists than is revealed.

Language is key to this process. It is Tolkien’s focus on place-names, location and on maps that enables such shifts, since place-names, markers and maps all signify direction through space as well as time. In addition, inclusion of items such as maps that demand a different visual modality from printed text, results in switches in modality. The reader’s attention shifts from a temporal progressive narrative to an integrated visual perception of location, space and navigation to somewhere not yet arrived at. As Jewitt, Bezemer and O’Halloran record in Introducing Multimodality,

Changing (‘upsetting’) the order of elements in a textbook can help uncover the often otherwise ‘invisible’ order that existed within it. … [C]hanges in layout affect … the relationship between image and writing, as well as the narrative and coherence of the textbook page. (2016: 80)

In Tolkien’s case, the changes he effects, or attempts to effect, both upset the known order or framework and uncover instead a lack of known order.

Such an awareness, aroused by the unexpected appearances of characters, names, places and things, and related shifts in trajectory, purpose or modality, is typically accompanied by physical sensations of reality which are invested in the story in which they occur: “when the 'turn' comes, [there is] a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears” (Tolkien 1983: 153-154).

Maps are now key signifiers of fantasy, partly because of Tolkien’s use of them. They root fantasy in a credible if imaginary world, investing the illusory and whatever might lie beyond the frame of the written words with a sense of reality. This also applies to films, as in the on-screen title credits of The Game of Thrones episodes, animated maps that form a backdrop to the credits, altering with the story’s focus.

Even when maps are located outside the main text, book-ending the worlds depicted on page or screen, they still retain interruptive power and encourage a temporary halting of the story. The reader who stops turning pages to study the spatial indications on the map., makes a definite switch from temporal to spatial awareness. Nothing begins or ends where it seems to. The thingness of the map and the signifying function of words are blurred.

Maps also act as visual contents lists, pinning down position and trajectory with named places and marked routes. In longer creative works, as in The Game of Thrones, maps may change from volume to volume or series to series, indicating shifts in emphasis, world, character and story. They navigate spatial rather than temporal or chronological zones. Escaping the temporal bind of a linear text, they present an overview, but rather than a comprehensive framework, they offer framelessness. What is seen is just a part of a limitless frameless whole, outside of our finite comprehension. In Jacques Derrida’s words:

Where does the frame take place. Does it take place. Where does it begin. Where does it end. What is its internal limit. Its external limit. And its surface between the two limits. (1974: 63)

As detailed earlier, Tolkien’s propensity for maps extends further than the cartographic chart. His written text is also a map, including descriptions of locations and routes, so is his vast body of background narratives – his mythopoeic legendarium of Middle-earth writings of which The Silmarillion forms one part. He greatly desired that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion would be published together: “the ‘L of the Rings’ would be better far (and eased) as part of the whole” (Carpenter 1981: 163). The Silmarillion could act as a map for The Lord of the Rings. In return, The Lord of the Rings could act as an enlargement, both temporally and spatially, of part of the map that comprises The Silmarillion “as a Frameless Picture: a searchlight, as it were, on a brief episode in History, and on a small part of our Middle-earth, surrounded by the glimmer of limitless extensions in time and space” (Carpenter 1981: 412). His textual map-making invests the locations and routes he describes with a thickness that relates to more than the geographical and topological features of the region. In addition, behind the words visible on the page lie further volumes of published and unpublished text which expand on the world presented.

Such activity helps break the temporally-linear modality of conventional text or screen, the reader reading forwards through a book’s pages, and the viewer swept along with the rolling film. Viewers and readers who choose to pause, rewind the reading process, or flick forwards to the end, transgress that implicit contract. By doing so, they risk breaking the “spell” of the world created, as the world they normally inhabit intrudes. The appearance of an unusually-placed physical map or additional background text also disrupts the reading process, although, rather than puncturing the spell of the book, such a disruption can deepen it.

Maps in their identification and naming of specific locations suggest movement through a landscape, walking it. There is a strong connection between writing and walking, as discussed by Michel de Certeau:

[Writing] traces on the page the trajectories that sketch out words, sentences, and finally a system. In other terms, on the blank page, an itinerant, progressive, and regulated practice – a “walk” – composes the artefact of another “world” that is not received but rather made. (1984: 134-135)

De Certeau’s choice of “itinerant” suggests the open flexibility of wandering. He sets this set against a “progressive and regulated” trajectory of navigation that moves specifically from one point to another. Tim Ingold expands on these two kinds of walking – as a free exploration of territory and purposeful travel:

The movement of walking is itself a way of knowing. … walking is as much a movement of pensive observation – of thinking as you watch and watching as you think – as it is a way of getting around. (2008: 5)

Such distinctions elucidate Tolkien’s writing experiences. The unexpected detours from an already mapped route are transformed from obstructions and hurdles to the essence of the exploratory story-making, of the creative process itself. Thus, Tolkien’s transition from a user of words to one who is immersed in, or even beset by, them is essential to understanding the creative process and its relation to the thingness of both story and word.

