Pen Addict

Study the Writer Behind the Pen with Mythgard Institute

The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen.
– H.G. Wells, “The Writing of Essays”

Tolkien's pen on display at the Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College

Tolkien’s pen on display at the Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College

“The story grew in the telling.”

So starts The Lord of the Rings, one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. Given that the works of J.R.R Tolkien were created over not one lifetime but two (his son Christopher has devoted many years to deciphering and assembling the unpublished and prolific writings of his father as literary executor of the Tolkien estate), this sentence is a gross understatement. Tolkien hand wrote and annotated most of his writings, and we know that he used a dip pen with an Esterbrook #314 nib. How many of those nibs he must have gone through as he created Middle-earth and its history, who can know? And what of other writers? Did Arthur Conan Doyle indeed write at least some of his Sherlock Holmes stories with a Parker Duofold? Science fiction author Neal Stephenson uses fountain pens to write the first draft of his books.

Here is an interesting metafact: C.S. Lewis’s pen was part of the television show “Warehouse 13.” It was an artifact that allowed people to teleport (without a wardrobe or nautical painting) simply by writing the location. The downside: Use left a large inkstain on the user’s hand, and the further away the destination, the bigger the stain and the longer it lingered.

In other news, it is probably safe to assume that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein with a dip pen.

To end as we began, H.G. Wells discussed pens at some length in his essay about writing essays:*

Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured…And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation…And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There follows the host of steel pens. That bald, clear, scientific style, all set about with words like “evolution” and “environment,” which aims at expressing its meaning with precision and an exemplary economy of words, is done with fine steel nibs–twelve a penny at any stationer’s. The J pen to the lady novelist, and the stylograph to the devil–your essayist must not touch the things.

Want to dig deeper into the people behind the pens?

The Mythgard Institute began as a place to study the two-lifetime library of Tolkien works. It has since expanded to offer courses focused on other fantasy authors as well as science fiction. Mythgard is the place for considered study of the likes of Neil Gaiman (TWSBI 540 ROC, Lamy 2000, Pilot 803 Amber), Richard Adams (who wrote Watership Down with a fountain pen of unknown variety), and other pen wielders. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The breadth and depth of fantasy and science fiction literature covered in Mythgard courses is impressive. Equally impressive, there are courses available to all levels of academic interest. We offer three tiers of course offerings:

  • Free and open to the public through Mythgard Academy
  • Registration in Masters level courses without credit as an auditor (a.k.a., almost all the benefits without any of the work!)
  • Full credit toward an M.A. program in Language & Literature

You are invited to join the community of fans and scholars that comprise the Mythgard community. Rev up that pen and join the fun!

*Find Wells’ essay here or here