Tolkien's Letters

All about J.R.R.Tolkien's life, his beliefs and philosophies, and his interests
Riv Res
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Tolkien's Letters

Postby Riv Res » Mon Aug 22, 2005 9:01 pm

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Becky Carter-Hitchin



Tolkien's Letters

By turns thoughtful, impish, scholarly, impassioned, playful, vigorous, and gentle, Tolkien poured his heart and mind into a great stream of letters to intimate friends and unknown admirers all over the world. From this collection one sees a mind of immense complexity and many layers—artistic, religious, charmingly eccentric, sentimental, and ultimately brilliant.


This description from the back cover of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, only hints at the delights to be found in the Professor’s letters. From the business letters to publishers Allen & Unwin from the 1930s, to the touching and revealing cover letters for draft chapters from The Lord of the Rings sent to his son, Christopher, who was serving in World War II in the 1940s, to the first responses to fan letters and questions from readers and friends in the 1950s and 60s, to his final reflections in the 1970s, Tolkien’s letters are fascinating reading for a beginning Tolkien scholar. The elaborate index is also incredibly helpful in locating Tolkien’s thoughts on many topics.

Here is one of my favorites, Letter 345, which reveals some of the many sides to our author’s complex personality:

30 November 1972
Merton College, Oxford

Dear Mrs. Thurston,

Thank you for your letter. Personally I am rather against giving strictly human and noble names to animals; and in any case Elrond and Glorfindel seem unsuitable characters, for their names which meant (1) ‘The vault of stars’ and (2) ‘Golden hair’ seem inapt. I recently played with the notion of using the word for bull I gave you, which introduced in the form of -mund gives a fairly familiar sound (as in Edmund, Sigismund, etc.), and adding a few Elvish prefixes, producing names like Aramund (‘Kingly bull’), Tarmund (‘Noble bull’), Rasmund (‘Horned bull’), Turcomund (‘Chief of bulls’), etc. I wonder what you think of these?

Arwen was not an elf, but one of the half-elven who abandoned her elvish rights. Galadriel (‘Glittering garland’) is the chief elvish woman mentioned in The Lord of the Rings; her daughter was Celebrian (‘Silver queen’). There was also Nimrodel. But I shouldn’t really like these names to be given to heifers or cows. If you care for the Aramund type, I could invent a few female names. But though it is made on classical models rather than elvish, wouldn’t the name of Farmer Giles’ favourite cow—Galathea (in Farmer Giles of Ham)—be useful? which as it stands might be interpreted ‘Goddess of milk’.

Yours sincerely,

J. R. R. Tolkien.


This is the place to discuss Tolkien’s letters after, of course, having reviewed the House Rules for such discussion.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Fri Sep 16, 2005 11:16 pm

Reading Tolkien's letters always makes me get nostalgic for a time when people wrote long, elegant letters to each other. Frankly, I'm a little tired of e-mail!

Does anybody else have a favorite Tolkien letter?
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Varda
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Postby Varda » Mon Sep 19, 2005 4:29 am

Perhaps 'letters' would be better...my favorites have always been Letters from Father Christmas written by Tolkien for his children over twenty years. Filled w/ stories of the going ons at the North Pole by Father Christmas, the North Polar Bear, and the elf Ilbereth and the wonderful drawings of Tolkien. Even the *stamps* on the letters were designed by him! How marvelous it must have been to receive these gems in one's mailbox!! :)
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Sep 19, 2005 4:44 am

Yes, Varda, I have sometimes thought how cool it would have been to have had such an imaginative father!
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Mon Sep 19, 2005 5:06 am

And Tolkien's artwork in the Letters from Father Christmas is SO much better than clipart. :wink:
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Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:17 pm

Riv Res wrote:And Tolkien's artwork in the Letters from Father Christmas is SO much better than clipart. :wink:


:lol: Anything is better then clipart. :lol:

I can't wait for you more experienced Tolkien folk to get going on this thread. (:-o<

I have a question for you...how much is revealed in Tolkien's letters as to the behind the scenes stories of writing such a huge epoch?
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:29 pm

Philipa, my impression is that there is a lot about the development of LOTR in the Letters. I don't have my copy with me, but my memory is of a lot of letters to Christopher (in the military) reporting on where the story is, what the issues and decisions are, and how things came to him. Some events he knew from the beginning would happen, and others seem to have written themselves. I found the descriptions of how Aragorn and Faramir arrived particularly interesting. (JRRT's obvious deep love for Christopher is also quite touching in these letters.)

