TOLKIEN, J.R.R. Autograph letter signed ("J.R.R. Tolkien"), to Nancy Smith. Oxford, "Christmas Day" 1963. Two pages, densely written in three columns on standard postal air letter (some tiny nicks at edges).
TOLKIEN ON 'THE LORD OF THE RINGS'
A fine revealing letter from Tolkien to The Lord of the Rings indexer, Nancy Smith, containing many references to the trilogy, its conception, and reception. Responding to her request for a word of greeting for Smith to deliver at her lecture to the Radcliffe College Tolkien Society, Tolkien provides much more. Beginning with a slightly humorous autobiographical sketch, Tolkien discusses his family background, patriotism, and literary interests. "I do not (and never did) much enjoy the reading of 'literature.' For amusement and relaxation I like to read accounts of the structure and history (if known) of languages, though these accounts commonly offer a sense of disappointment similar to my experience of 'literature': the languages described seem seldom to 'come off.' 'Literature' seems for me almost always to miss the point..."
He continues with a detailed account of how he came to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy. "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 But now (when the work is no longer hot, immediate, or so personal) certain features of it, and espec. 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."
"The business began so far back that it might be said to have begun at birth. Somewhere about 8 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. But the mythology (and associated languages) first began to take shape during the 1914-18 War. The Fall of Gandolin (and the birth of Earendil) 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 & Beren arose from a small woodland glade filled with 'hemlocks' (or other white umbellifers) near Roos in the Holderness peninsular--to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1919."
The letter concludes with Tolkien's reaction to the popularity of his work: "Nothing has astonished me more (and I think my publishers) than the welcome given to the L.R. 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 books, and to a man 'retired' that is both grateful & comforting."
In reference to Smith's index, the initial-signed postscript reads: "The index is of the greatest value to me personally. It will eventually be used, I think, in some form of new edition. I have in mind a reduced form--reduced by cutting out (say) some of the Prologue, and the Appendices (especially C.D.E.) and substituting an index. But bringing out a fourth volume for fanciers containing the information excised, + a good deal more that was jettisoned, E.g., the facsimiles of the Book of Mazarbul, that should have faced pp. 335 & 336 of Vol. I. What do you think. Item. 'Rembrandt' films are thinking of producing a 'Hobbit.'??"