THE LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN Humphrey Carpenter Christopher Tolkien London

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A selection edited by
Humphrey Carpenter
with the assistance of
Christopher Tolkien
1 To Edith Bratt...........................................................................................................................10
2 From a letter to Edith Bratt 27 November 1914.......................................................................11
3 From a letter to Edith Bratt 26 November 1915.......................................................................12
4 From a letter to Edith Bratt 2 March 1916 ...............................................................................13
5 To G. B. Smith .........................................................................................................................14
6 To Mrs E. M. Wright................................................................................................................16
7 To the Electors of the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon, University of
Oxford ................................................................................................................................................17
8 From a letter to the Vice Chancellor of Leeds University .......................................................19
9 To Susan Dagnall, George Allen & Unwin Ltd. ......................................................................20
10 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................21
11 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 February 1937..................................................................22
12 To Allen & Unwin..................................................................................................................23
13 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................24
14 To Allen & Unwin..................................................................................................................25
15 To Allen & Unwin..................................................................................................................26
16 To Michael Tolkien ................................................................................................................28
17 To Stanley Unwin, Chairman of Allen & Unwin...................................................................29
18 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 23 October 1937 ..................................................................31
19 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................32
20 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................34
21 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 1 February 1938..................................................................35
22 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford............................................36
23 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................37
24 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................38
25 To the editor of the 'Observer' ................................................................................................39
26 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................41
27 To the Houghton Mifflin Company........................................................................................43
28 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................44
29 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 25 July 1938.........................................................................45
30 To Rütten & Loening Verlag..................................................................................................46
31 To C.A.Furth, Allen & Unwin ...............................................................................................47
32 To John Masefield ..................................................................................................................48
33 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................49
34 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................50
35 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford...............................................51
36 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin .............................................................................................52
37 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................53
38 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................54
39 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 29 September 1940.........................................................55
40 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6 October 1940...............................................................56
41 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 2 January 1941 ...............................................................57
42 To Michael Tolkien ................................................................................................................58
43 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941.................................................................59
44 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 18 March 1941 ...............................................................63
45 To Michael Tolkien ................................................................................................................64
46 From a draft to R. W. Chapman 26 November 1941 .............................................................66
47 To Stanley Unwin...................................................................................................................68
48 To C. S. Lewis........................................................................................................................69
49 To C. S. Lewis (draft).............................................................................................................70
50 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 25 October 1943 ..........................................................72
51 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 27 October 1943 ..........................................................73
52 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 29 November 1943 ......................................................74
53 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford ...........................................................75
54 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 8 January 1944 .........................................................76
55 To Christopher Tolkien ..........................................................................................................77
56 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 1 March 1944 (FS 6) ...................................................78
57 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 30 March 1944 (FS 12) ........................................79
58 To Christopher Tolkien ..........................................................................................................80
59 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 5 April 1944 (FS 14) ............................................81
60 To Christopher Tolkien (airgraph) .........................................................................................82
61 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 April 1944 (FS 17) .................................................83
62 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 23 April 1944 (FS 18) .......................................85
63 To Christopher Tolkien ..........................................................................................................86
64 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford ...........................................................87
65 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 4 May 1944 (FS 21) .............................................89
66 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 6 May 1944 (FS 22) ....................................................90
67 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 11 May 1944 (FS 23) ...........................................91
68 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 12 May 1944 (FS 24) ...........................................92
69 To Christopher Tolkien ..........................................................................................................93
70 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford ...........................................................94
71 To Christopher Tolkien (airgraph) .........................................................................................95
72 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford ...........................................................96
73 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 10 June 1944 (FS 30) ..................................................97
74 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 29 June 1944 ........................................................................98
75 To Christopher Tolkien ..........................................................................................................99
76 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 28 July 1944 (FS 39) .................................................100
77 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 31 July 1944 (FS 41) .................................................101
78 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 12 August 1944 (FS 43) ............................................102
79 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 22 August 1944 (FS 45) ............................................103
80 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien.............................................................................104
81 To Christopher Tolkien ........................................................................................................105
82 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien.............................................................................107
83 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 6 October 1944 (FS 54).............................................108
84 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien.............................................................................110
85 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien.............................................................................111
86 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 23 October 1944 (FS 57)...........................................112
87 To Christopher Tolkien ........................................................................................................113
88 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 28 October 1944 (FS 58)...........................................114
89 To Christopher Tolkien ........................................................................................................115
90 To Christopher Tolkien ........................................................................................................118
91 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford .........................................................119
92 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 December 1944 (FS 68) .......................................120
93 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 24 December 1944 (FS 70) .......................................121
94 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford .........................................................122
95 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 January 1945 (FS 76) ...........................................123
96 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford .........................................................124
97 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 11 February 1945 (FS 80) .........................................127
98 To Stanley Unwin.................................................................................................................128
99 To 'Michal' Williams, widow of Charles Williams ..............................................................130
100 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 29 May 1945............................................................131
101 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 3 June 1945..............................................................132
102 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 9 August 1945 .........................................................133
103 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 11 October 1945 ......................................................134
104 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 22 October 1945 ......................................................135
105 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................136
106 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 30 September 1946.....................................................137
107 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 7 December 1946 .......................................................138
108 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 July 1947......................................................................139
109 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................140
110 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 20 September 1947 .........................................................143
111 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 21 September 1947.....................................................144
112 To Katherine Farrer ............................................................................................................145
113 To C.S.Lewis......................................................................................................................146
114 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 7 April 1948 .......................................................................149
115 To Katherine Farrer ............................................................................................................150
116 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 August 1948.................................................................151
117 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 31 October 1948.................................................................152
118 To Hugh Brogan.................................................................................................................153
119 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 28 February 1949............................................................154
120 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 16 March 1949................................................................155
121 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 13 July 1949....................................................................156
122 To Naomi Mitchison ..........................................................................................................157
123 From a draft to Milton Waldman 5 February 1950 ............................................................158
124 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................159
125 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................161
126 To Milton Waldman (draft) 3 Manor Road, Oxford ..........................................................162
127 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................163
128 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 1 August 1950.................................................................164
129 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 10 September 1950.....................................................165
130 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 14 September 1950.....................................................166
131 To Milton Waldman ...........................................................................................................167
132 From a letter to John Tolkien 10 February 1952................................................................179
133 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................180
134 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 29 August 1952 ................................................................182
135 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 24 October 1952...............................................................183
136 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................184
137 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................185
138 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 4 August 1953 .........................................................187
139 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 August 1953 ..................................................................188
140 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 17 August 1953 ................................................................189
141 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 9 October 1953 ...............................................................190
142 To Robert Murray, SJ.........................................................................................................191
143 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 22 January 1954 ...............................................................192
144 To Naomi Mitchison ..........................................................................................................193
145 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 13 May 1954 ....................................................................198
146 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 3 June 1954 .....................................................................199
147 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 15 June 1954 ...................................................................200
148 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 7 August 1954 ...............................................................201
149 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 September 1954.............................................................202
150 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 18 September 1954 .........................................................203
151 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 18 September 1954 ............................................................204
152 From a letter to Rayner Heppenstall, BBC 22 September 1954 ........................................205
153 To Peter Hastings (draft) ....................................................................................................206
154 To Naomi Mitchison ..........................................................................................................212
155 To Naomi Mitchison (draft) ...............................................................................................215
156 To Robert Murray, SJ. (draft).............................................................................................216
157 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 27 November 1954........................................................221
158 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 2 December 1954 .............................................................222
159 From a letter to Dora Marshall 3 March 1955....................................................................223
160 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 6 March 1955 ...................................................................224
161 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 14 April 1955 ...................................................................225
162 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 18 April 1955 ...................................................................226
163 To W. H. Auden .................................................................................................................227
164 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 29 June 1955................................................................231
165 To the Houghton Mifflin Co. .............................................................................................232
166 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 22 July 1955....................................................................235
167 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien 15 August 1955 .......................................236
168 To Richard Jeffery..............................................................................................................237
169 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 11 September 1955 ............................................................238
170 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 30 September 1955 .........................................................239
171 To Hugh Brogan.................................................................................................................240
172 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 12 October 1955 .............................................................242
173 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 24 October 1955............................................................243
174 To Lord Halsbury ...............................................................................................................244
175 From a letter to Mrs Molly Waldron 30 November 1955 ..................................................245
176 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 8 December 1955.........................................................246
177 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 December 1955 .............................................................247
178 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 12 December 1955..........................................................248
179 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 14 December 1955 .............................................................249
180 To 'Mr Thompson' [draft]...................................................................................................250
181 To Michael Straight [drafts] ...............................................................................................252
182 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co. ........................................................256
183 Notes on W. H. Auden's review of The Return of the King ...............................................257
184 To Sam Gamgee .................................................................................................................261
185 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien 19 March 1956 ........................................262
186 From a letter to Joanna de Bortadano (drafts) ....................................................................263
187 From a letter to H. Cotton Minchin (draft).........................................................................264
188 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 3 April 1956....................................................................265
189 From a letter to Mrs M. Wilson 11 April 1956 ..................................................................266
190 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 3 July 1956 .......................................................................267
191 From a letter to Miss J. Bum (draft) 26 July 1956 .............................................................269
192 From a letter to Amy Ronald 27 July 1956 ........................................................................270
193 From a letter to Terence Tiller 2 November 1956..............................................................271
194 To Terence Tiller 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford...............................................272
195 From a letter to Amy Ronald 15 December 1956 ..............................................................273
196 From a letter to Katherine Fairer 21 March 1957 ..............................................................274
197 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 May 1957 ......................................................................275
198 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 19 June 1957 ....................................................................276
199 From a letter to Caroline Everett 24 June 1957..................................................................277
200 From a letter to Major R. Bowen 25 June 1957 .................................................................279
201 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 7 September 1957.............................................................280
202 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien..................................................................281
203 From a letter to Herbert Schiro1 17 November 1957 .........................................................282
204 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 7 December 1957 .............................................................283
205 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 21 February 1958 ....................................................285
206 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 April 1958 .....................................................................286
207 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 April 1958 .....................................................................287
208 From a letter to C. Ouboter, Voorhoeve en Dietrich, Rotterdam 10 April 1958 ...............288
209 From a letter to Robert Murray, SJ. 4 May 1958 ...............................................................289
210 From a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman [Not dated; June 1958]............................................291
211 To Rhona Beare..................................................................................................................295
212 Draft of a continuation of the above letter (not sent) .........................................................300
213 From a letter to Deborah Webster 25 October 1958 ..........................................................303
214 To A. C. Nunn (draft).........................................................................................................304
215 To Walter Allen, New Statesman (drafts) ..........................................................................309
216 From a letter to the Deputy Registrar, University of Madras 12 August 1959 ..................311
217 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 11 September 1959 .........................................................312
218 To Eric Rogers....................................................................................................................313
219 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 14 October 1959 .............................................................314
220 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 15 October 1959 ..........................................................315
221 From a letter to the First Assistant Registrar, Oxford University 24 November 1959 ......316
222 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 December 1959 .............................................................317
223 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 31 July 1960 .....................................................................318
224 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 12 September 1960..................................................319
225 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 10 December 1960 ...........................................................320
226 From a letter to Professor L. W. Forster 31 December 1960 .............................................321
227 From a letter to Mrs E. C. Ossen Drijver 5 January 1961..................................................322
228 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 24 January 1961..............................................................323
229 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 23 February 1961............................................................324
230 From a letter to Rhona Beare 8 June 1961 .........................................................................326
231 From a letter to Jane Neave 4 October 1961 ......................................................................327
232 From a letter to Joyce Reeves 4 November 1961...............................................................328
233 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 15 November 1961...........................................................329
234 To Jane Neave ....................................................................................................................330
235 From a letter to Mrs Pauline Gasch (Pauline Baynes) 6 December 1961..........................332
236 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................333
237 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 12 April 1962 ...................................................................335
238 From a letter to Jane Neave 18 July l962 ...........................................................................336
239 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 20 July 1962....................................................................338
240 To Mrs Pauline Gasch (Pauline Baynes)............................................................................339
241 From a letter to Jane Neave 8-9 September 1962 ..............................................................340
242 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 28 November 1962.....................................................342
243 To Michael Tolkien 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford ...........................................343
244 From a draft to a reader of The Lord of the Rings..............................................................344
245 To Rhona Beare..................................................................................................................345
246 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963 ...............................................346
247 To Colonel Worskett ..........................................................................................................351
248 To Sir Stanley Unwin .........................................................................................................353
249 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 16 October 1963 ...............................................354
250 To Michael Tolkien 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford ...........................................355
251 To Priscilla Tolkien ............................................................................................................358
252 From a letter to Michael Tolkien (draft) ............................................................................359
253 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 23 December 1963 ...........................................................360
254 To the Rev. Denis Tyndall .................................................................................................361
255 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar 5 March 1964 ...............................................................362
256 From a letter to Colin Bailey 13 May 1964........................................................................363
257 To Christopher Bretherton..................................................................................................364
258 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 2 August 1964 ..................................................................367
259 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co. ........................................................368
260 From a letter to Carey Biyton 16 August 1964 ..................................................................369
261 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co. ........................................................370
262 To Michael di Capua, Pantheon Books ..............................................................................371
263 From a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co. 10 September 1964 .........................................372
264 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 11 September 1964 .........................................................373
265 From a letter to David Kolb, S.J. 11 November 1964........................................................374
266 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 6 January 1965 .................................................375
267 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 9-10 January 1965.........................................................376
268 From a letter to Miss A. P. Northey 19 January 1965........................................................377
269 From a letter to W. H. Auden 12 May 1965.......................................................................378
270 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................379
271 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 25 May 1965 ....................................................................380
272 From a letter to Zillah Sherring 20 July 1965 ....................................................................381
273 From a letter to Nan C. Scott 21 July 1965 ........................................................................383
274 From a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co. 28 July 1965 ...................................................384
275 From a letter to W. H. Auden 4 August 1965 ....................................................................385
276 To Dick Plotz, 'Thain' of the Tolkien Society of America .................................................386
277 To Rayner Unwin 12 September 1965 ...............................................................................388
278 From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby 20 October 1965 ..............................................................389
279 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 30 October 1965 ...............................................390
280 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 November 1965.............................................................391
281 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 15 December 1965 ...........................................................392
282 From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby 18 December 1965...........................................................393
283 To Benjamin P. Indick........................................................................................................394
284 To W. H. Auden .................................................................................................................395
285 From a letter to W. H. Auden 8 April 1966 .......................................................................396
286 From a letter to A. E. Couchman 27 April 1966 ................................................................397
287 From a letter to Joy Hill, Allen & Unwin 10 May 1966 ....................................................398
288 To Professor Norman Davis ...............................................................................................399
289 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 29 July 1966 .....................................................400
290 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 28 October 1966 ...............................................401
291 To Walter Hooper...............................................................................................................402
292 To Joy Hill, Allen & Unwin...............................................................................................403
293 From a letter to William Foster 29 December 1966...........................................................404
294 To Charlotte and Denis Plimmer........................................................................................405
295 To W.H.Auden ...................................................................................................................409
296 To Rayner Unwin Hotel Miramar, Bournemouth ..............................................................410
297 Drafts for a letter to 'Mr Rang' ...........................................................................................411
298 To William Luther White ...................................................................................................416
299 To Roger Lancelyn Green ..................................................................................................417
300 From a letter to Walter Hooper 20 February 1968.............................................................418
301 From a letter to Donald Swann 29 February 1968 .............................................................419
302 From a letter to Time-Life International Ltd. 2 May 1968 ................................................420
303 From a letter to Nicholas Thomas 6 May 1968..................................................................421
304 From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby 4 June 1968 ......................................................................422
305 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 26 June 1968 ....................................................................423
306 From a letter to Michael Tolkien........................................................................................424
307 From a letter to Amy Ronald 14 November 1968...........................................................428
308 To Christopher Tolkien ......................................................................................................429
309 From a letter to Amy Ronald 2 January 1969 ....................................................................430
310 To Camilla Unwin ..............................................................................................................431
311 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 31 July 1969 ............................................................433
312 From a letter to Amy Ronald 16 November 1969..............................................................434
313 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 25 November 1969........................................................435
314 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 15 December 1969 ..................................................436
315 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 1 January 1970 ..............................................................437
316 From a letter to R. W. Burchfield 11 September 1970.......................................................438
317 From a letter to Amy Ronald All Hallows 1970 ................................................................439
318 From a letter to Neil Ker 22 November 1970 ....................................................................440
319 From a letter to Roger Lancelyn Green 8 January 1971 ....................................................441
320 From a letter to Mrs Ruth Austin 25 January 1971............................................................442
321 From a letter to P. Rorke, S.J. 4 February 1971 .................................................................443
322 From a letter to William Cater 18 March 1971 ..................................................................444
323 To Christopher Tolkien [19 Lakeside Road]......................................................................445
324 From a letter to Graham Tayar 4-5 June 1971 ...................................................................446
325 From a letter to Roger Lancelyn Green 17 July 1971 ........................................................447
326 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 24 July 1971 .....................................................................448
327 From a letter to Robert H. Boyer 25 August 1971 .............................................................449
328 To Carole Batten-Phelps (draft) [19 Lakeside Road].........................................................450
329 From a letter to Peter Szabó Szentmihályi (draft)..............................................................452
330 From a letter to William Cater 1 November 1971..............................................................453
331 To William Cater [Miramar Hotel, Bournemouth] ............................................................454
332 To Michael Tolkien ............................................................................................................455
333 To Rayner Unwin Merton College.....................................................................................456
334 To Rayner Unwin ...............................................................................................................457
335 From a letter to Michael Salmon 18 May 1972..................................................................458
336 From a letter to Sir Patrick Browne 23 May 1972 .............................................................459
337 From a letter to 'Mr Wrigley' 25 May 1972 .......................................................................460
338 From a letter to Fr. Douglas Carter 6[?] June 1972............................................................461
339 To the Editor of the Daily Telegraph .................................................................................462
340 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 11 July 1972 ............................................................463
341 From a letter to Marjorie Incledon 17 September 1972 .....................................................464
342 From a letter to Mrs Meriel Thurston 9 November 1972...................................................465
343 From a letter to Sterling Lanier 21 November 1972 ..........................................................466
344 From a letter to Edmund Meskys 23 November 1972 .......................................................467
345 To Mrs Meriel Thurston .....................................................................................................468
346 From a letter to Lyie Leach 13 December 1972.................................................................469
347 To Richard Jeffery..............................................................................................................470
348 From a letter to Mrs Catharine Findlay 6 March 1973.......................................................473
349 From a letter to Mrs E. R. Ehrardt 8 March 1973 ..............................................................474
350 To C. L. Wiseman ..............................................................................................................475
351 To Christopher Tolkien ......................................................................................................476
352 From a letter to Ungfrú Aðalsteinsdottir 5 June 1973........................................................477
353 From a letter to Lord Halsbury 4 August 1973 ..................................................................478
354 To Priscilla Tolkien ............................................................................................................479
Towards the end of his life, J. R. R. Tolkien was deprived for a few weeks of the use of his
right arm. He told his publisher: 'I found not being able to use a pen or pencil as defeating as the
loss of her beak would be to a hen.'
An immense amount of Tolkien's time was taken up with the written word: not just his
academic work and the stories of 'Middle-earth', but also letters. Many of these had to be written in
the way of business, but in any case letter-writing was on most occasions a favourite activity with
him. The consequence is that an immense number of letters by Tolkien survive; and when, with the
help of Christopher Tolkien, I began work on this selection, it became obvious that an enormous
quantity of material would have to be omitted, and that only passages of particular interest could be
included. Naturally, priority has been given to those letters where Tolkien discusses his own books;
but the selection has also been made with an eye to demonstrating the huge range of Tolkien's mind
and interests, and his idiosyncratic but always clear view of the world.
Among the omissions is the very large body of letters he wrote between 1913 and 1918 to Edith
Bratt, who was his fiancée and then his wife; these are highly personal in character, and from them I
have chosen only a few passages which refer to writings in which Tolkien was engaged at the time.
Between 1918 and 1937 few letters survive, and such as have been preserved record (unfortunately)
nothing about Tolkien's work on The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, which he was writing at this
time. But from 1937 onwards there is an unbroken series of letters to the end of his life, giving,
often in great detail, an account of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and of later work on The
Silmarillion, and often including lengthy discussions of the meaning of his writings.
Within the letters chosen for publication, all passages omitted have been indicated by a row of
four dots, thus:.... In cases where three dots appear, this is the usage employed by Tolkien himself
in the letter. In almost all cases, omissions have been made simply for reasons of space, and only
very rarely has it been necessary to leave a passage out of a letter for reasons of discretion.
Tolkien's original text has been left unaltered except in the case of the address and date, which
have been given according to the same system throughout the book. and in the matter of titles of
Tolkien's books. He himself employed a number of different systems for giving titles: for instance,
the Hobbit, the 'Hobbit', The Hobbit, 'the Hobbit', 'The Hobbit'; so also with The Lord of the Rings.
In general, editorial practice has been to regularise these titles according to the usual system, though
the original form has been left where it is of interest.
Some letters are printed from carbon copies kept by Tolkien; he only began to make carbons of
his letters towards the end of his life, and this explains why there is no trace of earlier letters unless
the originals themselves can be discovered. Other letters in the book are printed from a draft or
drafts which differ from the text that he actually sent (if he sent one at all), and in certain instances a
continuous text has been assembled from several fragments of drafts: in cases where this has been
done, the letter is headed 'Drafts'. The frequency of such drafts among his correspondence, and the
great length of many of them, was partly explained by Tolkien in a letter to his son Michael:
Words beget words, and thoughts skid off into side-track. .... The 'laconic' is by me only
occasionally achieved as an 'art form' by the cutting out of ¾ or more of what I have written
and so is, of course, in fact more time-taking and laborious than 'free length'.
Where only a portion of a letter has been printed, the address and opening salutation have been
omitted, together with the ending and signature; in such cases the letter is headed 'From a letter to
——.' All footnotes to letters are Tolkien's own.
Where I have thought it necessary, letters are preceded by a headnote giving the context of the
correspondence. All other notes will be found at the back of the book; the existence of such a note
is indicated by a superior numeral in the text. Notes are numbered consecutively throughout each
letter, and are identified letter by letter (rather than page by page) at the back of the book. The notes
have been compiled according to the principle of providing such information as is necessary for
comprehension, but the aim has been brevity, too, and it is assumed that the reader will have a fairly
thorough knowledge of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Bearing in mind the large number of
editions of the latter book, with their different paginations, Tolkien's page-references to it in his
letters are explained in the notes, with a citation of the passage to which he is referring.
In the editorial notes, four books are cited by brief titles: Pictures, Unfinished Tales, Biography,
Inklings. These are, in full: Pictures by J. R. R. Tolkien, with foreword and notes by Christopher
Tolkien (1979); J. R. R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, edited by Christopher Tolkien (1980);
Humphrey Carpenter, J. R. R. Tolkien, a biography (1977); and Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings
(1978). All four books are published in Britain by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., and in America by
the Houghton Mifflin Company.
The division of labour between myself and Christopher Tolkien has been as follows. I myself
collected and transcribed all the letters, and the initial selection was mine; he commented on the
selection and transcription, and made various suggestions for changes, which we discussed further,
and adopted with various emendations. We then found it necessary to reduce the text quite severely,
for considerations of space; again, I proposed the initial cuts, he made comments on my
suggestions, and we agreed on a final procedure. With the notes, too, I wrote the original text, and
he again commented on what I had done and supplied certain additional pieces of information. The
book as published therefore reflects my own taste and judgement rather more than his, but it is also
the product of our joint work; and I am very grateful to him for sparing many hours, and for guiding
and encouraging me.
Finally I am, of course, very grateful too to those many people who lent letters. Most of these
are acknowledged in the book, in that their names appear as the recipients of the letters; in those
few cases where letters were lent but have not been included, I must both thank those concerned
and apologise to them for the fact that their letter or letters were omitted for reasons of space. I must
also thank the various organisations and individuals who helped me: members of the Tolkien
Society of Great Britain, the American Tolkien Society, and the Mythopoeic Society, who
publicised our wish to trace letters, and in some cases put us in touch with owners of letters; the
BBC Written Archives, the Bodleian Library, the Oxford University Press and its Dictionary
Department, the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the Wade
Collection at Wheaton College, Illinois, all of whom made letters available to us; the various
executors (especially the Rev. Walter Hooper) and other people who helped us trace letters to
persons now deceased; and finally Douglas Anderson, who helped greatly and generously in a
number of ways with the preparation of the book. He and Charles Noad kindly read proofs for us.
Despite the length of this volume, and the great number of letters we have collected, there can
be no doubt that much of Tolkien's correspondence still remains untraced. Any reader knowing of
further letters which might deserve publication is encouraged to contact the publishers of this book,
in the hope that it may be possible to add them to a second edition.
Humphrey Carpenter
1 To Edith Bratt
[Tolkien became engaged to Edith Bratt, whom he had met during his adolescence in Birmingham, in
January 1913, when he was twenty-one. The following letter was written during his final year as an
undergraduate at Oxford, when he was studying English Language & Literature, and at the same time was
drilling in the University Officers' Training Corps as a preparation for joining the army.]
[Not dated; October 1914]
Exeter College, Oxford
My Edith darling:
Yes I was rather surprised by your card of Sat. morning and rather sorry because I knew my
letter would have to wander after you. You do write splendid letters to me, little one; I am such a
pig to you though. It seems age[s] since I wrote. I have had a busy (and very wet!) week end.
Friday was completely uneventful and Sat too though we had a drill all afternoon and got
soaked several times and our rifles got all filthy and took ages to clean afterwards.
I spent most of the rest of those days indoors reading: I had an essay, as I told you, but I didn't
get it finished as Shakespeare came up and then (Lieutenant) Thompson1 (very healthy and well in
his new uniform) and prevented me doing work on the Sabbath, as I had proposed to do..... I went to
St Aloysius for High Mass – and I rather enjoyed it – it is such ages since I heard one for Fr. F.2
wouldn't let me go when I was at the Oratory last week.
I had to pay a duty call to the Rector3 in the afternoon which was very boring. His wife really is
appalling! I got away as soon as possible and fled back in the rain to my books. Then I went and
saw Mr Sisam4 and told him I could not finish my essay till Wed: and stayed and talked with him
for some time, then I went and had an interesting talk with that quaint man Earp5 I have told you of
and introduced him (to his great delight) to the 'Kālevalā' the Finnish ballads.
Amongst other work I am trying to turn one of the stories — which is really a very great story
and most tragic – into a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris' romances with chunks of
poetry in between.....6
I have got to go to the college library now and get filthy amongst dusty books – and then hang
about and see the Bursar. .... R.7
2 From a letter to Edith Bratt 27 November 1914
I did about 4 hrs. [work] 9.20-1 or so in the morning: drilled all afternoon went to a lecture 5-6
and after dinner (with a man called Earp) had to go to a meeting of the Essay Club – an informal
kind of last gasp [?]. There was a bad paper but an interesting discussion. It was also composition
meeting and I read 'Earendel' which was well criticised.1
3 From a letter to Edith Bratt 26 November 1915
[After graduating at Oxford with a First Class in English, Tolkien was commissioned in the Lancashire
Fusiliers. This letter was written from Rugeley Camp in Staffordshire, where he was training. Meanwhile he
was working on a poem, 'Kortirion among the Trees', suggested by Warwick, where Edith Bratt was living.
The poem describes a 'fading town upon a little hill', where 'linger yet the Lonely Companies .... The holy
fairies and immortal elves.' For 'the T.C.B.S.' see no. 5.]
The usual kind of morning standing about and freezing and then trotting to get warmer so as to
freeze again. We ended up by an hour's bomb-throwing with dummies. Lunch and a freezing
afternoon. All the hot days of summer we doubled about at full speed and perspiration, and now we
stand in icy groups in the open being talked at! Tea and another scramble – I fought for a place at
the stove and made a piece of toast on the end of a knife: what days! I have written out a pencil
copy of 'Kortirion'. I hope you won't mind my sending it to the T.C.B.S. I want to send them
something: I owe them all long letters. I will start on a careful ink copy for little you now and send
it tomorrow night, as I don't think I shall get more than one copy typed (it is so long). No on second
thoughts I am sending you the pencil copy (which is very neat) and shall keep the T.C.B.S. waiting
till I can make another.
4 From a letter to Edith Bratt 2 March 1916
This miserable drizzling afternoon I have been reading up old military lecture-notes again:—
and getting bored with them after an hour and a half. I have done some touches to my nonsense
fairy language – to its improvement.1
I often long to work at it and don't let myself 'cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad
5 To G. B. Smith
[While they were at King Edward's School, Birmingham, in 1911, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson,
Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed themselves into an unofficial and semi-secret society
which they called 'the T.C.B.S.', initials standing for 'Tea Club and Barrovian Society', an allusion to their
fondness for having tea in the school library, illicitly, and in Barrow's Stores near the school. Since leaving
King Edward's, the T.C.B.S. had kept in close touch with each other, and in December 1914 had held a
'Council' at Wiseman's London home, following which Tolkien had begun to devote much energy to writing
poetry – the result, he believed, of the shared ideals and mutual encouragement of the T.C.B.S. Wiseman
was now serving in the Navy, Gilson and Smith were sent out to the Somme, and Tolkien arrived on that
battlefield, as Battalion Signalling Officer to the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, just as the Allied offensive of 1
July was beginning. On that day, Rob Gilson was killed in action, but news of his death did not reach the
other members of the T.C.B.S. for some weeks. Geoffrey Smith sent Tolkien a note about it, and later
passed him a letter from Christopher Wiseman.]
12 August 1916
11th Lancashire Fusiliers, B.E.F., France
My dear old Geoffrey,
Thank you indeed for Christopher's letter. I have thought much of things since – most of them
incommunicable thoughts until God brings us together again if it be only for a space.
I don't agree with Chris – although of course he does not say much. I agree most heartily of
course with the pan you underlined – but strangely enough not in the least now with the part I
marked and commented. I went out into the wood – we are out in camp again from our second bout
of trenches still in the same old area as when I saw you – last night and also the night before and sat
and thought.
I cannot get away from the conclusion that it is wrong to confound the greatness which Rob has
won with the greatness which he himself doubted. He himself will know that I am only being
perfectly sincere and I am in no way unfaithful to my love for him – which I only realise now, more
and more daily, that he has gone from the four — when I say that I now believe that if the greatness
which we three certainly meant (and meant as more than holiness or nobility alone) is really the lot
of the TCBS, then the death of any of its members is but a bitter winnowing of those who were not
meant to be great – at least directly. God grant that this does not sound arrogant – I feel humbler
enough in truth and immeasurably weaker and poorer now. The greatness I meant was that of a
great instrument in God's hands – a mover, a doer, even an achiever of great things, a beginner at
the very least of large things.
The greatness which Rob has found is in no way smaller – for the greatness I meant and
tremblingly hoped for as ours is valueless unless steeped with the same holiness of courage
suffering and sacrifice – but is of a different kind. His greatness is in other words now a personal
matter with us – of a kind to make us keep July 1st as a special day for all the years God may grant
to any of us – but only touches the TCBS on that precise side which perhaps – it is possible – was
the only one that Rob really felt – 'Friendship to the Nth power'. What I meant, and thought Chris
meant, and am almost sure you meant, was that the TCBS had been granted some spark of fire –
certainly as a body if not singly – that was destined to kindle a new light, or, what is the same thing,
rekindle an old light in the world; that the TCBS was destined to testify for God and Truth in a
more direct way even than by laying down its several lives in this war (which is for all the evil of
our own side with large view good against evil).
So far my chief impression is that something has gone crack. I feel just the same to both of you
— nearer if anything and very much in need of you —I am hungry and lonely of course – but I
don't feel a member of a little complete body now. I honestly feel that the TCBS has ended – but I
am not at all sure that it is not an unreliable feeling that will vanish – like magic perhaps when we
come together again. Still I feel a mere individual at present — with intense feelings more than
ideas but very powerless.
Of course the TCBS may have been all we dreamt — and its work in the end be done by three
or two or one survivor and the part of the others be trusted by God to that of the inspiration which
we do know we all got and get from one another. To this I now pin my hopes, and pray God that the
people chosen to carry on the TCBS may be no fewer than we three. ....
I do however dread and grieve about it – apart from my own personal longings – because I
cannot abandon yet the hope and ambitions (inchoate and cloudy I know) that first became
conscious at the Council of London. That Council was as you know followed in my own case with
my finding a voice for all kinds of pent up things and a tremendous opening up of everything for
me:—1 have always laid that to the credit of the inspiration that even a few hours with the four
always brought to all of us.
There you are — I have sat solemnly down and tried to tell you drily just what I think. I have
made it sound very cold and distant – and if it is incoherent that is due to its being written at
different sittings amongst the noise of a very boring Company mess.
Send it on to Chris if you think it worth while. I do not know what is to be our move next or
what is in store. Rumour is as busy as the universal weariness of all this war allows it to be. I wish I
could know where you are. I make a guess of course.
I could write a huge letter but I have lots of jobs on. The Bde. Sig. Offr. is after me for a
confabulation, and I have two rows 10 have with the QM and a detestable 6.30 parade – 6.30 pm of
a sunny Sabbath.
Write to me when you get the ghost of a chance.
John Ronald.
6 To Mrs E. M. Wright
[In 1920 Tolkien was appointed Reader in English Language at Leeds University, a post that was later
converted into a Professorship; see no. 46 for an account of the interview leading to his appointment.
Tolkien was now married to Edith Bran; by 1923 he had two children, John and Michael. In 1922 he
published a glossary to a Middle English Reader edited by his former tutor, Kenneth Sisam. He also began
work with E. V. Gordon on an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The following letter,
acknowledging receipt of an article about that poem, is addressed to the wife of Joseph Wright, editor of the
English Dialect Dictionary ('E.D.D.'). Tolkien had studied philology with Wright at Oxford.]
13 February 1923
The University, Leeds
Dear Mrs Wright,
I am very grateful to you for the offprint – and also for your kind remarks about the glossary. I
certainly lavished an amount of time on it which is terrible to recall, and long delayed the Reader
bringing curses on my head; but it was instructive.
I need hardly say that I am quite convinced by your article and am delighted to feel confident
that another rough patch in 'Sir G.' is now smoothed out finally by you.
We have just passed through a somewhat disastrous Christmas, as the children chose that time
to sicken for measles – by the beginning of January I was the only one in the house left up, the
patients including the wife & nursemaid. The vacation work lay in ruins; but they (not the work) are
all better now and not much the worse. I escaped. I hope you are well, and that Professor Wright is
well – I have not heard any news of him lately, which I have interpreted favourably.
Middle English is an exciting field-almost uncharted I begin to think, because as soon as one
turns detailed personal attention on to any little comer of it the received notions and ideas seem to
crumple up and fall to pieces — as far as language goes at any rate. E.D.D. is certainly
indispensable, or 'unentbehrlich' as really comes more natural to the philological mind, and I
encourage people to browze in it.
My wife wishes to be remembered to you both and joins her greetings to mine.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
Philology is making headway here. The proportion of 'language' students is very high, and there is
no trace of the press-gang! JRRT.
7 To the Electors of the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon, University of
[In the summer of 1925 the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford was advertised, following the
resignation of W. A. Craigie. Tolkien decided to apply, though he was only thirty-three. This is his formal
letter of application, dated 27 June 1925.]
I desire to offer myself as a candidate for the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of AngloSaxon.
A Chair which affords such opportunity of expressing and communicating an instructed
enthusiasm for Anglo-Saxon studies and for the study of the other Old Germanic languages is
naturally attractive to me, nor could I desire anything better than to be reassociated in this way with
the Oxford English School. I was a member of that School both as undergraduate and as tutor, and
during my five years' absence in Leeds am happy to have remained in touch with it, more
especially, in the last two years, as an Examiner in the Final Schools.
I entered Exeter College as Stapledon Exhibitioner in 1911. After taking Classical Moderations
in 1913 (in which I specialized in Greek philology), I graduated with first class honours in English
in 1915, my special subject being Old Icelandic. Until the end of 1918 I held a commission in the
Lancashire Fusiliers, and at that date entered the service of the Oxford English Dictionary. I was
one of Dr. Bradley's1 assistants until the spring of 1920, when my own work and the increasing
labours of a tutor made it impossible to continue.
In October 19201 went to Leeds as Reader in English Language, with a free commission to
develop the linguistic side of a large and growing School of English Studies, in which no regular
provision had as yet been made for the linguistic specialist. I began with five hesitant pioneers out
of a School (exclusive of the first year) of about sixty members. The proportion to-day is 43 literary
to 20 linguistic students. The linguists are in no way isolated or cut off from the general life and
work of the department, and share in many of the literary courses and activities of the School; but
since 1922 their purely linguistic work has been conducted in special classes, and examined in
distinct papers of special standard and attitude. The instruction offered has been gradually extended,
and now covers a large part of the field of English and Germanic philology. Courses are given on
Old English heroic verse, the history of English*, various Old English and Middle English texts*,
Old and Middle English philology*, introductory Germanic philology*, Gothic, Old Icelandic (a
second-year* and third-year course), and Medieval Welsh*. All these courses I have from time to
time given myself; those that I have given personally in the past year are marked*. During this last
session a course of voluntary reading of texts not specially considered in the current syllabus has
attracted more than fifteen students, not all of them from the linguistic side of the department.
Philology, indeed, appears to have lost for these students its connotations of terror if not of
mystery. An active discussion-class has been conducted, on lines more familiar in schools of
literature than of language, which has borne fruit in friendly rivalry and open debate with the
corresponding literary assembly. A Viking Club has even been formed, by past and present students
of Old Icelandic, which promises to carry on the same kind of activity independently of the staff.
Old Icelandic has been a point of special development, and usually reaches a higher standard than
the other special subjects, being studied for two years and in much the same detail as AngloSaxon.....
The large amount of teaching and direction which my post has hitherto involved, supplemented
by a share in the general administration of a growing department, and latterly by the duties of a
member of Senate at a time of special difficulty in University policy, has seriously interfered with
my projects for publishable work; but I append a note of what I have found time to do. If elected to
the Rawlinson and Bosworth Chair I should endeavour to make productive use of the opportunities
which it offers for research; to advance, to the best of my ability, the growing neighbourliness of
linguistic and literary studies, which can never be enemies except by misunderstanding or without
loss to both; and to continue in a wider and more fertile field the encouragement of philological
enthusiasm among the young.
I remain,
Your obedient servant,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
8 From a letter to the Vice Chancellor of Leeds University
22 July 1925
My election to the Rawlinson & Bosworth professorship at Oxford has just been announced to
me, & I have accepted – it takes effect from next October 1st — only with feelings of great regret at
this sudden severance, in spite of this unexpected turn of fortune for myself.
Only the sudden resignation of my predecessor has thrust this upon me so soon — I dimly
coveted it as a thing perhaps for the more distant years, but now after this University's kindness, and
the great happiness of my brief period of work here, I feel ungrateful in asking to be released from
my appointment so soon. I hope for your forgiveness.
9 To Susan Dagnall, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
[Tolkien wrote the greater part of The Hobbit during his first seven years as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at
Oxford. A text was in existence by the winter of 1932, when it was read by C. S. Lewis, though at this stage
the typescript apparently lacked the final chapters, and broke off shortly before the death of the dragon
Smaug. This typescript was eventually seen by Susan Dagnall, an Oxford graduate working for the London
publishing house of Allen & Unwin, and she encouraged Tolkien to complete the story and offer it for
publication. See nos. 163, 257, and 294 for Tolkien's account of her involvement with the book, though two
of these later letters are in error in suggesting that Susan Dagnall was still an Oxford student when she read
the manuscript. See further Biography p. 180. It was on 3 October 1936 that Tolkien sent the completed
typescript to Allen & Unwin. Stanley Unwin, founder and chairman of the firm, replied on 5 October that
they would give their 'immediate and careful consideration' to the book. No further correspondence survives
until the following letter. By the time that Tolkien wrote it, the book had been accepted for publication, and
he was already preparing maps and illustrations.]
4 January 1937
Dear Miss Dagnall,
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Maps &c. for 'The Hobbit'.
I am sorry for the long delay. I was unwell for some time, and then faced by a family laid low
one by one by influenza, brought back from school for the entire ruin of Christmas. I succumbed
myself on New Year's Eve. It has been difficult to do anything, and what I have done is I fear poor
enough. I have redrawn two items: the chart, which has to be tipped in (in Chapter I), and the
general map. I can only hope – as I have small skill, and no experience of preparing such things for
reproduction – that they may possibly serve. The other maps I have decided are not wanted.
I have redrawn (as far as I am capable) one or two of the amateur illustrations of the 'home
manuscript', conceiving that they might serve as endpapers, frontispiece or what not. I think on the
whole such things, if they were better, might be an improvement. But it may be impossible at this
stage, and in any case they are not very good and may be technically unsuitable. It would be kind if
you would return the rejected.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
10 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
[Some time between 1932 and 1937, Tolkien wrote and illustrated a short book for children entitled Mr
Bliss. For a description of it, see Biography p. 163. It was shown to Allen & Unwin at the same time that
The Hobbit was submitted. The publishers said they would be happy to accept it, providing Tolkien could
reduce the number of colours in the drawings.]
I7 January 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sir,
'Mr Bliss' returned safely. I can only say that I was surprised to receive your kind letter the
following morning. I did not imagine that he was worth so much trouble. The pictures seem to me
mostly only to prove that the author cannot draw. But if your firm really think that he is worth
publishing, I will try and make the illustrations more easy to reproduce. Certainly it would be a
great help, if you would be so kind as to call, as you suggest, and give me some advice. I am at
present endeavouring to earn a grant for 'research',1 in addition to my ordinary duties, but I may find
some odd moments in the near future, especially as I am freed from the burden of examining for
two years.
I am also grateful and pleasantly surprised that the drawings for 'the Hobbit' can be used. I leave
it in your hands as to the best way of reproducing and using them. Actually the chart – the map with
runes – was intended to be tipped in (folded) in Chapter I, opposite the first mention of it: 'a piece
of parchment rather like a map', towards the end of the chapter. The other map in the 'home MS.'
came at the end, and the long narrow drawing of Mirkwood2 was at the beginning. The Elvenking's
Gate came at the end of Ch. VIII, Lake Town in Ch. X, The Front Gate in Ch. XI after the
description of the adventurers' first sight of it: 'they could see the dark cavernous opening in a great
cliff-wall'. In considering the matter closer I see that this concentrates all the maps and pictures, in
place or reference, towards the end. This is due to no plan, but occurs simply because I failed to
reduce the other illustrations to even passable shape. I was also advised that those with a
geographical or landscape content were the most suitable – even apart from my inability to draw
anything else.
I now enclose 6 more.3 They all are obviously defective, and quite apart from this may, each or
some, present difficulties of reproduction. Also you may be quite unwilling to consider thus
belatedly any more complications, and a change of plan. So that I shall be neither pained nor
surprised if you return them, all or any. ....
I am yrs. truly,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
11 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 February 1937
[Concerning the reproduction of illustrations in The Hobbit.]
I approve the rough prints. Reduction has improved all except 'the Trolls'. On this there are one
or two defects, probably simply due to the impression. I have marked them: the thin white outline of
one of the background trees is slightly broken; some of the tiny dots outlining a flame have failed to
come out; the dot after 'Trolls.' also.
In the 'Hall at Bag-End' I misguidedly put in a wash shadow reaching right up to the side beam.
This has of course come out black (with disappearance of the key) though not right up to the beam.
But the print is I think as good as the original allows. Please note – these are not serious criticisms!
I am still surprised that these indifferent pictures have been accepted at all, and that you have taken
so much trouble with them – especially against economics (a factor I had not forgotten, and the
reason for my originally forswearing illustrations).
12 To Allen & Unwin
[In mid-March, Tolkien returned the proofs of The Hobbit to Allen & Unwin, having marked them with a
very large number of alterations to the original text. He was told that as a result he might have to pay part of
the cost of correction, though the publishers noted that he had devised revisions which would occupy
exactly the same space as the original text. With the following letter, he submitted a drawing for the dustjacket, which included a runic inscription.]
13 April 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sirs,
I return under separate cover the corrected Revises of the Hobbit, complete. .... I note what you
so kindly say about the cost of corrections. I must pay what is just, if required; though I shall
naturally be grateful for clemency. Thank you for your trouble & consideration. ....
You will find with the revised proofs a draft of the jacket, for your criticism. I discovered (as I
anticipated) that it was rather beyond my craft and experience. But perhaps the general design
would do?
I foresee the main objections.
There are too many colours: blue, green, red, black. (The 2 reds are an accident; the 2 greens
inessential.) This could be met, with possible improvement, by substituting white for red; and
omitting the sun, or drawing a line round it. The presence of the sun and moon in the sky together
refers to the magic attaching to the door.
It is too complicated, and needs simplifying: e.g. by reducing the mountains to a single colour,
and simplification of the jagged 'fir-trees'.....
In redrawing the whole thing could be reduced – if you think the runes are attractive. Though
magical in appearance they merely run:
The Hobbit or There and Back Again, being the record of a year's journey made by Bilbo Baggins;
compiled from his memoirs by J. R. R. Tolkien and published by George Allen & Unwin. ....
Yrs truly
J. R. R. Tolkien.
13 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
[On 11 May, Allen & Unwin told Tolkien that they had interested 'one of the outstanding firms of American
publishers' in The Hobbit, and said that this firm 'would like a number of further illustrations in colour and
suggested employing good American artists'. Allen & Unwin, however, thought 'it would be better if all the
illustrations were from your hand'.]
13 May 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
Thank you for the information concerning prospective American publication. Could you tell me
the name of the firm, and what are likely to be the financial arrangements?
As for the illustrations: I am divided between knowledge of my own inability and fear of what
American artists (doubtless of admirable skill) might produce. In any case I agree that all the
illustrations ought to be by the same hand: four professional pictures would make my own
amateurish productions look rather silly. I have some 'pictures' in my drawer, but though they
represent scenes from the mythology on the outskirts of which the Hobbit had his adventures, they
do not really illustrate his story. The only possible one is the original coloured version of
Mirkwood1 (re-drawn in black and white for 'the Hobbit'). I should have to try and draw some five
or six others for the purpose. I will attempt this, as far as time allows in the middle of term, if you
think it advisable. But I could not promise anything for some time. Perhaps the matter does not
allow of much delay? It might be advisable, rather than lose the American interest, to let the
Americans do what seems good to them – as long as it was possible (I should like to add) to veto
anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).
I have seen American illustrations that suggest that excellent things might be produced – only too
excellent for their companions. But perhaps you could tell me how long there is before I must
produce samples that might hope to satisfy Transatlantic juvenile taste (or its expert
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien
14 To Allen & Unwin
[The publishers had suggested to Tolkien that The Hobbit should be published in October 1937, just after the
beginning of the Michaelmas Term at Oxford. They also told him that they had forwarded his letter about
illustrations (no. 13) to the Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston, Massachusetts, who were to publish the
book in America.]
28 May 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sirs,
....Date of publication. This is, of course, your business, and entails many considerations
outside my knowledge. In any case the final decision is now, I suppose, made; and America has
also to be considered. But as far as G.B. is concerned, I cannot help thinking that you are possibly
mistaken in taking Oxford University and its terms into account; and alternatively, if you do, in
considering early October better than June. Most of O.U. will take no interest in such a story; that
pan of it that will is already clamouring, and indeed beginning to add The Hobbit to my long list of
never-never procrastinations. As far as 'local interest' is concerned it is probably at its peak (not that
at its best it will amount to much reckoned in direct sales, I imagine). In any case late June between
the last preparations for exams and the battle with scripts (affecting only a minority of seniors) is a
quiescent interlude, when lighter reading is sought, for immediate use and for the vacation. October
with the inrush of a new academic year is most distracted.
Mr Lewis of Magdalen,1 who reviews for the Times Literary Supplement, tells me that he has
already written urging a review and claiming the book as a specialist in fairy-stories; and he is now
disgruntled because he will get 'juveniles' that he does not want, while the Hobbit will not reach him
until the vacation is over, and will have to wait till December to be read & written up properly. Also
if the book had been available before the university disintegrates I could have got my friend the
editor of the O.U. Magazine,2 who has been giving it a good dose of my dragon-lore recently, to
allocate it and get a review at the beginning of the autumn term. However, I say these things too late
I expect. In any case I do not suppose it makes in the long run a great deal of difference. I have only
one personal motive in regretting this delay: and that is that I was anxious that it should appear as
soon as possible, because I am under research-contract since last October, and not supposed to be
indulging in exams or in 'frivolities'. The further we advance into my contract time, the more
difficulty I shall have (and I have already had some) in pretending that the work belongs wholly to
the period before October 1936.1 shall now find it very hard to make people believe that this is not
the major fruits of 'research' 1936—7!
Houghton Mifflin Co. I was perturbed to learn that my letter had been sent across the water. It
was not intended for American consumption unedited: I should have expressed myself rather
differently. I now feel even greater hesitation in posing further as an illustrator..... However, I
enclose three coloured 'pictures'.3 I cannot do much better, and if their standard is too low, the
H.M.Co can say so at once and without offence, as long as they send them back. These are casual
and careless pastime products, illustrating other stories. Having publication in view I could possibly
improve the standard a little, make drawings rather bolder in colour & less messy and fussy in detail
(and also larger). The Mirkwood picture is much the same as the plate in the Hobbit, but illustrates
a different adventure. I think if the H.M.Co wish me to proceed I should leave that black and grey
plate and do four other scenes. I will try my hand at them as soon as possible, which is not likely to
be before their verdict arrives, if cabled...
Yours truly,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
15 To Allen & Unwin
[Enclosed with this letter was a coloured version of the drawing 'The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the-Water'.
Tolkien had already sent four new coloured drawings: 'Rivendell', 'Bilbo woke with the early sun in his
eyes', 'Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves', and 'Conversation with Smaug'. All of these except the
'Huts of the Raft-elves' were used in the first American edition, and all except 'Bilbo woke with the early sun
in his eyes' were added to the second British impression.]
31 August 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
I send herewith the coloured version of the frontispiece. If you think it good enough, you may
send it on to the Houghton Mifflin Co. Could you at the same time make it finally clear to them (It
does not seem easy): that the first three drawings were not illustrations to 'the Hobbit', but only
samples: they cannot be used for that book, and may now be returned. Also that the ensuing five
drawings (four and now one) were specially made for the H.M.Co, and for 'the Hobbit'. They are, of
course, at liberty to reject or use all or any of these five. But I would point out that they are specially
selected so as to distribute illustration fairly evenly throughout the book (especially when taken in
conjunction with the black-and-white drawings).
I suppose no question of remuneration arises? I have no consciousness of merit (though the
labour was considerable), and I imagine that the 'gratis' quality of my efforts compensates for other
defects. But I gathered that the H.M.Co's original terms simply covered 'The Hobbit', as you
produced it, and that they then proposed to top up with coloured pictures, as a selling attraction of
their own, employing good American artists. They would have had to pay these independently. At
the moment I am in such difficulties (largely owing to medical expenses) that even a very small fee
would be a blessing. Would it be possible to suggest (when they have decided if they want any of
these things) that a small financial consideration would be gracious?
Perhaps you will advise me, or tell me where I get off? I need hardly say that such an idea only
occurs to me with regard to the Americans – who have given a lot of unnecessary trouble. Even if I
did not know that your production costs have been excessive (and that I have been hard on proofs),
you are most welcome at any time to anything you think I can do, in the way of drawing or
redrawing, that is fit to use on The Hobbit.
I hope Mr Baggins will eventually come to my rescue – in a moderate way (I do not expect pots
of troll-gold). I am beginning to have hopes that the publishers (vide jacket) may be justified.1 I
have had two testimonials recently, which promise moderately well. For one thing Professor
Gordon2 has actually read the book (supposed to be a rare event); and assures me that he will
recommend it generally and to the Book Society. I may warn you that his promises are usually
generous – but his judgement, at any rate, is pretty good. Professor Chambers3 writes very
enthusiastically, but he is an old and kindhearted friend. The most valuable is the document I
enclose, in case it may interest you: a letter from R. Meiggs (at present editing the Oxford
Magazine). He has no reason for sparing my feelings, and is usually a plain speaker. Of course, he
has no connexions with reviewing coteries, and is virtually a mere member of the avuncular public.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
P.S. I enclose also a commentary on the jacket-flap words for your perusal at leisure — if you can
read it.
[When The Hobbit was published on 21 September 1937, Allen & Unwin printed the following remarks on
the jacket-flap: 'J. R. R. Tolkien.... has four children and The Hobbit .... was read aloud to them in nursery
days. .... The manuscript.... was lent to friends in Oxford and read to their children. .... The birth of The
Hobbit recalls very strongly that of Alice in Wonderland. Here again a professor of an abstruse subject is at
play.' Tolkien now sent the following commentary on these remarks.]
By the way. I meant some time ago to comment on the additional matter that appears on the
jacket. I don't suppose it is a very important item in launching The Hobbit (while that book is only
one minor incident in your concerns); so I hope you will take the ensuing essay in good part, and
allow me the pleasure of explaining things (the professor will out), even if it does not appear useful.
I am in your hands, if you think that is the right note. Strict truth is, I suppose, not necessary (or
even desirable). But I have a certain anxiety lest the H.M.Co seize upon the words and exaggerate
the inaccuracy to falsehood. And reviewers are apt to lean on hints. At least I am when performing
that function.
Nursery: I have never had one, and the study has always been the place for such amusements.
In any case is the age-implication right? I should have said 'the nursery' ended about 8 when
children go forth to school. That is too young. My eldest boy was thirteen when he heard the serial.
It did not appeal to the younger ones who had to grow up to it successively.
Lent: we must pass that (though strictly it was forced on the friends by me). The MS. certainly
wandered about, but it was not, as far as I know, ever read to children, and only read by one child (a
girl of 12-13), before Mr Unwin tried it out.
Abstruse: I do not profess an 'abstruse' subject – not qua 'Anglo-Saxon'. Some folk may think
so, but I do not like encouraging them. Old English and Icelandic literature are no more remote
from human concerns, or difficult to acquire cheaply, than commercial Spanish (say). I have tried
both. In any case – except for the runes (Anglo-Saxon) and the dwarf-names (Icelandic), neither
used with antiquarian accuracy, and both regretfully substituted to avoid abstruseness for the
genuine alphabets and names of the mythology into which Mr Baggins intrudes – I am afraid my
professional knowledge is not directly used. The magic and mythology and assumed 'history' and
most of the names (e.g. the epic of the Fall of Gondolin) are, alas!, drawn from unpublished
inventions, known only to my family, Miss Griffiths1 and Mr Lewis. I believe they give the
narrative an air of 'reality' and have a northern atmosphere. But I wonder whether one should lead
the unsuspecting to imagine it all comes out of the 'old books', or tempt the knowing to point out
that it does not?
'Philology' – my real professional bag of tricks – may be abstruse, and perhaps more
comparable to Dodgson's maths. So the real parallel (if one exists: I feel very much that it breaks
down if examined)* lies in the fact that both these technical subjects in any overt form are absent.
The only philological remark (I think) in The Hobbit is on p. 221 (lines 6-7 from end):2 an odd
mythological way of referring to linguistic philosophy, and a point that will (happily) be missed by
any who have not read Barfield3 (few have), and probably by those who have. I am afraid this stuff
of mine is really more comparable to Dodgson's amateur photography, and his song of Hiawatha's
failure than to Alice.
Professor: a professor at play rather suggests an elephant in its bath – as Sir Walter Raleigh4
said of Professor Jo Wright in a sportive mood at a viva.5 Strictly (I believe) Dodgson was not a
'professor', but a college lecturer — though he was kind to my kind in making the 'professor' the
best character (unless you prefer the mad gardener) in Sylvie & Bruno. Why not 'student'? The word
has the added advantage that Dodgson's official status was Student of Christ Church. If you think it
good, and fair (the compliment to The Hobbit is rather high) to maintain the comparison – Lookingglass ought to be mentioned. It is much closer in every way. ....
J. R. R. Tolkien.
Is the presence if 'conundrums' in Alice a parallel to echoes of Northern myth in The Hobbit?
16 To Michael Tolkien
[Tolkien's second son Michael, now aged sixteen, was a pupil at the Oratory School in Berkshire, together
with his younger brother Christopher. He was hoping to get into the school rugby football team.]
3 October 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dearest Mick,
It was nice to have a letter from you. I hope all is going well. I thought the new flats1 looked as
if they would be presentable when furnished. It is good of you to keep a kindly eye on Chris, as far
as you can. I expect he will make a mess of things to begin with, but he ought soon to find his
bearings and be no more trouble to you or himself.
I am sorry and surprised you are not (yet) in the team. But many a man ends up in it and even
with colours, who is rejected at first. It was so with me – and for same reason: too light. But one
day I decided to make up for weight by (legitimate) ferocity, and I ended up a house-captain at end
of that season, & got my colours the next. But I got rather damaged – among things having my
tongue nearly cut out – and as I am on the whole rather luckier than you, I should really be quite
happy if you remain uninjured though not in the team! But God bless you & keep you anyway.
There is no very special news. Mummy seems to have taken to car-riding. We have been two since
you left, and I have now got to take her, P. and J.B.2 out this afternoon instead of writing. So this
must be all for the moment. With v. much love indeed. Your own Father
17 To Stanley Unwin, Chairman of Allen & Unwin
[Unwin had sent Tolkien a letter from the author Richard Hughes, who had been given a copy of The Hobbit
by Allen & Unwin. Hughes wrote to Unwin: 'I agree with you that it is one of the best stories for children I
have come across for a very long time..... The only snag I can see is that many parents .... may be afraid that
certain pans of it would be too terrifying for bedside reading.' Unwin also mentioned that his own elevenyear-old son Rayner, who had written the report on the manuscript of The Hobbit which had led to its
publication (see Biography pp. 180-81), had been re-reading the book now that it was in print. Unwin
concluded by warning Tolkien that 'a large public' would be 'clamouring next year to hear more from you
about Hobbits!']
15 October 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
Thank you very much for your kind letter of October 11th, and now for the copy of Richard
Hughes' letter. I was particularly interested in this, since we are quite unknown to one another. The
reviews in The Times and its Literary Supplement were good – that is (unduly) flattering; though I
guess, from internal evidence, that they were both written by the same man,1 and one whose
approval was assured: we started with common tastes and reading, and have been closely associated
for years. Still that in no way detracts from their public effect. Also I must respect his opinion, as I
believed him to be the best living critic until he turned his attention to me, and no degree of
friendship would make him say what he does not mean: he is the most uncompromisingly honest
man I have met!....
No reviewer (that I have seen), although all have carefully used the correct dwarfs themselves,
has commented on the fact (which I only became conscious of through reviews) that I use
throughout the 'incorrect' plural dwarves. I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather
shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go on with it. Perhaps my dwarf – since he and the
Gnome2 are only translations into approximate equivalents of creatures with different names and
rather different functions in their own world – may be allowed a peculiar plural. The real 'historical'
plural of dwarf (like teeth of tooth) is dwarrows, anyway: rather a nice word, but a bit too archaic.
Still I rather wish I had used the word dwarrow.
My heart warms to your son. To read the faint and close typescript was noble: to read the whole
thing again so soon was a magnificent compliment.
I have received one postcard, alluding I suppose to the Times' review: containing just the
sic hobbitur ad astra.3
All the same I am a little perturbed. I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits. Mr
Baggins seems to have exhibited so fully both the Took and the Baggins side of their nature. But I
have only too much to say, and much already written, about the world into which the hobbit
intruded. You can, of course, see any of it, and say what you like about it, if and when you wish. I
should rather like an opinion, other than that of Mrs C.S.Lewis and my children, whether it has any
value in itself, or as a marketable commodity, apart from hobbits. But if it is true that The Hobbit
has come to stay and more will be wanted, I will start the process of thought, and try to get some
idea of a theme drawn from this material for treatment in a similar style and for a similar audience –
possibly including actual hobbits. My daughter would like something on the Took family. One
reader wants fuller details about Gandalf and the Necromancer. But that is too dark – much too
much for Richard Hughes' snag. I am afraid that snag appears in everything; though actually the
presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what gives this imagined world its
verisimilitude. A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds. At the moment I am suffering like Mr
Baggins from a touch of 'staggerment', and I hope I am not taking myself too seriously. But I must
confess that your letter has aroused in me a faint hope. I mean, I begin to wonder whether duty and
desire may not (perhaps) in future go more closely together. I have spent nearly all the vacationtimes of seventeen years examining, and doing things of that son, driven by immediate financial
necessity (mainly medical and educational). Writing stories in prose or verse has been stolen, often
guiltily, from time already mortgaged, and has been broken and ineffective. I may perhaps now do
what I much desire to do, and not fail of financial duty. Perhaps!*
I think 'Oxford' interest is mildly aroused. I am constantly asked how my hobbit is. The attitude
is (as I foresaw) not unmixed with surprise and a little pity. My own college is I think good for
about six copies, if only in order to find material for teasing me. Appearance in The Times
convinced one or two of my more sedate colleagues that they could admit knowledge of my
'fantasy' (i.e. indiscretion) without loss of academic dignity. The professor of Byzantine Greek4
bought a copy, 'because first editions of "Alice" are now very valuable'. I did hear that the Regius
Professor of Modern History was recently seen reading 'The Hobbit'. It is displayed by Parkers5 but
not elsewhere (I think).
I am probably coming to town, to hear Professor Joseph Vendryes at the Academy on
Wednesday Oct. 27th. I wonder would that be a suitable day for the luncheon you kindly asked me
to last summer? And in any case, I could bring Mr Bliss to the office so as to get the definite advice
on what is needed to make it reproducible promised by Mr Furth?
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
PS. I acknowledge safe receipt of the specimen 'pictures' sent to America.
* Not that 'examining' is very profitable. Quite small sales would surpass it. £100 requires nearly as much labour as
a full-sized novel.
18 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 23 October 1937
[On 19 October, Unwin wrote to Tolkien: 'I think there is cause for your faint hope..... It is seldom that a
children's writer gets firmly established with one book, but that you will do so very rapidly I have not the
slightest doubt. .... You are one of those rare people with genius, and, unlike some publishers, it is a word I
have not used half a dozen times in thirty years of publishing.']
Thank you in return for your encouraging letter. I will start something soon, & submit it to your
boy at the earliest opportunity.
19 To Stanley Unwin
[Tolkien lunched with Unwin in London on 15 November, and told him about a number of his writings
which already existed in manuscript: the series of Father Christmas Letters, which he had addressed to his
children each Christmas since 1920; various short tales and poems; and The Silmarillion. Following this
meeting, he handed to Allen & Unwin the 'Quenta Silmarillion', a prose formulation of the latter book,
together with the long unfinished poem "The Gest of Beren and Lúthien'. These were shown to one of the
firm's outside readers, Edward Crankshaw, who reported unfavourably on the poem, but praised the prose
narrative for its 'brevity and dignity', though he said he disliked its 'eye-splitting Celtic names'. His report
continued: 'It has something of that mad, bright-eyed beauty that perplexes all Anglo-Saxons in face of
Celtic art.' These comments were passed on to Tolkien.]
16 December 1937
20 Nonhmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
I have been ill and am still rather tottery, and have had others of the common human troubles,
so that time has slipped out of my hands: I have accomplished next to nothing of any kind since I
saw you. Father Christmas' 1937 letter is unwritten yet. ....
My chief joy comes from learning that the Silmarillion is not rejected with scorn. I have
suffered a sense of fear and bereavement, quite ridiculous, since I let this private and beloved
nonsense out; and I think if it had seemed to you to be nonsense I should have felt really crushed. I
do not mind about the verse-form, which in spite of certain virtuous passages has grave defects, for
it is only for me the rough material. But I shall certainly now hope one day to be able, or to be able
to afford, to publish the Silmarillion! Your reader's comment affords me delight. I am sorry the
names split his eyes – personally I believe (and here believe I am a good judge) they are good, and a
large part of the effect. They are coherent and consistent and made upon two related linguistic
formulae, so that they achieve a reality not fully achieved to my feeling by other name-inventors
(say Swift or Dunsany!). Needless to say they are not Celtic! Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic
things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste:
largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass
window reassembled without design. They are in fact 'mad' as your reader says – but I don't believe
I am. Still I am very grateful for his words, and particularly encouraged that the style is good for the
purpose and even gets over the nomenclature.
I did not think any of the stuff I dropped on you filled the bill. But I did want to know whether
any of the stuff had any exterior non-personal value. I think it is plain that quite apart from it, a
sequel or successor to The Hobbit is called for. I promise to give this thought and attention. But I
am sure you will sympathize when I say that the construction of elaborate and consistent mythology
(and two languages) rather occupies the mind, and the Silmarils are in my heart. So that goodness
knows what will happen. Mr Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent
Grimm's fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it – so that even Sauron the terrible
peeped over the edge. And what more can hobbits do? They can be comic, but their comedy is
suburban unless it is set against things more elemental. But the real fun about orcs and dragons (to
my mind) was before their time. Perhaps a new (if similar) line? Do you think Tom Bombadil, the
spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside, could be made into the hero of a story?
Or is he, as I suspect, fully enshrined in the enclosed verses?1 Still I could enlarge the portrait.
Which are the four coloured illustrations you are using?2 Have the five originals yet returned ?
Is there a spare one available of the dragon on his hoard? I have to give a lecture on dragons, (at the
Natural History Museum!!!) and they want a picture to make a slide of.3
Could I have four more copies of the Hobbit at author's rates, to use as Christmas presents?
May I wish you bon voyage – and a safe return.4 I am supposed to be broadcasting from BBC
on Jan 14th, but that will I suppose be after your return.5 I shall look forward to seeing you again.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien
P.S. I have received several queries, on behalf of children and adults, concerning the runes and
whether they are real and can be read. Some children have tried to puzzle them out. Would it be a
good thing to provide a runic alphabet? I have had to write one out for several people. Please excuse
scrawling and rambling nature of this letter. I feel only half-alive. JRRT.
I have received safely by a later post the Geste (in verse) and the Silmarillion and related
20 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
[On 17 December, Furth wrote to Tolkien: 'The demand for The Hobbit became so acute with the beginning
of the Christmas orders that we had to rush the reprint though..... At the last minute the crisis was so acute
that we fetched part of the reprint from our printers at Woking in a private car.']
19 December 1937
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
Thank you for the account of recent events with regard to 'the Hobbit'. It sounds quite exciting.
I have received four copies of the new impression charged to me, as ordered in my letter to Mr
Unwin. I think the coloured pictures have come out well... I am sorry that the Eagle picture (to face
p. 118) is not included – merely because I should have liked to see it reproduced. I marvel that four
can have been included without raising the price. Perhaps the Americans will use it? Odd folk...
I have written the first chapter of a new story about Hobbits – 'A long expected party'.1 A merry
Yrs sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
[P.S.] .... Mr Arthur Ransome2 objects to man on p. 27 (line 7 from end). Read fellow as in earlier
recension? He also objects to more men on p. 294 l.11. Read more of us? Men with a capital is, I
think, used in text when 'human kind' are specifically intended; and man, men with a minuscule are
occasionally and loosely used as 'adult male' and 'people'. But perhaps, although this can be
mythologically defended (and is according to Anglo-Saxon usage!), it may be as well to avoid
raising mythological issues outside the story. Mr Ransome also seems not to like Gandalf's use of
boys on p. 112 (lines 11, 13). But, though I agree that his insult was rather silly and not quite up to
form, I do not think anything can be done about it now. Unless oaves would do? JRRT.
21 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 1 February 1938
Would you ask Mr Unwin whether his son, a very reliable critic, would care to read the first
chapter of the sequel to The Hobbit? I have typed it. I have no confidence in it, but if he thought it a
promising beginning, could add to it the tale that is brewing.
22 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
4 February 1938
Dear Mr Furth,
I enclose copy of Chapter I 'A Long-expected Party' of possible sequel to The Hobbit. ....
I received a letter from a young reader in Boston (Lincs) enclosing a list of errata [in The
Hobbit]. I then put my youngest son, lying in bed with a bad heart,1 to find any more at twopence a
time. He did. I enclose the results – which added to those already submitted should (I hope) make
an exhaustive list. I also hope they may one day be required.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
23 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
[The publishers had again been considering the possibility of publishing Mr Bliss, for which see the
introductory note to no. 10.]
17 February 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
'Mr Bliss' returned safely. I am sorry you have had so much trouble with him. I wish you could
find someone to redraw the pictures properly. I don't believe I am capable of it. I have at any rate no
time now — it is easier to write a story at odd moments than draw (though neither are easy).....
They say it is the first step that costs the effort. I do not find it so. I am sure I could write
unlimited 'first chapters'. I have indeed written many. The Hobbit sequel is still where it was, and I
have only the vaguest notions of how to proceed. Not ever intending any sequel, I fear I squandered
all my favourite 'motifs' and characters on the original 'Hobbit'.
I will write and get your advice on 'Mr Bliss' before I do anything. It will hardly be before the
Long Vacation, or the end of my 'research fellowship'.1
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
24 To Stanley Unwin
[On 11 February, Unwin reported that his son Rayner was 'delighted with the first chapter' of the new story.]
18 February 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
I am most grateful to your son Rayner; and am encouraged. At the same time I find it only too
easy to write opening chapters – and for the moment the story is not unfolding. I have unfortunately
very little time, made shorter by a rather disastrous Christmas vacation. I squandered so much on
the original 'Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new
in that world.
Mr C.S.Lewis tells me that you have allowed him to submit to you 'Out of the Silent Planet'. I
read it, of course; and I have since heard it pass a rather different test: that of being read aloud to
our local club (which goes in for reading things short and long aloud). It proved an exciting serial,
and was highly approved. But of course we are all rather like-minded.
It is only by an odd accident that the hero is a philologist (one point in which he resembles me)
and has your name.1 The latter detail could I am sure be altered: I do not believe it has any special
We originally meant each to write an excursionary 'Thriller': a Space-journey and a Timejourney (mine) each discovering Myth.2 But the Space-journey has been finished, and the Timejourney remains owing to my slowness and uncertainty only a fragment, as you know.3
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
25 To the editor of the 'Observer'
[On 16 January 1938, the Observer published a letter, signed 'Habit', asking whether hobbits might have
been suggested to Tolkien by Julian Huxley's account of 'the "little furry men" seen in Africa by natives and
.... at least one scientist'. The letter-writer also mentioned that a friend had 'said she remembered an old fairy
tale called "The Hobbit" in a collection read about 1904', in which the creature of that name 'was definitely
frightening'. The writer asked if Tolkien would 'tell us some more about the name and inception of the
intriguing hero of his book. .... It would save so many research students so very much trouble in the
generations to come. And, by the way, is the hobbit's stealing of the dragon's cup based on the cup-stealing
episode in Beowulf? I hope so, since one of the book's charms appears to be its Spenserian harmonising of
the brilliant threads of so many branches of epic, mythology, and Victorian fairy literature.' Tolkien's reply,
though it was not intended for publication (see the conclusion of no. 26), was printed in the Observer on 20
February 1938.]
Sir, – I need no persuasion: I am as susceptible as a dragon to flattery, and would gladly show
off my diamond waistcoat, and even discuss its sources, since the Habit (more inquisitive than the
Hobbit) has not only professed to admire it, but has also asked where I got it from. But would not
that be rather unfair to the research students? To save them trouble is to rob them of any excuse for
However, with regard to the Habit's principal question there is no danger: I do not remember
anything about the name and inception of the hero. I could guess, of course, but the guesses would
have no more authority than those of future researchers, and I leave the game to them.
I was born in Africa, and have read several books on African exploration. I have, since about
1896, read even more books of fairy-tales of the genuine kind. Both the facts produced by the Habit
would appear, therefore, to be significant.
But are they? I have no waking recollection of furry pigmies (in book or moonlight); nor of any
Hobbit bogey in print by 1904. I suspect that the two hobbits are accidental homophones, and am
content* that they are not (it would seem) synonyms. And I protest that my hobbit did not live in
Africa, and was not furry, except about the feet. Nor indeed was he like a rabbit. He was a
prosperous, well-fed young bachelor of independent means. Calling him a 'nassty little rabbit' was a
piece of vulgar trollery, just as 'descendant of rats' was a piece of dwarfish malice — deliberate
insults to his size and feet, which he deeply resented. His feet, if conveniently clad and shod by
nature, were as elegant as his long, clever fingers.
As for the rest of the tale it is, as the Habit suggests, derived from (previously digested) epic,
mythology, and fairy-story – not, however, Victorian in authorship, as a rule to which George
Macdonald is the chief exception. Beowulf is among my most valued sources; though it was not
consciously present to the mind in the process of writing, in which the episode of the theft arose
naturally (and almost inevitably) from the circumstances. It is difficult to think of any other way of
conducting the story at that point. I fancy the author of Beowulf would say much the same.
My tale is not consciously based on any other book — save one, and that is unpublished: the
'Silmarillion', a history of the Elves, to which frequent allusion is made. I had not thought of the
future researchers; and as there is only one manuscript there seems at the moment small chance of
this reference proving useful.
But these questions are mere preliminaries. Now that I have been made to see Mr. Baggins's
adventures as the subject of future enquiry I realise that a lot of work will be needed. There is the
question of nomenclature. The dwarf-names, and the wizard's, are from the Elder Edda. The hobbitnames from Obvious Sources proper to their kind. The full list of their wealthier families is:
Baggins, Boffin, Bolger, Bracegirdle, Brandybuck, Burrowes, Chubb, Grubb, Hornblower,
Proudfoot, Sackville, and Took. The dragon bears as name – a pseudonym – the past tense of the
primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest. The rest of the
names are of the Ancient and Elvish World, and have not been modernised.
And why dwarves? Grammar prescribes dwarfs; philology suggests that dwarrows would be
the historical form. The real answer is that I knew no better. But dwarves goes well with elves; and,
Not quite. I should like, if possible, to learn more about the fairy-tale collection, c. 1904.
in any case, elf, gnome, goblin, dwarf are only approximate translations of the Old Elvish names for
beings of not quite the same kinds and functions.
These dwarves are not quite the dwarfs of better known lore. They have been given
Scandinavian names, it is true; but that is an editorial concession. Too many names in the tongues
proper to the period might have been alarming. Dwarvish was both complicated and cacophonous.
Even early elvish philologists avoided it, and the dwarves were obliged to use other languages,
except for entirely private conversations. The language of hobbits was remarkably like English, as
one would expect: they only lived on the borders of The Wild, and were mostly unaware of it. Their
family names remain for the most part as well known and justly respected in this island as they
were in Hobbiton and Bywater.
There is the matter of the Runes. Those used by Thorin and Co., for special purposes, were
comprised in an alphabet of thirty-two letters (full list on application), similar to, but not identical,
with the runes of Anglo-Saxon inscriptions. There is doubtless an historical connection between the
two. The Feanorian alphabet, generally used at that time, was of Elvish origin. It appears in the
curse inscribed on the pot of gold in the picture of Smaug's lair, but had otherwise been transcribed
(a facsimile of the original letter left on the mantelpiece can be supplied).
And what about the Riddles? There is work to be done here on the sources and analogues. I
should not be at all surprised to learn that both the hobbit and Gollum will find their claim to have
invented any of them disallowed.
Finally, I present the future researcher with a little problem. The tale halted in the telling for
about a year at two separate points: where are they? But probably that would have been discovered
anyway. And suddenly I remember that the hobbit thought 'Old fool', when the dragon succumbed
to blandishment. I fear that the Habit's comment (and yours) will already be the same. But you must
admit that the temptation was strong. – Yours, etc.,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
26 To Stanley Unwin
[On 2 March, Unwin sent Tolkien an extract from a reader's report on C.S.Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet.
The reader commented: 'Mr Lewis is quite likely, I dare say, to write a worth while novel one day. This one
isn't good enough – quite.' The reader judged the creatures of the planet Malacandra to be 'bunk'. Unwin
asked Tolkien for his opinion of the book.]
4 March 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
I wrote you the enclosed letter1 some time ago; but I hesitated to send it, knowing that you
would wish to send Mr Lewis' work to your reader, and not wishing to interfere beyond getting you
to consider it. Lewis is a great friend of mine, and we are in close sympathy (witness his two
reviews of my Hobbit): this may make for understanding, but it may also cast an unduly rosy light.
Since you ask for my opinion, here it is.
I read the story in the original MS. and was so enthralled that I could do nothing else until I had
finished it. My first criticism was simply that it was too short. I still think that criticism holds, for
both practical and artistic reasons. Other criticisms, concerning narrative style (Lewis is always apt
to have rather creaking stiff-jointed passages), inconsistent details in the plot, and philology, have
since been corrected to my satisfaction. The author holds to items of linguistic invention that do not
appeal to me (Malacandra, Maleldil — eldila, in any case, I suspect to be due to the influence of the
Eldar in the Silmarillion – and Pfifltriggi); but this is a matter of taste. After all your reader found
my invented names, made with cherished care, eye-splitting. But the linguistic inventions and the
philology on the whole are more than good enough. All the pan about language and poetry – the
glimpses of its Malacandrian nature and form — is very well done, and extremely interesting, far
superior to what one usually gets from travellers in untravelled regions. The language difficulty is
usually slid over or fudged. Here it not only has verisimilitude, but also underlying thought.
I was disturbed by your reader's report. I am afraid that at the first blush I feel inclined to retort
that anyone capable of using the word 'bunk' will inevitably find matter of this sort – bunk. But one
must be reasonable. I realize of course that to be even moderately marketable such a story must pass
muster on its surface value, as a vera historia of a journey to a strange land. I am extremely fond of
the genre, even having read Land under England2 with some pleasure (though it was a weak
example, and distasteful to me in many points). I thought Out of the Silent Planet did pass this test
very successfully. The openings and the actual mode of transportation in time or space are always
the weakest points of such tales. They are well enough worked here, but there should be more
narrative given to adventure on Malacandra to balance and justify them. The theme of three distinct
rational species (hnau) requires more attention to the third species, Pfifltriggi. Also the central
episode of the visit to Eldilorn is reached too soon, artistically. Also would not the book be in fact
practically rather short for a narrative of this type?
But I should have said that the story had for the more intelligent reader a great number of
philosophical and mythical implications that enormously enhanced without detracting from the
surface 'adventure'. I found the blend of vera historia with mythos irresistible. There are of course
certain satirical elements, inevitable in any such traveller's tale, and also a spice of satire on other
superficially similar works of 'scientific' fiction — such as the reference to the notion that higher
intelligence will inevitably be combined with ruthlessness. The underlying myth is of course that of
the Fall of the Angels (and the fall of man on this our silent planet); and the central point is the
sculpture of the planets revealing the erasure of the sign of the Angel of this world. I cannot
understand how any one can say this sticks in his gullet, unless (a) he thinks this particular myth
'bunk', that is not worth adult attention (even on a mythical plane); or (b) the use of it unjustified or
perhaps unsuccessful.
The latter is perhaps arguable – though I dissent – but at any rate the critique should have
pointed out the existence of the myth. Oyarsa is not of course a 'nice kind scientific God',3 but
something so profoundly different that the difference seems to have been unnoticed, namely an
Angel. Yet even as a nice kind scientific God I think he compares favourably with the governing
potentates of other stories of this kind. His name is not invented, but is from Bernardus Silvestris, as
I think is explained at the end of the book (not that I think that this learned detail matters, but it is as
legitimate as pseudo-scientific learning). In conclusion I might say that in designating the Pfifltriggi
as the 'workers' your reader also misses the point, and is misled by current notions that are not
applicable. But I have probably said more than enough. I at any rate should have bought this story
at almost any price if I had found it in print, and loudly recommended it as a 'thriller' by (however
and surprisingly) an intelligent man. But I know only too sadly from efforts to find anything to read
even with an 'on demand' subscription at a library that my taste is not normal. I read 'Voyage to
Arcturus'4 with avidity — the most comparable work, though it is both more powerful and more
mythical (and less rational, and also less of a story – no one could read it merely as a thriller and
without interest in philosophy religion and morals). I wonder what your reader thinks of it? All the
same I shall be comforted on my own behalf, if the second reader supports my taste a bit more!
The sequel to The Hobbit has now progressed as far as the end of the third chapter. But stories
tend to get out of hand, and this has taken an unpremeditated turn. Mr Lewis and my youngest boy
are reading it in bits as a serial. I hesitate to bother your son, though I should value his criticisms. At
any rate if he would like to read it in serial form he can. My Christopher and Mr Lewis approve it
enough to say that they think it is better than the Hobbit; but Rayner need not agree!
I have received a copy of the American edition. Not so bad. I am glad they have included the
eagle picture, but I cannot imagine why they have spoilt the Rivendell picture, by slicing the top
and cutting out the ornament at the bottom. All the numerous textual errors are of course included. I
hope it will some day be possible to get rid of them.
I don't know whether you saw the long and ridiculous letter in The Observer of Feb. 20, and
thought I had suddenly gone cracked. I think the editor was unfair. There was a letter signed Habit
in the paper in January (asking if the hobbit was influenced by Julian Huxley's lectures on furry
African pygmies, and other questions). I sent this jesting reply with a stamped envelope for
transmission to Habit; and also a short and fairly sane reply for publication. Nothing happened for a
month, and then I woke up to find my ill-considered joke occupying nearly a column.
With best wishes. Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
27 To the Houghton Mifflin Company
[An extract from a letter apparently addressed to Tolkien's American publishers, and probably written in
March or April 1938. Houghton Mifflin seem to have asked him to supply drawings of hobbits for use in
some future edition of The Hobbit.]
I am afraid, if you will need drawings of hobbits in various attitudes, I must leave it in the
hands of someone who can draw. My own pictures are an unsafe guide – e.g. the picture of Mr.
Baggins in Chapter VI and XII. The very ill-drawn one in Chapter XIX is a better guide than these
in general impressions.
I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem
to fancy: fattish in the stomach, shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly pointed
and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet from the ankles down, covered with brown
hairy fur. Clothing: green velvet breeches; red or yellow waistcoat; brown or green jacket; gold (or
brass) buttons; a dark green hood and cloak (belonging to a dwarf).
Actual size – only important if other objects are in picture – say about three feet or three feet six
inches. The hobbit in the picture of the gold-hoard, Chapter XII, is of course (apart from being fat in
the wrong places) enormously too large. But (as my children, at any rate, understand) he is really in
a separate picture or 'plane' – being invisible to the dragon.
There is in the text no mention of his acquiring of boots. There should be! It has dropped out
somehow or other in the various revisions – the bootings occurred at Rivendell; and he was again
bootless after leaving Rivendell on the way home. But since leathery soles, and well-brushed furry
feet are a feature of essential hobbitness, he ought really to appear unbooted, except in special
illustrations of episodes.
28 To Stanley Unwin
[On 1 June, Unwin told Tolkien that Houghton Mifflin had now sold approximately three thousand copies of
the American edition of The Hobbit. In April, the book had been awarded a $250 prize by the New York
Herald Tribune for the best juvenile story of the season. Meanwhile Rayner Unwin had criticised the second
and third chapters of the new story for having too much 'hobbit talk'.]
4 June 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
Thank you for your comforting news. It is indeed comforting, for in spite of unexpected strokes
of luck, such as the American prize, I am in considerable difficulties; and things will not be
improved in September, when I vacate my research fellowship. That will mean, of course, that the
pressure on my writing time will be less, except that as far as I can see I shall have to return to the
examination treadmill1 to keep the boat afloat.
Your previous letters of April 29 and May 3 have I fear long lain unanswered. I meant long ago
to have thanked Rayner for bothering to read the tentative chapters, and for his excellent criticism.
It agrees strikingly with Mr Lewis', which is therefore confirmed. I must plainly bow to my two
chief (and most well-disposed) critics. The trouble is that 'hobbit talk' amuses me privately (and to a
certain degree also my boy Christopher) more than adventures; but I must curb this severely.
Although longing to do so, I have not had a chance to touch any story-writing since the Christmas
vacation. With three works in Middle English and Old English going to or through the press, and
another in Old Norse in a series of which I am an editor under my hand on behalf of the author who
is abroad,2 and students coming in July from Belgium and Canada to work under my direction, I
cannot see any loophole left for months!....
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
P.S. My answer was delayed, because your letter arrived in the midst of our little local strife. You
may not have noticed that on June 2 the Rev. Adam Fox3 was elected Professor of Poetry, defeating
a Knight and a noble Lord. He was nominated by Lewis and myself, and miraculously elected: our
first public victory over established privilege. For Fox is a member of our literary club of practising
poets — before whom the Hobbit, and other works (such as the Silent Planet) have been read. We
are slowly getting even into print. One of Fox's works is Old King Coel, a rhymed tale in four books
29 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 25 July 1938
[Allen & Unwin had negotiated the publication of a German translation of The Hobbit with Rütten &
Loening of Potsdam. This firm wrote to Tolkien asking if he was of 'arisch' (aryan) origin.]
I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this
impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a
certificate of 'arisch' origin from all persons of all countries?
Personally I should be inclined to refuse to give any Bestätigung1 (although it happens that I
can), and let a German translation go hang. In any case I should object strongly to any such
declaration appearing in print. I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as
necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the
notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.
You are primarily concerned, and I cannot jeopardize the chance of a German publication
without your approval. So I submit two drafts of possible answers.
30 To Rütten & Loening Verlag
[One of the 'two drafts' mentioned by Tolkien in the previous letter. This is the only one preserved in the
Allen & Unwin files, and it seems therefore very probable that the English publishers sent the other one to
Germany. It is clear that in that letter Tolkien refused to make any declaration of 'arisch' origin.]
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter. .... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am
not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke
Flindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring
whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that
gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from
Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject –
which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with
pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in
the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries
of this son are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a
German name will no longer be a source of pride.
Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that
this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it
has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its suitability for publication, of which
you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.1
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and
remain yours faithfully
J. R. R. Tolkien.
31 To C.A.Furth, Allen & Unwin
[Among the stories that Tolkien showed to his publishers during 1937, as a possible successor to The
Hobbit, was a short version of Farmer Giles of Ham. Allen & Unwin liked it, but felt that it would need the
companionship of other stories to make it into a book of sufficient length. They also, of course, encouraged
Tolkien to write the sequel to The Hobbit.]
24 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
The Hobbit ought to have come out this year not last. Next year I should have probably had
time and mood for a follower. But pressure of work as a 'research fellow', which has to be wound
up if possible by September, has taken all my time, and also dried up invention. The sequel to the
Hobbit has remained where it stopped. It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it.
For one thing the original Hobbit was never intended to have a sequel – Bilbo 'remained very happy
to the end of his days and those were extraordinarily long': a sentence I find an almost insuperable
obstacle to a satisfactory link. For another nearly all the 'motives' that I can use were packed into
the original book, so that a sequel will appear either 'thinner' or merely repetitional. For a third: I am
personally immensely amused by hobbits as such, and can contemplate them eating and making
their rather fatuous jokes indefinitely; but I find that is not the case with even my most devoted
'fans' (such as Mr Lewis, and ? Rayner Unwin). Mr Lewis says hobbits are only amusing when in
unhobbitlike situations. For a last: my mind on the 'story' side is really preoccupied with the 'pure'
fairy stories or mythologies of the Silmarillion, into which even Mr Baggins got dragged against my
original will, and I do not think I shall be able to move much outside it — unless it is finished (and
perhaps published) — which has a releasing effect. The only line I have, quite outside that, is
'Farmer Giles' and the Little Kingdom (with its capital at Thame). I rewrote that to about 50%
longer, last January, and read it to the Lovelace Society1 in lieu of a paper 'on' fairy stories. I was
very much surprised at the result. It took nearly twice as long as a proper 'paper' to read aloud; and
the audience was apparently not bored – indeed they were generally convulsed with mirth. But I am
afraid that means it has taken on a rather more adult and satiric flavour. Anyway I have not written
the necessary two or three other stories of the Kingdom to go with it!
It looks like Mr Bliss. If you think that is worthy of publication. I can bring it back to you, if
you wish. I do not think that I personally can do anything to improve it.
I am really very sorry: for my own sake as well as yours I would like to produce something. But
September seems quite out of the question this year. I hope inspiration and the mood will return. It
is not for lack of wooing that it holds aloof. But my wooing of late has been perforce intermittent.
The Muses do not like such half-heartedness.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
32 To John Masefield
[Masefield, then Poet Laureate, together with Nevill Coghill organised an entertainment in Oxford during
the summers of 1938 and 1939, entitled Summer Diversions. In 1938 he invited Tolkien to impersonate
Chaucer and recite from memory the Nun's Priest's Tale. He wrote to Tolkien enclosing some lines of verse
with which he proposed to introduce him.]
27 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Masefield,
I have no prelude of my own to fire off, and no objection as a performer to being preceded by
the lines you send. In any case you are Master of the Diversions, and I am under your good
Privately, as one student of Chaucer to another, I might perhaps say that these lines seem to me
to allude to the erroneous imagination that Chaucer was the first English poet, and that before and
except for him all was dumb and barbaric. That is of course not true, and is perhaps, even as a way
of emphasizing the fact that he possessed a peculiar genius, which would at any period have
produced work having a novel flavour, rather misleading. I do not personally connect the North
with either night or darkness, especially not in England, in whose long 1200 years of literary
tradition Chaucer stands rather in the middle than the beginning. I also do not feel him springlike
but autumnal (even if of the early autumn) and not kinglike but middle-class. However, as I say,
these are professional matters, about which the present occasion is hardly one to join battle.
I am not at all happy about the effect of Chaucer in general, or the Nonnes Prestes Tale in
particular, in a supposed 14th. C. pronunciation. I will do my best, but I hope it will be sufficiently
intelligible for some of the sense to get over. Personally I rather think that a modified modern
pronunciation (restoring rhymes but otherwise avoiding archaism) is the best – such as I once heard
you use on the Monk's Tale a good many years ago.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
33 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
31 August 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
I am not so much pressed, as oppressed (or depressed). Further troubles which I need not detail
have occurred, and I collapsed (or bent) under them. I have been unwell, since I saw you – in fact I
reached the edge of a breakdown, and was ordered by the doctor to stop short. I have done nothing
for a week or two – being in fact quite unable. But I am beginning to feel a good deal better. I am
now (tomorrow) going away for a fortnight's holiday; which I had not planned and cannot afford,
though it seems required by my own health and my youngest son's. ....
I did not entirely forget 'Farmer Giles': I had it typed. I submit it now, for your consideration in
its rather altered scope and tone. A good many folk have found it very diverting (I think that is the
right word): but that is as may be! I see that it is not long enough to stand alone probably – at least
not as a commercial proposition (if indeed it cd. ever be such a thing). It probably requires more of
its kind. I have planned out a sequel1 (though it does not need one), and have an unfinished pseudoCeltic fairy-story of a mildly satirical order, which is also amusing as far as it has gone, called the
King of the Green Dozen.2 These I might finish off if Giles seems to you worthy of print and
In the last two or three days, after the benefit of idleness and open air, and the sanctioned
neglect of duty, I have begun again on the sequel to the 'Hobbit' – The Lord of the Ring. It is now
flowing along, and getting quite out of hand. It has reached about Chapter VII and progresses
towards quite unforeseen goals. I must say I think it is a good deal better in places and some ways
than the predecessor; but that does not say that I think it either more suitable or more adapted for its
audience. For one thing it is, like my own children (who have the immediate serial rights), rather
'older'. I can only say that Mr Lewis (my stout backer of the Times and T.L.S.) professes himself
more than pleased. If the weather is wet in the next fortnight we may have got still further on. But it
is no bed-time story. ....
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
34 To Stanley Unwin
13 October 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
.... I have worked very hard for a month (in the time which my doctors said must be devoted to
some distraction!) on a sequel to The Hobbit. It has reached Chapter XI (though in rather an
illegible state); I am now thoroughly engrossed in it, and have the threads all in hand – and I have to
put it completely aside, till I do not know when. Even the Christmas vacation will be darkened by
New Zealand scripts, as my friend Gordon1 died in the middle of their Honours Exams, and I had to
finish setting the papers. But I still live in hopes that I may be able to submit it early next year.
When I spoke, in an earlier letter to Mr Furth, of this sequel getting 'out of hand', I did not mean
it to be complimentary to the process. I really meant it was running its course, and forgetting
'children', and was becoming more terrifying than the Hobbit. It may prove quite unsuitable. It is
more 'adult' – but my own children who criticize it as it appears are now older. However, you will
be the judge of that, I hope, some day! The darkness of the present days has had some effect on it.
Though it is not an 'allegory'. (I have already had one letter from America asking for an
authoritative exposition of the allegory of The Hobbit).
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
35 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
2 February 1939
Dear Mr Furth,
By the end of last term the new story – The Lord of the Rings – had reached Chapter 12 (and
had been re-written several times), running to over 300 MS. pages of the size of this paper and
written generally as closely. It will require 200 at least to finish the story that has developed. Could
you give me any idea of the latest date by which the completed MSS. ought to reach you? I have
worked under difficulties of all kinds, including ill-health. Since the beginning of December I have
not been able to touch it. Among many other labours and troubles that the sudden death of my
friend Professor Eric Gordon bequeathed to me, I had to clear up the New Zealand examinations,
which occupied nearly all last vacation. I then caught influenza, from which I have just recovered.
But I have other heavy tasks ahead. I am at the 'peak' of my educational financial stress, with a
second son clamouring for a university and the youngest wanting to go to school (after a year under
heart-specialists), and I am obliged to do exams and lectures and what not. Perhaps you ought to be
thinking about Mr Bliss. And what about Farmer Giles? You had the MSS. of the enlarged form in
September or October.
I think The Lord of the Rings is in itself a good deal better than The Hobbit, but it may not
prove a very fit sequel. It is more grown up – but the audience for which The Hobbit was written
has done that also. The readers young and old who clamoured for 'more about the Necromancer' are
to blame, for the N. is not child's play.* My eldest son is enthusiastic, but it would be a relief to me
to know that my publishers were satisfied. If the part so far written satisfied you, there need be no
fear of the whole. I wonder whether it would not be a wise thing to get what I have done typed and
let you see it? I shall certainly finish it eventually whatever you think of it; but if it did not seem to
be what you want to follow The Hobbit there would be no desperate pressure. The writing of The
Lord of the Rings is laborious, because I have been doing it as well as I know how, and considering
every word. The story, too, has (I fondly imagine) some significance. In spare time it would be
easier and quicker to write up the plots already composed of the more lighthearted stories of the
Little Kingdom to go with Farmer Giles. But I would rather finish the long tale, and not let it go
Let me know what you think. I may get pan of the Easter Vac. free. Not all -1 shall have some
papers to set; and some work in preparation for a possible 'National Emergency' (which will take a
week out).1 I have to go to Scotland either in March or April. It is conceivable I could finish by
June. And the MSS. would be final (no knocking page-proofs about). But I should have no time or
energy for illustration. I never could draw, and the half-baked intimations of it seem wholly to have
left me. A map (very necessary) would be all I could do.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
Still there are more hobbits, far more of them and about them, in the new story. Gollum reappears, and Gandalf is
to the fore: 'dwarves' come in; and though there is no dragon (so far) there is going to be a Giant; and the new and (very
alarming) Ringwraiths are a feature. There ought to be things that people who liked the old mixture will find to have a
similar taste.
