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Tom Shippey

Tom Shippey.jpg
Tom Shippey
Biographical information
Born9 September 1943
EducationOxford University

Thomas Alan Shippey (1943) is one of the most well known scholars on J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as fantasy and science fiction in general. He describes himself as a "Tolkien polemicist".[1]




Many commenters have noticed the parallels between his life and Tolkien's: born in a colony, moved to Birmingham at a young age, followed by an academic career in Oxford and Leeds.

Shippey was born in India, where his father worked as a bridge builder. He spent the first several years of his life there.[2] His father then sent him to a strict boarding school in England, and when his father came back, Shippey was transfered to King Edward's School in Birmingham, where he studied from 1954 to 1960.[3]

Here he was introduced to science fiction, and The Hobbit, which was lent to him when he was 14 years old.[4] Shippey quickly developed an affinity for Old English, Old Norse, German and Latin (like Tolkien) and playing rugby (like Tolkien), and he was able to afford The Lord of the Rings when he won a school contest.[2]

Academic career

Shippey did not immediately pursue an academic career after graduation, as the British economy in the early 1960s did not offer much work. Not until the mid-sixties did he enroll in Cambridge.[4] His first academic work on Tolkien was from late 1969 or early 1970. Shippey, a junior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, was asked to speak at a Tolkien day organised by a student association. That lecture, "Tolkien as philologist", would form Shippey's view of Tolkien - a philologist - for years to come. Unbeknownst to him, Joy Hill, the private secretary of Tolkien, was in the audience. After the lecture, she asked him for the script, for Tolkien to read. Tolkien wrote to Shippey on April 13, 1970, with what first seemed like a formal reply.[3]

The first meeting between Shippey and Tolkien took place in 1972. Norman Davis, successor of Tolkien at the Merton Chair of English Language, invited Shippey over for dinner. Shippey, then a Fellow of St. John's College, taught Old and Middle English with Tolkien's syllabus, and his meeting with Tolkien at the dinner left him full of professional piety.[3]

After Tolkien's death, Shippey's admiration only grew. His first printed essay, "Creation from Philology in The Lord of the Rings", was much of an elaboration of his 1970 lecture. In 1979, he was elected to the Chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds, a former position of Tolkien. He published his first book, the famed The Road to Middle-earth, in 1982. At this time, Shippey shifted from the view of Tolkien as a philologist to a view of a post-war writer, or what he called "traumatised authors", like Vonnegut and Golding.[3]

After 14 years at Leeds, Shippey moved to the Saint Louis University, where he was elected to the Walter J. Ong Chair of Humanities. Here, he could focus in teaching, research and publishing, rather than administrative work. He currently still holds this chair.[2]

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings

Being considered the foremost expert on Tolkien, Shippey appeared in several documentaries surrounding The Lord of the Rings (film series). He also assisted the dialect coaches[4] and is personally thanked in the closing credits.[5] He later recollected his experiences:

"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 till 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."
― Tom Shippey[6]


The list below is extensive, but not complete.







External links


  1. Email from Tom Shippey (as of 17 February 2012) to User:Morgan.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Paul Hanley, Let us introduce you to ... Thomas Shippey, Ph.D.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, Preface to the Third Edition
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Claire E. White, Talking Tolkien With Thomas Shippey
  5. Tom Shippey at IMDb
  6. Transcript of chat session with Pr. Tom Shippey during The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun Online Release Party (09.05.09) at TolkienLibrary