While I was visiting the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum recently, I thought I would look for exhibits that were, for me, particularly evocative of things in Tolkien’s books. Tolkien was the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor in Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College Oxford between 1926 and 1945 and as such, was interested in the archaeological finds from Anglo-Saxon times.
I am no Tolkien scholar so mine was very much a layman’s approach but, all the same, certain things brought Middle-earth to mind. There were the remains of swords and shields, axe heads, pots, and clasps but if I were to choose just a few items that said ‘Middle-earth’ to me they would be the jewellery of a woman believed to be a shape-shifter, where my thoughts turned to Beorn; the handsome bits and stirrups from a horse’s tack which brought the Riders of Rohan to mind; the decoratively carved standing stones and Govan stones which reminded me of the entrance to the Mines of Moria and perhaps most of all, the brooch pins, which would have held a cloak in place and reminded me so much of hobbits. The crowning glory of the exhibition was the huge Roskilde 6 longship, the largest ever found, which was certainly worth seeing. For me, however, the Anglo-Saxon burial ship from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk is more evocative of Tolkien as it conjures up images of Boromir’s burial boat. The hoard from the burial ship of Sutton Hoo can also be seen in a permanent Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Museum.
Vikings: Life and Legend is at the British Museum, London until 22 June, 2014.