Prioritizing such an activity as wandering through territory without specific intent equates to an encouragement of distraction, of an attention that shifts purpose. Such a state allows for non-habitual responses, contrasting markedly with mechanical adherence to a mapped and known route. This relates to what Edward Thomas, quoting James, called “the non-thinking level” (1913: 259). Tolkien staring blankly in “everlasting weariness” at a blank exam paper just before the arrival of the first words of The Hobbit is a classic example (Carpenter 1981: 215). Humphrey, too, identifies lack of thought as an essential element in thick moments of consciousness, which, “unreflected on”, do not require “any further analysis or introspective awareness” (1995: 200).

Tolkien tends to express his “unreflected” creative processes through specific syntactical choices that highlight the active agency not of him but of the created work. In the following extract from a letter to Tolkien’s publisher Sir Stanley Unwin, “stories” and their “links” have active intransitive verbs, while Tolkien experiences an absence of choice and lack of agency:

 The mere stories were the thing. They arose in my mind as ‘given’ things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. … [A]lways I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there’, somewhere: not of ‘inventing’. (Carpenter 1981: 145; my italics)

In these lines, Tolkien twice refers to stories as things, investing the stories with a mysterious non-human reality that retains physicality while originating elsewhere. The stories are external to Tolkien, residing in the thing that is confronted and also confronts, and are present in a new way through the suspension of their habitual relation to him. Stories as “things” refer not to the pre-planned story shape, detail and trajectory, but to the ways in which they exist outside of Tolkien’s control, as manifested in his unplanned encounters with words as names, such as the arrival of “hobbit” in the first unplanned lines of The Hobbit. The result is a text that Tolkien experienced as physical, a “thing” with its own life, forming itself without much interference from the writer, prefiguring the death of the author and the autonomy of the text, and the apparently contradictory mysterious indefinability that comes with the experience of word as thing.

Tolkien’s linguistic choices emphasize the relative passivity of the writer in the writing process – as not inventor but responder to previous articulations of some kind. However, as Ingold emphasizes, responses can also be active, demanding their own flexibility:

By its nature, thinking twists and turns, drifts and meanders. A hunter who followed a bee-line from a point of departure to a predetermined destination would never catch prey. To hunt you have to be alert for clues and ready to follow trails wherever they may lead. Thoughtful writers need to be good hunters. (Ingold n.d.)

Ingold’s focus on the need for both a lack of fixed thought and alertness is worth considering further in relation to Edward Thomas’s developing writing processes, which resulted in a kind of attention that avoided deliberate thought. He was working for an experimental autobiographical style that “will depict simply what I know, hardly at all what I think, of myself, without explanations, or interpretations, or inventions” (Kendall 2012: 144). He prioritized the wanderings of divagatory thought patterns, aiming in his poetry for what he called “‘unfinish’” (Berridge 1983: 78; Kendall 2012).

The resulting creativity activity reflects a curious balance of relations that echoes the tenets of thing theory. As Brown posits,

The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation. (2001: 4)

The thing in its very existence is also expressed as a name or act of naming. Thus, the name and the naming are the thing. What they point to, what they signify, and what they enable, is a relation between those who engage with them (as writer or reader) and the world that acts as referent. Thus, ownership of the text floats unappropriated between the writer and someone other and/or somewhere else. Ingold writes of this in terms of walking, “You cannot … take a buffalo for a walk. The animals know the way, and will go at their own speed. They are in the lead. […] Who then is walking, and who is being walked?” (2008: 11)

It is a symbiotic state of belonging that circumvents the particularity of possession and depends on a lack of fixity, a series of fluctuating movements, like the word used in the Scottish borders for herding sheep:

As they roam the hill pastures, sheep are said to bond with the land. By way of their four-footed movement, they heft (or haft) onto it. These pastures, by extension, are known as the 'heft' of the farm, and so people will say of themselves that they are 'hefted' to the land to which they belong and that, by the same token, belongs to them. It is a belonging, however, that is established primarily through the quadrupedal perambulations of the sheep (ibid.: 11).

