Letter to H. Cotton Minchin (16 April 1956)
Revision as of 07:47, 1 June 2013 by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Subjects: The publication of The Lord of the Rings, Elvish language and script, work on The Silmarillion.
- Description: Autograph letter signed ("J.R.R. Tolkien") with two post-scripts initialed "(J.R.R.T."), 5 pages (9 x 7 1/4 in.; 230 x 183 mm).
- Publication: Partially published as Letter 187. Other excerpts from the letter appeared in Christie's Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts 26 November 1997 (quoted in The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology).
From the auction
A fine lengthy letter by Tolkien to an admirer, H. cotton Minchin, regarding publication of The Lord of the Rings, his interests in the Elvish tongues he invented and their attendant fanciful scripts, and his plans to complete The Silmarillion. A fascinating inside look Tolkien's creative processes and the pragmatism of his publishers.
The last volume of the trilogy, The Return of the King, was published on 20 October 1955. Its publication had been delayed six months due to the difficulties Tolkien had in bringing the Appendices into publishable form, compiling an index, and creating a detailed map of Gondor. After many attempts, Tolkien succeeded in arranging the Appendices but abandoned the idea of an index, while his son Christopher drew the map. "Maps take a lot of time and work. It would of course be impossible to make a mape of an 'invented' tale or rather to write a mappable tale, unless one started wtih a Map from the beginning. That I did though inevitably some inconsistencies ... crept in ... As research students always discover, however long they take or carefully they work, there is always a rush at the end where the thesis must at last be put into presentable form. So it was with this book. ... When it became clear last year that the 'General Map' was inadequate for Vol iii, I had to devote days, the last three almost without sleep in drawing re-scaling and readjusting a huge map. At this Christopher [Tolkien's son] then worked for about 20 hours non-stop ... and produced the published map, just in time. Inconsistencies in spelling (and omissions) are mainly my fault, For instance it was only in the last stages that I abandoned K in the spelling or transcription of Elvish names—in spite of my son's protest. He holds that few or none will pronounce Cirith right, in spite of the Appendix. It appears as Kirith on the map, as it did formerly in the text. You would, by the way, render us a very great service, if more and better maps are to be produced, if you would be so kind as to send us any notes of faults, inconsistences, or omissions, in maps or text." Because demand for the first two volumes was larger than anticipated, the print run for the third volume was increased from 3,000 to 7,000 copies. Due to the larger print run and/or the delays in publication, there are number of variants in the first impression of the text (http://www.tolkienbooks.net/php/1st-rotk.php).
Tolkien also explains that he wrote the "trilogy" as a whole, but that "the publishers, for practical purposes rightly, insisted on the division into three parts, and for sales reasons demanded titles other than parts i, ii, iii. The 'break' is at least clean between books Two and Three. The 'departure of Boromir' could as well (or better) belong to Book Two, and at one time did. Its transference lightened Vol i and strengthened Vol ii." He is skeptical of the need for the synopses since he doesn't believe "they really make any one vol. readable without the others. The work was planned and carried out as a whole ... a symphony in movements to which the 'books' on the whole correspond." Being a philologist, Tolkien had planned a "special volume" that would have been largely linguistic, focusing on the Elvish tongues he had invented. (He constructed the grammar and vocabulary of at least fifteen Elvish languages and dialects). Language invention had always been tightly connected to the mythology Tolkien developed. From his point of view, language was inextricably tied to the history of the people who spoke it. His plan was to have indexed "names, with references, & with explanations and etymologies that would have provided quite a large Elvish vocabulary. I worked at it for weeks, and indexed Vol. i and most of ii. It was the chief cause of the delay of Vol. iii," he admits. "But it eventually became plain that the size and cost would sink the boat."
Readers were demanding a great deal more information about the complicated universe of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien confides that he will provide "a large volume" but that he wants to first organize The Silmarillion "with associated legends of the Beginning and the First and Second Ages. All of these were written first; and it was my wish to issue the corpus chronologically (I would have lightened parts of The Lord of the Rings). But it was only as a sequel to The Hobbit that publication proved possible. The 'Little People' floated the whole unwieldy ship, bless them." The Silmarillion was published posthumously in 1977 by Tolkien's son Christopher.
Tolkien concludes the letter with musings on the etymology of Minchin's surname as well as his own. He then pursues a lengthy digression on the connection between Minchin's given name and the name of the Hobbit Samwise Gamgee. In a postscript, Tolkien admits that his "'Samwise' is indeed (as you note) largely a reflexion of the English soldier—grafted on the village boys of early days, the memory of the privates and my batmen that I knew in the 1914 War, and recognized as so far superior to myself ... I fear you may now feel that you have gotten an answer longer than you could wish. Though you may have guessed that an author so long-winded would either say nothing or a lot."
- ↑ Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: I. Chronology, p. 489-90
- ↑ Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull, "Tolkien Notes 7" dated 29 May 2013, Too Many Books and Never Enough (blog) (accessed 30 May 2013)
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Lot 226, Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana, New York, 11 June 2012", Sotheby's (accessed 30 May 2013)