Despite Tolkien’s decidedly “Northern” literary preoccupation, he has long been assumed, as a medievalist and a Catholic, to have at least a passing interest in and knowledge of Dante’s Divine Comedy, though all that has been confirmed in print so far is his membership in the Oxford Dante Society (20 February 1945 to 15 February 1955), and the fact that he read a paper to the Society on November 11, 1947. A pencil manuscript of Tolkien’s paper, however, entitled “A Neck Verse,” survives in the Tolkien Archives at the Bodleian Library, and it reveals that he read it with attention, in Italian, and brought his “Northern” scholarship to bear on the “Southern” genius of Dante. A synopsis of the paper, with a few quotations, reveals a self-dramatized persona of Tolkien as what he calls a “Northren Man,” a surprising reference to the 1922 novel Babbitt, which Tolkien elsewhere cited as influencing The Hobbit, and a Germanic-Romance history of two words from Dante, bruno and lusinghe.

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