Tom Shippey

Thomas Alan Shippey (born 9 September 1943)[1] is a British scholar and retired professor of Middle and Old English literature, as well as medievalism and modern fantasy and science fiction. In particular he is widely considered one of the world's leading academic scholars on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien about whom he has written several books and many scholarly papers.

Tom Shippey
Tom Shippey by Gage Skidmore
Shippey in 2015.
Thomas Alan Shippey

9 September 1943 (age 75)
OccupationAcademic, writer
Known forTolkien scholarship



Shippey was born in 1943 in Calcutta, British India, where he also spent the first years of his life.[1][2] He was sent to a boarding school in England, and studied at King Edward's School in Birmingham from 1954 to 1960.[3]

When he was 14 years old, he was lent The Hobbit.[4] Like Tolkien, Shippey became fond of Old English, Old Norse, German and Latin, and of playing rugby.[2]

Academic career

After Shippey's graduation in the early 1960s he did not immediately start an academic career since the British economy of the time did not offer many jobs in academia. Only in the mid-1960s did he enroll at the University of Cambridge from where he graduated with an M.A. in 1968.[4][5] He was awarded a PhD from Cambridge University in 1990.[5]

Shippey became a junior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, and then a Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, where he taught Old and Middle English.[3] In 1979, he was elected to the Chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds.

In 1996, after 14 years at Leeds, Shippey was appointed to the Walter J. Ong Chair of Humanities at Saint Louis University's College of Arts and Sciences, where he did teaching, research and publishing. He retired from there in 2008, and now lives in Dorset.[5]

From 2003 to 2007, he served as the editor of the journal Studies in Medievalism and from 2003 to 2009, he was the President of the International Society for the Study of Medievalism.


Under the pseudonym of "Tom Allen" he has written two stories that were published in anthologies edited by Peter Weston. The first published was the fantasy story "King, Dragon" in Andromeda 2 in 1977; the second was the science fiction novelette "Not Absolute" in Andromeda 3 in 1978.[6]

Under the pseudonym of John Holm, he is also the co-author, with Harry Harrison, of The Hammer and the Cross trilogy of alternate history novels.[1] Shippey had earlier assisted Harrison in devising fictional languages for the author's Eden trilogy.

In addition to writing books of his own, he has edited both The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, and The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories and reviews science fiction for the Wall Street Journal.[7] In 2009, he wrote a scholarly 21-page introduction to Flights of Eagles, a collection of James Blish works.[8]

Tolkien scholarship

In late 1969 or early 1970, Shippey wrote his first academic work on Tolkien. He then delivered a speech at a Tolkien day organised by a student association. This lecture, "Tolkien as philologist" became also influential for Shippey's view of Tolkien. Joy Hill, Tolkien's private secretary, was in the audience and afterwards she asked him for the script, for Tolkien to read. On 13 April 1970, Shippey received a seemingly formal letter from Tolkien.[3]

The two, Shippey and Tolkien, first met in 1972. Shippey was invited for dinner by Norman Davis who had succeeded Tolkien at the Merton Chair of English Language. When he became a Fellow of St. John's College, Shippey taught Old and Middle English using Tolkien's syllabus.[3]

Shippey's first printed essay, "Creation from Philology in The Lord of the Rings", expanded on his 1970 lecture. In 1979, he was elected into a former position of Tolkien's, the Chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at Leeds University. His first book, The Road to Middle-earth, was published in 1982. At this time, Shippey shifted from regarding Tolkien as a philologist to a "traumatised author" as he called it. This would include writers affected by war like Vonnegut and Golding.[3]

Shippey appeared in several documentaries about Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The dialect coaches were assisted by him[4] and Shippey received a personal mention in the closing credits.[9] He summarized his experiences with the film project as follows:

"The funny thing about interviews is you never know which bits they're going to pick. It always feels as if they sit you down, shine bright lights in your eyes, and ask you questions until you say something really silly, and that's the bit they choose. At least they didn't waterboard me. But it was good fun, and I'd cheerfully do it again."[10]

