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Letter to Dorothy

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Dorothy 196? is an alleged letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to a certain miss Dorothy written "years before" 1968.

  • Authenticity: "...most likely genuine. If it isn't, it is a particularly well-informed and elaborate hoax" - Carl F. Hostetter[1].
  • Publication: Only one Quenya sentence published in mailing lists.


Comment and Excerpt

Dorothy had sent J.R.R. Tolkien a letter asking him how to say "Merry Christmas" in Elvish; Tolkien replied that the Elves did not celebrate Christmas but they had a generic wish: Meri[n] sa haryalye alasse "I hope that you have happiness" (adding in a case of a mortal: vanyalye Ambarello "before you pass from the world").


In a letter dated October 14 1968 Dorothy mentioned Tolkien's letter and the Elvish phrase to a Ms Dawson with whom they shared love for Tolkien's work. In her letter, she transcribed the first word as Meriu.

On April 1 1999, Dawson's son, Michael sent a mail to the Tolkien Mailing List inquiring the identity of his mother's friend. He asked whether such a letter by Tolkien has been published in Humphrey Carpenter's "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" so that he would identify and trace that Dorothy. Nobody could help Michael Dawson identify Dorothy, since the letter had never been published.

Significance and authenticity

Linguists of Tolklang and Elfling considered the Elvish sentence another piece of the "Quenya puzzle"; most importantly, the previously unknown words sa "that" (introducing a secondary sentence) and "before". They also corrected the first word meriu as a misread merin: u and n tended to look identical in Tolkien's handwriting, and the word was supposed to be a verb in 1st person singular.

Some of the oddities concerning the phrase were that Michael Dawson sent his mail on April 1st (Fool's Day), and afterwards nobody could contact him[2]. Carl F. Hostetter and Christopher Tolkien (who was forwarded Dawson's mail by Hostetter) said that they had not encountered these 'new' words as such in any of Tolkien's unpublished papers.[1]

It is of note that the vocabulary of the sentence fits The Etymologies suggesting that the letter to Dorothy was not written later than the Lord of the Rings[2]. In later publications, the word sa has been seen again in a text as "that"[3] but the word was given as "but".[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lesson 20
  3. Vinyar Tengwar, Number 49, June 2007 p.18
  4. Vinyar Tengwar, Number 41, July 2000

External links