Librarian found love, career through Tolkien

Wayne Hammond, librarian at the College, is one of the world’s leading scholars on J.R.R. Tolkien. Christian Ruhl/Photo Editor.
Wayne Hammond, librarian at the College, is one of the world’s leading scholars on J.R.R. Tolkien. Christian Ruhl/Photo Editor.

To general confusion, I insist on regularly re-taping the dangling heels of my leaky yellow rainboots. Some may ask, what is the merit of a pair of rainboots that aren’t watertight, no matter how bright their hue? And I promptly reply: without these admittedly non-functional boots, would I be able to spend all of Halloween night yelling “I’m Tom Bombadil” into the ears of my nonplussed peers? No, I would not. No authentic Tom Bombadil would ever be seen without yellow boots. For those of you who missed my explanation on Halloween night – there can’t be more than a half dozen of you – Tom Bombadil is a character in The Fellowship of the Ring and one of the most interesting and compelling figures among the host of Tolkien’s beloved creations. Before this fall, I would have felt comfortable asserting that I could recite more of Bombadil’s signature verses than anyone else on this campus. As usual, Williams supplied someone to absolutely crush me.

Wayne G. Hammond, the Chapin Rare Books Assistant Librarian and recent co-editor of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses From the Red Book, is one of the foremost Tolkien scholars in the world. Like many of us, he first discovered Tolkien in his youth. “I was a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before I was a scholar; I was in high school when I first read these,” he told me. “As a serious Tolkien fan, I sought out everything else he wrote (that was published at the time, and I could find), which included his academic writings: he was an esteemed scholar of Old and Middle English language and literature.” Studying Tolkien is not merely a side project for Hammond alongside his library duties; rather, his interest in Tolkien preceded and in many ways caused his interest in libraries. “In collecting his works, I developed an interest in books and libraries, which led to a career as a librarian and bibliographer – so, in a roundabout way, it’s due to Tolkien that I’m at Williams,” he said.

If his love for Tolkien directly shaped his professional trajectory, it also had a strong influence on his personal life. “I wrote a detailed bibliography of Tolkien’s works which was published in 1993,” said Hammond, in reference to his bibliography J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography. “That put me in contact with other Tolkien collectors, including Christina Scull whom I married, and also with Tolkien’s publishers, his family and his favorite illustrator (Pauline Baynes). Christina and I both had successful records as Tolkien scholars before Christopher Tolkien asked us to write a book about his father’s pictorial art (J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, 1995), and our later Tolkien projects proceeded from that success.” Hammond and his wife, Christina Scull, have since collaborated on a number of publications.

In reference to their next project, The Art of the Lord of the Rings, Mr. Hammond explained, “In one respect, it has been easier than when we produced our earlier book, The Art of The Hobbit, where we had to work out the design as well as write the text and lay out the pictures. Since our new book is to use the same design, many of its physical details were already settled when we began.” However, the project comes with a unique set of challenges; the absence of an official set of illustrations in favor of an enormous collection of drawings, maps and inscriptions calls for a carefully considered presentation. “Since they were made as The Lord of the Rings was written, mainly to work out details in the story (as opposed to the Hobbit art which mostly can stand separately), we needed to relate them not only to the published Lord of the Rings, itself a long text (much longer than The Hobbit), but also to multiple drafts as published in The History of Middle-earth or more directly in the manuscripts and typescripts held at Marquette University,” Hammond said. He assured me that Sawyer Library would acquire a copy.

In response to the all-important question – who would he be if he lived in Middle Earth? –  Hammond replied, “I’ve always identified most strongly with Merry Brandybuck, not because he’s a hobbit, but because he’s one of the most organized and level-headed of Tolkien’s characters. Of course, we the readers are supposed to identify the most with hobbits, who are our representatives in Middle-earth, rather than with wizards or warriors. And of course I’m speaking of Merry as he is in the book, not the juvenile delinquent he is in the films!” Indeed, book-Merry would be much more at home in the Chapin Rare Book Library than his raucous film counterpart.

No matter how many times I read Tolkien’s books, they still provide an unmatched experience for me of all-encompassing, deep and delightful fantasy. I asked Hammond if, after scouring Tolkien’s pages for professional purposes, he still feels the same intimate connection to the works. “I used to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings every summer,” he said. “I haven’t done that in a long time, not since we started to edit and write about Tolkien, which means that I have to go to the books for reference rather than for pleasure. But even then, I find something new every time.” Part of Tolkien’s appeal lies in the distant vistas of history and lore he allows his readers to glimpse; but for Hammond, at least, the appeal is not lost when those vistas become familiar.