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Learn the Lore: What happens in the Silmarillion?

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The beloved novels of J. R. R. Tolkien have found homes in the hearts of readers since their publication in the mid-20th century, rising to global renown after the hugely successful film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by Peter Jackson. Most fans are aware that the narratives and settings which appear in these stories are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the magnificent universe that Tolkien spent most of his life creating. However, faced with a disorienting array of appendices, a twelve-volume history of Middle Earth, and an account of the mythos of Tolkien’s universe that is so infamously dense it has been likened to the Bible, it’s understandable that one might not know where to begin when making a better acquaintance with the oeuvre.

A first edition of The Silmarillion published in 1977.

The 12 volume History of Middle-Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien. These volumes are drastically expanded from The Silmarillion and include tales, songs, poems, maps, illustrations, genealogical tables, and even linguistic primers for Tolkien’s languages.

With the release of Amazon’s much-anticipated (and, by some, dreaded) series The Rings of Power due in September 2022, fans are about to be introduced to a host of new heroes, foes, wars, and locales drawn from Tolkien’s extended works (alongside, we understand, some controversially created entirely for the show).

An account of the history of Middle-earth is laid out in The Silmarillion, a work which has a reputation for being convoluted and not exactly what you’d call ‘readable’. While The Rings of Power will not be a straightforward adaptation of this, or any, of Tolkien’s books, a grasp of some of the events unfolded within its pages will definitely provide a bit of a head start. With this in mind, allow us to provide a (very) potted history of the world of Arda.

What is The Silmarillion?

The revised and expanded edition of The Silmarillion (2004), illustrated by Ted Nasmith.

The Silmarillion is essentially Tolkien’s legendarium for the world of Arda (the world of which Middle-earth is a part). It draws from various sources of inspiration including Greek mythology, the Finnish epic the Kalevala, the Bible, and aspects of Celtic mythology. It includes Tolkien’s creation myth and various histories from then until the end of the Third great Age of the world. The Ages are of varying lengths, and are usually bookended by cataclysmic or world-changing events, such as wars or disasters. The Silmarillion covers the Second Age (which we understand is when the Rings of Power will be set) and the Third Age, when the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. Published posthumously, it represents several of Tolkien’s works collected and edited by his son Christopher. While the book is made up of five separate works, it was Tolkien’s wish to one day see them published together. “He’d produced this huge output”, says his grandson Simon, “that was his great work but it had never seen the light of day despite his best efforts to get it published”. Such a project was, however, deemed ‘unpublishable’, and Tolkien died before being able to complete coherent rewrites of each of the stories. For this reason, Christopher’s job of stitching together an organised history from his father’s notes required mammoth amounts of work and, in some cases, invention, where gaps needed to be filled.

On its publication, The Silmarillion was poorly received, some critics complaining of the absence of a single quest to follow or core cast of characters to invest in, while others found that the names of the various beings and places – sometimes only slightly differentiated from one another – were simply too hard to keep track of. Indeed, any attempt to summarise the book does at times descend into a disorienting cacophony of unfamiliar words and concepts. So take a deep breath, and we’ll try to make this as straightforward as possible.

What happens in the Silmarillion?

The first book of the Silmarillion is titled Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur. A fairly short work, it tells of the creation of Eä, the “world that is”. It sets out the central cosmology of Tolkien’s universe and introduces the supreme being and creator Ilúvatar. Ilúvatar creates the Ainur, or ‘Holy Ones’, gods whom he taught to sing a great music, which prefigures the creation of the material universe, Eä, including Arda (the world). Melkor, the most powerful of the Ainur (and the main antagonist of the First Age) disrupts the harmony of the theme with his own loud and brash music, and is chided by Ilúvatar.

