Przemyslaw Mroczkowski

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Przemysław Mroczkowski (28 June 1915 - 12 July 2002) was a Polish Anglicist and medievalist, and friend of J.R.R. Tolkien.


Przemysław Mroczkowski was born in Kraków. He completed his high school education with matura in 1933. He then started studying romance languages at the Faculty of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University, graduating in 1938 by defending his thesis. Simultaneously, he had also studied English philology under professor Roman Dyboski.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Mroczkowski served in the regiment of heavy artillery. Afterwards, he returned to Cracow, where he was arrested by the Gestapo and spent a few weeks in the Montelupich prison. After release from prison, under German occupation of Poland, he earned his living by teaching languages. After the war he spent a short time as a school teacher in Kraków, and later as a reader at the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy. Mroczkowski spent the 1946-1947 academic year as a Research Fellow at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, where he worked toward his doctorate in English literature and acquired his master's degree in English Studies in 1946.

Around that year he got in contact with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, planning his move to Oxford for further studies. Tolkien spoke to Lewis on his behalf, and supported moves made by the British Council to get him accepted by some 'society' (although Mroczkowski expected more from him). But the news were discouraging: "they cannot do anything, until the matter of your scholarship is settled. [...] the prospects did not seem very good. There is nothing, of course, to prevent a scholar as yourself from staying here and studying".[1]

He obtained the Ph.D. degree in 1947. Shortly after this, he joined the Catholic University of Lublin, where for several years he directed the English Department. As the period of Stalinist rule ended in Poland in October 1956, he went to spend a year to Oxford, thanks to Graham Greene, who had visited Poland shortly before.

Meeting Tolkien

In Oxford he met J.R.R. Tolkien, who acquainted him with the other members of The Inklings.

Professor Mroczkowski has described his first encounter with Tolkien in an interview with Tomasz Fiałkowski in the pages of Tygodnik Powszechny (No. 14, 1994): "It was at the British Council in Oxford, I do not remember all the topics of conversation, but I remember that I presented myself to Tolkien in the following way: ‘I come from Mordor...’. He didn't object to that comparison, although today I understand that he did not refer the recent historical events when he conceived the kingdom". In the article, Professor Mroczkowski also described Tolkien in the following way: "(...) a much older and much more eminent colleague, expert in Old English philology, "Germanist" (in the broad sense) of the highest quality, which since 1925 was a professor at Oxford, and since 1945 held the chair in the local Merton College, where he combined the field of linguistics and the studies of the early literary period".

Besides Tolkien, Professor Mroczkowski also met some other people from the group around Tolkien: C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Neville Coghill and others. He described the The Inklings with these words: "The Inklings were a group of really unique people, [...]. They were people thinking in the same way and there were clashes between them and discussions, and thus formed a vibrant community" (ibid.).

Like Tolkien, Mroczkowski was a Christian Catholic. He said that Tolkien "was a very traditional Catholic. For instance, Tolkien had difficulty accepting the reforms of the Second Vatical Council and during the mass that was said in the English language, he still prayed using a Latin-language copy of a liturgy book." (ibid.)

About Tolkien's two most famous works of fiction, Mroczkowski said: "I read with great interest The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. [...]Tolkien was primarily a writer - and a teacher and scholar. His creative abilities, moreover, tied with linguistics. They led him to create [fictional] alphabets, grammar, vocabulary. Tolkien was fascinated with words - both the spoken word, [...] and the written word, and finally with the letters as such. I remember that I have shown a Tolkien's book to prof. Jerzy Kuryłowicz, a linguist of international renown, who immediately pointed out the resemblance of an ornamental variety of the Celtic script[note 1] to the Elvish writings invented by Tolkien. The old documents which Tolkien had read Tolkien as a philologist, a scholar, opened for him a fantasy land" (ibid.).

Their friendship continued, and Mroczkowski with his wife invited the Tolkiens for dinner in their home.[2] At some point in 1958, Tolkien claimed that while leaving Sunday mass, he had an intuition that his friend had worries and difficulties, and supported him financially (with proceedings from The Lord of the Rings).[3]

Later life

In the early 1960s, Professor Mroczkowski returned to Kraków, where he directed the Department of English Philology.

Mroczkowski had a daughter, Maria, to whom Tolkien wrote a letter about his inspirations and sources of The Lord of the Rings, and its critics.[4]

From 1975 to 1981 he was director of the newly formed Institute of English Philology. Before he retired, he was given the Order of the British Empire. In 1985, Professor Mroczkowski retired, but still remained an active researcher for many years. He died on July 12, 2002 in Cracow.

Bibliography, selected

  • 1973: Tygodnik Powszechny, nr 40
    • "Uczoność i wyobraźnia w Oxfordzie" ["Scholarship and Imagination in Oxford"]
  • 1994: Tygodnik Powszechny, nr 14
    • "Oksfordzcy mistrzowie wyobraźni" ["Oxfordian Masters of Imagination"; interview with Tomasz Fiałkowski]

Mroczkowski also wrote a number of favorable reviews and opinions about the works of Tolkien, which were published in Poland in the 1960s.

A selection of Tolkien's correspondence with Mroczkowski, and with his wife Mrs Mroczkowska, can be found in Christie's Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts 1 June 2009.

See also


  1. Perhaps referring to the Insular script


  • This article is an edited version of "Opowieść o dwóch mediewistach - profesor Tolkien i profesor Mroczkowski" ["A Tale of two Medievalists: Professor Tolkien and Professor Mroczkowski"], written by Dariusz Piwowarczyk and published on Simbelmynë (external link).