Tolkien's Icelandic au-pair


J.R.R Tolkien, author of Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and more amazing tales, studied the Icelandic language and heard of the Trolls in Iceland from an Icelandic au-pair.

The interview appeared in Morgunbladid 1999 and the lady in question, named Arndis but known as 'Adda', was a doctor's daughter from the West Fjords ( Bíldudal), who
went to work with the Tolkiens in 1930, when she was twenty.



Tolkien collected her from Oxford station and greeted her in Icelandic. She then talks about her working conditions – she was meant to be one of the family, but she never had a holiday. The youngest of the children (presumably Priscilla) was in her second year.

She says that the Professor was a really lovely man, very easy and comfortable to be around, he loved nature, trees and everything that grew. 

The oldest son, Johnny, was  14 and in the new house he had his own room. The rest (including Adda) kept themselves to the nursery. 

The lady of the house (Edith) had a difficult nature, she wasn't sociable and disliked most people. Then Adda talks about how she was meant to come there to learn English and help Tolkien practice Icelandic but Edith got jealous if they talked in a language she didn't understand. 

Tolkien was a lovely, comfortable man, didn't talk much. He always came home to lunch every day, and went into his study after the meal. He would have a bottle of beer and a dry biscuit. 




Adda was very fond of the children. She took them fishing in a nearby canal, put them in the bath every night and put them to bed, they loved to hear Icelandic folk tales about trolls and such, and often Tolkien would come and listen too. 

"He took lots of ideas from Icelandic folk stories...and he really believed that all of nature was alive. He lived in a kind of adventure/fantasy world." 

Adda still loves reading the Hobbit (which he started writing at the time she was working for him). 

Tolkien always wore a tweed jacket and pale grey trousers, but loved to wear colourful waistcoats. And he always wore white tie (tails) at the Oxford dinners. 

He always wanted to go to Iceland but thought he couldn't afford it. 

John, at 14, was more like his father. Michael, the next son, was such a beautiful child that people would stop his mother in the street to admire him. 

His mother wanted him to be a priest and Christopher was often squabbled over by his parents. He was a rather whiny child, fussy with food. But his father adored him and realised that he needed different handling than the others. 

"Tolkien had started writing the Hobbit while I was there but was really writing it for Christopher, reading him out chapters".  


Adda had close contact through letters with the family until the war disrupted the correspondence. Her adult years Adda lived in Selfoss, in the South of Iceland.

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