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In a letter full of Lord of the Rings references, Tolkien toils with Middle Earth maps and Elvish grammar
ALS, five pages on three sheets, 7.5 x 9.5, no date. Letter to admirer H. Cotton Minchin regarding publication of The Lord of the Rings, his interests in the Elvish tongues he invented and their attendant fanciful scripts, and his plans to complete The Silmarillion. In part: “Your letter also contained many interesting suggestions. I once had myself the idea of preparing a special volume of material for ‘specialists,’ but under the shadow of the great production costs this did not come off. It might now, however, be a practical position, as they say. The chief objection is the labour involved (on my part) and the weight of other duties which demand most of my time. My professional and philological colleagues and critics are scandalized by my disgraceful excursion into ‘literature.’ They are kind enough not to refer to my misdemeanor (except behind my back), but they have ‘turned on the heat’ as I believe they said in Mordor. The many unfinished and long promised professional commitments and works are being demanded with increasing pressure. One of them said to me recently: ‘Isn’t it time you did some work?’
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Maps take a lot of time and work. It would of course be impossible to make a map of an 'invented' tale or rather to write a mappable tale, unless one started with a Map from the beginning. That I did though inevitably some inconsistencies, needing the adjustment of map or text, crept in in the course of a long work, constantly interrupted….there is always a rush at the end where the thesis must at last be put into presentable form. So it was with this book. I had to call in the help of my son Christopher (the C.T. or CJRT of the modest initials on the maps), a better calligraphist than myself, and a sound student of ‘hobbit-lore’… I had to devote days, the last three almost without sleep in drawing re-scaling and readjusting a huge map. At this Christopher then worked for about 20 hours non-stop…and produced the published map, just in time. Inconsistencies in spelling (and omissions) are mainly my fault, for instance it was only in the last stages that I abandoned K in the spelling or transcription of Elvish names—in spite of my son's protest. He holds that few or none will pronounce Cirith right, in spite of the Appendix. It appears as Kirith on the map, as it did formerly in the text…
I am, all the same, primarily a ‘philologist.’ To me far the most absorbing interest is the Elvish tongues (which were made before and independently of this tale), the nomenclature derived from them, and the scripts. So my plans for the ‘specialist volume’ were largely linguistic.…But it eventually became plain that the size and cost would sink the boat; so it had to be postponed. And some other things. Among them the facsimiles of three pages of the Book of Mazarbul, which I had spent some time in forging, burned, tattered, and stained with blood, really necessary as an accompaniment to Ch. 5 of Book Two.
But the problems raised by this extra volume increase…. It will be a large volume, even if I attend only to the things revealed to my very limited understanding of a complicated world! But personally, I desire and intend first of all to put into order the Silmarilion, with associated legends of the Beginning and the First and Second Ages. All of these were written first; and it was my wish to issue the corpus chronologically (It would have lightened parts of the Lord of the Rings). But it was only as a sequel to The Hobbit that publication proved possible. The ‘Little People’ floated the whole unwieldy ship, bless them.
As it is, The Lord of the Rings has astonished me, and I believe the gallant publishers still more. It’s actually selling more than well, in spite of 3 guineas and the borrowing habit….The fact that I have worked at the book unremunerated for 18 years and sacrificed in that time other involvements does not touch its heart at all….Works that have taken a long time to make are simply victimized….
I am glad you approve the appearance of the Three Vols. They cost about £4,000 to produce and put on sale. That has to be covered before I get any cash reward. I get no ‘royalty’ but an eventual share of profits. The poor ‘Hobbit’ is a non-casualty, alive but damaged. The original editions were far better—and larger, with grand margins. But the stocks went up in smoke in the war-fires of London….
Thank you for the point about the Synopsis. The attack of the Orcs is, of course, only learned about in Vol. ii, though it was going actually in the gap between i and ii. But I do not think it matters enough to pay for alteration. The Synopses are a nuisance, anyway. I did my best, but I cannot think that they really make any one vol. readable without the others….The titles of the Volumes are unsatisfactory, since the vols. are a mere publishing convenience and have no unity. But the publishers for practical purposes rightly, insisted on the division into three parts, and for sales reasons demanded titles other than parts i, ii, iii. The 'break' is at least clean between books Two and Three. The 'departure of Boromir' could as well (or better) belong to Book Two, and at one time did. Its transference lightened Vol i and strengthened Vol ii.
…You will be interested to hear that I recently had a letter from Sam Gamgee (of Tooking), a genuine possessor of that name. He seemed a little surprised, but not displeased at my use of his name. (Thank goodness it was not S. Gollum. I live now in fear of receiving a note from him; I am afraid he will be less pleased)….
My ‘Samwise’ is indeed (as you note) largely a reflection of the English soldier—grafted on the village boys of early days, the memory of the privates and my batmen that I knew in the 1914 War, and recognized as so far superior to myself.”
Tolkien also adds two handwritten postscripts, both signed “J.R.R.T.” The first reads: “I fear you may now feel that you have gotten an answer longer than you could wish. Though you may have guessed that an author so long-winded would either say nothing or a lot.” The second is a comment on the postmark and stamp.
Several areas of dampstaining to second page, which remains still mostly legible, a horizontal fold passing through signature, and a paperclip impression to top.
Written during the initial success of the first publications of The Lord of the Rings (but prior to their recouping the production cost of £4,000, which “has to be covered before I get any cash reward,” according to the author), this extraordinary letter holds a wealth of insight into the world of the Rings. In discussing the financial constraints of the project, and the “volume of material for ‘specialists’” that he had planned to create—“a large volume, even if I attend only to the things revealed to my very limited understanding of a complicated world!”—he delves in to such topics as the nuances of the Elvish language, the need for a more thorough explanation of the origins of Middle-Earth’s residents and place-names, and the ceaseless requests from his new audience, eager for more information on his world: musicians requesting tunes, archaeologist enquiring about metallurgy and architecture, botanists seeking information about the plant-life, historians interesting in the politics of Gondor, etc. An absolutely astonishing letter from the creator of the most famous fantasy world in all of literature, revealing the all-consuming effect that it had—and continues to have—on fans around the world. Written in his stunning calligraphic hand, this lengthy letter is one of the finest known to exist, both in content and appearance, indulging in the details of the Rings that captured the imaginations of millions. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.