Sunday, 23 September 2012
For the eight years of his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Oxford, my son Justin and I have been planning to visit J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave in Wolvercote cemetery; and this weekend, accompanied by my wife, we have at last done so. And very evidently we were by no means the only Tolkien fans to have visited it this year. A birthday card with some messages in Elvish had survived the English weather since early January; a beautiful drawing of a romantic Elvish couple – Tolkien and his wife as Beren and Luthien? – was wrapped in polythene to protect it from the elements; various foreign coins had been left as tokens of devotion around the stonework; and on the rosebush growing in the centre all sorts of bracelets and trinkets were dangling. It all added up to an extraordinary celebration of Tolkien’s mythological vision; and as we quietly left, the next small group of literary pilgrims was making its way across the Catholic section of the churchyard to pay respects to Tolkien too.
Wolvercote cemetery in North Oxford is much more accessible than Morris’s grave in Kelmscott, but could we imagine the Philip Webb tombstone for the Morris family as festooned as the Tolkien grave was? With red flags and bunting attached by socialist and communist admirers, perhaps, and a collective March 24th birthday card with tributes written in the curiously archaic English of the late romances - not to mention many small arts-and-crafts artefacts strewn around as tokens of devotion, and even a Pre-Raphaelite sketch of Morris and Jane as Arthur and Guenevere in a plastic jacket to ensure its survival. Tolkienian celebrations at Wolvercote may at times verge on the eccentric (one hears rumours of fullblooded recitations in Elvish there during the annual TolkienMoot), but still, the assorted decorations at the grave made of it, not Andrew Marvell’s ‘fine and private place’, but rather a locus of collective Morrisian ‘fellowship’ that it would be good to see paralleled at Kelmscott too.