36 To C. A. Furth, Allen & Unwin
[On 8 February, Furth sent a royalty cheque for The Hobbit, and told Tolkien that the middle of June was the
latest date by which Allen & Unwin must have the new story if they were going to publish it by Christmas.]
10 February 1939
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Furth,
Thank you very much for your letter – and the enclosed cheque: which was rather a welcome
tonic. The influenza has not damaged me much, though it caught me in a state of exam-exhaustion;
but my throat seems to be getting worse, and I don't feel very bright. ....
I will get my stuff typed and let you have it; and (if it meets with approval, and does not
demand extensive rewriting) I think I shall make a special effort, at the expense of other duties, to
finish it off before June 15th. ....
Did Farmer Giles in the enlarged form meet with any son of approval? (I received the
typescript safely.) Is it worth anything? Are two more stories, or any more stories of the Little
Kingdom, worth contemplating? For instance the completion in the same form of the adventures of
Prince George (the farmer's son) and the fat boy Suovetaurilius (vulgarly Suet), and the Battle of
Otmoor. I just wonder whether this local family game played in the country just round us is more
than silly.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
37 To Stanley Unwin
[Allen & Unwin were publishing a revision by C. L. Wrenn of Clark Hall's translation of Beowulf. Tolkien
had agreed to write a foreword, and during the second half of 1939 he received several enquiries from the
publishers about the progress of this. He left these enquiries unanswered until December, when Stanley
Unwin himself wrote to find out what was happening.]
19 December 1939
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
I was greatly comforted to receive your kind note this morning, even though it heaped hot coals
of fire on my head. In spite of my troubles I have not really a sufficient excuse for not at least
writing or responding to notes and enquiries. My accident just before the outbreak of war1 left me
very unwell for a long while, and that combined with the anxieties and troubles that all share, and
with the lack of any holiday, and with the virtual headship of a department in this bewildered
university have made me unpardonably neglectful. I hardly knew how to cope with the further blow
of my wife's illness, threatening to come to a climax all through the summer and autumn.
The worst seems over now. I have her back, an invalid but apparently mending at last, and the
fear of cancer which was at first entertained apparently dismissed. I am uncommandeered still
myself, and shall now probably remain so, as there is (as yet) far too much to do here, and I have
lost both my chief assistant and his understudy.
I will try and collect my weary wits and pen a sufficient foreword to the 'Beowulf translation, at
once. ....
May I turn now to The Hobbit and kindred affairs. I have never quite ceased work on the
sequel. It has reached Chapter XVI. I fear it is growing too large. I am not at all sure that it will
please quite the same audience (except in so far as that has grown up too). Will there be any chance
of publication, if I can get it done before the Spring? If you would like to try it on anyone as a serial
I am willing to send in chapters. But I have only one fair copy. I have had to go back and revise
early chapters as the plot and plan took firmer shape and so nothing has yet been sufficiently
definitive to type.
I suppose the German edition of The Hobbit will probably never appear now? It was a great
disappointment to my son and myself. We had a bet between us on the version of the opening
sentence. My son is now in Italy,2 whither he has carried The Hobbit, and occasionally sends
enquiries for more of the sequel, which he knew and approved as far as it went. But there is no time,
or very little even when one steals from other more dutiful claims.
I wish you would publish poor 'Farmer Giles' in the interim. He is at least finished, though very
slender in bulk. But he amuses the same people, although Mr Furth seemed to think he has no
obvious public. He has mouldered in a drawer since he amused H. S. Bennett's3 children when I was
in Cambridge last March. Admittedly they are bright children. ....
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
38 To Stanley Unwin
[Tolkien had still not delivered the foreword to the Clark Hall Beowulf translation by 27 March, when Allen
& Unwin wrote a desperate letter asking what had happened to it, and telling him that 'a word or two' would
be enough. The text sent by Tolkien with the following letter was, despite its length, used in full when the
book was published.]
30 March 1940
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
Apologies would be vain in the face of my vexatious and uncivil behaviour. So I felt long ago –
that the only possible reply to your repeated enquiry of March 5 was copy. I have got into worse
trouble than I need – in spite of the many disasters that have befallen me* – since I have foolishly
wasted much labour and time under a misapprehension, which a more careful consideration of the
pagination of the page-proofs might have dispelled.
I knew that a 'word or two' would suffice (though I could not feel that any words under my
name would have any particular value unless they said something worth saying – which takes
space). But I believed that more was hoped for. I cannot lay my hand on the relative letter, and in
any case I now realise that an earlier stage, before page-proof, was envisaged. I can only regret that
I did not get something done at an earlier stage. For a fairly considerable 'preface' is really required.
The so-called 'Introduction' does not exist, being merely an argument:2 there is no reference
whatever to either a translator's or a critic's problems. I advised originally against any attempt to
bring the apparatus of the old book up to date – it can be got by students elsewhere. But I did not
expect a reduction to 10 lines, while the 'argument' (the least useful part) was re-written at length.
That being so I laboured long and hard to compress (and yet enliven) such remarks on
translation as might both be useful to students and of interest to those using the book without
reference to the original text. But the result ran to 17 of my MSS. pages (of some 300 words each) –
not counting the metrical appendix,3 the most original pan, which is as long again!
I was in this stage early in March, and trying to make up my mind what to jettison, when your
letter of March 27th reached me (yesterday). All very foolish. For the pagination indicates clearly
my share as a very small one.
All I can do now is to send in what I have done. You might care to consider it (submitting it to
Wrenn) for inclusion later, e.g. if a further edition is required. (Retouched it might make a suitable
booklet for students. The metrical account, being on a novel plan, and considering the relations of
style and metre, might be attractive, as students are usually rather at sea on this subject.)
To meet the immediate emergency – I suggest (with grief, reluctance, and penitence) that the
passages marked in red (? 1400 words), or those in blue (750-800?) might serve. If not too long.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
It may mitigate your just wrath, if I say that since I wrote in December my wife's health became much worse. I
spent most of last term in an attic in a hotel, with my house derelict and damaged.1 I have been ill myself, and hardly
able to cope with university work, which for me has trebled.
39 From a letter to Michael Tolkien
29 September 1940
[In the late summer of 1940, two women evacuees were billeted for a short time on the Tolkien household.]
Our evacuees went off again this morning, back home to Ashford (they were railway folk), after
scenes of comedy and pathos. I have never come across more simple, helpless, gentle and unhappy
souls (mother and daughter-in-law). They had been away from their husbands for the first time in
their married lives, and found they would prefer to be blown to bits.
40 From a letter to Michael Tolkien
6 October 1940
[In September 1939 Tolkien's second son, then aged nearly nineteen, volunteered for army service, but was
instructed to spend one year at university and then enlist. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, and left it
again the following summer to train as an anti-aircraft gunner.]
I am very sorry indeed, dear boy, that your Varsity career has been cut in two. It would have
been better, if you had been the elder and could have finished before the army took you. But I still
hope you will be able to come back again. And certainly you will learn a lot, first! Though in times
of peace we get, perhaps (and naturally and for the purpose rightly), too engrossed in thinking of
everything as a preparation or training or a making one fit – for what? At any minute it is what we
are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts. But I cannot pretend that I myself
found that idea much comfort against the waste of time and militarism of the army. It isn't the tough
stuff one minds so much. I was pitched into it all, just when I was full of stuff to write, and of things
to learn; and never picked it all up again.
41 From a letter to Michael Tolkien
2 January 1941
I have been clearing up arrears of correspondence, and have at last got as far as getting out my
story again; but as soon as I get really started, term will be casting its shadow ahead, and I shall
have to think of lectures and committees.
42 To Michael Tolkien
[After taking pan with his gun-battery in the defence of aerodromes during the Battle of Britain, Michael
was injured in an accident with an army vehicle during night training, and was sent to hospital in Worcester.
This is one of several letters his father sent to him there.]
12 January 1941
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest Mick,
It seems a long time since I wrote: and it has been a rather dreary and busy time, with a foul
east wind blowing steadily, day after day, and the weather varying from bone-piercing cold to grey
damp chill..... I have had one amusement lately: Dr Havard1 took me and the Lewis brothers2 out to
a pub at Appleton on a snowy skiddy night last Tuesday. J.B. had given me a little pot of snuff as a
birthday present. So I brought it out of my pocket and read out the ancient label: 'AS SUPPLIED to
and the DUCHESS of KENT'. 'Will any one have any?' I said. Many homy hands of yokels were
thrust out. And several caplifting explosions followed! You had better not tell J.B. what I did with
(a small portion) of the precious Fribourg and Treyer stuff. Major Lewis — unaware that
Blackwell3 lives at Appleton and that the locals were all ears – gave an amusing account of visiting
Blackwell's shop with Hugo Dyson.4 When he came to the point at which the assistant returned to
Hugo and said: Sorry, sir, we have no second-hand copy, but we have a new copy (and H. replied
Well, rub it on the floor and make it second-hand: it's all the same to me), there was loud applause.
Apart from this brief interlude, life has been rather dull, and much too full of committees and
legislative business, which has kept me up late several nights. ....
Air Raid warnings are frequent here, but (so far) remain just Warnings ... I fancy things will
'blow up' earlier this year than last – weather permitting – and that we shall have a pretty hectic time
in every corner of this island! It is also plain that our dear old friends the U.S.S.R. are up to some
mischief.5 It is a pretty close race with time. .... I don't suppose mere 'citizens' really have any
knowledge of what is going on. But plain reasoning seems to show that Hitler must attack this
country direct and v. heavily soon, and before the summer. Meanwhile the 'Daily Worker'6 is cried
in the streets unmolested. We shall have some lively times after the War even if we win it as far as
Germany is concerned.
God bless you, my dear son. I pray for you constantly. Remember me. Do you want anything
specially? Very much love from your Father.
43 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941
[On the subject of marriage and relations between the sexes.]
A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean
he can refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and
theirs); or 'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of
mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). This is a fallen
world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been
'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its
special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering
in every house, since Adam fell. We will leave aside the 'immoral' results. These you desire not to
be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. 'Friendship' then? In this fallen world the
'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man
and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every
bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal
ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life
when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can
only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by
accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite
independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost
certainly, by 'falling in love'. But a young man does not really (as a rule) want 'friendship', even if
he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet
irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a
Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.
There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product
of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. It
idealizes 'love' — and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical
pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour,
and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying
love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. Its centre was not
God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding
star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of
noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen
human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was,
producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much
our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion)
it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even
vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it
has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in
the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding
stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget
their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from
without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will
and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always
nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on
looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).
Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic
love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when
unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or
seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of
the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient,
helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in
fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their
natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the
physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught,
grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they
leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue
to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the romantic young man, when he
exists, is still sighing) she may actually 'fall in love'. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young
woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire
is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very
painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary
guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his waggon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying
the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex – all quite innocent, of course, and
worlds away from 'seduction'.
You may meet in life (as in literature*) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton — I don't
refer to mere flirtatiousness, the sparring practice for the real combat, but to women who are too
silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy
the giving of pain – but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and
corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine
circumstances, and the detail of what is considered propriety, they have not changed natural
instinct. A man has a life-work, a career, (and male friends), all of which could (and do where he
has any guts) survive the shipwreck of 'love'. A young woman, even one 'economically
independent', as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial
employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a
home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway
women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be misled by the fact that they
are more 'sentimental' in words – freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star.
They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either
to fall in love or to remain in it. If they have any delusion it is that they can 'reform' men. They will
take a rotter open-eyed, and even when the delusion of reforming him fails, go on loving him. They
are, of course, much more realistic about the sexual relation. Unless perverted by bad contemporary
fashions they do not as a rule talk 'bawdy'; not because they are purer than men (they are not) but
because they don't find it funny. I have known those who pretended to, but it is a pretence. It may
be intriguing, interesting, absorbing (even a great deal too absorbing) to them: but it is just plumb
natural, a serious, obvious interest; where is the joke?
They have, of course, still to be more careful in sexual relations, for all the contraceptives.
Mistakes are damaging physically and socially (and matrimonially). But they are instinctively,
when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. .... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their
animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us
men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily
beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham
Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance
between our bodies, minds, and souls.
However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or
by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the
realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails
that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify &
direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle
remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many
Literature has been (until the modern novel) mainly a masculine business, and in it there is a great deal about the
'fair and false'. That is on the whole a slander. Women are humans and therefore capable of perfidy. But within the
human family, as contrasted with men they are not generally or naturally the more perfidious. Very much the reverse.
Except only that women are apt to break down if asked to 'wait' for a man, too long, and while youth (so precious and
necessary to a would-be mother) is swiftly passing. They should, in fact, not be asked to wait.
difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he
loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body
without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even
those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour
wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soulmate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that
comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence
divorce, to provide the 'if only'. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a
mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning
whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all
marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect
world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found
more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do
very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His
instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common
where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as
long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. But even in
countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people
believe that the choosing of a mate is solely the concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune
brings together the man and woman who are really as it were 'destined' for one another, and capable
of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and
stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in
real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of
their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is
more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first
sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this
fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean,
heart, and fidelity of will.....
My own history is so exceptional, so wrong and imprudent in nearly every point that it makes it
difficult to counsel prudence. Yet hard cases make bad law; and exceptional cases are not always
good guides for others. For what it is worth here is some autobiography – mainly on this occasion
directed towards the points of age, and finance.
I fell in love with your mother at the approximate age of 18. Quite genuinely, as has been
shown – though of course defects of character and temperament have caused me often to fall below
the ideal with which I started. Your mother was older than I, and not a Catholic. Altogether
unfortunate, as viewed by a guardian.1 And it was in a sense very unfortunate; and in a way very
bad for me. These things are absorbing and nervously exhausting. I was a clever boy in the throes of
work for (a very necessary) Oxford scholarship. The combined tensions nearly produced a bad
breakdown. I muffed my exams and though (as years afterwards my H[ead] M[aster] told me) I
ought to have got a good scholarship, I only landed by the skin of my teeth an exhibition of £60 at
Exeter: just enough with a school leaving scholarship] of the same amount to come up on (assisted
by my dear old guardian). Of course there was a credit side, not so easily seen by the guardian. I
was clever, but not industrious or single-minded; a large pan of my failure was due simply to not
working (at least not at classics) not because I was in love, but because I was studying something
else: Gothic and what not.2 Having the romantic upbringing I made a boy-and-girl affair serious,
and made it the source of effort. Naturally rather a physical coward, I passed from a despised rabbit
on a house second-team to school colours in two seasons. All that sort of thing. However, trouble
arose: and I had to choose between disobeying and grieving (or deceiving) a guardian who had been
a father to me, more than most real fathers, but without any obligation, and 'dropping' the loveaffair until I was 21. I don't regret my decision, though it was very hard on my lover. But that was
not my fault. She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just
complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else.
For very nearly three years I did not see or write to my lover. It was extremely hard, painful and
bitter, especially at first. The effects were not wholly good: I fell back into folly and slackness and
misspent a good deal of my first year at College. But I don't think anything else would have
justified marriage on the basis of a boy's affair; and probably nothing else would have hardened the
will enough to give such an affair (however genuine a case of true love) permanence. On the night
of my 21st birthday I wrote again to your mother – Jan. 3, 1913. On Jan. 8th I went back to her, and
became engaged, and informed an astonished family. I picked up my socks and did a spot of work
(too late to save Hon. Mods.3 from disaster) – and then war broke out the next year, while I still had
a year to go at college. In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft
to be in, especially for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage. No
degree: no money: fiancée. I endured the obloquy, and hints becoming outspoken from relatives,
stayed up, and produced a First in Finals in 1915. Bolted into the army: July 1915. I found the
situation intolerable and married on March 22, 1916. May found me crossing the Channel (I still
have the verse I wrote on the occasion!)4 for the carnage of the Somme.
Think of your mother! Yet I do not now for a moment feel that she was doing more than she
should have been asked to do – not that that detracts from the credit of it. I was a young fellow, with
a moderate degree, and apt to write verse, a few dwindling pounds p. a. (£20 – 40),5 and no
prospects, a Second Lieut. on 7/6 a day in the infantry where the chances of survival were against
you heavily (as a subaltern). She married me in 1916 and John was born in 1917 (conceived and
carried during the starvation-year of 1917 and the great U-Boat campaign) round about the battle of
Cambrai, when the end of the war seemed as far-off as it does now. I sold out, and spent to pay the
nursing-home, the last of my few South African shares, 'my patrimony'.
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love
on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. .... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the
true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which
ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can
what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that
complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.
44 From a letter to Michael Tolkien
18 March 1941
[Tolkien's maternal ancestors, the Suffields, came from the West Mid-lands, and were particularly
associated with Worcestershire.]
Though a Tolkien by name, I am a Suffield by tastes, talents, and upbringing, and any comer of
that county [Worcestershire] (however fair or squalid) is in an indefinable way 'home' to me, as no
other part of the world is. Your grandmother, to whom you owe so much – for she was a gifted lady
of great beauty and wit, greatly stricken by God with grief and suffering, who died in youth (at 34)
of a disease hastened by persecution of her faith1 – died in the postman's cottage at Rednal,2 and is
buried at Bromsgrove.
45 To Michael Tolkien
[Michael was now an Officer Cadet at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.]
9 June 1941
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest Michael,
I was so glad to hear from you. I would have written earlier to-day, only Mummy carried your
letter off to Birmingham, before I had time to do more than glance at it. I am afraid that I show up
badly as a letter writer: but really I get sick of the pen. Lectures ended on Thursday, and I hoped to
get a little while (a) to rest, and (b) to put some order into the garden before 'Schools'1 begin on
Thursday (Corpus Christi). But the everlasting rain has prevented my outdoor work, and lots of
extra business prevented any rest. I sympathize with Govt. officials! I have spent most of my time
of late drafting rules and regulations,2 only to find all kinds of loopholes as soon as they are in print,
and only to be cursed and criticized by those who have not done the work, and won't try to
understand the aims and objects!....
One War is enough for any man. I hope you will be spared a second. Either the bitterness of
youth or that of middle-age is enough for a life-time: both is too much. I suffered once what you are
going through, if rather differently: because I was very inefficient and unmilitary (and we are alike
only in sharing a deep sympathy and feeling for the 'tommy', especially the plain soldier from the
agricultural counties). I did not then believe that the 'old folk' suffered much. Now I know. I tell you
I feel like a lame canary in a cage. To carry on the old pre-war job – it is just poison. If only I could
do something active! But there it is: I am 'permanently reserved', and as such I have my hands too
full even to be a Home Guard. And I cannot even get out o'nights to have a crack with a crony.
Still you are my flesh and blood, and carry on the name. It is something to be the father of a
good young soldier. Can't you see why I care so much about you, and why all that you do concerns
me so closely? Still, let us both take heart of hope and faith. The link between father and son is not
only of the perishable flesh: it must have something of aeternitas about it. There is a place called
'heaven' where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the
hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet...
Did you see Maxwell (the 'tobacco-controller's')3 account of what the wholesale dealers were
doing! They ought to be in quod. .... Commercialism is a swine at heart. But I suppose the major
English vice is sloth. And it is to sloth, as much or as more than to natural virtue, that we owe our
escape from the oven violences of other countries. In the fierce modern world, indeed, sloth does
begin almost to look like a virtue. But it is rather terrifying to see so much of it about, when we are
grappling with the Furor Teutonicus.
People in this land seem not even yet to realize that in the Germans we have enemies whose
virtues (and they are virtues) of obedience and patriotism are greater than ours in the mass. Whose
brave men are just about as brave as ours. Whose industry is about 10 times greater. And who are –
under the curse of God – now led by a man inspired by a mad, whirlwind, devil: a typhoon, a
passion: that makes the poor old Kaiser look like an old woman knitting.
I have spent most of my life, since I was your age, studying Germanic matters (in the general
sense that includes England and Scandinavia). There is a great deal more force (and truth) than
ignorant people imagine in the 'Germanic' ideal. I was much attracted by it as an undergraduate
(when Hitler was, I suppose, dabbling in paint, and had not heard of it), in reaction against the
'Classics'. You have to understand the good in things, to detect the real evil. But no one ever calls
on me to 'broadcast', or do a postscript! Yet I suppose I know better than most what is the truth
about this 'Nordic' nonsense. Anyway, I have in this War a burning private grudge – which would
probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf
Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the
purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and
making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have
ever loved, and tried to present in its true light. Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in
England, nor more early sanctified and Christianized. ....
Pray for me. I need it, sorely. I love you.
Your own Father.
46 From a draft to R. W. Chapman 26 November 1941
[George S. Gordon, who died early in 1942, was Tolkien's head of department at Leeds University in the
early 1920s, before becoming Professor of English Literature at Oxford and then President of Magdalen
College. This draft appears to have been written in reply to a request from Chapman, the Secretary to the
Delegates of the Oxford University Press, for reminiscences of Gordon, perhaps to be incorporated into an
obituary; Gordon was already known to be terminally ill at the time the letter was written.]
I do not remember dates. Perhaps you know these? I put down some impressions, from which
your skill may select a few notes or phrases that may seem appropriate. I associate Leeds with
Gordon, although as a matter of fact of my six years there (1920-1925 and one year as a pluralist)1
the larger part was spent in the company of Abercrombie.2
I remember that (before the last war) Gordon's departure from Oxford3 was viewed with some
consternation among the undergraduates of the English School in Oxford; but as a stiff-necked
young philologist I did not myself regard the event as important. I first met Gordon at the interview
in Leeds (June 1920) for the 'Readership' in English Language: established after the death by
drowning of Moorman.4 I suppose the title (novel in Leeds), and the high salary (as such things go)5
were both due to Gordon and his farsighted policy. I was, I believe, only a substitute for Sisam6 (not
the least of whose kindnesses was his pointing out the chance to me). But Gordon's kindness and
encouragement began at our first meeting. He rescued me from the barren waiting-room, and took
me to his house. I remember we spoke of Raleigh7 on the tram. As (still) a stiff-necked young
philologist, I did not in fact think much of Raleigh – he was not, of course, a good lecturer; but
some kind spirit prompted me to say that he was 'Olympian'. It went well; though I only really
meant that he reposed gracefully on a lofty pinnacle above my criticism.
I was extraordinarily fortunate. And if I speak so of myself, instead of directly and impersonally
of Gordon, it is because my prime feeling and first thoughts of him are always of personal gratitude,
of a friend rather than of an academic figure. It is not often in 'universities' that a Professor bothers
with the domestic difficulties of a new junior in his twenties; but G. did. He found me rooms
himself, and let me share his private room at the University. I do not think that my experience was
peculiar. He was the very master of men. Anyone who worked under him could see (or at least
suspect) that he neglected some sides of his own work: finding, especially, the sort of half-baked
'research', and dreary thesis-writing by the serious minded but semi-educated hunters of the M.A.,
of which there was far too much, an exceeding weariness, from which he sometimes took refuge in
flight. Yet he created not a miserable little 'department', but a team. A team fired not only with a
departmental esprit de corps, determined to put 'English' at the head of the Arts departments, but
inspired also with a missionary zeal. ....
A personal contribution of his was his doctrine of lightheartedness: dangerous, perhaps, in
Oxford, necessary in Yorkshire. No Yorkshireman, or woman, was ever in danger of regarding his
class in finals as a matter of indifference (even if it did not have a lifelong effect on his salary as a
school teacher): the poet might 'sit in the third and laugh', but the Yorkshire student would not. But
he could be, and was, encouraged to play a little, to look outside the 'syllabus', to regard his studies
as something larger and more amusing than a subject for an examination. This note Gordon struck
and insisted on, and even expressed in print in the little brochure which he had made for the use of
his students. There was very little false solemnity, except rarely and that among the students.
As for my side: the foundations were already securely laid for me, and the lines of development
marked out. But, subject always to his unobtrusive control, I had a 'free hand'. Every
encouragement was given to development on the mediaeval and linguistic side; and a friendly
rivalry grew up between two, nearly equal, divisions. Each had its own 'seminars'; and there were
sometimes combined meetings. Quite the happiest and most balanced 'School' I have seen. I think it
might be called a 'School'. Gordon found 'English' in Leeds a departmental subject (I rather fancy
you could not get a degree in it alone) and left it a school of studies (in bud). When he arrived he
shared a box of glazed bricks, mainly furnished with hot water pipes, with the Professor of French,
as their private room. Mere assistants possibly had a hat-peg somewhere. When he left we had
'English House', where every member had a separate room (not to mention a bathroom!) and a
common room for students: and with this centre the growing body of students became a cohesive
unit, and derived some of the benefits (or distant reflections of them) that we associate with a
university rather than a municipal college. It would not have been difficult to build on this
foundation. But I fancy that, after he left, the thing just 'ran on', and did not fall into hands of the
same quality. In any case numbers fell and finances changed. And Vice-Chancellors. Sir Michael
Sadler I imagine was a helpful superior; and he left about the same time.
47 To Stanley Unwin
[Unwin wrote on 4 December to say that Foyle's bookshop in London were to issue The Hobbit under the
imprint of their Children's Book Club, and that this had enabled Allen & Unwin to reprint the book. This
was all the more desirable as the previous stock of copies had been burnt during an air-raid on London.]
7 December 1942
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mr Unwin,
Thank you for your note, containing two items of hope. I have for some time intended to write
and enquire whether in the present situation it was of any use, other than private and family
amusement, to endeavour to complete the sequel to The Hobbit. I have worked on it at intervals
since 1938, all such intervals in fact as trebled official work, quadrupled domestic work, and 'Civil
Defence'1 have left. It is now approaching completion. I hope to get a little free time this vacation,
and might hope to finish it off early next year. My heart rather misgives me, all the same. I ought to
warn you that it is very long, in places more alarming than 'The Hobbit', and in fact not really a
'juvenile' at all. It has reached Chapter XXXI2 and will require at least six more to finish (these are
already sketched); and the chapters are as a rule longer than the chapters of The Hobbit. Is such an
'epic' possible to consider in the present circumstances? Would you like to wait, until it is really
finished; or would you care to see a considerable portion of it now? It is in type-script (of various
amateur hands) up to about Ch. xxiii. I don't think you will be disappointed with the quality of it. It
has had the approval of the original Hobbit audience (my sons and Mr C.S.Lewis), who have read
or heard it many times. But it is a question of paper, bulk, and market! It would require two maps.
The burning of The Hobbit was a blow. I am to blame in not writing (as I intended) and
expressing to you my sympathy with the grievous damage you must have sustained, of which I
shared only a very small pan. Is any 'compensation' eventually recoverable? ....
Would you also consider a volume, containing three or four shorter 'Fairy' stories and some
verses? 'Farmer Giles', which I once submitted to you, has pleased a large number of children and
grown-ups. If too short, I could add to it one or two similar tales, and include some verse on similar
topics, including 'Tom Bombadil'....
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
48 To C. S. Lewis
[Lewis kept very few letters, and only two that Tolkien actually sent to him have survived. (For the second,
see no. 113.) "The U.Q.' is an abbreviation for 'Useless Quack', the nickname given by his fellow Inklings to
R. E. Havard, Tolkien and Lewis's doctor. 'Ridley' was M. R. Ridley of Balliol College, who, with Tolkien
and Lewis, was involved in teaching forces cadets at the university, on the wartime 'short courses'. Lewis
was, meanwhile, also travelling around England giving talks on the Christian religion to RAF stations.]
20 April 1943
[20 Northmoor Road, Oxford]
My dear Jack,
V. sorry to hear you are laid low – and with no U.Q. to suggest that it may be your last illness!
You must be v: disconsolate. I begin to think that for us to meet on Wednesdays is a duty: there
seem to be so many obstacles and fiendish devices to prevent it.
I hope to have a good report of you soon. But do not trouble yourself. Ridley was so astounded
at the ignorance of all 22 cadets, revealed in his first class, that he has leaped at the chance of
another hour, esp. since otherwise there was no 'Use of E[nglish]' class next week at all. You can (if
you wish) shove in 'Arthur'1 on some other date, when you are recovered fully. The tutorials do not
I fear you are attempting too much. For even if you have merely got 'flu', you are prob. tiring
yourself into an easy victim. As a mere 'director', I shall hope v. much to persuade you to ease off in
travel (if poss.), and put some weight into this cadet stuff. I am a bit alarmed by it. My lone
machine-gun since it started seems to me to have missed the target, and it needs at least one more
gun – to depend on – other than the valuable Ridley.
I lunched at the Air Squadron to-day & got a brief whiff of an atmosphere now all too familiar
to you, I expect.
Yours affectionately
PS. Ridley's first question in the test-paper was a group of words to define – apposite, reverend,
venal, choric, secular and a few others. Not one cadet got any of the words right.
49 To C. S. Lewis (draft)
[A comment on Lewis's suggestion, in Christian Behaviour (1943), that 'there ought to be two distinct kinds
of marriage': Christian marriage, which is binding and lifelong, and marriage-contracts solemnised only by
the State, which make no such demands. The draft, apparently written in 1943, was found tucked into
Tolkien's copy of Lewis's booklet.]
My dear L.,
I have been reading your booklet 'Christian Behaviour'.1 I have never felt happy about your
view of Christian 'policy' with regard to divorce. I could not before say why – because on the
surface your policy seems to be reasonable; and it is at any rate the system under which Roman
Catholics already live. For the moment I will not argue whether your policy is in fact right (for
today), even an inevitable situation. But I should like to point out that your opinion is in your
booklet based on an argument that shows a confusion of thought discoverable from that booklet
p. 34. 'I'd be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.'
Justly so. Let us consider this point alone, at first. Why? Well, if we try to ascend straightaway to a
rational plane, and leave behind mere anger with anyone who interferes with our habits (good or
bad), the answer is: because the Mohammedans would be guilty of injustice. They would be
injuring us by depriving us of our share in a universal human right, the temperate use of wine,
against our will. You made that quite clear in your remarks about Temperance, p. 13.
But look now at pp. 26, 30, 31. There you will observe that you are really committed (with the
Christian Church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage – monogamous, permanent,2
rigidly 'faithful' – is in fact the truth about sexual behaviour for all humanity: this is the only road of
total health3 (including4 sex in its proper place) for all5 men and women. That it is dissonant with
men's present sex-psychology does not disprove this, as you see: 'I think it is the instinct that has
gone wrong,' you say. Indeed if this were not so, it would be an intolerable injustice to impose
permanent6 monogamy even on Christians. If Christian marriage were in the last analysis 'unnatural'
(of the same type as say the prohibition of flesh-meat in certain monastic rules) it could only be
imposed on a special 'chastity-order' of the Church, not on the universal Church. No item of
compulsory Christian morals is valid only for Christians. (See II Social Morality at the beginning.)7
Do I not then say truly that your bringing in of Mohammedans on p. 34 is a most stinking redherring? I do not think you can possibly support your 'policy', by this argument, for by it you are
giving away the very foundation of Christian marriage. The foundation is that this is the correct way
of 'running the human machine'. Your argument reduces it merely to a way of (perhaps?) getting an
extra mileage out of a few selected machines.*
The horror of the Christians with whom you disagree (the great majority of all practising
Christians) at legal divorce is in die ultimate analysis precisely that: horror at seeing good machines
ruined by misuse. I could hope that, if you ever get a chance of alterations, you would make the
point clear. Toleration of divorce – if a Christian does tolerate it – is toleration of a human abuse,
which it requires special local and temporary circumstances to justify (as does the toleration of
usury) – if indeed either divorce or genuine usury should be tolerated at all, as a matter merely of
expedient policy.
Under your limitations of space you have not, of course, had opportunity to elaborate8 your
'policy' – toleration of abuse. But I must suppose you have considered it, as a practical policy in the
present world. You do not speak of your two-marriage system as a merely expedient policy, but as
if it was somehow related to the Christian virtue of charity. Still I think you can only defend it as an
expedient; as a surgeon who, knowing that an operation is necessary for a patient's health, does not
operate because he can't (the patient and the patient's foolish advisers won't allow him); or does not
even advocate the operation, because the Anti-Surgical League is so powerful and vocal that he is
Christian marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance – in fact
probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure, as alcoholic temperance is the best way of
enjoying beer and wine.
afraid of being beaten up. A Christian of your view is, as we have seen, committed to the belief that
all people who practise 'divorce' – certainly divorce as it is now legalized – are misusing the human
machine (whatever philosophical defence they may put up), as certainly as men who get drunk
(doubtless with a philosophic defence also). They are injuring themselves, other people, and
society, by their behaviour. And wrong behaviour (if it is really wrong on universal principles) is
progressive, always: it never stops at being 'not very good', 'second best' – it either reforms, or goes
on to third-rate, bad, abominable. In no department is that truer than in sex – as you yourself vividly
exhibit, in the comparison between a dish of bacon and strip-tease.9 You show too that you yourself
suspect that the break-down of sex-reticence in our time has not made matters better but worse.
Anyone in any case can see that the enormous extension and facilitation of 'divorce' in our days,
since those of (say) Trollopean society, has done great social harm. It is a slippery slope – leading
quickly to Reno,10 and beyond: in fact already to a promiscuity barely restrained by legalities: for a
pair can now divorce one another, have an interlude with new partners, and then 're-marry'. A
situation is being, has been, produced in which ordinary unphilosophical and irreligious folk are not
only not restrained by law from inconstancy, but are actually by law and social custom encouraged
to inconstancy. I need hardly add that a situation is thus being produced in which it is intolerably
hard to bring up Christian youth in Christian sexual morals (which are ex hypothesi correct morals
for all, and which will be lost but which depend upon Christian youth for their maintenance).
On what grounds then do you part company with those Christians who resist, step by step,
attempts to extend and make divorce easier? (On one point only would I agree. I do not view
extension of the provisions of the law to all classes (irrespective of rank and money) as an extension
of divorce – it is rather justice: if you can have real justice in evil. I think in so desperate a battle
(about so fundamental and vital a matter) that resistance even of 'cheapening' of divorce may be
defended – why not save the poor by their poverty?; but I admit that as an expedient policy it may
be given an ugly twist by the enemy.)
I should like to know on what grounds you base your 'two-marriage' system! From the
biological-sociological point of view I gather (from Huxley and others) that monogamy is probably
highly beneficial to a community. On that plane, permanence and rigid fidelity would not appear at
first sight to be essential. All that the 'social director' requires would seem to be a high degree of
sexual continence. But has this ever been, and can it ever be in fact achieved without 'sanctions' or
religio-legal ordinance that invests the marriage contract with 'awe'? It does not look like it. The
battle may be a losing one, but I cannot help suspecting that those who fight against the divorce in
this case of law and religion are in the right. Sentire cum ecclesia:11 how often one finds that this is
a true guide. I say this all the more cheerfully, because on this point I myself dissented in feeling
(not expressly because I am under saving obedience). But I was then still under the delusion that
Christian marriage was just a bit of special behaviour of my 'sect or order'.
The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were
'married' twice. They married one another before the Church's witness (a priest), using one set of
formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married
again before the State's witness (a registrar, and in this case – adding in my view to the impropriety
– a woman) using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was
an abominable proceeding – and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included
the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact
saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have taken certain
vows in your meeting-place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on
yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens. In other
words this 'sharp division' is a piece of propaganda, a counter-homily delivered to young Christians
fresh from the solemn words of the Christian minister.
[The draft ends here.]
50 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 25 October 1943
The poplars are now leafless except for one top spray; but it is still a green and leafy Octoberend down here. At no time do birches look so beautiful: their skin snow-white in the pale yellow
sun, and their remaining leaves shining fallow-gold. I have to sleep at Area H.Q.1 on Friday.
Tomorrow night I am going to hobnob, chez Lewis, with-Joad of Joad Hall!
51 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 27 October 1943
[C. E. M. Joad, well known from his broadcasts on the BBC Brains Trust, had just published The Recovery
of Belief, an indication that he had returned from agnosticism to Christianity. He had been invited to dine
with C.S.Lewis at Magdalen College.]
At 91 went to Magdalen and saw the Joad. He is (except in face) not only very like a toad, but
is in character v. like Mr Toad of Toad Hall, & I now perceive that the author of the jest was more
subtle than I knew. Still he is intelligent, kindly, and we agreed on many fundamental points. He
has the advantage of having been in Russia – and loathing it. He says the 'new towns' do not rise
above Willesden level, and the country does not rise at all. He said if you got into a train and looked
out of the window, and then read a book for a few hours, and looked out again — there would be
nothing outside to see to show that the train had moved at all!
52 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 29 November 1943
[In the summer of 1943, Christopher, then aged eighteen, was called up into the Royal Air Force. When this
letter was written, he was at a training camp in Manchester.]
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning
abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would
arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England
and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of
recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it
would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the an and process of governing
and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in
the habit of referring to 'King George's council, Winston and his gang', it would go a long way to
clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of
Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were
at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of
all those who seek the opportunity. And at least it is done only to a small group of men who know
who their master is. The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo efiscopari1 as the best reason
a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is
stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to
call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal
weakness of all that – after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt
unnatural world – is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the
same good old inefficient human way. The quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off
against Xerxes; but the abominable chemists and engineers have put such a power into Xerxes'
hands, and all ant-communities, that decent folk don't seem to have a chance. We are all trying to
do the Alexander-touch – and, as history teaches, that orientalized Alexander and all his generals.
The poor boob fancied (or liked people to fancy) he was the son of Dionysus, and died of drink. The
Greece that was worth saving from Persia perished anyway; and became a kind of Vichy-Hellas, or
Fighting-Hellas (which did not fight), talking about Hellenic honour and culture and thriving on the
sale of the early equivalent of dirty postcards. But the special horror of the present world is that the
whole damned thing is in one bag. There is nowhere to fly to. Even the unlucky little Samoyedes, I
suspect, have tinned food and the village loudspeaker telling Stalin's bed-time stories about
Democracy and the wicked Fascists who eat babies and steal sledge-dogs. There is only one bright
spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I
hope that, encouraged now as 'patriotism', may remain a habit! But it won't do any good, if it is not
Well, cheers and all that to you dearest son. We were born in a dark age out of due time (for
us). But there is this comfort: otherwise we should not know, or so much love, what we do love. I
imagine the fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water. Also we have still small
swords to use. 'I will not bow before the Iron Crown, nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.'2
Have at the Ores, with winged words, hilden ddran (war-adders), biting darts – but make sure of
the mark, before shooting.
53 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
9 December 1943
My dearest,
I believe it is a week or more since I wrote to you? I can't really remember, as life has been
such a rush. .... I haven't seen C.S.L. for weeks or Williams.1.... The daily round(s) and the common
task ++ which furnish so much more than one actually asks. No great fun, no amusements; no
bright new idea; not even a thin small joke. Nothing to read – and even the papers with nothing but
Teheran Ballyhoo.2 Though I must admit that I smiled a kind of sickly smile and 'nearly curled up
on the floor, and the subsequent proceedings interested me no more', when I heard of that
bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to join a happy family of folks devoted to
the abolition of tyranny & intolerance! But I must also admit that in the photograph our little cherub
W. S. C.3 actually looked the biggest ruffian present. Humph, well! I wonder (if we survive this
war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and
you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one
blasted little provincial suburb. When they have introduced American sanitation, morale-pep,
feminism, and mass production throughout the Near East, Middle East, Far East, U.S.S.R., the
Pampas, el Gran Chaco, the Danubian Basin, Equatorial Africa, Hither Further and Inner Mumboland, Gondhwanaland, Lhasa, and the villages of darkest Berkshire, how happy we shall be. At any
rate it ought to cut down travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the
faster. Col. Knox4 says ⅛ of the world's population speaks 'English', and that is the biggest language
group. If true, damn shame – say I. May the curse of Babel strike all their tongues till they can only
say 'baa baa'. It would mean much the same. I think I shall have to refuse to speak anything but Old
But seriously: I do find this Americo-cosmopolitanism very terrifying. Quâ mind and spirit, and
neglecting the piddling fears of timid flesh which does not want to be shot or chopped by brutal and
licentious soldiery (German or other), I am not really sure that its victory is going to be so much the
better for the world as a whole and in the long run than the victory of ——.5 I don't suppose letters
in are censored. But if they are, or not, I need to you hardly add that them's the sentiments of a good
many folk — and no indication of lack of patriotism. For I love England (not Great Britain and
certainly not the British Commonwealth (grr!)), and if I was of military age, I should, I fancy, be
grousing away in a fighting service, and willing to go on to the bitter end – always hoping that
things may turn out better for England than they look like doing.
Somehow I cannot really imagine the fantastic luck (or blessing, one would call it, if one could
dimly see why we should be blessed – implying God) that has attended England is running out yet.
Chi vincera? said the Italians (before they got involved poor devils), and answered Stalin. Not
altogether right perhaps. Our Cherub above referred to can play a wily hand – one guesses, one
hopes, one does not know. ....
Your own father.
54 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien8 January 1944
Remember your guardian angel. Not a plump lady with swan-wings! But – at least this is my
notion and feeling – : as souls with free-will we are, as it were, so placed as to face (or to be able to
face) God. But God is (so to speak) also behind us, supporting, nourishing us (as being creatures).
The bright point of power where that life-line, that spiritual umbilical cord touches: there is our
Angel, facing two ways to God behind us in the direction we cannot see, and to us. But of course do
not grow weary of facing God, in your free right and strength (both provided 'from behind' as I say).
If you cannot achieve inward peace, and it is given to few to do so (least of all to me) in tribulation,
do not forget that the aspiration for it is not a vanity, but a concrete act. I am sorry to talk like this,
and so haltingly. But I can do no more for you dearest. ....
If you don't do so already, make a habit of the 'praises'. I use them much (in Latin): the Gloria
Patri, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Laudate Dominum; the Laudate Pueri Dominum (of which I am
specially fond), one of the Sunday psalms; and the Magnificat; also the Litany of Loretto (with the
prayer Sub tuum praesidium). If you have these by heart you never need for words of joy. It is also
a good and admirable thing to know by heart the Canon of the Mass, for you can say this in your
heart if ever hard circumstance keeps you from hearing Mass. So endeth Faeder lár his suna.1 With
very much love.
Longað þonnet þy lǽs þe him con léoþa worn,
oþþe mid hondum con hearpan grétan;
hafaþ him his glíwes giefe, þe him God sealde.
From the Exeter Book. Less doth yearning trouble him who knoweth many songs, or with his
hands can touch the harp: his possession is his gift of 'glee' (= music and/or verse) which God gave
How these old words smite one out of the dark antiquity! 'Longað'! All down the ages men (of
our kind, most awarely) have felt it: not necessarily caused by sorrow, or the hard world, but
sharpened by it.
55 To Christopher Tolkien
[Christopher had now left for South Africa, where he was to train as a pilot. This is the first of a long series
of letters to him, which were numbered, for reasons which Tolkien gives here.]
18 January 1944
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Fæder his þriddan suna (1)1 My dearest,
I am afraid it is a very long time (or it seems so: actually it is about 8 days) since I wrote; but I
did not quite know what to do, until we got your letter yesterday. .... I am glad my last long letter
caught you before you went! We don't know yet, of course, just when that was, or whither. ....
I gave 2 lectures yesterday, and then conferred with Gabriel Turville-Petre2 about Cardiff. .... I
managed just to catch the last post with my Cardiff report. Then I had to go and sleep (???) at C.
HeadQ.3 I did not – not much. I was in the small C33 room: very cold and damp. But an incident
occurred which moved me and made the occasion memorable. My companion in misfortune was
Cecil Roth (the learned Jew historian).4 I found him charming, full of gentleness (in every sense);
and we sat up till after 12 talking. He lent me his watch as there were no going clocks in the place: –
and nonetheless himself came and called me at 10 to 7: so that I could go to Communion! It seemed
like a fleeting glimpse of an unfallen world. Actually I was awake, and just (as one does)
discovering a number of reasons (other than tiredness and having no chance to shave or even wash),
such as the desirability of getting home in good time to open up and un-black and all that, why I
should not go. But the incursion of this gentle Jew, and his sombre glance at my rosary by my bed,
settled it. I was down at St Aloysius at 7.15 just in time to go to Confession before Mass; and I
came home just before the end of Mass. .... I lectured at 11 a.m. (after collecting fish);5 and
managed to have a colloguing with the brothers Lewis and C. Williams (at the White Horse).6 And
that is about all the top off the news as far as I am concerned! Except that the fouls7 do not lay, but I
have still to clean out their den. ....
I start to-day numbering each letter, and each page, so that if any go awry you will know – and
the bare news of importance can be made up. This is (No. 1) of Pater ad Filium Natu (sed haud
alioquin) minimum:8 Fæder suna his ágnum, þám gingstan nalles unléofestan.9 (I suppose a
professor of Old English may be permitted to use that language to a former pupil?: query for ref. to
censor, if any). I can't write Russian and find Polish rather sticky yet. I expect poor old Poptawski10
will be wondering how I am getting on, soon. It will be a long time before I can be of any assistance
to him in devising a new technical vocabulary!!! The vocab. will just happen along anyway (if there
are any Poles and Poland left)....
56 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 1 March 1944 (FS 6)
[For 'The Useless Quack', see the introductory note to no. 48.]
As I have hardly seen anybody in the last few weeks there is no quip, jest, or other item of
merriment to record. The Useless Quack has returned to Oxford! Almost the only wire I have ever
pulled that has rung a bell. But there he is, uniform, red-beard, slow smile and all, still in Navy, but
living at home and working on his research Board (Malaria). He seems pleased, and so do the
Board. All done at the Mitre – where I picked up an urgent enquiry as to his whereabouts, as being
the one man wanted. He was on the other side of the globe just then. Lewis is as energetic and jolly
as ever, but getting too much publicity for his or any of our tastes. 'Peterborough', usually fairly
reasonable, did him the doubtful honour of a peculiarly mis representative and asinine paragraph in
the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday last. It began 'Ascetic Mr Lewis' ——!!! I ask you! He put away
three pints in a very short session we had this morning, and said he was 'going short for Lent'. I
suppose all the stuff you see in print is about as accurate about Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is a pity
newspapers can't leave people alone, and don't make some effort to understand what they say (if it
is worth it): at any rate they might have some standards that would prevent them saying things
about people which are quite untrue, even if not actually (as often) painful, angering, or indeed
injurious. ....
Still very cold. Snow last night. But there is no mistaking the growing power of a March sun.
Clumps of yellow crocus are out, and the white-mauve ones beginning; green buds are appearing. I
wonder what you think of the season-reverse south of the Line? More or less the equivalent of early
September with you, I suppose. My earliest recollection of Christmas is of a blazing hot day.1
57 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 30 March 1944 (FS 12)
I saw the two Lewis bros. yesterday, & lunched with C.S.L.: quite an outing for me. The
indefatigable man read me pan of a new story! But he is putting the screw on me to finish mine. I
needed some pressure, & shall probably respond; but the 'vac.' is already half over & the exam.
wood only just cleared.
58 To Christopher Tolkien
[A description of a visit to Birmingham, where Tolkien was attending a lunch given by the new headmaster
of his school. King Edward's, which since his schooldays had moved to new buildings in another part of the
3 April 1944 (FS 13)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest,
I wrote you an airgraph1 on Thursday last at night; but unfortunately it was not sent off on
Friday, and on Saturday I went off early and in a rush to Brum. So it has only gone today. Nothing
more has come from you since yours of 13 March (arrived 28). I can't remember much about
Friday, except that the morning was wrecked by shopping and queueing: result one slab of pork-pie;
and that I had a dreadfully bad and lugubriously dull dinner in college, and was glad to get home
before 9 p.m. But I have begun to nibble at Hobbit again. I have started to do some (painful) work
on the chapter which picks up the adventures of Frodo and Sam again; and to get myself attuned
have been copying and polishing the last written chapter (Orthanc-Stone). Saturday was a
memorable day. Grey, damp and unpleasing. But I got off about 9 a.m. Cycled to Pembroke and
deposited bike and lamps. Caught the 9.30, which (just, I suppose, because I had time to spare) left
Oxford on time (!!!), for the first time in human memory, and reached Brum only a few minutes
late. I found myself in a carriage occupied by an R.A.F. officer (this war's wings, who had been to
South Africa though he looked a bit elderly), and a very nice young American Officer, NewEnglander. I stood the hot-air they let off as long as I could; but when I heard the Yank burbling
about 'Feudalism' and its results on English class-distinctions and social behaviour, I opened a
broadside. The poor boob had not, of course, the very faintest notions about 'Feudalism', or history
at all – being a chemical engineer. But you can't knock 'Feudalism' out of an American's head, any
more than the 'Oxford Accent'. He was impressed I think when I said that an Englishman's relations
with porters, butlers, and tradesmen had as much connexion with 'Feudalism' as skyscrapers had
with Red Indian wigwams, or taking off one's hat to a lady has with the modern methods of
collecting Income Tax; but I am certain he was not convinced. I did however get a dim notion into
his head that the 'Oxford Accent' (by which he politely told me he meant mine) was not 'forced' and
'put on', but a natural one learned in the nursery – and was moreover not feudal or aristocratic but a
very middle-class bourgeois invention. After I told him that his 'accent' sounded to me like English
after being wiped over with a dirty sponge, and generally suggested (falsely) to an English observer
that, together with American slouch, it indicated a slovenly and ill-disciplined people – well, we got
quite friendly. We had some bad coffee in the refreshment room at Snow Hill, and parted.
I then strolled about my 'home town' for a bit. Except for one patch of ghastly wreckage (opp.
my old school's site) it does not look much damaged: not by the enemy. The chief damage has been
the growth of great flat featureless modern buildings. The worst of all is the ghastly multiple-store
erection on the old site. I couldn't stand much of that or the ghosts that rose from the pavements; so
I caught a tram from the same old comer at which I used to catch it to go out to the playing fields.
Down the shabby (much bomb-pocked) Bristol Road to Edgbaston Park Road at 12.15 (half an hour
too soon). I won't weary you with impressions of the ghastly utterly third-rate new school buildings.
But if you can imagine a building better than most Oxford colleges being replaced by what looks
like a girls' council school, you've got it and my feelings. And apparently the new Head Master's. In
a speech after lunch he hinted (or more than that) that they were pretty foul, and the school would
never recover from the blow if something was not done about it. There were about 120 Old Boys
(out of 220 asked): many of my vintage. I saw faces I had not seen since I was your age – and to
many I could give only initials, not names. All Old Edwardians remember initials. To my complete
surprise I found that I was remembered chiefly for rugger-prowess (!!) and my taste in coloured
socks. ....
59 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 5 April 1944 (FS 14)
I have seriously embarked on an effort to finish my book, & have been sitting up rather late: a
lot of re-reading and research required. And it is a painful sticky business getting into swing again. I
have gone back to Sam and Frodo, and am trying to work out their adventures. A few pages for a lot
of sweat: but at the moment they are just meeting Gollum on a precipice. What a lot of work you
put into the typing, and the chapters written out so beautifully! I wish I still had my amanuensis and
critic near at hand.
60 To Christopher Tolkien (airgraph)
[Christopher had now arrived in South Africa, and was at a camp in the Transvaal.]
13 April 1944 (FS 15)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dearest: your Airlener of 25 March (?), postmd. 28th, arrived this morning: very welcome. By
now you should be getting news from me: have been writing about twice a week. I don't comment
on your letter, though I am v. sorry. Know how you feel! Especially about cancelled leave. Your
letter was 'deur Sensor oopgemak'1 by the way. You do not seem to have done anything very useful
since September! I miss you hourly also, and am lonely without you. I have friends, of course, but
can seldom see them. Things a bit easier for me now, though. Helped in the admission of cadets
today (as big a bunch as ever), but as far as I can see they will not concern me further this term –
joy! I did see C.S.L. & Charles Williams yesterday for almost 2 hours (cut short by having to meet
M. & P.2 for lunch at 12.20, which proved unobtainable so that we had to return home). I read my
recent chapter: it received approbation. I have begun another. Shall have spare copies typed, if
possible, & sent out to you. Don't think there's more news at moment..... Am actually going out
tonight to Magdalen: C.S.L., Warnie3 (writing a book: it's catching), C.W., David Cecil,4 and prob.
the Useless Quack (still bearded and uniformed): quite an event for me. .... Now I will return to
Frodo & Gollum for a brief spell. More tomorrow, when this shall go off. .... Saturday 15th. I'm
afraid this didn't get off. I had a very pleasant time on Thurs. All turned up except Cecil, & we
stayed until after midnight. The best entertainment proved to be the chapter of Major Lewis'
projected book – on a subject that does not interest me: the court of Louis XIV; but it was most
wittily written (as well as learned). I did not think so well of the concluding chapter of C.S.L.'s new
moral allegory or 'vision', based on the mediaeval fancy of the Refrigerium, by which the lost souls
have an occasional holiday in Paradise. Yesterday morning I managed to get an hour or two writing,
& have brought Frodo nearly to the gates of Mordor. Afternoon lawn-mowing. Mrs. C.5 arrived
safely from Carmarthen on Thurs. bringing gifts comestible. .... I had a pretty wearing time on
'exercise' up till 10 p.m. & then supped with the family, & then went to 'sleep' at area H.Q. That I
did not manage: I had hardly a wink. Post is right on main road: very noisy all night. .... M. & I are
going to have tea with the Nichol Smiths6 today, & I am supping with Elaine,7 and others at a small
don-party. Quite a week for me. But term begins next week, & proofs of Wales paper?8 have come.
Still I am going to continue 'Ring' in every salvable moment. ....
61 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 April 1944 (FS 17)
It has been a great event to-day, all your crowd of letters arriving, and much delaying the eating
of breakfast..... Your accounts, which were uncensored, distressed but did not surprise me. How it
reminds me of my own experience! Only in one way was I better off: wireless was not invented. I
daresay it had some potential for good, but it has in fact in the main become a weapon for the fool,
the savage, and the villain to afflict the minority with, and to destroy thought. Listening in has
killed listening. I can only hope you won't have any more Altmarks!1 I was always against your
choice of service (on the ground it seems a war behind); but at least it should not later land you
often in to the animal horror of the life of active service on the earth – such as trenchlife as I knew
it. Even HP2 were a Paradise to that and the Altmark not (prob.) much worse. At least at present you
are getting an occasional chance to read. I am glad. God bless you. Ðys dógor þu geþyld hafa wéana
gehwylces, swá ic þé wéne to.3 If the censor (and you) will permit me to quote an ancient English
poet – and I can't help thinking it comes better from father to son, than from young Beowulf, about
your age, to old greybeard Hrothgar! Úre æghwylc sceal ende gebidan worolde lífes: wyrce se þe
móte dómes ǽr déaþe.4 Cold stem counsel; and much depends on 'he who may', and on what you
consider to be dóm.
I am surprised that, tasting and disliking the very opposite, you should also dislike the 'manners'
of life 150 years ago (nearly) as depicted by Jane [Austen]. Little is left of it all, save a few
remnants of table-manners (among a decreasing minority). But actually they made life a lot easier,
smoother, and less frictional and dubious; and cloaked or indeed held in check (as table-manners
do) the everlasting cat, wolf, and dog that lurk at no great depth under our social skin. ....
I hope to see C.S.L. and Charles W. tomorrow morning and read my next chapter — on the
passage of the Dead Marshes and the approach to the Gates of Mordor, which I have now
practically finished. Wasted some time on Sunday answering a letter from the Eighth Army (!). I
get a good many of the kind, but this one was rather amusingly written. The 'Regius Professor of
English' was asked to adjudicate on a dispute which was rending the Mess of a certain Light A.A.
Regt R.A. into a faction-war: how to pronounce the name of the poet Cowper. Big Money hangs on
the issue. The letter was from the adjutant (who appeared to have read the poet, even The Task, 'in
his wayward youth'). I can't help thinking that the Army shows spots of more wit and intelligence –
you may one day strike some in your service (mais je le doute). Deeming it below the dignity of a
'Regius Prof.' to adjudicate on Big Money, I sent as Delphic an oracular reply as I could, giving the
adjt. a good deal more facts, I expect, than he wanted. Not of course that there is any doubt that the
poet called himself Cooper (of which his name is merely the older spelling): oup, owp spells oop in
English: there are no aups (in Latin value): so stoup, group, soup and formerly also droup, stoup
(verb), troup, coup(er), whouping-cough, loup, etc. (not to mention roum, toumb). Yesterday I had a
visit from F. Pakenham,5 getting up a combined Christian Council of all denominations, for this
city, as now in 50 others. I joined, but refused the proffered secretaryship (you bet!). Term has
almost begun: I tutored Miss Salu6 for an hour. The afternoon was squandered on plumbing
(stopping overflow) and cleaning out fowls – less grudgingly, as they are laying generously (9 again
yesterday). A lovely morning dawned on us this mom. A mist like early Sept. with a pearl-button
sun (8 a.m. being really 6 a.m.) that soon changed into serene blue, with the silver light of spring on
flower and leaf. Leaves are out: the white-grey of the quince, the grey-green of young apple, the full
green of hawthorn, the tassels of flower even on the sluggard poplars. The narcissuses are a
marvellous show, but the grass grows so quick that I feel like a barber faced with a never-ending
queue (& not a chinaman's either, to be trimmed with one snip).
I cannot tell you how I miss you, dear man. I would not mind it, if you were happier or more
usefully employed. How stupid everything is!, and war multiplies the stupidity by 3 and its power
by itself: so one's precious days are ruled by (3x)2 when x=normal human crassitude (and that's bad
enough). However, I hope that in after days the experience of men and things, if painful, will prove
useful. It did to me. As for what you say or hint of 'local' conditions: I knew of them. I don't think
they have much changed (even for the worse). I used to hear them discussed by my mother; and
have ever since taken a special interest in that part of the world. The treatment of colour nearly
always horrifies anyone going out from Britain, & not only in South Africa. Unfort. not many retain
that generous sentiment for long. I don't say anything about home conditions. You will (I suppose)
hear on radio as much as I could say. We are all well at the moment. We are waiting. I wonder for
how long now. Not long I think. I see from paper that Air Crew training in Canada is being cut:
fewer A.C. generally are now to be trained. I thought I guessed from your letter that you do not now
expect to come to G.B. to finish. I hope that is not so. But who knows? We are in God's hands. Our
lot has fallen on evil days: but that cannot be by mere ill chance. Take care of yourself in all due
ways (aequam serva mentem, comprime linguam7)....
62 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien
23 April 1944 (FS 18)
I read my second chapter. Passage of the Dead Marshes, to Lewis and Williams on Wed.
morning. It was approved. I have now nearly done a third: Gates of the Land of Shadow. But this
story takes me in charge, and I have already taken three chapters over what was meant to be one!
And I have neglected too many things to do it. I am just enmeshed in it now, and have to
wrench my mind away to tackle exam-paper proofs, and lectures (beginning on Tuesday).
63 To Christopher Tolkien
24 April 1944 (FS 19)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest Chris,
Your airletter.... arrived at breakfast this morn. I had the uncommon luxury of lying a-bed with
toast and home-made marmalade (a good many oranges and lemons lately) and your letter. St
George's day passed uneventfully; I sat up 'on duty' till 1.30 this mom. and then decided to retire: it
is so warm one can sleep with open windows and hear alerts. I was drawing my curtains when I
noted a v. white light S.W., and I was just putting foot in much desired sheets when Ulysses' Peril1
let off her wail. Did not in fact get to bed till past 3.30, or sleep till 4, or wake till 8.45, or get up till
9.45. .... I spent what was left of this morning in town doing odd jobs, among them that of getting
my head-harvest reaped: a big crop: still fertile soil evidently. Mitre2 was locked! Have not tasted
beer since Thursday last when our barrel ran dry, & has not yet been replaced. I have to lecture
tomorrow, so now I must stop for the moment. ....
Wed. 26 April. .... Yesterday felt effects of Sunday night. Went off early to town and did some
executor's business for Mrs Wright,3 gave a poor lecture, saw the Lewises and C.W. (White Horse)
for ½ hour; mowed three lawns, and wrote letter to John, and struggled with recalcitrant passage in
'The Ring'. At this point I require to know how much later the moon gets up each night when
nearing full, and how to stew a rabbit! No Lewis this morning, as he has been appointed Clarke
Lecturer in Cambridge, and leaves early to lecture there at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. ....
3.45 Wed. A record college meeting (12½ mins.)! Arrived back to find Biddy had broken
another egg (about the 7th), so, despairing that the 'henwife' would attend to it, I have spent an
agreeable time catching her (i.e. the bird), cleaning her, trimming her and disinfecting her—and
then disinfecting myself. Grr! The fourth lawn will have to wait. I was pleased that you managed to
get some church at the end of Holy Week, though not too pleased with your Even-christians (as
they called 'em in O. & M.E.).4 However that cannot be helped. The only salve is the sudden
reflection that one of them is prob. making an adverse judgement on oneself, not unreasonable as
founded on one's looks and deportment, but as wide of the mark of the inner self as our own are!
God ána wát.5 But as for sermons! They are bad, aren't they! Most of them from any point of view.
The answer to the mystery is prob. not simple; but pan of it is that 'rhetoric' (of which preaching is a
dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice. The instrument
used is v. much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who
sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all.
The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way,
when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity etc. But preaching is complicated by the fact that
we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or
note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly,
ignorance) in the preacher.
Good sermons require some an, some virtue, some knowledge. Real sermons require some
special grace which does not transcend an but arrives at it by instinct or 'inspiration'; indeed the
Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing an, virtue and insight he
does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare. In other times I don't think an educated person
is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to
apply the truth (if any), even in cliche form, to oneself exclusively! A difficult exercise. ....
I was much amused by your account of your journey to Jo'burg on Maundy Thursday. .... If you
fetch up at Bloemfontein I shall wonder if the little old stone bank-house (Bank of South Africa)
where I was born is still standing. And I wonder if my Father's grave is there still. I have never done
anything about it, but I believe my mother had a stone-cross put up or sent out.6 (A. R. Tolkien died
1896). If not it will be lost now, prob., unless there are any records. ....
64 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
30 April 1944 (FS 20)
My dearest:
I have decided to send you another air letter, not an airgraph, in the hope that I may so cheer
you up a little more..... I do miss you so, and I do find all this mighty hard to bear on my own
account and on yours. The utter stupid waste of war, not only material but moral and spiritual, is so
staggering to those who have to endure it. And always was (despite the poets), and always will be
(despite the propagandists) – not of course that it has not is and will be necessary to face it in an evil
world. But so short is human memory and so evanescent are its generations that in only about 30
years there will be few or no people with that direct experience which alone goes really to the heart.
The burnt hand teaches most about fire.
I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at
the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days – quite apart from
torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this
benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of
the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil – historically considered. But the
historical version is, of course, not the only one. All things and deeds have a value in themselves,
apart from their 'causes' and 'effects'. No man can estimate what is really happening at the present
sub specie aeternitaris. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil
labours with vast power and perpetual success – in vain: preparing always only the soil for
unexpected good to sprout in. So it is in general, and so it is in our own lives. .... But there is still
some hope that things may be better for us, even on the temporal plane, in the mercy of God. And
though we need all our natural human courage and guts (the vast sum of human courage and
endurance is stupendous, isn't it?) and all our religious faith to face the evil that may befall us (as it
befalls others, if God wills) still we may pray and hope. I do. And you were so special a gift to me,
in a time of sorrow and mental suffering, and your love, opening at once almost as soon as you were
born, foretold to me, as it were in spoken words, that I am consoled ever by the certainty that there
is no end to this. Probable under God that we shall meet again, 'in hale and in unity', before very
long, dearest, and certain that we have some special bond to last beyond this life – subject of course
always to the mystery of free will, by which either of us could throw away 'salvation'. In which case
God would arrange matters differently!....
On Thursday I gave 2 lectures and had some troublesome business in town and was too tired to
attend the Lewis seance. I hope to see him tomorrow, and read some more of 'the Ring'. It is
growing and sprouting again (I did a whole day at it yesterday to the neglect of many matters) and
opening out in unexpected ways. So far in the new chapters Frodo and Sam have traversed Sam
Gebir, climbed down the cliff, encountered and temporarily tamed Gollum. They have with his
guidance crossed the Dead Marshes and the slag-heaps of Mordor, lain in hiding outside the main
gates and found them impassable, and set out for a more secret entrance near Minas Morghul
(formerly M. Ithil). It will turn out to be the deadly Kirith Ungol and Gollum will play false. But at
moment they are in Ithilien (which is proving a lovely land); there has been a lot of bother about
stewed rabbit; and they have been captured by Gondorians, and witnessed them ambushing a
Swerting army (dark men of South) marching to Mordor's aid. A large elephant of prehistoric size, a
war-elephant of the Swertings, is loose, and Sam has gratified a life-long wish to see an Oliphaunt,
an animal about which there was a hobbit nursery-rhyme (though it was commonly supposed to be
mythical). In the chapter next to be done they will get to Kirith Ungol and Frodo will be caught.
Here is the rhyme cited by Sam: Grey as a mouse,/Big as a house,/Nose like a snake,/I make the
earth quake,/As I tramp through the grass ;/Trees crack as I pass./With horns in my mouth/I walk in
the South/Flapping big ears./Beyond count of years/I've stumped round and round,/Never lie on the
ground,/Not even to die./Oliphaunt am I,/Biggest of All,/huge, old, and tall./If ever you'd met
me,/You wouldn't forget me./If you never do,/You won't think I'm trues/But old Oliphaunt am
I,/and I never lie. I hope that has something of the 'nursery rhyme' flavour. On the whole Sam is
behaving well, and living up to repute. He treats Gollum rather like Ariel to Caliban. ....
It is full Maytime by the trees and grass now. But the heavens are full of roar and riot. You
cannot even hold a shouting conversation in the garden now, save about 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. – unless
the day is too foul to be out. How I wish the 'infernal combustion' engine had never been invented.
Or (more difficult still since humanity and engineers in special are both nitwitted and malicious as a
rule) that it could have been put to rational uses — if any. ....
Now we can only link with this flimsy bit of paper! But may it speed to you and arrive safely. I
wish that it might be written in Runes beyond the craft of Celebrimbor of Hollin, shining like silver,
filled with the visions and horizons that open in my mind. Though I have without you no one to
speak my thought. I first began to write the 'H. of the Gnomes'1 in army huts, crowded, filled with
the noise of gramophones – and there you are in the same prison. May you, too, escape –
strengthened. Take care of yourself, in soul and body, in all ways proper and possible, for the love
that you have to your own Father.
65 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 4 May 1944 (FS 21)
I saw Lewis (solo) on Monday and read another chapter: am busy now with the next; we shall
soon be in the shadows of Mordor at last. I will send you some copies, as soon as I can get them
66 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 6 May 1944 (FS 22)
I sent off to you yesterday an airgraph, FS 21 (written Thursday), and there was not room to tell
you that that mom. (Friday) your airletter (Z) had arrived; now your airletter (Y) has come, and I
have 2 to answer. We don't mind your grousing at all — you have no one else, and I expect it
relieves the strain. I used to write in just the same way or worse to poor old Fr. Vincent Reade,1 I
remember. Life in camp seems not to have changed at all, and what makes it so exasperating is the
fact that all its worse features are unnecessary, and due to human stupidity which (as 'planners'
refuse to see) is always magnified indefinitely by 'organization'. But England in 1917,1918 was in a
poorway, and it is a bit thicker that in a land of relative plenty, you shd. have such conditions. And
the taxpayers would like to know where are all the millions going, if the pick of their sons are so
treated. However it is, humans being what they are, quite inevitable, and the only cure (short of
universal Conversion) is not to have wars – nor planning, nor organization, nor regimentation. Your
service is, of course, as anybody with any intelligence and ears and eyes knows, a very bad one,
living on the repute of a few gallant men, and you are probably in a particularly bad comer of it. But
all Big Things planned in a big way feel like that to the toad under the harrow, though on a general
view they do function and do their job. An ultimately evil job. For we are attempting to conquer
Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to
breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear
cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Ores on our side. .... Well, there you are: a
hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that
when you are in them. You are inside a very great story! I think also that you are suffering from
suppressed 'writing'. That may be my fault. You have had rather too much of me and my peculiar
mode of thought and reaction. And as we are so akin it has proved rather powerful. Possibly
inhibited you. I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start)
imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical)
the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and
prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes. Lots of
the early pans of which (and the languages) – discarded or absorbed – were done in grimy canteens,
at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even
some down in dugouts under shell fire. It did not make for efficiency and present-mindedness, of
course, and I was not a good officer. ....
Nothing much has happened here since I wrote on Thursday. Weather foul. Cold, windy; roads
littered with torn leaves, and broken blossom. It has veered from SW > W > NW > NE. Buchan is
at it (as usual).21 wrote in the morning, wasted an afternoon in footling Board Meetings, and wrote
again. P. and Mummy went to the Playhouse at 6.1 had some brief peace; a late supper with them
(about 9). A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even
want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the
brother of Boromir – and he is holding up the 'catastrophe' by a lot of stuff about the history of
Gondor and Rohan (with some very sound reflections no doubt on martial glory and true glory): but
if he goes on much more a lot of him will have to be removed to the appendices — where already
some fascinating material on the hobbit Tobacco industry and the Languages of the West have
gone. There has been a battle – with a monstrous Oliphaunt (the Mâmuk of Harad) included — and
after a short while in a cave behind a waterfall, I think I shall get Sam and Frodo at last into Kirith
Ungol and the webs of the Spiders. Then the Great Offensive will burst out. And so with the death
of Theoden (by a Nazgûl) and the arrival of the hosts of the White Rider before the Gates of Mordor
we shall reach the denouement and the swift unravelling. As soon as I can get the new matter
written legibly, I will have it typed and sent to you.
67 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 11 May 1944 (FS 23)
I completed my fourth new chapter ('Faramir'), which rec'd fullest approbation from C.S.L. and
C.W. on Monday morning. I visited church on your behalf. Lunched with Mummy in town. Saw
C.S.L. on Tuesday morning. Dined at Pembroke (Rice-Oxley1 as guest): boring. McCallum seems
to think well of Mick's work.2 Rest of time filled with lectures, house, garden (very exigent just
now: lawns, hedges, marrow-beds, weeding) & what can be spared for 'Ring'. Another chapter
proceeding, leading to disaster at Kirith Ungol where Frodo is captured. Story then switches back to
Gondor, & runs fairly swiftly (I hope) to denouement. Ithilien (you may remember its situation on
the map you made) is revealed as rather a lovely land. I wish I had you here, doing something
useful and pleasant, completing the maps and typing.
68 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien 12 May 1944 (FS 24)
Spent a morning writing and we are now in sight of Minas Morghul. Gardening in sultry (and
properly midday) heat this afternoon. .... I have done nothing about getting new copies typed to
send to you of fresh chapters, as I am pushing on while there is a chance and cannot wait to make
fair copy..... Very much love to you, and all my thoughts and prayers. How much I wish to know!
'When you return to the lands of the living, and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun,
laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then' (Faramir to Frodo).
69 To Christopher Tolkien
14 May 1944 (FS 25)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Well my dearest, here goes to begin a proper letter again ... I did a certain amount of writing
yesterday but was hindered by two things: the need to clear up the study (which had got into the
chaos that always indicates literary or philological preoccupation) and attend to business; and
trouble with the moon. By which I mean that I found my moons in the crucial days between Frodo's
flight and the present situation (arrival at Minas Morghul) were doing impossible things, rising in
one pan of the country and setting simultaneously in another. Rewriting bits of back chapters took
all afternoon!. ... Fr C.1 gave a pretty stirring little sermon, based on Rogation Days (next Mon –
Wed) in which he suggested we were all a lot of untutored robots for not saying Grace; and did not
suggest but categorically pronounced Oxford to deserve to be wiped out with fire and blood in the
wrath of God for the abominations and wickedness there perpetrated. We all woke up. I am afraid it
is all too horribly true. But I wonder if it is specially true now? A small knowledge of history
depresses one with the sense of the everlasting mass and weight of human iniquity: old, old, dreary,
endless repetitive unchanging incurable wickedness. All towns, all villages, all habitations of men
— sinks! And at the same time one knows that there is always good: much more hidden, much less
clearly discerned, seldom breaking out into recognizable, visible, beauties of word or deed or face –
not even when in fact sanctity, far greater than the visible advertised wickedness, is really there. But
I fear that in the individual lives of all but a few, the balance is debit – we do so little that is positive
good, even if we negatively avoid what is actively evil. It must be terrible to be a priest!....
Monday 4 p.m. .... I saw C.S.L. from 10.45 to 12.30 this morning: heard 2 chapters of his 'Who
Goes Home?'2 – a new allegory on Heaven and Hell; and I read my 6th new chapter 'Journey to the
Cross Roads' with complete approval. So far it has gone well: but I am now coming to the nub,
when the threads must be gathered and the times synchronized and the narrative interwoven; while
the whole thing has grown so large in significance that the sketches of concluding chapters (written
ages ago) are quite inadequate, being on a more 'juvenile' level. ....
I suddenly got an idea for a new story (of about length of Niggle3) — in church yesterday, I
fear. A man sitting at a high window and seeing not the fortunes of a man or of people, but of one
small piece of land (about the size of a garden) all down the ages. He just sees it illumined, in
borders of mist, and things, animals and men just walk on and off, and the plants and trees grow and
die and change. One of the points would be that plants and animals change from one fantastic shape
to another but men (in spite of different dress) don't change at all. At intervals all down the ages
from Palaeolithic to Today a couple of women (or men) would stroll across scene saying exactly the
same thing (e.g. It oughtn't to be allowed. They ought to stop it. Or, I said to her, I'm not one to
make a fuss, I said, but...)....
Your own dear and loving Father.
70 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
21 May 1944 (FS 26)
My dearest,
I am afraid I have not written for some time. .... I have taken advantage of a bitter cold grey
week (in which the lawns have not grown in spite of a little rain) to write: but struck a sticky patch.
All that I had sketched or written before proved of little use, as times, motives, etc., have all
changed. However at last with v. great labour, and some neglect of other duties, I have now written
or nearly written all the matter up to the capture of Frodo in the high pass on the very brink of
Mordor. Now I must go back to the other folk and try and bring things to the final crash with some
speed. Do you think Shelob is a good name for a monstrous spider creature? It is of course only
'she+lob' (= spider), but written as one, it seems to be quite noisome. ....
Monday 22 May..... It was a wretched cold day yesterday (Sunday). I worked very hard at my
chapter—it is most exhausting work; especially as the climax approaches and one has to keep the
pitch up: no easy level will do; and there are all sorts of minor problems of plot and mechanism. I
wrote and tore up and rewrote most of it a good many times; but I was rewarded this morning, as
both C.S.L and C.W. thought it an admirable performance, and the latest chapters the best so far.
Gollum continues to develop into a most intriguing character. I was on 'key duty' last night and not
supposed to retire, but did so at 3.30 a.m. A bit tired this morning. And I have to be on all night at
the HQ Post tonight. .... Your own Father.
71 To Christopher Tolkien (airgraph)
25 May 1944 (FS 27)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dearest Chris, Letters, immensely welcome, have poured in..... I was disposed, at last, to envy
you a little; or rather to wish I could be with you 'in the hills'. There is something in nativity, and
though I have few pictorial memories, there is always a curious sense of reminiscence about any
stories of Africa, which always move me deeply. Strange that you, my dearest, should have gone
back there..... There is not much to report of self since Monday. That night I never slept at all (quite
literally): partly owing to deafening traffic (on moldan on úprodore1): and gave up trying at 6 a.m.
I was not frightfully bright at lecture on Tuesday, as a result. Chief reason, however, is absorption
in Frodo, which now has a great grip and takes a lot out of me: chapter on Shelob and the disaster in
Kirith Ungol has been written several times. Whole thing comes out of the wash quite different to
any preliminary sketch! Apart from making a hen-coop and chick-run (I succumbed at last: couldn't
stand the untidy box and jumbled net which did duty on the lawn) I have given most of my energies
to that task. Two lectures this morning; and this evening I am taking 'off', and going to Magdalen,
where there's supposed to be a full assembly, including Dyson. .... I hope you will have some more
leave in genuine Africa, ere too long. Away from the 'lesser servants of Mordor'. Yes, I think the
orcs as real a creation as anything in 'realistic' fiction: your vigorous words well describe the tribe;
only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For 'romance' has grown out of 'allegory', and its
wars are still derived from the 'inner war' of allegory in which good is on one side and various
modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley
alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels. But it does make some
difference who are your captains and whether they are orc-like per se! And what it is all about (or
thought to be). It is even in this world possible to be (more or less) in the wrong or in the right. I
could not stand Gaudy Night.2 I followed P. Wimsey from his attractive beginnings so far, by which
time I conceived a loathing for him (and his creatrix) not surpassed by any other character in
literature known to me, unless by his Harriet. The honeymoon one (Busman's H.?) was worse. I was
sick. .... God bless you. Your own Father. Finished 3.45 p.m.: 25 May 1944.
72 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
31 May 1944 (FS 28)
Dearest Chris,
About time I wrote again . . . On Thursday I dined in college, myself and the three old gents
(Drake, Ramsden, and the Bursar1) who were very affable. The Inklings meeting.... was very
enjoyable. Hugo2 was there: rather tired-looking, but reasonably noisy. The chief entertainment was
provided by a chapter of Warnie Lewis's book on the times of Louis XIV (very good I thought it);
and some excerpts from C.S.L.'s 'Who Goes Home?' – a book on Hell, which I suggested should
have been called rather 'Hugo's Home'. I did not get back till after midnight. The rest of my time,
barring chores in and out door, has been occupied by the desperate attempt to bring 'The Ring' to a
suitable pause, the capture of Frodo by the Ores in the passes of Mordor, before I am obliged to
break off by examining. By sitting up all hours, I managed it: and read the last 2 chapters (Shelob's
Lair and The Choices of Master Samwise) to C.S.L. on Monday morning. He approved with
unusual fervour, and was actually affected to tears by the last chapter, so it seems to be keeping up.
Sam by the way is an abbreviation not of Samuel but of Samwise (the Old E. for Half-wit), as is his
father's name the Gaffer (Ham) for O.E. Hamfast or Stayathome. Hobbits of that class have very
Saxon names as a rule – and I am not really satisfied with the surname Gamgee and shd. change it
to Goodchild if I thought you would let me. I am going to get these 8 new chapters, XXXIII-XL,
which you have not read, typed almost at once to send out to you, one at a time at short intervals. ....
I have done no serious writing since Monday. Until midday today I was sweating at Section Papers
:3 & took my MSS. to the Press at 2 p.m. today – the last possible day. .... Yesterday: lecture –
puncture, after fetching fish, so I had to foot it to town and back, and as bike-repairs are imposs.
with Denis4 ill and working slow, I had to squander afternoon in a grimy struggle, which ended at
last in my getting tire off, mending 1 puncture in inner tube, and gash in outer, and getting thing on
again. Io! triumphum.5 But it's hard work at a bob!....
Sunday: June 3. .... One of the reasons for this second gap since Wednesday is that since I
finished setting papers, and before scripts came in, I have been trying to get some chapters typed so
that they can be duplicated and sent out to you. I have got two done. A labour at first, as I have not
typed for so long. There is little further news of me beyond this. .... Prisca and Mummy went to see
Anna Neagle in Emma in the play from Jane Austen, and enjoyed it. I walked home with them, after
dining at Pembroke. A poor affair. But it is increasingly heartbreaking as the armies draw near to
Rome to hear the crass comments of elderly and stupid old gentlemen. I find the present situation of
things more and more distressing. I wonder if you were even able to hear any of the Pope's words.
A propos of that, but concerning another occasion: that you may judge of the atmosphere of tact and
courtesy in my beautiful college. I took Rice-Oxley to dine on the second Tuesday in term. The
election to the Rectorship of Lincoln had just been announced: the college had elected K. Murray
the young Scotch Bursar responsible for the Turl atrocity.6 The obvious (and I think proper) person
was V. J. Brooke (St Cath's Censor7); but Hanbury8 was also a candidate. Sitting next to me, the
Master in a loud voice said: 'Thank heaven they did not elect a Roman Catholic to the Rectorship
anyway: disastrous, disastrous for the college.' 'Yes, indeed,' echoed Dr Ramsden, 'disastrous.' My
guest looked at me and smiled and whispered 'models of tact and courtesy!'....
Your own dear Father.
73 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 10 June 1944 (FS 30)
[Written four days after the beginning of the Allied invasion of Normandy.]
I got your airletter at tea-time yesterday..... A great deal is happening at this end of the world.
But I won't enlarge on that, as doubtless you get the same news as we do, and as quick; and if one
knew anything outside that it would be 'indiscreet' to mention it. As a matter of fact I don't. But
thank God it really looks like clearing up a bit this evening. It is calmer, warmer, and there are
glimpses of sun and blue sky. I fancy weather is of paramount importance. ....
I last wrote on D. Day June 6. On Wed. I made special efforts with typing. Of the rest I can
only remember that on Thursday I dined lugubriously in Pembroke, and then went to Magdalen,
where the Lewises, C. Williams, and Edison (author of Ouroboros)1 were assembled. From 9 until
after 12.30 the time was occupied by reading. A long chapter from the Captain,2 largely on the
system of government in the ancien régime of France, which he managed to make very amusing
(though it was very long) followed by Edison with a new chapter from an uncompleted romance3 –
of undiminished power and felicity of expression; myself; and C.S.L. Enjoyable, but no longer amid
exams and wars to be taken so lightly as of old – especially as I had arisen at 5 a.m. (or 7 a.m.
BDST) to get to Mass for Corpus Christi. ....
This morning .... was occupied with exams, the afternoon with a mass-meeting at Rhodes
House in favour of a local Christian Council. .... There was one man .... who got up and said that he
approved of a C. Council, because he had been Lord Nelson in his previous life, and had much
appreciated being in Oxford during pan of the present life; but nobody laughed – although he was
one of the amiable kind, who would have liked it. He said so. But apparently he has made this
speech so often, that it was taken as a matter of course. Just shows how little one can know of one's
own home-town, as I had never seen or heard of him before. ....
[11 June] I was very interested in all the descriptions: both of your abode and of the country.
Your sharpened memory is I imagine due to 2 things (1) sharpened desire (2) new images which do
not correspond to the old, and so do not overlay and blur them. Few inhabitants of a town who have
never gone away can recall even the major changes in a street during the past year. My own rather
sharp memory is probably due to the dislocation of all my childhood 'pictures' between 3 and 4 by
leaving Africa: I was engaged in a constant attention and adjustment. Some of my actual visual
memories I now recognize as beautiful blends of African and English details. .... As for what to try
and write: I don't know. I tried a diary with portraits (some scathing some comic some
commendatory) of persons and events seen; but I found it was not my line. So I took to 'escapism':
or really transforming experience into another form and symbol with Morgoth and Orcs and the
Eldalie (representing beauty and grace of life and artefact) and so on; and it has stood me in good
stead in many hard years since and I still draw on the conceptions then hammered out. But, of
course, there was no time except on leave or in hospital. ....
I certainly live on your letters, although my circumstances are so very much more easy. In my
case weariness, sheer boredom of sameness is the enemy. If I were younger, I should wish to
exchange with you, merely to change! I hope you can read some of this. Certainly sixpenn'orth as
far as quantity (not quality I fear) goes. More anon.
74 From a letter to Stanley Unwin 29 June 1944
[Unwin wrote on 22 June, enclosing 'a further substantial cheque' for royalties earned by The Hobbit, and
telling Tolkien that his son Rayner was now reading English at Oxford as a naval cadet : 'He will be away
next week on leave, but after his return I should much like him to meet you some time.']
First about Rayner. I was both delighted and grieved at your news. Delighted because I shall
have a chance of seeing him. I hope he will treat me in the most unprofessorial manner, and as soon
as he gets back, will just let me know how we can meet: whether I can roll into his rooms, and
whether he would care at any time to wander up here to my house and have tea (meagre) in my
garden (untidy). Grieved because it is abominable to think that the passage of time and the
prolongation of this misery has swept him up. My youngest boy, also Trinity, was carried off last
July – in the midst of typing and revising the Hobbit sequel and doing a lovely map – and is now far
away and very wretched, m the Orange Free State:1 the fact that it was my native land does not
seem to recommend it to him. I have at the moment another son, a much damaged soldier, at Trinity
trying to do some work and recover a shadow of his old health.2 ....
I am afraid I have treated you badly. Fortune has treated me pretty rough since I last wrote –
though not rougher than many others, alas! – and I have had barely the energy or the time to get
through the menial day. But I should have thanked you for your note about Foyles3 and for the two
copies of the edition. Also I might have let you know what was happening to the sequel to the
Hobbit. Not a line on it was possible for a year. One of the results (until I was drowned in an abyss
of exams) of release from work for R.N. and R.A.F, was that I managed to bring this (great) work to
within sight of conclusion, and am now about to conclude it, disregarding all other calls, as far as is
I hope you still have some mild interest in it, in spite of paper shortage – at any rate as a
possible future. It is frightfully difficult and/or expensive getting anything typed in this town, and
when my typewriter broke down nobody would repair it. I have still only one copy, and that needs
revision as the thing nears its end. But I hope at last soon to be able to submit a chunk to you. A pity
Rayner is now involved with other and more serious matters. In any case, I fear, the story has grown
too long and unjuvenile.
Thank you very much for the cheque. Even halved it will be very useful. I still labour under
debts, mainly due to trying to complete a family's education after war had taken most of one's
means: not an uncommon experience.
75 To Christopher Tolkien
7 July 1944 (FS 36)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My Dearest: I thought I would try the experiment of an airletter on my midget type.1 It is
certainly as small, and a lot clearer than I could write. It is only two days since I last wrote, but I
have a great desire to talk to you. Not that there is anything but the smallest news to tell. I haven't
had a chance to do any more writing yet. This morning I had shopping and cadets; and when on my
way back to town for the second time my back tire blew up with a loud explosion, the inner tube
having oozed through a gash in the outer cover. Fortunately this was not far from Denis, and I was
able to console myself at The Gardeners' Arms, not yet discovered by Stars or Stripes,2 and where
they serve a mixture of College Ale and Bitter. But I had to make a third journey after lunch: and
from 5 to 8 was occupied enlarging the house, with bits of old wood and salvaged nails, for the new
hen-folk, drat 'em. I have just heard the news and so goes the day. There is a family of bullfinches,
which must have nested in or near our garden, and they are very tame, and have been giving us
entertainment lately by their antics feeding their young, often just outside the diningroom window.
Insects on the trees and sowthistle seeds seem their chief delight. I had no idea they behaved so
much like goldfinches. Old fat father, pink waistcoat and all, hangs absolutely upside down on a
thistle-spray, linking all the while. There are also a few wrens about. Otherwise nothing of note,
though all birds are vastly increased in numbers, after the mild winters, and in these relatively
catless days. The garden is its usual wilderness self, all deep green again, and still with abundant
roses. The bright summer day turned to rain again by night and we have had a lot more, though not
without breaks. ....
[9 July] A propos of bullfinches, did you know that they had a connexion with the noble art of
brewing ale? I was looking at the Kalevala the other day – one of the books which I don't think you
have yet read? Or have you? – and I came across Runo XX, which I used to like: it deals largely
with the origin of beer. When the fermentation was first managed, the beer was only in birch tubs
and it foamed all over the place, and of course the heroes came and lapped it up, and got mightily
drunk. Drunk was Ahti, drunk was Kauko, drunken was the ruddy rascal, with the ale of Osmo's
daughter – Kirby's translation3 is funnier than the original. It was the bullfinch who then suggested
to Osmo's daughter the notion of putting the stuff in oak casks with hoops of copper and storing it
in a cellar. Thus was ale at first created. . . best of drinks for prudent people; Women soon it brings
to laughter. Men it warms into good humour, but it brings the fools to raving. Sound sentiments.
Poor old Finns, and their queer language, they look like being scuppered. I wish I could have visited
the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes before this war. Finnish nearly ruined my Hon. Mods,4 and was
the original germ of the Silmarillion. ....
I wonder how you are getting on with your flying since you first went solo – the last news we
had of this. I especially noted your observations on the skimming martins. That touches to the heart
of things, doesn't it? There is the tragedy and despair of all machinery laid bare. Unlike an which is
content to create a new secondary world in the mind, it attempts to actualize desire, and so to create
power in this World; and that cannot really be done with any real satisfaction. Labour-saving
machinery only creates endless and worse labour. And in addition to this fundamental disability of a
creature, is added the Fall, which makes our devices not only fail of their desire but turn to new and
horrible evil. So we come inevitably from Daedalus and Icarus to the Giant Bomber. It is not an
advance in wisdom! This terrible truth, glimpsed long ago by Sam Butler, sticks out so plainly and
is so horrifyingly exhibited in our time, with its even worse menace for the future, that it seems
almost a world wide mental disease that only a tiny minority perceive it. Even if people have ever
heard the legends (which is getting rarer) they have no inkling of their portent. How could a maker
of motorbikes name his product Ixion cycles! Ixion, who was bound for ever in hell on a
perpetually revolving wheel! Well, I have got over 2 thousand words onto this little flimsy airletter;
and I will forgive the Mordor-gadgets some of their sins, if they will bring it quickly to you. ....
76 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 28 July 1944 (FS 39)
As to Sam Gamgee. I quite agree with what you say, and I wouldn't dream of altering his name
without your approval; but the object of the alteration was precisely to bring out the comicness,
peasantry, and if you will the Englishry of this jewel among the hobbits. Had I thought it out at the
beginning, I should have given all the hobbits very English names to match the shire. The Gaffer
came first; and Gamgee followed as an echo of old Lamorna jokes.1 I doubt if it's English. I knew
of it only through Gamgee (Tissue) as cottonwool was called being invented by a man of that name
last century. However, I daresay all your imagination of the character is now bound up with the
name. Plain news is on the airgraph; but the only event worth of talk was the performance of
Hamlet2 which I had been to just before I wrote last. I was full of it then, but the cares of the world
have soon wiped away the impression. But it emphasised more strongly than anything I have ever
seen the folly of reading Shakespeare (and annotating him in the study), except as a concomitant of
seeing his plays acted. It was a very good performance, with a young rather fierce Hamlet; it was
played fast without cuts; and came out as a very exciting play. Could one only have seen it without
ever having read it or knowing the plot, it would have been terrific. It was well produced except for
a bit of bungling over the killing of Polonius. But to my surprise the part that came out as the most
moving, almost intolerably so, was the one that in reading I always found a bore: the scene of mad
Ophelia singing her snatches.
77 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 31 July 1944 (FS 41)
Neglecting other dudes I've put in a good many hours typing and am now nearly at the end of
the new stuff in the Ring; so soon I may go on and finish; and I hope shortly to send you another
batch. .... Binney was here on Sat. to tea, in a v. pleasant mood; it cheered P. up, as she too is v.
lonely with only a couple of old grousers, and nothing to do but read. She's just read Out of the S.
Planet and Perelandra; and with good taste preferred the latter. But she finds it hard to realise that
Ransom is not meant to be a portrait of me (though as a philologist I may have some part in him,
and recognize some of my opinions and ideas Lewisified in him)..... The news is good today.
Things may begin to move fast now, if not quite so fast as some think. I wonder how long von
Papen will manage to keep above ground?1 But when the burst comes in France, then will be the
time to get excited. How long? And what of the red Chrysanthemum in the East? And when it is all
over, will ordinary people have any freedom left (or right) or will they have to fight for it, or will
they be too tired to resist? The last rather seems the idea of some of the Big Folk, Who have for the
most part viewed this war from the vantage point of large motor-cars. Too many are childless. But I
suppose the one certain result of it all is a further growth in the great standardised amalgamations
with their mass-produced notions and emotions. Music will give place to jiving: which as far as I
can make out means holding a 'jam session' round a piano (an instrument properly intended to
produce the sounds devised by, say, Chopin) and hitting it so hard that it breaks. This delicately
cultured amusement is said to be a 'fever' in the U.S.A. 0 God! O Montreal! O Minnesota! O
Michigan! What kind of mass manias the Soviets can produce remains for peace and prosperity and
the removal of war-hypnotism to show. Not quite so dismal as the Western ones, perhaps (I hope).
But one doesn't altogether wonder at a few smaller states still wanting to be 'neutral'; they are
between the devil and the deep sea all right (and you can stick which D you like on to which side
you like). However it's always been going on in different terms, and you and I belong to the everdefeated never altogether subdued side. I should have hated the Roman Empire in its day (as I do),
and remained a patriotic Roman citizen, while preferring a free Gaul and seeing good in
Carthaginians. Delenda est Carthago.2 We hear rather a lot of that nowadays. I was actually taught
at school that that was a fine saying; and I 'reacted' (as they say, in this case with less than the usual
misapplication) at once. There lies still some hope that, at least in our beloved land of England,
propaganda defeats itself, and even produces the opposite effect. It is said that it is even so in
Russia; and I bet it is so in Germany. ....
[1 August] I hear that there is just coming out First Whispers of the Wind in the Willows; and
the reviews seem favourable. It is published by Kenneth Grahame's widow, but it is not, I gather,
notes for the book, but stories (about Toad and Mole etc.) that he wrote in letters to his son. I must
get hold of a copy, if poss. I'm afraid I have made a great mistake in making my sequel too long and
complicated and too slow in coming out. It is a curse having the epic temperament in an
overcrowded age devoted to snappy bits !
78 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 12 August 1944 (FS 43)
It is longer than I meant to leave since my airgr. of Aug. 8 ... I read your letters carefully, and of
course as is quite right you open your rather troubled heart to us; but do not think that any detail of
your exterior life, your friends, acquaintance, or the most minor events, are not worth writing or of
interest. I am glad that you are finding it (at times) easier to rub along. I shouldn't worry too much,
if the process sometimes seems to be a declension from the highest standards (intellectual and
aesthetic, at any rate, not moral). I don't think you are in the least likely permanently to decline
upon the worse; and I should say that you need a little thickening of the outer skin, if only as a
protection for the more sensitive interior; and if you acquire it, it will be of permanent value in any
walk of later life in this tough world (which shows no signs of softening). And of course, as you
already discover, one of the discoveries of the process is the realization of the values that often lurk
under dreadful appearances. Urukhai is only a figure of speech. There are no genuine Uruks, that is
folk made bad by the intention of their maker; and not many who are so corrupted as to be
irredeemable (though I fear it must be admitted that there are human creatures that seem
irredeemable short of a special miracle, and that there are probably abnormally many of such
creatures in Deutschland and Nippon — but certainly these unhappy countries have no monopoly: I
have met them, or thought so, in England's green and pleasant land). All you say about the dryness,
dustiness, and smell of the satan-licked land reminds me of my mother; she hated it (as a land) and
was alarmed to see symptoms of my father growing to like it. It used to be said that no English-born
woman could ever get over this dislike or be more than an exile, but that Englishmen (under the
freer conditions of peace) could and usually did get to love it (as a land; I am saying nothing of any
of its inhabitants). Oddly enough all that you say, even to its detriment, only increases the longing I
have always felt to see it again. Much though I love and admire little lanes and hedges and rustling
trees and the soft rolling contours of a rich champain, the thing that stirs me most and comes nearest
to heart's satisfaction for me is space, and I would be willing to barter barrenness for it; indeed I
think I like barrenness itself, whenever I have seen it. My heart still lingers among the high stony
wastes among the morains and mountain-wreckage, silent in spite of the sound of thin chill water.
