Thrings advises school following discovery of lost poems by Tolkien


The two poems – ‘The Shadow Man’ and ‘Noel’ – were found in the 1936 annual magazine of Our Lady’s School in Abingdon in Oxfordshire. They are thought to have been composed while Tolkien - best known for writing the ‘Lord of the Rings’ fantasy trilogy – was a professor at Oxford University.

The discovery was made after Tolkien expert Wayne G. Hammond found a note from Tolkien in which the author referred to two poems he had submitted to the Abingdon Chronicle. Tracking this reference to Our Lady’s School’s magazine, Hammond contacted Principal Stephen Oliver. In turn, Mr Oliver passed the query on to archivists at the Bermondsey convent of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school in 1860.

However, while preparing for an event for school alumni, Mr Oliver came across an original copy of the magazine, complete with the two poems in question.

Our involvement

The poems have sparked a huge amount of interest among Tolkien enthusiasts and media around the world. Recognising their considerable literary significance, Mr Oliver took steps to establish the legal status of the poems, and to ensure there was no unauthorised publication or breach of copyright.

Graeme advised Mr Oliver on the school’s legal position relating to the poems, and explored the legalities relating to publication and copyright.

The outcome

Although copyright of the poems belongs to Tolkien’s Estate – which has sole authority to approve any fresh publication – the school’s original copies of the newspaper will now be worth considerably more than they were before.

Our Lady’s School also gained clarity on its ability to utilise the poems going forward and has indicated its intention to display its copy of the poems at an exhibition about the school’s history.

Recognising the parallels with Tolkien’s writing, Graeme said: “Many of Tolkien’s stories deal with hidden treasure, so it’s a nice twist that some of his own works have been rediscovered after lying buried for so long.”

For further commentary on this case, or to discuss any intellectual property-related issue, please contact a member of Thrings' Intellectual Property team.

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