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TCG Letter #476 / Carpenter Letter #163


From
J.R.R. Tolkien
To
W. H. Auden
Date
7 June 1955
Type
Unknown
Transcript
Partial
Tolkien responded that he wrote the Trilogy for personal satisfaction since there was a scarcity of this sort of literature that he wanted to read. He was not thinking much of profit or others' delight although one cannot write anything purely privately. When writing The Lord of the Rings Tolkien said he had very little particular, conscious, intellectual intentions.

Tolkien acknowledged that some reviews had disparaged both Auden and himself with terms of "pubescent" and "infantilism" but what appreciative readers had gotten out of the work was fair enough (even when he disagreed with it). Regarding "human touches" and when he started writing the work, that was like asking Man when language started. It was always with him: a sensibility to linguistic patters, a love of growing things, and a deep response to legends of the North-western temper.

Concerning conditioning, he was chiefly aware of linguistics. In school he had learned Latin, Greek, and English (but not English literature – Tolkien cordially disliked Shakespeare). He also learned Anglo-Saxon and on his own discovered Gothic, which introduced to him love of a language for its own sake, for aesthetic pleasure rather than for usefulness or as a means to literature. Tolkien was immensely attracted by the Kalevala and said it was the beginning of his Legendarium in 1912 or 1913, of which the Trilogy is the concluding part.

The Hobbit originally was unconnected to the Legendarium but got drawn into its circumference. Unhappily, he said, it was conceived as a "children’s story", something he now regretted. The success of The Hobbit called for a sequel but the remote Elvish legends were turned down (too full of the kind of Celtic beauty that maddened Anglo-Saxons in large dose).

The work on The Lord of the Rings had to contend with his other duties as an administrator and teacher, and during World War II there was often no time for anything rational. He was stuck for ages at the end of Book Three (in The Two Towers). Book Four was written serially and sent to his son in the army in 1944. The last two books (in The Return of the King) were written between 1944 and 1948.

Tolkien ended by hoping that Auden had not gotten bored and that he could see him again. He said that Auden’s interest in Tolkien’s work was a considerable encouragement.


Wayne Hammond and Christina note in their Chronology (see reference below) that Tolkien wrote to Nancy Smith (https://www.tolkienguide.com/guide/letters/511) saying he wrote a story of a "great green dragon" when he was aproximately six years old yet in his letter to W.H. Auden of 7 June 1955 he says that he is "about seven". he also notes to Nancy Smith, and in a letter to Paula Coston (https://www.tolkienguide.com/guide/letters/700) that he worte some verses about the dragon, and he says to W.H. Auden he had written a "story".

In April 1911 Tolkien was present at the annual Open Debate at King's Edwards School and the report published in King Edward's School Chronicles has a report on the motion "that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon." Tolkien talked with passion that this was the case. The report says Tolkien spoke, pouring "a sudden flood of unqualified abuse upon Shakespeare, upon his filthy birthplace, his squalid surroundings and his sordid character. He declared that to believe that so great a genius arose in such circumstances commits us to the belief that a fair-haired European infant could have a woolly-haired prognathous Papuan parent. After adducing a mass of further detail in support of the Hon. Opener, he gave a sketch of Bacon’s life and the manner in which it fitted into the production of the plays, and concluded with another string of epithets." In the years since this, Tolkien maintained a dislike for Shakespeare, yet in 1911 he describes the writer as a genius.
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References
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), pp. 211-17, pp. 445-46 (Carpenter notes)
The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide - Chronology (2017), p. 3 (see Christmas 1894), p. 5 (see 1896-1899), p. 6 (see 1898-1899), p. 35, p. 58 (see entry for 15 March 1914), p. 118-9 (entry for 10 March 1920), p. 481, p. 818 (see entry for 1898-1899)
Craig A. Boyd, "Nolo Heroizari: Tolkien and Aquinas on the Humble Journey of Master Samwise" in Christianity & Literature 2019, Vol. 68(4), p. 606, pp. 618-9, p. 619 note 4
Marco Cristini "The Fall of Two Cities: Troy and Gondolin." Thersites 15 (2022), p. 3, also see note for #163-5, p. 6 note 23
The Battle of Maldon: together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, p. 43 (brief quote, start "‘the value of Hobbits" ending "than the professionals".)
Cartas de J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 319-26, pp. 635-6 (notas de Carpenter)


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