As both of you probably know, I edit Mallorn, the Journal of the Tolkien Society. I also support Norwich City FC. Being short of an envoi for the issue of Mallorn I’m currently putting together (Oh Joy! When I finish, I can shout ‘Elvish Has Left The Building!) I used my editorial prerogative to indulge two of my passions together, so what follows is a slightly edited preview of what members of the Tolkien Society will see flopping onto their circular doormats sometime this autumn.
Tolkien tells us in the Prologue to The Lord Of The Rings that hobbits “dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green.” Nowhere does Tolkien give any reason for the hobbits’ colour preferences. Perhaps they were dictated by nothing more than sunshine and springtime. To me, however, it’s screamingly obvious – Tolkien supported the Canaries!
But hold – I know of no connection between Tolkien and Nelson’s Fine City. The published Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien do not mention it, though page 45 of Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond’s authoritative J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology has him visiting Norwich in September, 1913, though without comment – and, it seems, never again.
Last half of September 1913. Tolkien visits Warwick (from (?17 September), Birmingham, and Norwich.
Could his visit to Norwich – of unrecorded length or purpose – have coincided with a home match, and the sight of players or assembled supporters in yellow and green, perhaps enjoying a pint or two of ale before or after a game? It’s possible – Norwich City adopted a version of its current green-and-yellow livery as long ago as 1907. However, being the scholar that I am, I must own that Tolkien would have had more cause to follow football teams in many other places before settling on Norwich. What of the colours of Oxford, where he spent almost all his adult life? Or Birmingham, where he grew up? And what of Warwick, scene of early romance and model for Elven Kortirion in the earliest of the Lost Tales, eventually to evolve into the Silmarillion?
So, let’s just check. Oxford United didn’t exist until 1960. Before that it was Headington United, and it played in orange and blue. Warwick doesn’t have a football team. Birmingham City started life as Small Heath Alliance in 1875, becoming Birmingham FC in 1905 – their strip has almost invariably been blue. What of other West Midlands sides? Aston Villa, founded by Methodists from Handsworth (Tolkien was a Catholic, from King’s Heath), plays in claret and blue. Coventry City played in black and red, long ago, but its players now sport sky blue. West Bromwich Albion has played in navy blue and white stripes for most of its history, though their away strip has featured green and yellow stripes … but only since the late 1960s. The odds shorten on a formative encounter between Tolkien and Norwich City.
But Tolkien was no soccer fanatic – he was more into rugby football, and played fiercely at school. The colours of Tolkien’s Alma Mater, King Edward’s, are currently two shades of blue, and the only slightly more varied palette on the school website shows no signs of yellow or green. Oxford University RFC appears to play in black. What of Tolkien’s regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers, with whom he served on the Western Front? No joy there, either – the badge is predominantly the rose of Lancaster, which is red.
The noble name of Norwich, by elimination, emerges from nebulosity and into the realm of the definite maybe. Let’s look again at the annal above. Though Scull and Hammond are as comprehensive as they can be, the note is exiguous in the extreme, giving almost no detail about a whole fortnight of Tolkien’s life. Perhaps Tolkien had an epiphany in Norwich that somehow composted in his subconscious, emerging much later in the yellow-and-green garb of hobbits? Perhaps, one day, a letter will emerge from some dusty cellar or attic, describing (perhaps to one of his old school friends, such as R. Q. Gilson, or Christopher Wiseman) the noble field of battle; the army of doughty yellow-and-green conquering some supposedly invincible foe, against all odds; an episode that coalesced into the ‘Scouring of the Shire’ episode in The Lord of the Rings, or, perhaps, even, the entire as -yet-unengendered saga. One can but hope.