One of the themes that Ilúvatar has bidden the Ainur to sing results in the creation of the sentient races of Men and Elves, known as the Children of Ilúvatar. Some of the Ainur wish to enter Eä, becoming the Valar and the lesser Maiar, or the gods of Arda. Seeing the beauty of their creation, Melkor attempts to take it for his own but is cast out. The Valar have by this point taken physical form, and are again assailed my Melkor, who has also become corporeal. This begins the First War of Arda, in which Melkor attempts to destroy the world. The Valar, however, prevail and establish a safe habitation for the Children of Ilúvatar.

Still with us? Let’s continue.

The second book is the Valaquenta: Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar. This section goes into more detail about each of the Valar and the lesser beings, the Maiar. It also describes how Melkor seduced many of the Maiar into his service, including those who would eventually become Sauron and the Balrogs (finally some familiar faces!)

The majority of the Silmarillion is made up of the Quenta Silmarillion: The History of the Silmarils, which consists of over 20 chapters and tells the story of the First Age of Middle-earth. It picks up the history of Arda when the Ainur enter the world, fleshing out more detail about the beginning of the world from the Ainulindalë. The Valar created the land, initially a symmetrical continent lit by two lamps, one in the north and one in the south. These were destroyed by Melkor and, the symmetry of the land having been marred, the continent was split in two: Aman in the far west, where the Valar established their home, Valinor; and Middle-earth in the east. Realising, however, that elves have begun awakening the Valar return and take Melkor prisoner, sentencing him to 9,000 years incarceration to keep them safe. Before this, however, Melkor had managed to win some of the Elves to his side, and from them bred the race of Orcs. The Valor invite the Elves to live with them in Aman and, while some of them accept, others remain in Middle Earth. In Valinor, Yavnna, one of the Valar, creates the Two Trees, which illuminate Aman in place of the two Lamps.

It’s at this point we finally hear about the Silmarils, three jewels crafted by the great Elf gem-smith Fëanor, from the light of the Two Trees, which have immense power. Having been released from his captivity, feigning repentance, Melkor manages to destroy the trees with the help of Ungoliant, a giant spider, and steal the Silmarils, fleeing to Middle-earth. He is pursued by Fëanor, who has sworn to retrieve the Silmarils.

To replace the two trees, the Valar create the sun and the moon, whose light force Melkor to flee underground. At the same time, they reinforce the protections of Valinor, making it impossible to find. When the sun first rises, the race of Men begins to appear; a mortal race, in contrast to the elves who live forever unless they are killed.

In a battle to try to retrieve the Silmarils, Fëanor dies, having first made his sons swear to retrieve the stones. The Elves, previously having split into factions, unite to fight Melkor. During this time the great Elven city of Gondolin is founded, a hidden city with a secret entrance. Meanwhile, Men begin to enter Elven territories. Not all the Elves welcome them, but they form a tenuous alliance.

Hundreds of years pass and the Men and Elves continue to battle Melkor. It is here that the hero Beren (a name you might recognise from his mention in The Lord of the Rings) appears, the sole survivor from one of Melkor’s attacks. The story of Beren and Lúthien is the famous love story of Tolkien’s mythos, and is evoked in reference to the relationship of Arwen and Aragorn. In the court of Thingol, an Elf king, Beren, who is a mortal Man, falls in love with Thingol’s daughter Lúthien. Thingol is displeased and sets Beren an impossible task to win Lúthien’s hand; to find one of the Silmarils. Beren sets out with Finrod (the Elf founder of the city of Gondolin) to steal one of the stones from Melkor’s stronghold of Angband. Beren and Finrod are captured by Sauron (yes, that one!) who was one of the Maia corrupted by Melkor and has become his most trusted lieutenant. Meanwhile, Lúthien has run away from her father’s court to aid Beren. Finrod wrestles with werewolves commanded by Sauron and is killed but Beren is rescued by Lúthien who sings a song to put Melkor to sleep, enabling Beren to get hold of a Silmaril. While trying to escape, his hand is bitten off by a wolf, Silmaril and all. They return to Lúthien’s father, who is sufficiently impressed, even without the Silmaril, to allow them to marry, the first union between a Man and an Elf. Later, Beren finds the werewolf who ate his hand, kills it, and cuts out the Silmaril, but is mortally wounded in the process. He dies in Lúthien’s arms and Lúthien dies of grief. However, Lúthien, in the afterlife, petitions the Lord of the Dead for their cause and is offered the choice for both to be resurrected if she embraces mortality. Lúthien chooses a mortal life with Beren.

