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(did you mean Carpenter's Letter #152?)

TCG Letter #152 / Carpenter Letter #131

J.R.R. Tolkien
Milton Waldman
1951 (late)
Tolkien noted that Waldman had asked for a brief sketch of his imaginary world. He said it was difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt opened a floodgate of excitement.

There was never a time, said Tolkien, when he was not building his world. Many children make up imaginary languages but he had never stopped. As a professional philologist he had changed in taste, and improved in theory and craft. However, an equal passion was for myth and fairy-story; above all heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history. The cycles started with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar were revealed. Tolkien specified the nature of these angelic Powers, who had authority within their spheres but not the power of creation.

Swiftly came the History of the Elves or The Silmarillion proper: Our world, but still in half-mythical mode, with rational incarnates comparable to our stature. The Knowledge of the Creation Drama was incomplete, individually and even if the entire pantheon's knowledge was pooled. The Children of God were the two chief secrets and all that the Valar knew was that they would come at appointed times. The Silmarillion was peculiar, differing from all similar things in not being anthropocentric but Elf-centered.

Tolkien said that his cosmogony had a fall of Angels, very different from Christian myth. While his tales were "new" they contained large amounts of ancient wide-spread motives or elements. Tolkien believed that legends and myths were made of "truth" and some aspects could only be presented that way. The next cycle dealt with the Second Age, a dark age on Earth and not very much of its history needed telling. We learn that the Exiled Elves were sternly counseled to return to the West, to be at peace but not in Valinor. The chief power of all the rings was the prevention or slowing of decay (change viewed as negative); an Elvish motive. But they also enhanced the natural powers of the possessor, approaching "magic" and leading to a lust for domination. And they had other powers, such as invisibility and making the invisible world visible.

The Third Age was concerned with the Ring. The Dark Lord was dethroned but his monsters still existed, and the slaves of the Rings endured as shadows among the shadows. Mordor was empty and a watch was kept. The Elves still had hidden refuges. Arnor was ruled by descendants of Isildur while Gondor was ruled by kings of the line of Anárion. To the East and South were wild or evil men, alike only in hatred of the West, derived from Sauron. The Ring was lost, so the Three Rings of the Elves, wielded by secret guardians, preserved the memory of the beauty of old in enchanted enclaves of peace where time seemed to stand still.

At this point Hobbits appeared. Their origin was unknown for they escaped the notice of the great and those who kept records (they kept none themselves). Tolkien explained to Waldman that the place or nature of "Wizards" was never made explicit. Their name was related to "Wise" and distinguished them from sorcerer or magician.

The generally different tone and style of The Hobbit, said Tolkien, was due to its genesis as a "fairy-story" for children (but even on that basis a mistake). The Quest of the Dragon-gold, while the main theme of The Hobbit, was but peripheral to the general cycle. But along the way the Hobbit, by seeming "accident", acquired a "magic ring". The sequel, The Lord of the Rings, was the largest and hopefully the best story of the entire cycle. It included and wound up all the preceding elements and motives: elves, dwarves, the Kings of Men, heroic horsemen, orcs, demons, Ring-servants, and the vast horror of the Dark Throne.

In the 2023 revised edition of Letters, significant material is restored, describing in detail the plot and structure of The Lord of the Rings, book by book. Also, a detailed list at the end of the letter shows all of the material that Tolkien would like considered for publication.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), pp. 143-61, pp. 442-43 (Carpenter notes)
Pity, Power, and Tolkien's Ring: To Rule the Fate of Many, pp. 1-4, pp. 20-3, p. 119, p. 248, p. 249, p. 268n5, p. 269n6, p. 275n5, p. 275n6, p. 283n16, p. 287n42
Craig A. Boyd, "Nolo Heroizari: Tolkien and Aquinas on the Humble Journey of Master Samwise" in Christianity & Literature 2019, Vol. 68(4), p. 607, p. 616, p. 618
Error in hardcover and Kindle editions: Captains of the Black Riders > Captain of the Black Riders p. 226. The Men who appear are mainly those of the Three Houses of the Fathers of them>Men ["them" in 1981 _Letters_ too, "Men" in _Silmarillion_] p. 208. Book 1 chapter III > Book I chapter II p. 230. better and nobler son of Men > sort of Men p. 214
Marco Cristini "The Fall of Two Cities: Troy and Gondolin." Thersites 15 (2022), pp. 15-16 note, p. 17, p. 18
Cartas de J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 213-44, p. 631 (notas de Carpenter)
The Silmarillion, pp. xiv-xxix
Michael Livingston, "Troy and the Rings:Tolkien and the Medieval Myth of England," Mythlore 32.1 (2013), pp. 75-93. cites from #131 on p. 75, 77n8, p. 80, p. 82n17, p. 82n18, p. 85n22 ['Letters', 1981].

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