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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
bum tuum

Tol Eressea

Feb 1 2013, 1:27pm

Post #1 of 4 (2136 views)
bum tuum Can't Post

I was reminded this morning of a post I wrote some time ago on another forum; to do with the entries to be found in a catalogue of an exhibition of Tolkien's works held at the Bodlein Library in 1992. here's the relevant part -

Now then - 'bum tuum'. I picked this phrase out of 'Life and Legend' (p.78). It's in the entry for exhibit no.s 226-7, that is, two sheets of paper with material which T. used for in his work on the 13th C. book of devotional study called Ancrenne Wisse (aka Ancrenne Riwle). Tolkien spent several decades working on this piece (see Scull-Hammond) and never completed it to his satisfaction: it was finally published in 1962, along with the _festschrift_ ' English and Medieval Studies', as fitting tributes to Tolkien as one of the century's great scholars of the English language.

Exhibit no.226 is a piece on this subject, written by T. on the back of a _pro forma_ which Tolkien would send to enquirers about LotR. 'Thank you very much for your kind letter... I hope you will forgive the delay in answering it... I have had rather a lot of letters since the book came out, and I have also been ill'.

Now then - this tells us quite a bit. This piece was written by Tolkien in the mid-1950s. Now, RotK was only published in October 1955! So, this shows that, whatever commentators may say, Tolkien didn't have to wait almost fifty years for pJ's movies to 'put LotR on the map'. Nor even ten years for the Ace controversey to bring it to the attention of the masses (mainly in America). The book was so popular, almost as soon as it came out, that Tolkien had to have standard reply letters printed, to cope with the fan-mail! A point made elsewhere and elsewhen, in various places and times, by folk such as T's secretary Joy Hill, and also T. himself. But this point does seem to get overlooked.

Also, the fact that Tolkien felt it necessary to print an apology for being ill! halfir once had a thread on how T's illnesses had such an effect upon his work, and indeed the entry for Ancrenne Wisse in Scuull-Hammond Vol.II is almost a litany of Tolkien's illnesses as much as his actal work on the manuscript!

'Bum Tuum'. I hadn't forgotten! - the entry for exhibit no. 227 runs:

"Even when Tolkien reached the proof stage of his writing he continued to write and amend copiously. Item 227 shows a typically annotated _Ancrenne Wisse_ page-proof of 4 February 1960. An unfortunate line-break at the end of line 7 has led to the appearance of the phrase 'bum tuum' rather than 'verbum tuum', as Tolkien has noted in red ink. The mistake was corrected before publication."

Shame, says I. That line-break would have given a laugh to goodness knows how many schoolboys and scholars over the years!

This catalogue, written by Dr Judith Priestman of the Bodleian's Dept. of Western Manuscripts, is a gold-mine for snippets to do with Tolkien's life and works, some amusing, some deeply moving, as well as being a fond reminder of our visits to that exhibition so long ago.

(This post was edited by geordie on Feb 1 2013, 1:32pm)

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 2 2013, 2:17am

Post #2 of 4 (1222 views)
LOL! [In reply to] Can't Post

Ah, yes, I remember the previous mentions of the "bum tuum" correction!

I wonder if Tolkien was even just slightly tempted to let the error pass?

He did make use of every scrap of paper, didn't he? But even in the 1950's, paper was still carefully conserved, as evidenced by the creating of a trilogy out of the six books of LotR. Do you have handy the stats on volume sales from initial publication until 1960, or until the paperbacks first appeared?


"I desired dragons with a profound desire"

Tol Eressea

Feb 3 2013, 10:06am

Post #3 of 4 (1214 views)
There's a website here - [In reply to] Can't Post

 - http://www.tolkienbooks.net/php/lotr-print-runs.php

- whose owner has made a special study of the printing numbers of the first edition of LotR (1954 - 1966). The first paperback edition was published in 1965.

The numbers may not seem all that spectacular, in these days of massive printings and 'million-sellers', but for those days a single print run of 10,000 hardback copies was more than respectable.


Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 4 2013, 4:09am

Post #4 of 4 (1950 views)
Photos of the proof copies! [In reply to] Can't Post

Fascinating - as are the statistics compiled on that site, and the descriptions which provide insight into the world of book-production!

I would hope a lot of those first editions found their way into libraries, thereby allowing a large readership. About 70,000 sets out there by the mid-'60s: no wonder Tolkien had to make up a form letter for responses!


"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


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