In 1970, United Artists had the rights to film The Lord of the Rings, and had a working relationship with director John Boorman who was currently filming Leo the Last for them. Boorman's script never got the green light and the rights eventually were sold on to Saul Zaentz. Many of us are aware of the copy of the script that is held at Marquette, and likely have all breathed many sighs of relief that is never got filmed - it strays far from the books, for example adding a sex scene between Frodo and Galadriel.

While working on the Guide to Tolkien's Letters recently, I was reminded that Boorman had mentioned in various autobiographies that he had corresponded with Tolkieneg in Adventures of a Suburban Boy (2003), p. 179 where Boorman writes "He wrote to me asking how I intended to make it. I explained it would be live action and he was much relieved. He had a dread that it would be an animation film. He was comforted by my reply."[1] , but as far as I was aware there was no other evidence of this - for example, there's no mention in Scull and Hammond's Chronology and Guide. It turns out that a few years ago John Boorman donated a large quantity of his records (letters, faxes, notebooks, scripts and more) from most of his filmmaking career to Indiana University in Bloomington, and there is an entire box of materials for the unfilmed Lord of the Rings project - for example, four versions of the script are there (more on these in the coming months). More important for our Guide, though, are the correspondence. Included in these files are seven letters from Joy Hill to Boorman, five carbon copies of letters from Boorman to Joy, and two carbon copies of letters from Boorman to Father John Maguire.

A fascinating story emerges from these letters. It starts with Father John Maguire, who is at this time a Catholic Chaplain at Reading University. He is quite clearly friends with JRR Tolkien in some manner (not mentioned in these letters), and also a good friend of John Boorman. This is the first I have heard of Maguire, and so far I have been unable to find any other evidence of his friendship with Tolkien, but investigations are ongoing.

At some point in early June of 1970, Maguire had arranged for Boorman and Tolkien to meet in person to talk about the film project. Unfortunately, Boorman's back laid him out for four days and the visit had to be canceled. Tolkien heard this news from Maguire, and asked Joy Hill to write to Boorman expressing sympathy and also ask if the movie will be animated or not. This letter is sent on June 8th Letter from Joy Hill to John Boorman • 8 June 1970 (#2079)[2] , and Boorman replies on the 15th to Hill Letter from John Boorman to Joy Hill • 15 June 1970 (#2074)[3] saying how sad he is that the meeting with their mutual friend Maguire fell through, and maybe they can meet at the end of July when Boorman is again in England? He also states that the film will definitely not be animated. Boorman also writes to Maguire this same day Letter from John Boorman to John Maguire • 15 June 1970 (#2082)[4] to try and find a date convenient for him as well.

Joy Hill writes back to Boorman on the 19th of June Letter from Joy Hill to John Boorman • 19 June 1970 (#2084)[5] . She has read out Boorman's June 15th letter to Tolkien over the phone, and thinks he is very pleased that the film will not be animated. Tolkien says he is looking forward to meeting with Boorman. She asks if Boorman can also come by the London offices of George Allen & Unwin as she would love to learn more about the film project - she gets around 200 letters per week from fans, and most of them are now asking about film project news.

The remaining letters[6] go back and forth between Boorman and Hill trying to arrange a date for a meeting, pushing it out to August due to Boorman's schedule and Maguire's availability, but by that time the financing from United Artists wasn't coming through - his current project Leo the Last, did extremely poorly on release and United Artists thought it was way too expensive. Boorman sadly never visited either Tolkien or the GA&U offices. The last letters in the sequence are in mid 1971, when John was working on Deliverance and apologized for not being able to get funding greenlit to begin filming Lord of the Rings.

While there were sadly no letters directly to or from Tolkien in this archive it is clear that Tolkien was involved in the primary correspondence, asking questions and hearing Boorman's answers through Joy Hill. There's no groundbreaking new information in this handful of letters, but getting confirmation that Boorman's recollection of Tolkien's feelings about animating the film are correct is important and interesting.

We're not done working through this archive, either. There are a lot more letters that are quite interesting - Robert Plant's agent wrote to Boorman on the Led Zeppelin singer's behalf pitching him for an elf role! Boorman tried to finance the project again (with the same script) in the 1990s! As we delve deeper into the materials held in this archive, I hope we can share some more interesting finds. This is an important new archive for Tolkien film scholars, and the archivist is quite helpful - definitely reach out if you are also interested in any of these materials[7] .

1 eg in Adventures of a Suburban Boy (2003), p. 179 where Boorman writes "He wrote to me asking how I intended to make it. I explained it would be live action and he was much relieved. He had a dread that it would be an animation film. He was comforted by my reply."