The difficulty of articulating such a process is indicated in the preponderance of scare quotes in Tolkien’s statements on creativity. His previously-quoted letter to Unwin is no exception. In one short paragraph, scare quotes surround three words: the stories are “‘given’”, Tolkien experiences not “‘inventing’”, but recording what is already “‘there’”. These scare quotes indicate specific intentions either to disassociate or to associate (or both) with connotations not otherwise articulable (Carpenter 1981: 145). For “‘given’”, they suggest uncertainty as to the giver’s identity, implying unspecified inarticulable source in excess of what language can contain or express. They encourage consideration of the possibility of impossibility – that perhaps no definite answer can be discovered. Similarly, Thomas’s use of “‘unfinish’”, in which he too employs scare quotes, to describe his new poems implies an inherent insufficiency in poems that are considered as “finished”.

The scare quotes around Tolkien’s “‘there’” suggest the source of his stories is external to him, physically present, but in some way unlocatable. In addition, “‘there’” indicates both a distant location and one less distant than it might appear. Thus, scare quotes thicken interpretations, offering an embarrassment of possible dimensions and directions in which to understand the terms they surround.

The scare quotes around “‘inventing’” encourage alternative readings of the word, such as Tom Shippey’s observation that the Latin root of “invent” is invenire – “to come upon, discover, find out” (2005: 28). In such a reading, the act of invention becomes an act of reception of what already exists. This fits with Tolkien’s description of himself. His biographer observes that Tolkien “did not see himself as an inventor of story but as a discoverer of legend” (1976: 83). Appropriately, “discover”, unlike “invent”, also evokes the act of mapping and exploration of space.

Discovery necessarily involves encounters with what is new and not known. This is a very potent kind of seeing. This is the opposite of Wittgenstein’s description of habitual perception as “like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off” (1953: 45). Fixed vision can, literally, be blinding: “One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes.” (1953: 50) For Tolkien, fixity and the blindness it produces are closely related to what he calls “the penalty of 'appropriation’” or ownership of what is seen:

They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them. (1963: 146)

James became aware of a different kind of attention that, via disruption or change, facilitates the letting go of habit: “the object must change. When it is one of sight, it will actually become invisible; when of hearing, inaudible, – if we attend to it too unmovingly.” (1890: 273; also Kendall 2012: 148-9, 168-170) Things, as Brown points out, are supremely capable of such disruption. Not transparent, they interrupt or block the illusory flow of continuous perception:

A thing … can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. (2001: 4)

Tolkien works through similar patterns of thought in the first pages of The Hobbit. Bilbo’s comfortable smug existence, his lack of interest in anything approaching adventure and positive aversion to danger are challenged and shattered by the disrupting visits of the dwarves and Gandalf. Key to Bilbo’s slowly awakening adventurous spirit are his overwhelming response to things and to the physical sensations they produce, in each case in relation to the land. The sound of Thorin’s harp is “so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons”. On listening to the dwarves’ song, “something Tookish woke up inside him and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls” (1937: 22, 24). Tolkien makes clear that the power of the song includes the words that he stresses do not fully exist without the music. The lyrics are thus presented with the caveat that “this is like a fragment of their song, if it can be like a song without their music” (23).

Bilbo is also drawn in by the map: “He was getting excited and interested again … He loved maps” (1937: 28). On top of this, he is left with very little time to think due to successive interruptions by a series of very hungry dwarves, and later by Gandalf, who ambushes any objections before Bilbo can articulate them:

‘That leaves you just ten minutes. You will have to run,’ said Gandalf.
‘But – ,’ said Bilbo.
‘No time for it,’ said the wizard.
‘But – ,’ said Bilbo again.
‘No time for that either! Off you go!’
(1937: 35)

Once such disruption has been achieved, change in relations and perception are effected, and the result is startling: “Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside … running as fast as his furry feet would carry him” (1935: 35) towards adventure, towards wildness and wild things.

As Tolkien warns in “On Fairy-Stories”:

Creative fantasy … may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like caged birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you. (1963: 147)

With such changes in perception, things are perceived in themselves, “as things apart from ourselves”, separate from the viewer, freed from ownership:

We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity – from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiars are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. (ibid.: 146)

With a cleaned clear view, perspectives and outlines shift, like Wittgenstein’s perceptually ambiguous duck-rabbit figure – the rabbit’s ears turning into the shape of the duck’s beak (see Wittgenstein 1953: 208).

So, mapping appears to be a fixing activity in terms of ownership and perspective, constraining terra firma in a particular form. However, such fixity can be countered if the map’s surface interpretation alters, as when invisible lettering is. It can also be countered by the appearance of previously unknown, unmapped places – such as case of Bree where Tolkien “had never been” (Carpenter 1981: 216). A map’s perspectives can shift from marked routes to exploratory wandering and uncharted journeys, exemplified in Tolkien’s sudden encounter with Faramir walking out of the Ithilien woods (Carpenter 1981: 201).

