Tom Shippey

Thomas Alan Shippey (born 9 September 1943)[1] is a British scholar and retired professor of Middle and Old English literature, as well as medievalism and modern fantasy and science fiction. In particular he is widely considered one of the world's leading academic scholars on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien about whom he has written several books and many scholarly papers.

Tom Shippey
Tom Shippey by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Shippey in 2015.
Thomas Alan Shippey

(1943-09-09) 9 September 1943 (age 77)
OccupationAcademic, writer
Known forTolkien scholarship



Shippey was born in 1943 in Calcutta, British India, where he also spent the first years of his life.[1][2] He was sent to a boarding school in Scotland, and studied at King Edward's School in Birmingham from 1954 to 1960.[3]

When he was 14 years old, he was lent The Hobbit.[4] Like Tolkien, Shippey became fond of Old English, Old Norse, German and Latin, and of playing rugby.[2]

Academic careerEdit

After Shippey's graduation in the early 1960s he did not immediately start an academic career since the British economy of the time did not offer many jobs in academia. Only in the mid-1960s did he enroll at the University of Cambridge from where he graduated with an M.A. in 1968.[4][5] He was awarded a PhD from Cambridge University in 1970.[5]

Shippey became a junior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, and then a Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, where he taught Old and Middle English.[3] In 1979, he was elected to the Chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds, a post once held by Tolkien.[6]

In 1996, after 14 years at Leeds, Shippey was appointed to the Walter J. Ong Chair of Humanities at Saint Louis University's College of Arts and Sciences, where he did teaching, research and publishing. He retired from there in 2008, and now lives in Dorset.[5]


Under the pseudonym of "Tom Allen" he has written two stories that were published in anthologies edited by Peter Weston. The first published was the fantasy story "King, Dragon" in Andromeda 2 in 1977; the second was the science fiction novelette "Not Absolute" in Andromeda 3 in 1978.[7]

Under the pseudonym of John Holm, he is also the co-author, with Harry Harrison, of The Hammer and the Cross trilogy of alternate history novels.[1]

In addition to writing books of his own, he has edited both The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, and The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories and reviews science fiction for the Wall Street Journal.[8] In 2009, he wrote a scholarly 21-page introduction to Flights of Eagles, a collection of James Blish works.[9]

Tolkien scholarshipEdit

In late 1969 or early 1970, Shippey wrote his first academic work on Tolkien. He then delivered a speech at a Tolkien day organised by a student association. This lecture, "Tolkien as philologist" became also influential for Shippey's view of Tolkien. Joy Hill, Tolkien's private secretary, was in the audience and afterwards she asked him for the script, for Tolkien to read. On 13 April 1970, Shippey received a seemingly formal letter from Tolkien.[3]

The two, Shippey and Tolkien, first met in 1972. Shippey was invited for dinner by Norman Davis who had succeeded Tolkien at the Merton Chair of English Language. When he became a Fellow of St. John's College, Shippey taught Old and Middle English using Tolkien's syllabus.[3]

Shippey's first printed essay, "Creation from Philology in The Lord of the Rings", expanded on his 1970 lecture. In 1979, he was elected into a former position of Tolkien's, the Chair of English Language and Medieval English Literature at Leeds University. His first book, The Road to Middle-earth, was published in 1982. At this time, Shippey shifted from regarding Tolkien as a philologist to a "traumatised author" as he called it. This would include writers affected by war like Vonnegut and Golding.[3] An enlarged third edition was published in 2005; in its preface he states that he assumed that the 1982 book would be his last word on the subject.[10]

Shippey appeared in several documentaries about Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, for which he assisted the dialect coaches.[4] He summarized his experiences with the film project as follows:

"The funny thing about interviews is you never know which bits they're going to pick. It always feels as if they sit you down, shine bright lights in your eyes, and ask you questions until you say something really silly, and that's the bit they choose. At least they didn't waterboard me. But it was good fun, and I'd cheerfully do it again."[11]

As an acknowledged expert on Tolkien, Shippey serves on the editorial board of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review.[8]

Shippey's education and academic career have crossed paths in many ways with those of Tolkien: like Tolkien, he attended King Edward's School in Birmingham and both taught Old English at Oxford University.[12]



  • Old English Verse (London: Hutchinson, 1972)
  • Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1976; 2nd ed., 1977)
  • Beowulf. Arnold's Studies in English Literature series (London, 1978).
  • The Road to Middle-earth (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), 2nd ed. (London: Harper Collins, 1993), also Revised and Expanded edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
  • Fictional Space: Essays on Contemporary Science Fiction, Editor (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991, ISBN 0-631-17129-0).
  • The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories, Editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-214204-6).
  • The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories, Editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 ISBN 0-19-214216-X).
  • Beowulf: The Critical Heritage, Editor, with Andreas Haarder (New York: Routledge, 1998)
  • Medievalism in the Modern World: Essays in Honour of Leslie Workman, Editor, with Richard Utz (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (London: Harper Collins, 2000; Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2001)
  • The Shadow-Walkers: Jacob Grimm's Mythology of the Monstrous, Editor (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005)
  • Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien (Zurich and Berne: Walking Tree Publishers, Cormarë Series 11, 2007, ISBN 978-3-905703-05-4)
  • Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English & American Literature, Essayist (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2007) (Illustrated by Barry Moser)
  • Old English Philology: Studies in Honour of R.D. Fulk, Editor, with Leonard Neidorf and Rafael J. Pascual (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2016)
  • Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press, 2016)
  • Laughing Shall I Die: Lives and Deaths of the Great Vikings (Reaktion Books, 2018, ISBN 978-1-780239-09-5)

Edited volumesEdit




  1. ^ a b c "Shippey, Tom". SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 3rd ed. (online, 2011–present). Entry by John Clute, 12 August 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
    Shippey co-wrote the entries on Magic and History in SF.
  2. ^ a b Hanley, Paul (8 February 2008). "Let us introduce you to ... Thomas Shippey, PhD". The University News.
  3. ^ a b c d e Tom Shippey (2003). "Preface to the Third Edition". The Road to Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  4. ^ a b c White, Claire E. "Talking Tolkien With Thomas Shippey".
  5. ^ a b c "T.A. Shippey, PhD". Saint Louis University College of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  6. ^ Hickes, Martin (10 September 2010). "JRR Tolkien and his overlooked connections with Leeds". The Guardian.
  7. ^ William G. Contento, Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections
  8. ^ a b Shippey's WSJ reviews
  9. ^ Blish, James (2009). Flights of Eagles (1st ed.). NESFA Press. ISBN 978-1-886778-86-3.
  10. ^ Preface to the Third Edition. HarperCollins, 2005.
  11. ^ "Transcript of chat session with Pr. Tom Shippey during The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun Online Release Party (09.05.09) – comments (1)". Tolkien Library. Pieter Collier.
  12. ^ Shippey, Tom (2000). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-261-10401-2.
  13. ^ Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inkling Studies 1984
  14. ^ Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inkling Studies 2001
  15. ^ World Fantasy Awards. Special Award, Professional Winner 2001
  16. ^ a b Awards

External linksEdit