Monday 22 February 2016

“The Shadow Man” and “Noel” – the longer story ...

On Tuesday 16 February 2016 the on-line Tolkien community was hit by news published by the Oxford Mail that ‘Undiscovered J R R Tolkien poems found in 1936 school magazine’1. This obviously caused quite a stir – and in more knowledgeable Tolkien experts perhaps a bit of frustration.

Let us get one thing straight from the start: though many of us had obviously forgotten, we did know all about this since June 2013, when Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull wrote about the two poems in their  Tolkien Notes 82 from 16 June 2013, and the poem The Shadow Man is both published and discussed in their 2014 edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil3.

With that in mind, a reasonable question might be, “What has actually been discovered here?”

The answer to that is “merely the school's own copy of The Annual  from Our Lady's School in Abingdon.”  As David Bratman succinctly puts it, “So that’s where our copy was hiding!”4

In actual fact, the finding of the school's copy of The Annual is the result of a long process, and the article in The Catholic Herald5 is to be highly commended for getting the facts fairly straight.

Tolkien scholars, and not least bibliographic scholars such as Douglas A. Anderson and Wayne G. Hammond, have been searching for early publications of Tolkien's poetry based on various hints, Humphrey Carpenter, for instance, had kept notes of hints of unknown (to him) appearances of Tolkien's work, which he showed to other Tolkien scholars.

Among Tolkien's papers is a table of contents for a proposed collection of his poems (probably The Adventures of Tom Bombadil – but I am not certain of that.   Douglas A. Anderson explains that it was for “an entirely different collection”10 [Added 2016-02-25]). In this table, Tolkien had marked the published ones with little annotations, which led to the finding of the poem  Firiel published in 1934 in The Chronicle of the Convents of the Sacred Heart (Volume IV). John D. Rateliff found a copy of this chronicle by the simple method of visiting the convent during a trip to England in 1981, where he followed up on information from Douglas A. Anderson.6

See particularly Douglas A. Anderson's blog post, Some Tolkienian updates: "lost" poems and secret vices10, for more about the hunt for these unknown, in 1980, appearances of Tolkien poetry.

The poem Shadow-Bride  appeared on this list marked “pub. Abingd. Chron.” Doug Anderson reports that “For years we could find nothing of that title.” John Rateliff searched for it also during his 1981 trip, and even called up “the elderly former editor of a local newspaper from that era”6. In their  J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide, Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond write that “a version of Shadow-Bride seems to have been printed already in the 1920s, in a periodical possibly entitled Abingdon Chronicle, about which nothing more is known.”7

That nothing more was known about an Abingdon Chronicle is no longer a surprise ... 

As Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull report in their  Tolkien Notes 68 from April 2013, they had been referred to the digital archives of the Roman Catholic magazine  The Tablet  in relation to another issue, and having found this, they searched it for other references to Tolkien, and there found that the mysterious  Abingdon Chronicle  (“Abingd. Chron.”) might be  The Abingdon Annual  published by Our Lady's School in Abingdon ...

See  ‘New Books and Music’ in The Tablet, 15 February 1936, p.12

From there the story is explained in  Tolkien Notes 8  (16 June 2013) from the perspective of Wayne Hammond and in  The Catholic Herald  from the perspective of the school principal, Stephen Oliver.

Wayne Hammond found the school and contacted them. He explained the issue and asked if they had the issue in question in their archives. The school could, at that time, not locate their own copy, but Our Lady's School in Abingdon was, at the time, a well-known convent school run by the Sisters of Mercy, and the principal referred Hammond to the London archives of that institute.

They had the specific issue in their archives and helped Hammond with copies etc. leading to the announcement, in June 2013, of not only the finding of the earlier publication of  Shadow-Bride under the name of  The Shadow Man , but also the discovery of a Tolkien poem that had hitherto not been known to the Tolkien scholars of our day2

This also led to the inclusion of The Shadow Man in the discussion of Shadow-Bride in their 2014 extended edition of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil3.

Back in Abingdon, I suspect that the principal, Stephen Oliver, was a bit regretful that he had not been able to locate the school's own copy, as he proclaims to be “a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school”5. One can only guess at his excitement when the school did locate their copy, which appears to have been in May 2015.

At least, on 21 May 2015, Our Lady's School in Abingdon announced on their web-site that they had a connection to Tolkien and they put the text of the two poems on-line in a news story, explaining that
the archives of our school contain a school annual dated 1936, which has two gems from J R R Tolkien. [...] Tolkien had connections with OLA School (as we are now called) and two poems, namely ‘Noel’ and ‘The Shadow Man’ were published in the 1936 annual.
This story has been withdrawn from the website between 8 February and 17 February 2016 (a cached copy from 8 February was previously available on Google, but this can no longer be found).

In any case, the finally did find  their own  copy of the 1936  Annual  while ‘preparing’ (something probably entailing either checking the archives or a bit of cleaning up) for an event for old pupils of the school, presumably in spring 2015, but on Monday this broke in the  Oxford Mail1 ... and we had our story ...

As to why a couple of Tolkien poems would appear in the annual of a Roman Catholic school in Oxfordshire, Tolkien is known to have lent support to Roman Catholic causes, and he would surely have been inclined to help a school run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Tolkien had been visited by Mother Mary Michael of the Sisters of Mercy in Hull when he was hospitalised after being sent home from the Battle of the Somme, and she became one of the godparents of Tolkien's son, Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien, who was born on 22 October 19209.

Besides the friendship with Mother Mary Michael, the Tolkiens were a part of the Catholic community in Oxford, and it is likely that some of their Catholic friends knew, had attended, or had children who attended, the school, so there are likely numerous possibilities for facilitating contact, if such was at all necessary.