Intellectually and aesthetically, of course; man cannot live on stone and sand, but I at any rate
cannot live on bread alone; and if there was not bare rock and pathless sand and the unharvested
sea, I should grow to hate all green things as a fungoid growth. ....
I am absolutely dry of any inspiration for the Ring and am back where I was in the Spring, with
all the inertia to overcome again. What a relief it would be to get it done. How I miss you on that
count alone! I forgot to make a note of when I sent the MSS. off, but I suppose it must have been
about a month ago and you may soon be getting it. I shan't send any more until I know your next
address, though the subsequent chapters are better. I shall be very eager to know what you think of
them. This book has come to be more and more addressed to you, so that your opinion matters more
than any one else's.
79 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 22 August 1944 (FS 45)
[A reply to Christopher's comments on Kroonstad, where he was stationed, and on Johannesburg.]
Kroonstad is the real product of our culture, as it now lives and is; Jo'burg (in its good spots) is
what it would like to be, but only can be in special economic circumstances which are quite
unstable and impermanent. In England, and there less than in most other European countries, it has
up to now been softened and concealed by the relics of a former age (not confined to ruinous
buildings). There will be a good many Kroonstads, architecturally, morally, and mentally, in this
land in ten to twenty years time, when the Portal Houses, 'temporary', are blistered and bent like
rotting tin mushrooms but nothing else is forthcoming. As in the former dark age, the Christian
Church alone will carry over any considerable tradition (not unaltered, nor, it may be, undamaged)
of a higher mental civilization, that is, if it is not driven down into new catacombs. Gloomy
thoughts, about things one cannot really know anything [of]; the future is impenetrable especially to
the wise; for what is really important is always hid from contemporaries, and the seeds of what is to
be are quietly germinating in the dark in some forgotten corner, while everyone is looking at Stalin
or Hitler, or reading illustrated articles on Beveridge ('The Master of University College At Home')
in Picture Post.....
This morning I lectured, and found the Bird and Baby1 closed; but was hailed in a voice that
carried across the torrent of vehicles that was once St Giles, and discovered the two Lewises and C.
Williams, high and very dry on the other side. Eventually we got 4 pints of passable ale at the
King's Arms – at a cost of 5/8..... I hope to see the lads tomorrow; otherwise life is as bright as
water in a ditch. ....
Here I am at the best end of the day again. The most marvellous sunset I have seen for years: a
remote pale green-blue sea just above the horizon, and above it a towering shore of bank upon bank
of flaming cherubim of gold and fire, crossed here and there by misty blurs like purple rain. It may
portend some celestial merriment in the mom, as the glass is rising.
80 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien
[On G. K. Chesterton.]
3 September 1944 (FS 46)
P[riscilla].... has been wading through The Ballad of the White Horse for the last many nights;
and my efforts to explain the obscurer parts to her convince me that it is not as good as I thought.
The ending is absurd. The brilliant smash and glitter of the words and phrases (when they come off,
and are not mere loud colours) cannot disguise the fact that G. K. C. knew nothing whatever about
the 'North', heathen or Christian.
81 To Christopher Tolkien
[Christopher had moved to a camp at Standerton in the Transvaal.]
23-25 September 1944 (FS 51)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest,
We have had another airgraph from you this mom, just on the eve of your departure to
Standerton. .... I am pleased that the Chapters meet with your approval. As soon as I get them back,
I'll send the next lot; which I think are better (Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit; Faramir; The
Forbidden Pool; Journey to the Crossroads; The Stairs of Kirith Ungol; Shelob's Lair; and The
Choices of Master Samwise). .... There is not much more Home news. Lights are steadily increasing
in Oxford. More and more windows are being unblacked; and the Banbury Road now has a double
row of lamps; while some of the side-roads have ordinary lamps. I actually went out to an 'Inklings'
on Thursday night, and rode in almost peacetime light all the way to Magdalen for the first time in 5
years. Both Lewises were there, and C. Williams; and beside some pleasant talk, such as I have not
enjoyed for moons, we heard the last chapter of Wamie's book and an article of CSL, and a long
specimen of his translation of Vergil.11 did not start home till midnight, and walked with C.W. part
of the way, when our converse turned on the difficulties of discovering what common factors if any
existed in the notions associated with freedom, as used at present. I don't believe there are any, for
the word has been so abused by propaganda that it has ceased to have any value for reason and
become a mere emotional dose for generating heat. At most, it would seem to imply that those who
domineer over you should speak (natively) the same language – which in the last resort is all that
the confused ideas of race or nation boil down to; or class, for that matter, in England. .... The
western war-news of course occupies a good deal of our minds, but you know as much about it as
we do. Anxious times, in spite of the rather premature shouting. The armoured fellows are right in
the thick of it, and (I gather) think there is going to be a good deal more of the thick yet. I cannot
understand the line taken by BBC (and papers, and so, I suppose, emanating from Ministry] O[f]
information]) that the German troops are a motley collection of sutlers and broken men, while yet
recording the bitterest defence against the finest and best equipped armies (as indeed they are) that
have ever taken the field. The English pride themselves, or used to, on 'sportsmanship' (which
included 'giving the devil his due'), not that attendance at a league football match was not enough to
dispel the notion that 'sportsmanship' was possessed by any very large number of the inhabitants of
this island. But it is distressing to see the press grovelling in the gutter as low as Goebbels in his
prime, shrieking that any German commander who holds out in a desperate situation (when, too, the
military needs of his side clearly benefit) is a drunkard, and a besotted fanatic. I can't see much
distinction between our popular tone and the celebrated 'military idiots'. We knew Hitler was a
vulgar and ignorant little cad, in addition to any other defects (or the source of them); but there
seem to be many v. and i. l. cads who don't speak German, and who given the same chance would
show most of the other Hitlerian characteristics. There was a solemn article in the local paper
seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course
after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don't know the difference
between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the
Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words,
no right, whatever they have done. Of course there is still a difference here. The article was
answered, and the answer printed. The Vulgar and Ignorant Cad is not yet a boss with power; but he
is a very great deal nearer to becoming one in this green and pleasant isle than he was. And all of
that you know. Still you're not the only one who wants to let off steam or bust, sometimes; and I
could make steam, if I opened the throttle, compared with which (as the Queen said to Alice) this
would be only a scent-spray. It can't be helped. You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring
without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf's wisdom seems long ago to have passed
with him into the True West. ....
The NW gale in the 'Straits of Dover' has passed, and we are back in a mild September day with
a silver sun gleaming through very high mottled clouds moving still fairly fast from the NW. I must
try and get on with the Pearl and stop the eager maw of Basil Blackwell.2 But I have the autumn
wanderlust upon me, and would fain be off with a knapsack on my back and no particular
destination, other than a series of quiet inns. One of the too long delayed delights we must promise
ourselves, when it pleases God to release us and reunite us, is just such a perambulation, together,
preferably in mountainous country, not too far from the sea, where the scars of war, felled woods
and bulldozed fields, are not too plain to see. The Inklings have already agreed that their victory
celebration, if they are spared to have one, will be to take a whole inn in the country for at least a
week, and spend it entirely in beer and talk, without reference to any clock!... God be with you and
guide you in all your ways. All the love of your own Father.
82 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien
30 September 1944 (FS 52)
We three have just come back through the rainy end of a golden day, from a v. poor production
at Playhouse of 'Arms and the Man', which does not wear well. I saw the good lady (in the theatre
with C. Williams) who is typing Ring and have hopes of more to send soon. I don't think I should
write any more, but for the hope of your seeing it. At moment I'm engaged in revision, as I can't get
on without having back stuff fresh in mind. Do you remember chapter 'King of the Golden Hall'?
Seems rather good, now it is old enough for a detached view.
83 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 6 October 1944 (FS 54)
It has been rather an unusually interesting week. You know how, even if you are not hard up,
the finding of a forgotten bob in an old pocket gives you a curious feeling of wealth. I am not
referring to the fact that I netted about £51 from my vacation labours on Cadets, though that wasn't
too bad. But to the fact that I am a week up. Term does not begin today but next week! It has given
me a wonderful (if fictitious and later to be paid for) sense of leisure..... On Tuesday at noon I
looked in at the Bird and B. with C. Williams. There to my surprise I found Jack and Warnie1
already ensconced. (For the present the beer shortage is over, and the inns are almost habitable
again). The conversation was pretty lively – though I cannot remember any of it now, except
C.S.L.'s story of an elderly lady that he knows. (She was a student of English in the past days of Sir
Walter Raleigh. At her viva she was asked: What period wouldyou have liked to live in Miss B? In
the 15th C. said she. Oh come. Miss B., wouldn't you have liked to meet the Lake poets? No, sir, I
prefer the society of gentlemen. Collapse of viva.) – & I noticed a strange tall gaunt man half in
khaki half in mufti with a large wide-awake hat, bright eyes and a hooked nose sitting in the comer.
The others had their backs to him, but I could see in his eye that he was taking an interest in the
conversation quite unlike the ordinary pained astonishment of the British (and American) public at
me presence of the Lewises (and myself) in a pub. It was rather like Trotter at the Prancing Pony,2
in fact v. like. All of a sudden he butted in, in a strange unplaceable accent, taking up some point
about Wordsworth. In a few seconds he was revealed as Roy Campbell (of Flowering Rifle and
Flaming Terrapin'). Tableau! Especially as C.S.L. had not long ago violently lampooned him in the
Oxford Magazine, and his press-cutters miss nothing. There is a good deal of Ulster still left in
C.S.L. if hidden from himself. After that things became fast and furious and I was late for lunch. It
was (perhaps) gratifying to find that this powerful poet and soldier desired in Oxford chiefly to see
Lewis (and myself). We made an appointment for Thursday (that is last) night. If I could remember
all that I heard in C.S.L.'s room last night it would fill several airletters. C.S.L. had taken a fair deal
of port and was a little belligerent (insisted on reading out his lampoon again while R.C. laughed at
him), but we were mostly obliged to listen to the guest. A window on a wild world, yet the man is
in himself gentle, modest, and compassionate. Mostly it interested me to learn that this old-looking
war-scarred Trotter, limping from recent wounds, is 9 years younger than I am, and we prob. met
when he was a lad, as he lived in 0[xford] at the time when we lived in Pusey Street (rooming with
Walton the composer,3 and going about with T. W. Earp, the original twerp, and with Wilfrid
Childe4 your godfather – whose works he much prizes). What he has done since beggars
description. Here is a scion of an Ulster prot. family resident in S. Africa, most of whom fought in
both wars, who became a Catholic after sheltering the Carmelite fathers in Barcelona – in vain, they
were caught & butchered, and R.C. nearly lost his life. But he got the Carmelite archives from the
burning library and took them through the Red country. He speaks Spanish fluently (he has been a
professional bullfighter). As you know he then fought through me war on Franco's side, and among
other things was in the van of the company that chased the Reds out of Malaga in such haste that
their general (Villalba I believe) could not carry off his loot – and left on his table St. Teresa's hand
with all its jewels. He had most interesting things to say about the situation at Gib, since the war (in
Spain). But he is a patriotic man, and has fought for the B. Army since. Well, well. Martin D'Arcy5
vouches for him, and told him to seek us out. But I wish I could remember half his picaresque
stories, about poets and musicians etc. from Peter Warlock to Aldous Huxley. The one I most
enjoyed was the tale of greasy Epstein (the sculptor) and how he fought him and put him in hospital
for a week. However it is not possible to convey an impression of such a rare character, both a
soldier and a poet, and a Christian convert. How unlike the Left – the 'corduroy panzers' who fled to
America (Auden among them who with his friends got R.C.'s works 'banned' by the Birmingham T.
Council!). I hope to see this man again next week. We did not leave Magdalen until midnight, and I
walked up to Beaumont Street with him. C.S.L.'s reactions were odd. Nothing is a greater tribute to
Red propaganda than the fact that he (who knows they are in all other subjects liars and traducers)
believes all that is said against Franco, and nothing that is said for him. Even Churchill's open
speech in Parliament left him unshaken. But hatred of our church is after all the real only final
foundation of the C of E – so deep laid that it remains even when all the superstructure seems
removed (C.S.L. for instance reveres the Blessed Sacrament, and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran
is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughtered – he disbelieves it (and I
daresay really thinks they asked for it). But R.C. shook him a bit.....
Do 'ramble on'. Letters need not be only about exterior events (though all details are welcome).
What you are thinking is just as important: Christmas, bee-noises, and all the rest. And why you
should think the encounter with the chemist-botanist.... unworthy of record, I can't say. I thought it
most interesting..... It is not the not-man (e.g. weather) nor man (even at a bad level), but the manmade that is ultimately daunting and insupportable. If a ragnarök6 would bum all the slums and gasworks, and shabby garages, and long arc-lit suburbs, it cd. for me bum all the works of art – and I'd
go back to trees.
84 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien
12 October 1944 (FS 55)
I began trying to write again (I would, on the brink of term!) on Tuesday, but I struck a most
awkward error (one or two days) in the synchronization, v. important at this stage, of movements of
Frodo and the others, which has cost labour and thought and will require tiresome small alterations
in many chapters; but at any rate I have actually begun Book Five (and last: about 10 chapters per
'book'). I have today sent Leaf by Niggle to Dublin Review, as the editor wrote asking for verse or
85 From an airgraph to Christopher Tolkien
16 October 1944 (FS 56)
I have been struggling with the dislocated chronology of me Ring, which has proved most
vexatious, and has not only interfered with other more urgent and duller duties, but has stopped me
getting on. I think I have solved it all at last by small map alterations, and by inserting an extra day's
Entmoot, and extra days into Trotter's chase and Frodo's journey (a small alteration in the first
chapter I have just sent: 2 days from Morannon to Ithilien). But now I have lectures again, and also
86 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 23 October 1944 (FS 57)
I have just been out to look up: the noise is terrific: the biggest for a long time, skywide
Armada. I suppose it is allright to say so, as by the time that this reaches you somewhere will have
ceased to exist and all the world will have known about it and already forgotten it. ....
There seems no time to do anything properly; and I feel tired all the time, or rather bored. I
think if a jinn came and gave me a wish – what would y ou really like? – I should reply: Nothing.
Go away!....
With regard to the blasphemy, one can only recall (when applicable) the words Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do – or say. And somehow I fancy that Our Lord actually is more
pained by offences we commit against one another than those we commit against himself, esp. his
incarnate person. And linguistically there is not a great deal of difference between a damn you, said
without reflection or even knowledge of the terror and majesty of the One Judge, and the things you
mention. Both the sexual and the sacred words have ceased to have any content except the ghost of
past emotion. I don't mean that it is not a bad thing, and it is certainly very wearisome, saddening
and maddening, but it is at any rate not blasphemy in the full sense.
87 To Christopher Tolkien
25 October 1944
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dearest man. Here is a little more of 'the Ring' for your delectation (I hope), and criticism, but
not for return. Two more chapters to complete the 'Fourth Book', & then I hope to finish the 'Fifth'
and last of the Ring. I have written a long airletter today, & shall write again (of course) before your
birthday. I am afraid this little packet won't get to you in time for it.
'Dear Mr Tolkien, I have just finished reading your book The Hobbit for the 11th time and I
want to tell you what I think of it. I think it is the most wonderful book I have ever read. It is
beyond description ... Gee Whiz, I'm surprised that it's not more popular ... If you have
written any other books, would you please send me their names?'
John Barrow 12 yrs.
West town School, West town, Pa.'
I thought these extracts from a letter I got yesterday would amuse you. I find these letters which
I still occasionally get (apart from the smell of incense which fallen man can never quite fail to
savour) make me rather sad. What thousands of grains of good human corn must fall on barren
stony ground, if such a very small drop of water should be so intoxicating! But I suppose one
should be grateful for the grace and fortune that have allowed me to provide even the drop. God
bless you beloved. Do you think 'The Ring' will come off, and reach the thirsty?
Your own Father.
It's nice to find that little American boys do really still say 'Gee Whiz'.
88 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 28 October 1944 (FS 58)
This empty year is fading into a dull grey mournful darkness: so slow-footed and yet so swift
and evanescent. What of the new year and the spring? I wonder.
89 To Christopher Tolkien
7-8 November 1944 (FS 60)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
.... Your reference to the care of your guardian angel makes me fear that 'he' is being specially
needed. I dare say it is so. .... It also reminded me of a sudden vision (or perhaps apperception
which at once turned itself into pictorial form in my mind) I had not long ago when spending half
an hour in St Gregory's before the Blessed Sacrament when the Quarant' Ore1 was being held there.
I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote (or millions of motes
to only one of which was my small mind directed), glittering white because of the individual ray
from the Light which both held and lit it. (Not that there were individual rays issuing from the
Light, but the mere existence of the mote and its position in relation to the Light was in itself a line,
and the line was Light). And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed
between God and the creature, but God's very attention itself, personalized. And I do not mean
'personified', by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real
(finite) person. Thinking of it since – for the whole thing was very immediate, and not recapturable
in clumsy language, certainly not the great sense of joy that accompanied it and the realization that
the shining poised mote was myself (or any other human person that I might think of with love) – it
has occurred to me that (I speak diffidently and have no idea whether such a notion is legitimate: it
is at any rate quite separate from the vision of the Light and the poised mote) this is a finite parallel
to the Infinite. As the love of the Father and Son (who are infinite and equal) is a Person, so the love
and attention of the Light to the Mote is a person (that is both with us and in Heaven): finite but
divine: i.e. angelic. Anyway, dearest, I received comfort, pan of which took this curious form,
which I have (I fear) failed to convey: except that I have with me now a definite awareness of you
poised and shining in the Light – though your face (as all our faces) is turned from it. But we might
see the glimmer in the faces (and persons as apprehended in love) of others. ....
On Sunday Prisca and I cycled in wind and rain to St Gregory's. P. was battling with a cold and
other disability, and it did not do her much immediate good, though she's better now; but we had
one of Fr. C's best sermons (and longest). A wonderful commentary on the Gospel of the Sunday
(healing of the woman and of Jairus' daughter), made intensely vivid by his comparison of the three
evangelists. (P. was espec. amused by his remark that St Luke being a doctor himself did not like
the suggestion that the poor woman was all the worse for them, so he toned that bit down). And also
by his vivid illustrations from modern miracles. The similar case of a woman similarly afflicted
(owing to a vast uterine tumour) who was cured instantly at Lourdes, so that the tumour could not
be found, and her belt was twice too large. And the most moving story of the little boy with
tubercular peritonitis who was not healed, and was taken sadly away in the train by his parents,
practically dying with 2 nurses attending him. As the train moved away it passed within sight of the
Grotto. The little boy sat up. 'I want to go and talk to the little girl' – in the same train there was a
little girl who had been healed. And he got up and walked there and played with the little girl; and
then he came back, and he said 'I'm hungry now'. And they gave him cake and two bowls of
chocolate and enormous potted meat sandwiches, and he ate them! (This was in 1927). So Our Lord
told them to give the little daughter of Jairus something to eat. So plain and matter of fact: for so
miracles are. They are intrusions (as we say, erring) into real or ordinary life, but they do intrude
into real life, and so need ordinary meals and other results. (Of course Fr. C could not resist adding:
and there was also a Capuchin Friar who was mortally ill, & had eaten nothing for years, and he
was cured, and he was so delighted about it that he rushed off and had two dinners, and that night
he had not his old pains but an attack of plain ordinary indigestion). But at the story of the little boy
(which is a fully attested fact of course) with its apparent sad ending and then its sudden unhopedfor happy ending, I was deeply moved and had that peculiar emotion we all have – though not
often. It is quite unlike any other sensation. And all of a sudden I realized what it was : the very
thing that I have been trying to write about and explain – in that fairy-story essay that I so much
wish you had read that I think I shall send it to you. For it I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the
sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the
highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its
peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause
and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly
snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (for which see the
essay) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is
made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in
the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears
because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow
are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. Of course I do not mean that the
Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the
greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by
a moving story. But since the author if it is the supreme Artist and the Author of Reality, this one
was also made to Be, to be true on the Primary Plane. So that in the Primary Miracle (the
Resurrection) and the lesser Christian miracles too though less, you have not only that sudden
glimpse of the truth behind the apparent Anankê2 of our world, but a glimpse that is actually a ray
of light through the very chinks of the universe about us. I was riding along on a bicycle one day,
not so long ago, past the Radcliffe Infirmary, when I had one of those sudden clarities which
sometimes come in dreams (even anaesthetic-produced ones). I remember saying aloud with
absolute conviction: 'But of course! Of course that's how things really do work'. But I could not
reproduce any argument that had led to this, though the sensation was the same as having been
convinced by reason (if without reasoning). And I have since thought that one of the reasons why
one can't recapture the wonderful argument or secret when one wakes up is simply because there
was not one: but there was (often maybe) a direct appreciation by the mind (sc. reason) but without
the chain of argument we know in our time-serial life. However that's as may be. To descend to
lesser things: I knew I had written a story of worth in 'The Hobbit' when reading it (after it was old
enough to be detached from me) I had suddenly in a fairly strong measure the 'eucatastrophic'
emotion at Bilbo's exclamation: "The Eagles! The Eagles are coming !'.... And in the last chapter of
The Ring that I have yet written I hope you'll note, when you receive it (it'll soon be on its way) that
Frodo's face goes livid and convinces Sam that he's dead, just when Sam gives up hope.
And while we are still, as it were, on the porch of St Gregory's on Sunday 5 Nov. I saw the
most touching sight there. Leaning against the wall as we came out of church was an old tramp in
rags, something like sandals tied on his feet with string, an old tin can on one wrist, and in his other
hand a rough staff. He had a brown beard, and a curiously 'clean' face, with blue eyes, and he was
gazing into the distance in some rapt thought not heeding any of the people, cert. not begging. I
could not resist the impulse of offering him a small alms, and he took it with grave kindliness, and
thanked me courteously, and then went back to his contemplation. Just for once I rather took Fr. C.
aback by saying to him that I thought the old man looked a great deal more like St Joseph than the
statue in the church – at any rate St Joseph on the way to Egypt. He seems to be (and what a happy
thought in these shabby days, where poverty seems only to bring sin and misery) a holy tramp! I
could have sworn it anyway, but P. says Betty3 told her that he had been at the early mass, and had
been to communion, and his devotion was plain to see, so plain that many were edified. I do not
know just why, but I find that immensely comforting and pleasing. Fr. C says he turns up about
once a year.
This is becoming a very peculiar letter! I hope it does not seem all very incomprehensible; for
events have directed me to topics mat are not really treatable without erasions and re-writings,
impossible in air letters !.... Let us finish the diary..... On Monday (I think) a hen died – one of the
bantam twins; cert. it was buried that day. Also I saw C.S.L. and C.W. from about 10.40 to 12.50,
but can recollect little of the feast of reason and flow of soul, partly because we all agree so. It was
a bright morning, and the mulberry tree in the grove just outside C. S. L. 's window shone like
fallow gold against colbalt blue sky. But the weather worsened again, and in the afternoon I did one
of the foulest jobs. I grease-banded all the trees (apple) tying 16 filthy little pantelettes on. It took 2
hours, and nearly as long to get the damned stuff off hands and implements. I neglected it last year,
and so lost Vi a glorious crop to 'moth'. It will be like this 'cacocatastrophic' fallen world, if next
year there ain't no blossom. Tuesday: lectures and a brief glimpse, at 'The Bird', of the Lewis Bros.
and Williams. The Bird is now gloriously empty, with improved beer, and a landlord wreathed in
welcoming smiles! He lights a special fire for us!....
A propos of yr. reminder about 'Lord Nelson' – it was in the preliminary meeting to form a
United Christian Council – he's always about. I forgot to tell you that at Gielgud's 'Hamlet' he
seized on a quiet moment to yell from the Dress Circle 'A very fine performance, and I'm enjoying
it very much, but cut out the swear-words!' He did the same at the Playhouse. He was nearly
lynched in the New Theatre. But he goes on his odd way, ....
Your own Father.
90 To Christopher Tolkien
24 November 1944 (FS 64)
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
My dearest, there has been a splendid flow of letters from you, since I last wrote. .... We were
most amused by your account of the Wings ceremony. I wonder how the 'native band' enjoyed
being whizzed through the air! I also wondered how you came to have seen and to have
remembered the quotation from the Exeter Book Gnomics – which (though I had not thought of it
before) does cert. provide a most admirable plea in defence of singing in one's bath. It cheered me a
lot to see a bit of Anglo-Saxon, and I hope indeed that you'll soon be able to return and perfect your
study of that noble idiom. As the father said to his son: 'Is nu fela folca þætte fyrngewritu healdan
wille, ac him hyge brosnað.' Which might be a comment on the crowding of universities and the
decline of wit. 'There is now a crowd of folks that want to get hold of the old documents, but their
wits are decaying!' I have to teach or talk about Old English to such a lot of young persons who
simply are not equipped by talent or character to grasp it or profit by it. .... Yesterday 2 lectures, redrafting findings of Committee on Emergency Exams .... and then a great event: an evening
Inklings. I reached the Mitre at 8 where I was joined by C.W. and the Red Admiral (Havard),
resolved to take fuel on board before joining the well-oiled diners in Magdalen (C.S.L. and Owen
Barfield). C.S.L. was highly flown, but we were also in good fettle; while O.B. is the only man who
can tackle C.S.L. making him define everything and interrupting his most dogmatic
pronouncements with subtle distinguo's. The result was a most amusing and highly contentious
evening, on which (had an outsider eavesdropped) he would have thought it a meeting of fell
enemies hurling deadly insults before drawing their guns. Warnie was in excellent majoral form. On
one occasion when the audience had flatly refused to hear Jack discourse on and define 'Chance',
Jack said: 'Very well, some other time, but if you die tonight you'll be cut off knowing a great deal
less about Chance than you might have.' Warnie: 'That only illustrates what I've always said: every
cloud has a silver lining.' But there was some quite interesting stuff. A short play on Jason and
Medea by Barfield, 2 excellent sonnets sent by a young poet to C.S.L.; and some illuminating
discussion of 'ghosts', and of the special nature of Hymns (CSL has been on the Committee revising
Ancient and Modern). I did not leave till 12.30, and reached my bed about 1 a.m. this morn.
Your own father.
91 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
29 November 1944
My dearest,
Here is a small consignment of 'The Ring': the last two chapters that have been written, and the
end of the Fourth Book of that great Romance, in which you will see that, as is all too easy, I have
got the hero into such a fix that not even an author will be able to extricate him without labour and
difficulty. Lewis was moved almost to tears by the last chapter. All the same, I chiefly want to hear
what you think, as for a long time now I have written with you most in mind.
I see from my Register that I sent 3 chapters off on October 14th, and another 2 on October
25th. Those must have been: Herbs and Stewed Rabbit; Faramir; and The Forbidden Pool; and
Journey to the Cross-roads; and the Stairs of Kirith Ungol. The first lot should have reached you by
now, I hope about your birthday; the second should soon come; and I hope this lot will get to you
early in the New Year. I eagerly await your verdict. Very trying having your chief audience Ten
Thousand Miles away, on or off The Walloping Window-blind. Even more trying for the audience,
doubtless, but authors, qua authors, are a hopelessly egotist tribe. Book Five and Last opens with
the ride of Gandalf to Minas Tirith, with which The Palantir, last chapter of Book Three closed.
Some of this is written or sketched. Then should follow the raising of the siege of Minas Tirith by
the onset of the Riders of Rohan, in which King Theoden falls; the driving back of the enemy, by
Gandalf and Aragorn, to the Black Gate; the parley in which Sauron shows various tokens (such as
the mithril coat) to prove that he has captured Frodo, but Gandalf refuses to treat (a horrible
dilemma, all the same, even for a wizard). Then we shift back to Frodo, and his rescue by Sam.
From a high place they see all Sauron's vast reserves loosed through the Black Gate, and then hurry
on to Mount Doom through a deserted Mordor. With the destruction of the Ring, the exact manner
of which is not certain – all these last bits were written ages ago, but no longer fit in detail, nor in
elevation (for the whole thing has become much larger and loftier) – Baraddur crashes, and the
forces of Gandalf sweep into Mordor. Frodo and Sam, fighting with the last Nazgul on an island of
rock surrounded by the fire of the erupting Mount Doom, are rescued by Gandalf's eagle; and then
the clearing up of all loose threads, down even to Bill Ferny's pony, must take place. A lot of this
work will be done in a final chapter where Sam is found reading out of an enormous book to his
children, and answering all their questions about what happened to everybody (that will link up
with his discourse on the nature of stories in the Stairs of Kirith Ungol).1 But the final scene will be
the passage of Bilbo and Elrond and Galadriel through the woods of the Shire on their way to the
Grey Havens. Frodo will join them and pass over the Sea (linking with the vision he had of a far
green country in the house of Tom Bombadil). So ends the Middle Age and the Dominion of Men
begins, and Aragorn far away on the throne of Gondor labours to bring some order and to preserve
some memory of old among the welter of men that Sauron has poured into the West. But Elrond has
gone, and all the High Elves. What happens to the Ents I don't yet know. It will probably work out
very differently from this plan when it really gets written, as the thing seems to write itself once I
get going, as if the truth comes out then, only imperfectly glimpsed in the preliminary sketch. ....
All the love of your own father.
92 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 December 1944 (FS 68)
Your news of yourself does not in some ways add to my equanimity: a dangerous trade, but
may God keep you, dear boy; but as you seem to be enjoying pan of it more than anything up to
now, I take comfort in that. I should feel happier, if your time was better organized, so that you
could get reasonable rest: training by straining seems irrational. But I fear an Air Force is a
fundamentally irrational thing per se. I could wish dearly that you had nothing to do with anything
so monstrous. It is in fact a sore trial to me that any son of mine should serve this modern Moloch.
But such wishes are vain, and it is, I clearly understand, your duty to do as well in such service as
you have the strength and aptitude to do. In any case, it is only a kind of squeamishness, perhaps,
like a man who enjoys steak and kidney (or did), but would not be connected with the butchery
business. As long as war is fought with such weapons, and one accepts any profits that may accrue
(such as preservation of one's skin and even 'victory') it is merely shirking the issue to hold waraircraft in special horror. I do so all the same. ....
This morning .... I saw C.S.L. for a while. His fourth (or fifth?) novel is brewing, and seems
likely to clash with mine (my dimly projected third).1 I have been getting a lot of new ideas about
Prehistory lately (via Beowulf and other sources of which I may have written) and want to work
them into the long shelved time-travel story I began. C.S.L. is planning a story about the
descendants of Seth and Cain. We also begin to consider writing a book in collaboration on
'Language' (Nature, Origins, Functions).2 Would there were time for all these projects!
93 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 24 December 1944 (FS 70)
I am v. glad that you enjoyed the next three ch. of the Ring. The 3rd consignment shd. reach
you about Dec. 10 and the last on 14 Jan. I shall be eager for more comments when you have time.
Cert. Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine
hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be highminded, and has (as it were) a vocation.
The book will prob. end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarefied by the
achievement of the great Quest, and will pass West with all the great figures; but S. will settle down
to the Shire and gardens and inns. C. Williams who is reading it all says the great thing is that its
centre is not in strife and war and heroism (though they are understood and depicted) but in
freedom, peace, ordinary life and good liking. Yet he agrees that these very things require the
existence of a great world outside the Shire – lest they should grow stale by custom and turn into
the humdrum.....
By the way, you wrote Harebell and emended it to Hairbell. I don't know whether it will
interest you, but I looked up the whole matter of this name once — after an argument with a
dogmatic scientist. It is plain (a) that the ancient name is harebell (an animal name, like so many
old flower-names), and (b) that this meant the hyacinth not the campanula. Bluebell, not so old a
name, was coined for the campanula, and the 'bluebells' of Scotland are, of course, not the hyacinths
but the campanulas. The transference of the name (in England, not in Scotland, nor indeed in
uncorrupted country-speech in parts of England) and its fictitious alteration hairbell seems to be
due to ignorant (of etymology) and meddlesome book-botanists of recent times, of the sort that tried
folk'sglove for foxglove!, by whom we've been led astray. As for the latter, the only pan of the name
that is doubtful is the glove, not the fox. Foxes glófa occurs in Anglo-Saxon but also in form -clófa:
in old herbals, where it seems pretty rashly applied to plants with big broad leaves, e.g. burdock
(called also foxes clife, cf. clifwyrt*=foxglove). The causes of these ancient associations with
animals are little known or understood. Perhaps they sometimes depend on lost beast-fables. It
would be tempting to try and make some fables to fit the names.
Are you still inventing names for the nameless flowers you meet? If so, remember that the old
names are not always descriptive, but often mysterious! My best inventions (in elvish of the
Gnomish dialect) were elanor and nifredil; though I like A-S symbelmynë or evermind found on the
Great Mound of Rohan. I think I shall have to invent some more for Sam's garden at the end.
Since clifian = 'cleave, stick', it is plain that foxes clife and clifwyrt originally = burdock. clófa is prob. an MS
error for glófa through mixing the names.
94 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
28 December 1944 (FS 71)
My dearest:
You have no need to reproach yourself! We are getting lots of letters from you, and v. quickly.
.... I am glad the third lot of Ring arrived to date, and that you liked it – although it seems to have
added to yr. homesickness. It just shows the difference between life and literature: for anyone who
found himself actually on the stairs of Kirith Ungol would wish to exchange it for almost any other
place in the world, save Mordor itself. But if lit. teaches us anything at all, it is this: that we have in
us an eternal element, free from care and fear, which can survey the things that in 'life' we call evil
with serenity (that is not without appreciating their quality, but without any disturbance of our
spiritual equilibrium). Not in the same way, but in some such way, we shall all doubtless survey our
own story when we know it (and a great deal more of the Whole Story). I am afraid the next two
chapters won't come for some time (about middle of Jan) which is a pity, as not only are they (I
think) v. moving and exciting, but Sam has some interesting comments on the rel. of stories and
actual 'adventures'. But I count it a triumph that these two chapters, which I did not think as good as
the rest of Book IV, could distract you from the noise of the Air Crew Room!....
The weather has for me been one of the chief events of Christmas. It froze hard with a heavy
fog, and so we have had displays of Hoarfrost such as I only remember once in Oxford before (in
the other house1 I think) and only twice before in my life. One of the most lovely events of
Northern Nature. We woke (late) on St Stephen's Day to find all our windows opaque, painted over
with frost-patterns, and outside a dim silent misty world, all white, but with a light jewelry of rime;
every cobweb a little lace net, even the old fowls' tent a diamond-patterned pavilion. I spent the day
(after chores, that is from about 11.30, as I got up late) out of doors, well wrapped up in old rags,
hewing old brambles and making a fire the smoke of which rose in a still unmoving column straight
up into the fog-roof. .... The rime was yesterday even thicker and more fantastic. When a gleam of
sun (about 11) got through it was breathtakingly beautiful: trees like motionless fountains of white
branching spray against a golden light and, high overhead, a pale translucent blue. It did not melt.
About 11 p.m. the fog cleared and a high round moon lit the whole scene with a deadly white light:
a vision of some other world or time. It was so still that I stood in the garden hatless and uncloaked
without a shiver, though there must have been many degrees of frost.....
Mr Eden in the house2 the other day expressed pain at the occurrences in Greece 'the home of
democracy'. Is he ignorant, or insincere? δηµοχρατία was not in Greek a word of approval but was
nearly equivalent to 'mob-rule'; and he neglected to note that Greek Philosophers – and far more is
Greece the home of philosophy – did not approve of it. And the great Greek states, esp. Athens at
the time of its high an and power, were rather Dictatorships, if they were not military monarchies
like Sparta! And modern Greece has as little connexion with ancient Hellas as we have with Britain
before Julius Agricola. .... Your own Father.
95 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 18 January 1945 (FS 76)
I read till 11.50, browsing through the packed and to me enthralling pages of Stenton's AngloSaxon England. A period mostly filled with most intriguing Question Marks. I'd give a bit for a
time-machine. But of course my mind being what it is (and wholly different from Stenton's) it is the
things of racial and linguistic significance that attract me and stick in my memory. Still, I hope one
day you'll be able (if you wish) to delve into this intriguing story of the origins of our peculiar
people. And indeed of us in particular. For barring the Tolkien (which must long ago have become a
pretty thin strand) you are a Mercian or Hwiccian (of Wychwood) on both sides.
96 To Christopher Tolkien 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
30 January 1945 (FS 78)
My dearest Chris,
.... The minor imp of Slubgob's brood who specially attends to preventing C.S.L. and myself
from meeting provided a special attraction in the morning with the leaking of the scullery tap
coinciding with the blocking of the sink! It took me until nearly 11 a. m. to get that cleared up. But I
got to Magdalen, where after a brief shiver over 2 depressing elm-logs (elm won't bum) we decided
to seek warmth and beer at the Mitre: we got both (pubs manage their business better than bursars:
upon my word, I don't think the latter gentry would even hold down a Kiwi job in the R.A.F.!). A
good many things happened then. My rest was rudely broken by a 'phone call on business from
which quite incidentally I learned the startling news that Prof. H. C. Wyld1 died on Saturday. God
rest his soul. But he leaves me a legacy of terrestrial trouble. For one thing I've got to make up mind
what to do about the succession. Five years ago I'd have been thinking of how to get the Merton
chair myself: my ambition was to get C.S.L. and myself into the 2 Merton Chairs.2 It would be
marvellous to be both in the same college — and for me to be in a real college and shake off the
dust of miserable Pembroke. But I think prob. not – even if there was a chance ... To continue the
tale. About supper time the glass fell and the therm. rose, and a great downfall of snow with a wind
(W to SW) began. It was piled high against the doors before midnight, but was really thawing
underneath, so that although it went on, off and on, all night it was nowhere much over 1/2 a foot
except in knee high drifts. All the same coal, coke, and fowls had vanished, and I had a most
laborious morning digging things out before going to lecture. I arrived late (after an appalling
acrobatic ride) attired like a 'Skegness' fisherman,3 and my apology for being late on the platform
(Taylorian theatre) as I had been catching sardines, was very well received, better indeed than my
subsequent disquisition on Offa of Angel, or on the itinerary of Israel from Egypt to the Red Sea. At
the subsequent Bird and B. session (thank heaven, no fish arrived in port!) the UQ (alias Honest
Humphrey) arrived tricked out in mountaineering kit. When asked why he was out of uniform he
replied: 'I am not in the Swiss Navy. The British Navy does not come out in snow.' Alas, he's being
transferred to Liverpool soon. Indescribable mixture of ice and slush. I fell off three times, and was,
of course, hustled into the gutter and drenched in fountains of filthy squelch by those amiable
people who drive 'private cars'. It took me till nigh 3.30 to finish the clearance of snow and clear
drains, and then I settled down to your delightful letters. I hadn't a moment to look at them when
they arrived at breakfast time. But they had their effect by merely arriving, as you can see by my
skittishness on the platform and from C.S.L.'s remark at the B & B.: 'What's the matter with him
this morning, he's quite above himself?'....
As for Eden. I think most Christians, except the v. simple and uneducated or those protected in
other ways, have been rather bustled and hustled now for some generations by the self-styled
scientists, and they've sort of tucked Genesis into a lumber-room of their mind as not very
fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house, don't you know, when the bright
clever young people called: I mean, of course, even the fideles who did not sell it secondhand or
burn it as soon as modern taste began to sneer. In consequence they have indeed (myself as much as
any), as you say, forgotten the beauty of the matter even 'as a story'. Lewis recently wrote a most
interesting essay (if published I don't know)4 showing of what great value the 'story-value' was, as
mental nourishment – of the whole Chr. story (NT especially). It was a defence of that kind of
attitude which we tend to sneer at: the fainthearted that loses faith, but clings at least to the beauty
of 'the story' as having some permanent value. His point was that they do still in that way get some
nourishment and are not cut off wholly from the sap of life: for the beauty of the story while not
necessarily a guarantee of its truth is a concomitant of it, and a fidelis is meant to draw nourishment
from the beauty as well as the truth. So that the faintheart 'admirer' is really still getting something,
which even one of the faithful (stupid, insensitive, shamefaced) may be missing. But partly as a
development of my own thought on my lines and work (technical and literary), partly in contact
with C.S.L., and in various ways not least the firm guiding hand of Alma Mater Ecclesia, I do not
now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'. It has not, of course, historicity of the same
kind as the NT, which are virtually contemporary documents, while Genesis is separated by we do
not know how many sad exiled generations from the Fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this
very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its
best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'. If you
come to think of it, your (very just) horror at the stupid murder of the hawk, and your obstinate
memory of this 'home' of yours in an idyllic hour (when often there is an illusion of the stay of time
and decay and a sense of gentle peace) – έίθε γενοίµην,5 'stands the clock at ten to three, and is
there honey still for tea' – are derived from Eden. As far as we can go back the nobler pan of the
human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb, peace and goodwill, and with the thought of its loss.
We shall never recover it, for that is not the way of repentance, which works spirally and not in a
closed circle; we may recover something like it, but on a higher plane. Just as (to compare a small
thing) the convened urban gets more out of the country than the mere yokel, but he cannot become a
real landsman, he is both more and in a way less (less truly earthy anyway). Of course, I suppose
that, subject to the permission of God, the whole human race (as each individual) is free not to rise
again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom (as each individual can
singulariter6). And at certain periods, the present is notably one, that seems not only a likely event
but imminent. Still I think there will be a 'millenium', the prophesied thousand-year rule of the
Saints, i.e. those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the
world or the evil spirit (in modern but not universal terms: mechanism, 'scientific' materialism.
Socialism in either of its factions now at war).
I am so glad you felt that 'the Ring' is keeping up its standard, and (it seems) achieving that
difficult thing in a long tale: maintaining a difference of quality and atmosphere in events that might
easily become 'samey'. For myself, I was prob. most moved by Sam's disquisition on the seamless
web of story, and by the scene when Frodo goes to sleep on his breast, and the tragedy of Gollum
who at that moment came within a hair of repentance – but for one rough word from Sam. But the
'moving' quality of that is on a different plane to Celebrimbor etc. There are two quit diff. emotions:
one that moves me supremely and I find small difficulty in evoking: the heart-racking sense of the
vanished past (best expressed by Gandalf's words about the Palantir); and the other the more
'ordinary' emotion, triumph, pathos, tragedy of the characters. That I am learning to do, as I get to
know my people, but it is not really so near my heart, and is forced on me by the fundamental
literary dilemma. A story must be told or there'll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most
moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold
stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle's) never to be
approached – or if so only to become 'near trees' (unless in Paradise or N's Parish).
Well my space will soon run out, and also it is 9 p.m., and I have some letters of necessity to
write, and 2 lectures tomorrow, so I must be thinking of closing down soon. I read eagerly all
details of your life, and the things you see and do – and suffer, Jive and Boogie-Woogie among
them. You will have no heart-tug at losing that (for it is essentially vulgar, music corrupted by the
mechanism, echoing in dreary unnourished heads), but you'll remember the other things, even the
storms and the dry veld and even the smells of camp, when you return to this other land. I can see
clearly now in my mind's eye the old trenches and the squalid houses and the long roads of Artois,
and I would visit them again if I could. ....
I have just heard the news..... Russians 60 miles from Berlin. It does look as if something
decisive might happen soon. The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly :
destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind
were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. Yet people gloat to
hear of the endless lines, 40 miles long, of miserable refugees, women and children pouring West,
dying on the way. There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark
diabolic hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation, mainly (not
solely) created by Germany, be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have
reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to
gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of
Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well – you
and I can do nothing about it. And that shd. be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be
assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well
the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter – leaving, alas,
everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant:
the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are
going to be enormously more powerful. What's their next move? .... All the love of your own father.
97 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 11 February 1945 (FS 80)
I've wasted some precious time this week-end writing a letter to the Catholic Herald. One of
their sentimentalist correspondents wrote about the etymology of the name Coventry, and seemed to
think that unless you said it came from Convent, the answer was not 'in keeping with Catholic
tradition'. 'I gather the convent of St Osburg was of no consequence,' said he: boob. As convent did
not enter English till after 1200 A.D. (and meant an 'assembly' at that) and the meaning 'nunnery' is
not recorded before 1795,1 felt annoyed. So I have asked whether he would like to change the name
of Oxford to Doncaster; but he's probably too stupid to see even that mild quip.
98 To Stanley Unwin
[Unwin's elder son David – the children's writer 'David Severn' – had read Tolkien's story 'Leaf by Niggle' in
the Dublin Review, where it was published in January 1945. He commended it to his father, calling it an
'exquisite piece of work', and suggested that it be published in a volume along with other short stories by
Tolkien. Stanley Unwin passed this suggestion to Tolkien.]
[Undated; circa 18 March 1945]
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Unwin,
I have written several imaginary letters to you, and half an actual one, in the past few months,
before I got your note of 24 February. Especially I have meant to enquire after Rayner. I hope you
have good news of him. The R.A.F, cadets of his course seem all to have had a wretched time since,
but the Navy is rather less irrational and wasteful; so he may have been spared some of the worse
squalors and frustrations now inflicted (too often quite unnecessarily) on young men.
Also my third son, Christopher, has been for a long time at Standerton in the Transvaal, and
there one of his great friends has been Chris Unwin.1.... My boy, I hear today, is 'In Transit' for
England, after a year and a quarter away, so I hope Unwin is too. Certainly they were still together
on March 3rd. But already one of the group has been killed, in his first flight in a Hurricane, my
boy's stable-companion, and the one who came out top of the Course. And there you have one of
the explanations of my unproductiveness and (seeming) neglect. My heart is gnawed out with
anxiety. And anyway my Christopher was my real primary audience, who has read, vetted, and
typed all of the new Hobbit, or The Ring, that has been completed. He was dragged off in the
middle of making maps. I have squandered almost the only time I have had to spare for writing in
continuing our interrupted conversations by epistle: he occupied the multiple position of audience,
critic, son, student in my department, and my tutorial pupil!2 But he has received copies of all the
chapters I wrote in a spun last year. Since when I have been more than ever burdened, or the ratio
between duty and weariness has been more unfavourable.....
Since you have seen 'Leaf by Niggle' – I was going to advert to it myself, as pan apologia, pan
confession – I need say no more. Except that that story was the only thing I have ever done which
cost me absolutely no pains at all. Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless
rewriting. I woke up one morning (more than 2 years ago) with that odd thing virtually complete in
my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out. I am not aware of ever 'thinking'
of the story or composing it in the ordinary sense. All the same I do not feel so detached as not to be
cheered, indeed rather bowled over, by your son's comment. The only notice of, or observation on,
the 'Leaf' that I have had at all, outside my own circle.
Well! 'Niggle' is so unlike any other short story that I have ever written, or begun, that I wonder
if it would consort with them. Two others, of that tone and style, remain mere budding leaves like
so many of silly Niggle's.3 Would it be of any use, if I put together in a bundle what I can find, and
let you say whether with re-writing of this, omission of that, or addition of the other, diey have any
chance of making a volume? There are one or two shon verse narratives (some have already
appeared in print in the Oxford Magazine) which might pass, tactfully sandwiched in. Were you
considering 'Farmer Giles' as a possibility? It is rather a long shon. The corrected and properly
typed copy is 'out', on its usual travels, at the moment; but I've a tolerable home-made copy which I
am sending for 'David Severn's' perusal. (The sequel is plotted but unwritten, and likely to remain
so. The heart has gone out of the Little Kingdom, and the woods and plains are aerodromes and
bomb-practice targets). But another comic fairy story of a similar genre, 'The King of the Green
Dozen', is half-written, and could be finished without much pain, if 'Farmer Giles' is approved.
As for larger work. Of course, my only real desire is to publish 'The Silmarillion':* which your
reader, you may possibly remember, allowed to have a certain beauty, but of a 'Celtic' kind irritating
to Anglo-Saxons. Still there is the great 'Hobbit' sequel – I use 'great', I fear, only in quantitative
sense. It is much too 'great' for the present situation, in that sense. But it cannot be docked or
abbreviated. I cannot do better than I have done in this, unless (as is possible enough) I am no
Especially as I find allusions and references to it creeping into Mr Lewis' work, such as his latest novel.4
judge. But it is not finished. I made an effort last year to finish it and failed. Three weeks with
nothing else to do – and a little rest and sleep first – would probably be sufficient. But I don't see
any hope of getting them; and it simply is not the kind of stuff for odd moments. Like Niggle I want
a 'public pension', and am equally unlikely to get one! You shall, of course, have it for consideration
the moment it is done, if it ever is. I did say, I believe, that I would let you have a pan of it, to judge
of. But it is so closely knit, and under a process of growth in all its pans, that I find I have to have
all the chapters by me – I am always, you see, hoping to get at it. And anyway only one copy
(home-typed or written by various filial hands and my own), that is legible by others, exists, and
I've feared to let go of it; and I've shirked the expense of professional typing in these hard days, at
any rate until the end, and the whole is corrected. But would you now really wish to see some of it?
It is divided into Five Pans, of 10-12 chapters each (!). Four are completed, and the last begun. I
could send it to you. Pan by Pan, with all its present imperfections on it – riders, alternatives,
variable proper names – until you cry 'halt! This is enough! It must go the way of "The
Silmarillion" into the Limbo of the great unpublishables!'
I must stop, or you will be feeling the time and paper could be better spent on writing not
talking about it. I have 'special exams' until Easter, and some trouble with the University of Wales.
Also all the trouble caused by the death of my colleague, H. C. K. Wyld, to find whose successor
will chiefly devolve on me this vacation. I am in trouble with Blackwell who has set up my
translation of Pearl, and needs corrections and an introduction. I am in trouble with the widow of
Professor E. V. Gordon of Manchester, whose posthumous work on Pearl I undertook, as a duty to
a dead friend and pupil, to put in order; and have failed to do my duty. But I suppose I may get a
few weeks in the year to myself. Though I'm also in serious trouble with the Clarendon Press; and
with my lost friend Mlle. Simonne d'Ardenne, who has suddenly reappeared, having miraculously
survived the German occupation, and the Rundstedt offensive (which rolled over her) waving the
MSS. of a large work we began together and promised to the Early English Text Soc.5 Which has
not forgotten it – nor my own book on The Ancrene Riwle,6 which is all typed out. If instead of
B.D.S.T.7 you could invent a scheme for doubling the day (and relieve me of house-boy's duties),
I'd drown you in stuff, like Tom, Dick, and Harry. But I do remain very deeply grateful for your
kindness and concern.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
99 To 'Michal' Williams, widow of Charles Williams
[Written on the day that Williams died, following an operation.]
15 May 1945
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Mrs Williams,
My heart goes out to you in sympathy, and I can say no more. I share a little in your loss, for in
the (far too brief) years since I first met him I had grown to admire and love your husband deeply,
and I am more grieved than I can express.
Later, if you find that there is anything in which I might be of service to you and your son,
please tell me. Fr. Gervase Mathew is saying Mass at Blackfriars on Saturday at 8 a.m., and I shall
serve him; but of course I shall have you all in my prayers immediately and continually: for such as
they are worth. Forgive this hairing note.
Yours very sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
100 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 29 May 1945
[After returning from South Africa, Christopher was stationed with the R.A.F, in Shropshire. He was hoping
to arrange a transfer to the Fleet Air Arm.]
It would be at least some comfort to me if you escaped from the R.A.F. And I hope, if the
transfer goes through, it will mean a real transfer, and a re-commission. It would not be easy for me
to express to you the measure of my loathing for the Third Service – which can be nonetheless, and
is for me, combined with admiration, gratitude, and above all pity, for the young men caught in it.
But it is the aeroplane of war that is the real villain. And nothing can really amend my grief that
you, my best beloved, have any connexion with it. My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo
would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgûl-birds, 'for the liberation of
the Shire'. Though in this case, as I know nothing about British or American imperialism in the Far
East that does not fill me with regret and disgust, I am afraid I am not even supported by a glimmer
of patriotism in this remaining war. I would not subscribe a penny to it, let alone a son, were I a free
man. It can only benefit America or Russia: prob. the latter. But at least the Americo-Russian War
won't break out for a year yet.
101 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 3 June 1945
There is a stand-down parade of Civil Defence in the Parks in the afternoon, to which I shall
prob. have to drag myself. But I am afraid it all seems rather a mockery to me, for the War is not
over (and the one that is, or the pan of it, has largely been lost). But it is of course wrong to fall into
such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on; and it is no good growing
102 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 9 August 1945
The news today about 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these
lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of
the world! Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is
about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope 'this
will ensure peace'. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not
overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we're in God's hands. But He does not look kindly on
103 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 11 October 1945
[Following his election to the Merton Professorship of English Language and Literature, Tolkien left
Pembroke College and became a Professorial Fellow of Merton College. This letter describes his first
impressions of Merton.]
I was duly admitted yesterday at 10 a.m. and then had to endure the most formidable College
Meeting I have ever seen – went on till 1.30 p.m. without cessation and then broke up in disorder.
The Warden talked almost unceasingly. I lunched in Merton and made a few arrangements, putting
my name down at the Estates Bursary on the housing list;1 and getting a Master Key to all gates and
doors. It is incredible belonging to a real college (and a very large and wealthy one). I am looking
forward to showing you round. I walked round this afternoon with Dyson2 who was duly elected
yesterday, and is now ensconced in the rooms I hoped for, looking out over the meadows! I am
going to the Inklings tonight. We shall think of you.
104 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 22 October 1945
I dined for the first rime at Merton high table on Thursday, and found it very agreeable; though
odd. For fuel-economy the common room is not heated, and the dons meet and chat amiably on the
dais, until someone thinks there are enough there for grace to be said. After that they sit and dine,
and have their port, and coffee, and smoke and evening newspapers all at high table in a manner
that if agreeably informal is rather shocking to one trained in the severer ceremonies and strict
precedence of mediaeval Pembroke. At about 8.45 Dyson and I strolled through 'our grounds' to
Magdalen and visited Wamie and Havard – Jack was away. We broke up about 10.30.
105 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Unwin, who had been knighted, wrote to enquire about the progress of The Lord of the Rings.]
21 July 1946
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sir Stanley,
I have treated you very badly. I think you would be disposed to forgive me, if you knew the true
tale of my troubles, domestic and academic. But I will spare you that, and attempt to do better.
I have been ill, worry and overwork mainly, but am a good deal recovered; and am at last able
to take some steps to see that at least the overwork, so far as it is academic, is alleviated. For the
first time in 25 years, except the year I went on crutches (just before The Hobbit came out, I think),
I am free of examining, and though I am still battling with a mountain of neglects, out of which I
have just dug a good many letters from George Allen and Unwin, and with a lot of bothers in this
time of chaos and 'reconstruction', I hope after this week actually to – write. For one thing, I shall
not be left all alone to try and run our English School. I have ceased to be the Professor of AngloSaxon. I have removed to Merton, as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature:
Professor Wrenn, from King's College, London, is coming in October to take Anglo-Saxon off my
shoulders; and we are about to elect another Merton professor (of modern literature). It ought to be
C. S. Lewis, or perhaps Lord David Cecil, but one never knows.
But I did not begin this letter primarily to talk about myself. I wanted to say first how sorry I
am that I did not, as I intended, write as soon as ever I heard, to congratulate you on your own
honour, which gave me very great pleasure. Also I very much want news of Rayner. I hope
earnestly that it is good, though one is still hesitant to ask news of sons. But my Christopher, who
transferred to the Fleet Air arm, and is still technically in the Navy, has gone back this term to
Trinity; and I wondered if there is any chance of Rayner returning soon. I should very much like to
see him again. ....
I do not know whether David Severn still wants to look at Farmer Giles. In case he does, I am
sending it now, after more than a year's delay. If I could have a little leisure, I could add a few
things of the same sort, still not finished. But Niggle has never bred any thing that consorts with
himself at all.
I do not know whether any more information about so literally 'promising' and not performing
an author will interest you at all. But I made a very great effort to finish the Hobbit sequel, and
chapters went out to Africa and back to my chief critic and collaborator, Christopher, who is doing
the maps. But I failed. Troubles and ill health became too thick. I shall now have to study my own
work in order to get back to it. But I really do hope to have it done before the autumn term, and at
any rate before the end of the year. Though I wonder if you will find any paper, even supposing that
the work commends itself.
I have, by the way, published a story in verse1 in the Welsh Review of Dec. 1945 ; am about to
publish a much expanded version of an essay on Fairy Stories, originally delivered as a lecture at St
Andrews, in a memorial volume to the late Charles Williams; and I have in a fortnight of
comparative leisure round about last Christmas written three pans of another book,2 taking up in an
entirely different frame and setting what little had any value in the inchoate Lost Road (which I had
once the impudence to show you: I hope it is forgotten), and other things beside. I hoped to finish
this in a rush, but my health gave way after Christmas. Rather silly to mention it, till it is finished.
But I am putting The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit sequel, before all else, save duties that I cannot
wriggle out of.
My very best wishes.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
106 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 30 September 1946
[Allen & Unwin expressed enthusiasm for Farmer Giles of Ham, but asked if Tolkien could provide other
stories to make up a sufficiently large volume.]
I should, of course, be delighted if you see your way to publish 'Farmer Giles of Ham'. . . With
leisure I could give him company, but I am in a tough spot academically, and see no hope of leisure
until the various new professors come along. I could not promise to complete anything soon. At
least I suppose I could, but it would be difficult – and really the Hobbit sequel is so much better (I
think) than these things, that I should wish to give it all spare hours. I picked it up again last week
and wrote (a good) chapter, and was then drowned with official business — in which I have waded
since your kind letter came 10 days ago.
I have never tried illustrating 'Farmer Giles' and do not know of any one.
107 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 7 December 1946
[On the subject of a German edition of The Hobbit..]
I continue to receive letters from poor Horus Engels1 about a German translation. He does not
seem necessarily to propose himself as a translator. He has sent me some illustrations (of the Trolls
and Gollum) which despite certain merits, such as one would expect of a German, are I fear too
'Disnified' for my taste: Bilbo with a dribbling nose, and Gandalf as a figure of vulgar fun rather
than the Odinic wanderer that I think of. ....
I am shortly moving to a small house (3 Manor Road)2 and so hoping to solve the intolerable
domestic problems which thieve so much of the little time that is left over. I still hope shortly to
finish my 'magnum opus': the Lord of the Rings: and let you see it, before long, or before January. I
am on the last chapters.
108 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 July 1947
[Allen & Unwin had decided to publish Farmer Giles of Ham as a separate volume.]
I am now sending back (a week late) under separate cover the MS. of Farmer Giles of Ham,
revised for the press. I have as you will see gone through it carefully, making a good many
alterations, for the better (I think and hope) in both style and narrative. ....
You will note that, whoever may buy it, this story was not written/or children; though as in the
case of other books that will not necessarily prevent them from being amused by it. I think it might
be as well to emphasize the fact that this is a tale specially composed for reading aloud: it goes very
well so, for those that like this kind of thing at all. It was, in fact, written to order, to be read to the
Lovelace Society at Worcester College; and was read to them at a sitting.
For that reason I should like to put an inscription to C. H. Wilkinson1 on a fly-leaf, since it was
Col. Wilkinson of that College who egged me to it, and has since constantly egged me to
109 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Tolkien lunched with Unwin in London on 9 July, and agreed that Rayner Unwin should see Book I of The
Lord of the Rings which was in 'fair' typescript. On 28 July, Tolkien was sent Rayner's comments; Rayner
wrote: 'The tortuous and contending currents of events in this world within a world almost overpower one
.... The struggle between darkness and light (sometimes one suspects leaving the story proper to become
pure allegory) is macabre and intensified beyond that in "Hobbit" .... Converting the original Ring into this
new and powerful instrument takes some explaining away and Gandalf is hard put to it to find reasons for
many of the original Hobbit's actions, but the linking of the books is well done on the whole.... Quite
honestly I don't know who is expected to read it ... If grown ups will not feel infra dig to read it many will
undoubtedly enjoy themselves .... The proof reader will have to correct a number of omitted changes from
"Hamilcar" to "Belisarius".' Despite these criticisms and hesitations, Rayner judged the book to be 'a
brilliant and gripping story'. Tolkien wrote the following reply on 31 July, but did not send it until 21
September, for reasons given in the letter of that date.]
31 July 1947
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Unwin,
I will certainly address you so, cum permissu, though it hardly seems a fair exchange for the
loss of 'professor', a title one has rather to live down than to insist on.
I was surprised to get the instalment of The Ring back so quickly. It may be a large book, but
evidently it will be none too long in the reading for those who have the appetite. And it was very
kind of you to send me Rayner's impressions. Any criticism from outside the small circle that has
known the thing as it has grown (and becoming familiar with its world have long ceased to be
overpowered) would be welcome; but this critic is worth listening to.
I must now wait with patience until he has seen more. I will send another instalment at the end
of August. And I have now another urgent reason, in addition to the clamour of the circle, for
finishing it off, so that it can be finally judged.
I return Rayner's remarks with thanks to you both. I am sorry he felt overpowered, and I
particularly miss any reference to the comedy, with which I imagined the first 'book' was well
supplied. It may have misfired. I cannot bear funny books or plays myself, I mean those that set out
to be all comic; but it seems to me that in real life, as here, it is precisely against the darkness of the
world that comedy arises, and is best when that is not hidden. Evidently I have managed to make
the horror really horrible, and that is a great comfort; for every romance that takes things seriously
must have a warp of fear and horror, if however remotely or representatively it is to resemble
reality, and not be the merest escapism. But I have failed if it does not seem possible that mere
mundane hobbits could cope with such things. I think that there is no horror conceivable that such
creatures cannot surmount, by grace (here appearing in mythological forms) combined with a
refusal of their nature and reason at the last pinch to compromise or submit.
But in spite of this, do not let Rayner suspect 'Allegory'. There is a 'moral', I suppose, in any
tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between darkness and light (as
he calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phase of history, one example of its pattern, perhaps,
but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals – they each, of course, contain universals, or they
would not live at all, but they never represent them as such.
Of course, Allegory and Story converge, meeting somewhere in Truth. So that the only
perfectly consistent allegory is a real life; and the only fully intelligible story is an allegory. And
one finds, even in imperfect human 'literature', that the better and more consistent an allegory is the
more easily can it be read 'just as a story'; and the better and more closely woven a story is the more
easily can those so minded find allegory in it. But the two start out from opposite ends. You can
make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like: an allegory of the inevitable fate that
waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power. But that is only because all power magical or
mechanical does always so work. You cannot write a story about an apparently simple magic ring
without that bursting in, if you really take the ring seriously, and make things happen that would
happen, if such a thing existed.
Rayner has, of course, spotted a weakness (inevitable): the linking. I am glad that he thinks that
the linking has on the whole been well done. That is the best that could be hoped. I have done the
best I could, since I had to have hobbits (whom I love), and must still have a glimpse of Bilbo for
old times' sake. But I don't feel worried by the discovery that the ring was more serious than
appeared; that is just the way of all easy ways out. Nor is it Bilbo's actions, I think, that need
explanation. The weakness is Gollum, and his action in offering the ring as a present.1 However,
Gollum later becomes a prime character, and I do not rely on Gandalf to make his psychology
intelligible. I hope it will come off, and Gandalf finally be revealed as perceptive rather than 'hard
put to it'. Still I must bear this in mind, when I revise chapter II for press : I intend, in any case, to
shorten it. The proper way to negotiate the difficulty would be slightly to remodel the former story
in its chapter V. That is not a practical question; though I certainly hope to leave behind me the
whole thing revised and in final form, for the world to throw into the waste-paper basket. All books
come there in me end, in this world, anyway.
As for who is to read it? The world seems to be becoming more and more divided into
impenetrable factions, Morlocks and Eloi, and others. But those that like this kind of thing at all,
like it very much, and cannot get anything like enough of it, or at sufficiently great length to
appease hunger. The taste may be (alas!) numerically limited, even if, as I suspect, growing, and
chiefly needing supply for further growth. But where it exists the taste is not limited by age or
profession (unless one excludes those wholly devoted to machines). The audience that has so far
followed The Ring, chapter by chapter, and has re-read it, and clamours for more, contains some
odd folk of similar literary tastes: such as C. S. Lewis, the late Charles Williams, and my son
Christopher; they are probably a very small and unrequiting minority. But it has included others: a
solicitor, a doctor (professionally interested in cancer), an elderly army officer, an elementary
school-mistress, an artist, and a farmer.2 Which is a fairly wide selection, even if one excludes
professionally literary folk, whose own interests would seem to be far removed, such as David
At any rate the proof-reader, if it ever comes to that, will, I hope, have very little to do. I was
bowed under other work and had no time to look over the chapters I sent in. Belisarius must have
been scribbled as a suggestion over the name Hamilcar3 in a few cases. The choice matters little,
though the change had a purpose; but at any rate I hope that most detestable slovenliness of not
keeping even a minor character's name firm will not disfigure the final form. Also: it is inevitable
that the knowledge of the previous book should be presumed; but there is in existence a Foreword,
or opening chapter, 'Concerning Hobbits'. That gives the gist of Chapter V 'Riddles in the Dark', and
retells the information supplied in the first two pages or so of the other book, besides explaining
many points that 'fans' have enquired about: such as tobacco, and references to policemen and the
king (p. 43),4 and the appearance of houses in the picture of Hobbiton. The Hobbit was after all not
as simple as it seemed, and was torn rather at random out of a world in which it already existed, and
which has not been newly devised just to make a sequel. The only liberty, if such it is, has been to
make Bilbo's Ring the One Ring: all rings had the same source, before ever he put his hand on it in
the dark. The horrors were already lurking there, as on page 36, and 303 ;5 and Elrond saw that they
could not be banished by any White Council.
Well, I have talked quite long enough about my own follies. The thing is to finish the thing as
devised and then let it be judged. But forgive me! It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick
or thin; and I can no other. I fear it must stand or fall as it substantially is. It would be idle to
pretend that I do not greatly desire publication, since a solitary art is no art; nor that I have not a
pleasure in praise, with as little vanity as fallen man can manage (he has not much more share in his
writings than in his children of the body, but it is something to have a function); yet the chief thing
is to complete one's work, as far as completion has any real sense.
I am deeply grateful for being taken seriously by a busy man who has dealt and deals with
many men of greater learning and talent. I wish you and Rayner a good voyage, successful business,
and then great days among the Mountains.6 How I long to see the snows and the great heights
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
Talking about revising The Hobbit. Any alteration of any radical kind is of course impossible,
and unnecessary. But there are still quite a number of misprints in it. I have twice, I think, sent in
lists of these, and I hope they have been corrected this time. Also there are minor errors, which the
researches of fans have revealed, and some closer attention of my own has discovered. I wish there
could be a chance of putting them right. I enclose a list again.
110 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 20 September 1947
[Tolkien's American publishers, the Houghton Mifflin Co., applied to Allen & Unwin for permission to use
several riddles from The Hobbit in an anthology of poetry. Allen & Unwin suggested to Tolkien that 'the
riddles were taken from common folk lore and were not invented by you'.]
As for the Riddles: they are 'all my own work' except for 'Thirty White Horses' which is
traditional, and 'No-legs'. The remainder, though their style and method is that of old literary (but
not 'folk-lore') riddles, have no models as far as I am aware, save only the egg-riddle which is a
reduction to a couplet (my own) of a longer literary riddle which appears in some 'Nursery Rhyme'
books, notably American ones. So I feel that to try and use them without fee would be about as just
as walking off with somebody's chair because it was a Chippendale copy, or drinking his wine
because it was labelled 'port-type'. I feel also constrained to remark that 'Sun on the Daisies' is not
in verse (any more than 'No-legs') being but the etymology of the word 'daisy', expressed in riddleform.
111 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 21 September 1947
I wrote to you on the last day of July, but I put the letter aside, as it seemed too much of a
pother about my works. ....
Hyde (or Jekyll) has had to have his way, and I have been obliged to devote myself mainly to
philology, especially as my colleague from Liege,1 with whom I had been embarking on 'research'
before the war, was staying here to help to get our work ready for press.
Now I am about to go off again for a few days on college business. It is my turn to go with the
Warden and Bursar to inspect estates in Cambridge and Lincolnshire. So rather than leave your
letter of July 28 unanswered any longer, I send along herewith my original and now rather tattered
answer. With it I send Rayner's comments; also some notes on The Hobbit; and (for the possible
amusement of yourself and Rayner) a specimen of re-writing of Chapter V of that work, which
would simplify, though not necessarily improve, my present task.
I have tried unsuccessfully to squeeze in, in the intervals of 'research' and journeys, some
revision of Book II of The Lord of the Rings. But, as I should like very much to benefit by Rayner's
reading (and yours, if you have any time), I send it along under separate cover, with its many
defects of detail. But Rayner may note, if he has time to bother with this packet, that Chapter XIV
has been re-written, to match the re-writing or Chapter II 'Ancient History' which he has read.
Chapter II is now called 'The Shadow of the Past' and most of its 'historical' material has been cut
out, while a little more attention is paid to Gollum. So that if XIV seems repetitive, it is not actually
so; practically nothing now in XIV will appear in II.
I send also the preliminary chapter of Foreword to the whole: 'Concerning Hobbits', which acts
as a link to the earlier book and at the same time answers questions that have been asked.
112 To Katherine Farrer
[A postcard, apparently written on 30 November 1947, using the system of runes employed in The Hobbit ;
a transcription will be found on p. 441. Mrs Farrer, a writer of detective stories, was married to the
theologian Austin Farrer, then Chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford. She had apparently asked Tolkien to
sign her copy of The Hobbit.]
113 To C.S.Lewis
[The exact circumstances behind this letter are not clear, but it seems that Tolkien and Lewis had been
corresponding about criticisms that Tolkien had made of a piece of Lewis's work read aloud to the Inklings.
This may have been part of Lewis's English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, in the Oxford History of
English Literature ('OHEL') series, which is referred to in the letter.]
Septuagesima 1948
My dear Jack,
It was good of you to write in return. But you write largely on 'offence'; though surely I
amended 'offended' in my letter to 'pained'? Pained we cannot help being by the painful. I knew
well enough that you wd. not allow pain to grow into resentment, not even if (or still less because)
that may be a tendency of your nature. Woe to him, though, by whom the temptations come. I regret
causing pain, even if and in so far as I had the right; and I am very sorry indeed still for having
caused it quite excessively and unnecessarily. My verses and my letter were due to a sudden very
acute realization (I shall not quickly forget it) of the pain that may enter into authorship, both in the
making and in the 'publication', which is an essential pan of the full process. The vividness of the
perception was due, of course, to the fact that you, for whom I have deep affection and sympathy,
were the victim and I myself the culprit. But I felt myself tingling under the half-patronizing halfmocking lash, with the small things of my heart made the mere excuse for verbal butchery.
I have been possessed on occasions (few, happily) with a sort of furor scribendi, in which the
pen finds the words rather than head or heart; and this was one of them. But nothing in your speech
or manner gave me any reason to suppose that you felt 'offended'. Yet I could see that you felt – you
would have been hardly human otherwise -, and your letter shows how much. I daresay under grace
that will do good rather than harm, but that is between you and God. It is one of the mysteries of
pain that it is, for the sufferer, an opportunity for good, a path of ascent however hard. But it
remains an 'evil', and it must dismay any conscience to have caused it carelessly, or in excess, let
alone wilfully. And even under necessity or privilege, as of a father or master in punishment, or
even of a man beating a dog, it is the rod of God only to be wielded with trepidation. There may
have been one or two of my comments that were just or valid, but I should have limited myself to
them, and expressed them differently. He is a savage physician who coats a not wholly unpalatable
pill with a covering of gall!
But as for your feelings about me as a 'critic', whether exercising the function wisely or
foolishly. I am not a critic. I do not want to be one.* I am capable on occasion (after long pondering)
of 'criticism', but I am not naturally a critical man. I have been partly and in a sense unnaturally
galvanized into it by the strongly 'critical' tendency of the brotherhood. I am not really 'hypercritical'. For I am usually only trying to express 'liking' not universally valid criticism. As a rule I
am in fact merely lost in a chartless alien sea. I need food of particular kinds, not exercise for my
analytical wits (which are normally employed in other fields). For I have something that I deeply
desire to make, and which it is the (largely frustrated) bent of my nature to make. Without any
vanity or exaggerated notion of the universal importance of this, it remains a fact that other things
are to me less important. I am sure that most of them are a great deal more important to the world.
But that does not help my situation. I think this prevents me from being a critic worth considering,
as a rule; and it probably makes me at my worst when the other writer's lines come too near (as do
yours at times): there is liable to be a short circuit, a flash, an explosion – and even a bad smell, one
ingredient of which may be mere jealousy. Still, it would be fairer to say of me not that I tend to be
imprisoned in my own taste, so much as to be burdened with my own small but peculiar 'message'.
In fact, suffering (for a variety of reasons, not all blameworthy) from 'suppressed composition'.
Indeed a savage creature, a soreheaded bear (if I can liken myself to anything so large), a painful
'I think 'criticism' – however valid or intellectually engaging – tends to get in the way of a writer who has
anything personal to say. A tightrope walker may require practice, but if he starts a theory of equilibrium he will lose
grace (and probably fall off). Indeed (if I dare yet venture on any criticism again) I should say that I think it gets in your
way, as a writer. You read too much, and too much of that analytically. But then you are also a born critic. I am not.
You are also a born reader.
friend. But God bless you for your goodness. And instead of confessing as sinful the natural and
inevitable feeling of pain and its reactions (I am sure never unresisted, and immediately), do me the
great generosity of making me a present of the pains I have caused, so that I may share in the good
you have put them to.
I do not know if I make myself clear. But I suppose that it is in our power, as members of
Christ, to make such gifts effectively. In me simplest case: if a man has stolen something from me,
then before God I declare it a gift. That is, of course, a simple way of making use of a wrong, and
getting rid of the sting, but that is not the direct object (or it would not be effective); for it seems to
me probable that such a gift has effect on the culprit's situation before God, and in any case in any
true desire to 'forgive' the desire that that should be so must be present. It would be wonderful when
summoned to judgement, to answer innumerable charges of wrongdoing to one's brethren, to find
unexpectedly that many were not going to be preferred at all! And indeed that instead one had a
share in the good made of one's evil. And no less wonderful for the giver. An eternal interaction of
relief and gratitude. (But the culprit must be sorry. Otherwise I suppose in the terrible realms of
doom the coals of fire would bum intolerably).
(What happens when the culprit is genuinely repentant, but the sufferer is deeply resentful and
witholds all 'forgiveness'? It is a terrible thought, to deter anyone from running the risk of
needlessly causing such an 'evil'. Of course, the power of mercy is only delegated and is always
exercised with or without cooperation by Higher Authority. But the joys and healing of cooperation
must be lost?)
While I was thinking of all this, I came across a passage dealing with the charming relations
between G. M. Hopkins and his 'pen-friend' Canon Dixon. Two men starved of 'recognition'. Poor
Dixon whose History of the Church of England (and whose poems) received but a casual glance,
and Hopkins unappreciated in his own order. H. seems clearly to have seen that 'recognition' with
some understanding is in this world an essential part of authorship, and the want of it a suffering to
be distinguished from (even when mixed with) mere desire for the pleasures of fame and praise.
Dixon was rather bowled over by being appreciated by Hopkins; and much moved by Burne-Jones'
words (said to H. who quoted them) that 'one works really for the one man who may rise to
understand one'. But H. then demurred, perceiving that Bume-Jones' hope can also in this world be
frustrated, as easily as general fame: a painter (like Niggle) may work for what the burning of his
picture, or an accident of death to the admirer, may wholly destroy. He summed up: The only just
literary critic is Christ, who admires more than does any man the gifts He Himself has bestowed.
Then let us 'bekenne either other to Crist'. God keep you.
I write only because I find it easier so to say such things as I really want to say. If they are
foolish or seem so, I am not present when they fall flat. (My whispering asides are most often due to
sheer pusillanimity, and a fear of being laughed at by the general company.)
This requires no answer. But as for yourself: rest in peace, as far as I am any 'critic' of
behaviour. At least you are the fautlest freke1 that I know. 'Loudness' did you say?2 Nay! That is
largely a self-defensive rumour put about by Hugo. If it has any basis (for him), it is but that noise
begets noise. We are safe in your presence and presidency from contention, ill will, detraction, or
accusations without evidence. Doubtless, as you say, I have as a member of me brotherhood a right
to criticize, an3 I please. But I shall not lightly forget my vision of the wounds; and I shall be
deterred from rash dispraise, for myself. Indeed, I do not really think that for any man valuable
'criticism' is usually to be attained hot on the spot: it is then too mixed with mere reaction. Let us
listen again more patiently. And let me beg of you to bring out OHEL, with no coy ness.
But I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge. (It is an Inkling's duty to be bored
willingly. It is his privilege to be a borer on occasion). I sometimes conceive and write other things
than verses or romance! And I may come back at you. Indeed, if our beloved and esteemed
physician is to pose us with problems of the earth as a dynamo, I can think of other problems as
intricate if more petty to present to his notice – if only for the malicious delight of seeing Hugo (if
present), slightly heated with alcohol, giving an imitation of the intelligent boy of the class. But
Lord save you all! I don't find myself in any need of practising forbearance towards any of you –
save on the rarest occasions, when I myself am tired and exhausted: then I find mere noise and
vulgarity trying. But I am not yet so hoar (nor so refined) that that has become a permanent state. I
want noise often enough. I know no more pleasant sound than arriving at the B. and B.4 and hearing
a roar, and knowing that one can plunge in.
As you see, I have delayed nearly a week in sending this. Re-reading it, I do not think it will do
any harm. And in any case, I send it lest you shd. think that my recent absences from the Inklings
are in any way connected. I have missed three: one because I was desperately tired, the others for
domestic reasons – the last because my daughter (bless her! always mindful of Thursdays) was
obliged to go out that evening.
114 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 7 April 1948
[Brogan, then a schoolboy, had written to Tolkien praising The Hobbit and asking for more information
about the world it described.]
I am glad you enjoyed 'the Hobbit'. I have in fact been engaged for ten years on writing another
(longer) work about the same world and period of history, in which at any rate all can be learned
about the Necromancer and the mines of Moria. Only the difficulty of writing the last chapters, and
the shortage of paper have so far prevented its printing. I hope at least to finish it this year, and will
certainly let you have advance information. I wrote long ago (and passed the proofs a year ago)
another (short) work on a rather different period: Farmer Giles of Ham. I don't know what, beyond
paper, is holding it up, but it should appear this autumn or winter. But it will not satisfy any
curiosity about the older world. I am afraid you would not find any information about that in
ordinary works of reference, since I possess all the documents, and publishers won't publish them.
What you really require is The Silmarillion, which is virtually a history of the Eldalië (or Elves, by
a not very accurate translation) from their rise to the Last Alliance, and the first temporary
overthrow of Sauron (the Necromancer): that would bring you nearly down to the period of The
Hobbit'. Also desirable would be some maps, chronological tables, and some elementary
information about the Eldarin (or Elvish) languages. I have got all those things, of course, and they
are known in a small circle which includes my sons (all once at the Dragon School).1 If I can find
some time and way of reproducing them, or part of them, say in typescript, and you remain
interested in this little-explored region of pre-history, I will let you have some of the documents.
115 To Katherine Farrer
[Mrs Farrer had apparently expressed a desire to read The Silmarillion and related manuscripts.]
15 June [year not given; possibly 1948]
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Mrs Farrer,
I am sorry that I have been so long in replying and so may have seemed ungrateful, when I was
really very touched by your kind letter – and also excited. For though I have (in the cracks of time!)
laboured at these things since about 1914,1 have never found anyone but C.S.L. and my Christopher
who wanted to read them; and no one will publish them. I have spent what time I could spare since
you wrote in collecting out of the unfinished mass such things as are more or less finished and
readable (I mean legible). You may find the 'compendious history' or Silmarillion tolerable –
though it is only really half-revised.
The long tales out of which it is drawn (by 'Pengolod')1 are either incomplete or not up to date.
The Fall of Gondolin
The Lay of Beren and Lúthien (verse)
The Children of Húrin
I am distressed (for myself) to be unable to find the 'Rings of Power', which with the 'Fall of
Númenor' is the link between the Silmarillion and the Hobbit world. But its essentials are included
in Ch. II of The Lord of the Rings. That book would, of course, be easier to write, if the Silmarillion
were published first!
I will bring you round some unique MSS. some time to-day.
Thank you for your remembrance in prayer.
Yrs sincerely
Ronald Tolkien.
116 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 5 August 1948
[The artist Milein Cosman had been chosen to illustrate Farmer Giles of Ham, and the publishers had asked
Tolkien for his opinion of some specimen drawings, which Miss Cosman had only provided after many
I am not for myself much interested in the fashionableness of these drawings, or in their
resemblance to Topolski or Ardizzone. I find their lack of resemblance to their text more marked.
This is a definitely located story (one of its virtues if it has any): Oxfordshire and Bucks, with a
brief excursion into Wales. The places in it are largely named, or fairly plainly indicated. There is
no attempt by the illustrator to represent any of this. The incident of the dog and dragon occurs near
Rollright, by the way, and though that is not plainly stated at least it clearly takes place in
The giant is passable – though the artist is a poor drawer of trees. The dragon is absurd.
Ridiculously coy, and quite incapable of performing any of the tasks laid on him by the author. I
cannot help wondering why he should be so fatuously looking over his right shoulder SE when an
obvious if sketchy dog is going off NW. In defiance of the fact that me dog happily did not come on
the head end first, but turned his own tail as soon as he came on the dragon's. The Farmer, a large
blusterer bigger than his fellows, is made to look like little Joad at the end of a third degree by
railway officials. He would hardly have used as a cowshed the shambling hut at which the miller
and parson are knocking. He was a prosperous yeoman or franklin.
I gather you do not share my sentiments. Well, if you think that illustrations of this sort, wholly
out of keeping with the style or manner of the text, will do, or will for reasons of contemporary taste
be an advantage, I am so far in your hands. But are you ever going to induce Miss C. to impart such
finish as will not exhaust her or make her too unhappy – in fact to finish the job? And when do you
expect to get this book out?
117 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 31 October 1948
I managed to go into 'retreat' in the summer, and am happy to announce that I succeeded at last
in bringing the 'Lord of the Rings' to a successful conclusion. Also, it has been read and approved
by Rayner Unwin, who (the original reader of 'The Hobbit') has had time to grow up while the
sequel has been made, and is now here at Trinity. I think there is a chance of it being published
though it will be a massive book far too large to make any money for the publisher (let alone die
author): it must run to 1200 pages. However length is no obstacle to those who like that kind of
thing. If only term had not caught me on the hop again, I should have revised the whole – it is
astonishingly difficult to avoid mistakes and changes of name and all kinds of inconsistencies of
detail in a long work, as critics forget, who have not tried to make one – and sent it to the typists. I
hope to do so soon, and can only say that as soon as I have a spare copy you shall have the loan of
one, plus a good deal of explanatory matter, alphabets, history, calendars, and genealogies reserved
for the real 'fans'. I hope this may be possible soon, so that you could have it during the Christmas
holidays; but I cannot promise. This university business of earning one's living by teaching,
delivering philological lectures, and daily attendance at 'boards' and other talk-meetings, interferes
sadly with serious work.
118 To Hugh Brogan
[A note of Christmas greetings, not dated but possibly written at Christmas 1948. It is in a form of
Angerthas or dwarf-runes close to that used m The Lord of the Rings but not identical, and in two versions
of Fëanorian script, the first using tehtar (marks above the consonants) to indicate vowels, the second with
vowels represented by full letters. For a transcription, see p. 442].
119 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 28 February 1949
I have not time to type [Farmer Giles] again, and I don't think it is really necessary. I am
finding the labour of typing a fair copy of the 'Lord of the Rings' v. great, and the alternative of
having it professionally typed prohibitive in cost. .... I believe that after 25 years service I am
shortly going to be granted a term of 'sabbatical' leave, partly on medical grounds. If so, I may
really finish a few things.
120 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 16 March 1949
[The services of Milein Cosman had now been dispensed with, and Pauline Baynes had been contracted to
illustrate Farmer Giles of Ham.]
Miss Baynes' pictures must have reached Merton on Saturday; but owing to various things I did
not see them till yesterday. I merely write to say that I am pleased with them beyond even the
expectations aroused by the first examples. They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral
theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a
commentary on the drawings.
121 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 13 July 1949
[On the subject of a sequel to Farmer Giles of Ham.]
As for further 'legends of the Little Kingdom' : I put a reference to one in the Foreword, in case
they should ever come to anything, or a manuscript of the fragmentary legend should come to light.
But Georgius and Suet remains only a sketch, and it is difficult now to recapture the spirit of the
former days, when we used to beat the bounds of the L.K. in an ancient car. The 'children' now
range from 20 to 32. But when I have at last got the 'Lord of the Rings', of which I have nearly
completed a final fair copy, the released spring may do something.
122 To Naomi Mitchison
[Mrs Mitchison had written in praise of Farmer Giles of Ham, which was published in the autumn of 1949.]
18 December 1949
3 Manor Road, Oxford
Dear Mrs Mitchison,
It was extremely kind of you to write to me. .... As for 'Farmer Giles' it was I fear written very
light-heartedly, originally of a 'no time' in which blunderbusses or anything might occur. Its slightly
donnish touching up, as read to the Lovelace Soc., and as published, makes the Blunderbuss rather
glaring — though not really worse than all mediaeval treatments of Arthurian matter. But it was too
embedded to be changed, and some people find the anachronisms amusing. I myself could not forgo
the quotation (so very Murrayesque) from the Oxford Dictionary. Greek Fire must have been more
like a flammenwerfer: as used on their ships it seems to have been quite deadly. But in the Isle of
Britain in archaeological fact there can have been nothing in the least like a fire-arm. But neither
was there fourteenth century armour.
I find 'dragons' a fascinating product of imagination. But I don't think the Beowulf one is
frightfully good. But the whole problem of the intrusion of the 'dragon' into northern imagination
and its transformation there is one I do not know enough about. Fafnir in the late Norse versions of
the Sigurd-story is better; and Smaug and his conversation obviously is in debt there.
I know Icelandic pretty well (as I should), and a little Welsh, but in spite of efforts I have
always been rather heavily defeated by Old Irish, or indeed its modern descendants. The mix-up
was politically and culturally great and complex — but it left very little linguistic trace on Icelandic,
save in the borrowing of certain names notably Brian and Niai which became used in Iceland. On
Irish the influence was more considerable. But in any case names that were at all similar in sound
tended to be equated or confused. ....
I hope to give you soon two books, about which at least one criticism will be possible: that they
are excessively long! One is a sequel to 'The Hobbit' which I have just finished after 12 years
(intermittent) labour. I fear it is 3 times as long, not for children (though that does not mean wholly
unsuitable), and rather grim in places. I think it is very much better (in a different way). The other is
pure myth and legend of times already remote in Bilbo's days.
Thank you again for writing. I hope the reply is in places legible. With best wishes.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
123 From a draft to Milton Waldman 5 February 1950
[At about the time that he was finishing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was introduced to Milton Waldman,
an editor with the London publisher Collins. Waldman expressed great interest in the new book, and also in
The Silmarillion, which Tolkien hoped would be published in conjunction with The Lord of the Rings. As
Allen & Unwin had not accepted The Silmarillion when Tolkien offered it to them in 1937, he now believed
that he should try to change his publisher; accordingly he showed Waldman those parts of The Silmarillion
of which there were fair copies. Waldman said he would like to publish it if Tolkien would finish it. Tolkien
then showed him The Lord of the Rings. Waldman was again enthusiastic, and offered to publish it
providing Tolkien had 'no commitment either moral or legal to Allen & Unwin'. The reply that Tolkien sent
cannot be traced, but what follows is pan of a draft for it.]
I am sorry that the days have slipped by since I got your note. .... As soon as I had dumped the
MS. [of The Lord of the Rings] on you, I felt bad about it: weighing down your holiday with a
labour that only an author's egotism could have inflicted at such a time. And examining my
conscience I had to confess that – as one who has worked alone in a comer and only had the
criticism of a few like-minded friends – I was moved greatly by the desire to hear from a fresh mind
whether my labour had any wider value, or was just a fruitless private hobby.
All the same I don't think that in fact I burdened you under false pretences. .... I believe myself
to have no legal obligation to Allen and Unwin, since the clause in The Hobbit contract with regard
to offering the next book seems to have been satisfied either (a) by their rejection of The
Silmarillion or (b) by their eventual acceptance and publication of Farmer Giles. I should (as you
note) be glad to leave them, as I have found them in various ways unsatisfactory. But I have
friendly personal relations with Stanley (whom all the same I do not much like) and with his second
son Rayner (whom I do like very much). It has always been supposed that I am writing a sequel to
The Hobbit. Rayner has read most of The Lord of the Rings and likes it – as a small boy he read the
MS. of The Hobbit. Sir Stanley has long been aware that The Lord of the Rings has outgrown its
function, and is not pleased since he sees no money in it for anyone (so he said); but he is anxious
to see the final result all the same. If this constitutes a moral obligation then I have one:
at least to explain the situation. Did I say something of all this in my letter of Dec. 13th? I
certainly meant to. However, I certainly shall try to extricate myself, or at least the Silmarillion and
all its kin, from the dilatory coils of A. and U. if I can – in a friendly fashion if possible.
124 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Allen & Unwin had passed on a reader's enquiry as to whether Tolkien had written an 'Authentic History of
24 February 1950
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Unwin,
I am, I fear, a most unsatisfactory person. I am at present 'on leave', and away off and on;
though the effort to cope with a mass of literary and 'learned' debts, that my leave was supposed to
assist, has proved too much for me, especially as I have been troubled with my throat and have felt
often far from well.
But at any rate I should long ago have answered your query, handed on from Mr Selby. Though
dated Jan. 31 st, it was in fact addressed to me on Dec. 31st.
I cannot imagine and have not discovered what Mr Selby was referring to. I have, of course, not
written an 'Authentic history of Faery' (and should not in any case have chosen such a title); nor
have I caused any prophecy or rumour of any such work to be circulated. I must suppose that Mr
Selby associates me with 'Faery', and has attached my name to someone eise's work It seems hardly
likely that he can have come across some literary chat (of which in any case I am ignorant) in which
somebody has referred to my Silmarillion (long ago rejected, and shelved). The title is not
particularly fitting, and the work has been read in MS. only by about five persons, counting two of
my children and your reader.
That, however, brings me to a more important topic (to me at any rate). In one of your more
recent letters you expressed a desire still to see the MS. of my proposed work. The Lord of the
Rings, originally expected to be a sequel to The Hobbit. For eighteen months now I have been
hoping for the day when I could call it finished. But it was not until after Christmas that this goal
was reached at last. It is finished, if still partly unrevised, and is, I suppose, in a condition which a
reader could read, if he did not wilt at the sight of it.
As the estimate for typing a fair copy was in the neighbourhood of £100 (which I have not to
spare), I was obliged to do nearly all myself. And now I look at it, the magnitude of the disaster is
apparent to me. My work has escaped from my control, and I have produced a monster: an
immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and very terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit
for anybody); and it is not really a sequel to The Hobbit, but to The Silmarillion. My estimate is that
it contains, even without certain necessary adjuncts, about 600,000 words. One typist put it higher. I
can see only too clearly how impracticable this is. But I am tired. It is off my chest, and I do not feel
that I can do anything more about it, beyond a little revision of inaccuracies. Worse still: I feel that
it is tied to the Silmarillion.
You may, perhaps, remember about that work, a long legendary of imaginary times in a 'high
style', and full of Elves (of a sort). It was rejected on the advice of your reader many years ago. As
far as my memory goes he allowed to it a kind of Celtic beauty intolerable to Anglo-Saxons in large
doses. He was probably perfectly right and just. And you commented that it was a work to be drawn
upon rather than published.
Unfortunately I am not an Anglo-Saxon and though shelved (until a year ago), the Silmarillion
and all that has refused to be suppressed. It has bubbled up, infiltrated, and probably spoiled
everything (that even remotely approached 'Faery') which I have tried to write since. It was kept out
of Farmer Giles with an effort, but stopped the continuation. Its shadow was deep on the later pans
of The Hobbit. It has captured The Lord of the Rings, so that that has become simply its
continuation and completion, requiring the Silmarillion to be fully intelligible – without a lot of references and
explanations that clutter it in one or two places.
Ridiculous and tiresome as you may think me, I want to publish them both – The Silmarillion
and The Lord of the Rings – in conjunction or in connexion. 'I want to' – it would be wiser to say 'I
should like to', since a little packet of, say, a million words,1 of matter set out in extenso that AngloSaxons (or the English-speaking public) can only endure in moderation, is not very likely to see the
light, even if paper were available at will.
All the same that is what I should like. Or I will let it all be. I cannot contemplate any drastic re-
writing or compression. Of course being a writer I should like to see my words printed; but there
they are. For me the chief thing is that I feel that the whole matter is now 'exorcized', and rides me
no more. I can turn now to other things, such as perhaps the Little Kingdom of the Wormings,2 or to
quite other matters and stories.
I am sorry that this letter is so long, and so full of myself. I am not really filled with any
overweening conceit of my absurd private hobbies. But you have been very patient – expecting
during the long years a sequel to The Hobbit, to fit a similar audience; though I know that you are
aware that I have been going off the rails. I owe you some kind of explanation.
You will let me know what you think. You can have all this mountain of stuff, if you wish. It
will take a reader who really reads a long time, I fear; though he may make up his mind with a
sample. But I shall not have any just grievance (nor shall I be dreadfully surprised) if you decline so
obviously unprofitable a proposition; and ask me to hurry up and submit some more reasonable
book as soon as I can.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
P.S. Rayner, poor man, has of course read a large part of The Lord of the Rings, though not to
the bitter end: I only finished the last 'book' quite recently. I hope he is prospering. How is little
Farmer Giles doing, I wonder?
125 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Unwin replied on 6 March, asking if the problem of the combined length of the two books might be solved
by splitting them into 'three or four to some extent self-contained volumes'. In response to Tolkien's enquiry
about Farmer Giles of Ham, he reported that, out of the first printing of 5,000 copies, 2,000 had been sold,
and that the book had 'not yet done as well as we had hoped', though he said it would undoubtedly continue
to sell.]
