The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien is a collection published in 1981 of 354 selected letters written by J.R.R. Tolkien over the course of his lifetime, which were edited where necessary by Tolkien's biographer Humphrey Carpenter with the help of his son Christopher Tolkien. The selection contains 354 letters dates between October 1914 when Tolkien was an undergraduate at Oxford and August 29 1973 four days before his death.
The book is now published by George Allen and Unwin (UK) and Houghton Mifflin (US).
Formation of the BookEdit
Humphrey Carpenter first collected and transcribed all the letters and made the initial selection based upon that. Then Christopher Tolkien commented upon his work and made various suggestions for changes, which where then discussed among them and adopted with various emendations. They then found it necessary to reduce the text quite severely for consideration of space. Humphrey then proposed the initial cuts on which Christopher again made various suggestions after which they came up with a final procedure which was needed in order to make this collection happen. The collection of letters therefore reflects Humphrey tastes and judgement more then that of Christopher. Even though it is still their joined work.
Contents of the CollectionEdit
Types of LettersEdit
The 354 letters can be roughly divided into four categories:
- Personal letters to his family, namely to his wife Edith Tolkien, his son Christopher Tolkien and all his other children and even some grandchildren.
- Letters concerning his career as a professor of Anglo-Saxon
- Letters send to his publishers Allen & Unwin explaining his often continued failing to meet deadlines and other topics related to publishing a book and
- Letters about Middle-earth, this category is for obvious reasons the most interesting to Tolkien fans as it provides a lot of information about Middle-earth which at the time of publishing could not anywhere else in the then published works by Tolkien himself and his then posthumously published work by his son Christopher.
Interesting examples Edit
In letters 29 & 30, we find out that a German translation of The Hobbit was being negotiated in 1938. The German firm inquired whether Tolkien was of 'arisch' (Aryan) origin. Tolkien was infuriated by this, and wrote two letters as a response. In the first one Tolkien apparently refused to give any declaration whatsoever of his origin and in the second one he proudly protested on the inquiry and, among other things, replied that "... I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted [Jewish] people". He gave his editor the choice on which reply to use. This second letter is the only one preserved and it is probable that the first one was sent.