  1. Herring, Naomi. ‘Undiscovered J R R Tolkien poems found in 1936 school magazine’ in The Oxford Mail, 2016-02-15), URL:
  2. Hammond, Wayne and Scull, Christina. Tolkien Notes 8, 2013-06-16, URL: (see ‘A New Tolkien Poem’)
  3. Tolkien, J.R.R. edited by Hammond, Wayne and Scull, Christina. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014
  4. Bratman, David. ‘So that’s where our copy was hiding!’ on The Tolkien Society blogs, 2016-02-17, URL:
  5. Staff. ‘Two ‘lost’ Tolkien poems found at school in Abingdon’, in The Catholic Herald, 2016-02-16, URL:
  6. Rateliff, John D. The Shadow Man, 2016-02-20, URL:
  7. Scull, Christina and Hammond, Wayne. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. p. 884
  8. Hammond, Wayne and Scull, Christina. Tolkien Notes 6, 2013-04-19, URL: (see ‘Addenda and Corrigenda’)
  9. Scull, Christina and Hammond, Wayne. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. p. 114
  10. Douglas A. Anderson. Some Tolkienian updates: "lost" poems and secret vices, 2016-02-24. URL: (added on 2016-02-25)

For further reference, is here a list of known (to me as of today) on-line outlets carrying the story (including some of the above) :

General News Media:

Naomi Herring. ‘Undiscovered J R R Tolkien poems found in 1936 school magazine’, Oxford Mail, 2016-02-15 URL:

Alison Flood. ‘Unseen JRR Tolkien poems found in school magazine’, The Guardian 2016-02-16, URL:
And a correction from The Guardian regretting their printing of copyrighted material without permission, 2016-01-21. URL:

‘JRR Tolkien poems found in Abingdon school annual’, BBC Oxford, 2016-02-16 URL:

Staff. ‘Two ‘lost’ Tolkien poems found at school in Abingdon’, The Catholic Herald, 2016-02-16:

Roslyn Sulcas. ‘Two Poems by J.R.R. Tolkien Found in School Publication in England’, ‘Artsbeat’ blog for The New York Times, 2016-02-16. URL:

PTI. ‘Unseen JRR Tolkien poems found in 1936 UK school magazine’, The Hindu, 2016-02-16. URL:

Huw Fullerton. ‘New work by Lord of the Rings writer JRR Tolkien discovered’, Radio Times, 2016-02-17. URL:

Simon Keegan. ‘Lost Lord of the Rings character discovered in old Tolkien poems in school magazine’, The Mirror, 2016-02-16. URL: (This article should be read for its humorous fantasy – do not confuse it with factual information!)

Staff. ‘Tolkien's unseen poems’, BBC World Service, 2016-02-17 (video, 4 mins). URL:

Niall Alexander. ‘There and Back Again, Again: New Tolkien Poems Found in Old Annual’,, 2016-02-17. URL:

J.E. Reich. ‘Two Unknown J.R.R. Tolkien Poems Have Been Discovered In A Forgotten Magazine’, Tech Times, 2016-02-17. URL:

Emily Gaudette. ‘Attention Fantasy-Starved Fans, We've Got New Tolkien Poems’,, 2016-02-17. URL:

Laura Rebello. ‘Previously unseen JRR Tolkien poems discovered in 1936 school magazine’, International Business Times, 2016-02-17. URL:

Sophie Grubb. ‘Undiscovered poems by JRR Tolkien unearthed 1936 magazine at Our Lady’s Abingdon’, The Herald (Abingdon, Didcot, Wallingford, Wantage and Oxfordshire), 2016-02-16. URL:

Rachel Cruz. ‘JRR Tolkien Unknown Poems Discovered In School Paper’, Headlines & Global News, 2016-02-18. URL:

Jessica Maria MacFarlane. ‘79-Year-Old J.R.R. Tolkien Poems Discovered in Oxfordshire’. The Nerdist, 2016-02-17. URL:

Amy Wilcockson. ‘JRR Tolkien Poems Found!’, Impact, 2016-02-22. URL:

Staff. ‘Swindon law firm give expert help on Tolkien verse’, Swindon Advertiser, 2016-02-24. URL:

Loughlan Campbell. ‘Lost Tolkien poems found in Abingdon’, Oxfordshre Guardian, 2016-02-18. URL:

Scholarly Commentary

Matt Pickles, Dr Stuart Lee, ‘Do newly-discovered Tolkien poems show Oxford's earliest outreach activity?’, Oxford University Arts Blog, 2016-02-17. URL:

Dimitra Fimi. ‘Good Morning, Wales’, BBC Radio Wales (interview). 2016-02-18. URL:

Dimitra Fimi. ‘Tolkien’s “new” poems: “The Shadow-Man” and “Noel”’, her blog, 2016-02-18. URL:

John D. Rateliff. ‘The Shadow Man’, his blog, 2016-02-20. URL:

Douglas A. Anderson. ‘Some Tolkienian updates: "lost" poems and secret vices’, his blog, 2016-02-24. URL:

Tolkien-specific media

Daniel Helen. ‘Rare Tolkien poems uncovered in Oxfordshire school journal’, The Tolkien Society, 2016-02-16. URL:

David Bratman. ‘So that’s where our copy was hiding!’, The Tolkien Society blog, 2016-02-17. URL:

Several. ‘Tolkien Poems’, Mythopoeic Society Yahoo Group,  2016-02-16 onwards. URL:

1 comment:

  1. Updated today with correction from Douglas Anderson's post (new ref. 10), and adding a few more articles. Articles are, incidentally, listed in order of discovery.


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