10 March 1950
3 Manor Road, Oxford
Dear Unwin,
Thank you for your letter of March 6th. I see in it your good will ; but also, I fear, your opinion
that this mass of stuff is not really a publisher's affair at all, but requires an endowment. I am not
With regard to your enquiry about its divisibility. A work of great length can, of course, be
divided up artificially into more handy bulks: the sort of process that produced sections of the big
Oxford Dictionary labelled 'ONOMASTICAL – OUTING' and 'SIMPLE to SLEEP'. But the whole Saga of
the Three Jewels and the Rings of Power has only one natural division into two parts (each of about
600,000 words): The Silmarillion and other legends; and The Lord of the Rings. The latter is as
indivisible and unified as I could make it.
It is, of course, divided into sections for narrative purposes (six of them), and two or three of
these, which are of more or less equal length, could be bound separately, but they are not in any
sense self-contained.
I now wonder (I must confess, though as a 'seller' I suppose I should show more confidence)
whether many beyond my friends, not all of whom have endured to the end, would read anything so
long, even if they liked that kind of thing in moderation. I wonder still more if they would read, not
to mention purchase, it serially, and if the pot, as it were, went off the boil. You must know much
more about that than I do.
I realise the financial difficulties, and the remote chance of recovering the great cost. I have no
money to sink in the bog, and I can hardly expect you to sink it. Please do not think that I shall feel
that I have a just grievance if you decline to become involved, without much hesitation. After all the
understanding was that you would welcome a sequel to The Hobbit, and this work can not be
regarded as such in any practical sense, or in the matter of atmosphere, tone, or audience addressed.
I am sorry that I presented such a problem. Wilfully, it may seem, since I knew long ago that I
was courting trouble and producing the unprintable and unsaleable, most likely. I have not at the
moment anything else completed to submit; but I am quite prepared to make something simpler and
shorter soon. I feel, at the end of my leave of absence, a return of energy, and when the present time
of trial is over (the process of removing all my teeth began yesterday, and that of removing my
household goods begins shortly) I hope to feel still more. I think I shall soon put in hand other
things long in petto.
All the same it would have been more encouraging if Farmer Giles could report better of his
luck. Rather a donnish little squib after all? I cannot discover that he has been widely heard of. He
does not seem to have been very forcibly brought to notice.
I always thought, that in so far as he has virtue, it would have been improved by other stories of
the same kingdom and style; but the domination of the remoter world was so great that I could not
make them. It may now prove different.
With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
126 To Milton Waldman (draft) 3 Manor Road, Oxford
10 March 1950
Dear Waldman,
Sir Stanley Unwin has at length replied personally. The pertinent paragraph is:
'Your letter has indeed set us a problem! It would not have been easy to solve before the
War; it is much more difficult now with costs of production about three times what they
were then. In order to see more precisely what is involved would you tell us whether there is
any possibility of breaking the million words into, say, three or four to some extent selfcontained volumes. You may perhaps remember that when we published Murasaki's great
work The Tale of Genji, we started by issuing it in six separate volumes, each under a
different title, though the first four were, of course, all the Tale of Gengi, and the last two
were more about his son.'
I have replied to the effect that I see in his letter his good will, but also perceive his opinion that
this mass of stuff is not suitable for ordinary publication and requires endowment. (I had in my
letter made a strong point that the Silmarillion etc. and The Lord of the Rings went together, as one
long Saga of the Jewels and the Rings, and that I was resolved to treat them as one thing, however
they might formally be issued.) I noted that the mass naturally divides only between The
Silmarillion and The Lord (each about 600,000 words), but that the latter is not divisible except into
artificial fragments. I added that I shall not be surprised if he declines to become involved in this
monstrous Saga; and that now it is off my chest, I am very willing to turn out something simpler
and shorter (and even actually 'juvenile') for him, soon.
There at the moment the matter waits. I profoundly hope that he will let go without demanding the
MS. and two months for 'reading'. But I am not sanguine. But time runs short. I shall soon be
plunged back into business – I already am involved, as I find things getting very out of hand during
my absence; and I shall not be free again for writing until I return from Ireland at the beginning of
Unwin tells me that Farmer Giles has only sold 2000 copies. I have replied that I have observed
no advertisements.. . .
With best wishes.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
I move to 99 Holy-well,1 but the date is uncertain, as the house needs a lot of repair. I hope but
hardly expect to be settled before St George's Day. Merton will always find me. JRRT.
127 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[On 3 April, just as Tolkien had sent him a note requesting a reply to his letter of 10 March, Unwin wrote to
say that he had asked the opinion of his son Rayner, who was now studying in America, at Harvard
University. He enclosed Rayner's comments, though they were not really intended for Tolkien's eyes.
Rayner Unwin wrote: 'The Lord of the Rings is a very great book in its own curious way and deserves to be
produced somehow. I never felt the lack of a Silmarillion when reading it. .... Surely this is a case for an
editor who would incorporate any really relevant material from The Silmarillion into The Lord of the Rings.
.... If this is not workable I would say publish The Lord of the Rings as a presage book, and after having a
second look at it, drop The Silmarillion.']
14 April 1950
3 Manor Road, Oxford
Dear Unwin,
It was odd that our letters crossed. I might have waited a day longer; but the matter is for me
becoming urgent. Weeks have become precious. I want a decision yes, or no: to the proposal I
made, and not to any imagined possibilities.
Your letters1 were, as always, very kind; though I was puzzled by the first, and its enclosure of
an extract from a letter of Rayner's. This was not, as you remarked, intended for me; which made it
all the more interesting to me (and I do not refer to the compliment that it contained). The puzzling
thing was that it seemed unsuitable for my eye (from your point of view); and I wonder precisely
why you sent it to me.
My present conclusion is that you are in general agreement with Rayner, and thought that
letting me see his advice was a good way of telling me what is the most I can hope for – since he is
about as favourable a critic as I am likely to get. But I should like to be sure.
The kick is plainly in the last sentence of the excerpt (before the remembrance to me): 'If this is
not workable, etc.' This is surely to reveal policy a little nakedly. Also it shows a surprising failure
to understand the situation, or my letter. But I will say no more until I hear from you.....2
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
128 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 1 August 1950
[Following Tolkien's ultimatum. Sir Stanley Unwin replied: 'As you demand an immediate "yes" or "no" the
answer is "no"; but it might well have been yes given adequate time and the sight of the complete typescript.
' The matter rested there for the time being. In July, Allen & Unwin sent Tolkien the proofs of a new edition
of The Hobbit, incorporating minor corrections to the text, and – much to Tolkien's surprise-substituting, for
the original, the new version of part of Chapter V, 'Riddles in the Dark', which he had sent them in 1947
merely as 'a specimen of rewriting' (see no. III), and which he had not necessarily intended for publication.]
The Hobbit: I return the proofs herewith. They did not require much correction, but did need
some consideration. The thing took me much by surprise. It is now a long while since I sent in the
proposed alteration of Chapter V, and tentatively suggested the slight remodelling of the original
Hobbit.1 I was then still engaged in trying to fit on the sequel, which would have been a simpler
task with the alteration, besides saving most of a chapter in that over-long work. However, I never
heard any more about it at all; and I assumed that alteration of the original book was ruled out. The
sequel now depends on the earlier version; and if the revision is really published, there must follow
some considerable rewriting of the sequel.
I must say that I could wish that I had had some hint that (in any circumstances) this change
might be made, before it burst on me in page-proof. However, I have now made up my mind to
accept the change and its consequences. The thing is now old enough for me to take a fairly
impartial view, and it seems to me that the revised version is in itself better, in motive and narrative
– and certainly would make the sequel (if ever published) much more natural.
I did not mean the suggested revision to be printed off; but it seems to have come out pretty
well in the wash.
129 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 10 September 1950
[Allen & Unwin asked Tolkien to supply a 'precise wording' for a note in the new edition of The Hobbit
which would explain the changes in the new text.]
Well, there it is: the alteration is now made, and cannot, I suppose, be unmade. Such people as I
have consulted think that the alteration is in itself an improvement (apart from the question of a
sequel). That is something. But when I tried to consider 'a precise wording' for a note on the
revision in an English edition, I did not find the matter as simple as I had thought.
I have now on my hands two printed versions of a crucial incident. Either the first must be
regarded as washed out, a mere miswriting that ought never to have seen the light; or the story as a
whole must take into account the existence of two versions and use it. The former was my original
simpleminded intention, though it is a bit awkward (since the Hobbit is fairly widely known in its
older form) if the literary pretence of historicity and dependence on record is to be maintained. The
second can be done convincingly (I think), but not briefly explained in a note.
In the former case, or in doubt, the only thing to do, I fancy, is Just to say nothing. I am in
doubt, so I propose at the moment just to say nothing; though I do not like it. There is, in any case, I
take it, no question of inserting a note into the American reprint. And you will no doubt warn me in
good time when an English one becomes necessary.
In the meanwhile I send you a specimen of the kind of thing that I should want to insert in an
altered reprint – if I decide to recognise two versions of the Ring-finding as part of the authentic
tradition. This is not intended as copy; but if you would return it, with any comment you like, it
would be helpful.
130 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 14 September 1950
[Further consideration led Tolkien to decide that an explanatory note would definitely be needed in the new
I have decided to accept the existence of both versions of Chapter Five, so far as the sequel
goes – though I have no time at the moment to rewrite that at the required points. I enclose,
therefore, a copy of the briefest form of the prefatory note: which is intended as copy, if you should
think it well to use it in the reprint.1
131 To Milton Waldman
[After Allen & Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctandy declined to
publish The Lord of the Rings together with The Silmarillion, Tolkien was confident that Milton Waldman
of Collins would shortly issue both books under his firm's imprint. In the spring of 1950, Waldman told
Tolkien that he hoped to begin typesetting the following autumn. But there were delays, largely caused by
Waldman's frequent absences in Italy and his ill-health. By the latter pan of 1951 no definite arrangements
for publication had yet been made, and Collins were becoming anxious about the combined length of both
books. It was apparently at Waldman's suggestion that Tolkien wrote the following letter – of which the full
text is some ten thousand words long – with the intention of demonstrating that The Lord of the Rings and
The Silmarillion were interdependent and indivisible. The letter, which interested Waldman so much that he
had a typed copy made (see the end of no. 137), is not dated, but was probably written late in 1951.]
My dear Milton,
You asked for a brief sketch of my stuff that is connected with my imaginary world. It is
difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate
of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like,
and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all. I shall inflict some of this on you;
but I will append a mere resume of its contents: which is (may be) all that you want or will have use
or time for.
In order of time, growth and composition, this stuff began with me – though I do not suppose
that that is of much interest to anyone but myself. I mean, I do not remember a time when I was not
building it. Many children make up, or begin to make up, imaginary languages. I have been at it
since I could write. But I have never stopped, and of course, as a professional philologist (especially
interested in linguistic aesthetics), I have changed in taste, improved in theory, and probably in
craft. Behind my stories is now a nexus of languages (mostly only structurally sketched). But to
those creatures which in English I call misleadingly Elves* are assigned two related languages more
nearly completed, whose history is written, and whose forms (representing two different sides of
my own linguistic taste) are deduced scientifically from a common origin. Out of these languages
are made nearly all the names that appear in my legends. This gives a certain character (a cohesion,
a consistency of linguistic style, and an illusion of historicity) to the nomenclature, or so I believe,
that is markedly lacking in other comparable things. Not all will feel this as important as I do, since
I am cursed by acute sensibility in such matters.
But an equally basic passion of mine ab initio was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story,
and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little
in the world (accessible to me) for my appetite. I was an undergraduate before thought and
experience revealed to me that these were not divergent interests – opposite poles of science and
romance – but integrally related. I am not 'learned'† in the matters of myth and fairy-story, however,
for in such things (as far as known to me) I have always been seeking material, things of a certain
tone and air, and not simple knowledge. Also – and here I hope I shall not sound absurd – I was
from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own
(bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality that I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in
legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and
Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff. Of
course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized,
associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be
missing. For one thing its 'faerie' is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. For another
and more important thing: it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.
For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all
art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit,
not in the known form of the primary 'real' world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present
Intending the word to be understood in its ancient meanings, which continued as late as Spenser — a murrain on
Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs.
Though I have thought about them a good deal.
situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my
essay, which you read.)
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a
body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of
romantic fairy-story-the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing
splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country.
It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air'
(the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or
the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty
that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high',
purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would
draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched.
The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands,
wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.
Of course, such an overweening purpose did not develop all at once. The mere stories were the
thing. They arose in my mind as 'given' things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew.
An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour (especially since, even apart from the
necessities of life, the mind would wing to the other pole and spend itself on the linguistics): yet
always I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of 'inventing'.
Of course, I made up and even wrote lots of other things (especially for my children). Some
escaped from the grasp of this branching acquisitive theme, being ultimately and radically
unrelated: Leaf by Niggle and Farmer Giles, for instance, the only two that have been printed. The
Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite independently conceived: I did not know
as I began it that it belonged. But it proved to be the discovery of the completion of the whole, its
mode of descent to earth, and merging into 'history'. As the high Legends of the beginning are
supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually
human point of view – and the last tale blends them.
I dislike Allegory – the conscious and intentional allegory – yet any attempt to explain the
purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language. (And, of course, the more 'life' a story
has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations: while the better a deliberate
allegory is made the more nearly will it be acceptable just as a story.) Anyway all this stuff* is
mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive
occurs in several modes. With Mortality, especially as it affects art and the creative (or as I should
say, sub-creative) desire which seems to have no biological function, and to be apart from the
satisfactions of plain ordinary biological life, with which, in our world, it is indeed usually at strife.
This desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with
the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it. It has various opportunities of 'Fall'. It may become
possessive, clinging to the things made as 'its own', the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God
of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator – especially against mortality.
Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly
effective, – and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use of external plans or
devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the
use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing
other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic
than is usually recognised.
I have not used 'magic' consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to
remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations
of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since
all human stories have suffered the same confusion). But the Elves are there (in my tales) to
demonstrate the difference. Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more
It is, I suppose, fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of An (and Sub-creation) and Primary
effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its
object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The
'Elves' are 'immortal', at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the
griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive
forms is always 'naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and
machines; but the problem : that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root,
the desire to benefit the world and others* — speedily and according to the benefactor's own plans
— is a recurrent motive.
The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar (or
powers: Englished as gods) are revealed. These latter are as we should say angelic powers, whose
function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation,
making or re-making). They are 'divine', that is, were originally 'outside' and existed 'before' the
making of the world. Their power and wisdom is derived from their Knowledge of the
cosmogonical drama, which they perceived first as a drama (that is as in a fashion we perceive a
story composed by some-one else), and later as a 'reality'. On the side of mere narrative device, this
is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods'
of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted – well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes
in the Blessed Trinity.
It moves then swiftly to the History of the Elves, or the Silmarillion proper; to the world as we
perceive it, but of course transfigured in a still half-mythical mode: that is it deals with rational
incarnate creatures of more or less comparable stature with our own. The Knowledge of the
Creation Drama was incomplete: incomplete in each individual 'god', and incomplete if all the
knowledge of the pantheon were pooled. For (partly to redress the evil of the rebel Melkor, partly
for the completion of all in an ultimate finesse of detail) the Creator had not revealed all. The
making, and nature, of the Children of God, were the two chief secrets. All that the gods knew was
that they would come, at appointed times. The Children of God are thus primevally related and
akin, and primevally different. Since also they are something wholly 'other' to the gods, in the
making of which the gods played no part, they are the object of the special desire and love of the
gods. These are the First-born, the Elves; and the Followers Men. The doom of the Elves is to be
immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and
perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when 'slain', but returning – and yet, when the
Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to 'fade' as the Followers grow and absorb
the life from which both proceed. The Doom (or the Gift) of Men is mortality, freedom from the
circles of the world. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not
explained mythically: it is a mystery of God of which no more is known than that 'what God has
purposed for Men is hidden': a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves.
As I say, the legendary Silmarillion is peculiar, and differs from all similar things that I know in
not being anthropocentric. Its centre of view and interest is not Men but 'Elves'. Men came in
inevitably : after all the author is a man, and if he has an audience they will be Men and Men must
come in to our tales, as such, and not merely transfigured or partially represented as Elves, Dwarfs,
Hobbits, etc. But they remain peripheral – late comers, and however growingly important, not
In the cosmogony there is a fall: a fall of Angels we should say. Though quite different in form,
of course, to that of Christian myth. These tales are 'new', they are not directly derived from other
myths and legends, but they must inevitably contain a large measure of ancient wide-spread motives
or elements. After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed
present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes
of this kind were discovered and must always reappear. There cannot be any 'story' without a fall –
Not in the Beginner of Evil: his was a sub-creative Fall, and hence the Elves (the representatives of sub-creation
par excellence) were peculiarly his enemies, and the special object of his desire and hate – and open to his deceits. Their
Fall is into possessiveness and (to a less degree) into perversion of their art to power.
all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for human minds as we know them and have
So, proceeding, the Elves have a fall, before their 'history' can become storial. (The first fall of
Man, for reasons explained, nowhere appears – Men do not come on the stage until all that is long
past, and there is only a rumour that for a while they fell under the domination of the Enemy and
that some repented.) The main body of the tale, the Silmarillion proper, is about the fall of the most
gifted kindred of the Elves, their exile from Valinor (a kind of Paradise, the home of the Gods) in
the furthest West, their re-entry into Middle-earth, the land of their birth but long under the rule of
the Enemy, and their strife with him, the power of Evil still visibly incarnate. It receives its name
because the events are all threaded upon the fate and significance of the Silmarilli ('radiance of pure
light') or Primeval Jewels. By the making of gems the sub-creative function of the Elves is chiefly
symbolized, but the Silmarilli were more than just beautiful things as such. There was Light. There
was the Light of Valinor made visible in the Two Trees of Silver and Gold.* These were slain by
the Enemy out of malice, and Valinor was darkened, though from them, ere they died utterly, were
derived the lights of Sun and Moon. (A marked difference here between these legends and most
others is that the Sun is not a divine symbol, but a second-best thing, and the 'light of the Sun' (the
world under the sun) become terms for a fallen world, and a dislocated imperfect vision).
But the chief artificer of the Elves (Feanor) had imprisoned the Light of Valinor in the three
supreme jewels, the Silmarilli, before the Trees were sullied or slain. This Light thus lived
thereafter only in these gems. The fall of the Elves comes about through the possessive attitude of
Feanor and his seven sons to these gems. They are captured by the Enemy, set in his Iron Crown,
and guarded in his impenetrable stronghold . The sons of Feanor take a terrible and blasphemous
oath of enmity and vengeance against all or any, even of the gods, who dares to claim any part or
right in the Silmarilli. They pervert the greater pan of their kindred, who rebel against the gods, and
depart from paradise, and go to make hopeless war upon the Enemy. The first fruit of their fall is
war in Paradise, the slaying of Elves by Elves, and this and their evil oath dogs all their later
heroism, generating treacheries and undoing all victories. The Silmarillion is the history of the War
of the Exiled Elves against the Enemy, which all takes place in the North-west of the world
(Middle-earth). Several tales of victory and tragedy are caught up in it ; but it ends with catastrophe,
and the passing of the Ancient World, the world of the long First Age. The jewels are recovered (by
the final intervention of the gods) only to be lost for ever to the Elves, one in the sea, one in the
deeps of earth, and one as a star of heaven. This legendarium ends with a vision of the end of the
world, its breaking and remaking, and the recovery of the Silmarilli and the 'light before the Sun' –
after a final battle which owes, I suppose, more to the Norse vision of Ragnarök than to anything
else, though it is not much like it.
As the stories become less mythical, and more like stories and romances. Men are interwoven.
For the most pan these are 'good Men' – families and their chiefs who rejecting the service of Evil,
and hearing rumours of the Gods of the West and the High Elves, flee westward and come into
contact with the Exiled Elves in the midst of their war. The Men who appear are mainly those of the
Three Houses of the Fathers of them, whose chieftains become allies of the Elflords. The contact of
Men and Elves already foreshadows the history of the later Ages, and a recurrent theme is the idea
that in Men (as they now are) there is a strand of 'blood' and inheritance, derived from the Elves,
and that the an and poetry of Men is largely dependent on it, or modified by it.† There are thus two
marriages of mortal and elf – both later coalescing in the kindred of Earendil, represented by Elrond
the Half-elven who appears in all the stories, even The Hobbit. The chief of the stories of the
As far as all this has symbolical or allegorical significance. Light is such a primeval symbol in the nature of the
Universe, that it can hardly be analysed. The Light of Valinor (derived from light before any fall) is the light of an
undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically (or philosophically) and imaginatively (or subcreatively)
and says that they are good' – as beautiful. The Light of Sun (or Moon) is derived from the Trees only after they were
sullied by Evil.
Of course in reality this only means that my 'elves' are only a representation or an apprehension of a part of
human nature, but that is not the legendary mode of talking.
Silmarillion, and the one most fully treated is the Story of Beren and Lúthien the Elfmaiden.* Here
we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that
the great policies of world history, 'the wheels of the world', are often turned not by the Lords and
Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak – owing to the secret life in
creation, and the pan unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the
Children of God into the Drama. It is Beren the outlawed monal who succeeds (with the help of
Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty) where all the armies and warriors have failed: he
penetrates the stronghold of the Enemy and wrests one of the Silmarilli from the Iron Crown. Thus
he wins the hand of Lúthien and the first marriage of mortal and immortal is achieved.
As such the story is (I think a beautiful and powerful) heroic-fairy-romance, receivable in itself
with only a very general vague knowledge of the background. But it is also a fundamental link in
the cycle, deprived of its full significance out of its place therein. For the capture of the Silmaril, a
supreme victory, leads to disaster. The oath of the sons of Feanor becomes operative, and lust for
the Silmaril brings all the kingdoms of the Elves to ruin.
There are other stories almost equally full in treatment, and equally independent and yet linked
to the general history. There is the Children of Húrin, the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar and his
sister Níniel – of which Turin is the hero: a figure that might be said (by people who like that son of
thing, though it is not very useful) to be derived from elements in Sigurd the Volsung, Oedipus, and
the Finnish Kullervo. There is the Fall of Gondolin: the chief Elvish stronghold. And the tale, or
tales, of Earendil the Wanderer.† He is important as the person who brings the Silmarillion to its
end, and as providing in his offspring the main links to and persons in the tales of later Ages. His
function, as a representative of both Kindreds, Elves and Men, is to find a sea-passage back to the
Land of the Gods, and as ambassador persuade them to take thought again for the Exiles, to pity
them, and rescue them from the Enemy. His wife Elwing descends from Lúthien and still possesses
the Silmaril. But the curse still works, and Earendil's home is destroyed by the sons of Feanor. But
this provides the solution: Elwing casting herself into the Sea to save the Jewel comes to Earendil,
and with the power of the great Gem they pass at last to Valinor, and accomplish their errand – at
the cost of never being allowed to return or dwell again with Elves or Men. The gods then move
again, and great power comes out of the West, and the Stronghold of the Enemy is destroyed; and
he himself [is] thrust out of the World into the Void, never to reappear there in incarnate form
again. The remaining two Silmarils are regained from the Iron Crown — only to be lost. The last
two sons of Fëanor, compelled by their oath, steal them, and are destroyed by them, casting
themselves into the sea, and the pits of the earth. The ship of Earendil adorned with the last Silmaril
is set in heaven as the brightest star. So ends The Silmarillion and the tales of the First Age.
The next cycle deals (or would deal) with the Second Age. But it is on Earth a dark age, and not
very much of its history is (or need be) told. In the great battles against the First Enemy the lands
were broken and ruined, and the West of Middle-earth became desolate. We learn that the Exiled
Elves were, if not commanded, at least sternly counselled to return into the West, and there be at
peace. They were not to dwell permanently in Valinor again, but in the Lonely Isle of Eresseëa
within sight of the Blessed Realm. The Men of the Three Houses were rewarded for their valour
and faithful alliance, by being allowed to dwell 'western-most of all mortals', in the great 'Atlantis'
isle of Númenóre.‡ The doom or gift of God, of mortality, the gods of course cannot abrogate, but
the Númenóreans have a great span of life. They set sail and leave Middle-earth, and establish a
great kingdom of mariners just within furthest sight of Eressëa (but not of Valinor). Most of die
High Elves depart also back into the West. Not all. Some Men akin to the Númenóreans remain in
It exists indeed as a poem of considerable length, of which the prose version in The Silmarillion is only a reduced
His name is in actual origin Anglo-Saxon: earendel "ray of light' applied sometimes to the morning-star, a name
of ramified mythological connexions (now largely obscure). But that is a mere 'learned note'. In fact his name is Elvish
signifying the Great Mariner or Sea-lover.
A name that Lewis derives from me and cannot be restrained from using, and mis-spelling as Numinor.
Númenóre means in 'Elvish' simply Westernesse or Land in the West, and is not related to numen numinous, or
the land not far from the shores of the Sea. Some of the Exiles will not return, or delay their return
(for the way west is ever open to the immortals and in the Grey Havens ships are ever ready to sail
away for ever). Also the Orcs (goblins) and other monsters bred by the First Enemy are not wholly
destroyed. And there is Sauron. In the Silmarillion and Tales of the First Age Sauron was a being of
Valinor perverted to the service of the Enemy and becoming his chief captain and servant. He
repents in fear when the First Enemy is utterly defeated, but in the end does not do as was
commanded, return to the judgement of the gods. He lingers in Middle-earth. Very slowly,
beginning with fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth,
'neglected by the gods', he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power
– and so consumed ever more fiercely with hate (especially of gods and Elves). All through the
twilight of the Second Age the Shadow is growing in the East of Middle-earth, spreading its sway
more and more over Men – who multiply as the Elves begin to fade. The three main themes are thus
The Delaying Elves that lingered in Middle-earth; Sauron's growth to a new Dark Lord, master and
god of Men; and Numenor-Atlantis. They are dealt with annalistically, and in two Tales or
Accounts, The Rings of Power and the Downfall of Númenor. Both are the essential background to
The Hobbit and its sequel.
In the first we see a sort of second fall or at least 'error' of the Elves. There was nothing wrong
essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with3 the mortal lands of their old heroic
deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and
perfect memory of 'The West', and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the
highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the
hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with 'fading', the mode in which the changes of
time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them. They became sad, and their art
(shall we say) antiquarian, and their efforts all really a kind of embalming – even though they also
retained the old motive of their kind, the adornment of earth, and the healing of its hurts. We hear of
a lingering kingdom, in the extreme North-west more or less in what was left in the old lands of The
Silmarillion, under Gilgalad; and of other settlements, such as Imladris (Rivendell) near Elrond; and
a great one at Eregion at the Western feet of the Misty Mountains, adjacent to the Mines of Moria,
the major realm of the Dwarves in the Second Age. There arose a friendship between the usually
hostile folk (of Elves and Dwarves) for the first and only time, and smithcraft reached its highest
development. But many of me Elves listened to Sauron. He was still fair in that early time, and his
motives and those of the Elves seemed to go partly together: the healing of the desolate lands.
Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western
Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try
and make a separate independent paradise. Gilgalad repulsed all such overtures, as also did Elrond.
But at Eregion great work began – and the Elves came their nearest to falling to 'magic' and
machinery. With the aid of Sauron's lore they made Rings of Power ('power' is an ominous and
sinister word in all these tales, except as applied to the gods).
The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. 'change'
viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is
more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus
approaching 'magic', a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they
had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron ('the Necromancer': so he is called as he casts
a fleeting shadow and presage on the pages of The Hobbit): such as rendering invisible the material
body, and making things of the invisible world visible.
The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of
their own imagination, and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility.
But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling
Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see
the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end
could utterly enslave them. He reckoned, however, without the wisdom and subtle perceptions of
the Elves. The moment he assumed the One, they were aware of it, and of his secret purpose, and
were afraid. They hid the Three Rings, so that not even Sauron ever discovered where they were
and they remained unsullied. The others they tried to destroy.
In the resulting war between Sauron and the Elves Middle-earth, especially in the west, was
further ruined. Eregion was captured and destroyed, and Sauron seized many Rings of Power. These
he gave, for their ultimate corruption and enslavement, to those who would accept them (out of
ambition or greed). Hence the 'ancient rhyme' that appears as the leit-motif of The Lord of the
Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
Sauron became thus almost supreme in Middle-earth. The Elves held out in secret places (not
yet revealed). The last Elf-Kingdom of Gilgalad is maintained precariously on the extreme westshores, where are the havens of the Ships. Elrond the Half-elven, son of Earendil, maintains a kind
of enchanted sanctuary at Imladris (in English Rivendell) on the extreme eastern margin of the
western lands.* But Sauron dominates all the multiplying hordes of Men that have had no contact
with the Elves and so indirectly with the true and Unfallen Valar and gods. He rules a growing
empire from the great dark tower of Barad-dûr in Mordor, near to the Mountain of Fire, wielding
the One Ring.
But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent
and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his
power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in
'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of
it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge
Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so
overthrow him and usurp his place. This was the essential weakness he had introduced into his
situation in his effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and in his desire to establish a
control over the minds and wills of his servants. There was another weakness: if the One Ring was
actually unmade, annihilated, then its power would be dissolved, Sauron's own being would be
diminished to vanishing point, and he would be reduced to a shadow, a mere memory of malicious
will. But that he never contemplated nor feared. The Ring was unbreakable by any smithcraft less
than his own. It was indissoluble in any fire, save the undying subterranean fire where it was made
– and that was unapproachable, in Mordor. Also so great was the Ring's power of lust, that anyone
who used it became mastered by it; it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure
it, cast it away, or neglect it. So he thought. It was in any case on his finger.
Thus, as the Second Age draws on, we have a great Kingdom and evil theocracy (for Sauron is
also the god of his slaves) growing up in Middle-earth. In the West – actually the North-West is the
only pan clearly envisaged in these tales – lie the precarious refuges of the Elves, while Men in
those parts remain more or less uncorrupted if ignorant. The better and nobler son of Men are in fact
the kin of those that had departed to Númenor, but remain in a simple 'Homeric' state of patriarchal
and tribal life.
Meanwhile Númenor has grown in wealth, wisdom, and glory, under its line of great kings of
long life, directly descended from Elros, Earendil's son, brother of Elrond. The Downfall of
Númenor, the Second Fall of Man (or Man rehabilitated but still mortal), brings on the catastrophic
Elrond symbolises throughout the ancient wisdom, and his House represents Lore – the preservation in reverent
memory of all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful. It is not a scene of action but of reflection. Thus it is a
place visited on the way to all deeds, or 'adventures'. It may prove to be on the direct road (as in The Hobbit); but it may
be necessary to go from there in a totally unexpected course. So necessarily in The Lord of the Rings, having escaped to
Elrond from the imminent pursuit of present evil, the hero departs in a wholly new direction: to go and face it at its
end, not only of the Second Age, but of the Old World, the primeval world of legend (envisaged as
flat and bounded). After which the Third Age began, a Twilight Age, a Medium Aevum, the first of
the broken and changed world; the last of the lingering dominion of visible fully incarnate Elves,
and the last also in which Evil assumes a single dominant incarnate shape.
The Downfall is partly the result of an inner weakness in Men – consequent, if you will, upon
the first Fall (unrecorded in these tales), repented but not finally healed. Reward on earth is more
dangerous for men than punishment! The Fall is achieved by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting
this weakness. Its central theme is (inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition.
The Númenóreans dwell within far sight of the easternmost 'immortal' land, Eressea; and as the
only men to speak an Elvish tongue (learned in the days of their Alliance) they are in constant
communication with their ancient friends and allies, either in the bliss of Eressea, or in the kingdom
of Gilgalad on the shores of Middle-earth. They became thus in appearance, and even in powers of
mind, hardly distinguishable from the Elves – but they remained mortal, even though rewarded by a
triple, or more than a triple, span of years. Their reward is their undoing – or the means of their
temptation. Their long life aids their achievements in an and wisdom, but breeds a possessive
attitude to these things, and desire awakes for more time for their enjoyment. Foreseeing this in pan,
the gods laid a Ban on the Númenóreans from the beginning: they must never sail to Eressëa, nor
westward out of sight of their own land. In all other directions they could go as they would. They
must not set foot on 'immortal' lands, and so become enamoured of an immortality (within the
world), which was against their law, the special doom or gift of Ilúvatar (God), and which their
nature could not in fact endure.*
There are three phases in their fall from grace. First acquiescence, obedience that is free and
willing, though without complete understanding. Then for long they obey unwillingly, murmuring
more and more openly. Finally they rebel – and a rift appears between the King's men and rebels,
and the small minority of persecuted Faithful.
In the first stage, being men of peace, their courage is devoted to sea-voyages. As descendants
of Earendil, they became the supreme mariners, and being barred from the West, they sail to the
uttermost north, and south, and east. Mostly they come to the west-shores of Middle-eanh, where
they aid the Elves and Men against Sauron, and incur his undying hatred. In those days they would
come amongst Wild Men as almost divine benefactors, bringing gifts of ans and knowledge, and
passing away again – leaving many legends behind of kings and gods out of the sunset.
In the second stage, the days of Pride and Glory and grudging of the Ban, they begin to seek
wealth rather than bliss. The desire to escape death produced a cult of the dead, and they lavished
wealth and an on tombs and memorials. They now made settlements on the west-shores, but these
became rather strongholds and 'factories' of lords seeking wealth, and the Númenóreans became
tax-gatherers carrying off over the sea evermore and more goods in their great ships. The
Númenóreans began the forging of arms and engines.
This phase ended and the last began with the ascent of the throne by the thirteenth4 king of the
line of Elros, Tar-Calion the Golden, the most powerful and proud of all kings. When he learned
that Sauron had taken the title of King of Kings and Lord of the World, he resolved to put down the
'pretender'. He goes in strength and majesty to Middle-earth, and so vast is his armament, and so
terrible are the Númenóreans in the day of their glory that Sauron's servants will not face them.
Sauron humbles himself, does homage to Tar-Calion, and is carried off to Númenor as hostage and
prisoner. But there he swiftly rises by his cunning and knowledge from servant to chief counsellor
of the king, and seduces the king and most of the lords and people with his lies. He denies the
existence of God, saying that the One is a mere invention of the jealous Valar of the West, the
oracle of their own wishes. The chief of the gods is he that dwells in the Void, who will conquer in
the end, and in the void make endless realms for his servants. The Ban is only a lying device of fear
The view is taken (as clearly reappears later in the case of the Hobbits that have the Ring for a while) that each
'Kind' has a natural span, integral to its biological and spiritual nature. This cannot really be increased qualitatively or
quantitatively; so that prolongation in time is like stretching a wire out ever tauter, or 'spreading butter ever thinner' – it
becomes an intolerable torment.
to restrain the Kings of Men from seizing everlasting life and rivalling the Valar.
A new religion, and worship of the Dark, with its temple under Sauron arises. The Faithful are
persecuted and sacrificed. The Númenóreans carry their evil also to Middle-earth and there become
cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and tormenting men; and the old legends are
overlaid with dark tales of horror. This does not happen, however, in the North West; for thither,
because of the Elves, only the Faithful who remain Elf-friends will come. The chief haven of the
good Númenóreans is near the mouth of the great river Anduin. Thence the still beneficent
influence of Númenor spreads up the River and along the coasts as far north as the realm of
Gilgalad, as a Common Speech grows up.
But at last Sauron's plot comes to fulfilment. Tar-Calion feels old age and death approaching,
and he listens to the last prompting of Sauron, and building the greatest of all armadas, he sets sail
into the West, breaking the Ban, and going up with war to wrest from the gods 'everlasting life
within the circles of the world'. Faced by this rebellion, of appalling folly and blasphemy, and also
real peril (since the Númenóreans directed by Sauron could have wrought ruin in Valinor itself) the
Valar lay down their delegated power and appeal to God, and receive the power and permission to
deal with the situation; the old world is broken and changed. A chasm is opened in the sea and TarCalion and his armada is engulfed. Númenor itself on the edge of the rift topples and vanishes for
ever with all its glory in the abyss. Thereafter there is no visible dwelling of the divine or immortal
on earth. Valinor (or Paradise) and even Eressëa are removed, remaining only in the memory of the
earth. Men may sail now West, if they will, as far as they may, and come no nearer to Valinor or the
Blessed Realm, but return only into the east and so back again; for the world is round, and finite,
and a circle inescapable – save by death. Only the 'immortals', the lingering Elves, may still if they
will, wearying of the circle of the world, take ship and find the 'straight way', and come to the
ancient or True West, and be at peace.
So the end of the Second Age draws on in a major catastrophe; but it is not yet quite concluded.
From the cataclysm there are survivors : Elendil the Fair, chief of the Faithful (his name means Elffriend), and his sons Isildur and Anarion. Elendil, a Noachian figure, who has held off from the
rebellion, and kept ships manned and furnished off the east coast of Númenor, flees before the
overwhelming storm of the wrath of the West, and is borne high upon the towering waves that bring
ruin to the west of the Middle-earth. He and his folk are cast away as exiles upon the shores. There
they establish the Númenórean kingdoms of Arnor in the north close to the realm of Gilgalad, and
Gondor about the mouths of Anduin further south. Sauron, being an immortal, hardly escapes the
ruin of Númenor and returns to Mordor, where after a while he is strong enough to challenge the
exiles of Númenor.
The Second Age ends with the Last Alliance (of Elves and Men), and the great siege of Mordor.
It ends with the overthrow of Sauron and destruction of the second visible incarnation of evil. But at
a cost, and with one disastrous mistake. Gilgalad and Elendil are slain in the act of slaying Sauron.
Isildur, Elendil's son, cuts die ring from Sauron's hand, and his power departs, and his spirit flees
into the shadows. But the evil begins to work. Isildur claims the Ring as his own, as 'the Weregild
of his father', and refuses to cast it into the Fire nearby. He marches away, but is drowned in the
Great River, and the Ring is lost, passing out of all knowledge. But it is not unmade, and the Dark
Tower built with its aid still stands, empty but not destroyed. So ends the Second Age with the
coming of the Númenórean realms and the passing of the last kingship of the High Elves.
The Third Age is concerned mainly with the Ring. The Dark Lord is no longer on his throne,
but his monsters are not wholly destroyed, and his dreadful servants, slaves of the Ring, endure as
shadows among the shadows. Mordor is empty and the Dark Tower void, and a watch is kept upon
the borders of the evil land. The Elves still have hidden refuges: at the Grey Havens of their ships,
in the House of Elrond, and elsewhere. In the North is the Kingdom of Arnor ruled by the
descendants of Isildur. Southward athwart the Great River Anduin are the cities and forts of the
Númenórean realm of Gondor, with kings of the line of Anárion. Away in the (to these tales)
uncharted East and South are the countries and realms of wild or evil men, alike only in their hatred
of the West, derived from their master Sauron; but Gondor and its power bars the way. The Ring is
lost, for ever it is hoped; and the Three Rings of the Elves, wielded by secret guardians, are
operative in preserving the memory of the beauty of old, maintaining enchanted enclaves of peace
where Time seems to stand still and decay is restrained, a semblance of the bliss of the True West.
But in the north Arnor dwindles, is broken into petty princedoms, and finally vanishes. The
remnant of the Númenóreans becomes a hidden wandering Folk, and though their true line of Kings
of Isildur's heirs never fails this is known only in the House of Elrond. In the south Gondor rises to
a peak of power, almost reflecting Númenor, and then fades slowly to decayed Middle Age, a kind
of proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent Byzantium. The watch upon Mordor is relaxed. The
pressure of the Easterlings and Southrons increases. The line of Kings fails, and the last city of
Gondor, Minas Tirith ('Tower of Vigilance'), is ruled by hereditary Stewards. The Horsemen of the
North, the Rohirrim or Riders of Rohan, taken into perpetual alliance, settle in the now unpeopled
green plains that were once the northern pan of the realm of Gondor. On the great primeval forest.
Greenwood the Great, east of the upper waters of the Great River, a shadow falls, and grows, and it
becomes Mirkwood. The Wise discover that it proceeds from a Sorcerer ('The Necromancer' of The
Hobbit) who has a secret castle in the south of the Great Wood.*
In the middle of this Age the Hobbits appear. Their origin is unknown (even to themselves)† for
they escaped the notice of the great, or the civilised peoples with records, and kept none themselves,
save vague oral traditions, until they had migrated from the borders of Mirkwood, fleeing from the
Shadow, and wandered westward, coming into contact with the last remnants of the Kingdom of
Their chief settlement, where all the inhabitants are hobbits, and where an ordered, civilised, if
simple and rural life is maintained, is the Shire, originally the farmlands and forests of the royal
demesne of Arnor, granted as a fief: but the 'King', author of laws, has long vanished save in
memory before we hear much of the Shire. It is in the year 1341 of the Shire (or 2941 of the Third
Age: that is in its last century) that Bilbo – The Hobbit and hero of that tale – starts on his
In that story, which need not be resumed, hobbitry and the hobbit-situation are not explained,
but taken for granted, and what little is told of their history is in the form of casual allusion as to
something known. The whole of the 'world-politics', outlined above, is of course there in mind, and
also alluded to occasionally as to things elsewhere recorded in full. Elrond is an important
character, though his reverence, high powers, and lineage are toned down and not revealed in full.
There are allusions to the history of the Elves, and to the fall of Gondolin and so on. The shadows
and evil of Mirkwood provide, in diminished 'fairy – story' mode, one of the major pans of the
adventure. Only in one point do these 'world-polities' act as pan of the mechanism of the story.
Gandalf the Wizard‡ is called away on high business, an attempt to deal with the menace of the
Necromancer, and so leaves the Hobbit without help or advice in the midst of his 'adventure',
forcing him to stand on his own legs, and become in his mode heroic. (Many readers have observed
It is only in the time between The Hobbit and its sequel that it is discovered that the Necromancer is Sauron
Redivivus, growing swiftly to visible shape and power again. He escapes the vigilance and re-enters Mordor and the
Dark Tower.
The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human race (not Elves or Dwarves) –
hence the two kinds can dwell together (as at Bree), and are called just the Big Folk and Little Folk. They are entirely
without non-human powers, but are represented as being more in touch with 'nature' (the soil and other living things,
plants and animals), and abnormally, for humans, free from ambition or greed of wealth. They are made small (little
more than half human stature, but dwindling as the years pass) partly to exhibit the pettiness of man, plain
unimaginative parochial man – though not with either the smallness or the savageness of Swift, and mostly to show up,
in creatures of very small physical power, the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men 'at a pinch'.
Nowhere is the place or nature of 'the Wizards' made fully explicit. Their name, as related to Wise, is an
Englishing of their Elvish name, and is used throughout as utterly distinct from Sorcerer or Magician. It appears finally
that they were as one might say the near equivalent in the mode of these tales of Angels, guardian Angels. Their powers
are directed primarily to the encouragement of the enemies of evil, to cause them to use their own wits and valour, to
unite and endure. They appear always as old men and sages, and though (sent by the powers of the True West) in the
world they suffer themselves, their age and grey hairs increase only slowly. Gandalf whose function is especially to
watch human affairs (Men and Hobbits) goes on through all the tales.
this point and guessed that the Necromancer must figure largely in any sequel or further tales of this
The generally different tone and style of The Hobbit is due, in point of genesis, to it being taken
by me as a matter from the great cycle susceptible of treatment as a 'fairy-story', for children. Some
of the details of tone and treatment are, I now think, even on that basis, mistaken. But I should not
wish to change much. For in effect this is a study of simple ordinary man, neither artistic nor noble
and heroic (but not without the undeveloped seeds of these things) against a high setting — and in
fact (as a critic has perceived) the tone and style change with the Hobbit's development, passing
from fairy-tale to the noble and high and relapsing with the return.
The Quest of the Dragon-gold, the main theme of the actual tale of The Hobbit, is to the general
cycle quite peripheral and incidental – connected with it mainly through Dwarf-history, which is
nowhere central to these tales, though often important.* But in the course of the Quest, the Hobbit
becomes possessed by seeming 'accident' of a 'magic ring', the chief and only immediately obvious
power of which is to make its wearer invisible. Though for this tale an accident, unforeseen and
having no place in any plan for the quest, it proves an essential to success. On return the Hobbit,
enlarged in vision and wisdom, if unchanged in idiom, retains the ring as a personal secret.
The sequel, The Lord of the Rings, much the largest, and I hope also in proportion the best, of
the entire cycle, concludes the whole business – an attempt is made to include in it, and wind up, all
the elements and motives of what has preceded: elves, dwarves, the Kings of Men, heroic 'Homeric'
horsemen, ores and demons, the terrors of the Ring-servants and Necromancy, and the vast horror
of the Dark Throne, even in style it is to include the colloquialism and vulgarity of Hobbits, poetry
and the highest style of prose. We are to see the overthrow of the last incarnation of Evil, the
unmaking of the Ring, the final departure of the Elves, and the return in majesty of the true King, to
take over the Dominion of Men, inheriting all that can be transmitted of Elfdom in his high
marriage with Arwen daughter of Elrond, as well as the lineal royalty of Númenor. But as the
earliest Tales are seen through Elvish eyes, as it were, this last great Tale, coming down from myth
and legend to the earth, is seen mainly though the eyes of Hobbits: it thus becomes in fact
anthropocentric. But through Hobbits, not Men so-called, because the last Tale is to exemplify most
clearly a recurrent theme: the place in 'world polities' of the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts of
will, and deeds of virtue of the apparently small, ungreat, forgotten in the places of the Wise and
Great (good as well as evil). A moral of the whole (after the primary symbolism of the Ring, as the
will to mere power, seeking to make itself objective by physical force and mechanism, and so also
inevitably by lies) is the obvious one that without the high and noble the simple and vulgar is utterly
mean; and without the simple and ordinary the noble and heroic is meaningless.
It is not possible even at great length to 'pot' The Lord of the Rings in a paragraph or two. .... It
was begun in 1936,5 and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or
more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the
features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered. I do not say this in
recommendation. It is, I feel, only too likely that I am deluded, lost in a web of vain imaginings of
not much value to others — in spite of the fact that a few readers have found it good, on the whole.†
What I intend to say is this: I cannot substantially alter the thing. I have finished it, it is 'off my
mind': the labour has been colossal; and it must stand or fall, practically as it is.
[The letter continues with a summary (without comments) of the story of The Lord of the Rings, after which
Tolkien writes:]
That is a long and yet bald resume. Many characters important to the tale are not even
mentioned. Even some whole inventions like the remarkable Ents, oldest of living rational
The hostility of (even good) Dwarves and Elves, a motive that often appears, derives from the legends of the First
Age; the Mines of Moria, the wars of Dwarves and Orcs (goblins, soldiery of the Dark Lord) refer to the Second Age
and early Third.
'But as each has disliked this or that, I should (if I took all the criticisms together and obeyed them) find little left,
and am forced to the conclusion that so great a work (in size) cannot be perfect, nor even if perfect, be liked entirely by
any one reader.
creatures. Shepherds of the Trees, are omitted. Since we now try to deal with 'ordinary life',
springing up ever unquenched under the trample of world policies and events, there are love-stories
touched in, or love in different modes, wholly absent from The Hobbit. But the highest love-story,
that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond's daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told
elsewhere in a short tale. Of Aragorn and Arwen Undómiel. I think the simple 'rustic' love of Sam
and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's)
character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting)
and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the 'longing for Elves', and sheer beauty. But I will say no more,
nor defend the theme of mistaken love seen in Eowyn and her first love for Aragorn. I do not feel
much can now be done to heal the faults of this large and much-embracing tale – or to make it
'publishable', if it is not so now. A slight revision (now accomplished) of a crucial point in The
Hobbit, clarifying the character of Gollum and his relation to the Ring, will enable me to reduce
Book I chapter II 'The Shadow of the Past', simplify it, and quicken it – and also simplify the
debatable opening of Book II a little. If the other material, 'The Silmarillion' and some other tales or
links such as The Downfall of Númenor are published or in process of this, then much explanation
of background, and especially that found in the Council of Elrond (Bk II) could be dispensed with.
But altogether it would hardly amount to the excision of a single long chapter (out of about 72).
I wonder if (even if legible) you will ever read this ??
132 From a letter to John Tolkien 10 February 1952
[This letter, to Tolkien's eldest son, who was now a Catholic priest, describes one of the dinners occasionally
held by the Inklings.]
We had a 'ham-feast' with C. S. Lewis on Thursday (an American ham from Dr Firor of Johns
Hopkins University), and it was like a glimpse of old times: quiet and rational (since Hugo was not
asked!). C.S.L. asked Wrenn1 and it was a great success, since it pleased him, and he was very
pleasant: a good step towards weaning him from 'politics' (academic).
133 To Rayner Unwin
[In the spring of 1952, Tolkien lost patience with the delays at Collins over the publication of his books, and
told the firm that they must publish The Lord of the Rings immediately or he would withdraw the
manuscript. Collins, frightened by the length of the book, decided that they must decline it, together with
The Silmarillion, and they withdrew from the negotiations. In June, Rayner Unwin wrote to Tolkien to
enquire about his poem 'Errantry', which had been brought to Allen & Unwin's notice; he also asked about
progress with the publication of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.]
22 June 1952
99 Holywell, Oxford
My dear Rayner,
How kind of you to write again! I have behaved badly. You wrote to me on 19 November,1 and
that still remains unanswered. Now disaster has overtaken me, but I cannot again postpone a reply –
disaster: I am chairman again of the English examiners, and in the midst of a 7-day week, and a 12hour day, of labour that will last right on to July 31st, when I shall be cast up exhausted on the
shoals of August.
As for 'Errantry': it is a most odd coincidence that you should ask about that. For only a few
weeks ago I had a letter from a lady unknown to me making a similar enquiry. She said that a friend
had recently written out for her from memory some verses that had so taken her fancy that she was
determined to discover their origin. He had picked them up from his son-in-law who had learned
them in Washington D.C. (!); but nothing was known about their source save a vague idea that they
were connected with English universities. Being a determined person she apparently applied to
various Vice-Chancellors, and Bowra2 directed her to my door. I must say that I was interested in
becoming 'folk-lore'. Also it was intriguing to get an oral version – which bore out my views on oral
tradition (at any rate in early stages): sc. that the 'hard words' are well preserved,3 and the more
common words altered, but the metre is often disturbed.
There was once a literary club of dons and undergraduates (Tangye Lean of Univ. was a leading
junior: we often met in his rooms)4 and 'Errantry' first appeared in its papers and probably began its
oral travels from that point. Though I think the line leading to Sir John Burnet-Stuart5 and his sonin-law probably (on internal evidence) goes back to a printed version which appeared later in The
Oxford Magazine, November 9th 1933. Probably your correspondent's too. That version might be
called the A.V. I sent my enquirer a copy of it, and one of an R.V.,6 and I gather the making of a
'critical text' kept a house-party amused for a day, while their hostess (Mrs Roberts of Lightwater
Manor) was laid low with a broken arm.
She says she cannot 'understand how the verses have remained unpublished' disregarding the
O.M., 'so long. I fear your publicity manager must be incompetent.' The answer is, of course, that I
am too busy officially to give such things due attention. But also that I have tried often to get
'Errantry' and such things published, but unsuccessfully. The O.M. used at one time (especially
under Nowell Smith)7 to accord me space; but no one else. I should, of course, be very pleased to
submit a collection to you when I have a moment. But 'Errantry' is the most attractive. It is for one
thing in a metre I invented (depending on trisyllabic assonances or near-assonances, which is so
difficult that except in this one example I have never been able to use it again – it just blew out in a
single impulse).8
As for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, they are where they were. The one finished
(and the end revised), and the other still unfinished (or unrevised), and both gathering dust. I have
been both off and on too unwell, and too burdened to do much about them, and too downhearted.
Watching paper-shortages and costs mounting against me. But I have rather modified my views.
Better something than nothing! Although to me all are one, and the 'L of the Rings' would be better
far (and eased) as part of the whole, I would gladly consider the publication of any pan of this stuff.
Years are becoming precious. And retirement (not far off) will, as far as I can see, bring not leisure
but a poverty that will necessitate scraping a living by 'examining' and such like tasks.
When I have a moment to turn round I will collect the Silmarillion fragments in process of
completion – or rather the original outline which is more or less complete, and you can read it. My
difficulty is, of course, that owing to the expense of typing and the lack of time to do my own (I
typed nearly all of The Lord of the Rings) I have no spare copies to let out. But what about The Lord
of the Rings? Can anything be done about that, to unlock gates I slammed myself?
I feel very conscience-stricken about you. I know you have married. I knew the date. But
though indeed I wished you well, and wished to write, I did not. I never recovered from the
confusion of my affairs when I had a terrible bout of fibrositis and neuritis of the arm last October,
and cd. not write at all (or bear myself) for a month. I have been chasing lost days ever since. And
somehow I always postponed because (I suppose) I wished to deal with my wretched literary affairs
as well as your personal ones. It is a great blessing to have importunate and determined friends who
will not let one relapse into permanent silence. I am most grateful to you for writing again.
My wife and Priscilla send you our best wishes. Do call again! I'll find time, whatever I am
Yrs sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
I enclose the only copy I can find of the R.V. of 'Errantry'.
134 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 29 August 1952
[Rayner Unwin replied on 1 July, praising 'Errantry', and asking if Tolkien could send one of his copies of
the typescript of The Lord of the Rings by registered post. He told Tolkien : 'We do want to publish for you
– it's only ways and means that have held us up.' He also asked to see The Silmarillion, as well as anything
else that Tolkien had written, and suggested that he and Tolkien should meet.]
I am at last turning to my own affairs. The situation is this: I am anxious to publish The Lord of
the Rings as soon as possible. I believe it to be a great (though not flawless) work. Let other things
follow as they may. But as the expense of typing proved prohibitive, I had to do it all myself, and
there is only one (more or less) fair copy in existence. I dare not consign that to the post, and in any
case I am now going to devote some days to correcting it finally. For this purpose, I am retiring
tomorrow from the noise and stench of Holywell to my son's cottage on Chiltern-top while he is
away with his children.1.... I shall return on September 10th. After that I could call with my burden
at Museum Street2 on some date convenient to you .... or, if that is not asking too much, you could
call on me (as you so kindly suggest might be possible). ....
I have recently made some tape-recordings of pans of the Hobbit and The Lord (notably the
Gollum-passages and some pieces of 'Elvish') and was much surprised to discover their
effectiveness as recitations, and (if I may say so) my own effectiveness as a narrator, I do a very
pretty Gollum and Treebeard. Could not the BBC be interested? The tape-reel is in the possession
of George Sayer (English Master at Malvern) and I am sure he would forward it for your or anyone
else's trial. It was unrehearsed and impromptu and could be improved.3
I should love to come to London, if only for the purpose of seeing you and meeting your wife.
But I am cutting even the 'seventh International Congress of Linguists' (Sept 1), of which I am an
official – time is so miserably short, and I am tired. I have on my plate not only the 'great works',
but the overdue professional work I was finishing up at Cambridge (edition of the Ancrene Wisse);
the W. P. Ker lecture at Glasgow; Sir Gawain; and new lectures! But your continued interest cheers
me. I have a constant 'fan-mail' from all over the English-speaking world for 'more' – curiously
enough often for 'more about the Necromancer', which the Lord certainly fulfils.
135 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 24 October 1952
[Rayner Unwin visited Tolkien at Oxford on 19 September, and the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings
was given to him by Tolkien shortly afterwards. On 23 October, Rayner Unwin reported that, according to a
printer's estimate, the book would have to be priced at £3.10s. (at least) in order to recover its costs, and that
the price would be even higher if it were divided into two volumes. He had now sent the manuscript to
another printer, and was waiting to hear if a cheaper estimate could be obtained.]
I regret very much (in some ways) having produced such a monster in such unpropitious days;
and I am very grateful to you for the trouble you are taking. But I hope very much that you will be
able before very long to say 'yea' or 'nay'. Uncertainty is a great weight on the heart. The thing
weighs on my mind, for I can neither dismiss it as a disaster and turn to other matters, nor get on
with it and things concerned with it (such as the maps).
£3.10.0 (or more) would certainly be a very big price for any book, even today. Were you to
contemplate publishing a monster at such a price, what number would you print? And how many
must you sell to indemnify you, at the least? There are, of course, a larger number of people than
might be supposed who are avid of such fare; they are usually delighted with length, and sometimes
able to pay for it – esteeming one large book better than four small, and not surprised to find it 4
times as expensive as one small book. But I would not like to hazard a guess at their total numbers,
or the chance of making contact with them!
I am at last after three weeks incessant labour of the most exacting and dreariest sort, getting
into rather calmer water. I have shuffled off the Chairmanship of the Board, and concluded a
number of tasks, and now, barring lecturing and teaching, have only to face (before preparation for
Schools begins in February) examination of a tiresome thesis (on Fairy Tales!), reading and editing
a monograph for a series, producing a contribution to 'Essays and Studies' by December 2nd,1
completing my edition of Ancrene Wisse, and writing the W. P. Ker Lecture for Glasgow.2 And also
(if I can) finding somewhere else to live and moving! This charming house has become
uninhabitable – unsleepable-in, unworkable-in, rocked, racked with noise, and drenched with
fumes. Such is modern life. Mordor in our midst. And I regret to note that the billowing cloud
recently pictured did not mark the fall of Barad-dur, but was produced by its allies – or at least by
persons who have decided to use the Ring for their own (of course most excellent) purposes.3
136 To Rayner Unwin
[Allen & Unwin decided to publish The Lord of the Rings in three volumes, priced at twenty-one shillings
each. Tolkien's contract stipulated that the manuscript of the book should be delivered, ready for the printer,
by 25 March 1953. The publishers had also asked him to write a description of the book for publicity
purposes, in not more than a hundred words.]
24 March 1953
99 Holywell, Oxford
Dear Rayner,
I have intended for some time to write to you, as the 'contract day', 25 March, steadily drew
nearer, and found me still enmeshed in troubles that gathered upon me the moment I had signed.
And here I am on the eve.
In brief what has happened to me is above all my wife's increasing ill health, which has
involved me in various distresses since November. On a doctor's ultimatum I was obliged to spend
most of what time I could spare from duties in finding and negotiating for the purchase of a house
on high dry soil and in the quiet. I am in fact now in 'articule mortis', or it almost feels like that – in
fact in the very act of a household-removal. Nothing could be more disastrous. In addition the ill
will of Mordor decreed that I myself should lose most of the vital Christmas Vacation being ill.
There was no chink in the armour of last term; and I am now still involved as chairman in
controlling the setting of all the honours English papers for June, and a week behind at that.
I am afraid I must ask for your lenience in the matter of the date. But I see some hope in your
letter, since it appears that the first 2 books would suffice to keep the ball rolling. I practically
completed a detailed revision of these before disasters overtook me; and I can let you have them by
the end of this month.
Would it be useful if I sent now at once the first book (the longest of all), which is quite ready,
and is matched by a spare corrected copy? If you care to wire or phone me, I could despatch Book I
I am v. sorry to be a nuisance; but you may guess how painful it is to me that what should be a
labour of delight should have been transformed into a nightmare, by the gathering upon 1953 of so
many duties and troubles.
Between 23 April and June 171 hope to have enough leisure to put the bulk of the later books
(which need little revision) into order, so as not to hold things up once started. But I go into a tunnel
of examinations from I7 June to 27 July which will give me 12 hours work a day. After that I shall
lift my battered head, I hope. I am resigning from Exams anyway; but I could not get out of it this
If you could give me any hints as to what your publicity department requires, it would help my
battered wits. How can I describe the book clearly and emphasize its special interest in a hundred
words? Perhaps I could get someone else who has read it, like C.S.L., to help? ....
Yours ever
J. R. R. Tolkien.
P.S. I have given some thought to the matter of sub-titles for the volumes, which you thought were
desirable. But I do not find it easy, as the 'books', though they must be grouped in pairs, are not
really paired; and the middle pair (III/IV) are not really related.
Would it not do if the 'book-titles' were used: e.g. The Lord of the Rings: Vol. I The Ring Sets
out and The Ring Goes South; Vol. II The Treason of Isengard, and The Ring goes East; Vol. III
The War of the Ring, and The End of the Third Age'?1
If not, I can at the moment think of nothing better than : I The Shadow Grows II The Ring in
the Shadow III The War of the Ring or The Return of the King. JRRT.
137 To Rayner Unwin
11 April 1953
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Rayner,
I am extremely sorry that it is already eleven days after the end of the month (March)! But I
have had a very bad time indeed, far worse even than I feared. In spite of every care the move
proved disastrously dislocating, and instead of two days I have spent ten in endless labour; and I
still cannot lay my hands on many papers and notes that I need. In addition things have gone wrong
with the examination business which is under my unhappy charge; and I leave on Tuesday morning
for Glasgow to deliver a W. P. Ker Lecture which is still only half prepared.
I have at last completed the revision for press – I hope to the last comma – of Part I : The
Return of the Shadow : of The Lord of the Rings, Books I and II. I have unfortunately missed the
posts today; but I will send the MSS off in two packets on Monday.
I am sending in the original Foreword, which of course need not be printed yet, since I cannot
find my note of the additions or alterations which you thought would be required in view of the
publication of the work in three volumes. Also, the matter of 'appendices' at the end of volume III,
after the final and rather short sixth 'book', has not been decided. It is no good promising things that
are not going actually to appear; but I very much hope that precisely what is here promised, in
however reduced a form, will in fact prove possible.1
I am not at this time returning, re-drawn, the design required in Book II Ch. iv,2 since I have not
had a chance to re-draw it. But I will attend to that as soon as it is needed.*
As for the 'facsimiles' of the burned and torn pages of the Runic Book, originally planned to
appear at the beginning of Book II Ch. v,3 I am retaining them for the present. I think their
disappearance is regrettable; but in spite of what you have said, I think line-blocks are for this
purpose impracticable. A page each is required, or the things will be too illegible to be interesting
(or too unveracious to be worth inclusion). I earnestly hope it may be found possible to include
them in the 'appendix'.
I shall not make such heavy weather with the remainder of the work. The first two books were
written first a very long time ago, have been often altered, and needed a close consideration of the
whole to bring them into line. As a result the later parts are nearly done; and two more books can
follow as soon as you want them (that is, Vol. II). Can you give me any idea when anything will be
likely to need my attention, such as proofs or what not? After such long delays I, of course desire
nothing more than to press on, once publication has begun. But I am horribly trammelled this year. I
shall have a little elbow-room until about the 20th of June; after that no time at all for anything but
exam-scripts until about August 1. I shall then be tired, but my time will be free (more or less)
during August and September.
Maps are worrying me. One at least (which would then have to be rather large) is absolutely
essential. I think three are needed: 1. Of the Shire; 2. Of Gondor; and 3. A general small-scale map
of the whole field of action. They exist, of course; though not in any form fit for reproduction – for
of course in such a story one cannot make a map for the narrative, but must first make a map and
make the narrative agree. 3 is needed throughout. 1 is needed in the first volume and the last. 2 is
essential in vols II and III. Shall I try and draw them in suitable form as soon as ever I can, and let
you have them for the consideration of the Production Department?
Well, now I must, as usual, forcibly break my concentration for a while and turn to something
else: in this case the moralitas of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.4
But I see I have forgotten the matter of Publicity. To save me a separate letter would you be so
kind as to apologize to the Department, if I seemed rather rude? I was much bothered when I
received their letter. I tried to do something, without much success, even though I took about 300
words. The result, such as it is, I now send. If it is legible, it might be of some use.
'That is, I will draw it as much better as my little skill allows, in black. But it should of course properly appear in
white line on a black background, since it represents a silver line in the darkness. How does that appeal to the
Production Department?
I also applied to my friend George Sayer, English Master at Malvern, as the most normal reader
and liker of the work that I could think of; and he sent in a blurb of 95 words. I send you his letter
and the blurb – not that it will do, but perhaps a phrase or two might serve, and it may give a hint of
what such folk as like this sort of thing like in The Lord of the Rings. He surprised me. I did not
think he would be overheated! But though 'greatest living poet' is absurd, at least I am comforted in
the thought that the verses are up to standard, and are (as I think) adequate and in place; though C.
S. Lewis regards them as on the whole poor, regrettable, and out of place. When I tried once to
explain briefly to a friend what it was all about, I found that with the exercise of severe economy I
took 41 pages and 10,000 words.5 He was sufficiently interested to get the thing typed. You might
like to see it sometime; and den again you moutn't.
With many thanks, and best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
138 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 4 August 1953
[Galley-proofs of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings were sent to Tolkien in mid-July.]
The galleys are proving rather a bore! There seem such an endless lot of them ; and they have
put me very much out of conceit with pans of the Great Work, which seems, I must confess, in print
very long-winded in parts. But the printing is very good, as it ought to be from an almost faultless
copy; except that the impertinent compositors have taken it upon themselves to correct, as they
suppose, my spelling and grammar: altering throughout dwarves to dwarfs; elvish to elfish; further
to farther; and worst of all, elven – to elfin. I let off my irritation in a snorter to A. and U. which
produced a grovel.
139 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 August 1953
[Rayner Unwin told Tolkien that it would be desirable to have a separate title for each of the three volumes
of The Lord of the Rings, and referred Tolkien to his own letter of 24 March, which made suggestions for
sub-titles for the various parts.]
I wrote in rather a hurry in the Spring, and did not take a copy of my letter of 24 March. If I
could have it back, or a copy, it would help me. I am, however, opposed to having separate titles for
each of the volumes, and no over-all title. The Lord of the Rings is a good over-all title, I think, but
it is not applicable specially to Volume I, indeed it is probably least suited to that volume. Except
possibly in the matter of cost, I cannot see the objection to:
The Lord of the Rings.
I The Return of the Shadow.
" " " " "
II The Shadow Lengthens.
" " " " "
III The Return of the King.
It is, surely, only by the use of a single over-all title that the confusion that you speak of can be
certainly avoided.
I am not wedded to any of the suggested sub-titles; and wish they could be avoided. For it is
really impossible to devise ones that correspond to the contents; since the division into two 'books'
per volume is purely a matter of convenience with regard to length, and has no relation to the
rhythm or ordering of the narrative. ....
What is the position about the reproduction of the burned pages of the 'Book of Mazarbul'
belonging to the opening of Chapter V of the second book? The text as it stands is rather pointless
without them. I still hold the original 'facsimiles'. I also hold the drawing of the secret door, which
is required to face, or to be included in the text, corresponding to the bottom of Galley 98, towards
the end of Chapter IV of the second book. I shall attempt to re-draw and improve that and send it
along as soon as possible, as I have now finished the correction of the galleys on the rough sheets.
I am sorry I have delayed the re-drawing of the essential maps; but I really have not had a day
off from drudgery. I am turning to them at once.
140 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 17 August 1953
[This letter, typed with a red ribbon, was sent immediately after Rayner Unwin had visited Tolkien.]
It was extremely kind of you to come and see me and clear things up. It was only after I had
seen you on to the bus that I recollected that you had in the end never had any beer or other
refreshment. I am sorry. Very much below hobbit standards, my behaviour, I am afraid.
I now suggest as titles of the volumes, under the over-all title The Lord of the Rings: Vol. I The
Fellowship of the Ring. Vol. II The Two Towers. Vol. III The War of the Ring (or, if you still
prefer that: The Return of the King).
The Fellowship of the Ring will do, I think; and fits well with the fact that the last chapter of
the Volume is The Breaking of the Fellowship. The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding
a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 and 4; and can be left ambiguous – it might refer to
Isengard and Barad-dûr, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol.1 On reflection I
prefer for Vol. III The War of the Ring, since it gets in the Ring again; and also is more noncommittal, and gives less hint about the turn of the story : the chapter titles have been chosen also to
give away as little as possible in advance. But I am not set in my choice.
Reconsidering our conversation: I doubt if red letters are now sufficiently important for the
fire-letters of the Ring in Book I ch. 2 (Galley 15) to be worth the expense of alteration. I think it
would be a good thing to have the last Runic page of the Book of Mazarbul (Book II ch. 5)
reproduced, as a frontispiece (?). The last page because, though less well forged, perhaps, it closely
concerns the actual narrative.
I will bring in person the Copy for Vol. II on September the 1st. It already seems pretty well in
order. I am now turning to the Maps – and the Foreword.
Excuse red: it does not represent any fiery emotion. Mere economy. I now type such a lot for
my hand's sake that type-reels are a consideration; and the red on this one is hardly used!
141 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 9 October 1953
The Maps. I am stumped. Indeed in a panic. They are essential; and urgent; but I just cannot get
them done. I have spent an enormous amount of time on them without profitable result. Lack of
skill combined with being harried. Also the shape and proportions of "The Shire' as described in the
tale cannot (by me) be made to fit into shape of a page; nor at that size be contrived to be
informative. ....
I feel that the maps ought to be done properly. The 'burned manuscripts', which readers had
found engaging, have disappeared, – making the text of Book ii, Ch. 5 at the beginning rather
absurd, and losing the Runes which seem a great attraction to readers of all ages (such as are foolish
enough to read this kind of thing at all). Even at a little cost there should be picturesque maps,
providing more than a mere index to what is said in the text. I could do maps suitable to the text. It
is the attempt to cut them down and omitting all their colour (verbal and otherwise) to reduce them
to black and white bareness, on a scale so small that hardly any names can appear, that has stumped
142 To Robert Murray, SJ.
[Father Roben Murray, grandson of Sir James Murray (the founder of the Oxford English Dictionary) and a
close friend of the Tolkien family, had read pan of The Lord of the Rings in galley-proofs and typescript,
and had, at Tolkien's instigation, sent comments and criticism. He wrote that the book left him with a strong
sense of 'a positive compatibility with the order of Grace', and compared the image of Galadriel to that of the
Virgin Mary. He doubted whether many critics would be able to make much of the book – 'they will not
have a pigeon-hole neatly labelled for it'.]
2 December 1953
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
My dear Rob,
It was wonderful to get a long letter from you this morning..... I am sorry if casual words of
mine have made you labour to criticize my work. But, to tell you the truth, though praise (or what is
not quite the same thing, and better, expressions of pleasure) is pleasant, I have been cheered
specially by what you have said, this time and before, because you are more perceptive, especially
in some directions, than any one else, and have even revealed to me more clearly some things about
my work. I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your
references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and
simplicity is founded. The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic
work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or
have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the
imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism. However
that is very clumsily put, and sounds more self-important than I feel. For as a matter of fact, I have
consciously planned very little; and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I
was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know; and that I owe to
my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young, largely through the hardships of poverty
resulting from it.
Certainly I have not been nourished by English Literature, in which I do not suppose I am better
read than you; for the simple reason that I have never found much there in which to rest my heart
(or heart and head together). I was brought up in the Classics, and first discovered the sensation of
literary pleasure in Homer. Also being a philologist, getting a large part of any aesthetic pleasure
that I am capable of from the form of words (and especially from the fresh association of word-form
with word-sense), I have always best enjoyed things in a foreign language, or one so remote as to
feel like it (such as Anglo-Saxon). But that is enough about me.
I am afraid it is only too likely to be true: what you say about the critics and the public. I am
dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart
to be shot at. I think the publishers are very anxious too; and they are very keen that as many people
as possible should read advance copies, and form a sort of opinion before the hack critics get busy.
I was sorry to hear that you are now without a 'cello, after having got some way (I am told) with
that lovely and difficult instrument. Anyone who can play a stringed instrument seems to me a
wizard worthy of deep respect. I love music, but have no aptitude for it; and the efforts spent on
trying to teach me the fiddle in youth, have left me only with a feeling of awe in the presence of
fiddlers. Slavonic languages are for me almost in the same category. I have had a go at many
tongues in my time, but I am in no ordinary sense a 'linguist'; and the time I once spent on trying to
learn Serbian and Russian have left me with no practical results, only a strong impression of the
structure and word-aesthetic. ....
Please forgive the apparent unfriendliness of type! My typing does not improve. Except in
speed. I am now much faster than with my laborious hand, which has to be spared as it quickly gets
tired and painful. I have no doubt that you will also be hearing shortly from Edith. With much love
to you Ronald Tolkien.
143 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 22 January 1954
I am sending now Book III, first half of Vol. II, carefully corrected. Book IV is nearly done and
shall follow on Monday.
I have also revised Vol. III and can let you have the MS. of that (as far as the end of the story)
as soon as you wish. The matter for the extra 50 pages1 I shall not be able to do just yet.
I am not at all happy about the title 'the Two Towers'. It must if there is any real reference in it
to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the
basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading. There is, of
course, actually no real connecting link between Books III and IV, when cut off and presented
separately as a volume.
144 To Naomi Mitchison
[Mrs Mitchison had been reading page-proofs of the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, and wrote
to Tolkien with a number of questions about the book.]
25 April 1954
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mrs. Mitchison,
It has been both rude and ungrateful of me not to have acknowledged, or to have thanked you
for past letters, gifts, and remembrances – all the more so, since your interest has, in fact, been a
great comfort to me, and encouragement in the despondency that not unnaturally accompanies the
labours of actually publishing such a work as The Lord of the Rings.
But it is most unfortunate that this has coincided with a period of exceptionally heavy labours
and duties in other functions, so that I have been at times almost distracted.
I will try and answer your questions. I may say that they are very welcome. I like things worked
out in detail myself, and answers provided to all reasonable questions. Your letter will, I hope,
guide me in choosing the kind of information to be provided (as promised) in an appendix, and
strengthen my hand with the publishers. Since the third volume will be rather slimmer than the
second (events move quicker, and less explanations are needed), there will, I believe be a certain
amount of room for such matter. My problem is not the difficulty of providing it, but of choosing
from the mass of material I have already composed.
There is of course a clash between 'literary' technique, and the fascination of elaborating in
detail an imaginary mythical Age (mythical, not allegorical: my mind does not work allegorically).
As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an
explanation actually exists); and I have perhaps from this point of view erred in trying to explain
too much, and give too much past history. Many readers have, for instance, rather stuck at the
Council of Elrond. And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are.
Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).
But as much further history (backwards) as anyone could desire actually exists in the
Silmarillion and related stories and poems, composing the History of the Eldar (Elves). I believe
that in the event (which seems much to hope) of sufficient people being interested in the Lord of the
Rings to pay for the cost of its publication, the gallant publishers may consider printing some of
that. It was actually written first, and I wished to have the matter issued in historical order, which
would have saved a lot of allusion and explanation in the present book. But I could not get it
The third volume was of course completed years ago, as far as the tale goes. I have finished
such revision, as seemed necessary, and it will go to be set up almost at once. In the meanwhile I
am giving what fragments of time I have to making compressed versions of such historical,
ethnographical, and linguistic matter as can go in the Appendix. If it will interest you, I will send
you a copy (rather rough) of the matter dealing with Languages (and Writing), Peoples and
The latter has given me much thought. It seems seldom regarded by other creators of imaginary
worlds, however gifted as narrators (such as Eddison). But then I am a philologist, and much though
I should like to be more precise on other cultural aspects and features, that is not within my
competence. Anyway 'language' is the most important, for the story has to be told, and the dialogue
conducted in a language; but English cannot have been the language of any people at that time.
What I have, in fact done, is to equate the Westron or wide-spread Common Speech of the Third
Age with English; and translate everything, including names such as The Shire, that was in the
Westron into English terms, with some differentiation of style to represent dialectal differences.
Languages quite alien to the C.S. have been left alone. Except for a few scraps in the Black Speech
of Mordor, and a few names and a battle-cry in Dwarvish, these are almost entirely Elvish
Languages, however, that were related to the Westron presented a special problem. I turned
them into forms of speech related to English. Since the Rohirrim are represented as recent comers
out of the North, and users of an archaic Mannish language relatively untouched by the influence of
Eldarin, I have turned their names into forms like (but not identical with) Old English. The
language of Dale and the Long Lake would, if it appeared, be represented as more or less
Scandinavian in character; but it is only represented by a few names, especially those of the
Dwarves that came from that region. These are all Old Norse Dwarf-names.
(Dwarves are represented as keeping their own native tongue more or less secret, and using for
all 'outer' purposes the language of the people they dwelt near; they never reveal their own 'true'
personal names in their own tongue.)
The Westron or C.S. is supposed to be derived from the Mannish Adunaic language of the
Númenóreans, spreading from the Númenórean Kingdoms in the days of the Kings, and especially
from Gondor, where it remains spoken in nobler and rather more antique style (a style also usually
adopted by the Elves when they use this language). But all the names in Gondor, except for a few of
supposedly prehistoric origin, are of Elvish form, since the Númenórean nobility still used an Elvish
language, or could. This was because they had been allies of the Elves in the First Age, and had for
that reason been granted the Atlantis isle of Númenor.
Two of the Elvish tongues appear in this book. They have some sort of existence, since I have
composed them in some completeness, as well as their history and account of their relationship.
They are intended (a) to be definitely of a European kind in style and structure (not in detail); and
(b) to be specially pleasant. The former is not difficult to achieve; but the latter is more difficult,
since individuals' personal predilections, especially in the phonetic structure of languages, varies
widely, even when modified by the imposed languages (including their so-called 'native' tongue).
I have therefore pleased myself. The archaic language of lore is meant to be a kind of 'Elvenlatin', and by transcribing it into a spelling closely resembling that of Latin (except that y is only
used as a consonant, as y in E. Yes) the similarity to Latin has been increased ocularly. Actually it
might be said to be composed on a Latin basis with two other (main) ingredients that happen to give
me 'phonaesthetic' pleasure: Finnish and Greek. It is however less consonantal than any of the three.
This language is High-elven or in its own terms Quenya (Elvish).
The living language of the Western Elves (Sindarin or Grey-elven) is the one usually met,
especially in names. This is derived from an origin common to it and Quenya; but the changes have
been deliberately devised to give it a linguistic character very like (though not identical with)
British-Welsh: because that character is one that I find, in some linguistic moods, very attractive;
and because it seems to fit the rather 'Celtic' type of legends and stories told of its speakers.
'Elves' is a translation, not perhaps now very suitable, but originally good enough, of Quendi.
They are represented as a race similar in appearance (and more so the further back) to Men, and in
former days of the same stature. I will not here go into their differences from Men ! But I suppose
that the Quendi are in fact in these histories very little akin to the Elves and Fairies of Europe; and
if I were pressed to rationalize, I should say that they represent really Men with greatly enhanced
aesthetic and creative faculties, greater beauty and longer life, and nobility – the Elder Children,
doomed to fade before the Followers (Men), and to live ultimately only by the thin line of their
blood that was mingled with that of Men, among whom it was the only real claim to 'nobility'.
They are represented as having become early divided in to two, or three, varieties. 1. The Eldar
who heard the summons of the Valar or Powers to pass from Middle-earth over the Sea to the West;
and 2. the Lesser Elves who did not answer it. Most of the Eldar after a great march reached the
Western Shores and passed over Sea; these were the High Elves, who became immensely enhanced
in powers and knowledge. But part of them in the event remained in the coast-lands of the Northwest: these were the Sindar or Grey-elves. The lesser Elves hardly appear, except as part of the
people of The Elf-realm; of Northern Mirkwood, and of Lorien, ruled by Eldar; their languages do
not appear.
The High Elves met in this book are Exiles, returned back over Sea to Middle-earth, after
events which are the main matter of the Silmarillion, part of one of the main kindreds of the Eldar:
the Noldor* (Masters of Lore). Or rather a last remnant of these. For the Silmarillion proper and the
First Age ended with the destruction of the primeval Dark Power (of whom Sauron was a mere
lieutenant), and the rehabilitation of the Exiles, who returned again over Sea. Those who lingered
were those who were enamoured of Middle-earth and yet desired the unchanging beauty of the
Land of the Valar. Hence the making of the Rings; for the Three Rings were precisely endowed
with the power of preservation, not of birth. Though unsullied, because they were not made by
Sauron nor touched by him, they were nonetheless partly products of his instruction, and ultimately
under the control of the One. Thus, as you will see, when the One goes, the last defenders of Highelven lore and beauty are shorn of power to hold back time, and depart.
I am sorry about the Geography. It must have been dreadfully difficult without a map or maps.
There will be in volume I a map of part of the Shire, and a small-scale general map of the whole
scene of action and reference (of which the map at the end of The Hobbit is the N.E. corner). These
have been drawn from my less elegant maps by my son Christopher, who is learned in this lore. But
I have only had one proof and that had to go back. I wisely started with a map, and made the story
fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and
impossibilities, and in any case it is weary work to compose a map from a story — as I fear you
have found.
I cannot send you my own working maps; but perhaps these very rough and not entirely
accurate drafts, made hurriedly at various times for readers, would be of some assistance. ....
Perhaps when you have done with these MS. maps or made some notes you would not mind
sending them back. I shall find them useful in making some more; but I cannot get to that yet. I may
say that my son's maps are beautifully clear, as far as reduction in reproduction allows; but they do
not contain everything, alas!
Some stray answers. Dragons. They had not stopped; since they were active in far later times,
close to our own. Have I said anything to suggest the final ending of dragons? If so it should be
altered. The only passage I can think of is Vol. I p. 70 : 'there is not now any dragon left on earth in
which the old fire is hot enough'. But that implies, I think, that there are still dragons, if not of full
primeval stature. I have a long historical table of events from the Beginning to the End of the Third
Age. It is rather full; but I agree that a short form, containing events important for this tale would be
useful. If you would care for typed copies of some of this material: eg. The Rings of Power; The
Downfall of Númenor; the Lists of the Heirs of Elendil; the House of Eorl (Genealogy); Genealogy
of Durin and the Dwarf-lords of Moria; and The Tale of the Years (esp. those of the Second and
Third Ages), I will try and get copies made soon. ....
Orcs (the word is as far as I am concerned actually derived from Old English orc 'demon', but
only because of its phonetic suitability) are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin. But
since they are servants of the Dark Power, and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, or would,
produce living things, they must be 'corruptions'. They are not based on direct experience of mine;
but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit,
where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the
soft feet which I never believed in. The name has the form orch (pl. yrch) in Sindarin and uruk in
the Black Speech.
The Black Speech was only used in Mordor; it only occurs in the Ring inscription, and a
sentence uttered by the Orcs of Barad-dûr (Vol. II p. 48)1 and in the word Nazgûl (cf. nazg in the
Ring inscription). It was never used willingly by any other people, and consequently even the
names of places in Mordor are in English (for the C.S.) or Elvish. Morannon is just the Elvish for
Black Gate; cf. Mordor Black Land, Mor-ia Black Chasm, Mor-thond Black-root (river-name).
Rohir-rim is the Elvish (Gondorian) name for the people that called themselves Riders of the Mark
or Eorlings. The formation is not meant to resemble Hebrew. The Eldarin languages distinguish in
forms and use between a 'partitive' or 'particular' plural, and the general or total plural. Thus yrch
'orcs, some orcs, des orques' occurs in vol I pp. 359,402; the Orcs, as a race, or the whole of a group
N = ng as in ding.
previously mentioned would have been orchoth. In Grey-elven the general plurals were very
frequently made by adding to a name (or a place-name) some word meaning 'tribe, host, horde,
people'. So Haradrim the Southrons: Q. rimbe, S. rim, host; Onod-rim the Ents. The Rohirrim is
derived from roch (Q. rokko) horse, and the Elvish stem kher- 'possess'; whence Sindarin Rochir
'horse-lord', and Rochir-rim 'the host of the Horse-lords'. In the pronunciation of Gondor the ch (as
in German, Welsh, etc) had been softened to a sounded h; so in Rochann 'Hippia' to Rohan.
Beorn is dead; see vol. I p. 241. He appeared in The Hobbit. It was then the year Third Age
2940 (Shire-reckoning 1340). We are now in the years 3018-19 (1418-19). Though a skin-changer
and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man.
Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance
as a 'comment'. I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in
the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I
would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he
did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side,
and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with
consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides
in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were
taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without
reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the
rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of
power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a
war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that
there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless
depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to
survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.
He has no connexion in my mind with the Entwives. What had happened to them is not
resolved in this book. He is in a way the answer to them in the sense that he is almost the opposite,
being say, Botany and Zoology (as sciences) and Poetry as opposed to Cattle-breeding and
Agriculture and practicality.
I think that in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in
the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429-3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy
and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin (vol. II p. 79 refers to it2).
They survived only in the 'agriculture' transmitted to Men (and Hobbits). Some, of course, may
have fled east, or even have become enslaved: tyrants even in such tales must have an economic
and agricultural background to their soldiers and metal-workers. If any survived so, they would
indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any rapprochement would be difficult – unless
experience of industrialized and militarized agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope
so. I don't know.
Hobbit-children were delightful, but I am afraid that the only glimpses of them in this book are
found at the beginning of vol. I. An epilogue giving a further glimpse (though of a rather
exceptional family) has been so universally condemned that I shall not insert it. One must stop
Yes, Sam Gamgee is in a sense a relation of Dr. Gamgee, in that his name would not have taken
that form, if I had not heard of 'Gamgee tissue'; there was I believe a Dr. Gamgee (no doubt of the
kin) in Birmingham when I was a child. The name was any way always familiar to me. Gaffer
Gamgee arose first: he was a legendary character to my children (based on a real-life gaffer, not of
that name). But, as you will find explained, in this tale the name is a 'translation' of the real Hobbit
name, derived from a village (devoted to rope-making) anglicized as Gamwich (pron. Gammidge),
near Tighfield (see vol. II p. 217).3 Since Sam was close friends of the family of Cotton (another
village-name), I was led astray into the Hobbit-like joke of spelling Gamwichy Gamgee, though I
do not think that in actual Hobbit-dialect the joke really arose.
There are no precise opposites to the Wizards – a translation (perhaps not suitable, but
throughout distinguished from other 'magician' terms) of Q. Elvish Istari. Their origin was not
known to any but a few (such as Elrond and Galadriel) in the Third Age. They are said to have first
appeared about the year 1000 of the Third Age, when the shadow of Sauron began first to grow
again to new shape. They always appeared old, but grew older with their labours, slowly, and
disappeared with the end of the Rings. They were thought to be Emissaries (in the terms of this tale
from the Far West beyond the Sea), and their proper function, maintained by Gandalf, and perverted
by Saruman, was to encourage and bring out the native powers of the Enemies of Sauron. Gandalf's
opposite was, strictly, Sauron, in one part of Sauron's operations; as Aragorn was in another.
The Balrog is a survivor from the Silmarillion and the legends of the First Age. So is Shelob.
The Balrogs, of whom the whips were the chief weapons, were primeval spirits of destroying fire,
chief servants of the primeval Dark Power of the First Age. They were supposed to have been all
destroyed in the overthrow of Thangorodrim, his fortress in the North. But it is here found (there is
usually a hang-over especially of evil from one age to another) that one had escaped and taken
refuge under the mountains of Hithaeglin (the Misty Mountains). It is observable that only the Elf
knows what the thing is – and doubtless Gandalf.
Shelob (English representing C.S 'she-lob' = female spider) is a translation of Elvish Ungol
'spider'. She is represented in vol. II p. 332 as descendant of the giant spiders of the glens of
Nandungorthin, which come into the legends of the First Age, especially into the chief of them, the
tale of Beren and Lúthien. This is constantly referred to, since as Sam points out (vol. II p. 321)4
this history is in a sense only a further continuation of it. Both Elrond (and his daughter Arwen
Undómiel, who resembles Lúthien closely in looks and fate) are descendants of Beren and Lúthien;
and so at very many more removes is Aragorn. The giant spiders were themselves only the
offspring of Ungoliante the primeval devourer of light, that in spider-form assisted the Dark Power,
but ultimately quarrelled with him. There is thus no alliance between Shelob and Sauron, the Dark
Power's deputy; only a common hatred.
Galadriel is as old, or older than Shelob. She is the last remaining of the Great among the High
Elves, and 'awoke' in Eldamar beyond the Sea, long before Ungoliante came to Middle-earth and
produced her broods there. ....
Well, after a long silence you have evoked a fairly long reply. Not too long, I hope, even for
such delightful and encouraging interest. I am deeply grateful for it; and I hope all staying at
Carradale5 will accept my thanks.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
145 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 13 May 1954
[Tolkien had been sent the Houghton Mifflin Co.'s draft for the 'blurbs' on the dust-jackets of the American
edition of The Lord of the Rings. He was also shown a set of opinions of the book which Allen & Unwin
proposed to cite on the jacket of the British edition. In these, C. S. Lewis was quoted as comparing the book
favourably with Ariosto, Richard Hughes remarked that nothing had been attempted on the same scale since
The Faerie Queene, and Naomi Mitchison called Tolkien's story 'super science fiction'. Rayner Unwin also
gave Tolkien news of the birth of his son, Merlin – a name that he suggested was more appropriate for a
child than 'Gandalf'.]
Thank you for sending me the projected 'blurbs', which I return. The Americans are not as a
rule at all amenable to criticism or correction; but I think their effort is so poor that I feel
constrained to make some effort to improve it, though without much more hope of effect than in the
case of the appalling jacket they produced for The Hobbit. I enclose a page of suggestions, which
you might perhaps send on to Houghton Mifflin. ....
May I beg of you earnestly to try and make the publication July? I think it would be a pity to let
the enthusiasm go off the boil. I also think that July is much the better date for many, especially
scholastics and academics, who in July begin to lift up their heads and in September begin to bow
them again under a load of cares. But I have some cogent private reasons. One of them is that I am
particularly anxious that Vol. I should be in public existence before I arrive in Dublin to take the
degree of D. Litt. on July 20 at the centenary celebrations. (Though the Irish have not much money
for such expensive books, you might get Dublin to take a copy or two on the strength of the
celebrations !)
It never rains but it pours (as I am sure Mr Butterbur must have said), and I am going to get a
doctorale at Liége on October 2nd; but I suppose that Vol. I will be out at least before then. ....
I am pleased to find that the preliminary opinions are so good, though I feel that comparisons
with Spenser, Malory, and Ariosto (not to mention super Science Fiction) are too much for my
vanity! I showed your draft to Geoffrey Mure (Warden), who was being tiresome this morning and
threatening to eject me from my room in favour of a mere tutor. He was visibly shaken, and
evidently did not know before what the college had been harbouring. He went so far as to say that
Merton seemed to be doing well, though he doubted if I should get quite into the Roger Bannister
class.1 Anyway my stock went up sufficiently to obtain me an even better room, even at the cost of
ejecting one so magnificent as the Steward. So if you have any more appreciations which I have not
seen, please let me have a look at them. I promise not to become like Mr Toad.....
I am delighted to hear that all is going well. This is the second Merlin with whom I am
acquainted. Professor Turville Petre's second son bears the names Merlin Oswald (not an AngloWelsh rapprochement; I think the Oswald is parental and grand-parental). I am sure you are right:
Gandalf was of course always old. He was an Emissary, who had that shape from the first; but all
things wear in Middle-Earth, so that he got older before his task was done. Not a name for a child of
146 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 3 June 1954
[The Production Department had asked Tolkien to approve the design of the dust-jacket for The Lord of the
I wish that I could say that I approve of the proofs of the jacket, herewith returned. I do not. I
think they are very ugly indeed. But to be effective I should have been given an opportunity of
criticism at an earlier stage.
What the jacket looks like is, I think, of much less importance now than issuing the book as
soon as possible; and if I had had nothing to do with it, I should not much mind. But as the Ringmotif remains obviously mine (though made rather clumsier), I am likely to be suspected by the few
who concern me of having planned the whole.....
I tell you what I think, since I am asked: tasteless and depressing. But surely asking my opinion
is a formality. I do not suppose that any of my criticisms could be met without serious delay. I
would rather have the things as they are than cause any more delay. But if this can be done without
delay, I would like a different type for the title-lettering at least (on the page; the spine is passable).
147 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 15 June 1954
[The jacket of The Lord of the Rings was altered by the publishers in the light of Tolkien's comments in the
previous letter.]
It was a great moment yesterday when I received the advance copy of The Fellowship of the
Ring. The book itself is very presentable indeed.
I think the jacket is now much improved, and is rather striking. I like the grey paper used, and
much prefer it to the other colours. But the specimens of the jackets for II and III do bring home to
me the point, which I had not fully appreciated: the need for differentiation. Since the same device
is, for economy, to be used throughout, they do look too much alike; and choice of colour is perhaps
less important than distinction. But this could perhaps better be achieved by varying the colour of
the major lettering? Title and author in red?
I do not really myself mind at all, and leave it to you.
148 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 7 August 1954
[The first volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, was published on 29 July 1954.]
I am afraid there are still a number of 'misprints' in Vol. I! Including the one on p. 166. But
nasturtians is deliberate, and represents a final triumph over the high-handed printers. Jarrold's
appear to have a highly educated pedant as a chief proof-reader, and they started correcting my
English without reference to me: elfin for elven; farther tor further; try to say for try and say and so
on. I was put to the trouble of proving to him his own ignorance, as well as rebuking his
impertinence. So, though I do not much care, I dug my toes in about nasturtians. I have always said
this. It seems to be a natural anglicization that started soon after the 'Indian Cress' was naturalized
(from Peru, I think) in the 18th century; but it remains a minority usage. I prefer it because
nasturtium is, as it were, bogusly botanical, and falsely learned.
I consulted the college gardener to this effect: 'What do you call these things, gardener?'
'I calls them tropaeolum, sir.'
'But, when you're just talking to dons?'
'I says nasturtians, sir.'
'Not nasturtium?'
'No, sir; that's watercress.' And that seems to be the fact of botanical nomenclature. ....
It has been (and continues to be) a crushingly laborious year! So many things at once, each
needing exclusive attention. They are clamouring for Gawain.1 (It is being repeated next month.)
And I am struggling to select from all the mass of private stuff about the languages, scripts,
calendars and history of the Third Age, what may prove interesting to those who like that sort of
thing, and will go into the space (about 40 pages). Time runs on; for I have to go to Ireland again
about mid-Sept. and then on to Belgium, and then it will be term. ....
149 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 September 1954
[Reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring began to appear during August.]
As for the reviews they were a great deal better than I feared, and I think might have been better
still, if we had not quoted the Ariosto remark, or indeed got involved at all with the extraordinary
animosity that C.S.L. seems to excite in certain quarters. He warned me long ago that his support
might do me as much harm as good. I did not take it seriously, though in any case I should not have
wished other than to be associated with him – since only by his support and friendship did I ever
struggle to the end of the labour. All the same many commentators seem to have preferred
lampooning his remarks or his review to reading the book.
The (unavoidable) disadvantage of issuing in three pans has been shown in the 'shapelessness'
that several readers have found, since that is true if one volume is supposed to stand alone. 'Trilogy',
which is not really accurate, is partly to blame. There is too much 'hobbitry' in Vol. I taken by itself;
and several critics have obviously not got far beyond Chapter I.
