Opening in theaters Dec. 14, “The Hobbit,” directed by Peter Jackson and starring Ian McKellen, is about to become the hottest topic in film circles.

tolkienMarquette archivist William Fliss, interim curator for the Tolkien Collection, looks over some of the supplemental materials in the university’s J.R.R. Tolkien collection. The author’s actual manuscripts which Marquette obtained between 1956-1963 cannot be photographed. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)The fact is, the fantasy novel on which the movie is based and that novel’s author have been hot topics around Marquette University for some time.

During his 1956-1963 tenure as director of MU libraries, William Ready, working through a London book dealer, acquired manuscripts produced by British author J.R.R. Tolkien for less than $5,000. Marquette’s Tolkien Collection – Tolkieniana, as collectors and fans of the writer call it – numbers more than 10,000 pages of the author’s book manuscripts, typescripts and drawings.

The collection boasts a multitude of secondary sources, too: hundreds of books and periodicals and, as a Marquette website phrases it, “ … press clippings, journal and anthology articles, dissertations, studies of Elvish languages, conference announcements and programs, auction sale notices and exhibit catalogs, as well as unpublished scholarly papers and essays … poems and songs, dramatizations, sketches and paintings, calendars, games and puzzles and teaching materials, in addition to audio recordings of readings and radio adaptations and video recordings of movie adaptations and commemorative documentaries.”

Most of Tolkien’s manuscript pages are from another novel, “Lord of the Rings,” but more than 1,500 are from “The Hobbit.” The latter book is celebrating its 75th anniversary of publication and Marquette will mark that milestone, as well as the new movie, Feb. 21. Four Tolkien scholars who’ve written about the Jackson-directed “Lord of the Rings” cinematic trilogy (2001-03) will participate that Thursday in an open-to-the-public roundtable discussion of Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit.” The discussion will close out approximately one year of Tolkien events at the university.

Marquette archivist William Fliss, interim curator for the Tolkien Collection, estimated 800 to 900 individuals have visited the collection annually in the approximately 10 years he’s worked at MU.

“We have noticed an influx in interest in the last few months,” Fliss said. “We’ve actually been doing a lot more outreach than we would normally.”

Fliss attributes the influx more to the book’s anniversary than to the new movie. To his knowledge, he said, nobody associated with the movie’s production has visited the collection.

Tolkien researchers, such as doctoral candidates doing dissertations, as well as non-researching enthusiasts wishing to check out the collection, peruse microfilmed or photocopied materials rather than primary sources. Numerous requests to see “originals” that are not part of the permanent Tolkien display on the third floor of the John P. Raynor, S.J., Library prompted three recent showings of collection samples at which Fliss led discussions. Approximately 20 persons attended each.

Additional Friday display/discussion sessions are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Jan. 18 and Feb. 15 in the Raynor Library. Each will last about 45 minutes.

A convert to Catholicism, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a philologist and an English professor at Oxford University, which houses his personal and academic papers. The Englishman was slated to speak at Marquette twice in the late 1950s, but personal issues forced cancellation of both appearances.

The permanent Marquette display that recalls his work has “in some ways, a little of everything,” said Fliss:  pages handwritten and typewritten by Tolkien; other documents; drawings. Supplementing the display is a shelf of books related to the author.

Besides the Tolkien Collection, which according to Fliss “has been a very valuable and significant asset to the library” and a catalyst for academic conferences over the years, Marquette’s archives include the papers of Wisconsin political figures U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Gov. Tommy Thompson and U.S. Rep. Clement Zablocki. The papers of Catholic Worker movement co-founder Dorothy Day, whose cause for sainthood is in progress, are at Marquette as well.