Such chameleon-like shifts stud Tolkien’s understanding of his creative work. At times, he found himself guessing at a logic to which he was not party:

Take the Ents for instance. I did not consciously invent them at all. The chapter called ‘Treebeard’, from Treebeard’s first remark on p.66, was written off more or less as it stands, with an effect on my self (except for labour pains) almost like reading someone else’s work. And I like Ents now because they do not seem to have anything to do with me. I dare say something had been going on in the ‘unconscious’ for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till ‘what really happened’ came through. But looking back analytically I should say that Ents are composed of philology, literature, and life. (Carpenter 1981: 211-212)

He placed a high value on this sense of uncertainty:

Part of the attraction of The L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. (Carpenter 1981: 333)

Many other writers refer to unknown elements in their creative processes: Douglas Dunn, Edwin Morgan and Anne Stevenson (McCully 1994: 84, 56, 123). However, Tolkien’s decision, as a prominent academic philologist, both to celebrate the uncertainties and unknowns in the production of language and to imply reality to the existence of fiction or to the apparently arbitrary sign – constituted an exceptionally brave move. It indicates the crucial importance to him of such qualities and of the need to make them public. His role as amanuensis is implied in the experiences of transmission recorded in his 1936 story, “The Lost Road”, labelled by his biographer Carpenter as “idealized autobiography”. A history professor, bearing a strong resemblance to Tolkien, “invents languages, or rather he finds that words are transmitted to him, words that seem to be fragments of ancient and forgotten languages” (Carpenter 1976: 174). The use of “fragments” suggests both a physicality in these words and an exterior whole existing outside of the page. Tolkien expresses this in terms of his creative writing in a more direct way in a draft letter written 1956:

I have long ceased to invent […] : I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing the Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the ‘Treebeard’ chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is. And then I saw that, of course, it had not happened to Frodo at all. (Carpenter 1981: 213)

Tolkien’s emphasis on the delay between the appearance of a given element and his recognition of that appearance and later understanding of it exacerbates the sense of separateness from the moment of creation. The writer cannot artificially construct moments in which, like thick moments of consciousness, as William James put it, the “sting” of things “really being decided” occurs, and lines like the opening of The Hobbit emerge, the emergence of words and things coinciding. The writer however can only recognize such moments in retrospect. Ingold usefully expresses this in terms of losing one’s way:

It was an unsettling experience. Life seemed more tenuous than usual, and the ground less firm underfoot. Losing the way is like falling asleep: amounting to a temporary loss of consciousness, you can have no awareness of it at the moment when it happens. By the time any kind of awareness dawns, that moment is already long past. (2008: 18)

In this mode of non-analytical unreflective awareness, reinforced by a strong sense of ignorance of the content and a lack of specific contact with physical surroundings “underfoot”, the world is both more open and “less firm”, reality is unsettled and it becomes irrelevant whether a world or work is externally independent of the human mind or existing within it. The result is an Oulipian-like labyrinth in which the writer acts as much like a reader as a writer, maker and interpreter of signs (see Jewitt 2016: 67). Deliberate effortful striving is required to interpret or continue to build an emerging pattern that becomes a very physical, even labyrinthine thing, like

“A rat that itself constructs the labyrinth that it sets itself the task of getting out of.”
A labyrinth of what? Of words, sounds, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, libraries, prose, poetry, and all that ... (Benabou and Rouband in Morisi 2008: 116)

Such a process results in deep, rich, thick, skeuomorphic features, acquired antecedent and extraneous to any deliberate writing intent. These enhance the work far beyond functional or surface requirements, and beyond and outside of a temporal linear progression, closer to a visual than a verbal modality – like map-making. In such a modality, unlike the sequentiality of grammar, relations occur simultaneously, and emphasis is achieved through non-linear means. The result is to open “a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe” (Tolkien 1963: 129). This enables an escape from the confines of distinct moments of the past, present and future, to a place where all and also none exist – time and not time.

Invention and reality meet in this pre post-truth arena, where truth becomes a generous term, encompassing and allowing for many different ways of seeing.

If elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them.


This is true also, even if they are only creations of Man's mind, 'true' only as reflecting in a particular way one of Man's visions of truth. (Tolkien 1963: 113)

Truth becomes no less than a reflection of what cannot be directly grasped. It becomes an almost counterfactual “elsewhere” that can only be glimpsed, like a dancing shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave, not articulated or held firmly in view, even via the physicality that a “net of words” can offer: “Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable; though not imperceptible.” (Tolkien 1963: 114).