I must say that I was unfortunate in coming into the hands of the D. Telegraph, during the
absence of Betjeman. My work is not in his line, but he at any rate is neither ignorant nor a gutterboy. Peter Green seems to be both. I do not know him or of him, but he is so rude as to make one
suspect malice.1 Though actually I think 'the cold in his head' made it more convenient for him to
use Edwin Muir in the Observer2 and Lambert in the S. Times,3 with a slight hotting up of the
I am most puzzled by the remarks on the style. I do not expect, and did not expect, many to be
amused by hobbits, or interested in the general story and its modes, but the discrepancy in the
judgements on the style (which one would have thought referable to standards independent of
personal liking) are very odd – from laudatory quotation to 'Boys Own Paper' (which has no one
I gather that you are not wholly dissatisfied. But there have been some very appreciative notices
apart from C.S.L. (who had the advantage of knowing the whole), though not usually in the high
places. Cherryman in Truth4 and Howard Spring in C. Life5 were pleasing to one's vanity, and also
Cherryman's ending: that he would turn eagerly to the second and third volumes! May others feel
the same!
Fawcett in the M. Guardian6 was complimentary in brief; and I was specially interested by a
long notice in the Oxford Times (by the editor himself)7 in being by one quite outside the ring, and
he seemed to have enjoyed himself. He sent an interviewer up, but what he will chum out for the O.
Mail this week I do not know. ....
Well, this letter is already inordinately long. In the midst of it Professor d'Ardenne of Liege has
arrived to harass me with philological work on which we are supposed to be engaged.
150 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 18 September 1954
I regret that I have not yet any copy to send in for the Appendices. All I can say is that I will do
my best to produce this before the end of the month. My trouble is indecision (and conflicting
advice) in selection from the too abundant matter. I have spent much ineffectual time on the attempt
to satisfy the unfortunate promises of Vol. I p. 8.1
The Index has proceeded in rough form as far as the middle of Vol. II. The 'alphabets' reduced
to simplest form will need blocks. .... A map of the Gondor area is perhaps the most urgent. I am
hoping to get my son Christopher to produce one from my drafts, as soon as possible.
151 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 18 September 1954
If you want my opinion, a pan of the 'fascination' [of The Lord of the Rings] consists in the
vistas of yet more legend and history, to which this work does not contain a full clue. For the
present we had better leave it at that. If there is a fault in the work which I myself clearly perceive,
it is that I have perhaps overweighted Part I too much with attempts to depict the setting and
historical background in the course of the narrative. Of course, in actual fact, this background
already 'exists', that is, is written, and was written first. But I could not get it published, in
chronological order, until and unless a public could be found for the mixture of Elvish and
Númenórean legend with the Hobbits. ....
Your preference of goblins to orcs involves a large question and a matter of taste, and perhaps
historical pedantry on my pan. Personally I prefer Orcs (since these creatures are not 'goblins', not
even the goblins of George MacDonald, which they do to some extent resemble). Also I now deeply
regret having used Elves, though this is a word in ancestry and original meaning suitable enough.
But the disastrous debasement of this word, in which Shakespeare played an unforgiveable pan, has
really overloaded it with regrettable tones, which are too much to overcome. I hope in the
Appendices to Vol. III to be able to include a note 'On translation' in which the matter of
equivalences and my uses may be made clearly. My difficulty has been that, since I have tried to
present a kind of legendary and history of a 'forgotten epoch', all the specific terms were in a
foreign language, and no precise equivalents exist in English. ....
I am more than grateful to you for one thing: apart from one line in the Manchester Guardian no
one else has yet even referred to the fact that there are any verses in the book – or I think not. ....
Frodo is not intended to be another Bilbo. Though his opening style is not wholly un-kin. But
he is rather a study of a hobbit broken by a burden of fear and horror — broken down, and in the
end made into something quite different. None of the hobbits come out of it in pure Shire-fashion.
They wouldn't. But you have got Samwise Gamwichy (or Gamgee).
Middle-earth is just archaic English for ο κονµένη, the inhabited world of men. It lay
then as it does. In fact just as it does, round and inescapable. That is partly the point. The new
situation, established at the beginning of the Third Age, leads on eventually and inevitably to
ordinary History, and we here see the process culminating. If you or I or any of the mortal men (or
hobbits) of Frodo's day had set out over sea, west, we should, as now, eventually have come back
(as now) to our starting point. Gone was the 'mythological' time when Valinor (or Valimar), the
Land of the Valar (gods if you will) existed physically in the Uttermost West, or the Eldaic (Elvish)
immortal Isle of Eressëa; or the Great Isle of Westernesse (Númenor-Atlantis). After the Downfall
of Númenor, and its destruction, all this was removed from the 'physical' world, and not reachable
by material means. Only the Eldar (or High-Elves) could still sail thither, forsaking time and
mortality, but never returning.
Very many thanks for remembering the ageing Professor, and bracing him up with your letter. I
know 21/- is a frightful price, but don't forget that I have to sell an awful lot before the ghastly
expenses are paid off. The fact that I get not a halfpenny until that is done, does not matter so much,
as this: if enough are sold I may be able to publish more. So add to your great kindness in inducing
such as you can to beg borrow or steal a guinea rather than a copy!
Pictures are far too expensive, even if I had sufficent skill to do them and cut out artist's fees. I
tried, but alas! can only draw v. imperfectly what I can, and not what I see. The wrapper is all that
survived of three separate designs I made, one for each pan. Part I was to have been all black with
red and gold letters, and the three opposing rings: Narya (red), Vilya (blue), Nenya (white). . . . .1
But it was reduced; and the lovely (I thought) facsimiles of the 3 burned pages of the Book of
Mazarbul also vanished – so that folk could have the thing at the trifling cost of 21/-!
152 From a letter to Rayner Heppenstall, BBC 22 September 1954
[Tolkien's dramatic dialogue, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme
on 3 December 1954. Rayner Heppenstall, the producer, had asked Tolkien what 'dialect' the speakers
should adopt.]
As for the English dialogue no 'dialect' tone or rural quality is required at all. There is not
intended to be what we should call a difference of social standing between the two speakers. One
requires a younger lighter voice, and the other an older and deeper. The difference between them is
rather one of temper, and matter, than 'class'. The young minstrel bursts into formal verse, and so
uses an archaic style – as anyone would capable of verse at the time, and as Tidwald himself does
when he mocks Torhthelm.
It is not indicated what part of the country either came from. Torhthelm is in fact much more
likely to have come from the West Midlands, as did many who fell at Maldon. But in a period when
'dialect' merely marked place and not rank or function, and at any rate details of grammar and
vowels had no social implications, it would be best to avoid any modern rusticity. In any case any
modern East Anglian characteristics would be anachronistic, since they did not then exist – the
fusion of the Danish and English elements that eventually produced them was not yet accomplished.
And Essex of the East Saxons was (and is) a very different affair from the Northfolk and Southfolk.
153 To Peter Hastings (draft)
[Peter Hastings, manager of the Newman Bookshop (a Catholic bookshop in Oxford), wrote expressing
enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings, but asked if Tolkien had not 'over-stepped the mark in metaphysical
matters'. He gave several examples: first, 'Treebeard's statement that the Dark Lord created the Trolls and
the Orcs'. Hastings suggested that evil was incapable of creating anything, and argued that even if it could
create, its creatures 'could not have a tendency to good, even a very small one'; whereas, he argued, one of
the Trolls in The Hobbit, William, does have a feeling of pity for Bilbo. He also cited the description of
Bombadil by Goldberry: 'He is.' Hastings said that this seemed to imply that Bombadil was God. Hastings
was most of all concerned with the reincarnation of the Elves, which Tolkien had mentioned to him in a
conversation. He wrote of this: 'God has not used that device in any of the creations of which we have
knowledge, and it seems to me to be stepping beyond the position of a sub-creator to produce it as an actual
working thing, because a sub-creator, when dealing with the relations between creator and created, should
use those channels which he knows the creator to have used already..... "The Ring" is so good that it is a pity
to deprive it of its reality by over-stepping the bounds of a writer's job.' He also asked if the reincarnation of
the Elves did not produce practical problems: 'What happens to the descendants of a human and an elf who
marry?' And, on another matter, he asked how Sauron, given his extreme evil, could 'keep the co-operation
of the elves' until the time when the Rings of Power were forged.]
September 1954
Dear Mr Hastings,
Thank you very much for your long letter. I am sorry that I have not the time to answer it, as
fully as it deserves. You have at any rate paid me the compliment of taking me seriously; though I
cannot avoid wondering whether it is not 'too seriously', or in the wrong directions. The tale is after
all in the ultimate analysis a tale, a piece of literature, intended to have literary effect, and not real
history. That the device adopted, that of giving its setting an historical air or feeling, and (an
illusion of?) three dimensions, is successful, seems shown by the fact that several correspondents
have treated it in the same way – according to their different points of interest or knowledge: i.e. as
if it were a report of 'real' times and places, which my ignorance or carelessness had misrepresented
in places or failed to describe properly in others. Its economics, science, artefacts, religion, and
philosophy are defective, or at least sketchy.
I have, of course, already considered all the points that you raise. But to present my reflexions
to you (in other form) would take a book,* and any kind of real answer to your more profound
queries must at least wait till you have more in hand: Vol. III, for instance, not to mention the more
mythical histories of the Cosmogony, First, and Second Ages. Since the whole matter from
beginning to end is mainly concerned with the relation of Creation to making and sub-creation (and
subsidiarily with the related matter of 'mortality'), it must be clear that references to these things are
not casual, but fundamental: they may well be fundamentally 'wrong' from the point of view of
Reality (external reality). But they cannot be wrong inside this imaginary world, since that is how it
is made.
We differ entirely about the nature of the relation of sub-creation to Creation. I should have said
that liberation 'from the channels the creator is known to have used already' is the fundamental
function of 'sub-creation', a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety, one of the ways in which
indeed it is exhibited, as indeed I said in the Essay. I am not a metaphysician; but I should have
thought it a curious metaphysic – there is not one but many, indeed potentially innumerable ones –
that declared the channels known (in such a finite comer as we have any inkling of) to have been
used, are the only possible ones, or efficacious, or possibly acceptable to and by Him!
'Reincarnation' may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to
Humanity; and my legendarium, especially the 'Downfall of Númenor' which lies immediately
behind The Lord of the Rings, is based on my view: that Men are essentially mortal and must not try
to become 'immortal' in the flesh.† But I do not see how even in the Primary World any theologian
It nearly has, even in hasty sketch!
Since 'mortality' is thus represented as a special gift of God to the Second Race of the Children (the Eruhíni, the
Children of the One God) and not a punishment for a Fall, you may call that 'bad theology'. So it may be, in the primary
world, but it is an imagination capable of elucidating truth, and a legitimate basis of legends.
or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of spirit and body than I believe
anyone to be, could deny the possibility of re-incarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for
certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures.
I suppose that actually the chief difficulties I have involved myself in are scientific and
biological — which worry me just as much as the theological and metaphysical (though you do not
seem to mind them so much). Elves and Men are evidently in biological terms one race, or they
could not breed and produce fertile offspring – even as a rare event : there are 2 cases only in my
legends of such unions, and they are merged in the descendants of Eärendil.1 But since some have
held that the rate of longevity is a biological characteristic, within limits of variation, you could not
have Elves in a sense 'immortal' – not eternal, but not dying by 'old age' — and Men mortal, more
or less as they now seem to be in the Primary World – and yet sufficiently akin. I might answer that
this 'biology' is only a theory, that modern 'gerontology', or whatever they call it, finds 'ageing'
rather more mysterious, and less clearly inevitable in bodies of human structure. But I should
actually answer: I do not care. This is a biological dictum in my imaginary world. It is only (as yet)
an incompletely imagined world, a rudimentary 'secondary'; but if it pleased the Creator to give it
(in a corrected form) Reality on any plane, then you would just have to enter it and begin studying
its different biology, that is all.
But as it is — though it seems to have grown out of hand, so that parts seem (to me) rather
revealed through me than by me – its purpose is still largely literary (and, if you don't boggle at the
term, didactic). Elves and Men are represented as biologically akin in this 'history', because Elves
are certain aspects of Men and their talents and desires, incarnated in my little world. They have
certain freedoms and powers we should like to have, and the beauty and peril and sorrow of the
possession of these things is exhibited in them. ....
Sauron was of course not 'evil' in origin. He was a 'spirit' corrupted by the Prime Dark Lord (the
Prime sub-creative Rebel) Morgoth. He was given an opportunity of repentance, when Morgoth was
overcome, but could not face the humiliation of recantation, and suing for pardon; and so his
temporary turn to good and 'benevolence' ended in a greater relapse, until he became the main
representative of Evil of later ages. But at the beginning of the Second Age he was still beautiful to
look at, or could still assume a beautiful visible shape – and was not indeed wholly evil, not unless
all 'reformers' who want to hurry up with 'reconstruction' and 'reorganization' are wholly evil, even
before pride and the lust to exert their will eat them up. The particular branch of the High-Elves
concerned, the Noldor or Loremasters, were always on the side of 'science and technology', as we
should call it: they wanted to have the knowledge that Sauron genuinely had, and those of Eregion
refused the warnings of Gilgalad and Elrond. The particular 'desire' of the Eregion Elves – an
'allegory' if you like of a love of machinery, and technical devices – is also symbolised by their
special friendship with the Dwarves of Moria.
I should regard them as no more wicked or foolish (but in much the same peril) as Catholics
engaged in certain kinds of physical research (e.g. those producing, if only as by-products,
poisonous gases and explosives): things not necessarily evil, but which, things being as they are,
and the nature and motives of the economic masters who provide all the means for their work being
as they are, are pretty certain to serve evil ends. For which they will not necessarily be to blame,
even if aware of them.
As for other points. I think I agree about the 'creation by evil'. But you are more free with the
word 'creation' than I am.* Treebeard does not say that the Dark Lord 'created' Trolls and Ores. He
says he 'made' them in counterfeit of certain creatures pre-existing. There is, to me, a wide gulf
between the two statements, so wide that Treebeard's statement could (in my world) have possibly
been true. It is not true actually of the Orcs – who are fundamentally a race of 'rational incarnate'
creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today. Treebeard is a
character in my story, not me; and though he has a great memory and some earthy wisdom, he is
not one of the Wise, and there is quite a lot he does not know or understand. He does not know what
Inside this mythical history (as its metaphysic is, not necessarily as a metaphysic of the real World) Creation, the
act of Will of Eru the One that gives Reality to conceptions, is distinguished from Making, which is permissive.
'wizards' are, or whence they came (though I do, even if exercising my subcreator's right I have
thought it best in this Tale to leave the question a 'mystery', not without pointers to the solution).
Suffering and experience (and possibly the Ring itself) gave Frodo more insight; and you will
read in Ch. I of Book VI the words to Sam. 'The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot
make real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the Orcs, it only ruined them and
twisted them.' In the legends of the Elder Days it is suggested that the Diabolus subjugated and
corrupted some of the earliest Elves, before they had ever heard of the 'gods', let alone of God.
I am not sure about Trolls. I think they are mere 'counterfeits', and hence (though here I am of
course only using elements of old barbarous mythmaking that had no 'aware' metaphysic) they
return to mere stone images when not in the dark. But there are other sorts of Trolls beside these
rather ridiculous, if brutal, Stone-trolls, for which other origins are suggested. Of course (since
inevitably my world is highly imperfect even on its own plane nor made wholly coherent – our Real
World does not appear to be wholly coherent either; and I am actually not myself convinced that,
though in every world on every plane all must ultimately be under the Will of God, even in ours
there are not some 'tolerated' sub-creational counterfeits!) when you make Trolls speak you are
giving them a power, which in our world (probably) connotes the possession of a 'soul'. But I do not
agree (if you admit that fairy-story element) that my trolls show any sign of 'good', strictly and
unsentimentally viewed. I do not say William felt pity — a word to me of moral and imaginative
worth: it is the Pity of Bilbo and later Frodo that ultimately allows the Quest to be achieved — and I
do not think he showed Pity. I might not (if The Hobbit had been more carefully written, and my
world so much thought about 20 years ago) have used the expression 'poor little blighter', just as I
should not have called the troll William. But I discerned no pity even then, and put in a plain caveat.
Pity must restrain one from doing something immediately desirable and seemingly advantageous.
There is no more 'pity' here than in a beast of prey yawning, or lazily patting a creature it could eat,
but does not want to, since it is not hungry. Or indeed than there is in many of men's actions, whose
real roots are in satiety, sloth, or a purely non-moral natural softness, though they may dignify them
by 'pity's' name.
As for Tom Bombadil, I really do think you are being too serious, besides missing the point.
(Again the words used are by Goldberry and Tom not me as a commentator). You rather remind me
of a Protestant relation who to me objected to the (modern) Catholic habit of calling priests Father,
because the name father belonged only to the First Person, citing last Sunday's Epistle –
inappositely since that says ex quo. Lots of other characters are called Master; and if 'in time' Tom
was primeval he was Eldest in Time. But Goldberry and Tom are referring to the mystery of names.
See and ponder Tom's words in Vol. I p. 142.2
You may be able to conceive of your unique relation to the Creator without a name – can you:
for in such a relation pronouns become proper nouns? But as soon as you are in a world of other
finites with a similar, if each unique and different, relation to Prime Being, who are you? Frodo has
asked not 'what is Tom Bombadil' but 'Who is he'. We and he no doubt often laxly confuse the
questions. Goldberry gives what I think is the correct answer. We need not go into the sublimities of
'I am that am' – which is quite different from he is.* She adds as a concession a statement of pan of
the 'what'. He is master in a peculiar way: he has no fear, and no desire of possession or domination
at all. He merely knows and understands about such things as concern him in his natural little realm.
He hardly even judges, and as far as can be seen makes no effort to reform or remove even the
I don't think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. But many have found
him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already
'invented' him independently (he first appeared in the Oxford Magazine)3 and wanted an 'adventure'
on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out.
I do not mean him to be an allegory – or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and
ridiculous a name – but 'allegory' is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an
Only the first person (of worlds or anything) can be unique. If you say he is there must be more than one, and
created (sub) existence is implied. I can say 'he is' of Winston Churchill as well as of Tom Bombadil, surely?
'allegory', or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that
desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are 'other' and wholly
independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned
with 'doing' anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture .
Even the Elves hardly show this : they are primarily artists. Also T.B. exhibits another point in his
attitude to the Ring, and its failure to affect him. You must concentrate on some pan, probably
relatively small, of the World (Universe), whether to tell a tale, however long, or to learn anything
however fundamental – and therefore much will from that 'point of view' be left out, distorted on
the circumference, or seem a discordant oddity. The power of the Ring over all concerned, even the
Wizards or Emissaries, is not a delusion – but it is not the whole picture, even of the then state and
content of that pan of the Universe.
I have already dealt with the biological difficulty of Elf-Human marriage. It occurs of course in
'fairy-story' and folk-lore, though not all cases have the same notions behind them. But I have made
it far more exceptional. I do not see that 'reincarnation' affects the resulting problems at all. But
'immortality' (in my world only within the limited longevity of the Earth) does, of course. As many
fairy-stories perceive.
In the primary story of Lúthien and Beren, Luthien is allowed as an absolute exception to divest
herself of 'immonality' and become 'mortal' — but when Beren is slain by the Wolf-warden of the
Gates of Hell, Lúthien obtains a brief respite in which they both return to Middle-earth 'alive' –
though not mingling with other people : a kind of Orpheus-legend in reverse, but one of Pity not of
Inexorability. Túor weds Idril the daughter of Turgon King of Gondolin; and 'it is supposed' (not
stated) that he as an unique exception receives the Elvish limited 'immortality': an exception either
way. Eärendil is Túor's son & father of Elros (First King of Númenor) and Elrond, their mother
being Elwing daughter of Dior, son of Beren and Lúthien: so the problem of the Half-elven
becomes united in one line. The view is that the Half-elven have a power of (irrevocable) choice,
which may be delayed but not permanently, which kin's fate they will share. Elros chose to be a
King and 'longaevus' but mortal, so all his descendants are mortal, and of a specially noble race, but
with dwindling longevity: so Aragorn (who, however, has a greater life-span than his
contemporaries, double, though not the original Númenórean treble, that of Men). Elrond chose to
be among the Elves. His children – with a renewed Elvish strain, since their mother was Celebrían
dtr. of Galadriel – have to make their choices. Arwen is not a 're-incarnation' of Lúthien (that in the
view of this mythical history would be impossible, since Lúthien has died like a mortal and left the
world of time) but a descendant very like her in looks, character, and fate. When she weds Aragorn
(whose love-story elsewhere recounted is not here central and only occasionally referred to) she
'makes the choice of Lúthien', so the grief at her parting from Elrond is specially poignant. Elrond
passes Over Sea. The end of his sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and
remain for a while.
As for 'whose authority decides these things?' The immediate 'authorities' are the Valar (the
Powers or Authorities): the 'gods'. But they are only created spirits – of high angelic order we
should say, with their attendant lesser angels – reverend, therefore, but not worshipful*; and though
There are thus no temples or 'churches' or fanes in this 'world' among 'good' peoples. They had little or
no'religion'in the sense of worship. For help they may call on a Vala(as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint,
though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative. But this is a
'primitive age': and these folk may be said to view the Valar as children view their parents or immediate adult superiors,
and though they know they are subjects of the King he does not live in their country nor have there any dwelling. I do
not think Hobbits practised any form of worship or prayer (unless through exceptional contact with Elves). The
Númenóreans (and others of that branch of Humanity, that fought against Morgoth, even if they elected to remain in
Middle-earth and did not go to Númenor: such as the Rohirrim) were pure monotheists. But there was no temple in
Númenor (until Sauron introduced the cult of Morgoth). The top of the Mountain, the Meneltarma or Pillar of Heaven,
was dedicated to Eru, the One, and there at any time privately, and at certain times publicly, God was invoked, praised,
and adored: an imitation of the Valar and the Mountain of Aman. But Numenor fell and was destroyed and the
Mountain engulfed, and there was no substitute. Among the exiles, remnants of the Faithful who had not adopted the
false religion nor taken pan in the rebellion, religion as divine worship (though perhaps not as philosophy and
metaphysics) seems to have played a small part; though a glimpse of it is caught in Faramir's remark on 'grace at meat'.
potently 'subcreative', and resident on Earth to which they are bound by love, having assisted in its
making and ordering, they cannot by their own will alter any fundamental provision. They called
upon the One in the crisis of the rebellion of Numenor – when the Númenóreans attempted to take
the Undying Land by force of a great armada in their lust for corporal immortality – which
necessitated a catastrophic change in the shape of Earth. Immortality and Mortality being the
special gifts of God to the Eruhini (in whose conception and creation the Valar had no part at all) it
must be assumed that no alteration of their fundamental kind could be effected by the Valar even in
one case: the cases of Lúthien (and Túor) and the position of their descendants was a direct act of
God. The entering into Men of the Elven-strain is indeed represented as part of a Divine Plan for the
ennoblement of the Human Race, from the beginning destined to replace the Elves.
Are there any 'bounds to a writer's job' except those imposed by his own finiteness? No bounds,
but the laws of contradiction, I should think. But, of course, humility and an awareness of peril is
required. A writer may be basically 'benevolent' according to his lights (as I hope I am) and yet not
be 'beneficent' owing to error and stupidity. I would claim, if I did not think it presumptuous in one
so ill-instructed, to have as one object the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good
morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments,
that may tend to 'bring them home'. But, of course, I may be in error (at some or all points): my
truths may not be true, or they may be distorted : and the mirror I have made may be dim and
cracked. But I should need to be fully convinced that anything I have 'feigned' is actually harmful,
per se and not merely because misunderstood, before I should recant or rewrite anything.
Great harm can be done, of course, by this potent mode of 'myth' – especially wilfully. The
right to 'freedom' of the sub-creator is no guarantee among fallen men that it will not be used as
wickedly as is Free Will. I am comforted by the fact that some, more pious and learned than I, have
found nothing harmful in this Tale or its feignings as a 'myth'. ....
To conclude: having mentioned Free Will, I might say that in my myth I have used 'subcreation'
in a special way (not the same as 'subcreation' as a term in criticism of art, though I tried to show
allegorically how that might come to be taken up into Creation in some plane in my 'purgatorial'
story Leaf by Niggle (Dublin Review 1945)) to make visible and physical the effects of Sin or
misused Free Will by men. Free Will is derivative, and is.'. only operative within provided
circumstances; but in order that it may exist, it is necessary that the Author should guarantee it,
whatever betides : sc. when it is 'against His Will', as we say, at any rate as it appears on a finite
view. He does not stop or make 'unreal' sinful acts and their consequences. So in this myth, it is
'feigned' (legitimately whether that is a feature of the real world or not) that He gave special 'subcreative' powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised
and made should be given the reality of Creation. Of course within limits, and of course subject to
certain commands or prohibitions. But if they 'fell', as the Diabolus Morgoth did, and started
making things 'for himself, to be their Lord', these would then 'be', even if Morgoth broke the
supreme ban against making other 'rational' creatures like Elves or Men. They would at least 'be'
real physical realities in the physical world, however evil they might prove, even 'mocking' the
Children of God. They would be Morgoth's greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would
be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad. (I nearly wrote 'irredeemably bad'; but that would be
going too far. Because by accepting or tolerating their making – necessary to their actual existence
– even Orcs would become part of the World, which is God's and ultimately good.) But whether
they could have 'souls' or 'spirits' seems a different question; and since in my myth at any rate I do
not conceive of the making of souls or spirits, things of an equal order if not an equal power to the
Valar, as a possible 'delegation', I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on
whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, not
making them. That God would 'tolerate' that, seems no worse theology than the toleration of the
calculated dehumanizing of Men by tyrants that goes on today. There might be other 'makings' all
the same which were more like puppets filled (only at a distance) with their maker's mind and will,
Vol. II p. 285.4
or ant-like operating under direction of a queen-centre.
Now (you will reasonably say) I am taking myself even more seriously than you did, and
making a great song and oration about a good tale, which admittedly owes its similitude to mere
craft. It is so. But the things I have scribbled about, arise in some form or another from all writing
(or art) that is not careful to dwell within the walls of 'observed fact'.
[The draft ends here. At the top, Tolkien has written: 'Not sent', and has added: 'It seemed to be taking
myself too importantly.']
154 To Naomi Mitchison
25 September 1954
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mrs Mitchison,
I have been plagued by business, troubles, illness, and journeys, or I should have written long
before, and especially after your kind letter of last month: temporarily mislaid in a broil of exampapers, galleys, and what not: after reading to the end of The Lord &c.
You have been most kind and encouraging to me, and your generous and perceptive review1
puts me in your debt. Yours is the only comment that I have seen that, besides treating the book as
'literature', at least in intent, and even taking it seriously (and praising or ridiculing it accordingly),
also sees it as an elaborate form of the game of inventing a country – an endless one, because even a
committee of experts in different branches could not complete the overall picture. I am more
conscious of my sketchiness in the archaeology and realien2 than in the economics: clothes,
agricultural implements, metal-working, pottery, architecture and the like. Not to mention music
and its apparatus. I am not incapable of or unaware of economic thought; and I think as far as the
'mortals' go. Men, Hobbits, and Dwarfs,3 that the situations are so devised that economic likelihood
is there and could be worked out: Gondor has sufficient 'townlands' and fiefs with a good water and
road approach to provide for its population; and clearly has many industries though these are hardly
alluded to. The Shire is placed in a water and mountain situation and a distance from the sea and a
latitude that would give it a natural fertility, quite apart from the stated fact that it was a well-tended
region when they took it over (no doubt with a good deal of older ans and crafts). The Shire-hobbits
have no very great need of metals, but the Dwarfs are agents; and in the east of the Mountains of
Lune are some of their mines (as shown in the earlier legends) : no doubt, the reason, or one of
them, for their often crossing the Shire. Some of the modernities found among them (I think
especially of umbrellas) are probably, I think certainly, a mistake, of the same order as their silly
names, and tolerable with them only as a deliberate 'anglicization' to point the contrast between
them and other peoples in the most familiar terms. I do not think people of that sort and stage of life
and development can be both peaceable and very brave and tough 'at a pinch'.* Experience in two
wars has confirmed me in that view. But hobbits are not a Utopian vision, or recommended as an
ideal in their own or any age. They, as all peoples and their situations, are an historical accident – as
the Elves point out to Frodo – and an impermanent one in the long view. I am not a reformer nor an
'embalmer'! I am not a 'reformer' (by exercise of power) since it seems doomed to Sarumanism. But
'embalming' has its own punishments.
Some reviewers have called the whole thing simple-minded, just a plain fight between Good
and Evil, with all the good just good, and the bad just bad. Pardonable, perhaps (though at least
Boromir has been overlooked) in people in a hurry, and with only a fragment to read, and, of
course, without the earlier written but unpublished Elvish histories. But the Elves are not wholly
good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without
his assistance they were 'embalmers'. They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal
historical Middle-earth because they had become fond of it (and perhaps because they there had the
advantages of a superior caste), and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it
as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert, where they could be 'artists' – and they were overburdened
with sadness and nostalgic regret. In their way the Men of Gondor were similar: a withering people
whose only 'hallows' were their tombs. But in any case this is a tale about a war, and if war is
allowed (at least as a topic and a setting) it is not much good complaining that all the people on one
side are against those on the other. Not that I have made even this issue quite so simple: there are
Saruman, and Denethor, and Boromir; and there are treacheries and strife even among the Orcs.
Actually in the imagination of this story we are now living on a physically round Earth. But the
whole 'legendarium' contains a transition from a flat world (or at least an ο κουµένη with
The chief way in which Hobbits differ from experience is that they are not cruel, and have no blood-sports, and
have by implication a feeling for 'wild creatures' that are not alas! very commonly found among the nearest
contemporary parallels.
borders all about it) to a globe: an inevitable transition, I suppose, to a modern 'myth-maker' with a
mind subjected to the same 'appearances' as ancient men, and partly fed on their myths, but taught
that the Earth was round from the earliest years. So deep was the impression made by 'astronomy'
on me that I do not think I could deal with or imaginatively conceive a flat world, though a world of
static Earth with a Sun going round it seems easier (to fancy if not to reason).
The particular 'myth' which lies behind this tale, and the mood both of Men and Elves at this
time, is the Downfall of Númenor: a special variety of the Atlantis tradition. That seems to me so
fundamental to 'mythical history' – whether it has any kind of basis in real history, pace Saurat and
others, is not relevant – that some version of it would have to come in.
I have written an account of the Downfall, which you might be interested to see. But the
immediate point is that before the Downfall there lay beyond the sea and the west-shores of Middleearth an earthly Elvish paradise Eressëa, and Valinor the land of the Valar (the Powers, the Lords of
the West*), places that could be reached physically by ordinary sailing-ships, though the Seas were
perilous. But after the rebellion of the Númenóreans, the Kings of Men, who dwelt in a land most
westerly of all mortal lands, and eventually in the height of their pride attempted to occupy Eressëa
and Valinor by force, Númenor was destroyed, and Eressëa and Valinor removed from the
physically attainable Earth: the way west was open, but led nowhere but back again-for mortals.
Elendil and his sons were the chiefs of the small 'faithful' party that took no part in the attempt
to seize world-power and immortality by force, and they escaped the drowning of Númenor, and
were borne east on a great storm, and cast up on the west-shores of Middle-earth, where they
established their realms. But there was no going back for them or any mortal men; hence their
nostalgic mood.
But the promise made to the Eldar (the High Elves – not to other varieties, they had long before
made their irrevocable choice, preferring Middle-earth to paradise) for their sufferings in the
struggle with the prime Dark Lord had still to be fulfilled: that they should always be able to leave
Middle-earth, if they wished, and pass over Sea to the True West, by the Straight Road, and so
come to Eressëa – but so pass out of time and history, never to return. The Half-elven, such as
Elrond and Arwen, can choose to which kind and fate they shall belong: choose once and for all.
Hence the grief at the parting of Elrond and Arwen.
But in this story it is supposed that there may be certain rare exceptions or accommodations
(legitimately supposed? there always seem to be exceptions); and so certain 'mortals', who have
played some great part in Elvish affairs, may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome. Thus Frodo (by the
express gift of Arwen) and Bilbo, and eventually Sam (as adumbrated by Frodo); and as a unique
exception Gimli the Dwarf, as friend of Legolas and 'servant' of Galadriel.
I have said nothing about it in this book, but the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals,
since their 'kind' cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary reward: a healing and
redress of suffering. They cannot abide for ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they
can and will 'die' – of free will, and leave the world. (In this setting the return of Arthur would be
quite impossible, a vain imagining.)
I am sorry that the Ice-bay of Forochel4 has not (so far) been cast for any significant part. It is
just 'Elvish' for Northern Ice; and is a mere remnant of the colds of the North, the realm of the
prime Dark Lord of earlier Ages. Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, is said, indeed, to have fled
thither, and attempted to escape thence by ship, but to have been destroyed in the ice; and with him
perished the last of the palantíri of the North Kingdom.
I am afraid this is a preposterously long letter; and perhaps presumptuous in its length, though
your kindness and interest offer some excuse.
Soon after your visit, as pleasant as unexpected, I had a copy made of the chronology of the
Second and Third Ages, for your perusal – purely annalistic and unmotivated. If it would still
interest you, I will send it.
I was sorry to find, when it was returned, that the screed on 'languages' etc. had been sent
'gods' is the nearest equivalent, but not strictly accurate.
uncorrected, and with lots of words and phrases unerased, so that parts were hardly intelligible.
You may be interested to hear that a reprint of The Fellowship seems already to be needed. But
I do not suppose the first printing was very large.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
155 To Naomi Mitchison (draft)
[A passage from a draft of the above letter, which was not included in the version actually sent.]
I am afraid I have been far too casual about 'magic' and especially the use of the word; though
Galadriel and others show by the criticism of the 'mortal' use of the word, that the thought about it is
not altogether casual. But it is a v. large question, and difficult; and a story which, as you so rightly
say, is largely about motives (choice, temptations etc.) and the intentions for using whatever is
found in the world, could hardly be burdened with a pseudo-philosophic disquisition! I do not
intend to involve myself in any debate whether 'magic' in any sense is real or really possible in the
world. But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent
distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia.1 Galadriel speaks of
the 'deceits of the Enemy'. Well enough, but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goeteia
bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides
use both, but with different motives. The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is specially
about it) domination of other 'free' wills. The Enemy's operations are by no means all goetic deceits,
but 'magic' that produces real effects in the physical world. But his magia he uses to bulldoze both
people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate. Their magia the Elves and Gandalf use
(sparingly): a magia, producing real results (like fire in a wet faggot) for specific beneficent
purposes. Their goetic effects are entirely artistic and not intended to deceive: they never deceive
Elves (but may deceive or bewilder unaware Men) since the difference is to them as clear as the
difference to us between fiction, painting, and sculpture, and 'life'.
Both sides live mainly by 'ordinary' means. The Enemy, or those who have become like him, go
in for 'machinery' – with destructive and evil effects — because 'magicians', who have become
chiefly concerned to use magia for their own power, would do so (do do so). The basic motive for
magia – quite apart from any philosophic consideration of how it would work – is immediacy:
speed, reduction of labour, and reduction also to a minimum (or vanishing point) of the gap
between the idea or desire and the result or effect. But the magia may not be easy to come by, and
at any rate if you have command of abundant slave-labour or machinery (often only the same thing
concealed), it may be as quick or quick enough to push mountains over, wreck forests, or build
pyramids by such means. Of course another factor then comes in, a moral or pathological one: the
tyrants lose sight of objects, become cruel, and like smashing, hurting, and defiling as such. It
would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho's introduction of more efficient mills; but not of
Sharkey and Sandyman's use of them.
Anyway, a difference in the use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or
spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such. Aragorn's 'healing'
might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes.
But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science;
while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of the 'children of Luthien'.2
156 To Robert Murray, SJ. (draft)
[An answer to further comments on The Lord of the Rings.]
4 November 1954
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
My dear Rob,
It is remarkably kind of you to write at such length amid, I fear, weariness. I am answering at
once, because I am grateful, and because only letters that I do treat so ever get answered, and most
of all because your parcel has arrived when having done all my 'prep' – ordering all the minutes and
resolutions of a long and argumentative College-meeting yesterday (there being no fellow of illwill, and only 24 persons of the usual human absurdity. I felt rather like an observer at the meeting
of Hobbit-notables to advise the Mayor on the precedence and choice of dishes at a Shire-banquet)
– I have half an hour to spare before going down hill for a session with the College secretary. That
is the kind of sentence I naturally write. ....
No, 'Smeagol' was not, of course, fully envisaged at first, but I believe his character was
implicit, and merely needed attention. As for Gandalf: surely it is not to join P. H.1 to voice any
criticism! I could be much more destructive myself. There are, I suppose, always defects in any
large-scale work of art; and especially in those of literary form that are founded on an earlier matter
which is put to new uses – like Homer, or Beowulf, or Virgil, or Greek or Shakespearean tragedy!
In which class, as a class not as a competitor, The Lord of the Rings really falls though it is only
founded on the author's own first draft! I think the way in which Gandalf's return is presented is a
defect, and one other critic, as much under the spell as yourself, curiously used the same expression:
'cheating'. That is partly due to the ever-present compulsions of narrative technique. He must return
at that point, and such explanations of his survival as are explicitly set out must be given there – but
the narrative is urgent, and must not be held up for elaborate discussions involving the whole
'mythological' setting. It is a little impeded even so, though I have severely cut G's account of
himself. I might perhaps have made more clear the later remarks in Vol. II (and Vol. III) which
refer to or are made by Gandalf, but I have purposely kept all allusions to the highest matters down
to mere hints, perceptible only by the most attentive, or kept them under unexplained symbolic
forms. So God and the 'angelic' gods, the Lords or Powers of the West, only peep through in such
places as Gandalf's conversation with Frodo: 'behind that there was something else at work, beyond
any design of the Ring-maker's' ; or in Faramir's Númenórean grace at dinner.
Gandalf really 'died', and was changed: for that seems to me the only real cheating, to represent
anything that can be called 'death' as making no difference. 'I am G. the White, who has returned
from death'. Probably he should rather have said to Wormtongue: 'I have not passed through death
(not 'fire and flood') to bandy crooked words with a serving-man'. And so on. I might say much
more, but it would only be in (perhaps tedious) elucidation of the 'mythological' ideas in my mind;
it would not, I fear, get rid of the fact that the return of G. is as presented in this book a 'defect', and
one I was aware of, and probably did not work hard enough to mend. But G. is not, of course, a
human being (Man or Hobbit). There are naturally no precise modern terms to say what he was. I
wd. venture to say that he was an incarnate 'angel'– strictly an γγελος:2 that is, with the other
Istari, wizards, 'those who know', an emissary from the Lords of the West, sent to Middle-earth, as
the great crisis of Sauron loomed on the horizon. By 'incarnate' I mean they were embodied in
physical bodies capable of pain, and weariness, and of afflicting the spirit with physical fear, and of
being 'killed', though supported by the angelic spirit they might endure long, and only show slowly
the wearing of care and labour.
Why they should take such a form is bound up with the 'mythology' of the 'angelic' Powers of
the world of this fable. At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and
hinder their exhibition of 'power' on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were
primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron
to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them. They thus appeared as
'old' sage figures. But in this 'mythology' all the 'angelic' powers concerned with this world were
capable of many degrees of error and failing between the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of
Morgoth and his satellite Sauron, and the fainéance of some of the other higher powers or 'gods'.
The 'wizards' were not exempt, indeed being incarnate were more likely to stray, or err. Gandalf
alone fully passes the tests, on a moral plane anyway (he makes mistakes of judgement). For in his
condition it was for him a sacrifice to perish on the Bridge in defence of his companions, less
perhaps than for a mortal Man or Hobbit, since he had a far greater inner power than they; but also
more, since it was a humbling and abnegation of himself in conformity to 'the Rules': for all he
could know at that moment he was the only person who could direct the resistance to Sauron
successfully, and all his mission was vain. He was handing over to the Authority that ordained the
Rules, and giving up personal hope of success.
That I should say is what the Authority wished, as a set-off to Saruman. The 'wizards', as such,
had failed; or if you like: the crisis had become too grave and needed an enhancement of power. So
Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted, and enhanced, and returned. 'Yes, that was the name. I
was Gandalf.' Of course he remains similar in personality and idiosyncrasy, but both his wisdom
and power are much greater. When he speaks he commands attention; the old Gandalf could not
have dealt so with Théoden, nor with Saruman. He is still under the obligation of concealing his
power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills, but where the physical powers of the
Enemy are too great for the good will of the opposers to be effective he can act in emergency as an
'angel' – no more violently than the release of St Peter from prison. He seldom does so, operating
rather through others, but in one or two cases in the War (in Vol. III) he does reveal a sudden
power: he twice rescues Faramir. He alone is left to forbid the entrance of the Lord of Nazgûl to
Minas Tirith, when the City has been overthrown and its Gates destroyed — and yet so powerful is
the whole train of human resistance, that he himself has kindled and organized, that in fact no battle
between the two occurs: it passes to other mortal hands. In the end before he departs for ever he
sums himself up: 'I was the enemy of Sauron'. He might have added: 'for that purpose I was sent to
Middle-earth'. But by that he would at the end have meant more than at the beginning. He was sent
by a mere prudent plan of the angelic Valar or governors; but Authority had taken up this plan and
enlarged it, at the moment of its failure. 'Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is
done'. Sent back by whom, and whence? Not by the 'gods' whose business is only with this
embodied world and its time; for he passed 'out of thought and time'. Naked is alas! unclear. It was
meant just literally, 'unclothed like a child' (not discarnate), and so ready to receive the white robes
of the highest. Galadriel's power is not divine, and his healing in Lórien is meant to be no more than
physical healing and refreshment.
But if it is 'cheating' to treat 'death' as making no difference, embodiment must not be ignored.
Gandalf may be enhanced in power (that is, under the forms of this fable, in sanctity), but if still
embodied he must still suffer care and anxiety, and the needs of flesh. He has no more (if no less)
certitudes, or freedoms, than say a living theologian. In any case none of my 'angelic' persons are
represented as knowing the future completely, or indeed at all where other wills are concerned.
Hence their constant temptation to do, or try to do, what is for them wrong (and disastrous): to force
lesser wills by power: by awe if not by actual fear, or physical constraint. But the nature of the gods'
knowledge of the history of the World, and their part in making it (before it was embodied or made
'real') – whence they drew their knowledge of the future, such as they had, is pan of the major
mythology. It is at least there represented that the intrusion of Elves and Men into that story was not
any pan of theirs at all, but reserved: hence Elves and Men were called the Children of God; and
hence the gods either loved (or hated) them specially: as having a relation to the Creator equal to
their own, if of different stature. This is the mythological-theological situation at this moment in
History, which has been made explicit but has not yet been published.
Men have 'fallen' – any legends put in the form of supposed ancient history of this actual world
of ours must accept that – but the peoples of the West, the good side are Re-formed. That is they are
the descendants of Men that tried to repent and fled Westward from the domination of the Prime
Dark Lord, and his false worship, and by contrast with the Elves renewed (and enlarged) their
knowledge of the truth and the nature of the World. They thus escaped from 'religion' in a pagan
sense, into a pure monotheist world, in which all things and beings and powers that might seem
worshipful were not to be worshipped, not even the gods (the Valar), being only creatures of the
One. And He was immensely remote.
The High Elves were exiles from the Blessed Realm of the Gods (after their own particular
Elvish fall) and they had no 'religion' (or religious practices, rather) for those had been in the hands
of the gods, praising and adoring Eru 'the One', Ilúvatar the Father of All on the Mt. of Aman.
The highest kind of Men, those of the Three Houses, who aided the Elves in the primal War
against the Dark Lord, were rewarded by the gift of the Land of the Star, or Westernesse (=
Númenor) which was most westerly of all mortal lands, and almost in sight of Elvenhome
(Eldamar) on the shores of the Blessed Realm. There they became the Númenóreans, the Kings of
Men. They were given a triple span of life – but not elvish 'immortality' (which is not eternal, but
measured by the duration in time of Earth); for the point of view of this mythology is that 'mortality'
or a short span, and 'immortality' or an indefinite span was part of what we might call the biological
and spiritual nature of the Children of God, Men and Elves (the firstborn) respectively, and could
not be altered by anyone (even a Power or god), and would not be altered by the One, except
perhaps by one of those strange exceptions to all rules and ordinances which seem to crop up in the
history of the Universe, and show the Finger of God, as the one wholly free Will and Agent.*
The Númenóreans thus began a great new good, and as monotheists; but like the Jews (only
more so) with only one physical centre of 'worship': the summit of the mountain Meneltarma 'Pillar
of Heaven' – literally, for they did not conceive of the sky as a divine residence – in the centre of
Númenor; but it had no building and no temple, as all such things had evil associations. But they
'fell' again – because of a Ban or prohibition, inevitably. They were forbidden to sail west beyond
their own land because they were not allowed to be or try to be 'immortal'; and in this myth the
Blessed Realm is represented as still having an actual physical existence as a region of the real
world, one which they could have reached by ship, being very great mariners. While obedient,
people from the Blessed Realm often visited them, and so their knowledge and arts reached almost
an Elvish height.
But the proximity of the Blessed Realm, the very length of their life-span given as a reward,
and the increasing delight of life, made them begin to hanker after 'immortality'. They did not break
the ban but they begrudged it. And forced east they turned from beneficence in their appearances on
the coasts of Middle-earth, to pride, desire of power and wealth. So they came into conflict with
Sauron, the lieutenant of the Prime Dark Lord, who had fallen back into evil and was claiming both
kingship and godship over Men of Middle-earth. It was on the kingship question that Ar-pharazôn
the 13th3 and mightiest King of Númenor challenged him primarily. His armada that took haven at
Umbar was so great, and the Númenóreans at their height so terrible and resplendent, that Sauron's
servants deserted him.
So Sauron had recourse to guile. He submitted, and was carried off to Númenor as a prisonerhostage. But he was of course a 'divine' person (in the terms of this mythology; a lesser member of
the race of Valar) and thus far too powerful to be controlled in this way. He steadily got
Arpharazôn's mind under his own control, and in the event corrupted many of the Númenóreans,
destroyed the conception of Eru, now represented as a mere figment of the Valar or Lords of the
West (a fictitious sanction to which they appealed if anyone questioned their rulings), and
substituted a Satanist religion with a large temple, the worship of the dispossessed eldest of the
Valar (the rebellious Dark Lord of the First Age).† He finally induces Arpharazôn, frightened by the
approach of old age, to make the greatest of all armadas, and go up with war against the Blessed
Realm itself, and wrest it and its 'immortality' into his own hands.‡
The story of Beren and Lúthien is the one great exception, as it is the way by which 'Elvishness' becomes wound
in as a thread in human history.
'There is only one 'god': God, Eru Ilúvatar. There are the first creations, angelic beings, or which those most
concerned in the Cosmogony reside (of love and choice) inside the World, as Valar or gods, or governors; and there are
incarnate rational creatures. Elves and Men, of similar but different status and natures.
This was a delusion of course, a Satanic lie. For as emissaries from the Valar clearly inform him, the Blessed
Realm does not confer immortality. The land is blessed because the Blessed dwell there, not vice versa, and the Valar
are immortal by right and nature, while Men are mortal by right and nature. But cozened by Sauron he dismisses all this
The Valar had no real answer to this monstrous rebellion — for the Children of God were not
under their ultimate jurisdiction: they were not allowed to destroy them, or coerce them with any
'divine' display of the powers they held over the physical world. They appealed to God; and a
catastrophic 'change of plan' occurred. At the moment that Arpharazôn set foot on the forbidden
shore, a rift appeared: Númenor foundered and was utterly overwhelmed; the armada was
swallowed up; and the Blessed Realm removed for ever from the circles of the physical world.
Thereafter one could sail right round the world and never find it.
So ended Númenor-Atlantis and all its glory. But in a kind of Noachian situation the small party
of the Faithful in Númenor, who had refused to take pan in the rebellion (though many of them had
been sacrificed in the Temple by the Sauronians) escaped in Nine Ships (Vol. I. 379, II. 202) under
the leadership of Elendil (=Ælfwine. Elf-friend) and his sons Isildur and Anárion, and established a
kind of diminished memory of Númenor in Exile on the coasts of Middle-earth – inheriting the
hatred of Sauron, the friendship of the Elves, the knowledge of the True God, and (less happily) the
yearning for longevity, and the habit of embalming and the building of splendid tombs – their only
'hallows': or almost so. But the 'hallow' of God and the Mountain had perished, and there was no
real substitute. Also when the 'Kings' came to an end there was no equivalent to a 'priesthood': the
two being identical in Númenórean ideas. So while God (Eru) was a datum of good* Númenórean
philosophy, and a prime fact in their conception of history. He had at the time of the War of the
Ring no worship and no hallowed place. And that kind of negative truth was characteristic of the
West, and all the area under Numenorean influence: the refusal to worship any 'creature', and above
all no 'dark lord' or satanic demon, Sauron, or any other, was almost as far as they got. They had (I
imagine) no petitionary prayers to God ; but preserved the vestige of thanksgiving. (Those under
special Elvish influence might call on the angelic powers for help in immediate peril or fear of evil
enemies.†) It later appears that there had been a 'hallow' on Mindolluin, only approachable by the
King, where he had anciently offered thanks and praise on behalf of his people; but it had been
forgotten. It was re-entered by Aragorn, and there he found a sapling of the White Tree, and
replanted it in the Court of the Fountain. It is to be presumed that with the reemergence of the lineal
priest kings (of whom Lúthien the Blessed Elf-maiden was a foremother) the worship of God would
be renewed, and His Name (or title) be again more often heard. But there would be no temple of the
True God while Númenórean influence lasted.
But they were still living on the borders of myth – or rather this story exhibits 'myth' passing
into History or the Dominion of Men; for of course the Shadow will arise again in a sense (as is
clearly foretold by Gandalf), but never again (unless it be before the great End) will an evil daemon
be incarnate as a physical enemy; he will direct Men and all the complications of half-evils, and
defective-goods, and the twilights of doubt as to sides, such situations as he most loves (you can see
them already arising in the War of the Ring, which is by no means so clear cut an issue as some
critics have averred): those will be and are our more difficult fate. But if you imagine people in such
a mythical state, in which Evil is largely incarnate, and in which physical resistance to it is a major
act of loyalty to God, I think you would have the 'good people' in just such a state: concentrated on
the negative: the resistance to the false, while 'truth' remained more historical and philosophical
than religious.
But 'wizards' are not in any sense or degree 'shady'. Not mine. I am under the difficulty of
as a diplomatic argument to ward off the power of the King of Kings. It might or might not be 'heretical', if these myths
were regarded as statements about the actual nature of Man in the real world : I do not know. But the view of the myth
is that Death — the mere shortness of human life-span – is not a punishment for the Fall, but a biologically (and
therefore also spiritually, since body and spirit are integrated) inherent part of Man's nature. The attempt to escape it is
wicked because 'unnatural', and silly because Death in that sense is the Gift of God (envied by the Elves), release from
the weariness of Time. Death, in the penal sense, is viewed as a change in attitude to it: fear, reluctance. A good
Númenórean died of free will when he felt it to be time to do so.
There were evil Númenóreans: Sauronians, but they do not come into this story, except remotely; as the wicked
Kings who had become Nazgûl or Ringwraiths.
The Elves often called on Varda-Elbereth, the Queen of the Blessed Realm, their especial friend; and so does
finding English names for mythological creatures with other names, since people would not 'take' a
string of Elvish names, and I would rather they took my legendary creatures even with the false
associations of the 'translation' than not at all.
Even the dwarfs are not really Germanic 'dwarfs' (Zwerge, dweorgas, dvergar), and I call them
'dwarves' to mark that. They are not naturally evil, not necessarily hostile, and not a kind of maggotfolk bred in stone; but a variety of incarnate rational creature. The istari are translated 'wizards'
because of the connexion of 'wizard' with wise and so with 'witting' and knowing. They are actually
emissaries from the True West, and so mediately from God, sent precisely to strengthen the
resistance of the 'good', when the Valar become aware that the shadow of Sauron is taking shape
[The draft ends with a discussion of the nature of the istari and the death and reincarnation of Gandalf which
resembles the passage on this subject earlier in the letter.]
157 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 27 November 1954
[The second volume of The Lord of the Rings was published, under the title The Two Towers, on 11
I have felt very mean indeed, since I have known that you have both been ill and troubled, and I
have never written, or called, or made any offer of help (or even sympathy). Always meaning to, of
course! To any eyes but those of your charity I shd. have appeared the sort of 'friend' that dumps his
works on you when you are already overloaded, sucks up praise and encouragement, expects
reviews, and then departs when you begin to break down. ....
Of course I understand the financial difficulties. For a real holiday it shd. be not only 'with pay'
but 'with more than pay'. I am sure there must be funds somewhere that are meant for such a
purpose. If they cannot be found or tapped, nothing would give me more pleasure than to become
one. I could for instance well spare £50 (and more if this rise in my wages occurs). But perhaps this
will seem rather impertinent. Forget it, if it does. (I can only say that Trinity was very kind to me
when I was in a dreadful pinch in the early war years,1 and I should prefer this way of being grateful
– by helping far its most distinguished member and wife 'towards the sun'.) Bless you both. ....
I return a copy of Lewis.2 Also I send a copy of 'Encounter' in which one of Auden's volleys
occurred: much the same but longer than the N.Y.S. Times.3 I got 'Encounter' for you, so you need
not return it. The Ents seem to have been a success generally (even with Muir);4 but A. is a better
critic. As usually with me they grew rather out of their name, than the other way about. I always felt
that something ought to be done about the peculiar A. Saxon word ent for a 'giant' or mighty person
of long ago — to whom all old works were ascribed. If it had a slightly philosophical tone (though
in ordinary philology it is 'quite unconnected with any present participle of the verb to be') that also
interested me.
I am hopelessly behind with the 'Appendices' to Vol. III; but I have been be-bothered with
many things; and Chris, too overwhelmed to help with maps. It just can't be helped. I am at it.
158 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 2 December 1954
[A comment on the 'blurb' on the dust-jacket of Houghton Mifflin's edition of The Two Towers.]
I have only just had time to glance at the H.M. 'jacket' stuff. .... This account must have been
written by someone who has not read the book, but relied on hearsay inaccurately remembered. The
'giving away of the plot' is, of course, a silly (and unnecessary) procedure; but at least the plot given
away might be that of the book described. Or is that part of the game?
159 From a letter to Dora Marshall 3 March 1955
[A reply to a letter from a reader of The Lord of the Rings.]
I had great difficulty (it took several years) to get my story published, and it is not easy to say
who is most surprised at the result : myself or the publishers! But it remains an unfailing delight to
me to find my own belief justified: that the 'fairy-story' is really an adult genre, and one for which a
starving audience exists. I said so, more or less, in my essay on the fairy-story in the collection
dedicated to the memory of Charles Williams. But it was a mere proposition – which awaited proof.
As C. S. Lewis said to me long ago, more or less – (I do not suppose my memory of his dicta is any
more precisely accurate than his of mine: I often find strange things attributed to me in his works) –
'if they won't write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves; but it
is very laborious'. Being a man of immense power and industry, his 'trilogy' was finished much
sooner amidst much other work; but at last my slower and more meticulous (as well as more
indolent and less organized) machine has produced its effort. The labour! I have typed myself
nearly all of it twice, and pans more often; not to mention the written stages ! But I am amply
rewarded and encouraged to find that the labour was not wasted. One such letter as yours is
sufficient – and 'furnishes more than any author ought to ask'.
I knew Charles Williams well in his last few years: partly because of Lewis's good habit of
writing to authors who pleased him (which put us both in touch with Williams); and still more
because of the good fortune amid disaster that transferred Williams to Oxford during the War. But I
do not think we influenced one another at all! Too 'set', and too different. We both listened (in
C.S.L.'s rooms) to large and largely unintelligible fragments of one another's works read aloud;
because C.S.L. (marvellous man) seemed able to enjoy us both. But I think we both found the
other's mind (or rather mode of expression, and climate) as impenetrable when cast into 'literature',
as we found the other's presence and conversation delightful.
160 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 6 March 1955
[Tolkien had handed over some of the material for the Appendices to Volume III of The Lord of the Rings,
and Allen & Unwin were pressing him for the remainder. On 2 March, Rayner Unwin wrote to plead for it
to be delivered, saying that otherwise the publishers would have to 'yield to the intense pressure that is
accumulating and publish [the third volume] without all the additional material'.]
I must accept your challenge. We must make do with what material I can produce by your
return. I hope the Map, which is really the most necessary, will be included.
I now wish that no appendices had been promised! For I think their appearance in truncated and
compressed form will satisfy nobody: certainly not me; clearly from the (appalling mass of) letters I
receive not those people who like that kind of thing – astonishingly many; while those who enjoy
the book as an 'heroic romance' only, and find 'unexplained vistas' part of the literary effect, will
neglect the appendices, very properly.
I am not now at all sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as a kind of vast game is
really good – cert. not for me, who find that kind of thing only too fatally attractive. It is, I suppose,
a tribute to the curious effect that story has, when based on very elaborate and detailed workings of
geography, chronology, and language, that so many should clamour for sheer 'information', or 'lore'.
But the demands such people make would again require a book, at least the size of Vol. I.
In any case the 'background' matter is very intricate, useless unless exact, and compression
within the limits available leaves it unsatisfactory. It needs great concentration (and leisure), and
being completely interlocked cannot be dealt with piecemeal. I have found that out, since I let part
of it go.
161 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 14 April 1955
The map is hell ! I have not been as careful as I should in keeping track of distances. I think a
large scale map simply reveals all the chinks in the armour — besides being obliged to differ
somewhat from the printed small scale version, which was semi-pictorial. May have to abandon it
for this trip!
162 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 18 April 1955
I have sent, registered under separate cover, Christopher's beautiful re-drawing of the large
scale draft-map I made of the area with which Vol. III is mainly concerned.
I hope it will be approved..... The scale (which I noticed he had not inserted) is 5 times enlarged
exactly from that of the general map.
163 To W. H. Auden
[Auden, who had reviewed The Fellowship of the Ring in the New York Times Book Review and Encounter,
had been sent proofs of the third volume, The Return of the King. He wrote to Tolkien in April 1955 to ask
various questions arising from the book. Tolkien's reply does not survive (Auden usually threw away letters
after reading them). Auden wrote again on 3 June to say that he had been asked to give a talk about The
Lord of the Rings on the BBC Third Programme in October. He asked Tolkien if there were any points he
would like to hear made in the broadcast, and whether he would supply a few 'human touches' in the form of
information about how the book came to be written. Tolkien's reply survives because on this occasion – and
when he subsequently wrote to Auden – he kept a carbon copy, from which this text is taken.]
7 June 1955
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Auden,
I was very pleased to hear from you, and glad to feel that you were not bored. I am afraid that
you may be in for rather a long letter again; but you can do what you like with it. I type it so that it
may at any rate be quickly readable. I do not really think that I am frightfully important. I wrote the
Trilogy1 as a personal satisfaction, driven to it by the scarcity of literature of the sort that I wanted
to read (and what there was was often heavily alloyed). A great labour; and as the author of the
Ancrene Wisse says at the end of his work: 'I would rather, God be my witness, set out on foot for
Rome than begin the work over again!' But unlike him I would not have said: 'Read some of this
book at your leisure every day; and I hope that if you read it often it will prove very profitable to
you; otherwise I shall have spent my long hours very ill.' I was not thinking much of the profit or
delight of others; though no one can really write or make anything purely privately.
However, when the BBC employs any one so important as yourself to talk publicly about the
Trilogy, not without reference to the author, the most modest (or at any rate retiring) of men, whose
instinct is to cloak such self-knowledge as he has, and such criticisms of life as he knows it, under
mythical and legendary dress, cannot help thinking about it in personal terms – and finding it
interesting, and difficult, too, to express both briefly and accurately.
The Lord of the Rings as a story was finished so long ago now that I can take a largely
impersonal view of it, and find 'interpretations' quite amusing; even those that I might make myself,
which are mostly post scriptum: I had very little particular, conscious, intellectual, intention in mind
at any point.* Except for a few deliberately disparaging reviews – such as that of Vol. II in the New
Statesman,3 in which you and I were both scourged with such terms as 'pubescent' and 'infantilism'
– what appreciative readers have got out of the work or seen in it has seemed fair enough, even
when I do not agree with it. Always excepting, of course, any 'interpretations' in the mode of simple
allegory: that is, the particular and topical. In a larger sense, it is I suppose impossible to write any
'story' that is not allegorical in proportion as it 'comes to life'; since each of us is an allegory,
embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and
everlasting life. Anyway most people that have enjoyed The Lord of the Rings have been affected
primarily by it as an exciting story; and that is how it was written. Though one does not, of course,
escape from the question 'what is it about?' by that back door. That would be like answering an
aesthetic question by talking of a point of technique. I suppose that if one makes a good choice in
what is 'good narrative' (or 'good theatre') at a given point, it will also be found to be the case that
the event described will be the most 'significant'.
Take the Ents, for instance. I did not consciously invent them at all. The chapter called 'Treebeard', from
Treebeard's first remark on p. 66, was written off more or less as it stands, with an effect on my self (except for labour
pains) almost like reading some one else's work. And I like Ents now because they do not seem to have anything to do
with me. I daresay something had been going on in the 'unconscious' for some time, and that accounts for my feeling
throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till 'what
really happened' came through. But looking back analytically I should say that Ents are composed of philology,
literature, and life. They owe their name to the eald enta geweorc2 of Anglo-Saxon, and their connexion with stone.
Their pan in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use
made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill': I longed to devise a setting in which
the trees might really march to war. And into this has crept a mere piece of experience, the difference of the 'male' and
'female' attitude to wild things, the difference between unpossessive love and gardening.
To turn, if I may, to the 'human Touches' and the matter of when I started. That is rather like
asking of Man when language started. It was an inevitable, though conditionable, evolvement of the
birth-given. It has been always with me: the sensibility to linguistic pattern which affects me
emotionally like colour or music; and the passionate love of growing things; and the deep response
to legends (for lack of a better word) that have what I would call the North-western temper and
temperature. In any case if you want to write a tale of this sort you must consult your roots, and a
man of the North-west of the Old World will set his heart and the action of his tale in an imaginary
world of that air, and that situation : with the Shoreless Sea of his innumerable ancestors to the
West, and the endless lands (out of which enemies mostly come) to the East. Though, in addition,
his heart may remember, even if he has been cut off from all oral tradition, the rumour all along the
coasts of the Men out of the Sea.
I say this about the 'heart', for I have what some might call an Atlantis complex. Possibly
inherited, though my parents died too young for me to know such things about them, and too young
to transfer such things by words. Inherited from me (I suppose) by one only of my children,4 though
I did not know that about my son until recently, and he did not know it about me. I mean the terrible
recurrent dream (beginning with memory) of the Great Wave, towering up, and coming in
ineluctably over the trees and green fields. (I bequeathed it to Faramir.) I don't think I have had it
since I wrote the 'Downfall of Númenor' as the last of the legends of the First and Second Age.
I am a West-midlander by blood (and took to early west-midland Middle English as a known
tongue as soon as I set eyes on it), but perhaps a fact of my personal history may partly explain why
the 'North-western air' appeals to me both as 'home' and as something discovered. I was actually
born in Bloemfontein, and so those deeply implanted impressions, underlying memories that are
still pictorially available for inspection, of first childhood are for me those of a hot parched country.
My first Christmas memory is of blazing sun, drawn curtains and a drooping eucalyptus.
I am afraid this is becoming a dreadful bore, and going on too long, at any rate longer than 'this
contemptible person before you' merits. But it is difficult to stop once roused on such an absorbing
topic to oneself as oneself. As for the conditioning: I am chiefly aware of the linguistic
conditioning. I went to King Edward's School and spent most of my time learning Latin and Greek;
but I also learned English. Not English Literature! Except Shakespeare (which I disliked cordially),
the chief contacts with poetry were when one was made to try and translate it into Latin. Not a bad
mode of introduction, if a bit casual. I mean something of the English language and its history. I
learned Anglo-Saxon at school (also Gothic, but that was an accident quite unconnected with the
curriculum though decisive — I discovered in it not only modern historical philology, which
appealed to the historical and scientific side, but for the first time the study of a language out of
mere love: I mean for the acute aesthetic pleasure derived from a language for its own sake, not
only free from being useful but free even from being the 'vehicle of a literature').
There are two strands, or three. A fascination that Welsh names had for me, even if only seen
on coal-trucks, from childhood is another; though people only gave me books that were
incomprehensible to a child when I asked for information. I did not learn any Welsh till I was an
undergraduate, and found in it an abiding linguistic-aesthetic satisfaction. Spanish was another: my
guardian was half Spanish, and in my early teens I used to pinch his books and try to learn it : the
only Romance language that gives me the particular pleasure of which I am speaking-it is not quite
the same as the mere perception of beauty: I feel the beauty of say Italian or for that matter of
modern English (which is very remote from my personal taste): it is more like the appetite for a
needed food. Most important, perhaps, after Gothic was the discovery in Exeter College library,
when I was supposed to be reading for Honour Mods, of a Finnish Grammar. It was like
discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour
never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me; and I gave up the attempt to invent an 'unrecorded'
Germanic language, and my 'own language' – or series of invented languages – became heavily
Finnicized in phonetic pattern and structure.
That is of course long past now. Linguistic taste changes like everything else, as time goes on;
or oscillates between poles. Latin and the British type of Celtic have it now, with the beautifully co-
ordinated and patterned (if simply patterned) Anglo-Saxon near at hand and further off the Old
Norse with the neighbouring but alien Finnish. Roman-British might not one say? With a strong but
more recent infusion from Scandinavia and the Baltic. Well, I daresay such linguistic tastes, with
due allowance for school-overlay, are as good or better a test of ancestry as blood-groups.
All this only as background to the stories, though languages and names are for me inextricable
from the stories. They are and were so to speak an attempt to give a background or a world in which
my expressions of linguistic taste could have a function. The stories were comparatively late in
I first tried to write a story when I was about seven. It was about a dragon. I remember nothing
about it except a philological fact. My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that
one could not say 'a green great dragon', but had to say 'a great green dragon'. I wondered why, and
still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a
story again for many years, and was taken up with language.
I mentioned Finnish, because that set the rocket off in story. I was immensely attracted by
something in the air of the Kalevala, even in Kirby's poor translation. I never learned Finnish well
enough to do more than plod through a bit of the original, like a schoolboy with Ovid; being mostly
taken up with its effect on 'my language'. But the beginning of the legendarium, of which the
Trilogy is pan (the conclusion), was in an attempt to reorganize some of the Kalevala, especially the
tale of Kullervo the hapless, into a form of my own. That began, as I say, in the Honour Mods
period; nearly disastrously as I came very near having my exhibition taken off me if not being sent
down. Say 1912 to 1913. As the thing went on I actually wrote in verse. Though the first real story
of this imaginary world almost fully formed as it now appears was written in prose during sickleave at the end of 1916: The Fall of Gondolin, which I had the cheek to read to the Exeter College
Essay Club in 1918.5 I wrote a lot else in hospitals before the end of the First Great War.
I went on after return; but when I attempted to get any of this stuff published I was not
successful. The Hobbit was originally quite unconnected, though it inevitably got drawn in to the
circumference of the greater construction; and in the event modified it. It was unhappily really
meant, as far as I was conscious, as a 'children's story', and as I had not learned sense then, and my
children were not quite old enough to correct me, it has some of the sillinesses of manner caught
unthinkingly from the kind of stuff I had had served to me, as Chaucer may catch a minstrel tag. I
deeply regret them. So do intelligent children.
All I remember about the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in
the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On a
blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why. I
did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of
Thror's Map. But it became The Hobbit in the early 1930s, and was eventually published not
because of my own children's enthusiasm (though they liked it well enough*), but because I lent it
to the then Rev. Mother of Cherwell Edge when she had flu, and it was seen by a former student
who was at that time in the office of Allen and Unwin. It was I believe tried out on Rayner Unwin;
but for whom when grown up I think I should never have got the Trilogy published.
Since The Hobbit was a success, a sequel was called for; and the remote Elvish Legends were
turned down. A publisher's reader said they were too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened
Anglo-Saxons in a large dose. Very likely quite right. Anyway I myself saw the value of Hobbits, in
putting earth under the feet of 'romance', and in providing subjects for 'ennoblement' and heroes
more praiseworthy than the professionals: nolo heroizari is of course as good a start for a hero, as
nolo episcopari for a bishop. Not that I am a 'democrat' in any of its current uses; except that I
suppose, to speak in literary terms, we are all equal before the Great Author, qui deposuit potentes
de sede et exaltavit humiles.6
All the same, I was not prepared to write a 'sequel', in the sense of another children's story. I
had been thinking about 'Fairy Stories' and their relation to children – some of the results I put into
Not any better I think than The Marvellous Land of Snergs, Wyke-Smith, Ernest Benn 1927. Seeing the date, I
should say that this was probably an unconscious source-book!for the Hobbits, not of anything else.
a lecture at St Andrews and eventually enlarged and published in an Essay (among those listed in
the O.U.P. as Essays Presented to Charles Williams and now most scurvily allowed to go out of
print). As I had expressed the view that the connexion in the modern mind between children and
'fairy stories' is false and accidental, and spoils the stories in themselves and for children, I wanted
to try and write one that was not addressed to children at all (as such); also I wanted a large canvas.
A lot of labour was naturally involved, since I had to make a linkage with The Hobbit; but still
more with the background mythology. That had to be re-written as well. The Lord of the Rings is
only the end pan of a work nearly twice as long7 which I worked at between 1936 and 53. (I wanted
to get it all published in chronological order, but that proved impossible.) And the languages had to
be attended to ! If I had considered my own pleasure more than the stomachs of a possible audience,
there would have been a great deal more Elvish in the book. But even the snatches that there are
required, if they were to have a meaning, two organized phonologies and grammars and a large
number of words.
It would have been a big task without anything else; but I have been a moderately conscientious
administrator and teacher, and I changed professorships in 1945 (scrapping all my old lectures).
And of course during the War there was often no time for anything rational. I stuck for ages at the
end of Book Three. Book Four was written as a serial and sent out to my son serving in Africa in
1944. The last two books were written between 1944 and 48. That of course does not mean that the
main idea of the story was a war-product. That was arrived at in one of the earliest chapters still
surviving (Book I, 2). It is really given, and present in germ, from the beginning, though I had no
conscious notion of what the Necromancer stood for (except ever-recurrent evil) in The Hobbit, nor
of his connexion with the Ring. But if you wanted to go on from the end of The Hobbit I think the
ring would be your inevitable choice as the link. If then you wanted a large tale, the Ring would at
once acquire a capital letter; and the Dark Lord would immediately appear. As he did, unasked, on
the hearth at Bag End as soon as I came to that point. So the essential Quest started at once. But I
met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never
been to Bree. Strider sitting in the comer at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was
than had Frodo. The Mines of Moria had been a mere name; and of Lothlórien no word had reached
my mortal ears till I came there. Far away I knew there were the Horse-lords on the confines of an
ancient Kingdom of Men, but Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure. I had never heard of the
House of Eorl nor of the Stewards of Gondor. Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been
revealed to me, and I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf's failure to appear on September 22.1
knew nothing of the Palantíri, though the moment the Orthanc-stone was cast from the window, I
recognized it, and knew the meaning of the 'rhyme of lore' that had been running in my mind: seven
stars and seven stones and one white tree. These rhymes and names will crop up; but they do not
always explain themselves. I have yet to discover anything about the cats of Queen Berúthiel.8 But I
did know more or less all about Gollum and his pan, and Sam, and I knew that the way was guarded
by a Spider. And if that has anything to do with my being stung by a tarantula when a small child,9
people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that any one is interested). I can only
say that I remember nothing about it, should not know it if I had not been told; and I do not dislike
spiders panicularly, and have no urge to kill them. I usually rescue those whom I find in the bath!
Well now I am really getting garrulous. I do hope you will not be frightfully bored. I hope also
to see you again some time. In which case we may perhaps talk about you and your work and not
mine. Any way your interest in mine is a considerable encouragement. With very best wishes.
Yours sincerely, J. R. R. Tolkien.
164 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 29 June 1955
I have had a very gruelling time, with far more work than I could really cope with, plus Vol. III.
I am feeling as flat as a burst tyre; but may revive when (or if, as promised) the final proofs of Vol.
III arrive tomorrow.
The booksellers – among them Mr Wilson of Bumpus – say that, having delayed so long, late in
September is now the proper time for publication. ....
I think 'A and U' may now take the 'earlier history' in some form. When I was in town last
Friday they seemed willing to envisage a book about as long as Vol. I.
165 To the Houghton Mifflin Co.
[On 5 June 1955 in the New York Times Book Review, the columnist Harvey Breit devoted part of his
weekly article 'In and Out of Books' to an account of Tolkien and his writings. It included this passage:
'What, we asked Dr [sic] Tolkien, makes you tick? Dr T., who teaches at Oxford when he isn't writing
novels, has this brisk reply: "I don't tick. I am not a machine. (If I did tick, I should have no views on it, and
you had better ask the winder.) My work did not 'evolve' into a serious work. It started like that. The socalled 'children's story' [The Hobbit] was a fragment, torn out of an already existing mythology. In so far as
it was dressed up as 'for children', in style or manner, I regret it. So do the children. I am a philologist, and
all my work is philological. I avoid hobbies because I am a very serious person and cannot distinguish
between private amusement and duty. I am affable, but unsociable. I only work for private amusement, since
I find my duties privately amusing." '
These remarks were apparently taken from a letter written by Tolkien in answer to enquiries by a
representative of the New York Times. On 30 June 1955, Tolkien wrote to the Houghton Mifflin Co., his
American publishers: 'Please do not blame me for what Breit made of my letter!.... The original made sense:
not a quality, however, of which Harvey B. seems perceptive. I was asked a series of questions, with a
request to answer briefly, brightly, and quotably. .... Out of sheer pity [for another enquirer wanting
information] .... I do enclose a few notes on points other than mere facts of my "curriculum vitae" (which
can be got from reference books).' What follows is these 'few notes'. The text is taken from a typescript
apparently made by the Houghton Mifflin Co. from Tolkien's original; this typescript was sent to a number
of enquirers at different times, some of whom quoted from it in articles about Tolkien. Tolkien himself was
given a copy of the typescript, and he made a number of annotations and corrections to it, which are
incorporated into the text which is here printed.]
My name is TOLKIEN (not -kein). It is a German name (from Saxony), an anglicization of
Tollkiehn, i.e. tollkühn. But, except as a guide to spelling, this fact is as fallacious as all facts in the
raw. For I am neither 'foolhardy'1 nor German, whatever some remote ancestors may have been.
They migrated to England more than 200 years ago, and became quickly intensely English (not
British), though remaining musical – a talent that unfortunately did not descend to me.*
I am in fact far more of a Suffield2 (a family deriving from Evesham in Worcestershire), and it
is to my mother who taught me (until I obtained a scholarship at the ancient Grammar School in
Birmingham) that I owe my tastes for philology, especially of Germanic languages, and for
romance. I am indeed in English terms a West-midiander at home only in the counties upon the
Welsh Marches; and it is, I believe, as much due to descent as to opportunity that Anglo-Saxon and
Western Middle English and alliterative verse have been both a childhood attraction and my main
professional sphere. (I also find the Welsh language specially attractive.†) I write alliterative verse
with pleasure, though I have published little beyond the fragments in The Lord of the Rings, except
'The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth' (in Essays and Studies of the English Association, 1953, London,
John Murray) recently twice broadcast by the BBC: a dramatic dialogue on the nature of the 'heroic'
and the 'chivalrous'. I still hope to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur in the same measure.3
All the same, I was born in Bloemfontein, Orange River Free State – another fallacious fact
(though my earliest memories are of a hot country) since I was shipped home in 1895, and have
spent most of 60 years since in Birmingham and Oxford, except for 5 or 6 years in Leeds: my first
post after the 1914-18 War was in the university there. I am very untravelled, though I know Wales,
and have often been in Scotland (never north of the Tay), and know something of France, Belgium,
and Ireland. I have spent a good deal of time in Ireland, and am since last July actually a D. Litt. of
University College Dublin; but be it noted I first set foot in 'Eire' in 1949 after The Lord of the
Rings was finished, and find both Gaelic and the air of Ireland wholly alien – though the latter (not
the language) is attractive.
I might add that in October I received a degree (Doct. en Lettres et Phil.) at Liège (Belgium) –
The name, spelt this way, also entered the United States, 2 or 3 generations ago, from Canada. I recently had
some correspondence with a family in Texas.
The 'Sindarin', a Grey-elven language, is in fact constructed deliberately to resemble welsh phonologically and to
have a relation to High-elven similar to that existing between British (properly so-called, sc. the Celtic languages
spoken in this island at the time of the Roman Invasion) and Latin. All the names in the book, and the languages, are of
course constructed, and not at random.
if only to record the fact that it astonished me to be welcomed in French as 'le createur de M. Bilbo
Baggins' and still more to be told in explanation of applause that I was a 'set book' ?????? Alas!
If I might elucidate what H. Breit has left of my letter: the remark about 'philology' was
intended to allude to what is I think a primary 'fact' about my work, that it is all of a piece, and
fundamentally linguistic in inspiration. The authorities of the university might well consider it an
aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances, and
call it a 'hobby', pardonable because it has been (surprisingly to me as much as to anyone)
successful. But it is not a 'hobby', in the sense of something quite different from one's work, taken
up as a relief-outlet. The invention of languages is the foundation. The 'stones' were made rather to
provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story
follows.* I should have preferred to write in 'Elvish'. But, of course, such a work as The Lord of the
Rings has been edited and only as much 'language' has been left in as I thought would be stomached
by readers. (I now find that many would have liked more.) But there is a great deal of linguistic
matter (other than actually 'elvish' names and words) included or mythologically expressed in the
book. It is to me, anyway, largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic', as I sometimes say to people who
ask me 'what is it all about?'
It is not 'about' anything but itself. Certainly it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular,
or topical, moral, religious, or political. The only criticism that annoyed me was one that it
'contained no religion' (and 'no Women', but that does not matter, and is not true anyway). It is a
monotheistic world of 'natural theology'. The odd fact that there are no churches, temples, or
religious rites and ceremonies, is simply part of the historical climate depicted. It will be
sufficiently explained, if (as now seems likely) the Silmarillion and other legends of the First and
Second Ages are published. I am in any case myself a Christian; but the 'Third Age' was not a
Christian world.
'Middle-earth', by the way, is not a name of a never-never land without relation to the world we
live in (like the Mercury of Eddison).4 It is just a use of Middle English middel-erde (or erthe),
altered from Old English Middangeard: the name for the inhabited lands of Men 'between the seas'.
And though I have not attempted to relate the shape of the mountains and land-masses to what
geologists may say or surmise about the nearer past, imaginatively this 'history' is supposed to take
place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet.
There are of course certain things and themes that move me specially. The inter-relations
between the 'noble' and the 'simple' (or common, vulgar) for instance. The ennoblement of the
ignoble I find specially moving. I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and
always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment
of animals.
I think the so-called 'fairy story' one of the highest forms of literature, and quite erroneously
associated with children (as such). But my views on that I set out in a lecture delivered at St
Andrew's (on the Andrew Lang foundation, eventually published in Essays Presented to Charles
Williams by Oxford University Press, as 'On Fairy Stories'). I think it is quite an important work, at
least for anyone who thinks me worth considering at all; but the O.U.P. have infuriatingly let it go
out of print, though it is now in demand – and my only copy has been stolen. Still it might be found
in a library, or I might get hold of a copy.
If all this is obscure, wordy, and self-regarding and neither 'bright, brief, nor quotable' forgive
me. Is there anything else you would like me to say?
Yours sincerely,
J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien.
P.S. The book is not of course a 'trilogy'. That and the titles of the volumes was a fudge thought
necessary for publication, owing to length and cost. There is no real division into 3, nor is any one
pan intelligible alone. The story was conceived and written as a whole and the only natural
I once scribbled 'hobbit' on a blank page of some boring school exam. paper in the early 1930's. It was some time
before I discovered what it referred to!
divisions are the 'books' I-VI (which originally had titles).
[Most of the central portion of this autobiographical statement was incorporated into an article, 'Tolkien on
Tolkien', in the October 1966 issue of the magazine Diplomat. This article included three paragraphs not in
the text quoted above, which were presumably written area 1966:]
This business began so far back that it might be said to have begun at birth. Somewhere about
six years old I tried to write some verses on a dragon about which I now remember nothing except
that it contained the expression a green great dragon and that I remained puzzled for a very long
time at being told that this should be great green. But the mythology (and associated languages)
first began to take shape during the 1914-18 war. The Fall of Gondolin (and the birth of Eärendil)
was written in hospital and on leave after surviving the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The kernel of
the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled
with 'hemlocks' (or other white umbellifers) near Roos on the Holderness peninsula – to which I
occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1918.
I came eventually and by slow degrees to write The Lord of the Rings to satisfy myself: of
course without success, at any rate not above 75 percent. But now (when the work is no longer hot,
immediate or so personal) certain features of it, and especially certain places, still move me very
powerfully. The heart remains in the description of Cerin Amroth (end of Vol. I, Bk. ii, ch. 6), but I
am most stirred by the sound of the horses of the Rohirrim at cockcrow; and most grieved by
Gollum's failure (just) to repent when interrupted by Sam : this seems to me really like the real
world in which the instruments of just retribution are seldom themselves just or holy; and the good
are often stumbling blocks. ....
Nothing has astonished me more (and I think my publishers) than the welcome given to The
Lord of the Rings. But it is, of course, a constant source of consolation and pleasure to me. And, I
may say, a piece of singular good fortune, much envied by some of my contemporaries. Wonderful
people still buy the book, and to a man 'retired' that is both grateful and comforting.
166 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 22 July 1955
[The proofs of the Appendices to the third volume, The Return of the King, caused Tolkien much worry.
They arrived late from the printers, and he found that the page intended to carry a phonetic 'key' to the
Angerthas or Dwarf-runes had been printed without the phonetic symbols it was supposed to contain. He
sent back this page with the symbols drawn in by hand, whereupon the printers reproduced this rough
drawing in facsimile, which was not what he had intended; his wish was that they should set up the phonetic
symbols in type. He was also anxious because he had not received page proofs of the narrative of The
Return of the King incorporating revisions that he had sent to the printers some time earlier. The following
letter, dealing with these matters, is typical of many harassed letters he wrote during these weeks.]
I return in separate parcel the material sent to me (arrived mid-day Wednesday). I have done
my best and quickest with it; but I fear I have missed today's post and this will not go until
tomorrow. Time is short, and the material rather intricate!
I am still puzzled and dissatisfied with the procedure – at any rate it makes my part much more
laborious, and greatly increases the chances of errors and discrepancies still appearing in the
published volume.
I know that I sent in corrections after the revised page proofs had been returned. But that is now
a very long time back and I do not yet understand why I should now receive Queries, raised by the
head reader in the course of his 'final reading of the main text' that are not based on the final text,
but on one that does not incorporate numerous (and some extensive) revisions. Errors are almost
certain to occur, or to have occurred, at some of these points. The compositors always make
mistakes in setting from my handwriting!
I am also a little disturbed because though the selected pages of Queries are presented 'for
Queries only', and contain corrections of small details (as well as Queries) throughout, there remain
errors in these pages that are neither queried nor corrected. For instance the heading House of
Healing throughout Bk. V Ch. 8 in spite of the chapter title.
I have, however, v. little time left now, and could not deal with anything that arrived after Wed.
morning next. Not being satisfied nor indeed (frankly) wholly reassured, I have made out a list of
all the emendations, insertions, and corrections of the main text which do not yet appear in the
proofs. I have made this list as clear as I can, and I hope it will be carefully checked with the text.
I can only hope that the Angerthas will come out all right in the wash! But I am rather anxious.
Jarrolds appear to have adopted my suggestion and now propose to use the phonetic letter ŋ instead
of my . But the Table in printable form that I sent in, & which you reported (on 'phone) was being
adopted, used .
I hope care will be taken to use either
or ŋ throughout. And also, please, NOT to
replace ng by ŋ. I am alarmed by the Reader's query of ng at the end of (p. 404) line 23. This
reveals that, for all his eagle eye, he has not understood the simple distinction that is being made; or
so it would seem.....
I hope some of this is legible. I am v. tired.
167 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien 15 August 1955
[Tolkien, with his daughter Priscilla, visited Italy from late July to mid-August.]
I am still staggered by the frescoes of Assisi. You must visit it. We came in for the great feast
of Santa Chiara and the eve Aug. 11-12. High Mass sung by Cardinal Micara with silver trumpets at
the elevation!
I am typing out a diary. I remain in love with Italian, and feel quite lorn without a chance of
trying to speak it! We must keep it up.....
On the whole for pure fun and pleasure, I enjoyed the first days at Venice most. But we lived v.
cheap in Assisi, and I have brought about £50 back. Our opera was washed out by torrents all
Thursday evening; but they put on a special extra on Friday (our last day in Venice) at which our
tickets were good. So we had our Rigoletto. Perfectly astounding.
168 To Richard Jeffery
[A reply to a reader who had asked for a translation of the opening words of one of Treebeard's songs (Book
III, chapter 4), and for an explanation of several names, including 'Onodrim', the Sindarin Elvish name for
the Ents.]
7 September 1955
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mr Jeffery,
Thank you very much for your letter.... It came while I was away, in Gondor (sc. Venice), as a
change from the North Kingdom, or I would have answered before.
At any rate your command of Elvish script (not Runes) is quite good enough to read. But there
are, of course, no rules for the application to English, so it is impossible to make mistakes, unless
according to your own system – so I suppose your name is Richard, though you wrote
which on your system should be Rijard (
for ).However, there will be sufficient description of
the 'letters' (tengwar) and of the 'runes' (certar) in Vol. III Appendices for any one who is
It has unfortunately not proved possible, as I had hoped, to give an index of Names (with
meanings), which would have provided also a fair vocabulary of Elvish words. There were far too
many and the space and cost were prohibitive. But I spent a long time trying to make a list, and that
is one reason for the delay of Vol. III. ....
Most of the questions you ask will be answered in Vol. III, I think. .... Orofarne, lassemista,
carnemírie is High-elven (the language preferred by Ents) for 'mountain-dwelling, leaf-grey, with
adornment of red jewels'.
The 'correct' plural of onod was enyd, or general plural onodrim; though ened might be a form
used in Gondor. But en, ened = middle, centre as in Endor, Endóre Middle-earth (S. ennorath); and
enedwaith = middle-people/ or region, as Forodwaith = north-region, &c. It was not a desert when
the name was given; but became so during the Third Age.1 See the Chronology of the Second and
Third Ages in Appendices to Vol. III. Peregrin is, of course, a real modern name, though it means
'traveller in strange countries'. Frodo is a real name from the Germanic tradition. Its Old English
form was Fróda. Its obvious connexion is with the old word fród meaning etymologically 'wise by
experience', but it had mythological connexions with legends of the Golden Age in the North. ....
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien
169 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 11 September 1955
Your discovery of 'Numinor' in C.S.L.'s That Hideous Strength is discovery of a plagiarism:
well, not that, since he used the word, taken from my legends of the First and Second Ages, in the
belief that they would soon appear. They have not, but I suppose now they may. The spelling
Numinor is due to his hearing it and not seeing it. Númenóre or Númenor means in High-elven
simply West-land. As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that was devised
'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleontologically. I do sometimes wish that I had made
some sort of agreement between the imaginations or theories of the geologists and my map a little
more possible. But that would only have made more trouble with human history.
170 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 30 September 1955
When is Vol. III likely now to appear? I shall be murdered if something does not happen soon.
171 To Hugh Brogan
[In December 1954, Brogan wrote to Tolkien criticising the archaic narrative style of parts of The Two Towers, especially the chapter 'The King
of the Golden Hall' ; he called this style 'Ossianic', and said he agreed with a critic's description of it as 'tushery'. At the time, Tolkien made no
reply to this; but when on 18 September 1955 Brogan wrote again, apologising for being 'impertinent, stupid, or sycophantic', Tolkien began to
draft what follows. In the event he did not send it, but instead wrote a brief note saying that the matter of archaism 'would take too long to
debate' in a letter and must wait until their next meeting.]
[September 1955]
Dear Hugh,
.... Don't be disturbed: I have not noticed any impertinence (or sycophancy) in your letters; and
anyone so appreciative and so perceptive is entitled to criticism. Anyway, I do not naturally breathe
an air of undiluted incense! It was not what you said (last letter but one, not the one that I answered)
or your right to say it, that might have called for a reply, if I had the time for it; but the pain that I
always feel when anyone – in an age when almost all auctorial manhandling of English is permitted
(especially if disruptive) in the name of art or 'personal expression' – immediately dismisses out of
court deliberate 'archaism'. The proper use of 'tushery' is to apply it to the kind of bogus 'medieval'
stuff which attempts (without knowledge) to give a supposed temporal colour with expletives, such
as tush, pish, zounds, marry, and the like. But a real archaic English is far more terse than modern;
also many of things said could not be said in our slack and often frivolous idiom. Of course, not
being specially well read in modern English, and far more familiar with works in the ancient and
'middle' idioms, my own ear is to some extent affected; so that though I could easily recollect how a
modern would put this or that, what comes easiest to mind or pen is not quite that. But take an
example from the chapter that you specially singled out (and called terrible): Book iii, "The King of
the Golden Hall'. 'Nay, Gandalf!' said the King. 'You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall
not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep
This is a fair sample — moderated or watered archaism. Using only words that still are used or
known to the educated, the King would really have said: 'Nay, thou (n')wost1 not thine own skill in
healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall . . .' etc. I know well enough what a
modern would say. 'Not at all my dear G. You don't know your own skill as a doctor. Things aren't
going to be like that. I shall go to the war in person, even if I have to be one of the first casualties'
— and then what? Theoden would certainly think, and probably say 'thus shall I sleep better'! But
people who think like that just do not talk a modern idiom. You can have 'I shall lie easier in my
grave', or 'I should sleep sounder in my grave like that rather than if I stayed at home' – if you like.
But there would be an insincerity of thought, a disunion of word and meaning. For a King who
spoke in a modern style would not really think in such terms at all, and any reference to sleeping
quietly in the grave would be a deliberate archaism of expression on his part (however worded) far
more bogus than the actual 'archaic' English that I have used. Like some non-Christian making a
reference to some Christian belief which did not in fact move him at all.
Or p. 127, as an example of 'archaism' that cannot be defended as 'dramatic', since it is not in
dialogue, but the author's description of the arming of the guests – which seemed specially to upset
you. But such 'heroic' scenes do not occur in a modern setting to which a modern idiom belongs.
Why deliberately ignore, refuse to use the wealth of English which leaves us a choice of styles –
without any possibility of unintelligibility.
I can see no more reason for not using the much terser and more vivid ancient style, than for
changing the obsolete weapons, helms, shields, hauberks into modern uniforms.
'Helms too they chose' is archaic. Some (wrongly) class it as an 'inversion', since normal order
is 'They also chose helmets' or 'they chose helmets too'. (Real mod. E. 'They also picked out some
helmets and round shields'.) But this is not normal order, and if mod. E. has lost the trick of putting
a word desired to emphasize (for pictorial, emotional or logical reasons) into prominent first place,
without addition of a lot of little 'empty' words (as the Chinese say), so much the worse for it. And
so much the better for it the sooner it learns the trick again. And some one must begin the teaching,
by example.
I am sorry to find you affected by the extraordinary 20th.C. delusion that its usages per se and
simply as 'contemporary' – irrespective of whether they are terser, more vivid (or even nobler!) –
have some peculiar validity, above those of all other times, so that not to use them (even when quite
unsuitable in tone) is a solecism, a gaffe, a thing at which one's friends shudder or feel hot in the
collar. Shake yourself out of this parochialism of time! Also (not to be too donnish) learn to
discriminate between the bogus and genuine antique – as you would if you hoped not to be cheated
by a dealer!
[The draft ends here.]
172 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 12 October 1955
[Allen & Unwin proposed to publish The Return of the King on 20 October 1955.]
Don't fail of 20 October! The last possible day. On the 21st. I have to give the first 'O'Donnell
Lecture' (overdue), & I must hope that a large part of my audience will be so bemused by sitting up
late the night before that they will not so closely observe my grave lack of equipment as a lecturer
on a Celtic subject.1 Anyway, I want to tactfully allude to the book, since a part of what I wish to
say is about 'Celticness' and in what that consists as a linguistic pattern.
173 From a letter to Katherine Farrer 24 October 1955
[The Return of the King was duly published on 20 October.]
Since (in spite of being laid up with a throat that made lecturing impossible until last Friday) I
have actually managed to deliver the O'Donnell Lecture on English and Welsh (Friday), and am no
longer a college official, and the Book is complete – except for an errata slip for the reprint already
required for Vol. III, to cover the important errors of the whole: I shall be a great deal freer after
this week. ....
I am indeed surprised at the reception of the 'Ring', and immensely pleased. But I don't think I
have started any tide. I don't think such a small hobbitlike creature, or even a Man of any size, does
that. If there is a tide (I think there is) then I am just lucky enough to have caught it, being just a bit
of it. ....
I still feel the picture incomplete without something on Samwise and Elanor, but I could not
devise anything that would not have destroyed the ending, more than the hints (possibly sufficient)
in the appendices.
174 To Lord Halsbury
[Lord Halsbury, at that time Managing Director of the National Research Development Corporation, wrote
to suggest that The Silmarillion might be published by subscription, if Allen & Unwin were unwilling to
under-take it on a commercial basis.]
10 November 1955
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Lord Halsbury,
It was kind of you to write, & I was pleased to have your approval and interest. I was also
grateful for your suggestion of an edition by subscription.
However, the surprising welcome given to The Lord of the Rings will probably make this
procedure unnecessary; and has justified the publishers' firm resolve to issue the present work first;
though I wanted to present the matter in 'chronological order'. For one thing, it would have
lightened and quickened the narrative of the Third Age!
I do not think that anything is referred to in The L. of the R. which does not actually exist in
legends written before it was begun, or at least belonging to an earlier period — except only the
'cats of Queen Berúthiel'.1 But I am afraid that all the matter of the First and Second Ages is very
'high-mythical' or Elvish and heroic, and there is no 'hobbitry' at all: an ingredient that seems to
have made the present mixture more generally palatable.
Since the publishers are now pressing for the Silmarillion &c. (which was long ago turned
down), I do intend as soon as I can find time to try to set the material in order for publication.
Though I am rather tired, and no longer young enough to pillage the night to make up for the deficit
of hours in the day....
It might conceivably interest you to see some of this [The Silmarillion] before it is properly
shaped or revised, bearing in mind that it is likely to be much altered in detail & presentation – and
certainly in style.
Thanking you again for your encouragement.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
175 From a letter to Mrs Molly Waldron 30 November 1955
[The Lord of the Rings was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme during 1955 and 1956. Among the
large cast, the pans of Gandalf and Tom Bombadil were played by the actor Norman Shelley.]
