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TCG Letter #401 / Carpenter Letter #153

J.R.R. Tolkien
Peter Hastings
27-30 September 1954
Peter Hastings was the manager of the (Catholic) Newman Bookshop in Oxford. He wrote to Tolkien expressing enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings but heavily criticized the metaphysics of the work. Tolkien struggled with his reply, writing a very long draft answering Hastings’ points. Eventually he left it unfinished, marked it "Not sent", and noted: "It seemed to be taking myself too importantly."

Tolkien politely thanked Hastings for his letter. He said that Hastings had paid him the compliment of taking him seriously, although perhaps too seriously since what he had produced was a tale intended to have a literary effect and was not real history. We differ entirely, stated Tolkien, about the relationship of sub-creation to Creation.

While "reincarnation" may be bad theology (which applied to the Men of Númenor whose downfall rested upon their attempt to achieve immortality), Tolkien did not see how any theologian or philosopher in our world could deny the possibility of it as a mode of existence. Tolkien declared that he was just as concerned about the scientific and biological difficulties (which Hastings seemed not to mind) as the theological and metaphysical. Sauron was not "evil" in origin; he had been corrupted by the Prime Dark Lord Morgoth. Tolkien reservedly agreed about "creation by evil" but felt that Hastings was more free with the word "creation" than he was.

Tolkien was unsure about Trolls. Stone-trolls he thought were mere "counterfeits" that returned to mere stone when not in the dark, while other sorts of Trolls might have other origins. Tolkien stated that Hastings was being too serious and missing the point regarding Tom Bombadil (pointing out that it was Goldberry, not he, who commented on Tom). Tolkien felt that Tom needed no philosophizing and was not improved by it. Many found him an odd or discordant ingredient. Historically he put him in because he had already "invented" him and wanted an adventure at that point.

Returning to Elf-Human marriages, Tolkien noted that they occurred in "fairy-story" and folk lore, but he had made it far more exceptional in his works. As for "whose authority decides these things?" - The immediate authorities are the Valar who are only created spirits, high "angels" with attendant lesser "angels" – revered but not worshiped (thus there are no religious edifices in Middle-earth). Immortality and Mortality, being the special gifts of God to the Eruhíni, could only be altered as a direct act of God. Do "bounds to a writer's job" exist except those imposed by his own finiteness? No bounds but the laws of contradiction. One required humility and an awareness of peril.

Free Will and subcreation were used in his myth in a special way to illustrate visibly and physically the effects of Sin or misused Free Will (subcreation in art criticism was different and Tolkien had addressed that allegorically in Leaf by Niggle). Tolkien said it was a different question as to whether or not Orcs had "souls" or "spirits". In his myth the making of such could not be delegated. Tolkien admitted that he had made a great song and oration about his tale, and had taken himself even more seriously than Hastings had done.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), pp. 187-96, p. 445 (Carpenter notes)
The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide - Chronology (2017), p. 461 - entry for "September 1954"
Error in hardcover and Kindle editions: Luthien > Lúthien p. 287. Numenor > Númenor p. 289. Eruhini > Eruhíni p. 288
Cartas de J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 291-301, pp. 634-5 (notas de Carpenter)

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