Storm out of the West

Storm out of the West
Stormy Skies over Southampton Water

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Welcome to Tolkien's Seafarers.

This blog has been created to coincide with Tolkien Reading Day, 25th March 2010.
The Tolkien Society has publicised Reading Day as follows:
As 2010 is the International Maritime Organization’s Year of the Seafarer the theme chosen gives people a chance to read and think about exploring the undercurrents in the Numenorean romance the “Tale of Aldarion and Erendis” from Unfinished Tales, the journeys and ships of the Teleri, the flight of the Noldor, and the voyages of Tuor and Eärendil in The Silmarillion.

The sea is a very important feature of Tolkien’s work. Its influence is never far away from any story line. Part of the melancholy that pervades Middle-earth is created by the fact that the Elves are all slowly leaving to sail away into the West – to the lands such as Tol Eressea to which only they are allowed to go.

From the early mythological ages depicted in The Silmarillion, the sea separates the Elven kindreds, defining those who were faithful from those who were rebellious, and those who lingered. Journeys by ship into the West mark the heroism and desperation of characters who become mythical figures for hobbits and Men at the end of the Third Age – the time of The Lord of the Rings. Journeys by ship into the east of Middle-earth show a colonising spirit among the Men of Numenor, and journeys by sea define those Men who are faithful against those who are arrogant.

Tolkien probably did not remember much about his own first sea journey from South Africa to Southampton, nor the train journey north to Birmingham from Southampton Terminus station with its connection right into the Docks. But when he returned from France to Southampton as a young soldier he would have been able to see the delicate spire of St Michael’s Church (11th century) in the old medieval heart of Southampton because in the 18th century the spire had been constructed on top of the church’s original 11th century tower as a sea mark.
St Michael's Church
Tolkien returned from France because he was ill with trench fever and he might have been received into the magnificent military hospital at Netley, overlooking Southampton Water (its main corridor was famously half a mile long). As it happened he was transferred to hospital in Birmingham and easy access to trains directly from the Docks would have made the transfer easier for the sick and wounded.

The Royal Victoria Hospital Netley 

When Tolkien retired from his professorship at Oxford he and his wife Edith went for a Mediterranean cruise again leaving from Southampton.

At significant times in his life, Tolkien passed through Southampton and as a medievalist he may have taken an interest in some of its existing medieval architecture such as the West Gate through which Henry V’s troops passed to embark for France, and on the other side of the old town, God’s House Tower where the hymn writer Isaac Watts’s father was once imprisoned. Despite severe bombing during WW2 much of the arcaded old walls to the west still remain and could, and can still, be seen from the cruise ships such as the one took Tolkien and his wife on their Mediterranean voyage.

For more details of Tolkien’s biography, links to Google Maps, and images, click on Biography in the Pages side bar.

  • This blog will help you to discover more about Tolkien's stories of seafarers and their journeys.

  •  Click on the sidebar heading that interests you. It will take you to more detailed information.

  • Tolkien's own relationship to the sea and to Southampton can be found under the heading of Biography.

  • This blog will direct you to poems, stories and other texts so you can enjoy reading them for yourself.

  • It explains some obscure matters and offers links to further information.

  • It does not include any material quoted directly from Tolkien's works.
This site is linked to The Tolkien Society
but all opinions given here are mine.