I think the book quite unsuitable for 'dramatization', and have not enjoyed the broadcasts –
though they have improved. I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful — but worse still was the
announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an
ally of Mordor (!!). Cannot people imagine things hostile to men and hobbits who prey on them
without being in league with the Devil!
176 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 8 December 1955
I had to deliver the opening lecture of the newly-founded O'Donnell Lectures in Celtic Studies
– already overdue: and I composed it with 'all the woe in the world', as the Gawain-poet says of the
wretched fox with the hounds on his tail. All the more woe, since I am the merest amateur in such
matters, and Celtic scholars are critical and litigious; and more woe since I was smitten with
I think poorly of the broadcast adaptations. Except for a few details I think they are not well
done, even granted the script and the legitimacy of the enterprise (which I do not grant). But they
took some trouble with the names. I thought that the Dwarf (Glóin not Gimli, but I suppose Gimli
will look like his father – apparently someone's idea of a German) was not too bad, if a bit
exaggerated. I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations,
speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.....
I have now got a pestilent doctorate thesis to explore, when I would rather be doing something
less useful.....
I am sorry about my childish amusement with arithmetic; but there it is: the Númenórean
calendar was just a bit better than the Gregorian: the latter being on average 26 secs fast p. a., and
the N[úmenórean] 17.2 secs slow.
177 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 December 1955
[The radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was discussed on the BBC programme 'The Critics'; and on
16 November, W. H. Auden gave a radio talk about the book in which he said: 'If someone dislikes it, I shall
never trust their literary judgement about anything again.' Meanwhile Edwin Muir, reviewing The Return of
the King in the Observer on 27 November, wrote: 'All the characters are boys masquerading as adult heroes
.... and will never come to puberty. .... Hardly one of them knows anything about women.']
I agreed with the 'critics' view of the radio adaptation; but I was annoyed that after confessing
that none of them had read the book they should turn their attention to it and me — including
surmises on my religion. I also thought Auden rather bad – he cannot at any rate read verse, having
a poor rhythmical sense; and deplored his making the book 'a test of literary taste'. You cannot do
that with any work – and if you could you only infuriate. I was fully prepared for Roben Robinson's
rejoinder 'fair-ground barker'. But I suppose all this is good for sales. My correspondence is now
increased by letters of fury against the critics and the broadcast. One elderly lady – in pan the model
for 'Lobelia' indeed, though she does not suspect it – would I think certainly have set about Auden
(and others) had they been in range of her umbrella. ....
I hope in this vacation to begin surveying the Silmarillion; though evil fate has plumped a
doctorate thesis on me.....
Blast Edwin Muir and his delayed adolescence. He is old enough to know better. It might do
him good to hear what women think of his 'knowing about women', especially as a test of being
mentally adult. If he had an M.A. I should nominate him for the professorship of poetry1 – a sweet
178 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 12 December 1955
[Containing a reference to Sarehole, the hamlet where Tolkien spent pan of his childhood.]
By the way, there is no need to alter 'Mr' to Professor. In proper Oxford tradition professor is
not a title of address – or was not, though the habit has drifted in from places where 'professors' are
powerful little domestic potentates. I am sure that without 'professor' I should have heard less about
my donnishness, and no one would have said 'The Shire is not far from North Oxford'. It is in fact
more or less a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee – that is as far away
as the Third Age from that depressing and perfectly characterless straggle of houses north of old
Oxford, which has not even a postal existence.
179 From a letter to Hugh Brogan 14 December 1955
[Brogan wrote on 4 December to say that he had 'recurrent nightmares' that he might have been stupid or
tactless, or given a wrong impression of 'my real admiration for your great book'.]
Dismiss the nightmare! I can stand criticism – not being unduly puffed up by the success (v.
unexpected) of 'The Lord of the Rings' – even when stupid, or unfair, or even (as I occasionally
suspect) a little malicious. Otherwise I should be in a fine taking, what with 'emasculate' and other
kind adjectives. But you are welcome to let your pen run as it will (it is horrible writing letters to
people with whom you have to be 'careful'), since you give me such close attention, and sensitive
180 To 'Mr Thompson' [draft]
[A letter to an unidentified reader.]
14 January 1956
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Mr Thompson,
Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging letter. Having set myself a task, the
arrogance of which I fully recognized and trembled at: being precisely to restore to the English an
epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own: it is a wonderful thing to be told that
I have succeeded, at least with those who have still the undarkened heart and mind.
It has been a considerable labour, beginning really as soon as I was able to begin anything, but
effectively beginning when I was an undergraduate and began to explore my own linguistic
aesthetic in language-composition. It was just as the 1914 War burst on me that I made the
discovery that 'legends' depend on the language to which they belong; but a living language
depends equally on the 'legends' which it conveys by tradition. (For example, that the Greek
mythology depends far more on the marvellous aesthetic of its language and so of its nomenclature
of persons and places and less on its content than people realize, though of course it depends on
both. And vice versa. Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial,1 &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient
unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends.) So though being a
philologist by nature and trade (yet one always primarily interested in the aesthetic rather than the
functional aspects of language) I began with language, I found myself involved in inventing
'legends' of the same 'taste'. The early work was mostly done in camps and hospitals between 1915
and 1918 – when time allowed. But I think a lot of this kind of work goes on at other (to say lower,
deeper, or higher introduces a false gradation) levels, when one is saying how-do-you-do, or even
'sleeping'. I have long ceased to invent (though even patronizing or sneering critics on the side
praise my 'invention'): I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus,
though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great
River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard'
chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is. And then I saw that, of
course, it had not happened to Frodo at all.
All this is boring, I am sure, because it is apparently self-centred; but I am old enough (alas!) to
take a dispassionate and scientific, properly so-called, interest in these matters, and cite myself
simply because I am interested in mythological 'invention', and the mystery of literary creation (or
sub-creation as I have elsewhere called it) and I am the most readily available corpus vile for
experiment or observation.
My chief reason for talking so, is to say that, of course, all these things are more or less written.
There is hardly any reference in The Lord of the Rings to things that do not actually exist* on its
own plane (of secondary or sub-creational reality): sc. have been written. The Silmarillion was
offered for publication years ago, and turned down. Good may come of such blows. The Lord of the
Rings was the result. The hobbits had been welcomed. I loved them myself, since I love the vulgar
and simple as dearly as the noble, and nothing moves my heart (beyond all the passions and
heartbreaks of the world) so much as 'ennoblement' (from the Ugly Duckling to Frodo). I would
build on the hobbits. And I saw that I was meant to do it (as Gandalf† would say), since without
thought, in a 'blurb' I wrote for The Hobbit, I spoke of the time between the Elder Days and the
Dominion of Men. Out ofthat came the 'missing link': the 'Downfall of Númenor', releasing some
hidden 'complex'. For when Faramir speaks of his private vision of the Great Wave, he speaks for
me. That vision and dream has been ever with me — and has been inherited (as I only discovered
recently) by one of my children.3
However, such has been the success – not financial: costs were enormous, and nobody
The cats of Queen Berúthiel and the names and adventures of the other 2 wizards2 (5 minus Saruman, Gandalf,
Radagast) are all that I recollect.
I am not Gandalf, being a transcendent Sub-creator in this little world. As far as any character is 'like me' it is
Faramir – except that I lack what all my characters possess (let the psychoanalysts note!) Courage.
nowadays buys a book that they can borrow: I have not yet received a farthing – of The Lord of the
Rings that the ugly duckling has become a publisher's swan, and I am being positively bullied to put
The Silmarillion into form, and anything else!
[The draft is incomplete.]
181 To Michael Straight [drafts]
[Before writing a review of The Lord of the Rings, Michael Straight, the editor of New Republic, wrote to
Tolkien asking a number of questions: first, whether there was a 'meaning' in Gollum's rôle in the story and
in Frodo's moral failure at the climax; second, whether the 'Scouring of the Shire' chapter was directed
especially to contemporary England; and third, why the other voyagers should depart from the Grey Havens
with Frodo at the end of the book – 'Is it for the same reason that there are those who gain in the victory but
cannot enjoy it?']
[Not dated; probably January or February 1956.]
Dear Mr Straight,
Thank you for your letter. I hope that you have enjoyed The Lord of the Rings? Enjoyed is the
key-word. For it was written to amuse (in the highest sense): to be readable. There is no 'allegory',
moral, political, or contemporary in the work at all.
It is a 'fairy-story', but one written – according to the belief I once expressed in an extended
essay 'On Fairy-stories' that they are the proper audience – for adults. Because I think that fairy
story has its own mode of reflecting 'truth', different from allegory, or (sustained) satire, or 'realism',
and in some ways more powerful. But first of all it must succeed just as a tale, excite, please, and
even on occasion move, and within its own imagined world be accorded (literary) belief. To
succeed in that was my primary object.
But, of course, if one sets out to address 'adults' (mentally adult people anyway), they will not
be pleased, excited, or moved unless the whole, or the incidents, seem to be about something worth
considering, more e.g. than mere danger and escape: there must be some relevance to the 'human
situation' (of all periods). So something of the teller's own reflections and 'values' will inevitably get
worked in. This is not the same as allegory. We all, in groups or as individuals, exemplify general
principles; but we do not represent them. The Hobbits are no more an 'allegory' than are (say) the
pygmies of the African forest. Gollum is to me just a 'character' – an imagined person – who
granted the situation acted so and so under opposing strains, as it appears to he probable that he
would (there is always an incalculable element in any individual real or imagined: otherwise he/she
would not be an individual but a 'type'.)
I will try and answer your specific questions. The final scene of the Quest was so shaped simply
because having regard to the situation, and to the 'characters' of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, those
events seemed to me mechanically, morally, and psychologically credible. But, of course, if you
wish for more reflection, I should say that within the mode of the story the 'catastrophe' exemplifies
(an aspect of) the familiar words: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against
us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'
'Lead us not into temptation &c' is the harder and the less often considered petition. The view,
in the terms of my story, is that though every event or situation has (at least) two aspects: the
history and development of the individual (it is something out of which he can get good, ultimate
good, for himself, or fail to do so), and the history of the world (which depends on his action for its
own sake) – still there are abnormal situations in which one may be placed. 'Sacrificial' situations, I
should call them: sc. positions in which the 'good' of the world depends on the behaviour of an
individual in circumstances which demand of him suffering and endurance far beyond the normal –
even, it may happen (or seem, humanly speaking), demand a strength of body and mind which he
does not possess: he is in a sense doomed to failure, doomed to fall to temptation or be broken by
pressure against his 'will': that is against any choice he could make or would make unfettered, not
under the duress.
Frodo was in such a position: an apparently complete trap: a person of greater native power
could probably never have resisted the Ring's lure to power so long; a person of less power could
not hope to resist it in the final decision. (Already Frodo had been unwilling to harm the Ring
before he set out, and was incapable of surrendering it to Sam.)
The Quest
was bound to fail as a piece of world-plan, and also was bound to end in disaster
as the story of humble Frodo's development to the 'noble', his sanctification. Fail it would and did as
far as Frodo considered alone was concerned. He 'apostatized' – and I have had one savage letter,
crying out that he shd. have been executed as a traitor, not honoured. Believe me, it was not until I
read this that I had myself any idea how 'topical' such a situation might appear. It arose naturally
from my 'plot' conceived in main outline in 1936.1 I did not foresee that before the tale was
published we should enter a dark age in which the technique of torture and disruption of personality
would rival that of Mordor and the Ring and present us with the practical problem of honest men of
good will broken down into apostates and traitors.
But at this point the 'salvation' of the world and Frodo's own 'salvation' is achieved by his
previous pity and forgiveness of injury. At any point any prudent person would have told Frodo that
Gollum would certainly* betray him, and could rob him in the end. To 'pity' him, to forbear to kill
him, was a piece of folly, or a mystical belief in the ultimate value-in-itself of pity and generosity
even if disastrous in the world of time. He did rob him and injure him in the end – but by a 'grace',
that last betrayal was at a precise juncture when the final evil deed was the most beneficial thing
any one cd. have done for Frodo! By a situation created by his 'forgiveness', he was saved himself,
and relieved of his burden. He was very justly accorded the highest honours – since it is clear that
he & Sam never concealed the precise course of events. Into the ultimate judgement upon Gollum I
would not care to enquire. This would be to investigate 'Goddes privitee', as the Medievals said.
Gollum was pitiable, but he ended in persistent wickedness, and the fact that this worked good was
no credit to him. His marvellous courage and endurance, as great as Frodo and Sam's or greater,
being devoted to evil was portentous, but not honourable. I am afraid, whatever our beliefs, we have
to face the fact that there are persons who yield to temptation, reject their chances of nobility or
salvation, and appear to be 'damnable'. Their 'damnability' is not measurable in the terms of the
macrocosm (where it may work good). But we who are all 'in the same boat' must not usurp the
Judge. The domination of the Ring was much too strong for the mean soul of Sméagol. But he
would have never had to endure it if he had not become a mean son of thief before it crossed his
path. Need it ever have crossed his path? Need anything dangerous ever cross any of our paths? A
kind of answer cd. be found in trying to imagine Gollum overcoming temptation. The story would
have been quite different! By temporizing, not fixing the still not wholly corrupt Smeagol-will
towards good in the debate in the slag hole, he weakened himself for the final chance when
dawning love of Frodo was too easily withered by the jealousy of Sam before Shelob's lair. After
that he was lost.
There is no special reference to England in the 'Shire' – except of course that as an Englishman
brought up in an 'almost rural' village of Warwickshire on the edge of the prosperous bourgeoisie of
Birmingham (about the time of the Diamond Jubilee!) I take my models like anyone else – from
such 'life' as I know. But there is no post-war reference. I am not a 'socialist' in any sense — being
averse to 'planning' (as must be plain) most of all because the 'planners', when they acquire power,
become so bad – but I would not say that we had to suffer the malice of Sharkey and his Ruffians
here. Though the spirit of 'Isengard', if not of Mordor, is of course always cropping up. The present
design of destroying Oxford in order to accommodate motor-cars is a case.2 But our chief adversary
is a member of a 'Tory' Government. But you could apply it anywhere in these days.
Yes: I think that 'victors' never can enjoy 'victory' – not in the terms that they envisaged; and in
so far as they fought for something to be enjoyed by themselves (whether acquisition or mere
preservation) the less satisfactory will 'victory' seem. But the departure of the Ringbearers has quite
another side, as far as the Three are concerned. There is, of course, a mythological structure behind
this story. It was actually written first, and may now perhaps be in part published. It is, I should say,
a 'monotheistic but "sub-creational" mythology'. There is no embodiment of the One, of God, who
indeed remains remote, outside the World, and only directly accessible to the Valar or Rulers.
These take the place of the 'gods', but are created spirits, or those of the primary creation who by
their own will have entered into the world.† But the One retains all ultimate authority, and (or so it
'Not quite 'certainly'. The clumsiness in fidelity of Sam was what finally pushed Gollum over the brink, when
about to repent.
'They shared in its 'making' — but only on the same terms as we 'make' a work of art or story. The realization of
it, the gift to it of a created reality of the same grade as their own, was the act of the One God.
seems as viewed in serial time) reserves the right to intrude the finger of God into the story: that is
to produce realities which could not be deduced even from a complete knowledge of the previous
past, but which being real become part of the effective past for all subsequent time (a possible
definition of a 'miracle'). According to the fable Elves and Men were the first of these intrusions,
made indeed while the 'story' was still only a story and not 'realized' ; they were not therefore in any
sense conceived or made by the gods, the Valar, and were called the Eruhíni or 'Children of God',
and were for the Valar an incalculable element: that is they were rational creatures of free will in
regard to God, of the same historical rank as the Valar, though of far smaller spiritual and
intellectual power and status.
Of course, in fact exterior to my story. Elves and Men are just different aspects of the Humane,
and represent the problem of Death as seen by a finite but willing and self-conscious person. In this
mythological world the Elves and Men are in their incarnate forms kindred, but in the relation of
their 'spirits' to the world in time represent different 'experiments', each of which has its own natural
trend, and weakness. The Elves represent, as it were, the artistic, aesthetic, and purely scientific
aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men. That is: they
have a devoted love of the physical world, and a desire to observe and understand it for its own sake
and as 'other' – sc. as a reality derived from God in the same degree as themselves – not as a
material for use or as a power-platform. They also possess a 'subcreational' or artistic faculty of
great excellence. They are therefore 'immortal'. Not 'eternally', but to endure with and within the
created world, while its story lasts. When 'killed', by the injury or destruction of their incarnate
form, they do not escape from time, but remain in the world, either discarnate, or being re-born.
This becomes a great burden as the ages lengthen, especially in a world in which there is malice and
destruction (I have left out the mythological form which Malice or the Fall of the Angels takes in
this fable). Mere change as such is not represented as 'evil': it is the unfolding of the story and to
refuse this is of course against the design of God. But the Elvish weakness is in these terms
naturally to regret the past, and to become unwilling to face change: as if a man were to hate a very
long book still going on, and wished to settle down in a favourite chapter. Hence they fell in a
measure to Sauron's deceits: they desired some 'power' over things as they are (which is quite
distinct from an), to make their particular will to preservation effective: to arrest change, and keep
things always fresh and fair. The 'Three Rings' were 'unsullied', because this object was in a limited
way good, it included the healing of the real damages of malice, as well as the mere arrest of
change; and the Elves did not desire to dominate other wills, nor to usurp all the world to their
particular pleasure. But with the downfall of 'Power' their little efforts at preserving the past fell to
bits. There was nothing more in Middle-earth for them, but weariness. So Elrond and Galadriel
depart. Gandalf is a special case. He was not the maker or original holder of the Ring – but it was
surrendered to him by Círdan, to assist him in his task. Gandalf was returning, his labour and errand
finished, to his home, the land of the Valar.
The passage over Sea is not Death. The 'mythology' is Elf-centred. According to it there was at
first an actual Earthly Paradise, home and realm of the Valar, as a physical part of the earth.
There is no 'embodiment' of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology. Gandalf is a
'created' person; though possibly a spirit that existed before in the physical world. His function as a
'wizard' is an angelos or messenger from the Valar or Rulers: to assist the rational creatures of
Middle-earth to resist Sauron, a power too great for them unaided. But since in the view of this tale
& mythology Power – when it dominates or seeks to dominate other wills and minds (except by the
assent of their reason) – is evil, these 'wizards' were incarnated in the life-forms of Middle-earth,
and so suffered the pains both of mind and body. They were also, for the same reason, thus involved
in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of 'fall', of sin, if you will. The chief form this would
take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends,
and so inevitably at last to mere desire to make their own wills effective by any means. To this evil
Saruman succumbed. Gandalf did not. But the situation became so much the worse by the fall of
Saruman, that the 'good' were obliged to greater effort and sacrifice. Thus Gandalf faced and
suffered death; and came back or was sent back, as he says, with enhanced power. But though one
may be in this reminded of the Gospels, it is not really the same thing at all. The Incarnation of God
is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write. Here I am only concerned with
Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees. That
is why I regard the tale of Arwen and Aragorn as the most important of the Appendices; it is pan of
the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative
without destroying its structure: which is planned to be 'hobbito-centric', that is, primarily a study of
the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble.
[None of the drafts from which this text has been assembled was completed.]
182 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co.
[Not dated; 1956]
I shall certainly now, if I am allowed, publish the parts of the great history that was written
first—and rejected. But the (to me v. surprising) success of The Lord of the Rings will probably
cause that rejection to be reconsidered. Though I do not think it would have the appeal of the L. R.
– no hobbits ! Full of mythology, and elvishness, and all that 'heigh stile' (as Chaucer might say),
which has been so little to the taste of many reviewers. But I am not allowed to get at it. I am not
only submerged (sans secretary) under business of the L.R., but also under professional business –
one of the ways of making us professors 'go quietly' with practically no pension, is to make our last
two or three years of office intolerably laborious – ; while the appearance of the L.R. has landed me
in the pincers. Most of my philological colleagues* are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes
to my face) at the fall of a philological into 'Trivial literature'; and anyway the cry is: 'now we know
how you have been wasting your time for 20 years'. So the screw is on for many things of a more
professional kind long overdue. Alas! I like them both, but have only one man's time. Also I am
getting rather ripe, if not actually decrepit! With the retirement this summer of Sir John Beasly, and
Lord Cherwell, I am left the senior professor of this ancient institution, having sat in a chair here
since 1925 – or 31 years, though no one seems to observe the fact. Except for one or two who cry:
'How long, O Lord, how long?', yearning for the padded seat (actually stuffed with thistle, as one of
them will discover).
Notably C. L. Wrenn who succeeded me as professor of Anglo-Saxon and who is, I believe, coming to the U.S.A.
this autumn for a year, if you (i.e. U.S.A. officials) let him in.
183 Notes on W. H. Auden's review of The Return of the King
[A comment, apparently written for Tolkien's own satisfaction and not sent or shown to anyone else, on 'At
the End of the Quest, Victory', a review of The Return of the King by W. H. Auden in the New York Times
Book Review, 22 January 1956. The text given here is a rewriting at some later date of an earlier version,
now lost, which was in all probability written in 1956. In the review, Auden wrote: 'Life, as I experience it
in my own person, is primarily a continuous succession of choices between alternatives. .... For objectifying
this experience, the natural image is that of a journey with a purpose, beset by dangerous hazards and
obstacles. .... But when I observe my fellow-men, such an image seems false. I can see, for example, that
only the rich and those on vacation can take journeys; most men, most of the time, must work in one place. I
cannot observe them making choices, only the actions they take and, if I know someone well, I can usually
predict how he will act in a given situation. . . . . If, then, I try to describe what I see as if I were an
impersonal camera, I shall produce, not a Quest, but a "naturalistic" document. .... Both extremes, of course,
falsify life. There are medieval Quests which justify the criticism made by Erich Auerbach in his book
Mimesis: "The world of knightly proving is a world of adventure. .... [The knight's] exploits . . . . are feats
accomplished at random which do not fit into any politically purposive pattern." . . . . Mr Tolkien has
succeeded more completely than any previous writer in this genre in using the traditional properties of the
I am very grateful for this review. Most encouraging, as coming from a man who is both a poet
and a critic of distinction. Yet not (I think) one who has much practised the telling of tales. In any
case I am a little surprised by it, for in spite of its praise it seems to me a critic's way of talking
rather than an author's. It is not, to my feeling, the right way of considering either Quests in general
or my story in particular. I believe that it is precisely because I did not try, and have never thought
of trying to 'objectify' my personal experience of life that the account of the Quest of the Ring is
successful in giving pleasure to Auden (and others). Probably it is also the reason, in many cases,
why it has failed to please some readers and critics. The story is not about JRRT at all, and is at no
point an attempt to allegorize his experience of life – for that is what the objectifying of his
subjective experience in a tale must mean, if anything.
I am historically minded. Middle-earth is not an imaginary world. The name is the modern form
(appearing in the 13th century and still in use) of midden-erd > middel-erd, an ancient name for the
oikoumenē, the abiding place of Men, the objectively real world, in use specifically opposed to
imaginary worlds (as Fairyland) or unseen worlds (as Heaven or Hell). The theatre of my tale is this
earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary. The essentials of that
abiding place are all there (at any rate for inhabitants of N.W. Europe), so naturally it feels familiar,
even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time.
Men do go, and have in history gone on journeys and quests, without any intention of acting out
allegories of life. It is not true of the past or the present to say that 'only the rich or those on
vacation can take journeys'. Most men make some journeys. Whether long or short, with an errand
or simply to go 'there and back again', is not of primary importance. As I tried to express it in
Bilbo's Walking Song, even an afternoon-to-evening walk may have important effects. When Sam
had got no further than the Woody End he had already had an 'eye-opener'. For if there is anything
in a journey of any length, for me it is this: a deliverance from the plantlike state of helpless passive
sufferer, an exercise however small of will, and mobility – and of curiosity, without which a
rational mind becomes stultified. (Though of course all this is an afterthought, and misses the major
point. To a story-teller a journey is a marvellous device. It provides a strong thread on which a
multitude of things that he has in mind may be strung to make a new thing, various, unpredictable,
and yet coherent. My chief reason for using this form was simply technical.)
In any case I do not look on those of my fellow men that I have observed in the way described.
I am old enough now to have observed some of them long enough to have a notion of what, I
suppose, Auden would call their basic or innate character, while noting changes (often
considerable) in their modes of behaviour. I do not feel that a journey in space is a useful
comparison for understanding these processes. I think that comparison with a seed is more
illuminating: a seed with its innate vitality and heredity, its capacity to grow and develop. A great
pan of the 'changes' in a man are no doubt unfoldings of the patterns hidden in the seed; though
these are of course modified by the situation (geographical or climatic) into which it is thrown, and
may be damaged by terrestrial accidents. But this comparison leaves out inevitably an important
point. A man is not only a seed, developing in a defined pattern, well or ill according to its situation
or its defects as an example of its species; a man is both a seed and in some degree also a gardener,
for good or ill. I am impressed by the degree in which the development of 'character' can be a
product of conscious intention, the will to modify innate tendencies in desired directions; in some
cases the change can be great and permanent. I have known one or two men and women who could
be described as 'self-made' in this respect with at least as much partial truth as 'self-made' can be
applied to those whose affluence or position can be said to have been achieved largely by their own
will and efforts with little or no help from inherited wealth or social position.
In any case, I personally find most people incalculable in any particular situation or emergency.
Perhaps because I am not a good judge of character. But even Auden says only that he can 'usually
predict' how they will act; and by the insertion of 'usually' an element of incompatibility is admitted
that, however small, is damaging to his point.
Some persons are, or seem to be, more calculable than others. But that is due rather to their
fortune than to their nature (as individuals). The calculable people reside in relatively fixed
circumstances, and it is difficult to catch and observe them in situations that are (to them) strange.
That is another good reason for sending 'hobbits' – a vision of a simple and calculable people in
simple and long-settled circumstances – on a journey far from settled home into strange lands and
dangers. Especially if they are provided with some strong motive for endurance and adaptation.
Though without any high motive people do change (or rather reveal the latent) on journeys: that is a
fact of ordinary observation without any need of symbolical explanation. On a journey of a length
sufficient to provide the untoward in any degree from discomfort to fear the change in companions
well-known in 'ordinary life' (and in oneself) is often startling.
I dislike the use of 'political' in such a context; it seems to me false. It seems clear to me that
Frodo's duty was 'humane' not political. He naturally thought first of the Shire, since his roots were
there, but the quest had as its object not the preserving of this or that polity, such as the half
republic half aristocracy of the Shire, but the liberation from an evil tyranny of all the 'humane'* –
including those, such as 'easterlings' and Haradrim, that were still servants of the tyranny.
Denethor was tainted with mere politics: hence his failure, and his mistrust of Faramir. It had
become for him a prime motive to preserve the polity of Gondor, as it was, against another
potentate, who had made himself stronger and was to be feared and opposed for that reason rather
than because he was ruthless and wicked. Denethor despised lesser men, and one may be sure did
not distinguish between orcs and the allies of Mordor. If he had survived as victor, even without use
of the Ring, he would have taken a long stride towards becoming himself a tyrant, and the terms
and treatment he accorded to the deluded peoples of east and south would have been cruel and
vengeful. He had become a 'political' leader: sc. Gondor against the rest.
But that was not the policy or duty set out by the Council of Elrond. Only after hearing the
debate and realizing the nature of the quest did Frodo accept the burden of his mission. Indeed the
Elves destroyed their own polity in pursuit of a 'humane' duty. This did not happen merely as an
unfortunate damage of War; it was known by them to be an inevitable result of victory, which could
in no way be advantageous to Elves. Elrond cannot be said to have a political duty or purpose.
Auerbach's use of 'political' may at first sight seem more justified; but it is not, I think, really
admissible-not even if we acknowledge the weariness to which mere 'errantry' was reduced as the
pastime reading of a class chiefly interested in feats of arms and love.† About as amusing to us (or
to me) as are stories about cricket, or yarns about a touring team, to those who (like me) find cricket
(as it now is) a ridiculous bore. But the feats of arms in (say) Arthurian Romance, or romances
attached to that great centre of imagination, do not need to 'fit into a politically purposive pattern'.‡
* humane: this (being in a fairy-story) includes of course Elves, and indeed all 'speaking creatures'.
† chiefly interested: that is as themes of 'literature', as an amusement. Actually most of them were primarily
interested in the acquisition of land and the use of marriage-alliances in furthering their aims.
‡ Not unless 'political' is narrowed (or enlarged), so that we are considering imaginatively only one centre or
fortress of order and grace surrounded by enemies: the unfilled woods and mountains, hostile and barbarous men, wild
So it was in the earlier Arthurian traditions. Or at least this thread of primitive but powerful
imagination was an important element in them. As also in Beowulf. Auerbach should approve of
Beowulf, for in it an author tried to fit a deed of 'errantry' into a complex political field: the English
traditions of the international relations of Denmark, Gotland, and Sweden in ancient days. But that
is not the strength of the story, rather its weakness. Beowulf's personal objects in his journey to
Denmark are precisely those of a later Knight: his own renown, and above that the glory of his lord
and king; but all the time we glimpse something deeper. Grendel is an enemy who has attacked the
centre of the realm, and brought into the royal hall the outer darkness, so that only in daylight can
the king sit upon the throne. This is something quite different and more horrible than a 'political'
invasion of equals – men of another similar realm, such as Ingeld's later assault upon Heorot.
The overthrow of Grendel makes a good wonder-tale, because he is too strong and dangerous
for any ordinary man to defeat, but it is a victory in which all men can rejoice because he was a
monster, hostile to all men and to all humane fellowship and joy. Compared with him even the long
politically hostile Danes and Gears were Friends, on the same side. It is the monstrosity and fairytale quality of Grendel that really makes the tale important, surviving still when the politics have
become dim and the healing of Danish-Geatish relations in an 'entente cordiale' between two ruling
houses a minor matter of obscure history. In that political world Grendel looks silly, though he
certainly is not silly, however naif may be the poet's imagination and description of him.
Of course in 'real life' causes are not clear cut — if only because human tyrants are seldom
utterly corrupted into pure manifestations of evil will. As far as I can judge some seem to have been
so corrupt, but even they must rule subjects only part of whom are equally corrupt, while many still
need to have 'good motives', real or feigned, presented to them. As we see today. Still there are clear
cases: e.g. acts of sheer cruel aggression, in which therefore right is from the beginning wholly on
one side, whatever evil the resentful suffering of evil may eventually generate in members of the
right side. There are also conflicts about important things or ideas. In such cases I am more
impressed by the extreme importance of being on the right side, than I am disturbed by the
revelation of the jungle of confused motives, private purposes, and individual actions (noble or
base) in which the right and the wrong in actual human conflicts are commonly involved. If the
conflict really is about things properly called right and wrong, or good and evil, then the rightness
or goodness of one side is not proved or established by the claims of either side; it must depend on
values and beliefs above and independent of the particular conflict. A judge must assign right and
wrong according to principles which he holds valid in all cases. That being so, the right will remain
an inalienable possession of the right side and Justify its cause throughout. (I speak of causes, not of
individuals. Of course to a judge whose moral ideas have a religious or philosophical basis, or
indeed to anyone not blinded by partisan fanaticism, the rightness of the cause will not justify the
actions of its supporters, as individuals, that are morally wicked. But though 'propaganda' may seize
on them as proofs that their cause was not in fact 'right', that is not valid. The aggressors are
themselves primarily to blame for the evil deeds that proceed from their original violation of justice
and the passions that their own wickedness must naturally (by their standards) have been expected
to arouse. They at any rate have no right to demand that their victims when assaulted should not
demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth.)
Similarly, good actions by those on the wrong side will not justify their cause. There may be
deeds on the wrong side of heroic courage, or some of a higher moral level: deeds of mercy and
forbearance. A judge may accord them honour and rejoice to see how some men can rise above the
hate and anger of a conflict; even as he may deplore the evil deeds on the right side and be grieved
to see how hatred once provoked can drag them down. But this will not alter his judgement as to
which side was in the right, nor his assignment of the primary blame for all the evil that followed to
the other side.
In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero.
I do not think that at any rate any 'rational being' is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell
beasts and monsters, and the Unknown. The defence of the realm may then indeed become symbolic of the human
before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the
wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the
level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered
the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants
in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.* In The Lord of the
Rings the conflict is not basically about 'freedom', though that is naturally involved. It is about God,
and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true
God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and
was held to be this by his servants;† if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine
honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world. So even if in
desperation 'the West' had bred or hired hordes of ores and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other
Men as allies of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their Cause would have
remained indefeasibly right. As does the Cause of those who oppose now the State-God and
Marshal This or That as its High Priest, even if it is true (as it unfortunately is) that many of their
deeds are wrong, even if it were true (as it is not) that the inhabitants of 'The West', except for a
minority of wealthy bosses, live in fear and squalor, while the worshippers of the State-God live in
peace and abundance and in mutual esteem and trust.
So I feel that the fiddle-faddle in reviews, and correspondence about them, as to whether my
'good people' were kind and merciful and gave quarter (in fact they do), or not, is quite beside the
point. Some critics seem determined to represent me as a simple-minded adolescent, inspired with,
say, a With-the-flag-to-Pretoria spirit, and wilfully distort what is said in my tale. I have not that
spirit, and it does not appear in the story. The figure of Denethor alone is enough to show this; but I
have not made any of the peoples on the 'right' side, Hobbits, Rohirrim, Men of Dale or of Gondor,
any better than men have been or are, or can be. Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary
historical moment on 'Middle-earth' – which is our habitation.
* Of the same kind as Gandalf and Saruman, but of a far higher order.
† By a triple treachery: 1. Because of his admiration of Strength he had become a follower of Morgoth and fell
with him down into the depths of evil, becoming his chief agent in Middle Earth. 2. when Morgoth was defeated by the
Valar finally he forsook his allegiance; but out of fear only; he did not present himself to the Valar or sue for pardon,
and remained in Middle Earth. 3. When he found how greatly his knowledge was admired by all other rational creatures
and how easy it was to influence them, his pride became boundless. By the end of the Second Age he assumed the
position of Morgoth's representative. By the end of the Third Age (though actually much weaker than before) he
claimed to be Morgoth returned.
184 To Sam Gamgee
[On 13 March, a letter was written to Tolkien by a Mr Sam Gamgee of Brixton Road, London S.W.9: 'I hope
you do not mind my writing to you, but with reference to your story "Lord of the Rings" running as a serial
on the radio .... I was rather interested at how you arrived at the name of one of the characters named Sam
Gamgee because that happens to be my name. I haven't heard the story myself not having a wireless but I
know some who have. .... I know it's fiction, but it is rather a coincidence as the name is very uncommon,
but well known in the medical profession.']
18 March 1956
As from 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mr Gamgee,
It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment, when I saw your signature!
I can only say, for your comfort I hope, that the 'Sam Gamgee' of my story is a most heroic
character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps
you will not be displeased by the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character (of
supposedly many centuries ago) being the same as yours. The reason of my use of the name is this.
I lived near Birmingham as a child, and we used 'gamgee' as a word for 'cotton-wool'; so in my
story the families of Cotton and Gamgee are connected. I did not know as a child, though I know
now, that 'Gamgee' was shortened from 'gamgee-tissue', and that [it was] named after its inventor (a
surgeon I think) who lived between 1828 and 1886. It was probably (I think) his son who died this
year, on 1 March, aged 88, after being for many years Professor of Surgery at Birmingham
University. Evidently 'Sam' or something like it,* is associated with the family – though I never
knew this until a few days ago, when I saw Professor Gamgee's obituary notice, and saw that he
was son of Sampson Gamgee – and looked in a dictionary and found that the inventor was S.
Gamgee (1828-86), & probably the same.
Have you any tradition as to the real origin of your distinguished and rare name? Having a rare
name myself (often troublesome) I am specially interested.
The 'etymology' given in my book is of course quite fictitious, and made up simply for the
purposes of my story. I do not suppose you could be bothered to read so long and fantastic a work,
especially if you do not care for stories about a mythical world, but if you could be bothered, I
know that the work (which has been astonishingly successful) is in most public libraries. It is alas!
very expensive to buy – £3/3/0. But if you or any of your family try it, and find it interesting
enough, I can only say that I shall be happy and proud to send you a signed copy of all 3 vols. as a
tribute from the author to the distinguished family of Gamgee.
Yrs sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
[Mr Gamgee replied on 30 March with more information about his family. He expressed himself delighted
at Tolkien's offer of signed volumes. Tolkien sent them, and Mr Gamgee acknowledged their arrival,
adding: 'I can assure you that I have every intention of reading them.']
My Sam Gamgee is Samwise not Sam(p)son or Samuel.
185 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien 19 March 1956
I have had a letter from a real Sam Gamgee, from Tooting! He could not have chosen a more
Hobbit-sounding place, could he? – though un-Shirelike, I fear, in reality.
Also A. & Unwin send extremely good news or prophecies of probable financial results to
come later.
186 From a letter to Joanna de Bortadano (drafts)
[Not dated; April 1956]
Of course my story is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power (exerted for Domination).
Nuclear physics can be used for that purpose. But they need not be. They need not be used at all. If
there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread
assumption of our time: that if a thing can be done, it must be done. This seems to me wholly false.
The greatest examples of the action of the spirit and of reason are in abnegation. When you say
A[tomic] P[ower] is 'here to stay' you remind me that Chesterton said that whenever he heard that,
he knew that whatever it referred to would soon be replaced, and thought pitifully shabby and oldfashioned. So-called 'atomic' power is rather bigger than anything he was thinking of (I have heard
it of trams, gas-light, steam-trains). But it surely is clear that there will have to be some 'abnegation'
in its use, a deliberate refusal to do some of the things it is possible to do with it, or nothing will
stay! However, that is simple stuff, a contemporary & possibly passing and ephemeral problem. I
do not think that even Power or Domination is the real centre of my story. It provides the theme of a
War, about something dark and threatening enough to seem at that time of supreme importance, but
that is mainly 'a setting' for characters to show themselves. The real theme for me is about
something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality: the mystery of the love of
the world in the hearts of a race 'doomed' to leave and seemingly lose it; the anguish in the hearts of
a race 'doomed' not to leave it, until its whole evil-aroused story is complete. But if you have now
read Vol. III and the story of Aragorn, you will have perceived that. (This story is placed in an
appendix, because I have told the whole tale more or less through 'hobbits'; and that is because
another main point in the story for me is the remark of Elrond in Vol. I : 'Such is oft the course of
deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of
the great are elsewhere.' Though equally important is Merry's remark (Vol. III p. 146): 'the soil of
the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in
what he calls peace, but for them.') I am not a 'democrat' only because 'humility' and equality are
spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that
we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Ore gets
hold of a ring of power – and then we get and are getting slavery. But all that is rather 'afterthought'. The story is really a story of what happened in B.C. year X, and it just happened to people
who were like that!....
I hope you have now 'come by' Vol. III! I am afraid I am always rather pleased when I hear of
somebody being obliged to buy the book! An author cannot live on library-subscriptions.
I received a letter the other day from a well known, and certainly not impoverished, man, who
informed me as a high compliment that he had become so enthralled that he got out the book
several times, and paid heavy fines for keeping it out too long. Words failed me in reply. The L of
the R cost some £4000 to produce to begin with, after it left my hands. Before that apart from any
other labour I typed it out twice (in places several times). A professional would have charged about
£200. There is a laborious practical side even to high Romance – not that hobbits ever forget that.
187 From a letter to H. Cotton Minchin (draft)
[Not dated; April 1956. Tolkien has written at the top: 'More or less as sent 16 April (with some
As 'research students' always discover, however long they are allowed, and careful their work
and notes, there is always a rush at the end, when the last date suddenly approaches on which their
thesis must be presented. So it was with this book, and the maps. I had to call in the help of my son
– the C.T. or C.J.R.T. of the modest initials on the maps – an accredited student of hobbit-lore. And
neither of us had an entirely free hand. I remember that when it became apparent that the 'general
map' would not suffice for the final Book, or sufficiently reveal the courses of Frodo, the Rohirrim,
and Aragorn, I had to devote many days, the last three virtually without food or bed, to drawing rescaling and adjusting a large map, at which he then worked for 24 hours (6a.m. to 6 a.m. without
bed) in re-drawing just in time. Inconsistencies of spelling are due to me. It was only in the last
stages that (in spite of my son's protests: he still holds that no one will ever pronounce Cirith right,
it appears as Kirith in his map, as formerly also in the text) I decided to be 'consistent' and spell
Elvish names and words throughout without k. There are no doubt other variations. ....
I am, however, primarily a philologist and to some extent a calligrapher (though this letter may
make that difficult to believe). And my son after me. To us far and away the most absorbing interest
is the Elvish tongues, and the nomenclature based on them; and the alphabets. My plans for the
'specialist volume' were largely linguistic. An index of names was to be produced, which by
etymological interpretation would also provide quite a large Elvish vocabulary; this is of course a
first requirement. I worked at it for months, and indexed the first two vols. (it was the chief cause of
the delay of Vol iii) until it became clear that size and cost were ruinous. Reluctantly also I had to
abandon, under pressure from the 'production department', the 'facsimiles' of the three pages of the
Book of Mazarbul, burned tattered and blood-stained, which I had spent much time on producing or
forging. Without them the opening of Book Two, ch. 5 (which was meant to have the facsimiles and
a transcript alongside) is defective, and the Runes of the Appendices unnecessary.
But the problems (delightful if I had time) which the extra volume will set, will seem clear if I
tell you that while many like you demand maps, others wish for geological* indications rather than
places; many want Elvish grammars, phonologies, and specimens; some want metrics and prosodies
— not only of the brief Elvish specimens, but of the 'translated' verses in less familiar modes, such
as those written in the strictest form of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse (e.g. the fragment at the end
of the Battle of the Pelennor, V vi 124). Musicians want tunes, and musical notation; archaeologists
want ceramics and metallurgy. Botanists want a more accurate description of the mallorn, of elanor,
niphredil, alfirin, mallos, and symbelmynë; and historians want more details about the social and
political structure of Gondor; general enquirers want information about the Wainriders, the Harad,
Dwarvish origins, the Dead Men, the Beornings, and the missing two wizards (out of five). It will
be a big volume, even if I attend only to the things revealed to my limited understanding!
Having geological interests, and a very little knowledge, I have not wholly neglected this aspect, but its indication
is rather more difficult – and perilous!
188 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 3 April 1956
[In March, Allen & Unwin told Tolkien that they had signed an agreement for a Dutch edition of The Lord
of the Rings. Tolkien replied that this was the first he had heard of such a proposal, and asked to be told
more. The publishers answered that they were making 'all possible efforts' to sell foreign rights, and asked
for confirmation that Tolkien wanted them to do so.]
Of course, I wish you to pursue your efforts with regard to foreign editions. .... It is however
surely intelligible that an author, while still alive, should feel a deep and immediate concern in
translation. And this one is, unfortunately, also a professional linguist, a pedantic don, who has
wide personal connexions and friendships with the chief English scholars of the continent..... The
translation of The Lord of the Rings will prove a formidable task, and I do not see how it can be
performed satisfactorily without the assistance of the author.* That assistance I am prepared to give,
promptly, if I am consulted.
I wish to avoid a repetition of my experience with the Swedish translation of The Hobbit.1 I
discovered that this had taken unwarranted liberties with the text and other details, without
consultation or approval; it was also unfavourably criticized in general by a Swedish expert,
familiar with the original, to whom I submitted it. I regard the text (in all its details) of The Lord of
the Rings far more jealously. No alterations, major or minor, re-arrangements, or abridgements of
this text will be approved by me – unless they proceed from myself or from direct consultation. I
earnestly hope that this concern of mine will be taken account of.
By 'assistance' I do not, of course, mean interference, though the opportunity to consider specimens would be
desirable. My linguistic knowledge seldom extends, beyond the detection of obvious errors and liberties, to the criticism
of the niceties that would be required. But there are many special difficulties in this text. To mention one: there are a
number of words not to be found in the dictionaries, or which require a knowledge of older English. On points such as
these, and others that would inevitably arise, the author would be the most satisfactory, and the quickest, source of
189 From a letter to Mrs M. Wilson 11 April 1956
I find that many children become interested, even engrossed, in The Lord of the Rings, from
about 10 onwards. I think it rather a pity, really. It was not written for them. But then I am a very
'unvoracious' reader, and since I can seldom bring myself to read a work twice I think of the many
things that I read – too soon! Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper appreciation, for me replaces the
bloom on a book, the freshness of the unread. Still what we read and when goes, like the people we
meet, by 'fate.'
190 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 3 July 1956
[In June, the Foreign Rights Department of Allen & Unwin sent Tolkien a list of Dutch versions of placenames in The Lord of the Rings that had been made by the book's Dutch translator, with the request: 'Will
you please send them back with, we trust, your approval?']
I hope you, & the Foreign Rights Dept., will forgive my now at length writing to you about the
Dutch translation. The matter is (to me) important; it has disturbed and annoyed me greatly, and
given me a good deal of unnecessary work at a most awkward season.....
In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the 'translation' of the nomenclature at all (even
by a competent person). I wonder why a translator should think himself called on or entitled to do
any such thing. That this is an 'imaginary' world does not give him any right to remodel it according
to his fancy, even if he could in a few months create a new coherent structure which it took me
years to work out.
I presume that if I had presented the Hobbits as speaking Italian, Russian, Chinese, or what you
will, he would have left the names alone. Or, if I had pretended that 'the Shire' was some fictitious
Loamshire1 of actual England. Yet actually in an imaginary country and period, as this one,
coherently made, the nomenclature is a more important element than in an 'historical' novel. But, of
course, if we drop the 'fiction' of long ago, 'The Shire' is based on rural England and not any other
country in the world – least perhaps of any in Europe on Holland, which is topographically wholly
dissimilar. (In fact so different is it, that in spite of the affinity of its language, and in many respects
of its idiom, which should ease some part of the translator's labour, its toponymy is specially
unsuitable for the purpose.) The toponymy of The Shire, to take the first list, is a 'parody' ofthat of
rural England, in much the same sense as are its inhabitants: they go together and are meant to.
After all the book is English, and by an Englishman, and presumably even those who wish its
narrative and dialogue turned into an idiom that they understand, will not ask of a translator that he
should deliberately attempt to destroy the local colour. I do not ask that of a translator, though I
might be glad of a glossary where (seldom) the meaning of the place-name is essential. I would not
wish, in a book starting from an imaginary mirror of Holland, to meet Hedge, Duke'sbush,
Eaglehome, or Applethorn even if these were 'translations' of 'sGravenHage, Hertogenbosch,
Arnhem, or Apeldoorn! These 'translations' are not English, they are just homeless.
Actually the Shire Map plays a very small part in the narrative, and most of its purpose is a
descriptive build-up. It is, of course, based on some acquaintance with English toponymical history,
which the translator would appear not to possess (nor I guess does he know much of that of the
Netherlands). But he need not, if he would leave it alone. The proper way to treat the first map is to
change its title to Een Deel von 'The Shire' and no more; though I suppose naar for 'to' in such
directions as To Little Delving' wd. do no harm.
The Translator has (on internal evidence) glanced at but not used the Appendices. He seems
incidentally quite unaware of difficulties he is creating for himself later. The 'Anglo-Saxon' of the
Rohirrim is not much like Dutch. In fact he is pulling to bits with very clumsy fingers a web that he
has made only a slight attempt to understand.....
The essential point missed, of course, is: even where a place-name is fully analysable by
speakers of the language (usually not the case) this is not as a rule done. If in an imaginary land real
place-names are used, or ones that are carefully constructed to fall into familiar patterns, these
become integral names, 'sound real', and translating them by their analysed senses is quite
insufficient. This Dutchman's Dutch names should sound real Dutch. Well, actually I am no Dutch
scholar at all, and know little of the peculiar history of Dutch toponymy, but I do not believe that as
a rule they do. Anyway lots of them are nonsense anyway or wholly erroneous, which I can only
equal by supposing that you met Blooming, Newtown, Lake How, Documents, Baconbury,
Blushing and then discovered the author had written Florence, Naples, (Lake or Lago di) Como,
Chartres, Hamburg, and Flushing =Vlissingen!
I enclose in justification of my strictures a detailed commentary on the lists..... I am sure the
correct (as well as for publisher and translator the more economical?) way is to leave the maps and
nomenclature alone as far as possible, but to substitute for some of the least-wanted Appendices a
glossary of names (with meanings but no refs.). I could supply one for translation.
May I say now at once that I will not tolerate any similar tinkering with the personal
nomenclature. Nor with the name/word Hobbit. I will not have any more Hompen (in which I was
not consulted), nor any Hobbel or what not. Elves, Dwarfs/ves, Trolls, yes: they are mere modern
equivalents of the correct terms. But hobbit (and orc) are of that world, and they must stay, whether
they sound Dutch or not. ....
If you think I am being absurd, then I shall be greatly distressed; but I fear not altered in my
opinions. The few people I have been able to consult, I must say, express themselves equally
strongly. Anyway I'm not going to be treated à la Mrs Tiggywinkle = Poupette à l'épingle.* Not that
B[eatrix] P[otter] did not give translators hell. Though possibly from securer grounds than I have. I
am no linguist, but I do know something about nomenclature, and have specially studied it, and I
am actually very angry indeed.
Anyway Canétang=Puddleduck2 is several classes above this performer!
191 From a letter to Miss J. Bum (draft) 26 July 1956
If you re-read all the passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring, I think you will see that not
only was it quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring, in act or will, especially at its point of
maximum power, but that this failure was adumbrated from far back. He was honoured because he
had accepted the burden voluntarily, and had then done all that was within his utmost physical and
mental strength to do. He (and the Cause) were saved – by Mercy : by the supreme value and
efficacy of Pity and forgiveness of injury.
Corinthians I x. 12-131 may not at first sight seem to fit – unless 'bearing temptation' is taken to
mean resisting it while still a free agent in normal command of the will. I think rather of the
mysterious last petitions of the Lord's Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
A petition against something that cannot happen is unmeaning. There exists the possibility of being
placed in positions beyond one's power. In which case (as I believe) salvation from ruin will depend
on something apparently unconnected: the general sanctity (and humility and mercy) of the
sacrificial person. I did not 'arrange' the deliverance in this case: it again follows the logic of the
story. (Gollum had had his chance of repentance, and of returning generosity with love; and had
fallen off the knife-edge.) In the case of those who now issue from prison 'brainwashed', broken, or
insane, praising their torturers, no such immediate deliverance is as a rule to be seen. But we can at
least judge them by the will and intentions with which they entered the Sammath Naur; and not
demand impossible feats of will, which could only happen in stories unconcerned with real moral
and mental probability.
No, Frodo 'failed'. It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the
last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by
incarnate creatures, however 'good'; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.
I am afraid I have the same feeling – I have been forced to publish up-side-down or backwards;
and after the grand crash (and the end of visibly incarnate Evil) before the Dominion of Men (or
simple History) to which it all led up the mythological and elvish legends of the Elder Days will not
be quite the same. But perhaps read, eventually, from beginning to end in the right order, both parts
may gain. I am not writing the Silmarillion, which was long ago written; but trying to find a way
and order in which to make the legends and annals publishable. And I have a dreadful lot of other
work to do as well.
192 From a letter to Amy Ronald 27 July 1956
By chance, I have just had another letter regarding the failure of Frodo. Very few seem even to
have observed it. But following the logic of the plot, it was clearly inevitable, as an event. And
surely it is a more significant and real event than a mere 'fairy-story' ending in which the hero is
indomitable? It is possible for the good, even the saintly, to be subjected to a power of evil which is
too great for them to overcome – in themselves. In this case the cause (not the 'hero') was
triumphant, because by the exercise of pity, mercy, and forgiveness of injury, a situation was
produced in which all was redressed and disaster averted. Gandalf certainly foresaw this. See Vol. I
p. 68-9.1 Of course, he did not mean to say that one must be merciful, for it may prove useful later –
it would not then be mercy or pity, which are only truly present when contrary to prudence. Not
ours to plan ! But we are assured that we must be ourselves extravagantly generous, if we are to
hope for the extravagant generosity which the slightest easing of, or escape from, the consequences
of our own follies and errors represents. And that mercy does sometimes occur in this life.
Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that
was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others
of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by
which I do not mean myself), 'that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named'*
(as one critic has said). See Vol. I p. 65.2 A third (the only other) commentator on the point some
months ago reviled Frodo as a scoundrel (who should have been hung and not honoured), and me
too. It seems sad and strange that, in this evil time when daily people of good will are tortured,
'brainwashed', and broken, anyone could be so fiercely simpleminded and self righteous.
I do not think Walter de la Mare walked in my country, whether you mean: read my work
before he died, or inhabited a similar world, or both. I only met him once, many years ago, and we
had little to say; but as far as my feelings for and understanding of his work goes, I should guess
that he inhabited a much darker and more hopeless world: one anyway that alarms me profoundly.
Actually referred to as 'the One' in App. A III p. 317 1. 20. The Númenóreans (and Elves) were absolute
193 From a letter to Terence Tiller 2 November 1956
[Tiller, the adapter and producer of the BBC Third Programme version of The Lord of the Rings (see no.
175), had asked for Tolkien's advice on 'accents' for the second series of six episodes of the book, which
were based on The Two Towers and The Return of the King.]
Taking 'accent' to mean, as it usually does in non-technical language: 'more or less consistent
alterations of the vowels/consonants of "received" English': I should say that, in the cases you
query, no accent-differentiation is needed or desirable. For instance, it would probably be better to
avoid certain, actual or conventional, features of modern 'vulgar' English in representing Ores, such
as the dropping of aitches (these are, I think, not dropped in the text, and that is deliberate).
But, of course, for most people, 'accent' as denned above is confused with impressions of
different intonation, articulation, and tempo. You will, I suppose, have to use such means to make
Ores sound nasty!
I have no doubt that, if this 'history' were real, all users of the C[ommon] Speech would reveal
themselves by their accent, differing in place, people, and rank, but that cannot be represented when
C. S. is turned into English – and is not (I think) necessary. I paid great attention to such linguistic
differentiation as was possible: in diction, idiom, and so on ; and I doubt if much more can be
imported, except in so far as the individual actor represents his feeling for the character in tone and
As Minas Tirith is at the source of C. Speech it is to C.S. as London is to modern English, and
the standard of comparison! None of its inhabitants should have an 'accent' in terms of vowels &c.
The Rohirrim no doubt (as our ancient English ancestors in a similar state of culture and
society) spoke, at least their own tongue, with a slower tempo and more sonorous articulation, than
modern 'urbans'. But I think it is safe to represent them when using C. S., as they practically always
do (for obvious reasons) as speaking the best M[inas] T[irith]. Possibly a little too good, as it would
be a learned language, somewhat slower and more careful than a native's. But that is a nicety safely
neglected, and not always true: Théoden was born in Gondor and C.S. was the domestic language of
the Golden Hall in his father's day (Return of the King p. 350).1
194 To Terence Tiller 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
6 November 1956
Dear Tiller,
Lord of the Rings
I have not had time for more than two rapid readings of the 3 episodes that you sent me; but I
suppose it is 'now or never', if any comment is to be of practical use.
I am not offering any criticism of detail. The objects you had in making this version seem fairly
clear, and (granted their value or legitimacy) I do not think that they could have been much better
achieved. I wish your efforts all success.
But, as a private conversation between you and me, I could wish you had perhaps time to spare
to tell me why this sort of treatment is accorded to the book, and what value it has — on Third. For
myself, I do not believe that many, if any, listeners who do not know the book will thread the plot
or grasp at all what is going on. And the text is (necessarily in the space) reduced to such simple,
even simple-minded, terms that I find it hard to believe it would hold the attention of the Third.
Here is a book very unsuitable for dramatic or semi-dramatic representation. If that is attempted
it needs more space, a lot of space. It is sheerly impossible to pot the two books in the allotted time
— whether the object be to provide something in itself entertaining in the medium; or to indicate
the nature of the original (or both). Why not then turn it down as unsuitable, if more space is not
I remain, of course, flattered and pleased that my book should receive this attention; but I still
cannot help wondering: why this form? Personally, I think it requires rather the older art of the
reading 'mime', than the more nearly dramatic, which results in too great an emphasis on dialogue
(mostly with its setting removed). To take two points: (1) the episode of the corpse-candles is cut
down to ineffectiveness; (2) the crucial moment when Gollum nearly repents disappears in a mere
'and so Gollum found them... &c' III/12. In this way both the 'scenery' and the 'characters' become
flat: without precision and colour; and without motives or conflicts. I cannot help thinking that
longer actual passages read, as a necklace upon a thread of narration (in which the narrator might
occasionally venture an interpretation of more than mere plot-events) would, or might, prove both
more interesting to listeners, and fairer to the author. But, as I have said, I lack experience in the
medium, & this is in any case no criticism of your text, but a sighing for something quite different
— a moon no doubt. Final query: can a tale not conceived dramatically but (for lack of a more
precise term) epically, be dramatized – unless the dramatizer is given or takes liberties, as an
independent person? I feel you have had a very hard task.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
195 From a letter to Amy Ronald 15 December 1956
One point: Frodo's attitude to weapons was personal. He was not in modern terms a 'pacifist'.
Of course, he was mainly horrified at the prospect of civil war among Hobbits;1 but he had (I
suppose) also reached the conclusion that physical fighting is actually less ultimately effective than
most (good) men think it! Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not
expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' – though it contains (and in a legend may contain
more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.
196 From a letter to Katherine Fairer 21 March 1957
[Written, though Tolkien did not know it, on the day that C. S. Lewis was married, in a Church of England
ceremony at her hospital bedside, to Joy Davidman, who was believed to be dying.]
I believe you have been much concerned with the troubles of poor Jack Lewis. Of these I know
little beyond the cautious hints of the extremely discreet Havard. When I see Jack he naturally takes
refuge in 'literary' talk (for which no domestic griefs and anxieties have yet dimmed his
197 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 May 1957
[Allen & Unwin had sent a substantial cheque for Tolkien's earnings from The Lord of the Rings. Rayner
Unwin reported excellent sales, and prophesied continuing success.]
Your 'bombshell' arrived at a moment of rush..... Otherwise I would have thanked you for your
kind letter sooner.
If I had had any notion of this, I should have thought seriously of retiring at the proper time
(this July) and refusing the extra two years, which will not make sufficient difference to my
superannuation pittance to be worth bothering about. As it is, I am merely going to be fined for
going on 'working', about to the equivalent of my salary, unless my I[ncome] T[ax] agent is unduly
gloomy about this remarkable second instalment. Also it is practically impossible to get any
connected time to spend on The Silmarillion while I remain in office. I have had to lay it aside since
last autumn; though I hope to resume it at the end of next month. I have not been very well lately,
and am beginning to be affected by arthritis which often makes long sitting painful.
Aggrieved as I am at being deprived of the fruits of so many years labour (which meant not
only the sacrifice of leisure but also of other occupations of immediate annual profit), I must say I
am very much enheartened by your sales-report and hopes for the immediate future, not only on my
own account, but on yours (and A. & U.'s) too. You have been so kind and patient to me; and
without your encouragement, and generous 'adventure', I expect the L. of the R. would still be a
heap of MS. I am afraid I cannot help feeling that there is a lot to be said for 'the grosser forms of
literary success' as a sneering critic recently called it (not mine but a 'grosser' case).
198 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 19 June 1957
[An American film-maker had enquired about the possibility of making a cartoon film of The Lord of the
As far as I am concerned personally, I should welcome the idea of an animated motion picture,
with all the risk of vulgarization; and that quite apart from the glint of money, though on the brink
of retirement that is not an unpleasant possibility. I think I should find vulgarization less painful
than the sillification achieved by the B.B.C.
199 From a letter to Caroline Everett 24 June 1957
Though it is a great compliment, I am really rather sorry to find myself the subject of a thesis. I
do not feel inclined to go into biographical detail. I doubt its relevance to criticism. Certainly in any
form less than a complete biography, interior and exterior, which I alone could write, and which I
do not intend to write. The chief biographical fact to me is the completion of The Lord of the Rings,
which still astonishes me. A notorious beginner of enterprises and non-finisher, partly through lack
of time, partly through lack of single-minded concentration, I still wonder how and why I managed
to peg away at this thing year after year, often under real difficulties, and bring it to a conclusion. I
suppose, because from the beginning it began to catch up in its narrative folds visions of most of the
things that I have most loved or hated.
I did not go to a 'public' school in the sense of a residential school; but to a great 'grammar
school', of ultimately medieval foundation. My experience had therefore nothing whatever in
common with that of Mr. Lewis. I was at the one school from 1900 to 1911, with one short interval.
I was as happy or the reverse at school as anywhere else, the faults being my own. I ended up
anyway as a perfectly respectable and tolerably successful senior. I did not dislike games. They
were not compulsory, fortunately, as I have always found cricket a bore: chiefly, though, because I
was not good at it. ....
I have not published any other short story but Leaf by Niggle. They do not arise in my mind.
Leaf by Niggle arose suddenly and almost complete. It was written down almost at a sitting, and
very nearly in the form in which it now appears. Looking at it myself now from a distance I should
say that, in addition to my tree-love (it was originally called The Tree), it arose from my own preoccupation with The Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not
at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all'. The war had arisen to darken all
horizons. But no such analyses are a complete explanation even of a short story.....
I read the works of [E.R.J Eddison, long after they appeared; and I once met him. I heard him in
Mr. Lewis's room in Magdalen College read aloud some parts of his own works – from the Mistress
of Mistresses, as far as I remember.1 He did it extremely well. I read his works with great enjoyment
for their sheer literary merit. My opinion of them is almost the same as that expressed by Mr. Lewis
on p. 104 of the Essays presented to Charles Williams.2 Except that I disliked his characters (always
excepting the Lord Gro) and despised what he appeared to admire more intensely than Mr. Lewis at
any rate saw fit to say of himself. Eddison thought what I admire 'soft' (his word: one of complete
condemnation, I gathered); I thought that, corrupted by an evil and indeed silly 'philosophy', he was
coming to admire, more and more, arrogance and cruelty. Incidentally, I thought his nomenclature
slipshod and often inept. In spite of all of which, I still think of him as the greatest and most
convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read. But he was certainly not an 'influence'.
The general idea of the Lord of the Rings was certainly in my mind from an early stage: that is
from the first draft of Book I Chapter 2, written in the 1930s. From time to time I made rough
sketches or synopses of what was to follow, immediately or far ahead; but these were seldom of
much use: the story unfolded itself as it were. The tying-up was achieved, so far as it is achieved, by
constant re-writing backwards. I had a many-columned calendar with dates and a brief statement of
where all the major actors or groups were on each day and what they were doing.
The last volume was naturally the most difficult, since by that time I had accumulated a large
number of narrative debts, and set some awkward problems of presentation in drawing together the
separated threads. But the problem was not so much 'what happened?', about which I was only
occasionally in doubt – though praised for 'invention' I have not in fact any conscious memory of
sitting down and deliberately thinking out any episode – as how to order the account of it. The
solution is imperfect. Inevitably.
Obviously the chief problem of this son, is how to bring up Aragorn unexpectedly to the raising
of the Siege, and yet inform readers of what he had been up to. Told in full in its proper place (Vol
III, ch.2), though it would have been better for the episode, it would have destroyed Chapter 6. Told
in full, or indeed in part, in retrospect it would be out of date and hold up the action (as it does in
Chapter 9).
The solution, imperfect, was to cut down the whole episode (which in full would belong rather
to a Saga of Aragorn Arathorn's son than to my story) and tell the ending of it briefly during the
inevitable pause after the Battle of the Pelennor.
I was in fact longest held up – by exterior circumstances as well as interior – at the point now
represented by the last words of Book iii (reached about 1942 or 3). After that Chapter 1 of Book v
remained very long as a mere opening (as far as the arrival in Gondor); Chapter 2 did not exist; and
Chapter 3, Muster of Rohan, had got no further than the arrival at Harrowdale. Chapter 1 of Book iv
had hardly got beyond Sam's opening words (Vol II p. 209). Some pans of the adventures of Frodo
and Sam on the confines of Mordor and in it had been written (but were eventually abandoned).
200 From a letter to Major R. Bowen 25 June 1957
I note your remarks about Sauron. He was always de-bodied when vanquished. The theory, if
one can dignify the modes of the story with such a term, is that he was a spirit, a minor one but still
an 'angelic' spirit. According to the mythology of these things that means that, though of course a
creature, he belonged to the race of intelligent beings that were made before the physical world, and
were permitted to assist in their measure in the making of it. Those who became most involved in
this work of An, as it was in the first instance, became so engrossed with it, that when the Creator
made it real (that is, gave it the secondary reality, subordinate to his own, which we call primary
reality, and so in that hierarchy on the same plane with themselves) they desired to enter into it,
from the beginning of its 'realization'.
They were allowed to do so, and the great among them became the equivalent of the 'gods' of
traditional mythologies; but a condition was that they would remain 'in it' until the Story was
finished. They were thus in the world, but not of a kind whose essential nature is to be physically
incarnate. They were self-incarnated, if they wished; but their incarnate forms were more analogous
to our clothes than to our bodies, except that they were more than are clothes the expression of their
desires, moods, wills and functions. Knowledge of the Story as it was when composed, before
realization, gave them their measure of fore-knowledge; the amount varied very much, from the
fairly complete knowledge of the mind of the Creator in this matter possessed by Manwë, the 'Elder
King', to that of lesser spirits who might have been interested only in some subsidiary matter (such
as trees or birds). Some had attached themselves to such major artists and knew things chiefly
indirectly through their knowledge of the minds of these masters. Sauron had been attached to the
greatest, Melkor, who ultimately became the inevitable Rebel and self-worshipper of mythologies
that begin with a transcendent unique Creator. Olórin (Vol II p. 279) had been attached to Manwë.1
The Creator did not hold himself aloof. He introduced new themes into the original design,
which might therefore be unforeseen by many of the spirits in realization; there were also
unforeseeable events (that is happenings which not even a complete knowledge of the past could
Of the first kind and the chief was the theme of the incarnate intelligence, Elves and Men,
which was not thought of nor treated by any of the Spirits. They were therefore called the Children
of God. Being other than the Spirits, of less 'stature', and yet of the same order, they were the object
of hope and desire to the greater spirits, who knew something of their form and nature and the mode
and approximate time of their appearance in the realization. But they also realized that the Children
of God must not be 'dominated', though they would be specially susceptible to it.
It was because of this pre-occupation with the Children of God that the spirits so often took the
form and likeness of the Children, especially after their appearance. It was thus that Sauron
appeared in this shape. It is mythologically supposed that when this shape was 'real', that is a
physical actuality in the physical world and not a vision transferred from mind to mind, it took
some time to build up. It was then destructible like other physical organisms. But that of course did
not destroy the spirit, nor dismiss it from the world to which it was bound until the end. After the
battle with Gilgalad and Elendil, Sauron took a long while to re-build, longer than he had done after
the Downfall of Númenor (I suppose because each building-up used up some of the inherent energy
of the spirit, which might be called the 'will' or the effective link between the indestructible mind
and being and the realization of its imagination). The impossibility of re-building after the
destruction of the Ring, is sufficiently clear 'mythologically' in the present book.
I am sorry if this all seems dreary and 'pompöse'. But so do all attempts to 'explain' the images
and events of a mythology. Naturally the stories come first. But it is, I suppose, some test of the
consistency of a mythology as such, if it is capable of some son of rational or rationalized
201 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 7 September 1957
[On 4 September, Tolkien was visited by representatives of the American company which was interested in
making an animated film of The Lord of the Rings. He was given a copy of the synopsis of the film, which
he agreed to read.]
You will receive on Monday the copy of the 'Story Line' or synopsis of the proposed film
version of The Lord of the Rings. I could not get it off yesterday. ....
An abridgement by selection with some good picture-work would be pleasant, & perhaps worth
a good deal in publicity; but the present script is rather a compression with resultant over-crowding
and confusion, blurring of climaxes, and general degradation: a pull-back towards more
conventional 'fairy-stories'. People gallop about on Eagles at the least provocation; Lórien becomes
a fairy-castle with 'delicate minarets', and all that sort of thing.
But I am quite prepared to play ball, if they are open to advice – and if you decide that the thing
is genuine, and worthwhile.
202 From a letter to Christopher and Faith Tolkien
11 September 1957
My heart and mind is in the Silmarillion, but I have not had much time for it. ....
It may amuse you to hear that (unsolicited) I suddenly found myself the winner of the
International Fantasy Award, presented (as it says) 'as a fitting climax to the Fifteenth World
Science Fiction Convention'. What it boiled down to was a lunch at the Criterion yesterday with
speeches, and the handing over of an absurd 'trophy'. A massive metal 'model' of an upended Spacerocket (combined with a Ronson lighter). But the speeches were far more intelligent, especially that
of the introducer: Clémence Dane, a massive woman of almost Sitwellian presence. Sir Stanley
himself was present. Not having any immediate use for the trophy (save publicity=sales=cash) I
deposited it in the window of 40 Museum Street. A back-wash from the Convention was a visit
from an American film-agent (one of the adjudicating panel) who drove out all the way in a taxi
from London to see me last week, filling 76 S[andfield] with strange men and stranger women -1
thought the taxi would never stop disgorging. But this Mr Ackerman brought some really
astonishingly good pictures (Rackham rather than Disney) and some remarkable colour
photographs. They have apparently toured America shooting mountain and desert scenes that seem
to fit the story. The Story Line or Scenario was, however, on a lower level. In fact bad. But it looks
as if business might be done. Stanley U. &: I have agreed on our policy : Art or Cash. Either very
profitable terms indeed ; or absolute author's veto on objectionable features or alterations.
203 From a letter to Herbert Schiro1 17 November 1957
There is no 'symbolism' or conscious allegory in my story. Allegory of the sort 'five wizards =
five senses' is wholly foreign to my way of thinking. There were five wizards and that is just a
unique part of history. To ask if the Orcs 'are' Communists is to me as sensible as asking if
Communists are Orcs.
That there is no allegory does not, of course, say there is no applicability. There always is. And
since I have not made the struggle wholly unequivocal: sloth and stupidity among hobbits, pride
and [illegible] among Elves, grudge and greed in Dwarf-hearts, and folly and wickedness among
the 'Kings of Men', and treachery and power-lust even among the 'Wizards', there is I suppose
applicability in my story to present times. But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about
Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for
deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!
204 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 7 December 1957
[Lord Halsbury (see no. 174) was invited by Tolkien to read several parts of The Silmarillion in manuscript
during the latter part of 1957. In December, Rayner Unwin visited Tolkien to discuss that book and borrow
portions of it, and to bring information about the Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings.]
As soon as you had gone, I found Halsbury's letter in full view. .... Though his commentary and
criticism (I have now received another 14 pages) is very interesting to me, and in some points
useful, the covering letter is chiefly of interest as an indication that, surprising as it may seem, this
Silmarillion stuff would have at least some audience. He saw what I handed to you. He wrote:
'Thank you for the privilege of seeing this wonderful mythology. I have never read anything like it
and can hardly wait for its publication. You must get it published while your sales of The Lord of
the Rings are still actively developing.... I can quite see that there is a struggle ahead to re-mould it
into the requisite form for publication and wish you luck.'....
I now see quite clearly that I must, as a necessary preliminary to 'remoulding', get copies made
of all copyable material. And I shall put that in hand as soon as possible. But I think the best way of
dealing with this (at this stage, in which much of the stuff is in irreplaceable sole copies) is to install
a typist in my room in college, and not let any material out of my keeping, until it is multiplied. I
hope that, perhaps, then your interest will be sufficient for you to want at least a sketch of the
remaining part.
Sweden. The enclosure that you brought from Almqvist &c.1 was both puzzling and irritating. A
letter in Swedish from fil. dr. Åke Ohlmarks,2 and a huge list (9 pages foolscap) of names in the
L.R. which he had altered. I hope that my inadequate knowledge of Swedish — no better than my
kn. of Dutch, but I possess a v. much better Dutch dictionary! — tends to exaggerate the impression
I received. The impression remains, nonetheless, that Dr Ohlmarks is a conceited person, less
competent than charming Max Schuchart,3 though he thinks much better of himself. In the course of
his letter he lectures me on the character of the Swedish language and its antipathy to borrowing
foreign words (a matter which seems beside the point), a procedure made all the more ridiculous by
the language of his letter, more than 1/3 of which consists of 'loan-words' from German, French and
thriller-genre being a good specimen of good old pure Swedish.
I find this procedure puzzling, because the letter and the list seem totally pointless unless my
opinion and criticism is invited. But if this is its object, then surely the timing is both unpractical
and impolite, presented together with a pistol: 'we are going to start the composition now'. Neither
is my convenience consulted: the communication comes out of the blue in the second most busy
academic week of the year. I have had to sit up far into the night even to survey the list. Conceding
the legitimacy or necessity of translation (which I do not, except in a limited degree), the translation
does not seem to me to exhibit much skill, and contains a fair number of positive errors.* Even if
excusable, in view of the difficulty of the material, I think this regrettable, & they could have been
avoided by earlier consultation. It seems to me fairly evident that Dr.O. has stumbled along dealing
with things as he came to them, without much care for the future or co-ordination, and that he has
not read the Appendices† at all, in which he would have found many answers. ....
I do hope that it can be arranged, if and when any further translations are negotiated, that I
should be consulted at an early stage – without frightening a shy bird off the eggs. After all, I
charge nothing, and can save a translator a good deal of time and puzzling; and if consulted at an
early stage my remarks will appear far less in the light of peevish criticisms.
I see now that the lack of an 'index of names' is a serious handicap in dealing with these
matters. If I had an index of names (even one with only reference to Vol. and chapter, not page) it
would be a comparatively easy matter to indicate at once all names suitable for translation (as being
themselves according to the fiction 'translated' into English), and to add a few notes on points where
For example: Ford of Bruinen = Björnavad! Archet = Gamleby (a mere guess, I suppose, from 'archaic'?)
Mountains of Lune (Ered Luin) = Månbergen; Gladden Fields (in spite of descr. in I. 62) = Ljusa slättema, & so on.4
Or (I surmise) the nomenclature of later volumes.
(I know now) translators are likely to trip. ....
This 'handlist' would be of great use to me in future corrections and in composing an index
(which I think should replace some of the present appendices); also in dealing with The Silmarillion
(into which some of the L.R. has to be written backwards to make the two coherent). Do you think
you could do anything about this?
205 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 21 February 1958
[Christopher Tolkien, now a university lecturer at Oxford, gave a paper to a society at St Anne's College on
'Barbarians and Citizens', his subject being the heroes of northern legend as seen in different fashion by
Germanic poets and Roman writers. His father was present at the reading of the paper.]
I think it was a very excellent performance. It filled me with great delight: first of all because it
was so interesting that, after a day (for me) of unceasing labour & movement, I never desired to
close my eyes or abstract my mind for a second – and I felt that all round me; and secondly because
of parental pride. (Not that I think that this sensation is really one of the hwelpes of þe liun at all: it
is a legitimate satisfaction with the least possible of egotism in it (there is never none) to feel that
one has not wholly failed in one's appointed part, and has paid forward at least a part of the debt one
owes backward.)
It was enormously successful, and I realize now why you hold audiences. There was, of course,
life and vividness in your phrases, but you are clear, generally unemphatic and let your stuff speak
for itself by sheer placing and shaping. All the same, I suddenly realized that I am a pure
philologist. I like history, and am moved by it, but its finest moments for me are those in which it
throws light on words and names! Several people (and I agree) spoke to me of the an with which
you made the beady-eyed Attila on his couch almost vividly present. Yet oddly, I find the thing that
really thrills my nerves is the one you mentioned casually: atta, attila.1 Without those syllables the
whole great drama both of history and legend loses savour for me – or would.
I do not know what I mean, because 'aesthetic' is always impossible to catch in a net of words.
Nobody believes me when I say that my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form
of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it is true. An enquirer (among
many) asked what the L.R. was all about, and whether it was an 'allegory'. And I said it was an
effort to create a situation in which a common greeting would be elen síla lúmenn' omentieimo,2 and
that the phase long antedated the book. I never heard any more. But I enjoyed myself immensely
and retire to bed really happy. It was obvious that the ball is right at your toes, so far as the total
sphere of the academic world is concerned. (Actually I think it of vast nobility and importance.)
206 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 April 1958
[At the end of March 1958, Tolkien visited Holland at the invitation of the Rotterdam booksellers
Voorhoeve en Dietrich; his travelling expenses were paid by Allen & Unwin. He attended a 'Hobbit Dinner'
at which he gave a speech. One item on the menu was 'Maggot Soup', an intended allusion to Farmer
Maggot's mushrooms in The Lord of the Rings.]
Since I had the remarkable, and in the event extremely enjoyable, experience in Holland by the
generosity of 'A. and U.', I think some kind of report would be proper. I have had time to simmer
down a bit, and recover some sense of proportion. The incense was thick and very heady; and the
kindness overwhelming. My journey was very comfortable, and the reservations magnificent: the
outward boat was packed, and the train from L[iverpool] Street went in two pans. I arrived in cold
mist and drizzle, but by the time I had found my way to Rotterdam the sun was shining, and it
remained so for two days. Ouboter of V[oorhoeve] and D[ietrich] was waving a Lord of the Rings
and so easy to pick out of the crowd, but I did not fit his expectations, as he confessed (after
dinner); my 'build-up' by letter had been too successful, and he was looking for something much
smaller and more shy and hobbit-like.
(I thought he was charming and intelligent; but he was still a little upset about the hilarity
caused by 'maggot-soup' on the Menu. It was, of course, mushroom soup; but he said he would not
have chosen the name if he had known 'all the names of the English vermins'.) I met a
representative of Het Spectrum,1 and saw a good deal of the depressing world of ruined and halfrebuilt Rotterdam. I think it is largely the breach between this comfonless world, with its gigantic
and largely dehumanised reconstruction, and the natural and ancestral tastes of the Dutch, that has
(as it seems) made them, in R[otterdam] especially, almost intoxicated with hobbits ! It was almost
entirely of hobbits that they spoke.
At 5.30 on Friday I faced quite a large concourse in an assembly hall. Apparently over 200
(largely ordinary people) had paid to be present, and many had been turned away. Professor
Harting2 was even more astonished than I was. The dinner was cenainly 'abundant and prolonged':
the latter, because the speeches were interleaved between the courses. In the event they were all in
English; and all but one quite sensible (if one deducts the high pitch of the eulogy, which was rather
embarrassing). The exception was a lunatic phycholog, but the able chairman held him to five
minutes. My final reply was I hope adequate, and was I believe audible; but I need not dwell on it.
It was partly a parody of Bilbo's speech in Chapter I.3
In this home of 'smoking', pipe-weed seems specially to have caught on. There were clay pipes
on the table and large jars of tobacco – provided, I believe, by the firm of Van Rossem. The walls
were decorated with Van Rossem posters over-printed Pipe-weed for Hobbits: In 3 qualities:
Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, and Southern Star. V. Rossem has since sent me pipes and tobacco ! I
carried off one of the posters. You might like to see it. ....
I cannot thank you enough for providing me with this short but memorable expedition – the
only one I am likely to get after all out of my 'leave' – and for gently pressing me to go.
207 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 April 1958
[Negotiations were proceeding with the American film company. The synopsis of the proposed film of The
Lord of the Rings was the work of Morton Grady Zimmerrnan.]
Zimmerman – 'Story-Line'
Of course, I will get busy on this at once, now that Easter is over, and the Dutch incense is
dissipated. Thank you for the copy of the Story-line, which I will go through again.
I am entirely ignorant of the process of producing an 'animated picture' from a book, and of the
jargon connected with it. Could you let me know exactly what is a 'story-line', and its function in
the process?
It is not necessary (or advisable) for me to waste time on mere expressions if these are simply
directions to picture-producers. But this document, as it stands, is sufficient to give me grave
anxiety about the actual dialogue that (I suppose) will be used. I should say Zimmerman, the
constructor of this s-l, is quite incapable of excerpting or adapting the 'spoken words' of the book.
He is hasty, insensitive, and impertinent.
He does not read books. It seems to me evident that he has skimmed through the L.R. at a great
pace, and then constructed his s.l. from partly confused memories, and with the minimum of
references back to the original. Thus he gets most of the names wrong in form – not occasionally by
casual error but fixedly (always Borimor for Boromir); or he misapplies them: Radagast becomes
an Eagle. The introduction of characters and the indications of what they are to say have little or no
reference to the book. Bombadil comes in with 'a gentle laugh'! ....
I feel very unhappy about the extreme silliness and incompetence of Z and his complete lack of
respect for the original (it seems wilfully wrong without discernible technical reasons at nearly
every point). But I need, and shall soon need very much indeed, money, and I am conscious of your
rights and interests; so that I shall endeavour to restrain myself, and avoid all avoidable offence. I
will send you my remarks, particular and general, as soon as I can; and of course nothing will go to
Ackerman1 except through you and with at least your assent.
208 From a letter to C. Ouboter, Voorhoeve en Dietrich, Rotterdam 10 April 1958
As for 'message': I have none really, if by that is meant the conscious purpose in writing The
Lord of the Rings, of preaching, or of delivering myself of a vision of truth specially revealed to
me! I was primarily writing an exciting story in an atmosphere and background such as I find
personally attractive. But in such a process inevitably one's own taste, ideas, and beliefs get taken
up. Though it is only in reading the work myself (with criticisms in mind) that I become aware of
the dominance of the theme of Death. (Not that there is any original 'message' in that: most of
human art & thought is similarly preoccupied.) But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or
meant to say, that the 'message' was the hideous peril of confusing true 'immortality' with limitless
serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is the work of the
Enemy, and one of the chief causes of human disaster. Compare the death of Aragorn with a
Ringwraith. The Elves call 'death' the Gift of God (to Men). Their temptation is different: towards a
fainéant melancholy, burdened with Memory, leading to an attempt to halt Time.
209 From a letter to Robert Murray, SJ. 4 May 1958
[Murray wrote to Tolkien asking if 'I could pick your brains about "holy" words'. He wanted to know
Tolkien's views on the original meaning of, and relationships between, the various words for 'holy' in the
Indo-European languages.]
These problems concerning the 'original' meanings of words (or families of formally connected
words) are fascinating: strictly – that is: alluring, but not necessarily by a wholesome attraction! I
often wonder what use (except historical: knowledge or glimpses of what words have meant and
how they have changed in fact so far as ascertainable) we gain by such investigations. It is
practically impossible to avoid the vicious circle of discovering from word-histories, or supposed
histories, 'primitive' meanings and associations, and then using these for tracing histories of
meaning. Is it not possible to discuss the 'meaning' now of 'sanctity' (for instance) without reference
to the history of the meaning of the word-forms now employed in that meaning? The other way
round seems rather like describing a place (or stage in a journey) in terms of the different routes by
which people have arrived there, though the place has a location and existence quite independent of
these routes, direct or more circuitous.
In any case in an historical enquiry we are obliged to deal simultaneously with two variables
each in motions that are independent fundamentally, even when affecting one another 'accidentally':
the meanings and associations of meaning are one, and the word-forms another, and their changes
are independent. The word-form can go through a whole cycle of change, until it is phonetically
unrecognizable without measurable change of meaning; and at any moment without any change in
phonetics 'the meaning' of a 'word' may change. Quite suddenly* (as far as the evidence goes) yelp
which meant 'to speak proudly', and was especially used of proud vows (such as a knight vowing to
do some dangerous deed) stopped meaning that and became used of the noise of foxes or dogs!
Why? At any rate, not because of any change in ideas about vaunts or animals! It is a long way
from δοντ- to tooth, but the changes of form have not much affected the meaning (nor has tine
the equivalent of dent- moved very far).†
We do not know the 'original' meaning of any word, still less the meaning of its basic element
(sc. the pan it shares with or seems to share with other related words: once called its 'root'): there is
always a lost past. Thus we do not know the original meaning of θέος or deus or god. We can, of
course, make some guesses about the formation of these three quite distinct words, and then try to
generalize a basic meaning from the senses shown by their relatives – but I do not think we shall
necessarily by that way get any nearer to the idea 'god' at any actual moment in any language using
one of these words. It is an odd fact that English dizzy (olim dysig) and giddy (olim gydig) seem
related to θέος and god respectively. In English they once meant 'irrational', and now 'vertiginous',
but that does not help much (except to cause us to reflect that there was a long past before θέος or
god reached their forms or senses and equally queer changes may have gone on in unrecorded
ages). We may, of course, guess that we have a remote effect of primitive ideas of 'inspiration' (to
the 18th C[entury] an enthusiast was much what an Anglo-Saxon would have called a dysiga!). But
that is not of much theological use? We are faced by endless minute parallels to the mystery of
incarnation. Is not the idea of god ultimately independent of the ways by which a word for it has
come to be?‡ whether through √dh(e)wes (which seems to refer basically to stirring and
excitement); or √d(e)jew (which seems to refer basically to brightness (esp. of the sky)); or possibly
(it is a mere guess) √ghew cry, – god is originally neuter and is supposed to 'mean' that which is
invoked: an old past participle. Possibly a taboo-word. The old deiwos word (which produced dīvus,
deus) survives only in Tuesday.§
Soon after AD 1400.
But even so we do not know the original meaning of tooth. Did it mean 'spike, sharp point' or was it (as some
guess) really the participial agent to ED 'eat', sc. a functional and non-pictorial name?
Because a single word in human language (unlike Entish!) is a short-hand sign, & conventional. The fact that it is
derived from a single facet, even if proved, does not prove that other facets were not equally present to the mind of the
users of this conventional sign. The λ γος is ultimately independent of the verbum.
But we do not know how Tīw (=dívus) became a 'name' equated in the interpretatio romana with Mars. Perhaps
If he has to tackle such a word as holy, the old-fashioned philologist (such as I am) looks first at
the history of the form. According to rules laboriously elaborated (and I think certainly valid within
limits*) he will say what it improbably formally related to. But he cannot wholly escape the
quicksand of semantics. Before he proposes a relationship (that is an actual historical nexus of
change) between holy and other words in the same language (or in other believed to be related to
English) he will want both a phonologically possible kinship, and some 'possible kinship' in sense.
All the time he will be uneasily aware of two things found in linguistic experience: (1) that there
seem always to have been 'homophones', or 2 (or more) phonetically indistinguishable elements that
possessed distinct senses and are therefore 'different words',† like I[ndo]-E[uropean] stems men
'stick out', and men 'think'; and (2) that semantic change is sometimes violent, and in the dark past
may have operated without leaving evidence of its occurrence. For instance the formal equivalence
of √sequ in Greek ποµαι and Latin sequor (and other languages) meaning 'follow' is exact with
Germanic sekw – stem of a verb : but this means 'to see'. Which is to have most weight: the form or
the sense? He cannot decide finally on the evidence; though fiddling in an amateur way with
'semantics' he can make the sense-jump seems less impossible than it looks at first, by referring to
the uses of 'follow'= 'understand', and to the fact that I-E words for see (as indeed our see) often
mean, or the same 'bases' may mean, 'know', 'understand'. (This is particularly true of the √WID
base: Latin video has its exact equivalent in O.E. witian 'watch, guard'; but ο δα (= Latin vīdī)
in O.E. wāt 'wot', 'I know'.) But probably, if he finds Germanic salwo- (our sallow) and Latin salvus
(saluos), he will decide that there is no bridge between 'dirty yellow' and 'safe and sound'; so that
either some thing is wrong with the phonological equation, or that he is dealing with 'homophones'.
(There is always also the possibility that either sallow or salvus did not descend from a common
antiquity – words can be invented, or borrowed and may closely resemble older words in either
case.) The formal equivalent (the only known one) of our harp is Latin corbis. (The Romance arpa
etc. are borrowed from Germanic.) But the poor philologist will have to call on some archaeological
expert before he can decide whether any relationship between 'harps' and 'baskets' is possible –
supposing Gmc. harpō always meant 'harp' or corbi-s always meant 'wicker basket'! corbīta means
a fat-bellied ship.
another substitution of a general term (divinity) for a 'true name'. The plural tívar in O. Norse verse still means 'gods'.
That is: they refer to undisturbed norms of habitual change (like simple statements of the action of frost), but the
norms may be interfered with – the patterns on a given window are practically unpredictable, though one believes that if
one knew all the circumstances, it would not be so.
By which he means that they are not connected by lost semantic change; but how can he be sure of that?
210 From a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman [Not dated; June 1958]
[Tolkien's comments on the film 'treatment' of The Lord of the Rings.]
I have at last finished my commentary on the Story-line. Its length and detail will, I hope, give
evidence of my interest in the matter. Some at least of the things that I have said or suggested may
be acceptable, even useful, or at least interesting. The commentary goes along page by page,
according to the copy of Mr Zimmerman's work, which was left with me, and which I now return. I
earnestly hope that someone will take the trouble to read it.
If Z and/or others do so, they may be irritated or aggrieved by the tone of many of my
criticisms. If so, I am sorry (though not surprised). But I would ask them to make an effort of
imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author,
who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in
places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about. ....
The canons of narrative an in any medium cannot be wholly different ; and the failure of poor
films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not
perceiving where the core of the original lies.
Z .... has intruded a 'fairy castle' and a great many Eagles, not to mention incantations, blue
lights, and some irrelevant magic (such as the floating body of Faramir). He has cut the parts of the
story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for
fights; and he has made no serious attempt to represent the heart of the tale adequately: the journey
of the Ringbearers. The last and most important pan of this has, and it is not too strong a word,
simply been murdered.
[Some extracts from Tolkien's lengthy commentary on the Story Line:]
Z is used as an abbreviation for (the writer of) the synopsis. References to this are by page (and
line where required); references to the original story are by Volume and page.
2. Why should the firework display include flags and hobbits? They are not in the book. 'Flags'
of what? I prefer my own choice of fireworks.
Gandalf, please, should not 'splutter'. Though he may seem testy at times, has a sense of
humour, and adopts a somewhat avuncular attitude to hobbits, he is a person of high and noble
authority, and great dignity. The description on I p. 2391 should never be forgotten.
4. Here we meet the first intrusion of the Eagles. I think they are a major mistake of Z, and
without warrant.
The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit
of their credibility or usefulness. The alighting of a Great Eagle of the Misty Mountains in the Shire
is absurd; it also makes the later capture of G. by Saruman incredible, and spoils the account of his
escape. (One of Z's chief faults is his tendency to anticipate scenes or devices used later, thereby
flattening the tale out.) Radagast is not an Eagle-name, but a wizard's name; several eagle-names
are supplied in the book. These points are to me important.
Here I may say that I fail to see why the time-scheme should be deliberately contracted. It is
already rather packed in the original, the main action occurring between Sept. 22 and March 25 of
the following year. The many impossibilities and absurdities which further hurrying produces
might, I suppose, be unobserved by an uncritical viewer; but I do not see why they should be
unnecessarily introduced. Time must naturally be left vaguer in a picture than in a book; but I
cannot see why definite time-statements, contrary to the book and to probability, should be made.
Seasons are carefully regarded in the original. They are pictorial, and should be, and easily
could be, made the main means by which the artists indicate time-passage. The main action begins
in autumn and passes through winter to a brilliant spring: this is basic to the purport and tone of the
tale. The contraction of time and space in 2 destroys that. His arrangements would, for instance,
land us in a snowstorm while summer was still in. The Lord of the Rings may be a 'fairy-story', but
it takes place in the Northern hemisphere of this earth: miles are miles, days are days, and weather
is weather.
Contraction of this kind is not the same thing as the necessary reduction or selection of the
scenes and events that are to be visually represented.
7. The first paragraph misrepresents Tom Bombadil. He is not the owner of the woods; and he
would never make any such threat.
'Old scamp!' This is a good example of the general tendency that I find in Z to reduce and lower
the tone towards that of a more childish fairy-tale. The expression does not agree with the tone of
Bombadil's long later talk; and though that is cut, there is no need for its indications to be
I am sorry, but I think the manner of the introduction of Goldberry is silly, and on a par with
'old scamp'. It also has no warrant in my tale. We are not in 'fairy-land', but in real river-lands in
autumn. Goldberry represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands. Personally I think she had
far better disappear than make a meaningless appearance.
8 line 24. The landlord does not ask Frodo to 'register'!2 Why should he? There are no police
and no government. (Neither do I make him number his rooms.) If details are to be added to an
already crowded picture, they should at least fit the world described.
9. Leaving the inn at night and running off into the dark is an impossible solution of the
difficulties of presentation here (which I can see). It is the last thing that Aragorn would have done.
It is based on a misconception of the Black Riders throughout, which I beg Z to reconsider. Their
peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts). They have no
great physical power against the fearless; but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is
enormously increased in darkness. The Witch-king, their leader, is more powerful in all ways than
the others; but he must not yet be raised to the stature of Vol. III. There, put in command by Sauron,
he is given an added demonic force. But even in the Battle of the Pelennor, the darkness had only
just broken. See III 114.3
10. Rivendell was not 'a shimmering forest'. This is an unhappy anticination of Lórien (which it
in no way resembled). It could not be seen from Weathertop : it was 200 miles away and hidden in a
ravine. I can see no pictorial or story-making gain in needlessly contracting the geography.
Strider does not 'Whip out a sword' in the book. Naturally not: his sword was broken. (Its elvish
light is another false anticipation of the reforged Anduril. Anticipation is one of Z's chief faults.)
Why then make him do so here, in a contest that was explicitly not fought with weapons?
11. Aragorn did not 'sing the song of Gil-galad'. Naturally: it was quite inappropriate, since it
told of the defeat of the Elven-king by the Enemy. The Black Riders do not scream, but keep a more
terrifying silence. Aragorn does not blanch. The riders draw slowly in on foot in darkness, and do
not 'spur'. There is no fight. Sam does not 'sink his blade into the Ringwraith's thigh', nor does his
thrust save Frodo's life. (If he had, the result would have been much the same as in III 117-20:4 the
Wraith would have fallen down and the sword would have been destroyed.)
Why has my account been entirely rewritten here, with disregard for the rest of the tale? I can
see that there are certain difficulties in representing a dark scene; but they are not insuperable. A
scene of gloom lit by a small red fire, with the Wraiths slowly approaching as darker shadows –
until the moment when Frodo puts on the Ring, and the King steps forward revealed – would seem
to me far more impressive than yet one more scene of screams and rather meaningless slashings.....
I have spent some time on this passage, as an example of what I find too frequent to give me
'pleasure or satisfaction': deliberate alteration of the story, in fact and significance, without any
practical or artistic object (that I can see); and of the flattening effect that assimilation of one
incident to another must have.
15. Time is again contracted and hurried, with the effect of reducing the importance of the
Quest. Gandalf does not say they will leave as soon as they can pack! Two months elapse. There is
no need to say anything with a time-purport. The lapse of time should be indicated, if by no more
than the change to winter in the scenery and trees.
