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Writer finds some Tolkien points
Bob Blackham can't quite believe his luck.
The 60-year-old Brummie, a former power station engineer, started his writing career quite late in life but has stolen a march on Oxford's scholarly dons by compiling a guide to the Oxford connections of JRR Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Mr Blackham is certainly not the first person to write about the famous fantasy writer — Humphrey Carpenter penned the authorised biography back in the 1970s — but he does appear to be the first to have written a tailor-made Oxford guide for Bilbo Baggins fanatics.
Mr Blackham's The Roots of Tolkien's Middle Earth was published in 2006, and now the History Press has published Tolkien's Oxford in a similar slim, pocket-sized format.
It is packed with black and white pictures that shed light on Tolkien's journey through Oxford, and the photos are accompanied with a simple text that concentrates on the places Tolkien visited, not his fantasy stories.
"There are lots of wordy books about Tolkien and I wanted to compile a picture book because I thought it would be much more evocative to see the places that Tolkien lived and worked in," the father-of-two told The Guide.
"I was born in the River Cole valley in Birmingham and played in many of the same places that Tolkien played in as a child, and that's what led to me researching my first book.
"When I mentioned the idea for the second book, the History Press was very keen and the publishers were surprised that a Tolkien guide for Oxford hadn't already been produced.
"To research the book, I walked the streets to make sure all the names and locations were correct, because a lot of streets in Oxford were renamed in the 1930s.
"The college porters were extremely helpful although quite a few of them seemed very keen to talk about Inspector Morse."
Mr Blackham, who is a member of the Tolkien Society, used a modern research tool to source some of the images for the book — the internet auction site eBay.
"Lots of the photos in the book are taken from postcards I bought on eBay," he explains.
"You can bid for job lots of postcards of places like Oxford, and sometimes I would get 46 for a tenner, or I would end up paying £5 for one card.
"Gradually, I got hold of all the images I wanted. I'm not sure if Tolkien would have been a great fan of eBay — he wasn't too keen on gadgets."
Tolkien's Oxford is packed with interesting maps and a good mix of black and white and colour photos, and charts Tolkien's links with various Oxford colleges, including Exeter, Pembroke, Merton and Lady Margaret Hall.
"I'd like to think that the guide will be enjoyed by people out on the streets of Oxford or back home in their armchairs," says Mr Blackham, "and I really hope it encourages people to visit Oxford."
Tolkien's Oxford by Robert Blackham is published by the History Press, price £12.99.