Party Like It’s 1936: Songs for the Philologists

It’s the most obscure Tolkien book of all… so obscure that only fourteen copies exist: Songs for the Philologists, a 1936 collection of thirty humorous verses, by Tolkien (who wrote thirteen), E.V. Gordon, and Others.

The verses are occasionally in Modern English, but are more commonly in Old Norse, Old English, or even Gothic. So unless one is sufficiently acquainted with the languages in question, or, well, a Philologist, one is rather locked out for most of the book. Though apparently Tom Shippey’s Road to Middle-earth (1982) contains some translations, and the Modern English ones set the tone rather well. Drinking songs, satire about the Oxford English Department, and the forerunner of Sam Gamgee’s Troll Song from The Lord of the Rings. It’s light-hearted fare, boisterously playing around with the languages Tolkien worked with academically.

The reason I mention this is that, via the wonders of the internet, Humanities Commons now have a downloadable transcript of the verses:

Chances are, you and I will never even hold one of those fourteen surviving copies of Songs for the Philologists, much less own one. As such, this is a delightful development, even for those of us without a mastery of Old English. This is one treasure that wartime bombing could not completely destroy.

Addendum: The 1944 booklet on Sir Orfeo might actually be rarer, with only five known copies:

However, seeing as the work has been reprinted elsewhere, and that Tolkien isn’t listed as editor (making it much harder to track down), its obscurity relative to Songs for the Philologists may be debated.

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