At the bottom of the page, the Eagles are again introduced. I feel this to be a wholly
unacceptable tampering with the tale. 'Nine Walkers' and they immediately go up in the air! The
intrusion achieves nothing but incredibility, and the staling of the device of the Eagles when at last
they are really needed. It is well within the powers of pictures to suggest, relatively briefly, a long
and arduous journey, in secrecy, on foot, with the three ominous mountains getting nearer.
Z does not seem much interested in seasons or scenery, though from what I saw I should say
that in the representation of these the chief virtue and attraction of the film is likely to be found. But
would Z think that he had improved the effect of a film of, say, the ascent of Everest by introducing
helicopters to take the climbers half way up (in defiance of probability)? It would be far better to
cut the Snow-storm and the Wolves than to make a farce of the arduous journey.
19. Why does Z put beaks and feathers on Orcs!? (Orcs is not a form of Auks.) The Orcs are
definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were)
squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and
repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
20. The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all. Above all he does not laugh or
sneer. .... Z may think that he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to
agree with him.
21 ff. 'A splendid sight. It is the home of Galadriel. . . an Elvenqueen.' (She is not in fact one.)
'Delicate spires and tiny minarets of Elven-color are cleverly woven into a beautiful[ly] designed
castle.' I think this deplorable in itself, and in places impertinent. Will Z please pay my text some
respect, at least in descriptions that are obviously central to the general tone and style of the book! I
will in no circumstances accept this treatment of Lórien, even if Z personally prefers 'tiny' fairies
and the gimcrack of conventional modern fairy-tales.
The disappearance of the temptation of Galadriel is significant. Practically everything having
moral import has vanished from the synopsis.
22. Lembas, 'waybread', is called a 'food concentrate'. As I have shown I dislike strongly any
pulling of my tale towards the style and feature of 'contes des fees', or French fairy-stories. I dislike
equally any pull towards 'scientification', of which this expression is an example. Both modes are
alien to my story.
We are not exploring the Moon or any other more improbable region. No analysis in any
laboratory would discover chemical properties of lembas that made it superior to other cakes of
I only comment on the expression here as an indication of attitude. It is no doubt casual; and
nothing of this kind or style will (I hope) escape into the actual dialogue.
In the book lembas has two functions. It is a 'machine' or device for making credible the long
marches with little provision, in a world in which as I have said 'miles are miles'. But that is
relatively unimportant. It also has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a
'religious' kind. This becomes later apparent, especially in the chapter 'Mount Doom' (III 2135 and
subsequently). I cannot find that Z has made any particular use of lembas even as a device; and the
whole of 'Mount Doom' has disappeared in the distorted confusion that Z has made of the ending.
As far as I can see lembas might as well disappear altogether.
I do earnestly hope that in the assignment of actual speeches to the characters they will be
represented as I have presented them: in style and sentiment. I should resent perversion of the
characters (and do resent it, so far as it appears in this sketch) even more than the spoiling of the
plot and scenery.
Parts II & III. I have spent much space on criticizing even details in Part I. It has been easier,
because Part I in general respects the line of narrative in the book, and retains some of its original
coherence. Pan II exemplifies all the faults of Pan I ; but it is far more unsatisfactory, & still more
so Pan III, in more serious respects. It almost seems as if 2, having spent much time and work on
Pan I, now found himself short not only of space but of patience to deal with the two more difficult
volumes in which the action becomes more fast and complicated. He has in any case elected to treat
them in a way that produces a confusion that mounts at last almost to a delirium. ....
The narrative now divides into two main branches: 1. Prime Action, the Ringbearers. 2.
Subsidiary Action, the rest of the Company leading to the 'heroic' matter. It is essential that these
two branches should each be treated in coherent sequence. Both to render them intelligible as a
story, and because they are totally different in tone and scenery. Jumbling them together entirely
destroys these things.
31. I deeply regret this handling of the 'Treebeard' chapter, whether necessary or not. I have
already suspected Z of not being interested in trees: unfortunate, since the story is so largely
concerned with them. But surely what we have here is in any case a quite unintelligible glimpse?
What are Ents?
31 to 32. We pass now to a dwelling of Men in an 'heroic age'. Z does not seem to appreciate
this. I hope the artists do. But he and they have really only to follow what is said, and not alter it to
suit their fancy (out of place).
In such a time private 'chambers' played no pan. Théoden probably had none, unless he had a
sleeping 'bower' in a separate small 'outhouse'. He received guests or emissaries, seated on the dais
in his royal hall. This is quite clear in the book; and the scene should be much more effective to
31 to 32. Why do not Théoden and Gandalf go into the open before the doors, as I have told?
Though I have somewhat enriched the culture of the 'heroic' Rohirrim, it did not run to glass
windows that could be thrown open ! ! We might be in a hotel. (The 'east windows' of the hall, II
116, 119,6 were slits under the eaves, unglazed.)
Even if the king of such a people had a 'bower', it could not become 'a beehive of bustling
activity'!! The bustle takes place outside and in the town. What is showable of it should occur on
the wide pavement before the great doors.
33. I am afraid that I do not find the glimpse of the 'defence of the Homburg' – this would be a
better title, since Helm's Deep, the ravine behind, is not shown – entirely satisfactory. It would, I
guess, be a fairly meaningless scene in a picture, stuck in in this way. Actually I myself should be
inclined to cut it right out, if it cannot be made more coherent and a more significant part of the
story. .... If both the Ents and the Hornburg cannot be treated at sufficient length to make sense,
then one should go. It should be the Hornburg, which is incidental to the main story; and there
would be this additional gain that we are going to have a big battle (of which as much should be
made as possible), but battles tend to be too similar: the big one would gain by having no
34. Why on earth should Z say that the hobbits 'were munching ridiculously long sandwiches'?
Ridiculous indeed. I do not see how any author could be expected to be 'pleased' by such silly
alterations. One hobbit was sleeping, the other smoking.
The spiral staircase 'weaving' round the Tower [Orthanc] comes from Z's fancy not my tale. I
prefer the latter. The tower was 500 feet high. There was a flight of 27 steps leading to the great
door; above which was a window and a balcony.
Z is altogether too fond of the words hypnosis and hypnotic. Neither genuine hypnosis, nor
scienrifictitious variants, occur in my tale. Saruman's voice was not hypnotic but persuasive. Those
who listened to him were not in danger of falling into a trance, but of agreeing with his arguments,
while fully awake. It was always open to one to reject, by free will and reason, both his voice while
speaking and its after-impressions. Saruman corrupted the reasoning powers.
Z has cut out the end of the book, including Saruman's proper death. In that case I can see no
good reason for making him die. Saruman would never have committed suicide: to cling to life to
its basest dregs is the way of the son of person he had become. If Z wants Saruman tidied up (I
cannot see why, where so many threads are left loose) Gandalf should say something to this effect:
as Saruman collapses under the excommunication: 'Since you will not come out and aid us, here in
Orthanc you shall stay till you rot, Saruman. Let the Ents look to it!'
Pan III.... is totally unacceptable to me, as a whole and in detail. If it is meant as notes only for
a section of something like the pictorial length of I and II, then in the filling out it must be brought
into relation with the book, and its gross alterations of that corrected. If it is meant to represent only
a kind of short finale, then all I can say is : The Lord of the Rings cannot be garbled like that.
211 To Rhona Beare
[Rhona Beare wrote, asking a number of questions, so that she could pass on Tolkien's answers to a meeting
of fellow-enthusiasts for The Lord of the Rings. Why, she asked, does Sam speak the Elvish invocation as 'O
Elbereth Gilthoniel' in the chapter 'The Choices of Master Samwise' when elsewhere the form used is 'A
Elbereth Gilthoniel'? (This was the reading used in the first edition of the book.) What is the meaning of this
invocation, and of Frodo's words in the previous chapter, 'Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!'? Miss Beare
then asked a series of numbered questions. 'Question 1': Why (in the first edition, I. 221) is Glorfindel's
horse described as having a 'bridle and bit' when Elves ride without bit, bridle or saddle? 'Question 2': How
could Ar-Pharazôn defeat Sauron when Sauron had the One Ring? 'Question 3': What were the colours of
the two wizards mentioned but not named in the book? 'Question 4': What clothes did the peoples of
Middle-earth wear? Was the winged crown of Gondor like that of a Valkyrie, or as depicted on a Gauloise
cigarette packet? Explain the meaning of El- in Elrond, Elladan, Elrohir; when does El- mean 'elf and when
'star'? Explain the meaning of the name Legolas. Did the Witch-king ride a pterodactyl at the siege of
Gondor? 'Question 5': Who is the Elder King mentioned by Bilbo in his song of Eärendil? Is he the One?]
14 October 1958
Merton College, Oxford
Dear Miss Beare,
I am afraid that this reply is too late to be useful for the event; but it was not possible to write
before. I have only just returned from a year's leave, one object of which was to enable me to
complete some of the 'learned' works neglected during my preoccupation with unprofessional trifles
(such as The Lord of the Rings): I record the tone of many of my colleagues. Actually the time has
mainly been occupied with grave troubles, including the illness of my wife; but I was all through
August working long hours, seven days a week, against time, to finish a piece of work before going
to Ireland on official business. I arrived back a few days ago, just in time for our Michaelmas Term.
In a momentary lull I will try and answer your questions briefly. I do not 'know all the answers'.
Much of my own book puzzles me; & in any case much of it was written so long ago (anything up
to 20 years) that I read it now as if it were from a strange hand.
The use of O on II p. 339 is an error. Mine in fact, taken over from p. 338, where Gilthoniel O
Elbereth is, of course, a quotation of I p. 88, which was a 'translation', English in all but proper
names. Sam's invocation is, however, in pure Elvish and should have had A as in I p. 250. Since
hobbit-language is represented as English, O could be defended as an inaccuracy of his own; but I
do not propose to defend it. He was 'inspired' to make this invocation in a language he did not know
(II 338). Though it is, of course, in the style and metre of the hymn-fragment, I think it is composed
or inspired for his particular situation.
It means, more or less: 'O Elbereth Starkindler (in the past tense: the title belongs to mythical
pre-history and does not refer to a permanent function) from heaven gazing-afar, to thee I cry now
in the shadow of (the fear of) death. O look towards me, Everwhite!' Everwhite is an inadequate
translation; as is equally the snow-white of I 88. The element ui (Primitive Elvish oio) means ever;
both fan- and los(s) convey white, but fan connotes the whiteness of clouds (in the sun); loss refers
to snow.
Amon Uilos, in High-elven Oiolosse,* was one of the names of the highest peak of the
Mountains of Valinor, upon which Manwe and Varda dwelt. So that an Elf using or hearing the
name Fanuilos, would not think of (or picture) only a majestic figure robed in white, standing in a
high place and gazing eastward to mortal lands, he would at the same time picture an immense
peak, snow-capped, crowned with a piercing or dazzling white cloud.
Ancalima = 'exceedingly bright'. Element kal† the usual stem for words referring to light;
kălĭma, 'shining brilliant'; an- superlative or intensive prefix.
Question 1. I could, I suppose, answer: 'a trick-cyclist can ride a bicycle with handle-bars!' But
actually bridle was casually and carelessly used for what I suppose should have been called a
(See the lament of Galadriel I 394) oiolossëo = from Mt. Uilos.
In High-elven. There was also a more or less synonymous stem gal (corresponding to gil which only applied to
white or silver light). This variation g/k is not to be confused with the grammatical change or k, c > g in Grey-elven,
seen in the initials of words in composition or after closely connected particles (like the article). So Gil-galad 'starlight'. Cf. palan-díriel compared with a tíro niu.
headstall.1 Or rather, since bit was added (1221) long ago (Chapter 112 was written very early) I
had not considered the natural ways of elves with animals. Glorfindel's horse would have an
ornamental headstall, carrying a plume, and with the straps studded with jewels and small bells; but
Glor. would certainly not use a bit. I will change bridle and bit to headstall.
Question 2. This question, & its implications, are answered in the 'Downfall of Numenor',
which is not yet published, but which I cannot set out now. You cannot press the One Ring too
hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more
or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the
placing of one's life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or
destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to 'philosophize' this myth, or at least the
Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or
perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so
as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one's direct control. A man who wishes to exert
'power' must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.
Ar-Pharazôn, as is told in the 'Downfall' or Akallabêth, conquered a terrified Sauron's subjects,
not Sauron. Sauron's personal 'surrender' was voluntary and cunning*: he got free transport to
Numenor! He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most
of the Númenóreans. (I do not think Ar-Pharazôn knew anything about the One Ring. The Elves
kept the matter of the Rings very secret, as long as they could. In any case Ar-Pharazôn was not in
communication with them. In the Tale of Years III p. 364 you will find hints of the trouble: 'the
Shadow falls on Numenor'. After Tar-Atanamir (an Elvish name) the next name is Ar-Adunakhôr a
Númenórean name. See p. 315.2 The change of names went with a complete rejection of the Elffriendship, and of the 'theological' teaching the Númenóreans had received from them.)
Sauron was first defeated by a 'miracle': a direct action of God the Creator, changing the
fashion of the world, when appealed to by Manwë: see III p. 317. Though reduced to 'a spirit of
hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring,
upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended. That Sauron was not himself
destroyed in the anger of the One is not my fault: the problem of evil, and its apparent toleration, is
a permanent one for all who concern themselves with our world. The indestructibility of spirits with
free wills, even by the Creator of them, is also an inevitable feature, if one either believes in their
existence, or feigns it in a story.
Sauron was, of course, 'confounded' by the disaster, and diminished (having expended
enormous energy in the corruption of Númenor). He needed time for his own bodily rehabilitation,
and for gaining control over his former subjects. He was attacked by Gil-galad and Elendil before
his new domination was fully established.
Question 3. I have not named the colours, because I do not know them.3 I doubt if they had
distinctive colours. Distinction was only required in the case of the three who remained in the
relatively small area of the North-west. (On the names see Q[uestion]5.) I really do not know
anything clearly about the other two – since they do not concern the history of the N.W. I think they
went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Númenórean range: missionaries to
'enemy-occupied' lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed,
as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners
of secret cults and 'magic' traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.
Question 4. I do not know the detail of clothing. I visualize with great clarity and detail scenery
and 'natural' objects, but not artefacts. Pauline Baynes drew her inspiration for F. Giles largely from
mediaeval MS. drawings – except for the knights (who are a bit 'King-Arthurish')† the style seems
to fit well enough. Except that males, especially in northern parts such as the Shire, would wear
breeches, whether hidden by a cloak or long mantle, or merely accompanied by a tunic.
I have no doubt that in the area envisaged by my story (which is large) the 'dress' of various
Note the expression III p. 364 [2nd edition p. 365] 'taken as prisoner'.
Sc. belong to our 'mythological' Middle-Ages which blends unhistorically styles and details ranging over 500
years, and most of which did not of course exist in the Dark Ages of c. 500 A.D.
peoples, Men and others, was much diversified in the Third Age, according to climate, and inherited
custom. As was our world, even if we only consider Europe and the Mediterranean and the very
near 'East' (or South), before the victory in our time of the least lovely style of dress (especially for
males and 'neuters') which recorded history reveals – a victory that is still going on, even among
those who most hate the lands of its origin. The Rohirrim were not 'mediaeval', in our sense. The
styles of the Bay eux Tapestry (made in England) fit them well enough, if one remembers that the
kind of tennis-nets [the] soldiers seem to have on are only a clumsy conventional sign for chainmail of small rings.
The Númenóreans of Gondor were proud, peculiar, and archaic, and I think are best pictured in
(say) Egyptian terms. In many ways they resembled 'Egyptians' – the love of, and power to
construct, the gigantic and massive. And in their great interest in ancestry and in tombs. (But not of
course in 'theology' : in which respect they were Hebraic and even more puritan – but this would
take long to set out: to explain indeed why there is practically no oven 'religion',* or rather religious
acts or places or ceremonies among the 'good' or anti-Sauron peoples in The Lord of the Rings.) I
think the crown of Gondor (the S. Kingdom) was very tall, like that of Egypt, but with wings
attached, not set straight back but at an angle.
The N. Kingdom had only a diadem (III 323). Cf. the difference between the N. and S.
kingdoms of Egypt.
El. Difficult to distinguish 'star' and 'elf, since they are derivatives of the same basic element EL
'star' ; as the first element in compounds el- may mean (or at least symbolize) either. As a separate
word 'star' was *ělěn, plural *elenī in primitive Elvish. The Elves were called eledā/elenā 'an Elf
(High-elven Elda) because they were found by the Vala Oromë in a valley under the star-light; and
they remained always lovers of the stars. But this name became specially attached to those that
eventually marched West guided by Oromë (and mostly passed Oversea).
The Grey-elven (Sindarin) forms should have been êl, pl. elin; and eledh (pi. elidh). But the
latter term passed out of use among the Grey-elves (Sindar) who did not go over Sea; though it
remained in some proper-names as Eledhwen, 'Elven-fair'. After the return in exile of the Noldor
(pan of the High-elves), the High-elven elda was taken over again by the Grey-elves as eld>ell, and
referred to the High-elven exiles. This is, no doubt, the origin of el, ell- in such names as Elrond,
Elros, Elladan, Elrohir.
Elrond, Elros. *rondō was a prim[itive] Elvish word for 'cavern'. Cf. Nargothrond (fortified
cavern by the R. Narog), Aglarond, etc. *rossē meant 'dew, spray (of fall or fountain)'. Elrond and
Elros, children of Eärendil (sea-lover) and Elwing (Elf-foam), were so called, because they were
carried off by the sons of Fëanor, in the last act of the feud between the high-elven houses of the
Noldorin princes concerning the Silmarils; the Silmaril rescued from Morgoth by Beren and
Lúthien, and given to King Thingol Lúthien's father, had descended to Elwing dtr. of Dior, son of
Lúthien. The infants were not slain, but left like 'babes in the wood', in a cave with a fall of water
Almost the only vestige of 'religion' is seen on II pp. 284-5 in the 'Grace before Meat'. This is indeed mainly as it
were a commemoration of the Departed, and theology is reduced to 'that which is beyond Elvenhome and ever will be',
sc. is beyond the mortal lands, beyond the memory of unfallen Bliss, beyond the physical world.
over the entrance. There they were found: Elrond within the cave, and Elros dabbling in the water.4
Elrohir, Elladan: these names, given to his sons by Elrond, refer to the fact that they were 'halfelven' (III 314): they had mortal as well as Elvish ancestors on both sides; Tuor on their father's
side, Beren on their mother's. Both signify elf+man. Elrohir might be translated 'Elf-knight'; rohir
being a later form (III 391) of rochir 'horse-lord' from roch 'horse'+hir 'master': Prim. Elvish rokkō
and khēr or kherū: High-elven rocco, hēr (hěru). Elladan might be translated 'Elf-Númenórean'.
Adan (pl. Edain) was the Sindarin form of the name given to the 'fathers of men', the members of
the Three Houses of Elf-friends, whose survivors afterwards became the Númenóreans, or Dúnedain.
Legolas means 'green-leaves', a woodland name – dialectal form of pure Sindarin laegolas:
*lassē (High-elven lasse, S. las(s)) 'leaf'; *gwa-lassa/*gwa-lassiē 'collection of leaves, foliage'
(H.E. olassiē, S. golas, -olas); *laikā 'green' – basis LAY as in laire 'summer' (H.E. laica, S. laeg
(seldom used, usually replaced by calen), woodland leg).
Pterodactyl. Yes and no. I did not intend the steed of the Witch-King to be what is now called a
'pterodactyl', and often is drawn (with rather less shadowy evidence than lies behind many monsters
of the new and fascinating semi-scientific mythology of the 'Prehistoric'). But obviously it is
pterodactylic and owes much to the new mythology, and its description even provides a sort of way
in which it could be a last survivor of older geological eras.5
Question 5. Manwë, husband of Varda; or in Grey-elven Manwë and Elbereth. Since the Valar
had no language of their own, not needing one, they had no 'true' names, only identities, and their
names were conferred on them by the Elves, being in origin therefore all, as it were, 'nicknames',
referring to some striking peculiarity, function, or deed. (The same is true of the 'Istari' or Wizards
who were emissaries of the Valar, and of their kind.) In consequence each identity had several
'nicknames'; and the names of the Valar were not necessarily related in different Elvish languages
(or languages of Men deriving their knowledge from Elves). (Elbereth and Varda 'Star-lady' and
'Lofty' are not related words, but refer to the same person.) Manwë (Blessed Being) was Lord of the
Valar, and therefore the high or Elder King of Arda. Arda 'realm' was the name given to our world
or earth, as being the place, within the immensity of Eä, selected to be the seat and special domain
of the King – because of his knowledge that the Children of God would appear there. In the
cosmogonic myth Manwë is said to be 'brother' of Melkor, that is they were coëval and equipotent
in the mind of the Creator. Melkor became the rebel, and the Diabolos of these tales, who disputed
the kingdom of Arda with Manwë. (He was usually called Morgoth in Grey-elven.)
The One does not physically inhabit any pan of Ea.
May I say that all this is 'mythical', and not any kind of new religion or vision. As far as I know
it is merely an imaginative invention, to express, in the only way I can, some of my (dim)
apprehensions of the world. All I can say is that, if it were 'history', it would be difficult to fit the
lands and events (or 'cultures') into such evidence as we possess, archaeological or geological,
concerning the nearer or remoter part of what is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance,
is expressly stated to have been in this region (I p. 12).6 I could have fitted things in with greater
versimilitude, if the story had not become too far developed, before the question ever occurred to
me. I doubt if there would have been much gain; and I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap*
in time between the Fall of Barad-dûr and our Days is sufficient for 'literary credibility', even for
readers acquainted with what is known or surmised of 'pre-history'.
I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for
place. I prefer that to the contemporary mode of seeking remote globes in 'space'. However curious,
they are alien, and not lovable with the love of blood-kin. Middle-earth is (by the way & if such a
note is necessary) not my own invention. It is a modernization or alteration (N[ew] E[nglish]
Dictionary] 'a perversion') of an old word for the inhabited world of Men, the oikoumenē: middle
because thought of vaguely as set amidst the encircling Seas and (in the northern-imagination)
I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years : that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of
about the same length as S.A. and T.A. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of
the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.
between ice of the North and the fire of the South. O.English middan-geard, mediaeval E. middenerd, middle-erd. Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another planet!
Theologically (if the term is not too grandiose) I imagine the picture to be less dissonant from
what some (including myself) believe to be the truth. But since I have deliberately written a tale,
which is built on or out of certain 'religious' ideas, but is not an allegory of them (or anything else),
and does not mention them overtly, still less preach them, I will not now depart from that mode, and
venture on theological disquisition for which I am not fitted. But I might say that if the tale is 'about'
anything (other than itself), it is not as seems widely supposed about 'power'. Power-seeking is only
the motive-power that sets events going, and is relatively unimportant, I think. It is mainly
concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
212 Draft of a continuation of the above letter (not sent)
Since I have written so much (I hope not too much) I might as well add a few lines on the Myth
on which all is founded, since it may make clearer the relations of Valar, Elves, Men, Sauron,
Wizards &c.
The Valar or 'powers, rulers' were the first 'creation': rational spirits or minds without
incarnation, created before the physical world. (Strictly these spirits were called Ainur, the Valar
being only those from among them who entered the world after its making, and the name is
properly applied only to the great among them, who take the imaginative but not the theological
place of 'gods'.) The Ainur took part in the making of the world as 'sub-creators': in various degrees,
after this fashion. They interpreted according to their powers, and completed in detail, the Design
propounded to them by the One. This was propounded first in musical or abstract form, and then in
an 'historical vision'. In the first interpretation, the vast Music of the Ainur, Melkor introduced
alterations, not interpretations of the mind of the One, and great discord arose. The One then
presented this 'Music', including the apparent discords, as a visible 'history'.
At this stage it had still only a validity, to which the validity of a 'story' among ourselves may
be compared: it 'exists' in the mind of the teller, and derivatively in the minds of hearers, but not on
the same plane as teller or hearers. When the One (the Teller) said Let it Be,* then the Tale became
History, on the same plane as the hearers; and these could, if they desired, enter into it. Many of the
Ainur did enter into it, and must bide in it till the End, being involved in Time, the series of events
that complete it. These were the Valar, and their lesser attendants. They were those who had 'fallen
in love' with the vision, and no doubt, were those who had played the most 'sub-creative' (or as we
might say 'artistic') part in the Music.
It was because of their love of Eä, and because of the pan they had played in its making, that
they wished to, and could, incarnate themselves in visible physical forms, though these were
comparable to our clothes (in so far as our clothes are a personal expression) not to our bodies.
Their forms were thus expressions of their persons, powers, and loves. They need not be
anthropomorphic (Yavanna wife† of Aulë would, for instance, appear in the form of a great Tree.)
But the 'habitual' shapes of the Valar, when visible or clothed, were anthropomorphic, because of
their intense concern with Elves and Men.
Elves and Men were called the 'children of God', because they were, so to speak, a private
addition to the Design, by the Creator, and one in which the Valar had no part. (Their 'themes' were
introduced into the Music by the One, when the discords of Melkor arose.) The Valar knew that
they would appear, and the great ones knew when and how (though not precisely), but they knew
little of their nature, and their foresight, derived from their pre-knowledge of the Design, was
imperfect or failed in the matter of the deeds of the Children. The uncorrupted Valar, therefore,
yearned for the Children before they came and loved them afterwards, as creatures 'other' than
themselves, independent of them and their artistry, 'children' as being weaker and more ignorant
than the Valar, but of equal lineage (deriving being direct from the One); even though under their
authority as rulers of Arda. The corrupted, as was Melkor/Morgoth and his followers (of whom
Sauron was one of the chief) saw in them the ideal material for subjects and slaves, to whom they
could become masters and 'gods', envying the Children, and secretly hating them, in proportion as
they became rebels against the One (and Manwë his Lieutenant in Eä).
In this mythical 'prehistory' immortality, strictly longevity co-extensive with the life of Arda,
was pan of the given nature of the Elves; beyond the End nothing was revealed. Mortality, that is a
short life-span having no relation to the life of Arda, is spoken of as the given nature of Men: the
Elves called it the Gift of Ilúvatar (God). But it must be remembered that mythically these tales are
Elf-centred,‡ not anthropocentric, and Men only appear in them, at what must be a point long after
Hence the Elves called the World, the Universe, Eä – It Is.
It is the view of the Myth that in (say) Elves and Men 'sex' is only an expression in physical or biological terms of
a difference of nature in the 'spirit', not the ultimate cause of the difference between femininity and masculinity.
In narrative, as soon as the matter becomes 'storial' and not mythical, being in fact human literature, the centre of
interest must shift to Men (and their relations with Elves or other creatures), we cannot write stories about Elves, whom
their Coming. This is therefore an 'Elvish' view, and does not necessarily have anything to say for
or against such beliefs as the Christian that 'death' is not part of human nature, but a punishment for
sin (rebellion), a result of the 'Fall'. It should be regarded as an Elvish perception of what death —
not being tied to the 'circles of the world' – should now become for Men, however it arose. A divine
'punishment' is also a divine 'gift', if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme
inventiveness of the Creator will make 'punishments' (that is changes of design) produce a good not
otherwise to be attained: a 'mortal' Man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed
destiny than a longeval one. To attempt by device or 'magic' to recover longevity is thus a supreme
folly and wickedness of 'mortals'. Longevity or counterfeit 'immortality' (true immortality is beyond
Ea) is the chief bait of Sauron – it leads the small to a Gollum, and the great to a Ringwraith.
In the Elvish legends there is record of a strange case of an Elf (Míriel mother of Fëanor) that
tried to die, which had disastrous results, leading to the 'Fall' of the High-elves. The Elves were not
subject to disease, but they could be 'slain': that is their bodies could be destroyed, or mutilated so
as to be unfit to sustain life. But this did not lead naturally to 'death': they were rehabilitated and
reborn and eventually recovered memory of all their past: they remained 'identical'. But Míriel
wished to abandon being, and refused rebirth.*
I suppose a difference between this Myth and what may be perhaps called Christian mythology
is this. In the latter the Fall of Man is subsequent to and a consequence (though not a necessary
consequence) of the 'Fall of the Angels' : a rebellion of created free-will at a higher level than Man;
but it is not clearly held (and in many versions is not held at all) that this affected the 'World' in its
nature: evil was brought in from outside, by Satan. In this Myth the rebellion of created free-will
precedes creation of the World (Eä); and Eä has in it, subcreatively introduced, evil, rebellions,
discordant elements of its own nature already when the Let it Be was spoken. The Fall or
corruption, therefore, of all things in it and all inhabitants of it, was a possibility if not inevitable.
Trees may 'go bad' as in the Old Forest; Elves may turn into Orcs, and if this required the special
perversive malice of Morgoth, still Elves themselves could do evil deeds. Even the 'good' Valar as
inhabiting the World could at least err; as the Great Valar did in their dealings with the Elves; or as
the lesser of their kind (as the Istari or wizards) could in various ways become self-seeking. Aulë,
for instance, one of the Great, in a sense 'fell'; for he so desired to see the Children, that he became
impatient and tried to anticipate the will of the Creator. Being the greatest of all craftsmen he tried
to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. When he had made thirteen,†
God spoke to him in anger, but not without pity : for Aulë had done this thing not out of evil desire
to have slaves and subjects of his own, but out of impatient love, desiring children to talk to and
teach, sharing with them the praise of Ilúvatar and his great love of the materials of which the world
is made.
The One rebuked Aulë, saying that he had tried to usurp the Creator's power; but he could not
give independent life to his makings. He had only one life, his own derived from the One, and could
at most only distribute it. 'Behold' said the One: 'these creatures of thine have only thy will, and thy
movement. Though you have devised a language for them, they can only report to thee thine own
thought. This is a mockery of me.'
we do not know inwardly; and if we try we simply turn Elves into men.
[A note apparently added later:] It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Númenórean) view that a 'good' Man
would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn). This may have been
the nature of unfallen Man ; though compulsion would not threaten him: he would desire and ask to be allowed to 'go
on' to a higher state. The Assumption of Mary, the only unfallen person, may be regarded as in some ways a simple
regaining of unfallen grace and liberty: she asked to be received, and was, having no further function on Earth. Though,
of course, even if unfallen she was not 'pre-Fall'. Her destiny (in which she had cooperated) was far higher than that of
any 'Man' would have been, had the Fall not occurred. It was also unthinkable that her body, the immediate source of
Our Lord's (without other physical intermediary) should have been disintegrated, or 'corrupted', nor could it surely be
long separated from Him after the Ascension. There is of course no suggestion that Mary did not 'age' at the normal rate
of her race; but certainly this process cannot have proceeded or been allowed to proceed to decrepitude or loss of
vitality and comeliness. The Assumption was in any case as distinct from the Ascension as the raising of Lazarus from
the (self) Resurrection.
One, the eldest, alone, and six more with six mates.1
Then Aulë in grief and repentance humbled himself and asked for pardon. And he said: 'I will
destroy these images of my presumption, and wait upon thy will.' And he took a great hammer,
raising it to smite the eldest of his images; but it flinched and cowered from him. And as he
withheld his stroke, astonished, he heard the laughter of Ilúvatar.
'Do you wonder at this?' he said. 'Behold! thy creatures now live, free from thy will! For I have
seen thy humility, and taken pity on your impatience. Thy making I have taken up into my design.'
This is the Elvish legend of the making of the Dwarves ; but the Elves report that Iluvatar said
thus also: 'Nonetheless I will not suffer my design to be forestalled: thy children shall not awake
before mine own.' And he commanded Aule to lay the fathers of the Dwarves severally in deep
places, each with his mate, save Dúrin the eldest who had none. There they should sleep long, until
Ilúvatar bade them awake. Nonetheless there has been for the most part little love between the
Dwarves and the children of Iluvatar. And of the fate that Ilúvatar has set upon the children of Aulë
beyond the Circles of the world Elves and men know nothing, and if Dwarves know they do not
speak of it.
213 From a letter to Deborah Webster 25 October 1958
I do not like giving 'facts' about myself other than 'dry' ones (which anyway are quite as
relevant to my books as any other more Juicy details). Not simply for personal reasons; but also
because I object to the contemporary trend in criticism, with its excessive interest in the details of
the lives of authors and artists. They only distract attention from an author's works (if the works are
in fact worthy of attention), and end, as one now often sees, in becoming the main interest. But only
one's guardian Angel, or indeed God Himself, could unravel the real relationship between personal
facts and an author's works. Not the author himself (though he knows more than any investigator),
and certainly not so-called 'psychologists'.
But, of course, there is a scale of significance in 'facts' of this sort. There are insignificant facts
(those particularly dear to analysts and writers about writers): such as drunkenness, wife-beating,
and suchlike disorders. I do not happen to be guilty of these particular sins. But if I were, I should
not suppose that artistic work proceeded from the weaknesses that produced them, but from other
and still uncorrupted regions of my being. Modern 'researchers' inform me that Beethoven cheated
his publishers, and abominably ill-treated his nephew; but I do not believe that has anything to do
with his music. Then there are more significant facts, which have some relation to an author's
works; though knowledge of them does not really explain the works, even if examined at length.
For instance I dislike French, and prefer Spanish to Italian – but the relation of these facts to my
taste in languages (which is obviously a large ingredient in The Lord of the Rings) would take a
long time to unravel, and leave you liking (or disliking) the names and bits of language in my
books, just as before. And there are a few basic facts, which however drily expressed, are really
significant. For instance I was born in 1892 and lived for my early years in 'the Shire' in a premechanical age. Or more important, I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and
in fact a Roman Catholic. The latter 'fact' perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter)
asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel as directly described (or
through the words of Gimli and Sam) were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary. Another
saw in waybread (lembas)= viaticum and the reference to its feeding the will (vol. III, p. 213) and
being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eucharist. (That is: far greater things may
colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy-story.)
I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I
smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even
dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field);
have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed
late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much. I love Wales (what is left of it, when
mines, and the even more ghastly sea-side resons, have done their worst), and especially the Welsh
language. But I have not in fact been in W. for a long time (except for crossing it on the way to
Ireland). I go frequently to Ireland (Eire: Southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its
people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive. I hope that is enough to go on with.
214 To A. C. Nunn (draft)
[A reply to a reader who pointed out an apparent contradiction in The Lord of the Rings: that in the chapter
'A Long-expected Party' it is stated that 'Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays'; yet
Gollum refers to the Ring as his 'birthday present', and the account of how he acquired it, in the chapter 'The
Shadow of the Past', indicates that his people received presents on their birthdays. Mr Nunn's letter
continued: 'Therefore, one of the following must be true: (1) Sméagol's people were not "of hobbit-kind" as
suggested by Gandalf (I p. 62); (2) the Hobbit custom of giving presents was only a recent growth; (3) the
customs of the Stoors [Sméagol-Gollum's people] differed from those of other Hobbits; or (5) [sic] there is
an error in the text. I shall be most grateful if you can spare the time to undertake some research into this
important matter.]
[Not dated; probably late 1958-early 1959.]
Dear Mr Nunn,
I am not a model of scholarship;1 but in the matter of the Third Age I regard myself as a
'recorder' only. The faults that may appear in my record are, I believe, in no case due to errors, that
is statements of what is not true, but omissions, and incompleteness of information, mostly due to
the necessity of compression, and to the attempt to introduce information en passant in the course
of narrative which naturally tended to cut out many things not immediately bearing on the tale.
In the matter of birthday-customs and the apparent discrepancies that you note, we can
therefore, I think, dismiss your alternatives (1) and (5). You omit (4).
With regard to (1) Gandalf certainly says at first 'I guess' p. 62; but that is in accordance with
his character and wisdom. In more modern language he would have said 'I deduce', referring to
matters that had not come under his direct observation, but on which he had formed a conclusion
based on study. (You will observe in the Appendix B that the Wizards did not come until shortly
before the first appearance of Hobbits in any records, at which time they were already divided into
three marked branches.) But he did not in fact doubt his conclusion 'It is true all the same, etc.' p.
Your alternative (2) would be possible; but since the recorder says on p. 35 Hobbits (which he
uses whatever its origin, as the name for the whole race), and not the Hobbits of the Shire, or Shirefolk, it must be supposed that he means that the custom of giving presents was in some form
common to all varieties, including Stoors. But since your (3) is naturally true, we might expect even
so deep-rooted a custom to be exhibited in rather different ways in different branches. With the
remigration of the Stoors back to Wilderland in TA 1356, all contact between this retrograde group
and the ancestors of the Shirefolk was broken. More than 1100 years elapsed before the DéagolSméagol incident (c. 2463). At the time of the Party in TA 3001, when the customs of the Shire-folk
are cursorily alluded to insofar as they affect the story, the gap of time was nearly 1650 years.
All Hobbits were slow to change, but the remigrant Stoors were going back to a wilder and
more primitive life of small and dwindling* communities; while the Shire-folk in the 1400 years of
their occupation had developed a more settled and elaborate social life, in which the importance of
kinship to their sentiment and customs was assisted by detailed traditions, written and oral.
Though I omitted any discourse on this curious but characteristic fact of their behaviour, the
facts concerning the Shire could be set out in some detail. The riverside Stoors must, naturally,
remain more conjectural.
'Birthdays' had a considerable social importance. A person celebrating his/her birthday was
called a ribadyan (which may be rendered according to the system described2 and adopted a
byrding3). The customs connected with birthdays had, though deeply rooted, become regulated by
fairly strict etiquette; and so in consequence were in many cases reduced to formalities: as indeed
suggested by 'not very expensive ones as a rule' p. 35; and especially by p. 46 11. 20-26. With
regard to presents: on his birthday the 'byrding' both gave and received presents; but the processes
were different in origin, function, and etiquette. The reception was omitted by the narrator (since it
Between 2463 and the beginning of Gandalf's special enquiries concerning the Ring (nearly 500 years later) they
appear indeed to have died out altogether (except, of course, for Sméagol); or to have fled from the shadow of Dol
does not concern the Party) but it was in fact the older custom, and therefore the one most
formalized. (It does concern the Sméagol-Déagol incident, but the narrator, being obliged to reduce
this to its most significant elements, and to put it into the mouth of Gandalf talking to a hobbit,
naturally made no comment on a custom which the hobbit (and we) should regard as natural in
connexion with birthdays.)
Receiving of gifts: this was an ancient ritual connected with kinship. It was in origin a
recognition of the byrding's membership of a family or clan, and a commemoration of his formal
'incorporation'.* No present was given by father or mother to their children on their (the children's)
birthdays (except in the rare cases of adoption); but the reputed head of the family was supposed to
give something, if only in 'token'.
Giving gifts: was a personal matter, not limited to kinship. It was a form of 'thanksgiving', and
taken as a recognition of services, benefits, and friendship shown, especially in the past year.
It may be noted that Hobbits, as soon as they became 'faunts' (that is talkers and walkers:
formally taken to be on their third birthday-anniversary) gave presents to their parents. These were
supposed to be things 'produced' by the giver (that is found, grown, or made by the 'byrding'),
beginning in small children with bunches of wild flowers. This may have been the origin of the
'thanksgiving' presents of wider distribution, and the reason why it remained 'correct' even in the
Shire for such presents to be things belonging to or produced by the giver. Samples of the produce
of their gardens fields or workshops remained the usual 'gifts given', especially among the poorer
In the Shire etiquette, at the date of the Party, 'expectation of receiving' was limited to second
cousins or nearer kin, and to residence within 12 miles.† Even close friends (if unrelated) were not
'expected' to give, though they might. The Shire residence-limit was obviously a fairly recent result
of the gradual break-up of kinship communities and families and dispersal of relatives, under longsettled conditions. For the received birthday presents (no doubt as a relic of the customs of small
ancient families) must be delivered in person, properly on the eve of the Day, and at latest before
nuncheon on the Day. They were received privately by the 'byrding'; and it was very improper to
exhibit them separately or as a collection – precisely to avoid such embarrassments as may occur in
our wedding-exhibitions (which would have horrified the Shirefolk).‡ The giver could thus
accommodate his gift to his purse and his affections without incurring public comment or offending
(if anyone) any other than the recipient. But custom did not demand costly presents, and a Hobbit
was more readily flattered and delighted by an unexpectedly 'good' or desirable present than
offended by a customary token of family good-will.
A trace of this can be seen in the account of Sméagol and Déagol – modified by the individual
characters of these rather miserable specimens. Déagol, evidently a relative (as no doubt all the
members of the small community were), had already given his customary present to Sméagol,
although they probably set out on their expedition v. early in the morning. Being a mean little soul
he grudged it. Sméagol, being meaner and greedier, tried to use the 'birthday' as an excuse for an act
of tyranny. 'Because I wants it' was his frank statement of his chief claim. But he also implied that
D's gift was a poor and insufficient token: hence D's retort that on the contrary it was more than he
could afford.
The giving of presents by the 'byrding' – leaving out of account the gifts to parents,§ mentioned
Anciently this apparently took place, shortly after birth, by the announcement of the name of the child to the
family assembled, or in larger more elaborate communities to the titular 'head' of the clan or family. See note at end.
Hence the Hobbit expression 'a twelve-mile cousin' for a person who stickled for the law, and recognized no
obligations beyond its precise interpretation: one who would give you no present if the distance from his doorstep to
yours was not under 12 miles (according to his own measurement).
No presents were given at or during the celebration of Hobbit weddings, except flowers (weddings were mostly
in Spring or early Summer). Assistance in furnishing a home (if the couple were to have a separate one, or private
apartments in a Smial) was given long before by the parents on either side.
In more primitive communities, as those still living in clan-smials, the byrding also made a gift to the 'head of the
family'. There is no mention of Sméagol's presents. I imagine that he was an orphan; and do not suppose that he gave
any present on his birthday, save (grudgingly) the tribute to his 'grandmother'. Fish probably. One of the reasons,
above — being personal and a form of thanks, varied much more in form in different times and
places, and according to the age and status of the 'byrding'. The master and mistress of a house or
hole, in the Shire, would give gifts to all under their roof, or in their service, and usually also to near
neighbours. And they might extend the list as they pleased, remembering any special favours in the
past year. It was understood that the giving of presents was not fixed by rule ; though the
withholding of a usual gift (as e.g. to a child, a servant, or a next door neighbour) was taken as a
rebuke and mark of severe displeasure. Juniors & Inmates (those having no house of their own)
were under no such obligations as rested on householders; but they usually gave presents according
to their means or affections. 'Not very expensive as a rule' – applied to all the gifts. Bilbo was in this
as in other ways an exceptional person, and his Party was a riot of generosity even for a wealthy
Hobbit. But one of the commonest birthday ceremonies was the giving of a 'party' – in the evening
of the Day. All those invited were given presents by the host, and expected them, as part of the
entertainment (if secondary to the fare provided). But they did not bring presents with them. Shirefolk would have thought that very improper. If the guests had not already given a gift (being one of
those required to do so by kinship), it was too late. For other guests it was a thing 'not done' – it
looked like paying for the party or matching the party-gift, and was most embarrassing. Sometimes,
in the case of a very dear friend unable to come to a party (because of distance or other causes) a
token invitation would be sent, with a present. In that case the present was always something to eat
or drink, purporting to be a sample of the party-fare.
I think it will be seen that all the details recorded as 'facts' do actually fit into a definite picture
of sentiment and custom, though this picture is not sketched even in the incomplete fashion of this
note. It could, of course, have appeared in the Prologue: e.g. in the middle of p. 12. But though I cut
out a great deal, that Prologue is still too long and overloaded according even to those critics who
allow that it has some use, and do not (as some) advise readers to forget it or skip it.
Incomplete as it is, this note may seem to you much too long; and though you asked for it, more
than you asked for. But I do not see how I could have answered your queries more shortly in a way
suitable to the compliment you pay me by taking an interest in Hobbits sufficient to mark the lacuna
in the information provided.
However, the giving of information always opens still further vistas; and you will no doubt see
that the brief account of 'presents' opens yet more anthropological matters implicit to such terms as
kinship, family, clan, and so on. I venture to add a further note on this point, lest, in considering the
text in the light of my reply, you should feel inclined to enquire further about Sméagol's
'grandmother', whom Gandalf represents as a ruler (of a family of high repute, large and wealthier
than most, p. 62) and even calls a 'matriarch' (p. 66).
As far as I know Hobbits were universally monogamous (indeed they very seldom married a
second time, even if wife or husband died very young); and I should say that their family
arrangements were 'patrilinear' rather than patriarchal. That is, their family names descended in the
male-line (and women were adopted into their husband's name); also the titular head of the family
was usually the eldest male. In the case of large powerful families (such as the Tooks), still
cohesive even when they had become very numerous, and more what we might call clans, the head
was properly the eldest male of what was considered the most direct line of descent. But the
government of a 'family', as of the real unit: the 'household', was not a monarchy (except by
accident). It was a 'dyarchy', in which master and mistress had equal status, if different functions.
Either was held to be the proper representative of the other in the case of absence (including death).
There were no 'dowagers'. If the master died first, his place was taken by his wife, and this included
(if he had held that position) the titular headship of a large family or clan. This title thus did not
descend to the son, or other heir, while she lived, unless she voluntarily resigned.* It could,
maybe, for the expedition. It would have been just like Sméagol to give fish, actually caught by Déagol!
We are here dealing only with titular 'headship' not with ownership of property, and its management. These were
distinct matters; though in the case of the surviving 'great households', such as Great Smials or Brandy Hall, they might
overlap. In other cases, headship, being a mere title, and a matter of courtesy, was naturally seldom relinquished by the
therefore, happen in various circumstances that a long-lived woman of forceful character remained
'head of the family', until she had full-grown grandchildren.
Laura Baggins (née Grubb) remained 'head' of the family of 'Baggins of Hobbiton', until she
was 102. As she was 7 years younger than her husband (who died at the age of 93 in SY 1300), she
held this position for 16 years, until SY 1316; and her son Bungo did not become 'head', until he
was 70, ten years before he died at the early age of 80. Bilbo did not succeed, until the death of his
Took mother. Belladonna, in 1334, when he was 44.
The Baggins headship then, owing to the strange events, fell into doubt. Otho SackvilleBaggins was heir to this title – quite apart from questions of property that would have arisen if his
cousin Bilbo had died intestate; but after the legal fiasco of 1342 (when Bilbo returned alive after
being 'presumed dead') no one dared to presume his death again. Otho died in 1412, his son Lotho
was murdered in 1419, and his wife Lobelia died in 1420. When Master Samwise reported the
'departure over Sea' of Bilbo (and Frodo) in 1421, it was still held impossible to presume death; and
when Master Samwise became Mayor in 1427, a rule was made that: 'if any inhabitant of the Shire
shall pass over Sea in the presence of a reliable witness, with the expressed intention not to return,
or in circumstances plainly implying such an intention, he or she shall be deemed to have
relinquished all titles rights or properties previously held or occupied, and the heir or heirs thereof
shall forthwith enter into possession of these titles, rights, or properties, as is directed by established
custom, or by the will and disposition of the departed, as the case may require.' Presumably the title
of 'head' then passed to the descendants of Ponto Baggins – probably Ponto (II).4
A well-known case, also, was that of Lalia the Great5 (or less courteously the Fat). Fortinbras
II, one time head of the Tooks and Thain, married Lalia of the Clayhangers in 1314, when he was
36 and she was 31. He died in 1380 at the age of 102, but she long outlived him, coming to an
unfortunate end in 1402 at the age of 119. So she ruled the Tooks and the Great Smials for 22 years,
a great and memorable, if not universally beloved, 'matriarch'. She was not at the famous Party (SY
1401), but was prevented from attending rather by her great size and immobility than by her age.
Her son, Ferumbras, had no wife, being unable (it was alleged) to find anyone willing to occupy
apartments in the Great Smials, under the rule of Lalia. Lalia, in her last and fattest years, had the
custom of being wheeled to the Great Door, to take the air on a fine morning. In the spring of SY
1402 her clumsy attendant let the heavy chair run over the threshold and tipped Lalia down the
flight of steps into the garden. So ended a reign and life that might well have rivalled that of the
Great Took.
It was widely rumoured that the attendant was Pearl (Pippin's sister), though the Tooks tried to
keep the matter within the family. At the celebration of Ferumbras' accession the displeasure and
regret of the family was formally expressed by the exclusion of Pearl from the ceremony and feast;
but it did not escape notice that later (after a decent interval) she appeared in a splendid necklace of
her name-jewels that had long lain in the hoard of the Thains.
Customs differed in cases where the 'head' died leaving no son. In the Took-family, since the
headship was also connected with the title and (originally military) office of Thain,* descent was
strictly through the male line. In other great families the headship might pass through a daughter of
the deceased to his eldest grandson (irrespective of the daughter's age). This latter custom was usual
in families of more recent origin, without ancient records or ancestral mansions. In such cases the
heir (if he accepted the courtesy title) took the name of his mother's family – though he often
retained that of his father's family also (placed second). This was the case with Otho SackvilleBaggins. For the nominal headship of the Sackvilles had come to him through his mother Camellia.
It was his rather absurd ambition to achieve the rare distinction of being 'head' of two families (he
would probably then have called himself Baggins-Sackville-Baggins) : a situation which will
explain his exasperation with the adventures and disappearances of Bilbo, quite apart from any loss
of property involved in the adoption of Frodo.
This title and office descended immediately, and was not held by a widow. But Ferumbras, though he became
Thain Ferumbras III in 1380, still occupied no more than a small bachelor-son's apartment in the Great Smials, until
I believe it was a moot-point in Hobbit lore (which the ruling of Mayor Samwise prevented
from being argued in this particular case) whether 'adoption' by a childless 'head' could affect the
descent of the headship. It was agreed that the adoption of a member of a different family could not
affect the headship, that being a matter of blood and kinship; but there was an opinion that adoption
of a close relative of the same name* before he was of age entitled him to all privileges of a son.
This opinion (held by Bilbo) was naturally contested by Otho.
There is no reason to suppose that the Stoors of Wilderland had developed a strictly
'matriarchal' system, properly so called. No trace of any such thing was to be found among the
Stoor-element in the Eastfarthing and Buckland, though they maintained various differences of
custom and law. Gandalf's use (or rather his reporter and translator's use) of the word 'matriarch'
was not 'anthropological', but meant simply a woman who in fact ruled the clan. No doubt because
she had outlived her husband, and was a woman of dominant character.
It is likely enough that, in the recessive and decadent Stoor-country of Wilderland, the womenfolk (as is often to be observed in such conditions) tended to preserve better the physical and mental
character of the past, and so became of special importance. But it is not (I think) to be supposed that
any fundamental change in their marriage-customs had taken place, or any sort of matriarchal or
polyandrous society developed (even though this might explain the absence of any reference
whatever to Sméagol-Gollum's father). 'Monogamy' was at this period in the West universally
practised, and other systems were regarded with repugnance, as things only done 'under the
I actually started this letter nearly four months ago; but it never got finished. Shortly after I
received your enquiries my wife, who had been ill most of 1958, celebrated the return of health by a
fall in the garden, smashing up her left arm so badly that she is still crippled and in plaster. So 1958
was an almost completely frustrated year, and with other troubles, and the imminence of my
retirement involving many rearrangements, I have had no time at all to deal with the Silmarillion.
Much though I wish to do so (and, happily, Allen and Unwin also seem to wish me to do).
[The draft ends here.]
descendants of a common great-grandfather of the same name.
215 To Walter Allen, New Statesman (drafts)
[Tolkien was asked to contribute to a symposium to be published in a Children's Book Supplement of the
New Statesman. He was told: 'The kind of questions we should hope you would consider are : how far do
you write with a specific audience in mind, i.e. how do you feel writing for children differs from writing for
adult readers ? To what extent do you feel that writing for children satisfies a need in yourself, for example,
by expressing a side of you repressed in ordinary life or by the exigencies of writing for adults? How do you
see the relation between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring [sic] ? Are you conscious of a didactic
purpose, and if so, how do you construe it?']
[Not dated; April 1959.]
Dear Mr Allen,
I am very sorry, but I shall not be able to take pan in the symposium. I have only recently
returned from convalescence after an operation, and am faced with much neglected work. Term
begins on April 24.
I have said all that I have to say about writing for children in my contribution: 'On FairyStories': to Essays Presented to Charles Williams (O.U.P. 1947). It has no special interest to me.
When I published The Hobbit – hurriedly and without due consideration – I was still influenced
by the convention that 'fairy-stories' are naturally directed to children (with or without the silly
added waggery 'from seven to seventy'). And I had children of my own. But the desire to address
children, as such, had nothing to do with the story as such in itself or the urge to write it. But it had
some unfortunate effects on the mode of expression and narrative method, which if I had not been
rushed, I should have corrected. Intelligent children of good taste (of which there seem quite a
number) have always, I am glad to say, singled out the points in manner where the address is to
children as blemishes.
I had given a great deal more thought to the matter before beginning the composition of The
Lord of the Rings; and that work was not specially addressed to children or to any other class of
people. But to any one who enjoyed a long exciting story, of the son that I myself naturally enjoy.
I am not specially interested in children, and certainly not in writing for them: i.e. in addressing
directly and expressly those who cannot understand adult language.
I write things that might be classified as fairy-stories not because I wish to address children
(who qua children I do not believe to be specially interested in this kind of fiction) but because I
wish to write this kind of story and no other.
I do this because if I do not apply too grandiloquent a title to it I find that my comment on the
world is most easily and naturally expressed in this way. I am not conscious of any repression
exerted upon me by 'ordinary life'. Since large numbers of adults seem to enjoy what I write – quite
enough to keep me happy – I have no need to seek escape to another and (possibly) less exigent
I hope 'comment on the world' does not sound too solemn. I have no didactic purpose, and no
allegorical intent. (I do not like allegory (properly so called: most readers appear to confuse it with
significance or applicability) but that is a matter too long to deal with here.) But long narratives
cannot be made out of nothing; and one cannot rearrange the primary matter in secondary patterns
without indicating feelings and opinions about one's material. ....
The relation between The Hobbit and its sequel is I think this. The Hobbit is a first essay or
introduction (consideration will admit I think that it is a very just point at which to begin the
narration of the subsequent events) to a complex narrative which had been brewing in my mind for
years. It was overtly addressed to children for two reasons : I had at that time children of my own
and was accustomed to making up (ephemeral) stories for them; I had been brought up to believe
that there was a real and special connexion between children and fairy-stories. Or rather to believe
that this was a received opinion of my world and of publishers. I doubted it, since it did not accord
with my personal experience of my own taste, nor with my observation of children (notably my
own). But the convention was strong.
I think that The Hobbit can be seen to begin in what might be called a more 'whimsy' mode, and
in places even more facetious, and move steadily to a more serious or significant, and more
consistent and historical. .... But I regret much of it all the same. ....
The first question, it seems to me, to ask in any discussion of this kind is : What are 'Children' ?
Do you limit your enquiry, as may be supposed, to (North) European children? Then in what ages
between the cradle and the end of legal infancy? To what grades of intelligence? Or literary talent
and perceptiveness? Some intelligent children may have little of this. Children's tastes and talents
differ as widely as those of adults, as soon as they are old enough to be differentiated clearly, and
therefore to be the target of any thing that can bear the name of literature. It would be useless to
offer to many children of 14 or even of 12 the trash that is good enough for many respectable adults
of twice or three times the age, but less gifts natural.
Life is rather above the measure of us all (save for a very few perhaps). We all need literature
that is above our measure – though we may not have sufficient energy for it all the time. But the
energy of youth is usually greater. Youth needs then less than adulthood or Age what is down to its
(supposed) measure. But even in Age I think we only are really moved by what is at least in some
point or aspect above us, above our measure, at any rate before we have read it and 'taken it in'.
Therefore do not write down to Children or to anybody. Not even in language. Though it would be
a good thing if that great reverence which is due to children took the form of eschewing the tired
and flabby cliches of adult life. But an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only
be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books
written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one's age-group. It comes from reading books
above one.
[The draft ends here. The following is the letter that Tolkien actually sent to the New Statesman on 17
Dear Mr Allen,
I very much regret that it seems impossible for me to take pan in this symposium that you
propose. I have only recently returned from convalescence after an operation and I am faced with
much neglected work. Term begins next week and I shall not have time to produce any copy before
April 19th.
Yours sincerely,
J. R. R. Tolkien.
216 From a letter to the Deputy Registrar, University of Madras 12 August 1959
I have to thank you for the honour of appointing me a member of your Board of Examiners.
May I respectfully suggest, nonetheless, that it is inadvisable to do this without first consulting the
persons appointed? I am unable to accept this examinership. I am fully occupied with other affairs,
and I have in any case retired, and do not propose to take any further part in teaching and
217 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 11 September 1959
[Concerning the Polish translation of The Lord of the Rings.]
I am sorry that owing to domestic troubles and turmoil I have neglected Mrs Skibniewska's
It is quite impossible for me to write a lot of notes for her use..... As a general principle for her
guidance, my preference is for as little translation or alteration of any names as possible. As she
perceives, this is an English book and its Englishry should not be eradicated. That the Hobbits
actually spoke an ancient language of their own is of course a pseudo-historical assertion made
necessary by the nature of the narrative. I could provide or invent the original Hobbit language form
of all the names that appear in English, like Baggins or Shire, but this would be quite pointless. My
own view is that the names of persons should all be left as they stand. I should prefer that the names
of places were left untouched also, including Shire. The proper way of treating these I think is for a
list of those that have a meaning in English to be given at the end, with glosses or explanations in
218 To Eric Rogers
[A reply to a letter addressed to 'any Professor of English Language' at Oxford, asking whether it is correct
to say 'A number of office walls has been damaged' or 'have been damaged'.]
9 October 1959
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Sir,
Your letter has eventually reached me, though I am not 'any Professor of English Language',
since I have now retired. The answer is that you can say what you like. Pedantry insists that since
number is a singular noun, the verb should be singular, (has). Common sense feels that since the
walls is plural, and are really concerned, the verb should be plural, (have). You may take your
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
219 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 14 October 1959
[A Cambridge cat breeder had asked if she could register a litter of Siamese kittens under names taken from
The Lord of the Rings.]
My only comment is that of Puck upon mortals. I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the
fauna of Mordor, but you need not tell the cat breeder that.
220 From a letter to Naomi Mitchison 15 October 1959
I 'retired' – or rather, since even British generals usually imply a voluntary movement to the
rear when they 'retire', I was extruded on the age limit at the end of last term. In many ways a
melancholy proceeding, especially financially. Though I have belonged to F.S.S.U.1 since it began
in 1920, it does not provide enough for one to live on one's laurels (old and dusty as Christmas
decorations in January). Without the assistance of 'Hobbits and all that' things would be meagre.
Nonetheless (not a little encouraged by your letter) I decided to get off the treadmill, and resigned
from my appointment in Ireland2 before I returned. I shall, if I get a chance, turn back to the matter
of the Red Book and allied histories soon.
221 From a letter to the First Assistant Registrar, Oxford University 24 November 1959
[Following Tolkien's retirement, the Board of the Faculty of English sent an appreciation of his 'long and
invaluable service', and expressed 'its regret that it will not in future have the benefit of your wise advice and
unsparing help in its deliberations. It wishes at the same time to express its sense of the distinction which
your wide, meticulous, and imaginative scholarship has brought to the faculty and to the University.']
I am deeply grateful to the Board of the Faculty of English for the extremely generous terms in
which they have addressed me. My only misgiving is that they present a picture of a professor far
superior to the one that has retired. However, conscious merit is no doubt a solace and support, but
there is nonetheless a peculiar pleasure in receiving honours and compliments one doesn't deserve.
One result of retirement that I never expected is that I actually miss the meetings of the Board. Not,
of course, the agenda, but the gathering together of so many dear friends.
222 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 9 December 1959
[Unwin had encouraged Tolkien to prepare his translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl
for publication.]
My delay in answering your letter of December 3rd is mainly due to the fact that I have become
immersed again in work in which you are interested. I am afraid that you may be perturbed rather
than surprised (knowing too well the vagaries of authors, or at least of mine), to hear that this is in
wrong order. With the help of my secretary I have been charging well ahead with the reconstruction
of the Silmarillion etc. Your letter comes as a timely if unwelcome jerk on the reins. Quite clearly I
must take up Gawain immediately. I shall not manage it before Christmas; but I recently ordered
and inspected the material and I do not think that the actual text of the translation of Gawain and of
Pearl now need very much work. I shall be able to let you have the text of the two poems soon after
Christmas; they can be set up separately. I am still a little uncertain about what other matter to add
to them by way of introduction or notes. I think very little, since people who buy the translations
will probably belong to one of two classes: those who just want the translation, and those who have
access to editions and other full treatments of the problems presented by the poems.
223 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 31 July 1960
I am in fact utterly stuck — lost in a bottomless bog, and anything that would cheer me would
be welcome. The crimes of omission that I committed in order to complete the 'L. of the R.' are
being avenged. The chief is the Ancrene Riwle. My edition of the prime MS. should have been
completed many years ago! I did at least try to clear it out of the way before retirement, and by a
vast effort sent in the text in Sept. 1958. But then one of the misfortunes that attend on delay
occurred; and my MS. disappeared into the confusion of the Printing Strike. The proofs actually
arrived at the beginning of this June, when I was in full tide of composition for the Silmarillion, and
had lost the threads of the M[iddle] E[nglish] work. I stalled for a while, but I am now under
extreme pressure: 10 hours hard per diem day after day, trying to induce order into a set of confused
and desperately tricky proofs, and notes. And then I have to write an introduction. (And then there
is Sir Gawain.) Until the proofs of the text at least have gone back, I cannot lift my head.
224 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien 12 September 1960
[A comment on a book by C. S. Lewis.]
I have just received a copy of C.S.L.'s latest: Studies in Words. Alas! His ponderous silliness is
becoming a fixed manner. I am deeply relieved to find I am not mentioned.
I wrote for him a long analysis of the semantics and formal history of *BHŪ with special
reference to φυ σις. All that remains is the first 9 lines of PHUSIS (pp. 33-34) with the
characteristic Lewisian intrusion of 'beards and cucumbers'. The rest is dismissed on p. 36 with 'we
have not a shred of evidence'. He remains at best and worst an Oxford 'classical' don – when dealing
with words. I think the best bit is the last chapter, and the only really wise remark is on the last
page: 'I think we must get it firmly fixed in our minds that the very occasions on which we should
most like to write a slashing review are precisely those on which we had much better hold our
tongues.' Ergo silebo.1
225 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 10 December 1960
[Puffin Books had offered to publish a paperback edition of The Hobbit.]
Thank you for your news of the 'Puffin' offer, and your advice. I may safely leave the decision
to your own wisdom. The chances of profit or loss, in cash or otherwise, are evidently neatly
balanced. If you wish to know my personal feelings: I am no longer able to ignore cash-profit, even
to the odd £100, but I do share your reluctance to cheapen the old Hobbit. Unless the profit or
advantage is clear, I would much rather leave him to amble along; and he still shows a good
walking-pace. And I am not fond of Puffins or Penguins or other soft-shelled fowl: they eat other
birds' eggs, and are better left to vacated nests.
226 From a letter to Professor L. W. Forster 31 December 1960
The Lord of the Rings was actually begun, as a separate thing, about 1937, and had reached the
inn at Bree, before the shadow of the second war. Personally I do not think that either war (and of
course not the atomic bomb) had any influence upon either the plot or the manner of its unfolding.
Perhaps in landscape. The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to
Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. They owe more to William Morris and his Huns and
Romans, as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains.
227 From a letter to Mrs E. C. Ossen Drijver 5 January 1961
Númenor, shortened form of Númenórë, is my own invention, compounded from numē-n,
'going down' (√ndū, nu), sunset. West, and nōrë 'land, country' = Westernesse. The legends of
Númenórë are only in the background of The Lord of the Rings, though (of course) they were
written first, and are only summarised in Appendix A. They are my own use for my own purposes
of the Atlantis legend, but not based on special knowledge, but on a special personal concern with
this tradition of the culture-bearing men of the Sea, which so profoundly affected the imagination of
peoples of Europe with westward-shores.
C. S. Lewis is a very old friend and colleague of mine, and indeed I owe to his encouragement
the fact that in spite of obstacles (including the 1939 war!) I persevered and eventually finished The
Lord of the Rings. He heard all of it, bit by bit, read aloud, but never saw it in print till after his
trilogy was published. His Numinor was derived, by ear, from Númenor, and was indeed intended to
refer to my work and other legends (not published) of mine, which he had heard.
I am now under contract engaged (among alas! other less congenial tasks) in putting into order
for publication the mythology and stories of the First and Second Ages – written long ago, but
judged hardly publishable, until (so it seems) the surprising success of The Lord of the Rings, which
comes at the end, has provided a probable demand for the beginnings. But there are, I fear, no
hobbits in The Silmarillion (or history of the Three Jewels), little fun or earthiness but mostly grief
and disaster. Those critics who scoffed at The Lord because 'all the good boys came home safe and
everyone was happy ever after' (quite untrue) ought to be satisfied. They will not be, of course –
even if they deign to notice the book!
228 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 24 January 1961
[The Swedish publishers of The Lord of the Rings, Gebers, were dubious about including the Appendices in
their edition of the book. Tolkien's opinion on the matter was sought.]
I have great sympathy with any foreign publisher adventurous enough to embark on a
translation of my work. After all, my chief interest in being translated is pecuniary, as long as the
basic text is treated with respect; so that even if the touchiness of parenthood is outraged, I should
wish to refrain from doing or saying anything that may damage the good business of being
published in other countries. And I have also Messrs. Allen and Unwin to consider. But the matter
of the Appendices has a pecuniary aspect.
I do not believe that they give the work a 'scholarly' (? read pedantisk) look, and they play a
major part in producing the total effect: as Messrs. Gebers' translator has himself pointed out
(selecting the detail and the documentation as two chief ingredients in producing the compelling
sense of historical reality). In any case, purchasers of vol. iii will presumably be already involved:
vol. iii is not a separate book to be purchased solely on its own merits. Actually, an analysis of
many hundreds of letters shows that the Appendices have played a very large part in reader's
pleasure, in turning library readers into purchasers (since the Appendices are needed for reference),
and in creating the demand for another book. A sharp distinction must be drawn between the tastes
of reviewers ('donnish folly' and all that) and of readers! I think I understand the tastes of simpleminded folk (like myself) pretty well. But I do appreciate the question of costs and retail prices.
There is a price beyond which simple-minded folk cannot go, even if they would like to.....
I do not know what the situation is with regard to the sale of the English book in countries
where a translation has been published. I suppose that no obstacle, direct or indirect, is put in the
way of obtaining them, and they can in any case be ordered by a determined purchaser through a
bookseller. The demand is no doubt very small.... and not of any financial interest. But I am
interested in the point. The original is my only protection against the translators. I cannot exercise
any control over the translation of such a large text, even into the few languages that I know
anything about; yet the translators are guilty of some very strange mistakes. (As I should be,
working as they must under pressure in a limited time).
Dr Ohlmarks,1 for instance, though he is reported to me to be clever and ingenious, can produce
such things as this. In translating vol. i p. 12, 'they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough
leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads', he read the
text as '... their feet had thick feathery soles, and they were clad in a thick curling hair . . .' and so
produces in his Introduction a picture of hobbits whose outdoor garb was of matted hair, while
under their feet they had solid feather-cushion treads! This is made doubly absurd, since it occurs in
a passage where he is suggesting that the hobbits are modelled on the inhabitants of the idyllic
suburb of Headington.
I do not object to biographical notice, if it is desirable (the Dutch did without it). But it should
be correct, and it should be pertinent. I think I must ask to be allowed to see anything of this kind in
future, before it is printed. Or alternatively I will draw up a brief statement which I will submit to
you as a possible hand-out in case of any demand for such material.
Who is Who is not a safe source in the hands of foreigners ignorant of England. From it
Ohlmarks has woven a ridiculous fantasy. Ohlmarks is a very vain man (as I discovered in our
correspondence), preferring his own fancy to facts, and very ready to pretend to knowledge which
he does not possess. He does not hesitate to attribute to me sentiments and beliefs which I repudiate.
Among them a dislike of the University of Leeds, because it was 'northern' and no older than the
Victorian seventies. This is impertinent and entirely untrue. If it should come to the knowledge of
Leeds (fortunately unlikely) I should make him apologize.
229 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 23 February 1961
I now enclose a copy and version of Ohlmarks' nonsense. In the hope that you may think it
justifies my annoyance. I have not looked at his second outburst. I feel I cannot just now take any
[The following are excerpts from Tolkien's commentary on Åke Ohlmarks' introduction to the Swedish
translation of The Lord of the Rings. Passages in italics are quotations from Tolkien's translation of the
It is hard to believe that the deep-rooted native-born hobbit from Middle South England .... would
feel very much at home [in Leeds]. Inauguration into the Anglo-Saxon chair in Oxford was for him
like coming home again from a trial expedition up to the distant 'Fornost'.
This is O[hlmarks]'s first serious piece of presumptuous impertinence. .... I was devoted to the
University of Leeds, which was very good to me, and to the students, whom I left with regret. The
present students are among my most attentive readers, and write to me (especially about the
Appendices). If O's nonsense was to come to the notice of the University it would give offence, and
O would have to publicly apologize. As for 'Fornost', a glance at the book would show that it is
comparable rather to the Kings' mounds at Old Uppsala than to the city of Leeds!
One of his most important writings, published in 1953, also treats of another famous homecoming,
'The Homecoming of Beorhtnot, [sic] Beorhthelm's son.'
Coming home dead without a head (as Beorhtnoth did) is not very delightful. But this is spoof.
O. knows nothing about Beorhtnoth, or his homecoming (never mentioned till I wrote a poem about
it) and he has not seen the poem. I do not blame him, except for writing as if he knew.
The professor began by telling tales about it [Middle-earth] to his children, then to his
grandchildren; and they were fascinated and clamoured for more and still more. One can clearly
see before one the fireside evenings in the peaceful villa out at Sandfield Road in Headington near
Oxford .... with the Barrowdowns or Headington Hills in the rear and the Misty Mountains or the
560 feet high Shotover in the background.
!!This is such outrageous nonsense that I should suspect mockery, if I did not observe that O. is
ever ready to assume intimate knowledge that he has not got. I have only two grandchildren. One 18
who first heard of the book 5 years ago. The other is only 2. The book was written before I moved
to Headington, which has no hills, but is on a shoulder (as it were) of Shotover.
The Ring is in a certain way 'der Nibelungen Ring'....
Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.
.... which was originally forged by Volund the master-smith, and then by way of Vittka-Andvare
passed through the hands of the mighty asar [Æsir] into the possession of Hreidmar and the
dragon, after the dragon's fall coming to Sigurd the dragonslayer, after his murder by treacherous
conspirators coming to the Burgundians, after their death in Atle's snake-pit coming to the Huns,
then to the sons of Jonaker, to the Gothic tyrant Ermanrik, etc.
Thank heaven for the etc. I began to fear that it would turn up in my pocket. Evidently Dr. 0
thinks that it is in his. But what is the point of all this? Those who know something about the Old
Norse side of the 'Nibelung' traditions (mainly referred to since the name-forms used are Norse)
will think this a farrago of nonsense; those who do not, will hardly be interested. But perhaps they
are also meant to conclude that Dr. O also has masterskap.1 It has nothing whatsoever to do with
The Lord of the Rings. As for Wayland Smith being a Pan-type, or being reflected both in Bombadil
and in Gollum: this is sufficient example of the silly methods and nonsensical conclusions of Dr. O.
He is welcome to the rubbish, but I do not see that he, as a translator, has any right to unload it here.
Here [in Mordor] rules the personification of satanic might Sauron (read perhaps in the same
partial fashion [as other identifications Ohlmarks has made] Stalin).
There is no 'perhaps' about it. I utterly repudiate any such 'reading', which angers me. The
situation was conceived long before the Russian revolution. Such allegory is entirely foreign to my
thought. The placing of Mordor in the east was due to simple narrative and geographical necessity,
within my 'mythology'. The original stronghold of Evil was (as traditionally) in the North; but as
that had been destroyed, and was indeed under the sea, there had to be a new stronghold, far
removed from the Valar, the Elves, and the sea-power of Númenor.
There are reminiscences of journeys on foot in his own youth up into the Welsh border-regions.
As Bilbo said of the dwarves, he seems to know as much of my private pantries as I do myself.
Or pretends to. I never walked in Wales or the marches in my youth. Why should I be made an
object of fiction while still alive?
230 From a letter to Rhona Beare 8 June 1961
[Answering various questions about The Lord of the Rings.]
With regard to Aragorn's boast,1 I think he was reckoning his ancestry through the paternal line
for this purpose; but in any case I imagine that Númenóreans, before their knowledge dwindled,
knew more about heredity than other people. To this of course they refer by the common symbol of
blood. They recognized the fact that in spite of intermarriages, some characteristics would appear in
pure form in later generations. Aragorn's own longevity was a case in point. Gandalf I think refers
to the curious fact that even in the much less well preserved house of the stewards Denethor had
come out as almost purely Númenórean.
Vol. II, p. 70.2 Treebeard was not using Entish sounds on this occasion, but using ancient Elvish
words mixed up and run together in Entish fashion. The elements are laure, gold, not the metal but
the colour, what we should call golden light; ndor, nor, land, country; lin, lind-, a musical sound;
malina, yellow; orne, tree; lor, dream; nan, nand-, valley. So that roughly he means: 'The valley
where the trees in a golden light sing musically, a land of music and dreams ; there are yellow trees
there, it is a tree-yellow land.' The same applies to the last line on that page,3 where the elements are
taure, forest; tumba, deep valley; mor, darkness; lóme, night.
Mae govannen4 means 'well met.'
Treebeard's greeting5 to Celeborn and Galadriel meant 'O beautiful ones, parents of beautiful
The song of praise in Vol. III, p. 2316 is not really a song but is represented by a few phrases
taken from the languages heard, in which English represents the common speech. The second,
fourth and sixth lines are Sindarin or Grey Elvish. The seventh and ninth are High Elvish. Line 2
means 'May the Halflings live long, glory to the Halflings.' The fourth line means 'Frodo and Sam,
princes of the west, glorify (them)', the sixth, 'glorify (them)'. The seventh line means 'Bless them,
bless them, long we will praise them.' The ninth line means 'The Ring bearers, bless (or praise)
them to the height.'
231 From a letter to Jane Neave 4 October 1961
[Tolkien's aunt Jane Neave, then aged ninety, wrote to ask him 'if you wouldn't get out a small book with
Tom Bombadil at the heart of it'.]
I think your idea about Tom Bombadil is a good one, not that I feel inclined to write any more
about him. But I think that the original poem (which appeared in the Oxford Magazine long before
The Lord of the Rings) might make a pretty booklet of the kind you would like if each verse could
be illustrated by Pauline Baynes. If you have not ever seen the original Tom Bombadil poem I will
try and find it and have a copy made for you.
232 From a letter to Joyce Reeves 4 November 1961
I always like shrewd sound-hearted maiden aunts. Blessed are those who have them or meet
them. Though they are commoner, in my experience, than Saki aunts.1 The professional aunt is a
fairly recent development, perhaps; but I was fortunate in having an early example: one of the first
women to take a science degree. She is now ninety, but only a few years ago went botanizing in
Switzerland. It was in her company (with a mixed party of about the same size as the company in
The Hobbit) that I journeyed on foot with a heavy pack through much of Switzerland, and over
many high passes. It was approaching the Aletsch that we were nearly destroyed by boulders
loosened in the sun rolling down a snow-slope. An enormous rock in fact passed between me and
the next in front. That and the 'thunder-battle' – a bad night in which we lost our way and slept in a
cattle-shed – appear in The Hobbit. It is long ago now. ....
I have enjoyed the tale;2 and hope you will forgive my garrulity. My remarks, I fear, must
savour a little of the legendary German professor, who wrote a large book on Das Komische. After
which, whenever anyone told him a funny story, he thought for a moment, and then nodded, saying:
'Yes, there is that joke'.
233 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 15 November 1961
[Allen & Unwin agreed to the suggestion that Tolkien should put together a small book of poems, The
Adventures of Tom Bombadil.]
I have in fact made a search, as far as time allowed, and had copies made of any poems that
might conceivably see the light or (somewhat tidied up) be presented again. The harvest is not rich,
for one thing there is not much that really goes together with Tom Bombadil. Besides Tom
Bombadil (of which you have a copy) I send Errantry and The Man in the Moon, which might go
together. About the others I am altogether doubtful ; I do not even know if they have any virtue at
all, by themselves or in a series. If, however, you think any of them would make a book and might
attract Pauline Baynes to illustrate them I should be delighted.
234 To Jane Neave
[Tolkien had sent his aunt some of the poems he was considering for inclusion in the new book.]
22 November 1961
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
My dearest Aunt,
Thank you for returning the poems. Do not worry about giving me trouble. I have enjoyed
myself very much digging out these old half-forgotten things and rubbing them up. All the more
because there are other and duller things that I ought to have been doing. At any rate they have had
you as an audience. Printed publication is, I fear, very unlikely.
Never mind about the young! I am not interested in the 'child' as such, modern or otherwise,
and certainly have no intention of meeting him/her half way, or a quarter of the way. It is a
mistaken thing to do anyway, either useless (when applied to the stupid) or pernicious (when
inflicted on the gifted). I have only once made the mistake of trying to do it, to my lasting regret,
and (I am glad to say) with the disapproval of intelligent children: in the earlier part of The Hobbit.
But I had not then given any serious thought to the matter: I had not freed myself from the
contemporary delusions about 'fairy-stories' and children.
I had to think about it, however, before I gave an 'Andrew Lang' lecture at St Andrews on
Fairy-stories; and I must say I think the result was entirely beneficial to The Lord of the Rings,
which was a practical demonstration of the views that I expressed. It was not written 'for children',
or for any kind of person in particular, but for itself. (If any parts or elements in it appear 'childish',
it is because I am childish, and like that kind of thing myself now.) I believe children do read it or
listen to it eagerly, even quite young ones, and I am very pleased to hear it, though they must fail to
understand most of it, and it is in any case stuffed with words that they are unlikely to understand –
if by that one means 'recognize as something already known'. I hope it increases their vocabularies.
As for plenilune and argent,1 they are beautiful words before they are understood – I wish I
could have the pleasure of meeting them for the first time again! — and how is one to know them
till one does meet them? And surely the first meeting should be in a living context, and not in a
dictionary, like dried flowers in a hortus siccus!
Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogeneous collection of immature persons,
varying, as persons do, in their reach, and in their ability to extend it when stimulated. As soon as
you limit your vocabulary to what you suppose to be within their reach, you in fact simply cut off
the gifted ones from the chance of extending it.
And the meaning of fine words cannot be made 'obvious', for it is not obvious to any one: least
of all to adults, who have stopped listening to the sound because they think they know the meaning.
They think argent 'means' silver. But it does not. It and silver have a reference to x or chem. Ag, but
in each x is clothed in a totally different phonetic incarnation : x+y or x+z ; and these do not have
the same meaning, not only because they sound different and so arouse different responses, but also
because they are not in fact used when talking about Ag. in the same way. It is better, I think, at any
rate to begin with, to hear 'argent' as a sound only (z without x) in a poetic context, than to think 'it
only means silver'. There is some chance then that you may like it for itself, and later learn to
appreciate the heraldic overtones it has, in addition to its own peculiar sound, which 'silver' has not.
I think that this writing down, flattening, Bible-in-basic-English attitude is responsible for the
fact that so many older children and younger people have little respect and no love for words, and
very limited vocabularies – and alas! little desire left (even when they had the gift which has been
stultified) to refine or enlarge them.
I am sorry about The Pied Piper.2 I loathe it. God help the children ! I would as soon give them
crude and vulgar plastic toys. Which of course they will play with, to the ruin of their taste. Terrible
presage of the most vulgar elements in Disney. But you cannot say that 'it never fails'. You do not
really know what is happening, even in the few cases that have come under your observation. It
failed with me, even as a child, when I could not yet distinguish the shallow vulgarity of Browning
from the general grown-uppishness of things that I was expected to like. The trouble is one does not
really know what is going on, even when a child listens with attention, even when it laughs.
Children have one thing (only) in common : a lack of experience and if not of discrimination at
least of the language in which to express their perceptions; they are still usually acquiescent
(outwardly) in their acceptance of the food presented to them by adults. Though they may mentally
or actually throw the stuff over the garden wall, and say demurely how much they have enjoyed it.
As my children did (they confess) with their suppers in the garden in summer, giving their parents
the permanent delusion that they loved jam-sandwiches. I was of course given Hans Andersen when
quite young. At one time I listened with attention which may have looked like rapture to his stories
when read to me. I read them myself often. Actually I disliked him intensely; and the vividness of
that distaste is the chief thing that I carried down the years in connexion with his name.
Surely I am 'childish' enough, and that ought to be enough for real children or any one 'childish'
in the same sort of way, and never mind if the old chap knows a lot of jolly words. I send you a
little piece of nonsense that I wrote only the other day,3 as evidence of my childishness. Though I
have alas! picked up enough grown-up jargon to write in imitation of my elders; and I might say 'it
is a neatly constructed trifle, an amusing attempt to penetrate the elf-childishness of an elf-child, if
any such thing existed!' Excuse type. My scrawly hand won't last out a long letter. Don't bother
about the 'opinions'. In fact I write as I do, ill or well, because I cannot write otherwise. If it pleases
anybody, large or small, I am as much surprised as delighted. God bless you. Very much love.
235 From a letter to Mrs Pauline Gasch (Pauline Baynes) 6 December 1961
[Pauline Baynes, who had illustrated Fanner Giles of Ham, had expressed herself willing to provide pictures
for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and had been reading typescripts of the poems.]
If I dare say so, the things sent to you (except the Sea-bell, the poorest, and not one that I shd.
really wish to include, at least not with the others) were conceived as a series of very definite, clear
and precise, pictures – fantastical, or nonsensical perhaps, but not dreamlike! And I thought of you,
because you seem able to produce wonderful pictures with a touch of 'fantasy', but primarily bright
and clear visions of things that one might really see. Of course what you say about 'illustrations' in
general is very true, and I once (in a long essay on 'Fairy-Stories') ventured at greater length but no
more precisely than you, to say much the same.1 But there is a case for illustration (or decoration!)
applied to small things such as these verses, which are light-hearted, and (I think) dexterous in
words, but not very profound in intention. I suppose one would also have to except 'The Hoard'
from being 'light-heaned', though the woes of the successive (nameless) inheritors are seen merely
as pictures in a tapestry of antiquity and do not deeply engage individual pity. I was most interested
by your choice of this as your favourite. For it is the least fluid, being written in [a] mode rather
resembling the oldest English verse — and was in fact inspired by a single line of ancient verse:
iúmonna gold galdre bewunden, 'the gold of men of long ago enmeshed in enchantment' (Beowulf
3052). But I do appreciate that it is a tricky task! I hope you may feel inclined to attempt it. Alas!
you put your finger unerringly on a main difficulty: they are not a unity from any point of view, but
made at different times under varying inspiration. I have not much doubt, however, that you would
avoid the Scylla of Blyton and the Charybdis of Rackham – though to go to wreck on the latter
would be the less evil fate.
236 To Rayner Unwin
[Tolkien received a copy of the Puffin Books edition of The Hobbit in September 1961, but did not look at it
until December.]
30 December 1961
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Rayner,
.... I wish well-meaning folk who think they know could be restrained! I had occasion a day or
two ago to look up a passage in The Hobbit, and the 'puffin' lying to hand, I looked it up there. So I
discovered that one of this breed had been busy again. Penguin Books had, I suppose, no licence to
edit my work, and should have reproduced faithfully the printed copy; and at least out of courtesy to
Allen and Unwin and myself should have addressed some enquiry before they proceeded to correct
the text.
Dwarves, dwarves', dwarvish have been corrected throughout (with one exception on p. 21) to
the current dictionary forms dwarfs, dwarfs', dwarfish. Elvish, elvish has been changed to Elfish,
elfish 7 times but left unchanged 3 times. I view this procedure with dudgeon. I deliberately used
dwarves etc. for a special purpose and effect – that it has an effect can be gauged by comparing the
passages with the substitutes dwarfs, especially in verse. The point is dealt with in L.R. iii, p. 415.1
Of course I do not expect compositors or proof-readers to know that, or to know anything about the
history of the word 'dwarf'; but I should have thought it might have occurred, if not to a compositor
at least to a reader, that the author would not have used consistently getting on for 300 times a
particular form, nor would your readers have passed it, if it was a mere casual mistake in 'grammar'.
Dwarfs etc. is of course the only recognized modern form of the plural; but the (inconsistent)
correction of elvish has not even that excuse. The older and 'historical' form elvish is still
recognized, and appears even in such popular dictionaries as the 'Pocket Oxford'. I suppose I should
be grateful that Cox and Wyman2 have not inflicted the change from elven to elfin and further to
farther on me which Jarrolds3 attempted, but Jarrolds were at least dealing with a MS. that had a
good many casual errors in it. I believe there is only one error remaining in the text from which the
Puffin was printed: like for likes (6th imp. p. 85 line 1; Puffin p. 76, line 23). This crept in in the 6th
imp. I think. Not that Gollum would miss the chance of a sibilant! Puffin has not emended it. I
suppose Gollum was regarded as 'without the law' and immune from the dictates of dictionaries or
'house-rules'. Not so the narrator.
Apart from this the errors appear to be few. I have noted: waiting is omitted before/or (puffin p.
32/11). ahead appears as head (p. 87/5 from bottom). There is an inverted g in examining (p. 225/2
from bottom). And oubht, bood appear for ought and good on p. 228.
I am sorry to inflict such nigglings on you (I am a natural niggler, alas!) which will not seem to
anyone else as important as they do to me; and nothing can be done about them now, anyway.
Though Penguin Books might be informed that they have not passed unobserved. In fact I do not
think that I should have signed a copy for Sir Allen Lane,4 if I had observed them before. I feel
inclined to tell him so, and offer to emend the copy in my own fair hand, if he will return it!
This is a Fell Winter indeed, and I am expecting White Wolves to cross the river. At present
dead calm reigns, as the only car to appear in my road slid backwards downhill and disappeared.
There is small chance of this reaching you tomorrow Jan. 1 to wish you a Happy New Year. I hope
you have plenty of food in store! It is my birthday on Jan. 3rd, and I look like spending it in the
isolation of a house turned igloo; but the companionship of several bottles of what has turned out a
most excellent burgundy (since I helped to select it in its infancy) will no doubt mitigate that: Clos
de Tan 1949, just at its top. With that hobbit-like note I will close, wishing you and your wife and
children all blessings in 1962.
Yours ever,
Ronald Tolkien.
P.S. Will you please thank Miss M. J. Hill (and yourself) for the copy of School Magazine Nov.
1961 (N. S. Wales) containing the Hobbit extract and the article 'Something Special'. I thought the
latter was well written for its purpose..... But alas! faced with actual stories people are always more
ready to believe in learning and arcane knowledge than in invention, especially if they are bemused
by the title 'professor'. There are no songs or stories preserved about Elves or Dwarfs in ancient
English, and little enough in any other Germanic language. Words, a few names, that is about all. I
do not recall any Dwarf or Elf that plays an actual pan in any story save Andvari in the Norse
versions of the Nibelung matter. There is no story attached to the name Eikinskjaldi, save the one
that I invented for Thorin Oakenshield. As far as old English goes 'dwarf' (dweorg) is a mere gloss
for nanus, or the name of convulsions and recurrent fevers; and 'elf we should suppose to be
associated only with rheumatism, toothache and nightmares, if it were not for the occurrence of
aelfsciene 'elven-fair' applied to Sarah and Judith!, and a few glosses such as dryades, wuduelfen. In
all Old English poetry 'elves' (ylte) occurs once only, in Beowulf, associated with trolls, giants, and
the Undead, as the accursed offspring of Cain. The gap between that and, say, Elrond or Galadriel is
not bridged by learning. Now you will feel this letter has become a pamphlet or a new year garland!
But you have a w[aste] p[aper] b[asket] I suppose, at least as capacious as mine. JRRT.
237 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 12 April 1962
I have given every moment that I could spare to the 'poems', in spite of the usual obstacles, and
some new ones.
I am afraid that I have lost all confidence in these things, and all judgement, and unless Pauline
Baynes can be inspired by them, I cannot see them making a 'book'. I do not see why she should be
inspired, though I fervently hope that she will be. Some of the things may be good in their way, and
all of them privately amuse me; but elderly hobbits are easily pleased.
The various items — all that I now venture to offer, some with misgiving – do not really
'collect'. The only possible link is the fiction that they come from the Shire from about the period of
The Lord of the Rings. But that fits some uneasily. I have done a good deal of work, trying to make
them fit better: if not much to their good, I hope not to their serious detriment. You may note that I
have written a new Bombadil poem, which I hope is adequate to go with the older one, though for
its understanding it requires some knowledge of the L.R. At any rate it performs the service of
further 'integrating' Tom with the world of the L.R. into which he was inserted.* I am afraid it
largely tickles my pedantic fancy, because of its echo of the Norse Niblung matter (the otter's
whisker) ;1 and because one of the lines comes straight, incredible though that may seem, from The
Ancrene Wisse.2....
Some kind of foreword might possibly be required. The enclosed is not intended for that
purpose! Though one or two of its points might be made more simply. But I found it easier, and
more amusing (for myself) to represent to you in the form of a ridiculous editorial fiction what I
have done to the verses, and what their references now are. Actually, although a fiction, the relative
age, order of writing, and references of the items are pretty nearly represented as they really were.
I hope you are not greatly disappointed by my efforts.
In the original poem he was said to wear a peacock's feather, which (I think you will agree) was entirely
unsuitable to his situation in the L.R. In it his feather is merely reported as 'blue'. Its origin is now revealed.
238 From a letter to Jane Neave 18 July l962
[Tolkien's aunt appears to have suggested that she return a cheque he had sent her, so that the money could
be spent on buying a wheelchair for Tolkien's wife Edith, who was suffering from arthritis.]
As for your noble and self-sacrificing suggestion. Cash the cheque, please! And spend it. One
cannot attach conditions to a gift; but I should be best pleased, if it was spent soon, and on yourself.
It is a very small sum. Taken only from my present abundance, over and above the needs of Edith
and myself, and of my children. Edith happily does not need a chair; and I could give her one if she
did. (It is an astonishing situation, and I hope I am sufficiently grateful to God. Only a little while
ago I was wondering if we should be able to go on living here, on my inadequate pension. I have
never been able to give before, and I have received unrepayable gifts in the past. .... I receive as a
septuagenarian a retirement pension, of which I feel it proper to give away at least what the Tax
collectors leave in my hands (a National one, I mean: I refused the University pension, and took the
lump sum and invested it in a trust managed by my bank). All this, simply to assure you that the
little gift was a personal pleasure, hardly worthy of much thanks; also to assure you that I can help
more if needed. Saving universal catastrophe, I am not likely to be hard up again in my time. This is
the advice of a very shrewd old publisher. Also I gather that he told Edmund Fuller1 that my books
were the most important, and also the most profitable thing that he had published in a long life, and
that they would certainly remain so after his time and his sons' time. (This is just for you: it is
unwise to advertise still more to boast of good fortune, as all Fairy-stories teach. So say nout. I do
not want to wake up one morning and find it all
a dream!)....
I am glad to say that we are both rather better this year. .... I had some treatment last September,
and have been more or less free and easy on the legs since, though my usual lumbago afflicted me
in June. Edith is markedly better this year; and we managed a train journey to Bournemouth in July
(2nd to 9th). Diet has done much good. We should have to reorganize life altogether if she was
reduced to a chair! She does all the cooking, most of the housework, and some of the gardening. I
am afraid that this often means rather heroic effort; but of course, within limits, that is beneficial.
Still it is hard being attacked in two different ways at once – or three. Great increase in weight due
to operations. Arthritis, which is made more painful and acute by the weight; and an internal
complaint, small internal lesions (I gather), which cause pain, often incalculably, either by strain, or
vibration, or by digestive irritations. Still we accepted this verdict more or less gratefully, after she
had spent some time in a nursing home 'for observation' (ominous words).
We lost our 'help', because of ill health, that we had had for about eight years, last autumn. If
ever you pray for temporal blessings for us, my dear, ask for the near-miracle of finding some help.
Oxford is probably one of the hardest places even in this England, to find such a thing.
The book of poems is going along. Pauline Baynes has accepted the contract and is now
beginning on the illustration. The publishers certainly intend it for Christmas. I have done my part.
At the moment I am engaged on putting into order, with notes and brief preface, my translation
of Sir Gawain and of Pearl, before returning to my major work the Silmarillion. The Pearl is
another poem in the same MS as Sir Gawain. Neither has any author's name attached; but I believe
(as do most others) that they are by the same person. The Pearl is much the more difficult to
translate, largely for metrical reasons ; but being attracted by apparently insoluble metrical
problems, I started to render it years ago. Some stanzas were actually broadcast, in the late 1920s.2 I
finished it, more or less, before the war; and it disappeared under the weight of the War, and of The
Lord of the Rings. The poem is very well-known to mediævalists; but I never agreed to the view of
scholars that the metrical form was almost impossibly difficult to write in, and quite impossible to
render in modern English. NO scholars (or, nowadays, poets) have any experience in composing
themselves in exacting metres. I made up a few stanzas in the metre to show that composition in it
was not at any rate 'impossible' (though the result might today be thought bad).3 The original Pearl
was more difficult: a translator is not free, and this text is very hard in itself, often obscure, partly
from the thought and style, and partly from the corruptions of the only surviving MS.
As these things interest you, I send you the original stanzas of my own – related inevitably as
everything was at one time with my own mythology. I will send you a copy of the Pearl, as soon as
I can get a carbon copy made. It has 101 twelve-line stanzas. It is (I think) evidently inspired by the
loss in infancy of a little daughter. It is thus in a sense an elegy; but the author uses the then
fashionable (it was contemporary with Chaucer) dream-framework, and uses the occasion to discuss
his own theological views about salvation. Though not all acceptable to modern taste, it has
moments of poignancy; and though it may in our view be absurdly complex in technical form, the
poet surmounts his own obstacles on the whole with success. The stanzas have twelve lines, with
only three rhymes: an octet of four couplets rhyming a b, and a quartet rhyming b c. In addition
each line has internal alliteration (it occasionally but rarely fails in the original; the version is
inevitably less rich). And if that is not enough, the poem is divided into fives. Within a five-stanza
group the chief word of the last line must be echoed in the first line of the following stanza; the last
line of the five-group is echoed at the beginning of the next; and the first line of all is to wind up
echoed in the last line of all. But oddly enough there are not 100 stanzas, but 101. In group XV
there are six stanzas. It has long been supposed that one of these was an uncancelled revision. But
there are also 101 stanzas in Sir Gawain. The number was evidently aimed at, though what its
significance was for the author has not been discovered. The grouping by fives also connects the
poem with Gawain, where the poet elaborates the significance: the Five Wounds, the Five Joys, the
Five virtues, and the Five wits.
Enough of that. I hope you are not bored. I enclose on a separate sheet the opening stanza in the
original, and in my version, as a specimen.