In such work with language, dimensions blur; the temporal and the spatial intersect; the sign is also the reality; the overview, the glimpse and detailed tracking can be experienced together, just as Tolkien’s maps book-ending The Hobbit, and the unrealized unfoldable map and invisible lettering, interact not only with the detail accumulated in the story, but also the wealth of material Tolkien had written outside of it. As Brown observes of encounters with physical things, the result is a strong sense of flux:

things is a word that tends, especially at its most banal, to index a certain limit or liminality, to hover over the threshold between the nameable and unnameable, the figurable and unfigurable, the identifiable and unidentifiable (2001: 4-5). 

Thus, the creative act is sustained in a threshold between articulation and inarticulation, a place of high activity and inadvertent subtle negotiation that continues and deepens as the text grows and thickens. Humphrey explains this complex sense of the moment outside of the restrictions of a temporally-bound medium through the lens of the Impressionists:

It took Monet to value the present moment for itself. To say, “This is Rouen cathedral as I am experiencing it now; this is what hits my face as I look at it.” The clock on Rouen cathedral in his paintings doesn't even have a hand on it. There's no time dimension here, no before and after, just a now. Monet grasped this moment, and celebrated it just for what it is, producing a thick painting, full of pigment, to represent a thick moment of his subjective experience, with no antecedents and no consequences. It's the same with the thick moment of sensation, the time we live in. (1995: 204)

The thick moment of consciousness, residing always in the present, exists in a location and temporality beyond the limits of a structured developed attempt at language as much as within that framework. This disjuncture of time, articulated through physical sensation, rents the closed form of the story to produce a glimpse of something other, like Tolkien’s invisible lettering, the default thus exchanged for travel off-piste.

A writer attuned to such changes and the discoveries that they unfold is obliged to embark on successive re-drawings of the cartographic landscape, just as Tolkien experienced with The Lord of the Rings: “the story unfolded itself as it were. The tying-up was achieved, so far as it is achieved, by constant re-writing backwards.” (Carpenter 1981: 258) His letters to fans demonstrate the persistence of this process after publication. His subsequent rewriting of the Bilbo-Gollum encounter in later editions of The Hobbit from Gollum’s offering the ring to Bilbo as a present to a much more sinister exchange was necessitated by shifting alterations in the story that occurred in The Lord of the Rings (see Carpenter 1981: 442). As the wider story was revealed to and/or by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, insufficiencies in the earlier work, The Hobbit, arose. The temporal and spatial bounds of the printed book fell short, and alterations of previously published text became necessary.

Tolkien’s willingness to respond to the changes that arose as he worked on his writing did not always produce such coherent results:

Rhymes and names will crop up; but they do not always explain themselves. I have yet to discover anything about the cats of Queen Berúthiel. (Carpenter 1981: 217)

Tolkien is successful with the cats of Queen Berúthiel because they are able to remain in the book unexplained. However, after The Lord of the Rings Tolkien struggled to compose further coherent stand-alone works. The 2017 publication of his Beren and Lúthien gives a poignant demonstration of this. Welcomed by Tolkien fans and scholars, initial reviews warn would-be buyers of its fragmented form. As 4 star Amazon reviewer William D. Freeman notes, with fierce use of capitals to underline his points,

This is NOT a single-narrative novel. … THIS IS a collection of incomplete manuscripts and manuscript extracts that JRRT wrote over the course of many years as he struggled (unsuccessfully) to set out in full the tale … With each effort he changed the storyline and the details. … No one will ever KNOW the story of Beren and Luthien because JRRT never worked it out himself. (2017)

The work in flux, with its multiple universes, its thickness and palimpsests, outgrows the surface veneer of the printed page, becoming unbiddable and unbookable. Like the lexicographer struggling to capture the evolutionary moves of the living thingness of the language, stories, made out of language, also struggle, particularly when they are “fundamentally linguistic” in inspiration (Carpenter 1981: 219). As language changes and turns, so must the story, the weave of its fabric tearing to let in new linguistic elements, both physically present and assertive. The risk is evident in the existence of unfinished, unfinishable pieces like Beren and Lúthien, but the benefits are also evident in the wonderful momentary snatches of privileged vision that Tolkien records:

In such stories when the sudden 'turn' comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through. (1963: 154)



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Dr Judy Kendall is Reader in English and Creative Writing at Salford University. Her poetry books are insatiable carrot, climbing postcards, Joy Change (inspired by seven years in Japan), and The Drier The Brighter – all published by Cinnamon Press. Recent articles on translation have appeared in Translation and Literature and Juxtapositions, and commentaries and translations of Old English riddles on “The Riddle Ages” blog: https://theriddleages.wordpress.com.