Tolkien Collector's Guide
1963 Tolkien signed manuscript letter

1963 Tolkien signed manuscript letter

Oct 20 (edited)

If you would like to see the original letter, then please click on the link at the end of this post, we used to post images on this site from auctions, but the Tolkien Estate has asked that we don't do this, and we are very happy to comply with this request.

Autograph Letter Signed [ALS]; Typed Letter Signed [TLS]

"I merely tried to write a story that would be 'exciting' and readable, and give me a scope for my personal pleasure in history, languages, and 'landscape'—and trees...

"The characters arise largely out of the necessities of narrative: they seem to walk on unheralded in any 'dramatic personae' or bill of performance: Maggot, Bombadil, Boromir, Faramir, Denethor, Galadriel, Theoden, Eowyn, Saruman, etc..."

REMARKABLY REVEALING LETTERS BY TOLKIEN PROVIDING INSIGHT INTO HIS THOUGHTS AND MOTIVATIONS IN THE CREATION OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The first letter - a typed letter signed on Tolkien’s Oxford stationery - is dated 16th December 1963 and is a response to a letter from Baronne Baeyens of Bonn, German. In this short letter, Tolkien expresses thanks for her letter, rejects allegorical interpretations of The Lord of the Rings, and admits feeling sympathy for Gollum. It reads in full:

Dear Baronne Baeyens,

Thank you very much for your letter of 28th September. I am sorry to have been so long in answering it, but I am very busy and not in good health.



Your letter gave me great pleasure, and I was glad to hear that you enjoy my books. I was particularly pleased that you find allegorical interpretations of The Lord of the Rings unnecessary; it was simply meant to be a history as it appears.



Please give my best wishes to your son, whose sympathy with Gollum agrees with my own. 



Yours sincerely,

[signed]JRR Tolkien

Something, however, struck Tolkien about Baeyens letter and upon reflection, it spurred him to write much more. In this long (four full sides), handwritten letter, Tolkien addresses some of the most critical topics associated with his writing. Over the course of the letter he:

-insists that The Lord of the Rings is “in no way an ‘allegory’”, but “mythical-historical” based on “deeply rooted ‘archetypal’ motifs”



-reveals his motivations for writing The Lord of the Rings (“I merely tried to write a story that would be 'exciting' and readable, and give me a scope for my personal pleasure in history, languages, and 'landscape’”)

-bemoans certain analyses of The Lord of the Rings that focus on symbolism (“they miss the point and destroy the object of their enquiry as surely as a vivisectionist destroys a cat or rabbit”)

-addresses religious “alignment” of The Lord of the Rings

-notes that he plans to produce another book about the same world

-explains the purpose and nature of the verses in The Lord of the Rings

-admits finding “very moving... the place where Gollum [is] on the brink of repentance”

-and in perhaps the most interesting section, in a detailed explanation of the origin of the character Stryder/Aragorn he provides wonderful insights into his method of creating characters.

The letter reads in full:

Dear Madame,

I enclose a merely secretarial letter. I am obliged to leave a large part of the letters to a part-time secretary; but I always re-read them before sending any reply, and I felt that your most charming and interesting letter deserved a personal note, though it must be briefer than it should be.

I much appreciate your perception that my story is in no way an 'allegory'—in any sense of that elusive and misunderstood word; but mythical-historical. It is—for those who like the story (many dislike it, and many think it silly and childish)—the taking up of several deeply-rooted 'archetypal' motifs, such as the broken sword, the hidden King, and so on, that gives the tale its moving quality, and the putting of them into an entirely new setting, carefully devised, that gives the sense of 'reality.'

But that is, of course, for me, as much as for any reader or critic, an afterthought. I did not set out to do this. I merely tried to write a story that would be 'exciting' and readable, and give me a scope for my personal pleasure in history, languages, and 'landscape'—and trees. I feel that I was helped and 'protected' (if I may say so) by being unlearned except perhaps linguistically, and in having absorbed early, so that they had descended down into the fertile 'leafmould' of the mind beyond the reach of chemical analysis, myths and fairy-stories. I have never found books on myths and symbolisms attractive, even when I have occasionally been obliged to consider them professionally. For me they miss the point and destroy the object of their enquiry as surely as a vivisectionist destroys a cat or rabbit—whatever validity and usefulness the result may have on their own plane. I have been treated to analyses of my tale which affect me as much as would, after enjoying a good meal in good company, not perhaps a cook's practical recipe, but a chemical analysis of the ingredients and physiological descriptions of the action of the digestive organs: not to add pulling the cook also to pieces to find out how he worked. Alas! there are so many people who cannot 'enjoy' anything. And still more who cannot distinguish between allegorical intention, and 'applicability' (by the reader).