239 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 20 July 1962
[With reference to the Spanish translation of The Hobbit.]
If gnomos is used as a translation of dwarves, then it must not appear on p. 63 in the elves that
are now called Gnomes. I need not trouble the translator, or you, with the long explanation needed
to account for this aberration; but the word was used as a translation of the real name, according to
my mythology, of the High-elven people of the West. Pedantically, associating it with Greek gnome
'thought, intelligence'. But I have abandoned it, since it is quite impossible to dissociate the name
from the popular associations of the Paracelsan gnomus = pygmaeus.1 Since this word is used – for
its aptness in preference to Sp[anish] enano I am not able to judge – for 'dwarves', regrettable
confusion would be caused, if it is also applied to the High Elves. I earnestly suggest that on p. 63,
lines 6-7, the translator should translate old swords of the High Elves of the West; and on p. 173,
line 14, should delete (or Gnomes) altogether. I think these are the only places where Gnomes
appears in The Hobbit.
240 To Mrs Pauline Gasch (Pauline Baynes)
[Pauline Baynes, who was illustrating The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, pointed out that the typescript of
the title poem described Tom as wearing a peacock's feather in his hat, but the version in the galley-proofs
had the reading 'a swan-wing feather'.]
1 August 1962
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mrs Gasch,
I am sorry that you have been bothered by this detail. There have been a number of minor
changes made at various times in the process of assimilating Tom B. to the Lord of the Rings world.
The peacock's feather belongs to an old draft. Being unsuitable to the L.R. this becomes in the
L.R. (I p. 130)1 'a long blue feather'. In the poems as now to be published Tom appears (in line 4 of
the first poem) with a 'swan-wing feather': to increase the riverishness, and to allow for the incident
in the second poem, the gift of a blue feather by the king's fisher. That incident also explains the
blue feather of the L.R. Poem one is evidently, as said in the introduction, a hobbit-version of things
long before the days of the L.R. But the second poem refers to the days of growing shadow, before
Frodo set out (as the consultation with Maggot shows: cf. L.R.I p. 143).2 When therefore Tom
appears in the L.R. he is wearing a blue feather.
As far as you are concerned peacocks are out. A swan-feather in the first poem; and a blue one
after the kingfisher incident.
Thank you for taking so much trouble. I may say that a number of changes were made in the
drafts that were originally submitted to you. Only the galleys are reliable.
For instance, in the altercation with the kingfisher, I found that no variety likely to be in our
parts of the world has a scarlet crest. (Scarlet breasts are more likely though ones I know are
pinkish!) Also, more interesting, I found that the bird's name did not mean, as I had supposed, 'a
King that fishes'. It was originally the king's fisher. That links the swan (traditionally the property of
the King) with the fisher-bird; explains both their rivalry, and their special friendship with Tom:
they were creatures who looked for the return of their rightful Lord, the true King.
Do not be put off by this sort of thing unless it affects the picture! The inwardly seen picture is
to me the most important. I look forward to your interpretation. The donnish detail is just a private
pleasure which I do not expect anyone to notice. (E.g. the hanging up of a kingfisher to see the way
of the wind, which comes from Sir T. Browne;3 the otter's whisker sticking out of the gold, from the
Norse Nibelung legends;4 and the three places for gossip, smithy, mill, and cheaping (market), from
a mediaeval instructive work that I have been editing!)5 With very best wishes
Yours sincerely
Ronald Tolkien.
241 From a letter to Jane Neave 8-9 September 1962
[Tolkien's aunt, who was living in Wales, had been reading a proof copy of his lecture 'English and Welsh',
delivered in 1955 and published in 1963 in the volume Angles and Britons: O'Donnell Lectures.]
I was so pleased to hear from you again. I was a bit afraid that I had overstepped the mark with
that lecture: much of it rather dull except to dons. It is not really 'learned': my task was to thread
together items of common (professional) knowledge in an attempt to interest English people. The
only 'original' things in it, are the autobiographical bits, and the reference to 'beauty' in language;
and the theory that one's 'native language' is not the same as one's 'cradle-tongue'.
I should not be surprised to hear that your postman did not know bobi: caws bobi. It seems not
to be mentioned in modern dictionaries, and is probably obsolete. It means or meant 'toasted
cheese', i.e. Welsh rabbit, pobi is the Welsh word for 'cook, roast, toast', and (if Andrew Boorde1
got it right) it has changed p- to b- because pobi is used as an adjective, after a noun. London was
for a while very Welsh-conscious at the time (as seen in Shakespeare), and bits of Welsh crop up in
plays and tales. But the notion that Welsh was the 'language of heaven' was much older. Andrew B.
was simply making fun of an often heard Welsh claim. I expect the postman will have heard of it.
Postmen are on the whole a good tribe – especially the country ones who still walk. But Welsh
postmen seem specially kind, and also learned. Sir John Morris Jones, a famous Welsh scholar (and
author of the grammar that I bought with prize-money as related)2 said, commenting on the work of
a learned French scholar (Loth) on Welsh metres: 'I get more learning and sense on the topic out of
my postman.'
Which did not mean, of course, that Loth was as ignorant as a mere postman 'passing the time
of day'; but that the postman was better read and more learned than a French professor. It may have
been true – in Welsh matters. For as a 'poor country' even yet Wales has not learnt to associate art
or knowledge solely with certain classes. But the Welsh for all their virtues are contentious and
often malicious; and they do not always whet their tongues against 'foreigners', they often turn the
sharp edge upon their own kind (who do not readily forgive). All 'scholars' are apt to be
quarrelsome, but Welsh scholarship and philology are a faction-fight. My reference on p. 3 to
'entering the litigious lists'3 was not mere rhetoric, but a necessary disclaimer against belonging to
any one of the factions.
It is said that Sir John M. J. built himself a fine house near Bangor overlooking the Menai
Straits, to Môn (Anglesey). But the 'friendly' nickname for the inhabitants of that isle is (on the
mainland) moch 'swine'. Some gentry from Beaumaris paid him a visit, and after admiring his
house, asked if he was going to give it a name. 'Yes', said he, 'I shall call it Gadara View. '. . . .
I am now sending you 'Leaf by Niggle'. I have had a copy made specially to keep if you wish –
from the Dublin Review in which it appeared nearly 20 years ago. It was written (I think) just before
the War began, though I first read it aloud to my friends early in 1940.1 recollect nothing about the
writing, except that I woke one morning with it in my head, scribbled it down – and the printed
form in the main hardly differs from the first hasty version at all. I find it still quite moving, when I
reread it.
It is not really or properly an 'allegory' so much as 'mythical'. For Niggle is meant to be a real
mixed-quality person and not an 'allegory' of any single vice or virtue. The name Parish proved
convenient, for the Porter's joke, but it was not given with any intention of special significance. I
once knew of a gardener called Parish. (I see there are six Parishes in our telephone book.) Of
course some elements are explicable in biographical terms (so obsessively interesting to modern
critics that they often value a piece of 'literature' solely in so far as it reveals the author, and
especially if that is in a discreditable light). There was a great tree – a huge poplar with vast limbs –
visible through my window even as I lay in bed. I loved it, and was anxious about it. It had been
savagely mutilated some years before, but had gallantly grown new limbs – though of course not
with the unblemished grace of its former natural self; and now a foolish neighbour4 was agitating to
have it felled. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. (Too often the hate is irrational, a
fear of anything large and alive, and not easily tamed or destroyed, though it may clothe itself in
pseudo-rational terms.) This fool* said that it cut off the sun from her house and garden, and that
she feared for her house if it should crash in a high wind. It stood due east of her front door, across
a wide road, at a distance nearly thrice its total height. Thus only about the equinox would it even
cast a shadow in her direction, and only in the very early morning one that reached across the road
to the pavement outside her front gate. And any wind that could have uprooted it and hurled it on
her house, would have demolished her and her house without any assistance from the tree. I believe
it still stands where it did. Though many winds have blown since.5 (The great gale in which the
dreadful winter of 46—47 ended (on March 17, 1947) blew down nearly all the mighty trees of the
Broadwalk in Christchurch Meadows, and devastated Magdalen deer park – but it did not lose a
bough.) Also, of course, I was anxious about my own internal Tree, The Lord of the Rings. It was
growing out of hand, and revealing endless new vistas – and I wanted to finish it, but the world was
threatening. And I was dead stuck, somewhere about Ch. 10 (Voice of Saruman) in Book III – with
fragments ahead some of which eventually fitted into Ch. 1 and 3 of Book V, but most of which
proved wrong especially about Mordor – and I did not know how to go on. It was not until
Christopher was carried off to S. Africa that I forced myself to write Book IV, which was sent out
to him bit by bit. That was 1944. (I did not finish the first rough writing till 1949, when I remember
blotting the pages (which now represent the welcome of Frodo and Sam on the Field of Cormallen)
with tears as I wrote. I then myself typed the whole of that work all VI books out, and then once
again in revision (in places many times), mostly on my bed in the attic of the tiny terrace-house to
which war had exiled us from the house in which my family had grown up.) But none of that really
illuminates 'Leaf by Niggle' much, does it? If it has any virtues, they remain as such, whether you
know all this or do not. I hope you think it has some virtue. (But for quite different reasons, I think
you may like the personal details. That is because you are a dear, and take an interest in other
people, especially as rightly your kin.)
Only in this respect – hatred of trees. She was a great and gallant lady.
242 From a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin 28 November 1962
[The Adventures of Tom Bombadil was published on 22 November.]
I have so far seen two reviews of 'Tom Bombadil': T. Litt. Suppl. and Listener:1 I was agreeably
surprised: I expected remarks far more snooty and patronizing. Also I was rather pleased, since it
seemed that the reviewers had both started out not wanting to be amused, but had failed to maintain
their Victorian dignity intact.
Still, I remain puzzled, as before: wondering why if a 'professor' shows any knowledge of his
professional techniques it must be 'waggery', but if a writer shows, say, knowledge of law or lawcourts it is held interesting and creditable.
243 To Michael Tolkien 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
19 December 1962
Dearest Mick,
A merry Christmas and God bless you all. I enclose for you a little somewhat that may help, I
hope. It is made possible by the unexpected financial success of my verses (never mind the critics).
Almost in 'the red', I was, as being now practically 'self-employed' I usually have to wait until May
before 'A & U' fork out proceeds for the past year. But they have made me an advance, since 'T. B.'
sold nearly 8,000 copies before publication (caught on the hop they have had to reprint hastily), and
that, even on a minute initial royalty, means more than is at all usual for anyone but Betjeman to
make on verse!....
I am extremely weary after returning to term, amidst other labours (of which T.B. for all its
slendemess caused quite a lot of sweat). My Ancrene Wisse also got between covers this week at
last, but as it is only a text (with textual footnotes) in extremely archaic M. English, I do not think
you would be amused by it. But when the translation of Sir Gawain and Pearl appears (early next
year, I hope) you shall have a copy. Then ho! for Númenor and dark and difficult legends. I have
also been honoured by a 'Festschrift' – a volume of contributions by 22 'Anglists' with a prefatory
ode by Auden for my 70th birthday. A plot hatched and carried out by Rayner Unwin & Norman
Davis (my successor) of which I knew nothing until a few weeks ago.....
Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no 'commercialism' can in fact defile –
unless you let it. I hope, my dearest, that it will bring you some rest and refreshment in every way,
& I shall remember you in communion (as always but specially) and wish that I had all my family
beside me in the ancient patriarchal way! Your own Father.
244 From a draft to a reader of The Lord of the Rings
[A fragment at the top of which Tolkien has written: 'Comments on a criticism (now lost?) concerning
Faramir & Eowyn (c. 1963).']
Eowyn: It is possible to love more than one person (of the other sex) at the same time, but in a
different mode and intensity. I do not think that Eowyn's feelings for Aragorn really changed much;
and when he was revealed as so lofty a figure, in descent and office, she was able to go on loving
and admiring him. He was old, and that is not only a physical quality: when not accompanied by
any physical decay age can be alarming or awe-inspiring. Also she was not herself ambitious in the
true political sense. Though not a 'dry nurse' in temper, she was also not really a soldier or 'amazon',
but like many brave women was capable of great military gallantry at a crisis.
I think you misunderstand Faramir. He was daunted by his father: not only in the ordinary way
of a family with a stern proud father of great force of character, but as a Númenórean before the
chief of the one surviving Númenórean state. He was motherless and sisterless (Eowyn was also
motherless), and had a 'bossy' brother. He had been accustomed to giving way and not giving his
own opinions air, while retaining a power of command among men, such as a man may obtain who
is evidently personally courageous and decisive, but also modest, fair-minded and scrupulously just,
and very merciful. I think he understood Eowyn very well. Also to be Prince of Ithilien, the greatest
noble after Dol Amroth in the revived Númenórean state of Gondor, soon to be of imperial power
and prestige, was not a 'market-garden job' as you term it. Until much had been done by the restored
King, the P. of Ithilien would be the resident march-warden of Gondor, in its main eastward outpost
– and also would have many duties in rehabilitating the lost territory, and clearing it of outlaws and
orc-remnants, not to speak of the dreadful vale of Minas Ithil (Morgul). I did not, naturally, go into
details about the way in which Aragorn, as King of Gondor, would govern the realm. But it was
made clear that there was much fighting, and in the earlier years of A.'s reign expeditions against
enemies in the East. The chief commanders, under the King, would be Faramir and Imrahil; and one
of these would normally remain a military commander at home in the King's absence. A
Númenórean King was monarch, with the power of unquestioned decision in debate; but he
governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter)
but not the maker. In all debatable matters of importance domestic, or external, however, even
Denethor had a Council, and at least listened to what the Lords of the Fiefs and the Captains of the
Forces had to say. Aragorn re-established the Great Council of Gondor, and in that Faramir, who
remained* by inheritance the Steward (or representative of the King during his absence abroad, or
sickness, or between his death and the accession of his heir) would [be] the chief counsellor.
Criticism of the speed of the relationship or 'love' of Faramir and Eowyn. In my experience
feelings and decisions ripen very quickly (as measured by mere 'clock-time', which is actually not
justly applicable) in periods of great stress, and especially under the expectation of imminent death.
And I do not think that persons of high estate and breeding need all the petty fencing and
approaches in matters of 'love'. This tale does not deal with a period of 'Courtly Love' and its
pretences; but with a culture more primitive (sc. less corrupt) and nobler.
See III p. 245.1
245 To Rhona Beare
[Answers to the following questions: (1) In the 'English runes' used for Anglo-Saxon inscriptions, the rune
does not stand for G as it does in The Lord of the Rings. Why not? (2) What happened to Elves when they
died in battle?]
25 June 1963
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Miss Beare,
The 'cirth' or runes in the 'L.R.' were invented for that story and, within it, have no supposed
historical connexion with the Germanic Runic alphabet, to which the English gave its most
elaborate development. There is thus nothing to be surprised at if similar signs have different
values. The similarity of shapes is inevitable in alphabets devised primarily for cut[ting] or
scratching on wood and so made of lines directly or diagonally across the grain. The signs used in
the cirth are nearly [all] to be extracted from the basic pattern, , the possibilities being decreased
by the avoidance of the juncture of a diagonal with the bottom of an upright (the exceptions are few
and limited to cases where as in
there is also juncture at the top). They are increased by the
repetition on the opposite side of an upright of any diagonal appendage, & by repeating half the
basic pattern:
As for the Elves. Even in these legends we see the Elves mainly through the eyes of Men. It is
in any case clear that neither side was fully informed about the ultimate destiny of the other. The
Elves were sufficiently longeval to be called by Man 'immortal'. But they were not unageing or
unwearying. Their own tradition was that they were confined to the limits of this world (in space
and time), even if they died, and would continue in some form to exist in it until 'the end of the
world'. But what 'the end of the world' portended for it or for themselves they did not know (though
they no doubt had theories). Neither had they of course any special information concerning what
'death' portended for Men. They believed that it meant 'liberation from the circles of the world', and
was in that respect to them enviable. And they would point out to Men who envied them that a
dread of ultimate loss, though it may be indefinitely remote, is not necessarily the easier to bear if it
is in the end ineluctably certain : a burden may become heavier the longer it is borne.
I hope you will forgive pencil and a crabbed and not too legible hand. I am (temporarily, I
hope) deprived of the use of my right hand and arm, and I am in the early stages of teaching my left
hand. Right-handed pens increase the crabbedness, but a pencil accommodates itself.
Yours sincerely
J. R. R. Tolkien.
246 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963
[A reply to a reader's comments on Frodo's failure to surrender the Ring in the Cracks of Doom.]
Very few (indeed so far as letters go only you and one other) have observed or commented on
Frodo's 'failure'. It is a very important point.
From the point of view of the storyteller the events on Mt Doom proceed simply from the logic
of the tale up to that time. They were not deliberately worked up to nor foreseen until they
occurred.* But, for one thing, it became at last quite clear that Frodo after all that had happened
would be incapable of voluntarily destroying the Ring. Reflecting on the solution after it was
arrived at (as a mere event) I feel that it is central to the whole 'theory' of true nobility and heroism
that is presented.
Frodo indeed 'failed' as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he
gave in, ratted. I do not say 'simple minds' with contempt: they often see with clarity the simple
truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable. Their
weakness, however, is twofold. They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time,
in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget that strange element in the World that
we call Pity or Mercy, which is also an absolute requirement in moral judgement (since it is present
in the Divine nature). In its highest exercise it belongs to God. For finite judges of imperfect
knowledge it must lead to the use of two different scales of 'morality'. To ourselves we must present
the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength
(+grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could
achieve. To others, in any case of which we know enough to make a judgement, we must apply a
scale tempered by 'mercy': that is, since we can with good will do this without the bias inevitable in
judgements of ourselves, we must estimate the limits of another's strength and weigh this against
the force of particular circumstances.†
I do not think that Frodo's was a moral failure. At the last moment the pressure of the Ring
would reach its maximum – impossible, I should have said, for any one to resist, certainly after long
possession, months of increasing torment, and when starved and exhausted. Frodo had done what he
could and spent himself completely (as an instrument of Providence) and had produced a situation
in which the object of his quest could be achieved. His humility (with which he began) and his
sufferings were justly rewarded by the highest honour; and his exercise of patience and mercy
towards Gollum gained him Mercy: his failure was redressed.
We are finite creatures with absolute limitations upon the powers of our soul-body structure in
either action or endurance. Moral failure can only be asserted, I think, when a man's effort or
endurance falls short of his limits, and the blame decreases as that limit is closer approached.‡
Nonetheless, I think it can be observed in history and experience that some individuals seem to
be placed in 'sacrificial' positions: situations or tasks that for perfection of solution demand powers
beyond their utmost limits, even beyond all possible limits for an incarnate creature in a physical
world – in which a body may be destroyed, or so maimed that it affects the mind and will.
Judgement upon any such case should then depend on the motives and disposition with which he
started out, and should weigh his actions against the utmost possibility of his powers, all along the
road to whatever proved the breaking-point.
Actually, since the events at the Cracks of Doom would obviously be vital to the Tale, I made several sketches or
trial versions at various stages in the narrative — but none of them were used, and none of them much resembled what
is actually reported in the finished story.
We frequently see this double scale used by the saints in their judgements upon themselves when suffering great
hardships or temptations, and upon others in like trials.
No account is here taken of 'grace' or the enhancement of our powers as instruments of Providence. Frodo was
given 'grace': first to answer the call (at the end of the Council) after long resisting a complete surrender; and later in his
resistance to the temptation of the Ring (at times when to claim and so reveal it would have been fatal), and in his
endurance of fear and suffering. But grace is not infinite, and for the most pan seems in the Divine economy limited to
what is sufficient for the accomplishment of the task appointed to one instrument in a pattern of circumstances and
other instruments.
Frodo undertook his quest out of love – to save the world he knew from disaster at his own
expense, if he could; and also in complete humility, acknowledging that he was wholly inadequate
to the task. His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way, and to go as far on
the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. He did that. I do not myself see that the breaking
of his mind and will under demonic pressure after torment was any more a moral failure than the
breaking of his body would have been – say, by being strangled by Gollum, or crushed by a falling
That appears to have been the judgement of Gandalf and Aragorn and of all who learned the
full story of his journey. Certainly nothing would be concealed by Frodo! But what Frodo himself
felt about the events is quite another matter.
He appears at first to have had no sense of guilt (III 224-5);1 he was restored to sanity and
peace. But then he thought that he had given his life in sacrifice: he expected to die very soon. But
he did not, and one can observe the disquiet growing in him. Arwen was the first to observe the
signs, and gave him her jewel for comfort, and thought of a way of healing him.* Slowly he fades
'out of the picture', saying and doing less and less. I think it is clear on reflection to an attentive
reader that when his dark times came upon him and he was conscious of being 'wounded by knife
sting and tooth and a long burden' (III 268) it was not only nightmare memories of past horrors that
afflicted him, but also unreasoning self-reproach: he saw himself and all that he done as a broken
failure. 'Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same, for I shall not be the same.' That
was actually a temptation out of the Dark, a last flicker of pride: desire to have returned as a 'hero',
not content with being a mere instrument of good. And it was mixed with another temptation,
blacker and yet (in a sense) more merited, for however that may be explained, he had not in fact
cast away the Ring by a voluntary act: he was tempted to regret its destruction, and still to desire it.
'It is gone for ever, and now all is dark and empty', he said as he wakened from his sickness in 1420.
'Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured', said Gandalf (III 268) – not in
Middle-earth. Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him – if that could be done, before
he died. He would have eventually to 'pass away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth,
or within Time. So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection
and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent
still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil.
Bilbo went too. No doubt as a completion of the plan due to Gandalf himself. Gandalf had a
very great affection for Bilbo, from the hobbit's childhood onwards. His companionship was really
necessary for Frodo's sake – it is difficult to imagine a hobbit, even one who had been through
Frodo's experiences, being really happy even in an earthly paradise without a companion of his own
kind, and Bilbo was the person that Frodo most loved. (Cf III 252 lines 12 to 21 and 263 lines 1-2.)2
But he also needed and deserved the favour on his own account. He bore still the mark of the Ring
that needed to be finally erased : a trace of pride and personal possessiveness. Of course he was old
and confused in mind, but it was still a revelation of the 'black mark' when he said in Rivendell (III
265) 'What's become of my ring, Frodo, that you took away?'; and when he was reminded of what
had happened, his immediate reply was: 'What a pity! I should have liked to see it again'. As for
reward for his pan, it is difficult to feel that his life would be complete without an experience of
'pure Elvishness', and the opportunity of hearing the legends and histories in full the fragments of
It is not made explicit how she could arrange this. She could not of course just transfer her ticket on the boat like
that! For any except those of Elvish race 'sailing West' was not permitted, and any exception required 'authority', and
she was not in direct communication with the Valar, especially not since her choice to become 'mortal'. What is meant
is that it was Arwen who first thought of sending Frodo into the West, and put in a plea for him to Gandalf (direct or
through Galadriel, or both), and she used her own renunciation of the right to go West as an argument. Her renunciation
and suffering were related to and enmeshed with Frodo's : both were parts of a plan for the regeneration of the state of
Men. Her prayer might therefore be specially effective, and her plan have a certain equity of exchange. No doubt it was
Gandalf who was the authority that accepted her plea. The Appendices show clearly that he was an emissary of the
Valar, and virtually their plenipotentiary in accomplishing the plan against Sauron. He was also in special accord with
Cirdan the Ship-master, who had surrendered to him his ring and so placed himself under Gandalf's command. Since
Gandalf himself went on the Ship there would be so to speak no trouble either at embarking or at the landing.
which had so delighted him.
It is clear, of course, that the plan had actually been made and concerted (by Arwen, Gandalf
and others) before Arwen spoke. But Frodo did not immediately take it in; the implications would
slowly be understood on reflection. Such a journey would at first seem something not necessarily to
be feared, even as something to look forward to – so long as undated and postponable. His real
desire was hobbitlike (and humanlike) just 'to be himself again and get back to the old familiar life
that had been interrupted. Already on the journey back from Rivendell he suddenly saw that was not
for him possible. Hence his cry 'Where shall I find rest?' He knew the answer, and Gandalf did not
reply. As for Bilbo, it is probable that Frodo did not at first understand what Arwen meant by 'he
will not again make any long journey save one'. At any rate he did not associate it with his own
case. When Arwen spoke (in TA 3019) he was still young, not yet 51, and Bilbo 78 years older. But
at Rivendell he came to understand things more clearly. The conversations he had there are not
reported, but enough is revealed in Elrond's farewell III 267.3 From the onset of the first sickness
(Oct. 5, 3019) Frodo must have been thinking about 'sailing', though still resisting a final decision
— to go with Bilbo, or to go at all. It was no doubt after his grievous illness in March 3020 that his
mind was made up.
Sam is meant to be lovable and laughable. Some readers he irritates and even infuriates. I can
well understand it. All hobbits at times affect me in the same way, though I remain very fond of
them. But Sam can be very 'trying'. He is a more representative hobbit than any others that we have
to see much of; and he has consequently a stronger ingredient of that quality which even some
hobbits found at times hard to bear: a vulgarity — by which I do not mean a mere 'down-toearthiness' — a mental myopia which is proud of itself, a smugness (in varying degrees) and
cocksureness, and a readiness to measure and sum up all things from a limited experience, largely
enshrined in sententious traditional 'wisdom'. We only meet exceptional hobbits in close
companionship – those who had a grace or gift: a vision of beauty, and a reverence for things nobler
than themselves, at war with their rustic self-satisfaction. Imagine Sam without his education by
Bilbo and his fascination with things Elvish! Not difficult. The Cotton family and the Gaffer, when
the 'Travellers' return are a sufficient glimpse.
Sam was cocksure, and deep down a little conceited; but his conceit had been transformed by
his devotion to Frodo. He did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable
– except in his service and loyalty to his master. That had an ingredient (probably inevitable) of
pride and possessiveness: it is difficult to exclude it from the devotion of those who perform such
service. In any case it prevented him from fully understanding the master that he loved, and from
following him in his gradual education to the nobility of service to the unlovable and of perception
of damaged good in the corrupt. He plainly did not fully understand Frodo's motives or his distress
in the incident of the Forbidden Pool. If he had understood better what was going on between Frodo
and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end. For me perhaps the most tragic
moment in the Tale comes in II 323 ff. when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum's
tone and aspect. 'Nothing, nothing', said Gollum softly. 'Nice master!'. His repentance is blighted
and all Frodo's pity is (in a sense*) wasted. Shelob's lair became inevitable.
This is due of course to the 'logic of the story'. Sam could hardly have acted differently. (He did
reach the point of pity at last (III 221-222)4 but for the good of Gollum too late.) If he had, what
could then have happened? The course of the entry into Mordor and the struggle to reach Mount
Doom would have been different, and so would the ending. The interest would have shifted to
Gollum, I think, and the battle that would have gone on between his repentance and his new love on
one side and the Ring. Though the love would have been strengthened daily it could not have
wrested the mastery from the Ring. I think that in some queer twisted and pitiable way Gollum
would have tried (not maybe with conscious design) to satisfy both. Certainly at some point not
long before the end he would have stolen the Ring or taken it by violence (as he does in the actual
Tale). But 'possession' satisfied, I think he would then have sacrificed himself for Frodo's sake and
In the sense that 'pity' to be a true virtue must be directed to the good of its object. It is empty if it is exercised
only to keep oneself 'clean', free from hate or the actual doing of injustice, though this is also a good motive.
have voluntarily cast himself into the fiery abyss.
I think that an effect of his partial regeneration by love would have been a clearer vision when
he claimed the Ring. He would have perceived the evil of Sauron, and suddenly realized that he
could not use the Ring and had not the strength or stature to keep it in Sauron's despite: the only
way to keep it and hurt Sauron was to destroy it and himself together – and in a flash he may have
seen that this would also be the greatest service to Frodo. Frodo in the tale actually takes the Ring
and claims it, and certainly he too would have had a clear vision – but he was not given any time:
he was immediately attacked by Gollum. When Sauron was aware of the seizure of the Ring his one
hope was in its power: that the claimant would be unable to relinquish it until Sauron had time to
deal with him. Frodo too would then probably, if not attacked, have had to take the same way: cast
himself with the Ring into the abyss. If not he would of course have completely failed. It is an
interesting problem: how Sauron would have acted or the claimant have resisted. Sauron sent at
once the Ringwraiths. They were naturally fully instructed, and in no way deceived as to the real
lordship of the Ring. The wearer would not be invisible to them, but the reverse; and the more
vulnerable to their weapons. But the situation was now different to that under Weathertop, where
Frodo acted merely in fear and wished only to use (in vain) the Ring's subsidiary power of
conferring invisibility. He had grown since then. Would they have been immune from its power if
he claimed it as an instrument of command and domination?
Not wholly. I do not think they could have attacked him with violence, nor laid hold upon him
or taken him captive; they would have obeyed or feigned to obey any minor commands of his that
did not interfere with their errand – laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings
(which he held) had primary control of their wills. That errand was to remove Frodo from the
Crack. Once he lost the power or opportunity to destroy the Ring, the end could not be in doubt –
saving help from outside, which was hardly even remotely possible.
Frodo had become a considerable person, but of a special kind: in spiritual enlargement rather
than in increase of physical or mental power; his will was much stronger than it had been, but so far
it had been exercised in resisting not using the Ring and with the object of destroying it. He needed
time, much time, before he could control the Ring or (which in such a case is the same) before it
could control him; before his will and arrogance could grow to a stature in which he could dominate
other major hostile wills. Even so for a long time his acts and commands would still have to seem
'good' to him, to be for the benefit of others beside himself.
The situation as between Frodo with the Ring and the Eight* might be compared to that of a
small brave man armed with a devastating weapon, faced by eight savage warriors of great strength
and agility armed with poisoned blades. The man's weakness was that he did not know how to use
his weapon yet; and he was by temperament and training averse to violence. Their weakness that
the man's weapon was a thing that filled them with fear as an object of terror in their religious cult,
by which they had been conditioned to treat one who wielded it with servility. I think they would
have shown 'servility'. They would have greeted Frodo as 'Lord'. With fair speeches they would
have induced him to leave the Sammath Naur – for instance 'to look upon his new kingdom, and
behold afar with his new sight the abode of power that he must now claim and turn to his own
purposes'. Once outside the chamber while he was gazing some of them would have destroyed the
entrance. Frodo would by then probably have been already too enmeshed in great plans of reformed
rule – like but far greater and wider than the vision that tempted Sam (III 177)5 – to heed this. But if
he still preserved some sanity and partly understood the significance of it, so that he refused now to
go with them to Barad-dûr, they would simply have waited. Until Sauron himself came. In any case
a confrontation of Frodo and Sauron would soon have taken place, if the Ring was intact. Its result
was inevitable. Frodo would have been utterly overthrown: crushed to dust, or preserved in torment
as a gibbering slave. Sauron would not have feared the Ring! It was his own and under his will.
Even from afar he had an effect upon it, to make it work for its return to himself. In his actual
presence none but very few of equal stature could have hoped to withhold it from him. Of 'mortals'
The Witch-king had been reduced to impotence.
no one, not even Aragorn. In the contest with the Palantír Aragorn was the rightful owner. Also the
contest took place at a distance, and in a tale which allows the incarnation of great spirits in a
physical and destructible form their power must be far greater when actually physically present.
Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than
human stature, but not gigantic. In his earlier incarnation he was able to veil his power (as Gandalf
did) and could appear as a commanding figure of great strength of body and supremely royal
demeanour and countenance.
Of the others only Gandalf might be expected to master him – being an emissary of the Powers
and a creature of the same order, an immortal spirit taking a visible physical form. In the 'Mirror of
Galadriel', 1381, it appears that Galadriel conceived of herself as capable of wielding the Ring and
supplanting the Dark Lord. If so, so also were the other guardians of the Three, especially Elrond.
But this is another matter. It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with
imaginations of supreme power. But this the Great had well considered and had rejected, as is seen
in Elrond's words at the Council. Galadriel's rejection of the temptation was founded upon previous
thought and resolve. In any case Elrond or Galadriel would have proceeded in the policy now
adopted by Sauron: they would have built up an empire with great and absolutely subservient
generals and armies and engines of war, until they could challenge Sauron and destroy him by
force. Confrontation of Sauron alone, unaided, self to self was not contemplated. One can imagine
the scene in which Gandalf, say, was placed in such a position. It would be a delicate balance. On
one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron
was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and
expenditure of will in dominating inferiors. If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been
for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken
from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the
master in the end.
Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained
'righteous', but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for 'good', and the
benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).
[The draft ends here. In the margin Tolkien wrote: 'Thus while Sauron multiplied [illegible word] evil, he
left "good" clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.']
247 To Colonel Worskett
[A letter to a reader of The Lord of the Rings.]
20 September 1963
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Colonel Worskett,
Thank you very much for your charming and encouraging letter. It gave me great pleasure. ....
I could indeed give you another volume (or many) about the same imaginary world. I am in fact
under contract to do so. But I have been held up for some years now, by close and heavy work on
professional tasks neglected while seeing The Lord of the Rings into print. That will be over, for the
present, when my translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight goes to press: soon, I hope. Then
I shall return to the task of putting in order all or some of the legends of the earlier ages, referred to
in the Appendices (esp. A i.).....
I am afraid all the same that the presentation will need a lot of work, and I work so slowly. The
legends have to be worked over (they were written at different times, some many years ago) and
made consistent; and they have to be integrated with The L.R. ; and they have to be given some
progressive shape. No simple device, like a journey and a quest, is available.
I am doubtful myself about the undertaking. Part of the attraction of The L.R. is, I think, due to
the glimpses of a large history in the background : an attraction like that of viewing far off an
unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to
destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. Also many of the older
legends are purely 'mythological', and nearly all are grim and tragic: a long account of the disasters
that destroyed the beauty of the Ancient World, from the darkening of Valinor to the Downfall of
Númenor and the flight of Elendil. And there are no hobbits. Nor does Gandalf appear, except in a
passing mention; for his time of importance did not begin until the Third Age. The only major
characters of the L.R. who appear are Galadriel & Elrond.
There are, of course, quite a lot of links between The Hobbit and The L.R. that are not clearly
set out. They were mostly written or sketched out, but cut out to lighten the boat: such as Gandalf's
exploratory journeys, his relations with Aragorn and Gondor; all the movements of Gollum, until he
took refuge in Moria, and so on. I actually wrote in full an account of what really happened before
Gandalf's visit to Bilbo and the subsequent 'Unexpected Party', as seen by Gandalf himself. It was
to have come in during a looking-back conversation in Minas Tirith; but it had to go, and is only
represented in brief in App. A pp. 358 to 360, though the difficulties that Gandalf had with Thorin
are omitted.1
There are or were no Ents in the older stories – because the Ents in fact only presented
themselves to my sight, without premeditation or any previous conscious knowledge, when I came
to Chapter IV of Book Three. But since Treebeard shows knowledge of the drowned land of
Beleriand (west of the Mountains of Lune) in which the main action of the war against Morgoth
took place*, they will have to come in. But as the War in Beleriand was at the time of the hobbits'
meeting some 7,000 years ago, no doubt they were not quite the same: less wise, less strong, shyer
and more uncommunicable (their own language simpler, but their knowledge of other tongues very
small). But I can foresee one action that they took, not without a bearing on The L.R. It was in
Ossiriand, a forest country, secret and mysterious before the west feet of the Ered Luin, that Beren
and Lúthien dwelt for a while after Beren's return from the Dead (I p. 206). Beren did not show
himself among mortals again, except once. He intercepted a dwarf-army that had descended from
the mountains, sacked the realm of Doriath and slain King Thingol, Lúthien's father, carrying off a
great booty, including Thingol's necklace upon which hung the Silmaril. There was a battle about a
ford across one of the Seven Rivers of Ossir, and the Silmaril was recovered, and so came down to
Dior Beren's son, and to Elwing Dior's daughter and Earendel her husband (father of Elros and
Elrond). It seems clear that Beren, who had no army, received the aid of the Ents – and that would
not make for love between Ents and Dwarves.
* Tasarinan, Ossiriand, Neldoreth, Dorthonion were all regions of Beleriand, famous in tales of the War.
Forgive me for running on! Also forgive the use of a typewriter. I have been, and still am
suffering from rheumatism in the right arm, which seems to object much less to typing than to
writing. Thank you again for your letter.
[The draft ends here. At the top, Tolkien has written, not very legibly, a note in pencil:]
No one knew whence they (Ents) came or first appeared. The High Elves said that the Valar did
not mention them in the 'Music'. But some (Galadriel) were [of the] opinion that when Yavanna
discovered the mercy of Eru to Aulë in the matter of the Dwarves, she besought Eru (through
Manwë) asking him to give life to things made of living things not stone, and that the Ents were
either souls sent to inhabit trees, or else that slowly took the likeness of trees owing to their inborn
love of trees. (Not all were good [words illegible]) The Ents thus had mastery over stone. The males
were devoted to Oromë, but the Wives to Yavanna.
248 To Sir Stanley Unwin
[Allen & Unwin were to publish a paperback consisting of Tolkien's lecture 'On Fairy-stories' and his short
story 'Leaf by Niggle'.]
5 October 1963
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Sir Stanley,
On Fairy-stories; Leaf by Niggle.
In Rayner's absence I venture to send you the items required from me for the paper-back just for
a glance, perhaps, before they go forward. I should like to have your approval (or censure)
especially of the Introductory Note. ....
While I was composing the note it occurred to me that it might be suitable to have a common
title, such as I have suggested : Tree and Leaf, with reference to the passage at the top of page 73 in
the Essay,1 and to the key-word effoliation at the end, p. 84.2 But this is probably an unnecessary
emphasis of what I have said in the note.
I am afraid that I am falling more and more behind with things that I should do; but it has not
been a good year. It was not until the end of August that I got relief from the trouble with my
shoulder and right arm. I found not being able to use a pen or pencil as defeating as the loss of her
beak would be to a hen.
With very best wishes,
Yours sincerely
Ronald Tolkien.
249 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 16 October 1963
[Written by Tolkien to his grandson from the Hotel Miramar in Bournemouth.]
I have had three rather exhausting experiences since Monday. On Monday I visited an 'admirer'
who wrote to me & proved to be living nearly next door to this hotel. But she also proved to be
stone-deaf (inoperable & incurable), though highly intelligent & well-read. (Name Elgar, husband
distantly related to Edward E.) Conversation by writing pad is defeating. Yesterday in the middle of
lunch I had to rescue an old lady (staying with us) who was choking with a whiting-bone, and get
her to a doctor. Then in the afternoon entertain another deaf old lady! Almost the last of the children
of the great Sir James Augustus Henry Murray of the Dictionary.1 (His living descendants are now
more than 100.) She is on mother's side a Ruthven and has been researching for years into the
Gowrie conspiracy. As my knowledge of Scottish History is v. small I find it difficult to follow who
murdered whom, or why – the general trend of Scots history. I hope you can read this! I cannot
write decently without a proper table or with a ball-point.
250 To Michael Tolkien 76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
1 November 1963
Dearest M.
Thank you for writing – also at length! I do not think you have inherited a dislike of letterwriting from me, but the inability to write briefly. Which inevitably means seldom in your life (and
in mine). I think we both like writing letters ad familiares; but are obliged to write so much in the
way of 'business', that time and energy fail.
I am very sorry that you feel depressed. I hope this is partly due to your ailment. But I am afraid
it is mainly an occupational affliction, and also an almost universal human malady (in any
occupation) attaching to your age. .... I remember clearly enough when I was your age (in 1935). I
had returned 10 years before (still dewy-eyed with boyish illusions) to Oxford, and now disliked
undergraduates and all their ways, and had begun really to know dons. Years before I had rejected
as disgusting cynicism by an old vulgarian the words of warning given me by old Joseph Wright.
'What do you take Oxford for, lad?' 'A university, a place of learning.' 'Nay, lad, it's a factory! And
what's it making? I'll tell you. It's making fees. Get that in your head, and you'll begin to understand
what goes on.'
Alas! by 1935 I now knew that it was perfectly true. At any rate as a key to dons' behaviour.
Quite true, but not the whole truth. (The greater part of the truth is always hidden, in regions out of
the reach of cynicism.) I was stonewalled and hindered in my efforts (as a schedule B professor on a
reduced salary, though with schedule A duties) for the good of my subject and the reform of its
teaching, by vested interests in fees and fellowships. But at least I did not suffer as you have: I was
never obliged to teach anything except what I loved (and do) with an inextinguishable enthusiasm.
(Save only for a brief time after my change of Chair in 1945 – that was awful.)
The devotion to 'learning', as such and without reference to one's own repute, is a high and even
in a sense spiritual vocation; and since it is 'high' it is inevitably lowered by false brethren, by tired
brethren, by the desire of money*, and by pride: the folk who say 'my subject' & do not mean the
one I am humbly engaged in, but the subject I adorn, or have 'made my own'. Certainly this
devotion is generally degraded and smirched in universities. But it is still there. And if you shut
them down in disgust, it would perish from the land — until they were re-established, again to fall
into corruption in due course. The far higher devotion to religion cannot possibly escape the same
process. It is, of course, degraded in some degree by all 'professionals' (and by all professing
Christians), and by some in different times and places outraged; and since the aim is higher the
shortcoming seems (and is) far worse. But you cannot maintain a tradition of learning or true
science without schools and universities, and that means schoolmasters and dons. And you cannot
maintain a religion without a church and ministers; and that means professionals: priests and
bishops — and also monks.† The precious wine must (in this world) have a bottle,‡ or some less
worthy substitute. For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more – remembering my own
sins and follies; and realize that men's hearts are not often as bad as their acts, and very seldom as
bad as their words. (Especially in our age, which is one of sneer and cynicism. We are freer from
hypocrisy, since it does not 'do' to profess holiness or utter high sentiments; but it is one of inverted
hypocrisy like the widely current inverted snobbery: men profess to be worse than they are.)....
You speak of 'sagging faith', however. That is quite another matter: In the last resort faith is an
act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the
shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who
has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical
* Or even the legitimate need of money.
† At least they were certainly once necessary. And if we are pained or at times scandalized by those we see close
to, I think we should remember the enormous debt we owe to the Benedictines, and also remember that (like the
Church) they have always been in a state of succumbing to mammon and the world, and never finally overwhelmed.
The inner fire has never been extinguished.
‡ The unseemly cobwebs & dust, and the stained label, are not always signs of impaired contents, for those who
can draw old corks.
knowledge). 'Scandal' at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does
not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our
own faults to find a scape-goat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision :
it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on – so we pray for 'final
perseverance'. The temptation to 'unbelief (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His
claims) is always there within us. Pan of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger
the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be 'scandalized' by others. I think I am
as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the 'scandals', both of clergy and laity. I have suffered
grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough
about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the
allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should
not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly.
I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.
If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is : garbled accounts of a demented
megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church
(in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however,
then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does
not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on
our Lord's behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not
crying out that we cannot 'take' Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the
silly women like James' mother, trying to push her sons.
It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really 'happened', and more to
suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him – so incapable of being 'invented' by anyone
in the world at that time : such as 'before Abraham came to be lam' (John viii). 'He that hath seen
me hath seen the Father' (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: 'He that
eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life'. We must therefore either believe in Him
and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for
myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least
right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each
unique soul and its circumstances.)
The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and
complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any
of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest
effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend
this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in
circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar
friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to
those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn –
open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered.
Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a
mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It
could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which [Our] Lord
propounded the feeding that was to come.)
I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem
much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit* dying but
Not that one should forget the wise words of Charles Williams, that it is our duty to tend the accredited and
established altar, though the Holy Spirit may send the fire down somewhere else. God cannot be limited (even by his
own Foundations) – of which St Paul is the first & prime example – and may use any channel for His grace. Even to
love Our Lord, and certainly to call him Lord, and God, is a grace, and may bring more grace. Nonetheless, speaking
institutionally and not of individual souls the channel must eventually run back into the ordained course, or run into the
sands and perish. Besides the Sun there may be moonlight (even bright enough to read by); but if the Sun were removed
there would be no Moon to see. What would Christianity now be if the Roman Church has in fact been destroyed?
living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is
the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever
defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in
the prime place. 'Feed my sheep' was His last charge to St Peter; and since His words are always
first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against
this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – 'the blasphemous fable of
the Mass' – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that
carried out by St Pius X:1 surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council2 will achieve. I
wonder what state the Church would now be but for it.
This is rather an alarming and rambling disquisition to write! It is not meant to be a sermon! I
have no doubt that you know as much and more. I am an ignorant man, but also a lonely one. And I
take the opportunity of a talk, which I am sure I should now never take by word of mouth. But, of
course, I live in anxiety concerning my children: who in this harder crueller and more mocking
world into which I have survived must suffer more assaults than I have. But I am one who came up
out of Egypt, and pray God none of my seed shall return thither. I witnessed (half-comprehending)
the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the
Church; and received the astonishing charity of Francis Morgan.3 But I fell in love with the Blessed
Sacrament from the beginning – and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again: but alas! I
indeed did not live up to it. I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness
and sloth I almost ceased to practise my religion – especially at Leeds, and at 22 Northmoor Road.4
Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense
of starving hunger. I regret those days bitterly (and suffer for them with such patience as I can be
given); most of all because I failed as a father. Now I pray for you all, unceasingly, that the Healer
(the Hælend as the Saviour was usually called in Old English) shall heal my defects, and that none
of you shall ever cease to cry Benedictus qui venit in nomme Domini.5
I have got over my complaints for the present and feel as well as my old bones allow. I am
getting nearly as unbendable as an Ent. My catarrh is always with me (and will be) – it goes back to
a nose broken (and neglected) in schoolboy Rugby. The excellent Doctor Tolhurst6 urges me to take
no drugs or assistants – except those occasionally prescribed specifically by a doctor: sc. when a
special infection lodges in the weak areas liable to assault. ....
I am interested to hear what you say about M[ichael] G[eorge]7 and 'Anglo-Saxon'. I shall await
further news. I cannot (of course) understand why Anglo-Saxon should seem difficult – not to
people able to learn any language (other than their own) at all. It is certainly not harder than
German, and vastly simpler than say mod. French. And as for Latin or Greek! All the same I can
remember old Oliver Elton (once a famous Eng. Lit. scholar but also a 'linguist' who translated
Russian) writing to me after a broadcast I made in the 30's,8 saying that I seemed to understand the
language, which he himself found more difficult than Russian. Quite incomprehensible to me; but it
does seem that 'A-S' is a kind of 'touchstone' distinguishing the genuine linguists (the students and
lovers of Language) from the utilitarians. I hope M.G. is in the former class. But he has enough
other talents.
Don't speak to me about 'Income Tax' or I shall boil over. They had all my literary earnings
until I retired. And now, even with the concession (which I am sure Mr Callaghan9 would soon
revoke) that Earned Income does not pay Surtax (within my limits of earning), I am being mulcted
next January of such a sum as will cripple my desire to distribute some real largesse to each of you.
However, I will do something. ....
A pity I did not make good and strike my orebearing vein before 39!10 But better late than
never. ....
251 To Priscilla Tolkien
[Written four days after the death of C. S. Lewis.]
26 November 1963
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Thank you so much for your letter. .... So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age
– like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.
Very sad that we should have been so separated in the last years; but our time of close communion
endured in memory for both of us. I had a mass said this morning, and was there, and served; and
Havard and Dundas Grant1 were present. The funeral at Holy Trinity, the Headington Quarry
church, which Jack attended, was quiet and attended only by intimates and some Magdalen people
including the President. Austin Farrer read the lesson. The grave is under a larch in the corner of the
church-yard. Douglas (Gresham)2 was the only 'family' mourner. Warnie was not present, alas! I
saw Owen Barfield, George Sayer and John Lawlor3 (a good mark to him), among others. Chris,
came with us. There will be an official memorial service in Magdalen on Saturday at 2.15 p.m.
It was very sweet of you my dearest to write. ....
God bless you.
252 From a letter to Michael Tolkien (draft)
[Not dated; November or December 1963]
I am sorry that I have not answered your letters sooner; but Jack Lewis's death on the 22nd has
preoccupied me. It is also involving me in some correspondence, as many people still regard me as
one of his intimates. Alas! that ceased to be so some ten years ago. We were separated first by the
sudden apparition of Charles Williams, and then by his marriage. Of which he never even told me; I
learned of it long after the event.1 But we owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie with the
deep affection that it begot, remains. He was a great man of whom the cold-blooded official
obituaries only scraped the surface, in places with injustice. How little truth there may be in literary
appraisals one may learn from them – since they were written while he was still alive. Lewis only
met Williams in 1939, and W. died early in 1945. The 'space-travel' trilogy ascribed to the influence
of Williams was basically foreign to Williams' kind of imagination. It was planned years before,
when we decided to divide: he was to do space-travel and I time-travel. My book was never
finished,2 but some of it (the Númenórean-Atlantis theme) got into my trilogy eventually.
Publication dates are not a good guide. Perelandra is dated 1943, but does not belong to that
period. Williams' influence actually only appeared with his death: That Hideous Strength, the end of
the trilogy, which (good though it is in itself) I think spoiled it. Also I was wryly amused to be told
(D. Telegraph) that 'Lewis himself was never very fond of The Screwtape Letters'– his best-seller
(250,000). He dedicated it to me. I wondered why. Now I know – says they.
253 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 23 December 1963
[It had been agreed that the new paperback (see no. 248) should be given the title Tree and Leaf. Rayner
Unwin asked if Tolkien could suggest a suitable drawing of a tree for the cover, perhaps taken from a
mediæval manuscript.]
I am pleased that you approve of the suggested title. Mediæval MSS are not (in my not very
extensive experience) good on trees. I have among my 'papers' more than one version of a mythical
'tree', which crops up regularly at those times when I feel driven to pattern-designing. They are
elaborated and coloured and more suitable for embroidery than printing; and the tree bears besides
various shapes of leaves many flowers small and large signifying poems and major legends.1....
Yes — the Silmarillion is growing in the mind (I do not mean getting larger, but coming back
to leaf & I hope flower) again. But I am still not through with Gawain etc. A troublous year, of
endless distraction and much weariness, ending with the blow of C.S.L.'s death.
254 To the Rev. Denis Tyndall
[Tyndall, an old boy of King Edward's, Birmingham, had written to Tolkien recalling their schooldays
9 January 1964
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
My dear Tyndall,
How delightful to get a card from you, and how kind of you to think of me. ....
I do remember very clearly the old IVth class room and Dickie;1 indeed I even remember that
we read with him a non-classical Greek text furbished up by a German (Willamowitz Möllendorf?)
in usum scholarum which bored me extremely. I behaved very badly, together with that later model
of rectitude and headmasterly seriousness Christopher Wiseman,2 as did many of those released
from the strict regime of the class below under Heath. Dickie was not an inspiring form-master and
made Greek and Roman history as boring as I suspect he felt them to be; but he was immensely
interesting as a person. I kept up with him and the Beak (R. C. Gilson)3 until they died.
My memory is mainly pictorial and vague on dates, but I have a notion that you were a little
senior to me and left school first, so that the friends of my later year or two were junior, and mostly
younger than myself -1 stayed on till I was nearly 20! I was brought up to Oxford by car (then a
novelty), together with L. K. Sands, by Dickie: in the October of that astonishing hot year 1911, and
we found every one in flannels boating on the river. Punts were then as strange to me as camels; but
I later learned to manage them. ....
I was 72 on Jan 3, and my eldest grandchild (now at St Andrews) comes of age on Saturday
next, but as you say I tick over. ....
Yours ever,
[signature not on carbon copy]
255 From a letter to Mrs Eileen Elgar 5 March 1964
[Some notes on a poem in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.]
The poem on Fastitocalon is not like Cat and Oliphaunt my own invention entirely but a
reduced and rewritten form, to suit hobbit fancy, of an item in old 'bestiaries'. I think it was
remarkable that you perceived the Greekness of the name through its corruptions. This I took in fact
from a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon bestiary that has survived, thinking that it sounded comic and
absurd enough to serve as a hobbit alteration of something more learned and elvish – according to
[a] system whereby as English replaces the Shire-speech so Latin and Greek replace the High-elven
tongue in names. The learned name in this case seems to have been Aspido-chelōne 'turtle with a
round shield (of hide)'. Of that astitocalon is a corruption no worse than many of the time; but I am
afraid the F was put on by the versifier simply to make the name alliterate, as was compulsory for
poets in his day, with the other words in his line. Shocking, or charming freedom, according to
He says: þam is noma cenned/fyrnstreama geflotan Fastitocalon, 'to him is a name appointed,
to the floater in the ancient tides, Fastitocalon'. The notion of the treacherous island that is really a
monster seems to derive from the East: the marine turtles enlarged by myth-making fancy; and I left
it at that. But in Europe the monster becomes mixed up with whales, and already in the AngloSaxon version he is given whale characteristics, such as feeding by trawling with an open mouth. In
moralized bestiaries he is, of course, an allegory of the Devil, and is so used by Milton.
256 From a letter to Colin Bailey 13 May 1964
[An account of Tolkien's unfinished story 'The New Shadow'. (See also no. 338.)]
I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Mordor], but it proved both
sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned
with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of
Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – while
the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or
worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of
secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing
damage. I could have written a 'thriller' about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it
would be just that. Not worth doing.
257 To Christopher Bretherton
16 July 1964
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Bretherton,
Receiving an answer on July 14th to a letter only posted on the 10th was prompt work, even for
normal postal conditions. I do not regard typing as a discourtesy. Anyway, I usually type, since my
'hand' tends to start fair and rapidly fall away into picturesque inscrutability. Also I like typewriters;
and my dream is of suddenly finding myself rich enough to have an electric typewriter built to my
specifications, to type the Fëanorian script. .... I typed out The Hobbit – and the whole of The Lord
of the Rings twice (and several sections many times) on my bed in an attic of Manor Road. In the
dark days between the loss of my large house in North Oxford, which I could no longer afford, and
my brief elevation to the dignity of an old college house in Holywell.
That became hellish as soon as petrol restrictions ceased. But Headington is no paradise of
peace. Sandfield Road was a cul-de-sac when I came here, but was soon opened at the bottom end,
and became for a time an unofficial lorry by-pass, before Headley Way was completed. Now it is a
car-park for the field of 'Oxford United' at the top end. While the actual inhabitants do all that radio,
tele, dogs, scooters, buzzbikes, and cars of all sizes but the smallest, can do to produce noise from
early mom to about 2 a.m. In addition in a house three doors away dwells a member of a group of
young men who are evidently aiming to turn themselves into a Beatle Group. On days when it falls
to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.....
With regard to your question. Not easy to answer, with anything shorter than an autobiography.
I began the construction of languages in early boyhood: I am primarily a scientific philologist. My
interests were, and remain, largely scientific. But I was also interested in traditional tales (especially
those concerning dragons); and writing (not reading) verse and metrical devices. These things
began to flow together when I was an undergraduate to the despair of my tutors and near-wrecking
of my career. For when officially engaged on 'Classics' I made the acquaintance of languages not
usually studied by the modern English, each with a powerfully individual phonetic aesthetic: Welsh,
Finnish, and the remnants of fourth-century Gothic. Finnish also provided a glimpse of an entirely
different mythological world.
The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic
tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala. It remains a major matter in the legends of the
First Age (which I hope to publish as The Silmarillion), though as 'The Children of Hurin' it is
entirely changed except in the tragic ending. The second point was the writing, 'out of my head', of
the 'Fall of Gondolin', the story of Idril and Earendel (III 314), during sickleave from the army in
1917; and by the original version of the 'Tale of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren' later in the same year.
That was founded on a small wood with a great undergrowth of 'hemlock' (no doubt many other
related plants were also there) near Roos in Holderness, where I was for a while on the Humber
Garrison. I carried on with this construction after escaping from the army: during a short time in
Oxford, employed on the staff of the then still incomplete great Dictionary; and then when I went to
the University of Leeds, 1920-26. In 0.1 wrote a cosmogonical myth, 'The Music of the Amur',
defining the relation of The One, the transcendental Creator, to the Valar, the 'Powers', the angelical
First-created, and their pan in ordering and carrying out the Primeval Design. It was also told how it
came about that Eru, the One, made an addition to the Design: introducing the themes of the Eruhîn,
the Children of God, The Firstborn (Elves) and the Successors (Men), whom the Valar were
forbidden to try and dominate by fear or force. At that time I also began to invent alphabets. In
Leeds I began to try and deal with this matter in high and serious style, and wrote much of it in
verse. (The first version of the song of Strider concerning Lúthien, now included in I 204, originally
appeared in the Leeds Univ. magazine;1 but the whole tale, as sketched by Aragorn, was written in a
poem of great length, as far as I 206 line 17 'her father'.)2
I returned to Oxford in Jan 1926, and by the time The Hobbit appeared (1937) this 'matter of the
Elder Days' was in coherent form. The Hobbit was not intended to have anything to do with it. I had
the habit while my children were still young of inventing and telling orally, sometimes of writing
down, 'children's stories' for their private amusement — according to the notions I then had, and
many still have, of what these should be like in style and attitude. None of these have been
published. The Hobbit was intended to be one of them. It had no necessary connexion with the
'mythology', but naturally became attracted towards this dominant construction in my mind, causing
the tale to become larger and more heroic as it proceeded. Even so it could really stand quite apart,
except for the references (unnecessary, though they give an impression of historical depth) to the
Fall of Gondolin, Puffin 57 (hardback 63); the branches of the Elfkin, P. 161 (hardback 173 or 178),
and the quarrel of King Thingol, Lúthien's father, with the Dwarves, P. 162.
The Hobbit saw the light and made my connexion with A. & U. by an accident. It was not
known except to my children and to my friend, C. S. Lewis; but I lent it to the Mother Superior of
Cherwell Edge to amuse her while recovering from 'flu. It thus came to the notice of a young
woman, a student resident in the house or the friend of one, who worked in A & U's office.3 Thus it
passed to the eyes of Stanley Unwin, who tried it on his younger son Rayner, then a small boy. So it
was published. I then offered them the legends of the Elder Days, but their readers turned that
down. They wanted a sequel. But I wanted heroic legends and high romance. The result was The
Lord of the Rings. ....
The magic ring was the one obvious thing in The Hobbit that could be connected with my
mythology. To be the burden of a large story it had to be of supreme importance. I then linked it
with the (originally) quite casual reference to the Necromancer, end of Ch. vii and Ch. xix, whose
function was hardly more than to provide a reason for Gandalf going away and leaving Bilbo and
the Dwarves to fend for themselves, which was necessary for the tale. From The Hobbit are also
derived the matter of the Dwarves, Durin their prime ancestor, and Moria; and Elrond. The passage
in Ch. iii relating him to the Half-elven of the mythology was a fortunate accident, due to the
difficulty of constantly inventing good names for new characters. I gave him the name Elrond
casually, but as this came from the mythology (Elros and Elrond the two sons of Eärendel) I made
him half-elven. Only in The Lord was he identified with the son of Eärendel, and so the greatgrandson of Lúthien and Beren, a great power and a Ringholder.
Another ingredient, not before mentioned, also came into operation in my need to provide a
great function for Strider-Aragorn. What I might call my Atlantis-haunting. This legend or myth or
dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of
the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green
inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by
surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water. I used to draw it or write bad poems about it.
When C. S. Lewis and I tossed up, and he was to write on space-travel and I on time-travel, I began
an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the presence of my hero in the drowning
of Atlantis. This was to be called Númenor, the Land in the West. The thread was to be the
occurrence time and again in human families (like Durin among the Dwarves) of a father and son
called by names that could be interpreted as Bliss-friend and Elf-friend. These no longer understood
are found in the end to refer to the Atlantid-Númenórean situation and mean 'one loyal to the Valar,
content with the bliss and prosperity within the limits prescribed' and 'one loyal to friendship with
the High-elves'. It started with a father-son affinity between Edwin and Elwin of the present, and
was supposed to go back into legendary time by way of an Eädwine and Ælfwine of circa A.D. 918,
and Audoin and Alboin of Lombardic legend, and so the traditions of the North Sea concerning the
coming of corn and culture heroes, ancestors of kingly lines, in boats (and their departure in funeral
ships). One such Sheaf, or Shield Sheafing, can actually be made out as one of the remote ancestors
of our present Queen. In my tale we were to come at last to Amandil and Elendil leaders of the loyal
party in Númenor, when it fell under the domination of Sauron. Elendil 'Elf-friend' was the founder
of the Exiled kingdoms in Arnor and Gondor. But I found my real interest was only in the upper
end, the Akallabêth or Atalantie* ('Downfall' in Númenórean and Quenya), so I brought all the stuff
I had written on the originally unrelated legends of Númenor into relation with the main mythology.
Well, there you are. I hope it does not bore you. .... [Of his use of the name 'Gamgee':] It started
It is a curious chance that the stem √talat used in Q[uenya] for 'slipping, sliding, falling down', of which atalantie
is a normal (in Q) noun-formation, should so much resemble Atlantis.
with a holiday about 30 years ago at Lamorna Cove4 (then wild and fairly inaccessible). There was
a curious local character, an old man who used to go about swapping gossip and weather-wisdom
and such like. To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family
lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. At that time I was beginning on The Hobbit. The choice of
Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration; but I did not invent it. It was caught out of childhood
memory, as a comic word or name. It was in fact the name when I was small (in Birmingham) for
'cotton-wool'. (Hence the association of the Gamgees with the Cottons.) I knew nothing of its
origin. ....
I hope you are not appalled by these fragments of 'research', or 'auto-research'. It is a terrible
temptation, especially to a pedant like myself. I am afraid I have indulged in it almost entirely for
private pleasure – in a blessed cessation of letters. (I hasten to say, not of your sort: of them I have
too few), which I should have employed in getting on with Sir Gawain.
I lived for a while in a rather decayed road (aptly called Duchess) in Edgbaston,5 B'ham; it ran
into a more decayed road called Beaufort. I mention this only because in Beaufort road was a house,
occupied in its palmier days, by Mr Shorthouse, a manufacturer of acids, of (I believe) Quaker
connexions. He, a mere amateur (like myself) with no status in the literary world, suddenly
produced a long book, which was queer, exciting, and debatable – or seemed so then, few now find
it possible to read. It slowly took on, and eventually became a best-seller, and the subject of public
discussion from the Prime Minister downwards. This was John Inglesant. Mr Shorthouse became
very queer, and very UnBrummagem6 not to say UnEnglish. He seemed to fancy himself as a
reincarnation of some renaissance Italian, and dressed the part. Also his religious opinions, while
never leading him to the final lunacy of Romanism, took on a Catholic tincture. I think he never
wrote any more, but wasted the rest of his time trying to explain what he had and what he had not
meant in John Inglesant. (What happened to the carboys of acid I do not know.) I have always tried
to take him as a melancholy warning, and still try to attend to my technical carboys, and to writing
some more. But as you see I occasionally fall from wisdom. But not from the sober thought (which
this tale of Shorthouse also illustrates) of the fickleness of the Public. It is strange that Sir Stanley,
whose Truth about Publishing you cite, should be the one most often to make me apprehensive. I
am delighted with his approbation*; but I take it as a bit of sunshine on my little hayfield, a special
favour and very seasonable; but I follow Gandalf rather, saying: 'we cannot master, nor foretell, all
the tides of the world. What weather is to come we cannot rule or know.'
Yes C.S.L. was my closest friend from about 1927 to 1940, and remained very dear to me. His
death was a grievous blow. But in fact we saw less and less of one another after he came under the
dominant influence of Charles Williams, and still less after his very strange marriage..... I read The
Pilgrim's Regress in MS. I have never been able to enjoy Pickwick. I now find The Lord of the
Rings 'good in parts'. I must now end with deep apologies for my garrulity: I hope however that it is
interesting 'in parts'.
Yours sincerely
Ronald Tolkien.
In Time and Tide of this July 15, in a symposium of publishers telling readers what to take on holiday, he only
mentioned The Lord of the Rings from all his list, and foretold a long life for it.
258 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 2 August 1964
[During 1964 an Aquastroll hydrofoil, which made a trial crossing from Calais to Dover, was given the
name Shadowfax (the name of the horse ridden by Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings).]
I wish that 'Copyright' could protect names, as well as extracts. It is a form of invention that I
take a great deal of trouble over, and pleasure in; and really it is quite as difficult (often more so) as,
say, lines of verse. I must say I was piqued by the 'christening' ofthat monstrous 'hydrofoil'
Shadowfax – without so much as 'by your leave' – to which several correspondents drew my
attention (some with indignation). I am getting used to Rivendells, Loriens, Imladris etc. as housenames – though maybe they are more frequent than the letters which say 'by your leave'.
259 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co.
7 August 1964
I am a man of limited sympathies (but well aware of it), and [Charles] Williams lies almost
completely outside them. I came into fairly close contact with him from the end of 1939 to his death
-1 was in fact a sort of assistant mid-wife at the birth of All Hallows Eve, read aloud to us as it was
composed, but the very great changes made in it were I think mainly due to C.S.L, – and much
enjoyed his company; but our minds remained poles apart. I actively disliked his ArthurianByzantine mythology; and still think that it spoiled the trilogy of C.S.L. (a very impressionable, too
impressionable, man) in the last pan.
In the matter of the proposed blurb to Tree and Leaf.... I am afraid that difficulty really arises
from the juxtaposition of two things that only in fact touch at a corner, so to speak. I do not think I
was responsible for the proposed association, and anyway it came up at a time of great troubles and
distractions for me. Myself, I had for some time vaguely thought of the reprint together of three
things that to my mind really do flow together: Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics; the essay
On Fairy-stories; and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth. The first deals with the contact of the
'heroic' with fairy-story; the second primarily with fairy-story; and the last with 'heroism and
260 From a letter to Carey Biyton 16 August 1964
[Blyton had asked Tolkien's permission to compose a Hobbit Overture.]
You certainly have my permission to compose any work that you wished based on The Hobbit.
.... As an author I am honoured to hear that I have inspired a composer. I have long hoped to do so,
and hoped also that I might perhaps find the result intelligible to me, or feel that it was akin to my
own inspiration – as much as are, say, some (but not all) of Pauline Baynes' illustrations. ....
I have little musical knowledge. Though I come of a musical family, owing to defects of
education and opportunity as an orphan, such music as was in me was submerged (until I married a
musician), or transformed into linguistic terms. Music gives me great pleasure and sometimes
inspiration, but I remain in the position in reverse of one who likes to read or hear poetry but knows
little of its technique or tradition, or of linguistic structure.
261 From a letter to Anne Barrett, Houghton Mifflin Co.
[A comment on an article about C. S. Lewis by one of his former pupils, George Bailey, in The Reporter, 23
April 1964.]
30 August 1964
C.S.L. of course had some oddities and could sometimes be irritating. He was after all and
remained an Irishman of Ulster. But he did nothing for effect; he was not a professional clown, but
a natural one, when a clown at all. He was generous-minded, on guard against all prejudices, though
a few were too deep-rooted in his native background to be observed by him. That his literary
opinions were ever dictated by envy (as in the case of T. S. Eliot) is a grotesque calumny. After all
it is possible to dislike Eliot with some intensity even if one has no aspirations to poetic laurels
Well of course I could say more, but I must draw the line. Still I wish it could be forbidden that
after a great man is dead, little men should scribble over him, who have not and must know they
have not sufficient knowledge of his life and character to give them any key to the truth. Lewis was
not 'cut to the quick' by his defeat in the election to the professorship of poetry: he knew quite well
the cause. I remember that we had assembled soon after in our accustomed tavern and found C.S.L.
sitting there, looking (and since he was no actor at all probably feeling) much at ease. 'Fill up!' he
said, 'and stop looking so glum. The only distressing thing about this affair is that my friends seem
to be upset.' And he did not 'readily accept' the chair in Cambridge. It was advertised, and he did not
apply. Cambridge of course wanted him, but it took a lot of diplomacy before they got him. His
friends thought it would be good for him: he was mortally tired, after nearly 30 years, of the Baileys
of this world and even of the Duttons.1 It proved a good move, and until his health began too soon
to fail it gave him a great deal of happiness.
262 To Michael di Capua, Pantheon Books
[Pantheon Books of New York asked Tolkien to write a preface to a new edition of George MacDonald's
The Golden Key. Although he did not in the event write it, the result of his beginning work on the preface
was the composition of Smith of Wootton Major, which began as a very short story to be contained within
the preface. See further Biography pp. 242-3, which quotes part of the intended preface.]
7 September 1964
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Mr di Capua,
I should like to write a short preface to a separate edition of The Golden Key. I am not as warm
an admirer of George MacDonald as C. S. Lewis was; but I do think well of this story of his. I
mentioned it in my essay On Fairy-stories. ....
I am not at all confident that I can produce anything worthy of the honorarium that you offer. I
am not naturally attracted (in fact much the reverse) by allegory, mystical or moral. But I will do
my best, if there is time. In any case I am grateful to you for your consideration. Yours sincerely, J.
R. R. Tolkien.
263 From a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co. 10 September 1964
I should like to offer criticism on one point, though I do not suppose that it is expected, or will
be welcomed. I find the block on p. iii [of Tree and Leaf] very distasteful, and wonder if it could not
perhaps be reconsidered, or omitted. The lettering is, to my taste, of a bad kind and ill-executed, and
though no doubt this is deliberate, I do not like it any the better for that. The fat and apparently
pollarded trunk, with no roots, and feeble branches, seems to me quite unfitting as a symbol of
Tale-telling, or as a suggestion of anything that Niggle could possibly have drawn! My taste may be
at fault. So may the views and sentiments expressed in the text. But if these are thought worthy of
reproduction – and I am deeply gratified to find that they are – then I could wish that some design
showing more sympathy with them might be produced.
264 From a letter to Allen & Unwin 11 September 1964
As you no doubt know, Houghton Mifflin are now busy re-setting Tree and Leaf. On Sept. 8 I
received a large parcel containing proofs for my attention. No doubt this was a courtesy; but since it
cost me £1. 7. 6 to return in time for their deadline, I am afraid a certain acerbity crept into my
comment on the block designed for their p. iii: a ghastly thing, like a cross between a fat seaanemone and a pollarded Spanish chestnut, plastered with lettering of indecent ugliness.
265 From a letter to David Kolb, S.J. 11 November 1964
It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my
sympathy, as much of my work was outside his. Also, I personally found Letters to Malcolm a
distressing and in parts horrifying work. I began a commentary on it, but if finished it would not be
266 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 6 January 1965
[Tolkien's grandson was studying English at St Andrew's University.]
I am sorry my Gawain and Pearl will not be in time to assist you (if indeed they would): largely
owing, in addition to the natural difficulty of rendering verse into verse, to my discovering many
minor points about words, in the course of my work, which lead me off. Pearl is, of course, about
as difficult a task as any translator could be set. It is impossible to make a version in the same metre
close enough to serve as a 'crib'. But I think anyone who reads my version, however learned a
Middle English scholar, will get a more direct impression of the poem's impact (on one who knew
the language). But truthfully it is I suppose just a private amusement.
267 From a letter to Michael Tolkien 9-10 January 1965
My dear old protector, backer, and friend Dr C. T. Onions died on Friday at 91⅓ years. I had
not seen him for a long while. He was the last of the people who were 'English' at Oxford and at
large when I entered the profession. Well not quite: Kenneth Sisam (once my tutor) survives in the
Scilly Isles, a mere 76. Incidentally, while on this melancholy subject, T. S. Eliot has gone. But if
you want a perfect specimen of bad verse, a ludicrous 'all-time low', about [on the level] of the
'stuffed owl' revived, I could [not] find you a better than poor old John Masefield's 8 lines on Eliot
in The Times of Friday Jan. 8: 'East Coker'. Almost down/up to Wordsworth's zero-standard. ....
I am neither disturbed (nor surprised) at the limitations of my 'fame'. There are lots of people in
Oxford who have never heard of me, let alone of my books. But I can repay many of them with
equal ignorance: neither wilful nor contemptuous, simply accidental. An amusing incident occurred
in November, when I went as a courtesy to hear the last lecture of this series of his given by the
Professor of Poetry: Robert Graves. (A remarkable creature, entertaining, likeable, odd, bonnet full
of wild bees, half-German, half-Irish, very tall, must have looked like Siegfried/Sigurd in his youth,
but an Ass.) It was the most ludicrously bad lecture I have ever heard. After it he introduced me to a
pleasant young woman who had attended it: well but quietly dressed, easy and agreeable, and we
got on quite well. But Graves started to laugh; and he said: 'it is obvious neither of you has ever
heard of the other before'. Quite true. And I had not supposed that the lady would ever have heard
of me. Her name was Ava Gardner, but it still meant nothing, till people more aware of the world
informed me that she was a film-star of some magnitude, and that the press of pressmen and storm
of flash-bulbs on the steps of the Schools were not directed at Graves (and cert. not at me) but at
her. ....
Still the old 'ego' gets quite a lot of strong boosts now and again, which surprise me as much as
ever. I met Burke Trend on September 29th, at the Merton Septcemenary Dinner – he is a recent
honorary Fellow: secretary to the Cabinet then and now: and he declared himself as a 'fan', and
added that most of the Cabinet was with him, and as for the House similar views were widely
prevalent on both sides of it. Good enough, if they buy the book and don't merely wear out the
House of Commons Library copy! No other kind of reward seems in the offing. But I suppose my
greatest surprise was 4 days ago to get a warm fan-letter from Iris Murdoch. And if that name is just
an 'Ava Gardner' to you, it can't be helped. ....
When I think of my mother's death (younger than Prisca) worn out with persecution, poverty,
and. largely consequent, disease, in the effort to hand on to us small boys the Faith, and remember
the tiny bedroom she shared with us in rented rooms in a postman's cottage at Rednal, where she
died alone, too ill for viaticum, I find it very hard and bitter, when my children stray away [from the
Church]. Of course Canaan seems different to those who have come into it out of the desert; and the
later inhabitants of Jerusalem may often seem fools or knaves, or worse. But in hac urbe lux
solemnis1 has seemed to me steadily true. I have met snuffy, stupid, undutiful, conceited, ignorant,
hypocritical, lazy, tipsy, hardhearted, cynical, mean, grasping, vulgar, snobbish, and even (at a
guess) immoral priests 'in the course of my peregrinations'; but for me one Fr. Francis outweighs
them all, and he was an upper-class Welsh-Spaniard Tory, and seemed to some just a pottering old
snob and gossip. He was – and he was not. I first learned charity and forgiveness from him; and in
the light of it pierced even the 'liberal' darkness out of which I came, knowing more about 'Bloody
Mary' than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship
by the Romanists.
268 From a letter to Miss A. P. Northey 19 January 1965
I think Shadowfax certainly went with Gandalf [across the Sea], though this is not stated. I feel
it is better not to state everything (and indeed it is more realistic, since in chronicles and accounts of
'real' history, many facts that some enquirer would like to know are omitted, and the truth has to be
discovered or guessed from such evidence as there is). I should argue so: Shadowfax came of a
special race (II 126,129, III 346)1 being as it were an Elvish equivalent of ordinary horses : his
'blood' came from 'West over Sea'. It would not be unfitting for him to 'go West'. Gandalf was not
'dying', or going by a special grace to the Western Land, before passing on 'beyond the circles of the
world': he was going home, being plainly one of the 'immortals', an angelic emissary of the angelic
governors (Valar) of the Earth. He would take or could take what he loved. Gandalf was last seen
riding Shadowfax (III 276). He must have ridden to the Havens, and it is inconceivable that he
would [have] ridden any beast but Shadowfax; so Shadowfax must have been there. A chronicler
winding up a long tale, and for the moment moved principally by the sorrow of those left behind
(himself among them!) might omit mention of the horse; but had the great horse also shared in the
grief of sundering, he could hardly have been forgotten.
269 From a letter to W. H. Auden 12 May 1965
[Auden had asked Tolkien if the notion of the Orcs, an entire race that was irredeemably wicked, was not
With regard to The Lord of the Rings, I cannot claim to be a sufficient theologian to say
whether my notion of orcs is heretical or not. I don't feel under any obligation to make my story fit
with formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant with Christian
thought and belief, which is asserted somewhere, Book Five, page 190,1 where Frodo asserts that
the orcs are not evil in origin. We believe that, I suppose, of all human kinds and sons and breeds,
though some appear, both as individuals and groups to be, by us at any rate, unredeemable.....
One of my troubles is that I was just sending into press a revision of my translation of Gawain
together with one of Pearl when a desperate problem of U.S.A. copyright fell on me, and I must
now devote all the time I have to produce a revision of both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit
that can be copyrighted and, it is hoped, defeat the pirates.
270 To Rayner Unwin
[Tolkien had sent Unwin the typescript of his new story Smith of Wootton Mayor. It seemed to Unwin to
need the companionship of other stories to make a sufficiently large book. This suggestion came just as
Tolkien was revising The Lord of the Rings, so as to produce a new edition that would be protected by
U.S.A. copyright. The need for this arose because an American publisher had issued an unauthorised
paperback edition of the book, without the consent of Tolkien or Allen & Unwin, and (at first) without
paying royalties.]
20 May 1965
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
Dear Rayner,
Thank you very much for the return of Smith ofWootton Major. I am delighted that it pleased
you, as I was quite unable to make my own mind up about it without your assistance. I am afraid
there is nothing of similar sort or length deep among my papers. There is a lot of unfinished
material there, but everything belongs definitely to the Silmarillion or all that world. To which I
should now be in only a few days returning, if it was not for this infernal copyright business. I shall
be sending you the remainder of the text of Gawain and my comments on the specimen pages you
sent me, to reach you I hope by Monday next. I cannot produce the prefatory note or the
commentary until the revision of The Lord of the Rings is finished. I shall have to work hard to get
it to Boston1 by July 1.
Yours sincerely,
Ronald Tolkien.
PS. I am now inserting in every note of acknowledgement to readers in the U.S.A. a brief note
informing them that Ace Books is a pirate, and asking them to inform others.
271 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 25 May 1965
I am not relishing the task of're-editing' The Lord of the Rings. I think it will prove very
difficult if not impossible to make any substantial changes in the general text. Volume I has now
been gone through and the number of necessary or desirable corrections is very small. I am bound
to say that my admiration for the tightness of the author's construction is somewhat increased. The
poor fellow (who now seems to me only a remote friend) must have put a lot of work into it. I am
hoping that alteration of the introductions, considerable modifications of the appendices and the
inclusion of an index may prove sufficient for the purpose. Incidentally, I am making a point of
including a note in every answer or acknowledgement of 'fan' letters from the U.S.A. to the effect
that the paperback edition of Ace Books is piratical and issued without the consent of my publishers
or myself and of course without remuneration to us. Do you think that if this were done on a larger
scale it might be useful?
272 From a letter to Zillah Sherring 20 July 1965
[In a second-hand bookshop in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Zillah Sherring found and bought a copy of The Fifth
Book of Thucydides which contained a number of strange inscriptions that had been written in it by a
previous owner. Finding Tolkien's name among those on the flyleaf, she wrote to him asking if the
inscriptions, particularly a long one at the back, had possibly been his work. She sent him a transcript of it.
This is a facsimile of the inscription:]
The book certainly once belonged to me. .... The writing on the back page is in Gothic, or what
I thought was Gothic or might be. I had come across this admirable language a year or two before
1910 in Joseph Wright's Primer of the Gothic Language (now replaced by A Grammar of the
Gothic Language). It was sold to me by a school-friend interested in missionary work, who had
thought it a Bible Society product and had no use for what it was. I was fascinated by Gothic in
itself: a beautiful language, which reached the eminence of liturgical use, but failed owing to the
tragic history of the Goths to become one of the liturgical languages of the West. At the time I had
only the Primer with its small vocabulary, but I had learned from it some of the technique necessary
for converting the words of other Germanic languages into Gothic script. I often put 'Gothic'
inscriptions in books, sometimes Gothicizing my Norse name and German surname as Ruginwaldus
Dwalakoneis. The inscription you cite is at fault (by accident) in HVNDAI which should be
HVNDA. It is also bad Gothic in other respects, but was intended to mean: I read the words of these
books* of Greek history ('year-writing') in the sixth month of this year: thousand, nine hundreds,
ten, of Our Lord: in order to gain the prize given every year to the boy knowing most about
an error probably for þizōs bōkōs, 'of this book', sg.
Thucydides, and this I inscribed in my books* on the twelfth of the sixth (month) after I had already
? first read through all the words carefully. Frvmins is probably an error for frumist 'first'.
You probably will not be interested in other 'errors'. The inscription presented some problems
to one having only the vocabulary of short specimens of the fragments of the Gothic versions of the
New Testament to go upon. The Gothic word for 'read' was not lisan, las, galisans, which still had
only its original meaning 'gather' (a sense which its German and Norse equivalents, lesen and lesa,
still retain in addition to the sense 'read' imitated from Latin lego). The Gothic word was ussiggwan
'recite' (sing out). The an of private reading, silent, and with the use only or chiefly of the eyes, was
if practised by the 'ancients' mostly forgotten. I believe it is reported that St Ambrose (in the same
century as the Gothic versions were made) astonished observers who saw him reading by only
moving his eyes from side to side, without moving his lips or at least murmuring. ....
I still feel no compunction in writing in my own books, though I now usually put only notes
supposed to be of use – if I can later decipher them.
an error probably for bōka meina, 'my book', sg.
273 From a letter to Nan C. Scott 21 July 1965
[Mrs Scott was a leading campaigner in the battle to keep the pirate edition of The Lord of the Rings out of
the American bookshops.]
I am extremely grateful for the information that you have sent me, and still more for your great
kindness and energy in attempting to combat the pirates on my behalf. .... I have been taken off all
my other work and driven nearly over the edge by the attempt to get an authorized paperback by
Ballantine Books produced as soon as possible.
274 From a letter to the Houghton Mifflin Co. 28 July 1965
[Concerning revisions to The Lord of the Rings.]
The small map 'Pan of the Shire' is most at fault and much needs correction (and some
additions), and has caused a number of questions to be asked. The chief fault is that the ferry at
Bucklebury and so Brandy Hall and Crickhollow have shifted about 3 miles too far north (about 4
mm.). This cannot be altered at this time, but it is unfortunate that Brandy Hall clearly on the riverbank is placed so that the main road runs in front of it instead of behind. There is also no trace of
the wood described at the top of p. 99.1
275 From a letter to W. H. Auden 4 August 1965
[Auden had invited Tolkien to contribute to a festschrift marking the retirement of Nevill Coghill. He also
asked if Tolkien knew that a 'New York Tolkien Society' had been formed, and said he feared that most of
the members would be lunatics.]
I still feel grieved that I haven't anything for Neville's [sic] festschrift. I hope that perhaps an
arrangement will be made in the book for people in my position to register their good wishes. The
only thing I have ever written about Neville was :
Mr Neville Judson Coghill
Wrote a deal of dangerous doggerill.
Practical, progressive men
Called him Little Poison-pen.
That was at a time when under the name of Judson he was writing what I thought very good and
funny verses lampooning forward-looking men like Norwood of St John's.1
Yes, I have heard about the Tolkien Society. Real lunatics don't join them, I think. But still such
things fill me too with alarm and despondency.
276 To Dick Plotz, 'Thain' of the Tolkien Society of America
12 September 1965
76 Sandfield Road, Headington, Oxford
To the T. S. A. First Communiqué from
the Member for Longbottom.
Dear Mr Plotz,
I have been away in Ireland, and have just received your letter (amid a mountain of mail) on my
return. I am much interested to hear of the formation of the 'Tolkien Society', and very grateful for
the compliment. I do not, however, see how I can become a 'member' of a society inspired by liking
for my works and devoted (I suppose) to study and criticism of them, as at least pan of their
I should, however, be pleased to be associated with you in some informal capacity. I should, for
instance, be willing to offer any advice that you wished to seek, or provide information not yet in
print – always with the proviso (especially with regard to 'information') that the plea: Engaged on
the matter of the Eldar and of Númenor: would be accepted without offence as an adequate excuse
for an inadequate answer to enquiries. ....
As for the 'Silmarillion' and its appendages; that is written, but it is in a confused state owing to
alteration and enlargement at different dates (including 'writing back' to confirm the links between it
and The L. of the Rings). It lacks a thread on which its diversity can be strung. It also presents in a
more acute form than even the difficulties that I found in The L. of the R.: the need to acquaint an
audience with an unknown mythology without reference to the tales; and to relate a number of long
legends dependent on the mythology without holding them up with explanatory digressions. I had
hoped by now to be deep in the work necessary to presenting a part of the matter in publishable
form..... I think I shall issue it in parts. The first pan may, given still the health and vigour, reach the
press next year.
There is also a large amount of matter that is not strictly pan of the Silmarillion: cosmogony
and matter concerning the Valar; and later matter concerning Númenor, and the War in Middleearth (fall of Eregion and death of Celebrimbor, and the history of Celeborn and Galadriel). As for
Numenor, the tale of the Akallabêth or Downfall is fully written. The rest of its internal history is
only in Annal form, and will probably remain so, except for one long Nukraft-s.rumenokrafts.rurean tale: The Mariner's Wife: now nearly complete, concerning the story of Aldarion (the 6th
Kmg: L.R. III 315, 316) and his tragic relations with his father and his wife. This is supposed to
have been preserved in the Downfall, when most of Númenórean lore was lost except that that dealt
with the First Age, because it tells how Númenor became involved in the politics of Middle-eanh.
I quite understand the amusement to be got in such a society out of special names for members
associated with the story, and of course I see that things are still undecided. But if I might make a
suggestion at this stage, I should say that I think it is a mistake to give names of characters (or
offices) in the story. Personally I should have liked the society's title to be 'The Shire Society', with
perhaps T.S.A. as an explanatory subtitle. But even without any change of title, I think it would be
more appropriate and amusing to give members the title of 'Member for Some-place-in-the Shire',
or in Bree. Would it not be a good thing to limit the number of persons entitled to a special name in
some suitable way: as being earliest members, or later as being those who clearly continue to get
some interest or amusement out of membership? There are only about 30 suitable place names in
the small section of the Shire printed, but there are more in my map, and if a proper map of the
whole Shire were drawn up there could be quite a large number of places entered. The names
already entered, even those that seem unlikely (as Nobottle), are in fact devised according to the
style, origins, and mode of formation of English (especially Midland) place-names. I should be
delighted to construct new names on the same principles as desired and to find them places on the
maps of Bree and the Shire. Personally, as an inveterate pipe smoker be happy to accept the title of
Member for Longbottom; or if you should wish to accord me mayoral dignity (for which even on
Hobbit-scales my years make me just about ripe) the Member for Michel Delving. ....
Núminor. C. S. Lewis was one of the only three persons who have so far read all or a
considerable pan of my 'mythology' of the First and Second Ages,1 which had already been in the
main lines constructed before we met. He had the peculiarity that he liked to be read to. All that he
knew of my 'matter' was what his capacious but not infallible memory retained from my reading to
him as sole audience. His spelling numinor is a hearing error, aided, no doubt, by his association of
the name with Latin nūmen, nūmina, and the adjective 'numinous'. Unfortunate, since the name has
no such connexions, and has no reference to 'divinity' or sense of its presence. It is a construction
from the Eldarin base √NDU 'below, down; descend'; Q. núme 'going down, occident'; númen 'the
direction or region of the sunset' +nóre 'land' as an inhabited area. I have often used Westernesse as
a translation. This is derived from rare Middle English Westernesse (known to me only in MS. C of
King Horn) where the meaning is vague, but may be taken to mean 'Western lands' as distinct from
the East inhabited by the Paynim and Saracens. Lewis took no pan in 'research into Númenor'. N. is
my personal alteration of the Atlantis myth and/or tradition, and accommodation of it to my general
mythology. Of all the mythical or 'archetypal' images this is the one most deeply seated in my
imagination, and for many years I had a recurrent Atlantis dream : the stupendous and ineluctable
wave advancing from the Sea or over the land, sometimes dark, sometimes green and sunlit.
Lewis was, I think, impressed by 'the Silmarillion and all that', and certainly retained some
vague memories of it and of its names in mind. For instance, since he had heard it, before he
composed or thought of Out of the Silent Planet, I imagine that Eldil is an echo of the Eldar; in
Perelandra 'Tor and Tinidril'are certainly an echo, since Tuor and Idril, parents of Eärendil, are
major characters in 'The Fall of Gondolin', the earliest written of the legends of the First Age. But
his own mythology (incipient and never fully realized) was quite different. It was at any rate broken
to bits before it became coherent by contact with C. S. Williams and his 'Arthurian' stuff – which
happened between Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. A pity, I think. But then I was and
remain wholly unsympathetic to Williams' mind.
I knew Charles Williams only as a friend of C.S.L. whom I met in his company when, owing to
the War, he spent much of his time in Oxford. We liked one another and enjoyed talking (mostly in
jest) but we had nothing to say to one another at deeper (or higher) levels. I doubt if he had read
anything of mine then available; I had read or heard a good deal of his work, but found it wholly
alien, and sometimes very distasteful, occasionally ridiculous. (This is perfectly true as a general
statement, but is not intended as a criticism of Williams; rather it is an exhibition of my own limits
of sympathy. And of course in so large a range of work I found lines, passages, scenes, and
thoughts that I found striking.) I remained entirely unmoved. Lewis was bowled over.
But Lewis was a very impressionable man, and this was abetted by his great generosity and
capacity for friendship. The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not 'influence' as it is ordinarily
understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever
get the idea that my 'stuff' could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing
eagerness for more I should never have brought The L. of the R. to a conclusion. ....
I send you and the T.S.A. my best wishes. If I were not in an interim between secretaries (pantime) for a few days, you might have received a briefer letter, more succinct and better typed. Yours
sincerely, J. R. R. Tolkien.
277 To Rayner Unwin 12 September 1965
[In August 1965 Ballantine Books produced the first 'authorised' American paperback of The Hobbit,
without incorporating Tolkien's revisions to the text. The cover picture showed a lion, two emus, and a tree
with bulbous fruit. (When the book was reissued by Ballantine the following February, with the revised text,
the lion had disappeared beneath yellow-green grass.)]
I wrote to [his American publishers] expressing (with moderation) my dislike of the cover for
[the Ballantine edition of ] The Hobbit. It was a short hasty note by hand, without a copy, but it was
to this effect: I think the cover ugly; but I recognize that a main object of a paperback cover is to
attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of what is attractive in USA than I am. I
therefore will not enter into a debate about taste – (meaning though I did not say so: horrible
colours and foul lettering) – but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the
story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink
bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think
such a picture would please the author.
These points have never been taken up, and are ignored in [their] latest letter. These people
seem never to read letters, or have a highly cultivated deafness to anything but 'favorable reactions'.
Mrs. —— [a representative of the paperback publishers] did not find time to visit me. She rang
me up. I had a longish conversation; but she seemed to me impermeable. I should judge that all she
wanted was that I should recant, be a good boy and react favorably. When I made the above points
again, her voice rose several tones and she cried: 'But the man hadn't TIME to read the book!' (As if
that settled it. A few minutes conversation with the 'man', and a glance at the American edition's
pictures should have been sufficient.) With regard to the pink bulbs she said as if to one of complete
obtusity: 'they are meant to suggest a Christmas Tree'. Why is such a woman let loose? I begin to
feel that I am shut up in a madhouse. Perhaps with more experience you know of some way out of
the lunatic labyrinth. I want to finish off Gawain and Pearl, and get on with the Silmarillion and
feel that I cannot deal with H[oughton] M[ifflin] or Ballantine Books any more. Could you suggest
that I am now going into purdah (to commune with my creative soul), the veil of which only you
have authority to lift – if you think fit?
278 From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby 20 October 1965
I have recently received a copy of Light on C. S. Lewis. I hope you have. It is interesting, I
think, and does throw a little light on Lewis, though it seems odd to me how they all miss one of the
essential points of his temperament. Barfield who knew him longest.... gets nearest to the central
point. I am afraid I must leave that enigmatic, as I have not time, at the moment, to enlarge upon it.1
279 From a letter to Michael George Tolkien 30 October 1965
I think it unlikely that we shall move from Oxford. Anywhere in sight of the sea proves too
vastly expensive, while the service problem (our chief trouble) is as bad or worse than here. I am
not 'rolling in gold', but by continuing to work I am (so far) continuing to have an income about the
same as a professor-in-cathedra, which leaves me with a margin above my needs nowadays. If I had
not had singular good fortune with my 'unprofessional' work, I should now be eking out a penurious
existence on a perishable annuity of not 'half-pay' but more like ¼ pay. Literary capital is not,
however, by its originator realizable. If an author sells any of his rights the proceeds (unlike those
of other property) are reckoned to be part of his income for the year, and I. tax and Surtax pocket all
or nearly all of them. So I certainly cannot provide the thousands* now asked for a flat or bungalow
near the sea. However, on the income-front things still go well. My campaign in U.S.A. has gone
well. 'Ace Books' are in quite a spot, and many institutions have banned all their products. They are
selling their pirate edition quite well, but it is being discovered to be very badly and erroneously
printed; and I am getting such an advt. from the rumpus that I expect my 'authorized' paper-back
will in fact sell more copies than it would, if there had been no trouble or competition.
Yes, even up to £15,000! Or more!
280 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 8 November 1965
Sir Gawain and Pearl
I expect you are getting anxious about these. .... It was rather disastrous that I had to put them
aside, while I had them fully in mind. The work on the 'revision' of The Lord of the Rings took me
clean away, and I now find work on anything else tiresome.
I am finding the selection of notes, and compressing them, and the introduction difficult. Too
much to say, and not sure of my target. The main target is, of course, the general reader of literary
bent with no knowledge of Middle English; but it cannot be doubted that the book will be read by
students, and by academic folk of 'English Departments'. Some of the latter have their pistols loose
in the holsters.
I have, of course, had to do an enormous amount of editorial work, unshown, in order to arrive
at a version; and I have, as I think, made important discoveries with regard to certain words, and
some passages (as importance in the little world of M[iddle] E[nglish] goes). The exposition of
these points, of course, must await articles in the academic journals; but in the meanwhile I think it
desirable to indicate to those who possess the original texts where and how my readings differ from
the received.
Could you possibly tell me what amount of pages, beyond those absorbed by the two texts, I
can be allowed? I can then tailor my trimmings.
281 From a letter to Rayner Unwin 15 December 1965
[Concerning preparations for a British paperback edition of The Hobbit.]
The U[nwin Books] cover [of The Hobbit]. I do not recollect when the rough sketch of the
Death of Smaug1 was made; but I think it must have been before the first publication, and 1936
must be near the mark. I am in your hands, but I am still not very happy about the use of this scrawl
as a cover. It seems too much in the modern mode in which those who can draw try to conceal it.
But perhaps there is a distinction between their productions and one by a man who obviously
cannot draw what he sees.
The Blurbs. I wrote in haste on the proposed 'blurb' for U[nwin] Books. I do not wish to hurt
the feelings of a writer who obviously meant well by me and the book; but I hope you will agree, if
you have time to consider it, that thi