As an acknowledged expert on Tolkien, Shippey serves on the editorial board of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review.[7]

Shippey's education and academic career have crossed paths in many ways with those of Tolkien: like Tolkien, he attended King Edward's School in Birmingham and both taught Old English at Oxford University. Shippey also occupied Tolkien's former position at the University of Leeds and was responsible for changing the curriculum that Tolkien himself had instituted.[11]



  • Old English Verse (London: Hutchinson's, 1972)
  • Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, Ltd., 1976; 2nd ed., 1977)
  • Beowulf. Arnold's Studies in English Literature series (London, 1978).
  • The Road to Middle-earth (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), 2nd ed. (London: Harper Collins, 1993), also Revised and Expanded edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
  • Fictional Space: Essays on Contemporary Science Fiction, Editor (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991, ISBN 0-631-17129-0).
  • The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, Editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-214204-6).
  • The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, Editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN 0-19-214216-X).
  • Beowulf: The Critical Heritage, Editor, with Andreas Haarder (New York: Routledge, 1998)
  • Medievalism in the Modern World: Essays in Honour of Leslie Workman, Editor, with Richard Utz (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (London: Harper Collins, 2000; Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2001)
  • The Shadow-Walkers: Jacob Grimm's Mythology of the Monstrous, Editor (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005)
  • Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien (Zurich and Berne: Walking Tree Publishers, Cormarë Series 11, 2007, ISBN 978-3-905703-05-4)
  • Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English & American Literature, Essayist (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2007) (Illustrated by Barry Moser)
  • Old English Philology: Studies in Honour of R.D. Fulk, Editor, with Leonard Neidorf and Rafael J. Pascual (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2016)
  • Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press, 2016)

Edited volumes

  • Medievalism in the Modern World: Essays in Honour of Leslie J. Workman. Ed. Richard Utz and Tom Shippey (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998), ISBN 2-503-50166-4.


  • 1992: Tolkien Remembered – Himself
  • 1996: J.R.R.T.: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien – Himself
  • 1998: An Awfully Big Adventure: J.R.R. Tolkien – Himself
  • 2001: Beyond the Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring – Himself
  • 2002: Page to Screen: The Lord of the Rings – Himself
  • 2003: J.R.R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-Earth – Himself


  • 1984 – Mythopoeic Award, Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inkling Studies, The Road to Middle-earth
  • 2001 – Mythopoeic Award, Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inkling Studies, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
  • 2001 – World Fantasy Award, Special Award Professional, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
  • 2004 – The One Ring Celebration Award, Best Tolkien based Lecture presented at an Academic Function, History in Words, Tolkien's Ruling Passion
  • 2006 – The One Ring Celebration Award, Best Lecture/Paper


  1. ^ a b c "Shippey, Tom". SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 3rd ed. (online, 2011–present). Entry by John Clute, 12 August 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
    Shippey co-wrote the entries on Magic and History in SF.
  2. ^ a b Hanley, Paul (8 February 2008). "Let us introduce you to ... Thomas Shippey, PhD". The University News.
  3. ^ a b c d e Tom Shippey (2003). "Preface to the Third Edition". The Road to Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  4. ^ a b c White, Claire E. "Talking Tolkien With Thomas Shippey".
  5. ^ a b c "T.A. Shippey, PhD". SLU website. Saint Louis University College of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  6. ^ William G. Contento, Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
  7. ^ a b Shippey's WSJ reviews
  8. ^ Blish, James (October 2009). Flights of Eagles (1st ed.). NESFA Press. ISBN 978-1-886778-86-3.
  9. ^ Tom Shippey on IMDb
  10. ^ "Transcript of chat session with Pr. Tom Shippey during The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun Online Release Party (09.05.09) – comments (1)". Tolkien Library. Pieter Collier.
  11. ^ Shippey, Tom (2000). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-261-10401-2.