Emboldened by Beren and Lúthien’s success, a great force of Elves, Men, and Dwarves attack Melkor, but some of the men have secretly turned against the alliance and fight for Melkor. Many of the great Elven cities fall. The Dwarves, Men, and Elves begin warring amongst themselves over the Silmaril. Beren and Lúthien’s son is killed and the Silmaril is saved by their granddaughter Elwing who flees, later marrying Eärendil, a half-Elf. With the power of the Silmaril, Elwing and Eärendil are able to cross the sea to Valinor, which has been otherwise shielded against ships landing from Middle-earth. They seek help from the Valar to finally defeat Melkor, and he is expelled and cast into the Void, an event which signals the end of the First Age of Middle-earth. Eärendil and Elwing are granted immortality and Eärendil sails into the sky wearing the Silmaril and becomes a star.

The last two Silmarils have been seized by the sons of Fëanor (the original maker, who made his sons swear to get the stones back). However, as they took them by force, the Silmarils burned their hands signalling that they were no longer worthy to receive them. One of the brothers kills himself by leaping into a fiery chasm with the stone, thus destroying it, while the other casts his into the sea and spends the rest of his life wandering the shore.

The children of Eärendil and Elwing are Elrond and Elros. As they have mixed heritage, they are allowed to choose their race; Elrond chooses to become an Elf and Elros a Man. Elros becomes the first king of Númenor, the great island civilisation of men that has been likened to Atlantis. Númenor was raised from the sea by the Valar as a gift to the Men who stood with the Elves against Melkor.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, you’re nearly there! The fourth book of the Silmarillion is Akallabêth, or ‘The Downfallen’. It recounts the rise and fall of Númenor and the Númenorean descendants, the Dúnedain (you may remember Aragorn is referred to as the ‘last of the Dúnedain in The Lord of the Rings – this is why he lives longer than most mortal Men).

After the defeat of Melkor, three loyal houses of men who had aided the elves are granted their own land, as well as wisdom, power, and increased lifespans. Unfortunately, the Second Age sees the rise of Sauron, Melkor’s most loyal servant, who begins his conquest of Middle-earth. Seeing he would not be able to defeat the Númenoreans, Sauron allows himself to be captured, and thus manages to enthrall the king Ar-Pharazôn, turning him and his people against the Elves of Aman in the West, and the Valar. Ar-Pharazôn raises a great force and sails against Aman. Stricken at this betrayal, the Valar and the Elves call on Ilúvatar, the creator, who destroys the Númenorean fleet and submerges Númenor. Only those who remained true to the Valar are allowed to live.

Sauron’s physical form is destroyed but his spirit (as a Maia) returns to Middle-earth. The faithful Númenoreans also sail to Middle-earth, including Elendil, a descendent of Elros, and his sons Isildur and Anárion. They found two great kingdoms of Men, Arnor and Gondor. From Númenor, they brought seeds from a white tree, the descendent of which is the White Tree of Gondor we see in The Lord of the Rings.

Congratulations traveller, you’ve made it to familiar territory with the final book of the Silmarillion: Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This section also covers the Second Age which, we understand, will form the setting for the events of The Rings of Power. In this period, Sauron reappears, building up his power in Mordor, gathering armies of Orcs, Trolls, and other creatures who had served Melkor, and erecting the fortress of Barad-dûr. He wins the allegiance of some of the nations of Men, such as the Easterlings and Haradrim, but wishes to win the Elves to his side for their power. To do this, he disguises himself, calling himself Annatar, the “Lord of Gifts”. Befriending the great Elf smiths, including Celebrimbor (greatest of craftsmen, descended from Fëanor), he teaches them how to make the rings of power. Some amongst them, such as Galadriel, Elrond, and Gil-galad, do not trust him. However, he deceives them all, secretly forging the One Ring, which has the power to control all the others.

