One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Transcribing Tolkien

on October 12, 2013

I feel this semester that my studies focus around evolutionary theory because it takes up most of time.  My time management has allowed me to focus on all my studies equally, I am thankful for that is one of my strengths. But some times time gets away from me and I tend to focus much of energy on things that I don’t understand the longest, hence evolutionary theory which seems to go over my head most of the time. 

However, I am really enjoying my other courses. I finally have some time to post some of my work that I have been doing. Today, I am posting a project that I did for my Historical Documents course. This is project focused on transcribing documents. I decided transcribe original manuscripts of Tolkien from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be. Tolkien had horrible handwriting. I will show the images of the writings that I decided to transcribe and describe them.

tolkien-manuscript (1)

The first document is from The Two Towers. I know what you are thinking…why didn’t you just find the section of the book it was written for? This is the original manuscript and Tolkien rewrote the Lord of the Rings series several times until he thought it was perfect. Bits and pieces are in the book but not word for word that Tolkien had written in this document. 

 In this document, Gollum disappears while the trio is climbing up  The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.  and Sam is expressing his distrust for Gollum to Frodo while Frodo tries to defend Gollum because he is a product of what the Ring does to an individual. 

The first paragraph of this document is transcribed as: 

“That’s that!” said Sam. While in [illegible word] But I don’t like it )  I suppose then we are just exactly where he wanted to bring us. Well, let’s get / moving away as quick as we can. The headwinds have [crossed out] worn [?]! Head / land over cliff wasn’t pure joy at getting end of the tunnel. It was pure / wickedness of some sort. And what sort we’ll soon know. / Likely enough said Frodo. But we could not have gotten even so far /without him. So after even manage our errand. Then Gollum and all his / wickedness unveils part of his plan/


The second document is a letter Tolkien wrote critiquing someone’s work. I used this document to compare his handwriting to the first document. This allowed me to fill in the blanks in the first document. Tolkien in general, had horrible handwriting. He sort of admits in his letter, but he says it is scribble due to being rushed. 

The first paragraph in this document is I transcribed:

Well, this uscenitatis [?] survival of female [crossed out sentence] / Then you want you final check in the explanation of how [illegible word] that / Barber [?] thoughts could be known. The Barber who has survived / All right, but my criticism is that in that case your weakness / your last 8 lines of the story [dash line] far as the summary, rushed, and uncon / sistant. That see you see challenge criticisms by ending “the / majors [?] stories are always so unconvincing.” You can use say that / of [illegible] are [illegible word] (an near impossible basis) unconvincing. It’s no good / may [?] to make a story faster or more snappy [happy?]. Now is inherent nature will allow ** [marginal note: Every story has a maximum speed if you want a Mechanism of Man fast moving stories, you must select thesis that go to that pace. You can tell any story up to its maximum speed, but beyond that – it just remains unconvincing” (in a literary sense)./

Tolkien-ManuscriptThe third document is another original manuscript from the Fellowship of the Ring. This manuscript describes how to decipher the elvish writing to enter the Mines of Moria. The handwriting is a little more legible in this document, or it may have been me looking at it for so long it started to make sense. 

The first part of this document I transcribed as:

“What does the writings say?” asked Frodo, who was try [ing?] [cut off] / [sentence crossed out] /decipher the inscription on the arch. “I thought I knew elf letters, but/ [crossed out: these are all entangled] cannot read these.”/

   ”These are in the elf-tongue of [crossed out words] the West/ Middle-earth in the Elder Days,” said Gandalf. “But they do [page cut off] / say any thing of importance to us. [sentence crossed out] / [sentence crossed out] They say only: The Doors of [underlined] / Durin Lord of Moria. Speak, Friend, and enter [underlined]. And under [neath?] [page cut off] / small and faint is: I Narvi made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin [underlined] / drew these signs.” [underlined]/ 

The final document is the original opening to the Lord of the Rings. This was the easiest of the all the documents to transcribed. 

The first couple of sentences are transcribed as:485px-The_original_opening_page_of_The_Lord_of_the_Rings

When Bilbo, son of Bungo of the family/of Baggins [cross out word] prepared to celebrate [crossed out: d] his sevenith / birthday there was for a day or two some talk in the / neighborhood. He had once had a little fleeting / fame among the people of Hobbiton and Bywater [dash line] / [crossed out word] he had disappeared after breakfast one April 30th / and not reappeared until lunchtime on June 22nd in / the following year. 

For a perfectionist, J.R.R. Tolkien had pretty bad handwriting. In order to decipher most of his writing, I had to compare and contrast his handwriting with other documents. I really enjoyed this exercise and it is a good skill to have whether it is transcribing documents from the 18th century to Tolkien. I also found it really interesting to see the differences and the edits Tolkien made from his original ideas to the end product that we read. 

3 responses to “Transcribing Tolkien

  1. Third word in second document is “necessitates.” Years of reading students’ terrible handwriting helps! I’m surprised these haven’t been transcribed before…

    • Tina Ebenal says:

      Yea no kidding! Haha I pored hours into trying to figure that word out. It surprised me too. I couldn’t find any transcriptions afterwards. I don’t know if anyone thought that his originals could have been different from the books that were published.

    • Well, it’s not about using already existing transcriptions 😉 And I think you may find the transcriptions in secondary material on Tolkien. However, those books really aren’t on everybody’s shelves.. [History of Middle-earth]

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