Then there are a lot of letters in answers to questions after LOTR was published. Why did you do it this way? What does this mean? etc.

It should also be said that Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher were the ones who picked out which letters to publish. I think in part they were trying to protect the family's privacy, but they also selected letters that would be of interest to people interested in LOTR more than the man's private life (although the two obviously overlap a great deal). So, for example, there are some passing references to Edith, but no juicy insights into their married life. (I think that's a good thing.)
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Mon Sep 19, 2005 4:22 pm

Another monumental task to comb through all those letters. :roll: I am not surprised to read they include very little personal information. Relieved to hear it in fact...

I think perhaps I shall ask for this book for a Christmas present.

It seems to me very little Tolkien readers get to this point. Of course, I live in a Tolkien deprived area. From the bits and pieces I've read on boards those letters hold some interesting insights into a few characters of Middle-earth. What fun it would have been to pick his brain.
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elizabeth
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Postby elizabeth » Mon Sep 19, 2005 4:48 pm

I have been weeding through some of the letters for other purposes and you are correct Merry, and in fact in the intro Carpenter makes a point that most things of a deeply personal nature were deliberately omitted unless it had relevance to the books. At the opening of the book there are a few letters to Edith and there are are many to Christopher and they do contain insight to how Tolkien thought on certain things, but much of the content is related to the books.

I odn't know that they are a good cover to cover read, but they are an interesting read.
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Sep 19, 2005 5:06 pm

I agree, elizabeth: I think they ought to be read cover-to-cover once, just to see what's there. But, after that, the book has an excellent index. So, for example, one might look up all Tolkien's references to pity in the letters. Very handy if you're trying to make a point.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Philipa
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Postby Philipa » Mon Sep 19, 2005 5:10 pm

Merry wrote:I agree, elizabeth: I think they ought to be read cover-to-cover once, just to see what's there. But, after that, the book has an excellent index. So, for example, one might look up all Tolkien's references to pity in the letters. Very handy if you're trying to make a point.


Or make a Level 3 trivia question. :twisted:
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Merry
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Postby Merry » Mon Sep 19, 2005 5:16 pm

True!
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Mon Sep 19, 2005 5:38 pm

Philipa wrote:I think perhaps I shall ask for this book for a Christmas present.


I think I will too! I love the one about the cows . . . more please!
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Iolanthe
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Postby Iolanthe » Mon Sep 19, 2005 8:16 pm

It sounds like a must read to me too. It's not something I'd thought about up until now although I've seen them quoted all over the place.

My essential Tolkien reading list just gets longer and longer and longer.... :roll:
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Riv Res
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Postby Riv Res » Mon Sep 19, 2005 9:16 pm

When Merry and I attended the Tolkien Conference at Marquette University last fall, I do remember that both Hammond and Scull mentioned that the book of Tolkien's letters that is published is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Professor's correspondence goes. The book of Tolkien's letters, while giving us brief glimpses into Tolkien's private life, is only a collection of those letters that pertain to his writings.

Hammond and Scull have worked with Christopher Tolkien on many research projects and have had access to some of Tolkien's private letters as a result. They indicated that there were considerable private writings, and at the best it would be a LONG time before they saw the light of day, and at the worst they would continue to be held privately.

I don't think anyone necessarily wants to intrude on Tolkien's private life. I think, however, that there are many who are so captivated with his writings that they would love to see more of the inner workings of his mind...and they wonder what Tolkien might have privately thought of all the criticism of his works.
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