External links

Arwen Elys Dayton

Arwen Elys Dayton is an American author of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. The author of seven published works, she is best known for her novels Resurrection and the Seeker trilogy. The 2012 novel Resurrection was an Kindle best seller, reaching #2 on national sales charts. The rights to her 2015 novel Seeker were purchased by Columbia Pictures in 2013. Her 2018 novel, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, was cited by Tom Shippey of the Wall Street Journal as one of the best science fiction novels of 2018. She is married to tech entrepreneur, Sky Dayton.


Bibliophobia is the fear or hatred of books. Such fear often arises from fear of the effect books can have on society or culture. Bibliophobia is a common cause of censorship and book burning.

In his 1999 Matthews lecture at Birkbeck College, Tom Shippey discussed bibliophobia in the Middle Ages. This arose when the literate professions, such as the clergy and beadles, would exploit and terrify the illiterate masses by their command of texts such as religious and legal documents. He illustrated this with examples from Anglo-Saxon literature such as The Pardoner's Tale.

Bödvar Bjarki

Bödvar Bjarki (Old Norse: Böðvar Bjarki), meaning 'Warlike Little-Bear', is the hero appearing in tales of Hrólf Kraki in the Saga of Hrólf Kraki, in the Latin epitome to the lost Skjöldunga saga, and as Biarco in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum.

Deutsche Mythologie

Deutsche Mythologie (German: [ˈdɔʏtʃə mytoloˈɡiː], Teutonic Mythology) is a treatise on Germanic mythology by Jacob Grimm. First published in Germany in 1835, the work is an exhaustive treatment of the subject, tracing the mythology and beliefs of the ancient Germanic peoples from their earliest attestations to their survivals in modern traditions, folktales and popular expressions.

The structure of the Deutsche Mythologie is fairly encyclopaedic. The articles and chapters are discursive of philological, historical, folkloristic, and poetic aspects of the pre-Christian Germanic religions. The sources are varied epochally and geographically. In many instances, Grimm cites the North and West Germanic variants of a religious entity; thus the entry on Thor is titled 'Donar, Thunar (Thôrr)'. Older Germanic words, particularly those concerning ritual, are often compared to Latin equivalents, as evident in the table of contents.

The English translation by Stallybrass (3 vols., with vol. 4, supplement), is based on the fourth edition.

Gandalf (mythology)

Gandalf (Gandálfr) is a Dvergr (Norse dwarf) in Norse mythology, appearing in the so-called 'Tally of the Dwarves' within the poem Völuspá from the Poetic Edda, as well as in the Prose Edda. The name derives from the Old Norse words gandr (magic staff) and álfr (elf), thus a protective spirit who wields a magical wand.The name was also used for a Norse king in the Heimskringla.In his fictional writings, J. R. R. Tolkien eventually named his wizard Gandalf after the Dvergr, but initially used the name for the head of the dwarf party (ultimately to be called Thorin Oakenshield).


Goldberry is a supporting character from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Also known as the "River-woman's daughter", she is the wife of Tom Bombadil. Goldberry is described as a beautiful and (seemingly) young woman with golden hair.

Harry Harrison (writer)

Harry Max Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey; March 12, 1925 – August 15, 2012) was an American science fiction author, known for his character The Stainless Steel Rat and for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966). The latter was the rough basis for the motion picture Soylent Green (1973). Harrison was (with Brian Aldiss) the co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.

Aldiss called him "a constant peer and great family friend". His friend Michael Carroll said, "Imagine Pirates of the Caribbean or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and picture them as science-fiction novels. They're rip-roaring adventures, but they're stories with a lot of heart." Novelist Christopher Priest wrote in an obituary,

Harrison was an extremely popular figure in the SF world, renowned for being amiable, outspoken and endlessly amusing. His quickfire, machine-gun delivery of words was a delight to hear, and a reward to unravel: he was funny and self-aware, he enjoyed reporting the follies of others, he distrusted generals, prime ministers and tax officials with sardonic and cruel wit, and above all he made plain his acute intelligence and astonishing range of moral, ethical and literary sensibilities.

