From October 22, 2019 to February 16, 2020, fans of fantasy literature will feel right at home at the exhibition that pays tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the masters of the genre, at the BnF in Paris: "Tolkien, A Journey to Middle-Earth."
Tolkien and his fantastic universe arrive at BnF François Mitterrand, one of the autumn/winter exhibition events in Paris. Once perceived as a youth author, when he unveiled his endearing hero "Bilbo, the Hobbit" to the public in 1937, Tolkien never dared to dream that the Lord of the Rings saga would turn him into one of the undisputed masters of science fiction literature and a literary figure of his time.
The biggest expo ever made on Tolkien
This first exhibition in France, which simultaneously presents the man, the philologist and the university professor as well as his work, is the largest ever made on the subject, bringing together about 300 exceptional works in over 1,000 m² (10,763 sq. ft.).
Conceived as a trip to Middle-Earth, this event will allow the public to comprehend the imaginary world of the author of The Lord of the Rings, his landscapes, his peoples and their languages (all created by the man who taught medieval languages and literature at Oxford).
The Tolkien exhibition at the BnF in Paris
Through his many stories, the highly prolific J.R.R. Tolkien has created his own universe, with its geography and imaginary cartography, its architecture, its peoples with their history, their languages, their heroes and their arts. It is a true modern mythology, through which Tolkien sought a way to speak of the real world while freeing himself from the shackles of our usual perceptions.
This exceptional exhibition is a great opportunity to discover the known and less-known literary works of the author through numerous manuscripts and original drawings retracing the history of Middle-Earth, as well as a selection of works taken mostly from the BnF collections.
Tolkien's original manuscripts and drawings are in the heart of this journey. Often written in calligraphy or decorated with diagrams and drawings, these manuscripts are true works of art. Associated with the maps drawn by the author himself and Christopher Tolkien, they allow us to understand how Tolkien created the complex universe of Middle-Earth.
"At the bottom of a hole lived a hobbit..."
The first part of the journey takes place in a succession of chapters, with many stops throughout Middle-Earth, from "Comté" to "Mordor", then past that, in "Valinor". Each place, each territory provides an opportunity to address the literary, cultural or linguistic issues that underlie his work.
The exhibition is also based on famous passages from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, poems in the Elvish language, or even an advice from the tree of invented language—the drawings show how Tolkien himself conceived his world, the landscapes, the cities and the towers.
Other documents, a rare edition of Beowulf illustrated by William Morris, Nordic tales or medieval manuscripts help us understand the author's English roots. Engravings, paintings, illuminations, objects and weapons allow to put the imaginary representation that the reader may have of the work in context.
All these pieces come from the most valuable collections of the BnF (Rare Books Reserve, Department of Manuscripts, Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques, etc.) or from prestigious institutions such as the Museum of the Army , the Museum of Decorative Arts , the Petit Palais , the Nordic Library or the Orsay Museum .
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The second part of the exhibition, "Return to Oxford," focuses on the personality of J.R.R. Tolkien, inseparable from Oxford, where he spent most of his life, from his studies in 1911 to his death in 1973. As well as a recognized specialist in medieval English and Nordic literatures, he is credited with having enabled many readers to discover treasures such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, among other medieval works that will be presented.
Behind the scenes of the creation of The Lord of the Rings
By also presenting poems, watercolors, working notes and tales from the author, sometimes less known to the general public, the "Return to Oxford" exhibition reveals above all the colossal scale of Tolkien's creation, placing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings within a much larger mythology. This world-work, both singular and universal, has been acclaimed on all continents since the mid-20th century and still leaves a mark in the imagination of a very wide audience. A proof of this are four tapestries recently woven by the International City of Aubusson Tapestry after Tolkien's watercolors that will be presented for the first time in Paris.