It would, of course, have been destructive of the 'historicity' of an imaginary period in the remote past, if alignment with religions or religious organizations now existing were clearly perceptible. But I am in fact a Roman Catholic—not by inheritance from my German protestant ancestors in Saxony.

May I say that I am greatly pleased by your liking for my verses. They are seldom mentioned by readers or critics (and if referred to are usually discussed with a shrug or a grimace). Few people at present seem able to see any virtue in verse that is not subjective, and if possible filled with a grievance. I think it escapes most readers that the verses in the book have little or nothing to do with J. R. R. T. or his views of the world or of himself or even with his personal taste: they amused him, of course, as exercises in different styles and metres, but in intent they are 'dramatic': the kind of things that the characters themselves might be supposed to write or to like.

I was also interested in your remark on 'Stryder.' I do not (consciously) formulate characters. Whatever may really happen, this sensation is rather that of someone getting to know strangers and observing, often with surprise and sometimes with alarm, their revelations of themselves—which one is helpless to alter. In writing so long and interwoven a story one's main conscious concern is technical: keeping the story going (more or less in crescendo) and the separate threads coordinated. The characters arise largely out of the necessities of narrative: they seem to walk on unheralded in any 'dramatic personae' or bill of performance: Maggot, Bombadil, Boromir, Faramir, Denethor, Galadriel, Theoden, Eowyn, Saruman, etc. The origin of Aragorn was a vivid picture, that arose early, of the inn-scene and a shrouded ambiguous figure sitting aloof. I knew no more about him than did the hobbits, and was alarmed (because of the work entailed) and astounded as slowly the revelation of the majesty of lineage, the greatness of his labours, and the weight of his doom unfolded. But looking back, I can see that his character, as seen in behaviour, in his tremendous circumstances, owes a great deal to people, and a man in particular that I have known. Of the 'perilous' kind, that I find in a way most attractive. I mean those interiorly large and powerful, in whatever bodily form they appear, and whatever veils of gentle manner they may (as a rule) wear. They often surprise you, because sharp facets of word or deed may suddenly show that only long knowledge could relate to their centre. They cannot be taken for granted. If you become slack, after (say) much experience of their kindness, and treat them as if they were something soft (like india rubber), you find that what is only insulation covering a live wire connected with a dynamo—and you get anything from a smart titillation to a severe shock. The man I think of would have spoken just in the way Aragorn did, in the House of Healing, to Merry (III 146). And (with more shock) as A. did to Gimli (III 53).

Please give my best wishes to your son. He is of course right and perceptive to pity Gollum. I find still very moving to me the place where Gollum on the brink of repentance is cast back by the brusque and understandable ([???] very perceptive) loyalty of Sam.


The drawing I am grateful for. It is more than ‘amusing’. I have written quite a lot, after all.



Yours sincerely,


[signed]JRR Tolkien

TLS: One sheet (7x9 inches) of Tolkien’s Oxford letterhead; typed on one side. ALS: Two sheets (7x9 inches), written on four sides; first sheet with Tolkien’s Sandfield Road, Oxford address blind-stamped at top. All pages with small rust mark and pin-holes from a former staple. Usual folds (but faint). Housed in custom folder. Fine condition.

TOLKIEN LETTERS WITH SUCH EXCEPTIONALLY STRONG LITERARY CONTENT ARE EXCEEDINGLY RARE.

Price: $48,000 USD



https://www.manhattanrarebooks.com/pag ... s-typed-letter-signed-tls
Oct 20
These letters were sold by RRAuctions this May for just under $16,000. That is a shameful price hike.
Oct 21
Thanks for pointing that out, onthetrail. I have the RR Auction archived on this site as well.