Eventually, Sauron’s treachery is revealed, and there is open warfare in Middle-earth. Sauron demands all the rings of power that have been made but the Elves manage to hide the three greatest. The rest, however, are seized and Sauron gives seven to the Dwarves (who, while resistant to Sauron’s control, develop, through their corrupting power, an insatiable lust for gold) and nine to Men, knowing they will be the easiest to corrupt. As we know, these men become the Nazgûl, Sauron’s most deadly and powerful servants. This period culminates in the Last Alliance of Men and Elves led by Gil-galad and Elendil against Sauron’s forces. Isildur cuts the Ring from Sauron’s hand, thus ending the war. The defeat of Sauron brings the Second Age to a close.

The rest, you know. Isildur claims the One Ring but is killed, and the Ring lost for generations. The remainder of the book gives a brief overview of the events leading up to and including The Lord of the Rings, but that, as they say, is another story.

Browse Tolkien books Explore our fantasy shelves

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Duncan McCoshan

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Senior Specialist Duncan McCoshan. Duncan is mainly concerned with Travel, Military, and Jazz (which he calls ‘a stimulating – if slightly unusual – combination’), handling books, maps, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera. Below you will find Duncan’s handpicked selection, showing there are always fascinating, obscure, and exceptional items coming through the door. ‘No two days are quite the same’, he says, ‘Cataloguing at Peter Harrington constantly presents new challenges – there’s never a dull moment!’.

People tend to find their way to the trade in fairly varied ways. What was your journey to rare books, and was it the career you had always aspired to?

As a boy I was an avid reader but came into the book trade as a school leaver; so, no, it wasn’t a career I had always aspired to.

What does a typical day look like for you at Peter Harrington?

A typical day for me starts with reading through the daily catalogue bulletin of things that have been finished by our team of cataloguers. Then often I confer with Glenn Mitchell, one of our Senior Specialists, who I work with, and he directs me towards anything that needs to be prioritised. Then it’s on with the cataloguing! 

You have a reputation amongst your colleagues for being able to track down even the most illegible of ownership inscriptions in books to their source. What do you enjoy most about this kind of detective work?

Well, it’s because it is detective work! It’s very rewarding to be able to trace whose hands a book has been through. Sometimes it will add value monetarily but more often it will add interest for a potential purchaser, perhaps turning up a connection between author and owner that’s a window into the milieu in which the book was born.

Has the role of rare book cataloguer changed over the years, in your experience?

I think things are, perhaps, more rigorous now, and at Peter Harrington we like to go that extra mile for a book, in terms of describing it accurately and finding something that other booksellers may have not noticed. The internet has aided hugely the work of a rare book cataloguer: when I started out in the late 70s one squinted for hours at the miniscule print of the old British Museum Catalogue or had to visit the London Library. There were, of course, bibliographies and standard reference books but being able to confirm provenance or scarcity (or lack of it!) has been transformed.

Are there any recent acquisitions that you are especially excited about? 

We recently acquired a copy of the rare Cranwell edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), Lawrence of Arabia’s “big book” – it is such an extraordinary production and a pleasure to handle. But there are also smaller things, such as an obscure regimental history concerning a Scottish unit in the Boer War, by an officer who served in that conflict.

What subjects and genres do you find most intriguing? 

The subjects and genres that I find most intriguing are military and jazz, which Glenn has developed. I’m a fan of the music and some of the pieces that we handle are museum quality and genuinely exciting. We have a jazz catalogue – our first devoted to the subject – coming out in October 2022.