High fantasy

High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, defined either by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance" (originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969).

J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia

The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, subtitled Scholarship and Critical Assessment, edited by Michael D. C. Drout, was published by Routledge in 2006 (ISBN 978-0415969420). A team of 127 Tolkien scholars on 720 pages covers topics of Tolkien's fiction, his academic works, his intellectual and spiritual influences, and his biography. Co-editors were Douglas A. Anderson and Verlyn Flieger (both Drout's co-editors also of Tolkien Studies), Marjorie Burns and Tom Shippey.

Middle-earth canon

The term Middle-earth canon, also called Tolkien's canon, is used to loosely define the published writings of J. R. R. Tolkien regarding Middle-earth as a whole. The term is also used in Tolkien fandom to promote, discuss and debate the idea of a consistent fictional canon within a given subset of Tolkien's writings.

The terms have been used by reviewers, publishers, scholars, authors and critics such as John Garth, Tom Shippey, Jane Chance and others to describe the published writings of J. R. R. Tolkien on Middle-earth as a whole. Other writers look to the entire body of work of the author as a "Tolkien canon", rather than a subset defined by the fictional "Middle-earth" setting.

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is a 2018 science fiction novel by Arwen Elys Dayton. It explores the ethical question of how far humans will go in their pursuit of physical perfection. It was well-received critically, with Tom Shippey of the Wall Street Journal citing it as one of the best science fiction novels of 2018.

Tales from the Perilous Realm

Tales from the Perilous Realm is an anthology of some of the lesser-known writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published in 1997 by HarperCollins without illustrations, and republished in an enlarged edition in 2008, with illustrations by Alan Lee. Lee has painted cover-art for several of Tolkien's other works. The 2008 edition also has an introductory essay by literary scholar Thomas Shippey.In 2010 HarperCollins published Tales from the Perilous Realm as an audiobook read by actor, Derek Jacobi.

The Hammer and the Cross

The Hammer and the Cross is a science fiction novel by Harry Harrison and John Holm, a pseudonym for the Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey. The first in a trilogy, the book chronicles the rise of Shef, a bastard son of a Viking and an English lady. The book is alternative history set in 9th century England, where Viking raids are common.

In this tale, the authors explore what might have happened if the Vikings had fought more successfully against the rule of Chalcedonian Christianity. Central to this story is the protagonist Shef. In the story, Shef's birth is discussed. Such as if Shef is the son of the Norse god Ríg, or of a Viking named Sigvarth. More widely, the story questions whether Shef's visions are messages from the gods or dreams. These questions are developed through the trilogy.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is a poem of 508 lines, written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1930 and published in Welsh Review in December 1945.

Aotrou and Itroun are Breton words for "lord" and "lady". The poem is modelled on the genre of the "Breton lay" popular in Middle English literature of the 12th century, and it explores the conflict of heroic or chivalric values and Christianity, and their relation to the institution of marriage.

The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late

The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late is the imagined original ditty that is recorded in 'our time' as the simplified nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle". The supposed original was invented (by back formation) by J. R. R. Tolkien. The title of this version is given in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

In the Inn at Bree ("At the Sign of the Prancing Pony", The Fellowship of the Ring Chapter 9) Frodo jumps on a table and recites "a ridiculous song" invented by Bilbo. "Here it is in full," said Tolkien. "Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered."

There follows the tale, in thirteen ballad-like five-line stanzas, introducing each element in turn: "the Man in the Moon" himself, the ostler's "tipsy cat/ that plays a five-stringed fiddle", the little dog, the "hornéd cow" and the silver dishes and spoons.

Note that the cow is able to jump over the Moon with ease because the Man in the Moon has temporarily brought it down to Earth.

