The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien
Dust wrapper of UK first edition
|Author||Humphrey Carpenter (editor), with Christopher Tolkien|
|Country||United Kingdom and United States|
|Subject||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Publisher||George Allen & Unwin, Houghton Mifflin|
|828/.91209 B 19|
|LC Class||PR6039.O32 Z48 1981b|
|Preceded by||Unfinished Tales|
|Followed by||Mr. Bliss|
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (ISBN 0-618-05699-8) is a selection of J. R. R. Tolkien's letters published in 1981, edited by Tolkien's biographer Humphrey Carpenter assisted by Christopher Tolkien. The selection contains 354 letters, dating between October 1914, when Tolkien was an undergraduate at Oxford, and 29 August 1973, four days before his death.
The letters can be roughly divided in four categories:
- Personal letters to Edith Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien and his other children,
- Letters about Tolkien's career as a professor of Anglo-Saxon
- Letters to his publishers at Allen & Unwin explaining his failing to meet the deadline and related topics
- Letters about Middle-earth
The last category is especially of interest to Tolkien fans, as it provides a lot of information about Middle-earth which cannot be found anywhere in the works published by Tolkien himself.
In letters 29 and 30, it appears that a German translation of The Hobbit was being negotiated in 1938. The German firm enquired whether Tolkien was of Arisch (Aryan) origin. Tolkien was infuriated by this, and wrote two drafts of possible replies for his publisher to choose. The first one is not present – in it Tolkien is assumed to have refused to give any declaration whatsoever of his racial origins. The second, surviving, draft included:
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 Hindustani, 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.— Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #30 (Emphasis in original)
A former signals officer at the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien frequently expressed his great dislike for war, whatever the cause. This is evident in a great many letters which he wrote during the Second World War to his son Christopher, which often invoke a sense of gloom. Notable among these is his reaction to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, in which he refers to the bombmakers of the Manhattan Project as "lunatics" and "Babel builders".
- Humphrey Carpenter: The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Editorial comments at the head of Letter 30.