Outside the world of rare books, you’re a talented cartoonist. How do you split your time between cataloguing and other pursuits?

I have illustrated over 40 children’s books in collaboration with my writing partner but now concentrate on the strip that has been running in Private Eye for, ooh, about 22 years, now – It’s Grim Up North London.

Browse our music shelves Browse Military Books

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Shelf to Table: Collecting rare cookery books

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We have been fortunate enough to handle some exceptional cookbooks and manuscripts over the years – the kind that tend to fly off the shelves as soon as we acquire them. These items are often important for the window they provide on the domestic and gastronomic lives of their compilers and users. A remarkable late 17th–19th-century handwritten cookbook, for examples, was first compiled by Rebecah Child, Marchioness of Worcester and was subsequently passed down to and added to by her daughter and granddaughter. This book represented over a century of medicinal, culinary, and household recipes. It was unusual in being so detailed in its attribution of recipes to specific people, whether they were family members with particularly effective cures for goat, fellow aristocrats, or local women.

Another highlight has been a beautiful first edition of Marie-Antoine Carême’s Le Patissier Royal Parisien (1815), one of the most important culinary works of the 19th century, signed by the “chef of chefs” himself. Carême was arguably the first celebrity chef in Europe and the leading figure of fine French dining of his time. His recipes were characterized by their comprehensive ingredients lists and in-depth instructions, both of which were still quite novel at the time of publication. Another “chef of chefs”, Auguste Escoffier famously modernised and systematised the teachings of his predecessor Carême.

Marie-Antoine Carême’s Le Patissier Royal Parisien (1815)

Auguste Escoffier’s Le guide culinaire (1903)

The culinary world can be home to some eccentric personalities, and we have certainly come across some very eclectic and unusual items. We have in the past stocked a first edition of Abraham Edlin’s 1805 Treatise on the Art of Bread-Making, in which the author passionately describes the practice of bread-making as “a beautiful and interesting branch of experimental philosophy”. Synergetic Stew – Explorations in Dymaxion Dining was compiled by the staff at the Buckminster Fuller Institute. It features slightly more unusual recipes than your average cookery book: “Omni-dimentional, inter-accomadative/comprehensively rememberable cheese tetrascrolls” (filo pastry cheese parcels) or walnut and coffee muffins sprinkled with “tiny tetrahedra” (chocolate chips), to name just two.

Then there are some wonderfully evocative books such as the Alchemist’s Cookbook by Ahmed Yacoubi, a Moroccan artist and storyteller who became a protégé of Francis Bacon and Paul Bowles. The first edition includes 125 recipes “based on the ancient science of Moroccan cuisine”, such as “soup to cure jealousy” and “rainy day greens”.

Synergetic Stew (1982) and Ahmed Yacoubi’s Alchemist’s Cookbook (1972)

First editions of books like Hilda Leyel’s Picnics for Motorists are also charming and entirely of their time, as evident in the epigraph which reads: “This little book was inspired by a picnic near Itchenor, given in the summer of 1935 by the owner of a white Peke to the owner of a white Alsation”.

Cooking instructions circulated long before the concept of a printed “recipe” existed, and the earliest manuals had none of the helpful explanations, indexing, or detailed measurements that we are used to in modern cookbooks. Some of the most in-demand authors are those that made radical modifications to their cookbooks and their kitchens to make the craft more accessible – François Massialot, the first to alphabetize recipes in print; or François Menon, the first to use the term chef de cuisine to describe his position as head of the kitchen. The authors of a new form of food writing – gourmet guides and restaurant reviews – became popular in line with the rise of the modern restaurant and the celebrity chef persona. First editions of works by the two “founding fathers” of this new genre are especially collectable: Grimod de la Reynière’s Almanach des gourmands (1803–12) and Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du gout (1826) are high spots.

