Tolkien writes to his publisher on difficulties in preparing the final volume of Lord of the Rings
Remarkable ALS signed three times with his initials, “JRRT,” five pages on three sheets, 5 x 6.75, personal letterhead, May 12, 1955. Lengthy, detailed handwritten letter to his publisher Rayner Unwin, commenting on his difficulties in finishing the third and final volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. He focuses on corrections to proofs and revisions to the comprehensive appendices included in the work, which detail the history, cultures, genealogies, and languages that Tolkien imagined for the peoples of Middle-earth.
In full: "Silence has meant unremitting labour, I am glad you approved the Map. It cost me many days labour, plotting it on squared paper, and researching into the text. But the draughtsman put my draught into form very quickly—as usual with Christopher at a sitting without going to bed until 6 a.m. I hope you will give him a v. suitable fee, as he really had to make an heroic effort in face of many troubles.
I did not understand your remark about proofs for Vol. III. It did not mean surely that they have lost my corrected copy sent in—for there were some vital corrections in the set. Though I think I have kept a note of them. I hope no other corrections sent in 'posthumously' (due to research into times and distances for the Map) have been incorporated.
I have not received any further set of proofs for Vol. III. But that does not matter now—esp. not if I could see a copy incorporating all corrections. I have now sent to Beard all appendices complete: Copy for missing parts; corrections of Galleys for parts of A and B; corrections of Family Trees; and corrections of revisions for Appendix F.
Your call, of course, look at it all, incl. my notes on it to Beard. I am not v. happy about it! But I have been influenced in my choice of material (and discarding) by letters, and by comments and requests of more influential authors such as Auden (who came to see me recently) and P.H. Newby. But I still think it is at once too much and too little. However, it contains plenty of 'lore' which Hugh Brogan (son of D.B.), far the most critical and eagle eyed of all critics, says is a main attraction.
I have, I expect, in the end, kept too much. If anything has to be rejected, please don’t let it be the Runes and the Table I have painfully arranged (to fit the space I hope and avoid the sad fate of the Feanorian Letters which now look very scrappy). The last two Family Trees Bolger and Boffin, I should be glad to jettison. I should also prefer to jettison FII 'On Translation' rather than anything else. I have my doubts about it. Is it really a good thing to exhibit one's working—and is not the simple assumption that Western = English best left alone. What do you think. Does this section contain anything it would be sad to lose?
I am still very sorry that the 'facsimiles' of the Book of Mazarbul are not in. And of course the name list which would have given me a chance of providing some Elvish vocabulary.
I should be very glad to hear what you really think of all this Appendix matter! I was myself a bit cheered by the Galleys to hand. In point it proved more readable than I had thought. I have not got—and I do not think I ever had—a copy of The Hobbit incorporating the revisions. Could I have one? The info on the Hobbit in the Appendix will all need a second reference added after page 90 when the manuscript is altered. I have not been able to give A.V. references!
Is there any hope of getting copies of the American Edition of the Fellowship? I have had some of the Two Towers. Whatever use beholds I will despatch all proofs all that come my way with speed. I hope you can read some of the last v. best wishes to you." Tolkien goes on to add two postscripts, both also initialed, "JRRT," in full: "My last 'fan' letter was from the V.C. of Cambridge. But among the so-called intelligentsia it is odd that most who bother to write are non-literary and largely scientists. Professor Medawar the physiologist is bullying me—but he says he is afraid there is going to be a 'happy ending.' Would you call it a happy ending? Auden on the whole approves of Vol. III (seen in galleys), but thinks including (I am relieved to find) the Eowyn-Faramir business; but he thinks Aragorn-Arwen unnecessary & perfunctory. I hope the fragment of the 'saga' will cure him. I still find it poignant: an allegory of naked hope. I hope you do…P.P.S. Please thank your father for so kindly sending me Wilson of Bompus’s extract from a reader's comment. Wonder who it was!…I have not had time myself to consider the accounts of Vols. I and II sent to me. But they seem satisfactory in general. Also Hobbits seem to be going up again." In fine condition, with rusty paperclip marks to the margins.
This letter offers exceptional insight into Tolkien's working practice, showcasing his attention to detail in building the world known as Middle-earth and in completing the final volume of his masterpiece. His correspondent, Rayner Unwin, had, at ten years old, recommended that his father publish The Hobbit; working for the George Allen & Unwin firm as an adult in 1951, Rayner also undertook the publication of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien clearly respected Rayner's literary opinion, asking if any sections of the appendix should be 'jettisoned'—and noting that his friend, the legendary poet W. H. Auden, felt that the romantic 'Tale of Aragorn and Arwen' should be discarded from Appendix A. Tolkien deemed Aragorn-Arwen episode 'really essential to the story' and, ultimately, decided to leave it in; the other sections in question, 'Writing and Spelling' (describing dwarves' runes) and 'On Translation,' also remained in the appendices.
When previously sold in 2014, the description noted: 'This letter was sent to the previous owner's husband on 26th February 1956 on behalf of Rayner Unwin, and is not published, or extracted, by Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien; presumably no copy was kept and the text was never made available to him.'