The three unseen works, however, boast a different, more abstract flavor. One is a sparse, wispy drawing of bamboo from the 1960s. It is titled “Linquë súrissë,” or “grass in the wind” in Quenya, one of the Elvish languages that Tolkien created. Another sketch features an intricate geometric design adorned with Elvish lettering, which Tolkien drew on the back of an agenda for a meeting at Oxford’s Merton College in 1957; he worked at the university as a professor of Anglo Saxon and English language and literature between 1925 and 1959. Though these artworks feature Elvish text, they are not directly linked to the characters and places of Middle Earth.
“You wouldn’t look at [the drawings] and think ‘that’s Tolkien’,” Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodleian’s Tolkien archivist, who is curating the new exhibition, tells Alberge. “They show that he was always experimenting with his artwork. He wasn’t afraid to try totally new styles.”
Among the more unusual items on display is a page from Tolkien’s 1914 sketchbook, on which he painted two abstract images in deep purples, oranges and greens. Titled “There (when you don’t want to go from here)” and “Here (in an exciting place),” ​they are connected by their color palettes and ideas. McIlwaine suggests the art captures Tolkien in a period where he was still finding his voice as a student. “They indicate,” as she said in a statement to Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper, “that he was beginning to draw, not just what he could see, but what he could imagine.”