The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747) by Hannah Glasse and its successor, The Book of Household Management (1861) by Isabella Beeton, are obvious choices for the early “key works” category: both are undisputed “bibles” of cookery, each the most popular example of its century, and reprinted many times over.

Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747) and Isabella Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (1861)

Collectors of culinary literature often gravitate towards authors who were instrumental in reinventing the genre or specific titles that enjoyed immense popularity on publication.

Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child, Elizabeth David, Buwei Yang Chao are just a few names that spring to mind in this category. As for how their works become “cornerstones” of gastronomic literature – besides the sheer importance they hold in the history of food, people often collect what they know and love. In many cases, we remember watching their cookery shows, reading their columns, and trying (with varying degrees of success) to follow their recipes. These kinds of connections can make owning a rare cookbook special.

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (2000) and Buwei Yang Chao’s How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (1945)

Early printed or original manuscript cookbooks can easily command four- and five-figure prices – the aforementioned Child, Carême, and Glasse are examples of this. Texts recognized as significant historical milestones, like the first cookbook by an African American author (Robert Roberts’s 1827 House Servant’s Directory), are also up there. It’s an accessible genre, though, with plenty of fine first editions and signed copies of modern classics at lower price points.

Prices have changed to reflect the ways in which popular interest in gastronomy has grown and diversified. The most traditionally sought-after titles continue to sell well, especially when found in well-preserved contemporary bindings. We have also observed manuscript material attracting greater attention, because both private and institutional collectors recognize its significance as an important cultural and historical resource. Our collective increasing interest in and focus on non-Western food cultures, plant-based cuisine, and national and regional foodways has led to higher prices for more specialist works. New names are coming to the fore, and new “firsts” are being rediscovered.

The impetus behind seeking out rare books often lies in the connection they give us with the past. In the area of cookery, coming across a cookbook that we sometimes describe as a “kitchen copy” – an example which bears signs of being used while cooking, or with annotations and other evidence of contemporary ownership – is particularly special. This tangible link that can often be found with the people who held, owned, and used a book in times gone by makes collecting cookery a rewarding and popular pursuit.

Explore our Cookery & Wine shelves

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Hemingway’s World

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From the plains of the Serengeti to the bull rings of Valencia, Hemingway’s world was famously one of masculine pursuit. An explorer both on and off the page, his life can be traced through the places he made himself at home and the rendering of these settings into characteristically stripped-back prose. So associated has Hemingway become with certain locales that a whole tourist industry has sprung up to cater to those looking to inject a little of the Heming-way into their travel plans.

Inextricably linked with the masculinising agenda of his image, each location associated with Hemingway adds another layer to his self-created legend: the ferocious big game hunter, the philosophical marlin fisherman, the Left-Bank hedonist, the war correspondent and Republican sympathiser, the bullfighting aficionado, and the benevolent patriarch nursing a daiquiri in the local bar. To mark his birthday this year, we explore the territories and pursuits that defined this complicated literary persona.

Growing up the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Hemingway came to his love of hunting, shooting, and fishing through summers spent at the family’s summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan. In school, Hemingway wrote for the school paper and, upon graduating, chose a writing position with the Kansas City Star over higher education, despite having excelled academically. His tenure there, however, was to be short, and on American’s entry into World War I in 1917 he tried to enlist. His urge to participate in the war effort was undampened by a rejection for active service due to poor eyesight, and he signed up wit the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. With his first posting to Italy, at the age of 19, Hemingway’s travels began.

Italy

While stationed in the town of Schio, Hemingway was badly injured during the course of his duties delivering supplies to soldiers on the front line. He was later awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valour by the Italian government. It was during his recovery at a hospital that he met and fell in love with one of the nurses, Agnes von Kurowsky. His experiences at the hospital and this failed romance inspired his novel, A Farewell to Arms. 

Hemingway would return to Italy throughout his life, returning to tour the country with Ezra Pound and spending time in Venice.

