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Friday 19 January 2018

Testing times unearthed for 'Hobbit' author Tolkien

Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

PRE-exam nerves are bad enough, but if your examiner is JRR Tolkien, then you'd really have your work cut out.

Well that was the case for students at NUI Galway more than 60 years ago when 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings' author worked as an English literature examiner.

Recently discovered exam papers reveal that the creative genius was an external examiner for the summer exams over a number of years at the Galway university.


Barry Houlihan, an archivist at the James Hardiman Library in the university, said the find came about thanks to a Tolkien enthusiast who contacted the college.

"We decided to have a search and we found the volume in question. We went through all the exam papers and we found that Tolkien had been an external on four occasions. It was fascinating to see his name printed on them," said Mr Houlihan.

"The students just love it, they think it's fantastic. But the general response from students has been that exams are stressful enough without having to hand up your work to Tolkien," he added.

The college found papers which show that Tolkien was an external examiner for the English Literature summer exams in 1949, '50, '54 and '59, the very years when 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy came to prominence.

"He would have been in the college quite a bit around that time as he also spent a lot of time travelling around Connemara and the Burren over those years.

"It would have been around the 'Lord of the Rings' years – 1949, the first year he was here, corresponds with the year he finished the books and then they weren't published for several years," explained Mr Houlihan.

The exam papers covered everything from 'Paradise Lost' and Shakespeare to technical questions on the theory of English Lit.

"What's really noticeable is that the papers really are difficult. Some students have said the first-year exam paper he corrected is harder than the final-year paper today. The students are just glad they were not facing it themselves," said Mr Houlihan.

Since highlighting the exam papers on its webpage the library has been inundated with queries from students with news of the papers being tweeted around the world.

"The response has been huge. We've never seen such a spike of hits on our webpage," said Mr Houlihan.

Meanwhile, the library has recently launched The Historic University Calendars, a digital archive resource which gives access to over 120 years of the Galway university's history.

Irish Independent

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