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Letter 186

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 186
RecipientJoanna de Bortadano
DateAround April, 1956
Subject(s)Allegory, Atomic power

Letter 186 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


Joanna De Bortadano had asked Tolkien whether The Lord of the Rings was an allegory of Atomic power. Tolkien tells her it is not; if there is any power-related theme in the book, it would rather be the abnegation of power: just because a thing can be done, does not mean it must be done. The actual theme of the book, he tells her, is Death and Immortanlity: Elves are "doomed" to leave and Men are "doomed" not to leave.

Tolkien continues by stating he is not a "democrat", because its main concepts, humility and equality, lose their meaning by attempts to mechanize and formalize them. This would lead to greatness and pride rather than smallness and humility, and turn into slavery when "some Orc gets hold of a ring of Power".

The fragment ends with some brief details about the costs of producing The Lord of the Rings: £4000 after it left his hands. He did manage to save £200 by typing it himself.