Paris

Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

As a young man, Hemingway took a job as European correspondent with the Toronto Daily Star. Back in the US, Hemingway had come to know the writer Sherwood Anderson, who had provided him with a letter of introduction to paragon of Left-Bank literary society, Gertrude Stein. During his eight years in Paris, Hemingway would rub shoulders with the core figures of the ‘Lost Generation’ cohort of writers and artists situated there, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Shakespeare & Co. bookshop owner Sylvia Beach.

As well as his posthumously published memoir of his Parisian years, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway also worked on several other works during this creatively fruitful period, including his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, and one of his most famous works, The Sun Also Rises.

Africa

Ernest Hemingway poses with kudu and sable skulls while on safari in Africa, 1934. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

“All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” – Ernest Hemingway

During a three month safari in 1933, Hemingway’s experiences hunting on the plains of the Serengeti helped cement his reputation as a fearless adventurer, and was the basis for his books The Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Returning to Africa some twenty years later, as a seasoned hunter and on his fourth marriage, Hemingway travelled through the Belgian Congo, Rwanda, and Kenya. It was during this trip that two successive plane crashes led many news outlets to run his obituary. This apparent cheating of death, and the many hunting trophies from his time in Africa which adorned the walls of his homes, solidified Hemingway’s image as a toughened adventurer and sportsman.

Spain

Ernest Hemingway and Robert McAlmon (left) in Ronda, Spain. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Hemingway travelled to Spain a year after the outbreak of the Civil War to cover the conflict for the American Newspaper Alliance. His experiences formed the basis for For Whom the Bell Tolls as well as his one and only full-length play, The Fifth Column. He also developed a great enthusiasm for the bullfights, praising the matadors for their bravery, and went on to write Death in the Afternoon. His last trip to the country in 1959, to watch the contests between two famous matadors, led to the Life magazine story The Dangerous Summer.

Cuba & Key West

Hemingway lived on Key West in Florida for several years, succumbing to its rustic charm. There, he would work on some of his most influential works, including A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. In 1940, he purchased a home outside Havana, where he would live for the next 20 years, fishing and writing. 

It was during his time in Florida that he acquired his beloved 38-foot boat Pilar. His experiences fishing off the coast of Florida and Cuba would inspire his books Islands in the Stream and, famously, The Old Man and the Sea, for which he would win both a Pulitzer and Nobel prize.

Explore all Hemingway books

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Harry Potter & the Fabled First Editions

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Our resident wizarding expert, Dr Philip W. Errington, shares his insights into the publishing phenomenon that is Harry Potter in this talk which took place in June 2022.

With over two decades of experience, Phil knows how to spot a true first edition, and offers his advice on how to build an outstanding Harry Potter collection. He’s also accumulated a tale or two in his time as J. K. Rowling’s bibliographer, and has even worked with the author on occasions.

We were also delighted to welcome Barry Cunningham, the first editor of Harry Potter who, in conversation with Phil, reveals a few stories about the original appearance of the book twenty-five years ago.

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Fleming on Film – The Schøyen Collection with Jon Gilbert

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The James Bond material described herein was previously part of the important collection of Dr Martin Schøyen (b.1940), whose renowned archive of world heritage manuscripts covers a wide variety of subjects, eras, and civilisations. Much of the Schøyen Bond material was sourced by the award-winning Ian Fleming bibliographer, Jon Gilbert, and is now being offered through Peter Harrington in partnership with Adrian Harrington Rare Books.

BROWSE JAMES BOND BOOKS

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In Conversation: Seven Centuries of Climate Change in Print

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

On 7th June 2022, we held a unique panel event with rare book experts and special guests at our Mayfair bookshop, exploring the history of climate change and environmentalism. Inspired by One Hundred Seconds to Midnight, a landmark collection of books, manuscripts, and ephemera curated by Peter Harrington, the discussion will consider the past, present, and future of the climate crisis as illustrated through science, literature, and art.

