Marquette is one of the main repositories of Tolkien's drafts, drawings and other writings — more than 11,000 pages. It has the manuscripts for "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," as well as his lesser-known "Farmer Giles of Ham" and his children's book "Mr. Bliss." Marquette was the first institution to ask Tolkien for the manuscripts in 1956 and paid him about $5,000. He died in 1973.
Other significant collections are at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England and Wheaton College in Illinois.
Though Tolkien classes aren't unusual nationwide, Marquette students had the added bonus of being able to visit Tolkien's revisions, notes, detailed calendars, maps and watercolors on site at the school's archive. And they got a lesson from the school's archivist Bill Fliss.
"One of the things we wanted to impress upon the students was the fact that Tolkien was a fanatical reviser," said Fliss said. "He never really did anything once and was finished with it."
Chrissy Wabiszewski, a senior English major, described Tolkien's manuscripts as art.
"When you get down and look at just his script and his artwork in general, it all kind of flows together in this really beautiful, like, cumulative form," Wabiszewski said. "It's cool. It is just really cool to have it here."
The class also looked at Tolkien's poetry, academic articles and translations of medieval poems; talked about the importance of his writers' group, the Inklings; and explored what it meant to be a writer at that time.
"We've ... tried to think about continuities that ran through everything he did," Machan said. His students were also required to go to three lectures that were part of Marquette's commemoration.