Controversial Crowdfunding Campaign Hopes to Turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s House Into a Center for Creativity
The Tolkien Society has raised concerns about Project Northmoor, which is trying to raise $6 million by next March
The house where esteemed fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien created Middle-earth, led Frodo Baggins to the fires of Mount Doom and mythologized the One Ring to rule them all is up for sale. And as Vivian Marino reports for the New York Times, a newly launched crowdfunding campaign hopes to purchase the property, where Tolkien lived between 1930 and 1947, and convert it into a center devoted to the British writer.
Named after the house’s address of 20 Northmoor Road, Project Northmoor is now working to raise $6 million by March 15, 2021. Per a press release, $5.3 million will go toward purchasing the Oxford home—in which Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and most of The Lord of the Rings trilogy—while the remainder will be used to complete renovations, fund initial business costs and develop literary programs.
The team behind Project Northmoor plans to transform the property into a literary center that will host creative workshops, promote Tolkien’s writings, and offer a hub for writers and artists to come together. Crucially, the space will not serve as a public museum, but rather a “center for new creativity,” according to an FAQ. Entry will be by appointment only.
“The worldwide Tolkien fan base is enormous, but there is no center for Tolkien anywhere in the world,” Julia Golding, the British novelist who is organizing the campaign, tells the Times. “There are centers for Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, and, arguably, Tolkien is just as influential as they are.”
Per the property’s public listing—which was subsequently withdrawn to give the campaign time to fundraise—the roughly 4,000-square-foot home is “situated on a generous plot within a leafy Central North Oxford suburb.” Built in 1924 for Oxford bookseller Basil Blackwell, the detached, two-story house boasts six bedrooms, a reception hall and a drawing room that opens onto the garden. Many of the home’s original features—including hardwood floors, a bell system and a 16-by-11-foot garage—remain intact, reports the Times.
The house’s current owners purchased it for around $3 million in 2004. That same year, the property was labeled a Grade II building, meaning that it has architectural or historic significance that warrants additional preservation efforts.
A number of celebrities with links to Tolkien have partnered with Project Northmoor to promote the campaign. Supporters include cast members from the Lord of the Rings film franchise, such as Ian McKellen (Gandalf), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy), as well as singer Annie Lennox, who wrote and performed an Oscar-winning song for The Return of the King, and actor Derek Jacobi, who appeared as a mentor figure to Nicholas Hoult’s young Tolkien in the 2019 biopic of the same name.
“We cannot achieve this without the support of the worldwide community of Tolkien fans, our ‘Fellowship of Funders,’” McKellen said in a promotional video posted on Twitter last week.
Despite its seemingly admirable aims, the project has come under intense scrutiny. As Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, some Tolkien fans questioned the organization’s declaration that money would not be returned to sponsors if the campaign falls through. (The site’s FAQ has since been amended to note that donations made via PayPal may be refunded upon request, albeit with several caveats.)
Others wondered how much the center will focus on Tolkien’s Christian faith. According to the Guardian, Project Northmoor’s three trustees are all active or retired directors of Christian organization, and its public relations firm is “a longtime leader in the promotion of faith-based campaigns.”
In arguably the most significant setback to the campaign, the Tolkien Society—an educational charity and literary association dedicated to studying the author’s life and works—has publicly criticized the project, voicing concerns that Project Northmoor’s plan lacks detail and pointing out that no “prominent members of the Tolkien community” are advising the effort. In a statement, the society notes that the center wouldn’t be open to the public, nor would its primary goal be fostering education about Tolkien.
Fans have also accused the project of misleading advertising, particularly in its claim that “no center devoted to Tolkien studies [exists] anywhere in the world.” Institutions such as the Greisinger Museum in Switzerland and the Tana del Drago in Italy have extensive exhibitions dedicated to Tolkien’s works; additionally, the society says in the statement, it has supported other organizations—like Sarehole Mill, the Story Museum and Pembroke College—that seek to educate the public about Tolkien.
Speaking with the Guardian, Golding says, “We fit within education and we are not a charity for the advancement of religion.”
If the crowdfunding campaign “does not succeed,” she adds, “then we will consult the initial donors on how the money should be spent in pursuit of the wider objectives concerning J.R.R. Tolkien and literature.”