Our panel was made up of Peter Harrington specialists Emma Walshe and Adam Douglas, and guests Dan Bradbury, Director of Brand and Communications at the World Land Trust, and New Scientist environmental reporter Fred Pearce.

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James Bond Scripts: The Films that Never Were

Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog -

James Bond first sauntered onto the big screen in 1962, his first outing being Dr. No. Since then, the Bond franchise has spawned 25 ‘official’ films, grossed $7bn dollars, and become one of the biggest cultural forces in the modern age. Today, we take you behind the scenes, as we discuss the film scripts that never came to fruition.  

A significant part of the Schøyen collection, these film scripts are at the centre of an extensive set of screenplays, production notes, manuscripts, and more, which, together, form a unique archive documenting the celebrated James Bond film franchise. Indeed, the series’ protagonist is a source of fascination for millions worldwide. There are books dedicated to Bond’s psychology, blogs devoted to his fashion sense, forums that detail his life’s chronology, and YouTube videos that delve into his car collection. Amidst much fanfare, it is easy to overlook the fact that the stories and characters in the Bond series are the product of thousands of hours of work. Our much-anticipated collection provides an insight into this backdrop of craftsmanship. Indeed, Bond films are vivid and engrossing because of the toil of casting directors, cinematographers, musicians, and countless other contributors. Perhaps the most critical of all the contributions, though, comes from screenwriters. For decades, they have been tasked with transforming the brilliant novels of Ian Fleming into a different form.  

Along the way, though, some of these writers have never seen their words performed by Hollywood stars, nor their imaginations brought to life on cinema screens. 

  1. Moonraker (1956) 

The first attempt at a Bond feature film screenplay came in 1956, with Ian Fleming himself writing a 150-page treatment for a film that would be entitled Moonraker. This version of Moonraker preceded the extravagant Roger Moore film by 23 years and was to be a more serious Cold War thriller. In this treatment, Bond is a practiced killer, M is a pleasant City gentleman and Miss Moneypenny is nowhere to be seen. The script represents one of the great ‘ifs’ of the Bond Series. 

  1. James Bond of the Secret Service (1958-60) 

This treatment has an important significance in the history of the Bond franchise. Fleming developed the script with screenwriter Jack Whittingham and the film producer Kevin McClory. The author subsequently adapted the abandoned screenplay into the novel Thunderball without crediting his 1956 collaborators. McClory and Whittingham took Fleming to court in what would be one of the most sensational media battles of the 1960s. The outcome of the trial saw McClory granted certain screen rights to Thunderball, which enabled him to work with Sean Connery on the successful non-EON Bond film, Never Say Never Again (1983). The correspondence between writers and potential collaborators, along with court documents, add immensely to the intrigue of this item.  

  1. Warhead (1976-78)  

A decade on, Kevin McClory collaborated with well-known spy-writer Len Deighton on another attempt to bring Bond to life. The film would have seen Sean Connery in the lead role, battling robotic sharks, skiing on the Hudson River, and foiling helicopter attacks on the Statue of Liberty. Bond’s famous nemesis SPECTRE would also take centre stage, planting nuclear weapons in the sewer system below Manhattan’s Wall Street. The duo spent months writing in Sean Connery’s Spanish villa, who would also be welcomed onto the project as co-writer. A complete script was finished in 1978 and went on to impress famous Talent Scout Irving Lazar. Despite the praise, legal obstacles continued to cast a long shadow. By 1980, Sean Connery had pulled out of the project, and the script was permanently shelved.

By Winifred Hewitt-Wright 

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The collection of Dr Martin Schøyen (b.1940) is a renowned archive of world heritage manuscripts, and covers a wide variety of subjects, eras and civilizations. Much of the Schøyen Bond material was sourced by the award-winning Ian Fleming bibliographer Jon Gilbert, and is now being offered through Peter Harrington, London, in partnership with Adrian Harrington Rare Books of Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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