Dealers, especially on the high end, are not selling to the type of collector that monitors the market, watches auctions, and finds the best price for what they are looking for. They are selling to movie stars, heads of state, Wall Street traders and the like, who want prestige items to show off, or are trying to build collections that when donated will get their name on a library at their alma mater or similar. Price is not the object, having one-of-a-kind items is the point, and (almost) any price is insignificant compared to their cash flow.

Admittedly, sometimes dealers overshoot their clients and have to sell off later for much less than they thought, but 60-70% margin above what they paid is quite in line with everything I have seen. They can pass it on to another dealer who does have someone who wants it for 50% off list, and still make a profit.

The challenge, and the fun (for me at least), is the hunt to find these unique items without just going to the high end dealers and paying their premium.
Oct 21
Many thanks for the info Urulöké.

If some of this stuff ends up in libraries or donated to literary archives it ends well but the thin end is that these items spend years in the hands of people who only value the financial or kudos worth.

Thankfully my local library is dedicated to Wilfred Owen rather than a rich Wall Street banker or a movie star.
Excellent, thank you! Very interesting, indeed!

Going through the letter, I noticed a few points in the transcription.

At the bottom of page 2 of the hand-written letter (after the paragraph ending “... Saxony.”) there is a paragraph missing from the transcript:
I am indeed under contract to produce (by putting into order the already written tales of the earlier ages, referred to in the Appendices) another book about the same ‘world’; but I have been hampered by the need to finish off some learned and semi-learned professional work. That's nearly accomplished.


On page 3, about the middle (early in the ‘Stryder’ paragraph), I believe that “this sensation” is a misreading for “the sensation”. Later in the same paragraph, I am unsure whether it should be “bill of performance” or “bill of performers”, though I am leaning to the latter (I hope the Estate will not mind my including an image of those three words specifically) . In line four of page 4, I am, however, quite certain that it reads “owes a good deal” (rather than a “great deal”).

In the penultimate paragraph, the parenthesis reads “[??] not very perceptive” – I wonder if the unreadable sign might be an ampersand: “& not very perceptive” to continue the list of adjectives for Sam's loyalty.

Finally the transcription omits a “v.” in the final paragraph, where the first sentence should read, “The drawing I am v. grateful for.

673_5bcd8d42e95d1.jpg 421X73 px
Oct 22
Definitely "bill of performers".

The unreadable sign is definitely not an ampersand. In isolation I would read it as "by" or (if this were found in Tolkien's hastier handwriting) "being"; but in this case I think either form is simply a mistake for "but".
Oct 24
Wow! What a cognitive bombshell. The kind from the Star Trek installment that creates rather than destroys. Such a plethora of interesting comments which resonate with so much else in the legendarium or the essays. A great example of his compression: “…simply meant to be a history as it appears.” to “my story is in no way an 'allegory'…but mythical-historical.” Then mentions the, “…'archetypal' motifs… putting of them into an entirely new setting, carefully devised, that gives the sense of 'reality.' Fits for me.
Then to take it away and to put all us Tolkien unpackers in our place: “But that is, of course, for me, as much as for any reader or critic, an afterthought. I did not set out to do this.” He then mentions writing what pleased him & specifically included his trees.
But who, in retrospect, was the Man behind Strider/Aragorn? Who resonated with a “the hidden King”? Who fit “Of the 'perilous' kind…”?
¿Lewis? Craigie? Tolkien seemed to be referring to the attributes of several people but more one in particular. Lewis comes to mind in the comment, “They often surprise you, because sharp facets of word or deed may suddenly show that only long knowledge could relate to their centre. They cannot be taken for granted. If you become slack, after (say) much experience of their kindness, and treat them as if they were something soft (like india rubber), you find that what is only insulation covering a live wire connected with a dynamo—and you get anything from a smart titillation to a severe shock.” To me this brings up Lewis’ marriage and whatever is in the “Ulsterior Motive” (or however it is spelled). I have no idea of Strider relates to Craigie other than he rose based on merit not birth.

Thank you to onthertrail, Troels Frochhammer & Aelfwine for the updates.

Bruce
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