Tom Shippey cites this 1923 poem and its mate, "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon" (also from 1923, also subsequently included in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) as typical examples of Tolkien's working strategy for reconstructing philological information about sources now lost. In this case the question is: what lies behind the abbreviated version of this poem that survives as a well-known but nonsensical nursery rhyme? By imagining a text that might reasonably have left the surviving rhyme, one can deduce clues that might have left other artifacts in surviving literature. Shippey argues that many of the scenarios in Tolkien's more serious work are similar recreations ("'asterisk' poems" in Shippey's phrase), attempting to explain abstruse passages in surviving Old English and Old Norse texts, especially from Beowulf.

The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has Bofur singing this song at Elrond's feast. According to screenwriter Philippa Boyens, the song could either have been made up by Bilbo and taught to Bofur, or the other way around.

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories is a book of science fiction stories edited by Tom Shippey, reissued in 2003.

The Road to Middle-Earth

The Road to Middle-Earth: How J. R. R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology is a scholarly study of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien written by Tom Shippey. In Great Britain it was first published by Allen & Unwin in 1982, with a second edition published in 1993 by Harper Collins and a revised and expanded third edition published in 2003. It is currently published by Houghton Mifflin in the United States.

The book discusses the sources of Tolkien's inspiration in creating the world of Middle-earth and the writing of works including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

A recurrent theme throughout The Road to Middle-earth is that of Tolkien's detailed linguistic studies (particularly of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon Old English) and the creation of languages (such as Sindarin and Khuzdul) which feature prominently throughout his works. This was informed by Shippey's tenure at the University of Oxford, teaching the same syllabus as Tolkien at a time when Tolkien still spent time there.The second edition included discussion of the 12-volume History of Middle-earth which was compiled and edited by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien as a companion piece to the works of his father.

The revised and expanded edition published in 2003 was well received by critics who said of Shippey that, "he writes with unusual clarity and presents his arguments well".

Virtuous pagan

Virtuous pagan is a concept in Christian theology that addressed the problem of pagans who were never evangelized and consequently during their lifetime had no opportunity to recognize Christ, but nevertheless led virtuous lives, so that it seemed objectionable to consider them damned. It is thus analogous to that of the "righteous gentile" in Judaism and Hanifs in Islam. A modern Catholic rendering of this is known as "Anonymous Christianity" in the theology of Karl Rahner.

Prominent examples of virtuous pagans are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Trajan, and Virgil. Dante Alighieri, in his Divine Comedy, places a number of virtuous pagans to the first circle of Hell (analogous to Limbo), including Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, and notably also Saladin, a Muslim, although Muslims are monotheists, because Christians at the time thought they were infidels. Even so Dante placed the pagan emperor Trajan in Paradise and Cato, a suicide, with Statius in Purgatory, while Virgil, whose poetry was thought to prophesy the Christian epoch, he consigned to Limbo.

Francis A. Sullivan believes that early Christian writers "did not preclude virtuous pagans from possibly attaining salvation", but he "agrees that it is possible that the patristic Fathers, had they been asked directly, may have denied that pagans and Jews could become partakers of eternal life.""Virtuous paganism" became relevant to Romanticism with its interest in North European mythology or enthusiasm for the rediscovered pagan ethos of the Icelandic sagas. Tom Shippey argues that the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien is significantly based on such a concept of virtuous paganism:

Tolkien was "rather disturbed by [an Armageddon which the wrong side wins (Ragnarök)]: he saw that the ethos it represented could be used by either side, as indeed it was in the deliberate cultivation of Götterdämmerung by the Nazi leadership a few years later. Nevertheless it did provide an image of heroic virtue which could exist, and could be admired, outside the Christian framework. In some respects (as you can see in his 1936 Beowulf lecture, see Essays, 24–25) the Old Norse 'theory of courage' might even be regarded as ethically superior to the Classical if not to the Christian world-view, in that it demanded commitment to virtue without any offer of lasting reward. . . . He also felt that Old Norse mythology provided a model for what one might call 'virtuous paganism,' which was heathen; conscious of its own inadequacy, and so ripe for conversion; but not yet sunk into despair and disillusionment like so much of 20th-century post-Christian literature; a mythology which was in its way light-hearted."

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