Rare photographs of Tolkien at home to go under the hammer

Inside J.R.R Tolkien’s secret world: Photographs of The Lord of The Rings author at home with his hand-drawn map of Middle Earth and his personal letters are set to go under the hammer for £25,000

  • A collection of photographs of the intensely private Lord of the Rings author are due to go under the hammer
  • Collection includes series of official portraits taken at Tolkien’s Oxfordshire home in 1961 by Pamela Chandler
  • Pamela Chandler was invited back by Tolkien and his wife Edith to take more candid photos of them in 1966
  • The rare collection is due to go up for sale at auction in Essex next month and could fetch more than £25,000 

An archive of intimate photographs and letters that provide a rare glimpse into J.R.R Tolkien’s secretive world have emerged for sale.

The images of the intensely private Lord of the Rings author relaxing in his study and garden with wife Edith were taken by society photographer Pamela Chandler.

Her work and reputation led to photographic commissions from sixties’ celebrities, royalty and major literary publishers.

In 1961 she was tasked with producing professional portrait photos for the famously camera-shy writer.

Pamela won him over and she became firm friends with Tolkien and his wife for the rest of their lives.

In 1966 she was invited back to their home in Oxfordshire to take candid photos of the devoted couple.

Pictured: An archive of intimate photographs and letters that provide a rare glimpse into J.R.R Tolkien’s secretive world have emerged for sale and are expected to fetch at least £25,000 when they go under the hammer at auction in Essex next month

Private: The collection of photographs was captured by society photographer Pamela Chandler at Tolkien’s home in 1961

Lord of the Rings author Tolkien was famously private and so the photos offer a glimpse into his world and his family life

Pictured: A letter from J.R.R Tolkien to Pamela Chandler in 1961 to arrange the photography session at his home

One of images taken in his study shows Tolkien’s own hand-drawn map of Middle Earth where The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy was set.

Pamela’s archive also includes her photos of Rayner Unwin, who, as a 10-year-old, was the first person to read the manuscript of The Hobbit.

Tolkien folklore has it that the youngster’s review of the 1936 story convinced his publisher father Stanley Unwin to turn it into a book.

Without Rayner’s feedback the Lord of the Rings trilogy may never have been written.

The images of the intensely private author were taken while he was relaxing at home. Pictured: Tolkien in his study in 1961

After taking portraits in 1961 (right), Pamela was invited back to the home to take photos of the devoted couple in 1966 (left)

The archive includes photos of Rayner Unwin, who, as a 10-year-old, was the first person to read the manuscript of The Hobbit

Who was JRR Tolkien? The Oxford professor who fought in the Somme and wrote the Hobbit 

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa 1892 and moved to England when he was four. 

He grew up in Sarehole, in Birmingham, and went on to became a Professor at Oxford University where he studied Old and Middle English.

While working at the university, Tolkien invented languages of his own. But when World War I broke out, he enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers and fought in the Battle of the Somme.

He was eventually released from duty due to illness.

When he returned to Oxford after the war he penned a line about a ‘hobbit’ while grading a paper. 

The line went on to become one of his most famous works, The Hobbit novel, and he later wrote The Lord of the Rings series.

The books contained stories from a fantasy land partially inspired by ancient European myths. The world had its own sets of maps, lore and its own unique language.    

He called it Middle-earth and the world was peopled by men, elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, goblins and hobbits.

The Hobbit was published in 1937, before his famous trilogy. 

Part one of the series, The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954, while The Two Towers and The Return of the King followed in 1955.  

Tolkien had four children, three sons and a daughter, who all carried on his legacy after his death on September 2, 1973, at the age of 81. 

Pamela died in 1993 and her archive of prints, negatives and related correspondence passed to her sister.

It has now been put up for sale with Reeman Dansie Auctioneers of Colchester, Essex. It is expected to sell for more than £25,000.

The group of 64 colour and black and white negatives for the original Tolkien shoots are being sold with copyright, meaning the successful bidder will receive a regular commission every time they are published.

They are valued at £10,000.

The correspondence that Pamela kept includes letters she received from both Tolkien and his wife.

The signed letters, valued at £2,500 each, contain ‘delightful Tolkienisms’, updates on his state of health and the couple’s plans for birthdays and Christmases.

However, there is one which underlines the importance he placed on his own privacy.

Riled by a newspaper article, he wrote to Pamela of how he resented the ‘impertinent intrusion into my privacy’ and that he could ‘stand no more of this nonsense’.

Daniel Wright, of Reeman Dansie Auctioneers, said: ‘Pamela Chandler blazed a trail in the then male dominated world of professional photography.

‘The archive is complete and spans her entire career, but the Tolkien work is the most interesting material because he was such a private man who didn’t like publicity or being photographed.

‘She befriended him and his wife and became his photographer of choice.

‘Tolkien letters are extremely desirable as they don’t come on the market very often.

‘We have six of them in this collection. One in particular is interesting because it has a wonderful, unique Tolkien phrase. He tells Pamela that he hopes she is ‘catching up arrows’.’

In one letter, dated December 27, 1966, Tolkien said he had given prints from the photo shoot in his study to relatives as Christmas presents.

He added: ‘Those of the family who have seen the photographs are delighted with them.’

In a letter dated January 8, 1967, Edith referred to her husband as ‘The Professor’ who needed regular breaks from ‘Brain-work, etc.’

Pictured: A professional portrait of Tolkien in his study (left) and (right) a more candid photo of Tolkien in his garden in 1966

Pictured: A letter from J.R.R Tolkien sent to society photographer Pamela Chandler in 1961

The archive also includes notebooks kept by Pamela in which she described the Tolkiens as the ‘most adorable people you could care to meet and I can never think of one without the other.’

Tolkien, who had a holiday home in Poole, Dorset, died in 1973 aged 81. Edith died in 1971 aged 82.

The archive is being sold on December 1. 

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