Tolkien at the Bodleian Library, Oxford | Beyond Roehampton

As an international student in London, I completely understand the struggle of living on a student budget and still finding ways to do the things you love. One of my favourite student-friendly adventures was going to the Bodleian Library exhibit on JRR Tolkien in Oxford at the end of October 2018. I’m a huge Tolkien fan and love The Lord of the Rings, so when I heard about the free exhibition, I knew I had to go!

I booked my ticket online to make sure that my spot was reserved. The event was free, but I didn’t want to chance missing out, so I paid a £1 booking fee to save my time-slot. Then all I had to do was print out my ticket and show up!

When the day finally came, I woke up super early and packed my bags for a day out in Oxford. Here’s a good student hack for saving on long trips: I bought some snack bars and sandwich food beforehand so that I had snacks for my trip. I also took my re-usable water bottle with me so that I could fill it up without having to buy water. (Many coffee shops and some restaurants will fill your bottle if you ask). I do this for most trips, and it has definitely saved me from spending too much on food that I could’ve packed myself.

Once I was on the bus, I relaxed and listened to my favourite songs from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack to get into the mood for the day. It was a beautiful morning journey and the sky was light grey. A soft drizzle coated everything, making the world sparkle. I got lost in my music until I felt the bus lurch to a stop and realised that I had arrived.

Oxford in the morning
Oxford in the morning

I arrived much earlier than my time-slot to the exhibition, but I wanted to get the feel of Oxford and explore on my own for a bit, so I walked to the Bodleian Library to scope out the terrain. On the way there, I took a back alley route that twisted and turned though old stone walls with colorful flowers hanging over the top of them. It was a lovely walk and it made me even more excited to explore before the exhibition – and it was totally free!

Backstreets of Oxford
Backstreets of Oxford

Once I got to the Bodleian Library, I found my way to the entrance and to my surprise, I saw a massive queue stretching all the way down the front of the library and winding down the side of the building. I started to panic and hoped I would still get in with my ticket. I bolted to the end of the line and asked the people there if they were here for the Tolkien exhibition and what time slot their tickets were for. ‘Time-slot? No, we’re waiting in line to get a ticket!’ they said. I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding in. The exhibit wasn’t open, the queue was just for people who hadn’t booked their ticket in advance!

I was so glad that I’d gotten my ticket online earlier. Relieved, I decided to go ahead and explore, although seeing that line made me speed up my plans. Here’s another student tip for travelling: arrive early to important events, like my exhibition or a play, especially if you rely on public transport to get there! Nothing feels worse than missing out on something you wanted to see only to be turned away because you were late, especially if you paid for it.

Oxford in the rain
Rainy, beautiful Oxford

Something I really wanted to do while I was in Oxford was to visit Tolkien’s grave. It might sound kind of morbid, but I wanted to pay my respects to my favourite author. Tolkien is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, which is easily accessible by bus from the city.

I arrived at the cemetery and wandered around until I saw little signs that read ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ with arrows pointing in the right direction, and I followed them to Tolkien’s grave. It was covered in flowers, notes, coins and other gifts left by his many fans. It made me happy to see that so many other people respected his work as well. I took a moment to place my flowers with the other gifts and then I left the cemetery. I was so glad that I visited and was able to leave a gift (the flowers were only £3 at a flower shop in Oxford’s market).

The grave of Tolkien and his wife
Tolkien’s grave – he’s buried with his wife, Edith.

I arrived back at the library an hour and a half before my ticket time-slot, but a queue had already started at the entrance of the exhibition so I jumped in line. I stood there for about 45 minutes before I reached the front and by that point, the line reached all the way back to the roped-off entrance! Finally, the attendant scanned my ticket and I got to go inside.

It was so worth it! The exhibition was stunning. There were manuscripts Tolkien wrote and edited, letters he sent to his wife, letters his friends sent to him, drawings he made for his world of Middle Earth, items from his house, pictures of him throughout his life and his writings in his many invented languages. There was also a 3D map of Middle Earth and sound recordings of Tolkien speaking Elvish. I was honestly shocked that it was a free event because it was such a great collection!

I didn’t want to leave and I made sure to look at everything before I finally had to go. I left the exhibit wishing that I could see it again and again and again. I was so grateful that I got to see it before it closed.

The entrance to the exhibit.
The entrance to the exhibit. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside.

By this time, I’d worked up quite an appetite. I’d packed enough food for lunch and for snacks, but on this trip I knew that I wanted to eat at The Eagle and Child, one of Tolkien’s favourite hangouts when he lived in Oxford. I’d saved up to eat supper there and I was glad I did! I ordered a delicious meal of fish and chips and it was just what I needed after a long day of walking in the cold wind and rainy weather. Having hot food in a cosy pub and listening to the wind and rain on the roof was the perfect dining experience.

The Eagle and Child
The Eagle and Child pub

Here’s my second tip: saving and budgeting as a student can be stressful, so know that it’s okay to put some money aside to treat yourself to something you love once in a while. I’d been dying to eat at this pub, even though it cost more than if I’d packed my own supper, and now I’ve got a great memory of eating at the same pub Tolkien once ate at. For me, that’s priceless!

Fish 'n' chips at the Eagle and Child
My meal at the Eagle and Child pub – fresh, hot fish and chips on a cold rainy day! Mmmm!

After my meal, I put on my jacket and left the pub, closing the door softly behind me. I glanced up at the sky before heading over to my bus stop and then stopped in my tracks. A brilliant rainbow was sitting there, the first I’d seen since coming to the UK! I snapped a picture and smiled before going on my way.

As I settled back into my seat for the bus ride home, I couldn’t think of any better way to end such an excellent day.

A rainbow over Oxford – what does it mean?
Rainbow in the sky

My trip to Oxford was amazing and I had a great time learning about JRR Tolkien. As a student, I loved that I could do most of it for free, like visiting the exhibition and visiting his grave. I guess I did have to pay for my bus ticket to go to Oxford and to buy supper at the Eagle and Child. However, those were both planned costs that I saved up for and knew that they would pay off in memories.

From this experience, I realised that I could go to similar events right here in London. The Tolkien Exhibition at the Bodleian in now closed, but the British Library has a tonne of free exhibits coming up this month, and you can take a look at those here.

If you’re a Tolkien fan like me, there’s also a Tolkien-themed event coming up in London: an extended edition marathon this December at the Prince Charles Cinema. You do have to pay to get in, but it’s a reasonable £20 for three movies and you can bring your own food and drink.

If you truly love something, you don’t lose anything by looking for events and activities that are related to your interests and trying to attend them. Even if you live on a student budget, it’s possible to do the things you love (and make some great memories along the way!) if you do your research and save up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start budgeting for the Tolkien 2019 convention!

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