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Letter 17

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 17
RecipientStanley Unwin
Date15 October 1937
Subject(s)The Hobbit
Mr Bliss

Letter 17 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


This letter was written to Stanley Unwin of Allen & Unwin and is dated 15 October 1937, just after the first publication of The Hobbit. Tolkien is pleased that the book is being well received, though he suspects that the two glowing, unsigned reviews in The Times and the Times Literary Supplement were written by the same man. He notes with some surprise that no reviewer has picked him up on the use of the plural dwarves instead of dwarfs, and expresses regret that he did not manage to slip in the word dwarrow ("rather a nice word, but a bit too archaic").

Already there is talk about a sequel. Unwin's has hinted that more stories featuring Hobbits will be looked for, but Tolkien feels he has little more to say about them: "Mr Baggins seems to have exhibited so fully both the Took and the Baggins side of their nature". Tolkien says that he has had a letter from one reader wanting to hear more about Gandalf and the Necromancer, but he rejects such a story as "too dark" – though at the same time he muses that "the presence (even if only on the borders)... [is] what gives this imagined world its verisimilitude". Nevertheless Tolkien is excited by the prospect of a sequel, hoping that it may allow him to "do what I much desire to do, and not fail of financial duty".

The book's reception on Tolkien's home turf is a mixture of amusement and guilty admiration:

I think 'Oxford' interest is mildly aroused. I am constantly asked how my hobbit is. The attitude is (as I foresaw) not unmixed with surprise and a little pity. My own college is I think good for about six copies, if only in order to find material for teasing me. Appearance in The Times convinced one or two of my more sedate colleagues that they could admit knowledge of my 'fantasy' (i.e. indiscretion) without loss of academic dignity. The professor of Byzantine Greek bought a copy, 'because first editions of "Alice" are now very valuable'. I did hear that the Regius Professor of Modern History was recently seen reading 'The Hobbit'. It is displayed by Parkers but not elsewhere (I think)."

In closing Tolkien arranges a meeting with Unwin regarding the publication of Mr Bliss.