This is not quite the usual blog this time because the Southfarthing were not in the warm Library, but out and about. Ian was attending the Oxford Tolkien Spring Study Day, while 9 of us went to visit the Vyne Ring exhibition. It was fascinating, even if it was bitterly cold. There was nothing spring-like were we where, in north Hampshire, but an icing-sugar dusting of snow all over the fields and a nasty biting wind.
For 2 years the manager of the National Trust property The Vyne, near Basingstoke, has been in touch with the Tolkien Society with regard to a collaboration to bring about the exhibition now taking place. The Vyne has long been in possession of an inscribed Roman gold ring, discovered in the 18th century. The inscription mentions the name Senicianus, which is not at all common as a Roman name. The band also carries a small square with an incised image of a distinctly non-Roman head. The ring was discovered centuries ago at Silchester, the Roman town of Caleva.
In 1929 at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman curse tablet was discovered which bears the same unusual name. It declares that one Silvianus has lost his ring, and he curses all those by the name of Senicianus – clearly in the belief that someone of that name has found and kept the lost ring, or stolen it. And he offers half the value of the ring to the god Nodens.
The story of Tolkien’s research into the etymology of the name Nodens at the request of the eminent archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler is well-known, and the Vyne have based their exhibition around the tantalising possibility that Tolkien might have been influenced in his creation of the One Ring by his knowledge of the cursing of the keeper of the ring, which may well be the one now at the Vyne.
The exhibition displays the ring, brilliantly lit in the centre of an intimate space surrounded by panels telling the story in words and images. A replica curse stone shows what Tolkien had to work on, and background information about the possible Celtic links with Nodens, and other aspects of the ring’s decoration. We spent a good deal of time looking at it all and taking photos, and having our photos taken by each other and Nicola, a member of the Vyne staff, before braving the bitter winds again to visit the Dwarf Tunnels (the copyright-busting name for what are clearly hobbit holes). These tunnels are part of the children’s play area and are large enough for them to run through. We were all much amused by them and took plenty of photos again.
Tea and coffee were very welcome after this, in the Old Brewhouse, and it was all most enjoyable until I looked round and came almost face to face with Shelob! The gardens of the house have several huge sculptures of which the outsized worm was amusing, but the similarly outsized arachnid didn’t amuse me at all! Happily, it couldn’t chase us, and we all back to look at the house, which though it is an Elizabethan mansion has a pleasantly intimate feel about its spaces. The children’s Dwarf Trail through the house, directed by riddles partly composed by the children of Ironville School in Derbyshire, was charming, and the little dwarf dolls have been expertly made by one of the Vyne volunteers. They are quaint rather than truly dwarfish, but I felt they added to the charm of the visit.
We didn’t assign ourselves any particular reading for Tolkien Reading Day this year, but took the theme of Landscapes literally by travelling through, and visiting, some quintessential English landscape. In warm and sunny weather the Vyne is a lovely place to wander in, everything you would expect from the park surrounding an English mansion in the Palladian style. Even on a grey cold March day it was worth braving the cold to enjoy the views.
Normal blog reports resume in April when we shall finish off our reading of Carpenter’s Biography before beginning Egil’s Saga.