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An Interview With

Rolf Bremmer

He has graced Leiden University with his presence for nearly thirty years and has instilled inspiration into the hearts of countless students. An extraordinarily fascinating and lively conversational partner with great expertise in the workings of Old Germanic languages, e.g. Old English, Old Frisian, and even Old Norse. Someone who, in his own student years, contributed to a student journal, ran a pub, and participated in a sit-ins against The Man. This can be none other than the philology section’s very best: Professor Rolf Bremmer!

PLEASE, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR OWN (WILD) STUDENTS YEARS.
“They were not particularly wild.” Laughs. “I studied English Language and Literature in Groningen and lived in a small almshouse there, which was rather primitive. I remember the insulation was so poor that sometimes in winter there would be a thin layer of snow on the bed.” —he smiles while thinking back to this— “As a student I was rather active in extracurricular activities: I contributed to a journal, not unlike The Angler, organized activities such as film evenings, and an old-fashioned poetry festival. We all ran a pub together, taking shifts in standing behind the bar and drawing the beer. I also participated in the Harting programme; this was an incisive experience. I’m still in touch with the friends I made while I spent my Harting year at Oxford. It really created long-lasting bonds and it is a great way of broadening your view while studying”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE NOVEL?
He does not have to think twice about his answer to this: “Lord of the Rings! I would advise everyone to read this novel and once you’re a fan, you should look up Tom Shippey’s Author of the century. Shippey is an expert on Tolkien, and I am proud to say that he was my tutor when I was at Oxford .”

WHICH MIDDLE EARTH CHARACTER DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH MOST?
After some peaceful meditation the answer comes as no great surprise. “I think it must be Bilbo Baggins. He is getting on a bit in Lord of the Rings and I identify with him especially when he says: “I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts […] Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.””

SPEAKING OF IDENTITY, WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE FIRST AND FOREMOST A PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH OR A PROFESSOR OF FRISIAN?
“I see myself more as an Old Eng-lish person, or professor, than any-thing else. What plays a part here is that there is much more information and material available in and on medieval English literature than is the case for Frisian. There is simply more to discover while researching, and therefore more to teach about.”