Friday, June 9, 2023

"Doc" Weir Revisited

In a post from 2021 on this blog, I wrote:

Doc Weir* (1906-1961) had self-published as a booklet one of the first internal studies of Tolkien’s invented world, A Study of the Hithlain of the Wood-Elves of Lórien (1957), the year before he joined science fiction fandom.

I must revise this statement, as I have finally seen the item referred to. It is catalogued in library databases as though it is an item written and published by the author in 1957. Thus it seemed to be the first booklet of Middle-earth studies--that is, a study of some interior aspect of Tolkien's invented world (or at least "fictional" nonfiction, set within the world of Middle-earth). But this is incorrect. 

The library catalog refers to it as a typescript copy, and it is held in the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the University of California, Riverside. And that is what it is: a typescript of eight pages with a titled cover page. The cover page notes that the quotations from The Lord of the Rings come from a 1957 printing of the book.  Weir's address is also given on the page, below the note on the text that was used.  It reads: "Primrose Cottage, Westonbirt Village, nr. Tetbury, Glos. England."

From I Palantir, August 1960
Seeing this in context, it is clearly a submission manuscript, not in any sense a booklet or a publication. The essay appeared in the fanzine I Palantir, issue no. 1 (August 1960). I Palantir was founded by, and its first two issues edited by, Ted Johnstone and published by Bruce Pelz, both Los Angeles fans; the next two (and final) issues were both edited and published by Pelz. Pelz (1936-2002), was a famous Los Angeles fan, whose very large collection of fanzines is now part of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the University of California, Riverside.  It seems that the Weir typescript is the original submission copy to the fanzine.

And it likely dates to 1960, a submission by a fan in England to a forthcoming fanzine in Los Angeles. The date of 1957 for the printings used of The Lord of the Rings thus has no exact correlation to the date of the essay. 

So that leaves open the question of what was the first booklet published about Tolkien? My current guess: Astra's Tower, special leaflet no. 5 (May 1961), written and published by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a 26 page fanzine which includes a Preface (p. 2) by Bradley and her essay "Of Men, Halflings and Hero Worship" (pp. 3-25). And what was the first booklet of Middle-earth studies?  Marion Zimmer Bradley's fan fiction "The Jewel of Arwen" came out in I Palantir issue no. 2 (August 1961), but did not appear on its own as a booklet until 1974. Were there other items in between?

* Actually Arthur R. Weir, known familiarly as "Doc" because of his advanced degree in chemistry.


  1. Thanks for researching and publishing this piece, Doug. I have a special interest in early Tolkien and Inklings fandom, of which I wasn't a part, and have a nagging sense that information that formerly would have been easy for people in the know to record is being lost with the passing months.

    Dale Nelson

  2. Hi! I found your website online while searching for someone who could understand my difficulty. . . thank you in advance, just for understanding!!!!!!!!!!

    I've been rereading The Hobbit the last week and was arrested suddenly by a sentence I'd never noticed. At the beginning of Chapter 6, Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire, the text notes that Bilbo had " had lost hood, cloak, food, pony, his buttons and his friends."

    And then in Chapter 1 of Lord of the Rings, there is that tearing-up memorable moment where Bilbo takes out his old cloak and hood. "They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him." - the exact description of the cloak Dwalin lends Bilbo! And I don't think there is mention of Bilbo being given another cloak. . . is there?????

    PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (none of my friends share my love of Tolkien - I am stuck!!!!!!)

    Thank you,
    Shuli Pielet
    Jerusalem, Israel

    1. There is no mention of Bilbo being given another cloak, but he had a cloak later in the same chapter you cite (Ch. 6 Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire): "Still Dori did not let Bilbo down. He waited till he had clambered off his shoulders into the branches, and then he jumped for the branches himself. Only just in time! A wolf snapped at his cloak as he swung up"

      Presumably another of the dwarves supplied Bilbo with another cloak.


    2. Gee, thank you for answering!
      I doubt it, (would it have been dark green for starters) but ah well, who says I have to reconcile everything in Tolkien? I was just always very moved by the description of Bilbo packing up his hood and cloak. I'll just forget (as Tolkien probably did) that Bilbo lost it :) :) :) :) :) Thank you again!

    3. Ahhhhh - and don't forget that all the dwarves wore different coloured hoods! (except for Fili and Kili who matched :) :) :) :) )

  3. Dear Doug,
    Thank you for this! If I may comment on one aspect though, it's unclear to me what you refer to as being a "booklet" precisely (I fail to see why Astra's Tower would be one, but not I Palantir for ex?). Also, I wouldn't classify "The Jewel of Arwen" as Middle-earth studies as, as you write it, it's a fan fiction, I find the phrase misleading. I'd be happy to exchange with you on early Tolkien fandom if you wish (my PhD subject). All the best, Laura

  4. Hi Laura:
    I confess the original distinction is a bit nebulous in a couple of ways. I included fan fiction under the Middle-earth Studies heading (Weir's Hithlain piece is really fan fiction, though it appears to be a kind of critical article), and by booklet I meant a single-author publication. Thus with I Palatir being multi-authored, I didn't count it. Any such categorizing lines drawn around things are to some sense arbitrary. Thanks for writing. Doug